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August 1998

    Itís a bit difficult to write this story. I was - as always - slowly pushing the deadline to later and later again time, and eventually the crisis sent Russia rocking wildly, and the story still was not ready. Of course, ruble exchange rate falling through the floor or the Presidentís sacking another Prime Minister does not interfere much with what I do at home at night. But the spirit around has changed a lot, all these summer feelings of leisure and sunny dreams have vanished.

It takes considerable effort to look back and not to think of the gloomy present. Reminds me of the view I found not too far from the house where I live. This Moscow vysotka where my apartment is located, one of the temple-like skyscrapers built after World War II, is still kept in nice shape - while some buildings around literally fall apart. The view of freshly painted spire from what remained of the window of another house in the neighborhood is just right for the title picture this time...

   Anyway, looking back... Let us rely more on photos than on words. I will post more summer pictures and write less.

And, as always in my stories here, you can zoom in on any picture. Just click an image, and a larger and better quality photo will open.

   ...The summer in July was already past its sweaty peak, surprisingly early this year, and the nights in Moscow apartments with no air conditioning ceased to be a torture. (I do not like reading 28C - 82 F in the morning in the street. Itís Moscow, not Florida!) More than once in June I was thinking about moving to the office with its cool air, good coffee, large microwave, and fast Internet connectivity. But in July and August most of the time I was fine at home, and the office did not look very attractive.

   They say, summer is a slow season. I wish we could fell it. All the season long Moscow was as hectic and crowded as ever. Sadovoe Ring and every downtown street was a permanent traffic jam - except after midnight. A few visitors of this my page asked me to take and post here a picture of Moscow Metro train. I had to wait until late at night to find the train empty enough - so that picture shows the interior of the train, not just backs, elbows and shoulders of passengers packed in it.

   Maybe businessmen who left the city to spend vacations on the ocean were replaced by the tourists? The crowds were colorful, but this indicates nothing, Moscow is a tolerant city, and many offices have no strict dress code. Muscovites hurrying up to their desks in the morning blend perfectly with the visitors rushing to see more than a sane mind can absorb.


   Speaking of air conditioning. In the middle of summer I was missing this service a lot when I had to stroll Moscow streets. But fortunately my city was offering me - and hordes of tourists and residents - something instead. Moscow was generously pumping the water to its numerous fountains. And every fountain was a little miracle and a special treasure for a passer by. Even if they could not cool you down, their soothing sound and the sight of flying water were refreshing.
   They were looking like small tamed and civilized waterfalls. Moscow was also offering parks, lawns, and flower-beds. In the natural shadow of old trees clerks were having lunches, students were dating, mothers walking their kids, and pensioners, their dogs. This summer was unusually wet, and without sprinklers lawns were looking fit and happy while in other years they would look parched by the end of July.

   Many small cafes and beer stands open in the open - sometimes even on the water. What can be better on a hot afternoon than a good misty glass of cold light beer! And believe me, some brands of Russian beer are great! After decades of oblivion, old recipes of brewing are again in use.


   As on any other summer, I was doing my best to ride as many miles as possible on my bike. Sometimes the route was leading to the dacha (but this year I will not write a separate story about the place - unlike the year before). Just a very few photos of the scenery - the trail in Moose Island reflected in the rear view mirror of my bike, the church next to the road not far from the dacha, couple of new houses built not far from it.

   The houses, of course, are not new dachas. Rather, they are suburban cottages, real single-family houses of Russia, where people live all year round. I like the one with a Russian flag at the gate. If the flag was bearing stripes and stars, the house would be looking absolutely in place on a photo brought from a trip to the States. Elegant, clean, built to last. Interesting, will it really last?

   And Marina with one of her favorite cats. For city kids, dacha time means a chance to play a lot with the animals, to run in the woods, to sit in the evening by a real campfire. And the kids do enjoy all this change of their lifestyle a lot.

