2004 summer fragment

After cutting the grass I went down to the lake to swim. I picked the smaller beach where half a dozen kids and a few young couples were splashing about. Five or six meters out I could see a dog swimming, as I got closer I saw that it wasn’t moving very much, not at all in fact and I thought it might be some piece of wood with a clump of grass on it that resembled hair. I was about three meters off when I realised it was a man and that the way he had his head both his mouth and nose must be underwater. I turned back thinking to wait and see if he moved.
He didn’t and I sat on the beach and watched as the Russians around me realised what was out there. A girl shouted from the water to ask me what it was and I said I didn’t know, she swam a bit towards him and then scuttled away shouting something about him being blue.

I kept silent at the thought of being the English guy who found a corpse when the greedy local cops arrived and saw an easy mark.
Then confusion as no one knew what to do, we should call someone they said. Then I noticed an ambulance behind us on the track and pointed it out to one of the guys who ran to catch it and tell them what was in the water.
He returned telling everyone that the ambulance was on course, which I took to mean that it was already headed somewhere. I went and bough cigarettes and when I came back ten minutes later people were still looking out at him and the ambulance having finished its mission was driving away, so I came home.
Nobody panicked, nor even seemed that put out. But what struck me was that he must have been out there for a fair while before I arrived. Did no one see him? Or, and this is grim, had he been under the water for some time and his surfacing just happened to coincide with my arrival? There was something across his pate that I would have taken to be water weeds and the lake is full of such long stringy plants that seem to grasp at you as you swim.
A drunken guy who fucked up? More than likely; this shit happens so often here as to seem normal, but it threw me badly for a minute

17 03 1999 (Gutaking)

17 3 99

 I sit on the ninth floor of Guta bank, tea and confectionery is brought to me upon arrival and then I sit and ponder as I gaze through the window which looks over the three railway stations, with their demented and various architecture, and the vast Stalinist pomposity of the vampire-like hotel Leningrad, brooding as ever over the seething, seedy world of Komsomolskaya square.

 In the distance odd chimneys…I nearly wrote that they spew or belch their filth into the sky, but common collocations lead me astray, for here, now on this clear cold late winter’s day they seem to bequeath the smoke to a grateful sky: it’s beautiful.

 Down below, as you approach ground level, this pristine beauty fades amidst the pornography stalls and the forest of loudspeakers blaring out details of lottery tickets and cheap excursions or the constant blast of bad pop music and the tired and dubious looking passengers issuing from the three great stations. (Here is where all the belching occurs.) All of this washes away the detached sense of grandeur that I feel from up here on high.

 There is, though, another, less clinically removed beauty down in the square.

 When my mood is good it catches me; a sense, almost of rapture at the teeming Darwinian activity: The sense of the ways in which these thousands of people are intimately connected to untold thousands of others whom I do not see. (the rapture is Wordsworthian, he seems to have claimed rapture as his own, at least for me. But the truer essence, the brutality, the indifference of it and the resulting beauty are pure Ted Hughes)

    Here, on the ninth floor of a bankers’ feudal empire, I can rise a little, enough to see it clearly. And does he see it, Yuri Nikolayevich, the awkward and bearded banker who owns this reality.  I walked to the eighth floor with him the other day and he told me about man management Russian style: “they are good if you stand behind them with a gun”. As we walked and he talked I watched people ducking behind doors or lowering their heads to focus intently on whatever bit of paper lay on their desks: the king is abroad.

I’m pretty sure that he doesn't get to see too much of the pornographic, pop-music filled loudspeaker square down there. Or that if his brooding, serene and planet sized intellect should fall momentarily on those unfortunate teeming masses, then it is with the detached eye of an entomologist, or more likely a pest control expert sizing up a particularly nasty job.

 And so I tell myself that he loses, that all of his power is too detached, too pristine, too fucking vast to allow him any real joy in the swarm of things. He remains trapped in a sterile world of oafish bodyguards wearing purple suits with too many buttons and too wide lapels who help him with his rich man’ s toys. He can't go out and have a drink with friends, nor meet strangers and chat on the street. He can’ t take his girl out dancing on a whim, or even get it up probably. Fuck him eh? What does he have? Nothing but inestimable power and untold riches, whereas I get to see unwashed Uzbekistanis buyingvideos of gymslip virgin teens in the bodybuilders boudoir.

fragment 05

Victory day 2005,

May 9th is victory day, 60 years since Stalin personally defeated the germans with his fists of steel. Russia fought alone, the brits and Yanks were sitting in London drinking tea all the way through and the Molotov Ribbentrop pact never happened. this is what they are telling us
The streets are crawling with cops, from the 12 year old militia kids dragged out of the provinces to the Kalashnikov waving OMON swat teams, along Petrovka street there is a cop every ten yards and I haven't seen a single homeless guy for two weeks, every last one is likely in prison until the visitors have gone, or else they are riding cattle wagons to Vladivostok.
I know it means everything here, what happened 60 years ago, but it is difficult to avoid contempt when watching the powers that be preening themselves and offering this deceitful post imperial nostalgia to the people in compensation for their inability to run the place anything like a civilized country. The government has been paralyzed for over three years now, reforms have ground to a halt, the bureaucrats just rob everyone blind and never lift a finger to do the work they're paid for and everything that matters, schools, hospitals, the army either makes money in its own illegal way or sinks into disrepair.
But as ever it's the apathy of the population in the face of this madness that takes the breath away: how can they stand and watch their country fall to pieces like this, as though the flag wavers has a monopoly on love of Mother Russia. maybe, once more, it’s just how things are and were and will be, try to save anything beyond your front door and you’ll just end up in a world of shit.

It's been clear that America has been headed to hell for some time, now we see we they are planning on taking the scenic route, the one through the mountains. Grandad has grabbed the wheel and now we are swerving into a gravel strewn hairpin at 75mph. And when I say "we"...

Still important

I accidentally became a Moscow specialist: not an academic nor a journalist nor a linguist, nor anything that makes any sense, or even much money. But I know that city; I can tell Russians how to get to places because I spent near 16 years roaming around the place on the metro and the busses and the trams. There have been years where I spent four or five hours daily on the metro, heading to where the lines die amidst a wilderness of concrete block houses, shabby kiosks selling vodka, and then selling filthy fried pies to the poor bastards who had bought the vodka. I got off trams after they had slammed into Ladas and Mercedes driven by leather jacketed guys who decided crossing the tramlines would save them a minute in the minus 27 December morning. The same morning that I now had to walk through to get to a shitty office where a tired bunch of 40 something accountants had been forced to gather at 8 am by a corrupt and idle boss whose fat mistress was trying to read Harry Potter in English.

  I have spent hundreds of hours on their long slow escalators watching the faces pass a few yards away, an endless crowd in distracted single file, and I have walked all through endless glorious summer days and summer nights in the labyrinth of side streets that Mayor Luzhkov seemed to hate so much; it really was a more beautiful city in 1997.

The point of all this is that I don’t really know what this blog is anymore. It just seems to be random flashes from a random archive. And when I went wrong and left it alone in the middle of Russia going wrong I couldn’t see what to say about it all anymore. 2016 taught me that Russia followed me home, or that what I thought was a Russian disease was really global, so maybe I should dig back into that hard drive of anguished observation and cast it before an indifferent world once more.

I know how Moscow was from 1997 to 2013. I can’t pretend to know why it was that way: nobody knew what the hell was going on, though some had pretty good guesses - “You are stupid English idiot: The whole Fucking Russia is just people stealing now.”

Anyway here we go again…