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SEASON OF WATERMELONS - Moscow meets autumn

Oh well,

Of course Moscow circa 1997 is wealthy enough to afford watermelons in its supermarkets all year round. But there is a special season, and I remember it from the childhood; the season when piles of watermelons all of a sudden appear on the sidewalks all over the city.

As in other my stories, you can always click on a small picture in the text and open its postcard-size copy with a better quality.

This happens overnight, and those green-and-black piles are a time stamp. They yell at you the bad news that the summer is over and the time of work, study, and raincoats is knocking at your door. Or even breaking through it. Time to have the bike parked on the balcony until next spring. Enchanting August roads smelling of ripe fruits are behind, 1115 clicks added on the odometer of my two-wheeled companion.

Time to get prepared to school if you attend one, time to get ready for the Day of the City that Moscow celebrates on the first September weekend. This year, it's 850th anniversary, a huge, yes, very huge event.

But here - here we talk about watermelons, aren't we? Here is the story of a wonderful August, the season of plenty, turning into September, when even the hot air balloons at the Air Show in Zhukovsky remind of stripes on watermelons, or, strangely, of the leaves changing color and blown by the winds of autumn. (Hey New England, I'll be watching your hills in this October coat soon - as bright and multicolored.) Yes, it's a strange combination, missiles and hot air balloons on the same field, but perhaps a good icon of our times when the most popular games, at least computer games, are combat ones - and on the other hand so many people - and worst of all, politicians, - think the real war is just a game with excitingly high stakes.

When you are reading this page, the winter has already started to show its white claws to Moscow. Look at the Kremlin in real time, check the light and weather on Moscow streets right now, this very minute. The Internet is good at that - it takes you wherever you need almost instantly. The first snow is in my picture - not stay for the season yet, but still to remind us of what is coming. Maybe it covers the domes of St. Basil when you read this story - I do not know - check for yourself.

I will not write about October or November this year, there are two stories of that time already in stock, October'96 and October'95. Enough. I better tell you more about the slightly unreal season before it. The season of watermelons. And then, later, I will invite you to taste Russian winter - but that will be already in 1998.

We talk here of the times when late berries and fruits are ripe at the dachas. And the late flowers too. Every family that has a dacha and a family member who is supposed to go to school in September, grows flowers for this special occasion. On the first day of school, on September 1 (yes, in Russia all schools every year open on September 1) it's a question of pride to buy no flowers but to take a huge bouquet from the dacha to school...

In the time of watermelons the air is crisp sometimes -and sometimes hazy, when golden morning mist covers Moscow with a glowing blanket. It lifts up later in the day to reveal the strange beauty of this transition from summer to autumn. Great time to take pictures of Moscow architecture. What do you like better? Newly built or nicely restored churches? Or the Kremlin towers?

The sun in September is not already very high in the sky even at noon. That makes the buildings look great, illuminated by slightly orange light casting sharp shadows. Old palaces quietly wait for the winter to come, they are quite used to it. Newer buildings with their strange towers and turrets, these marks of modern Moscow style, look a bit more nervous before the coming season.

On a clear day it makes perfect sense to visit VDNKh, the former exhibition of national economic achievements, now a huge marketplace combined with an amusement park. Take a ride on the largest in Moscow - and in Europe - Ferris wheel, enjoy the breeze and the views. There is much to enjoy, and the time is just right, it won't be long before the views turn into black and white drawings. Moscow winter is a graphic artist that works with a simple pencil rather than a rich palette of summer.

The season of watermelons is the time of unexplainable sorrow. In a huge and noisy city it's not all that easy to find the right place for a slow walk, a quiet thought, and maybe even meditation. But such places do exist.

Not too far from the VDNKh with its commercial rush and shopping crowds, there is one place. Hiding deep in the State Botanical Garden, a tiny genuine Japanese garden patiently offers its low whispers of running streams and gentle curves of sandy trails winding among perfect bushes, lawns, and stones.

...Watermelons do not stay long on our streets. They disappear, replaced with muddy puddles and piles of brown leaves, marks of the fall preparing to give birth to winter. Transition is over, you can no longer meditate in the gardens, business is in high gear with managers full of fresh energy after summer vacations. Time to get busy. Season to start a new project. Hey, maybe I come up some day with a new idea for these pages...

Andrey Sebrant -

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