   Marina, by the way, decided that time had come for her to own a real mountain bike - it does not matter that no mountains are around. Itís just that 18 speeds are pleasant to touch, and the thick tires are great for sand a dirt of forest trails - and simply because a new bike is a wonderful toy!

   We spent one Saturday at the bike market in Sokolniki and found a powerfully looking bright red machine. Marina was closely watching a mechanic tuning up the bike - and I must admit that the result was impressive. I rode Marinaís new bike one Sunday and enjoyed the feeling. Even am a bit envious now.

   What else was happening interesting in the streets this summer? There were flowers all over the city. Almost at every corner, of all sorts, from early morning to midnight. And sold by a nice florists, young girls perfectly looking among the colors af their fragile goods. Proliferation of flower stands and kiosks can be compared to expansion of McDonalds fast food restaurants. The chain that started in Moscow downtown finally has reached bed-room communities and now new familiar buildings are sitting near highways where they enter Moscow. Moscow drivers begin to like McDonaldsí drive-throughs, even more so since they are now frequently combined with British Petroleum gas stations.

   I do not like McDonalds much - but when coming back from a long bike ride outside of Moscow, itís nice to sit and take some snacks at their tables...

   Days are getting shorter in the second half of summer. And shorter days mean earlier nights. All central streets in Moscow now feature not only bright lights, but a very artistic lighting of most buildings. This lighting makes facades look more decorative than daylight, crowds of tourists and Moscow yuppies fill the streets, hookers line the sidewalks like vendors on a flea market.

   Summers nights in Moscow downtown are great time. Time to relax and enjoy the city after the heat of business hours, after traffic jams and overcrowded metro, after the rush that marks any huge urban center. At night, Moscow slows down a bit. Just enough to feel the change of pace and enjoy the night rhythm, not sleepy but not rushing either.

   This August Moscow was hosting the event that definitely reflected the pace and style of Moscow life. For the first time, Muscovites could watch Formula 1 on water. Despite the rain and cold wind, many thousands came to Gorky Park and filled the embankments of the river. Four hundred horse powers were driving small but aggressively looking boats at the speed that on water looked completely unbelievable.

   And that speed of course meant some risk - and one boat did not make it in one piece. What remained, a rescue team slowly moved to docks (you see the process in the photo on the left). Fortunately, the pilot of the vessel was not hurt, the boats had been really well designed!

   Among other Moscow attraction that I have never mentioned on these my pages is Moscow Zoo. Perhaps it deserves better fate - and more visitors, physical and virtual. Of course itís not the best zoo in the world. But it is an island of wild nature in the middle of big city, a small refuge where unbelievably pink flamingo dwells in a regular Moscow pond within five minutes walk from the nearest Metro station, and proud mountain birds are envying your freedom... I was looking at the one in the photo thinking of the places he came from. Perhaps they are gorgeous, and the distant cliffs make people feel small and hopeless. Okay, caged spirit of the freedom, thanks for the dreams.


   What else should I tell you about Moscow in the second half of the summer, at the door to the stairway leading down, down into the crisis gloomy depths? Let us look at random pictures, spontaneous slide show of August 1998.

   A small kid trying to understand a big monument, a cathedral color of turquoise ( I was listening to its bells on the Sunday mornings warm enough to sleep with a door to the balcony open), endless rains of August, the sky reflecting in glass walls of the huge office complex that stay unfinished for years...

   ...Billboards, banners, other ads of all sorts that in some areas of Moscow block the view of anything else, and beggars in the same streets, standard contrasts of any big city.

   And a fundamentally Russian toilet in the park, collective outhouse for four seats. A tourist attraction of sorts, in some other countries it would take serious efforts to find such a cozy place. It at least offers a roof in the rain. While for the homeless spending the nights on the boulevards, August with its rains spells disaster. And the financial crisis changes the careless and merry looks of Moscow street cafes. All of a sudden they become empty and sad on the last weekend of summer. Sunny times are over, the fall is coming. Hello autumn.

Andrey -

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