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A Communist lady A wake-up season
May 1997
You may click on any picture in the story to zoom in


    May is a special month in Russia. May 1 and 2 are two days off that used to be a political holiday, but now are called just The Days of Labor and Peace. Then there is always a weekend near those two days. A bit later May 9 comes, a Victory Day. And there is another weekend around. All in all, the first decade of May has seven days off and many Russians do their best to add the remaining days in order to get a nice spring vacation.

    There is no other time in the whole year when almost all business life stops and everyone enjoys first real sunshine and beginning of T-shirts season. Even the time around Christmas in Russia is not so relaxing and full of family activities.

    The two last years I also was taking advantage of May vacations, spending several days in the woods, opening backpacking/rafting season on a small river that becomes full for a few weeks thanks to spring flood. However, this year my job kept me in the city and I could get a few pictures telling you how Muscovites spend May holidays of for some reason they are trapped in the city.

    There are lots of festivals and street shows, concerts in the open air and sports events. (Like a famous relay around Moscow along the Garden ring. They were running this relay even during the years of World War II.) The downtown for several days is closed for any traffic and Muscovites enjoy walking the wide squares, avenues, and streets that normally would be packed with cars.

    Some Communist activists still try to convert May holidays back into political rally. The lady in the picture in the headline of this story still hopes that the Communist Party will rule and the party word will be the ultimate truth... But May rallies gather 20 to 30 thousand participants while hundreds of thousand are having fun in a less political fashion. Among them, the real heroes of the Victory Day can be easily spotted, with suits covered with rows of war medals. The veterans of World War II do deeply respect May 9, and they have every reason for that. Moscow honors the soldiers of the last World War on that day, but most of the Muscovites do not already connect the holiday to the current Army.

    Despite all the efforts of Communists, in front of the monument to Karl Marx, street vendors sell colorful balloons shaped after Disney cartoon characters and nobody wants to talk politics, a more festive mood prevails. Kids enjoy the sun and the toys, and the stone leader of proletarians of all the world watches this reality with contempt. Let him rest in his granite peace (or piece?) and never again disturb the planet with ideas that inevitably lead to revolutions and rivers of blood. I guess the scenes Marx has now to observe may not appeal to the founding father of a Communist doctrine. But times do change.

    Moscow students enjoy the rare opportunity to use all unusual sorts of vehicles in the central streets. Besides horses and roller-blades I saw quite a few bicycles and skateboards. All these compact means of transportation are really useful in Moscow. There are more and more cars in the city and it is hopelessly jammed by them. The problems occur not only in the streets, but in the bedroom communities where Muscovites live. When these residential areas were built, none of the designers counted on the large number of private cars. As a result, parking became a serious problem. Safe parking in particular.

    When in recent years the number of cars increased dramatically, the car thieves felt the Golden Age for them was dawning. Tens of cars were stolen every day, and the police practically never found any (some said they had never tried). The car owners who leave their favorite and expensive toys in the yards and in the streets, found an interesting solution. A portable so-called "shell" single-car garages became a standard addition to a car itself. All attempts of the city authorities to control their construction or at least appearance miserable failed. The city could not offer any other way to increase the safety of private property and the owners became rebellious. As a result, those mostly ugly constructions, remotely resembling monstrous sea-shells, now plague all Moscow. Some areas look really weird - the photo illustrates what I mean - but click on the picture to zoom in and look what happened to the only car left without a protective shell!

    But cars keep disappearing even from under the shells, though at a slower rate. Quiet corners of Moscow parks are often decorated by carcasses like the one in the photo. A gang steals a car. Rides it to a park alley where skillful mechanics in less than an hour take out everything that has a value on a black market of auto parts. The empty body is left behind. Police, as in many other cases, does not even bother get the remains for investigation. Park rangers have neither money nor tools to tow away the metal remnants. When this May I visited the largest Moscow park, the Moose Island, for the first time this year, I counted six such auto corpses left near my favorite alleys.

    Officially the park is closed for cars, so before the season of bicycles begins, its roads are deserted and well hidden from unwanted eyes. I do not know where the thieves do their business now, when the Moose Island once again becomes a paradise for cyclists.

    During the long holidays, Moscow and its dwellers are busy not only with sports and street shows. Many Muscovites leave the city to take care of their dachas. They spend there sometimes the entire week doing all the work that a garden demands in the spring.

    Some of those who stay in the city turn holidays in big laundry days. It's a bit funny to se the clothes lines hanging between the trees next to a sidewalk of a large street. Some residents of these bedroom communities still use country-side habits. But it works!

    Lots of Muscovites spend the days off shopping. Markets and most of the stores work all holidays, for them it's a busy and profitable time.

    Let's a look at one very special market. It is called Birds Market, but you can find here many more species than just birds! All sorts of pets, from hens to reptiles, from cats to mice, from dogs to bunnies are available here. The Birds Market is a place where kids take their parents to buy a kitty or a tropical fish.

    Or, for that matter, to purchase a beautiful bowl for your favorite pet! Also, the market is famous with a wide selection of fishing and hunting gear at decent prices. An all sorts of pet food... And simply for lot of fun! Where else one would find so many cute animals and will get free lectures about pet care or fishing techniques?

    And since there is no traffic in the streets, the bike is just the right transportation. It takes half an hour ride to escape from markets, houses, hot asphalt to the silence of a park broken only by the songs of birds and humming of insects. Nice place, nice weather, first sunbathing of the year. Of course, real wilderness would be better, but this year a Moscow park will do.

So... See you later, on these or other pages.  

Andrey Sebrant -

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