In Moscow you can see dogs play in snow for nearly half the year, which is no bad thing. When you catch yourself thinking that it’s all a bit pointless, you can look from the balcony or window and watch a small group of random domestic dogs chasing each other into snowdrifts. If that doesn’t cheer you up, then you probably deserve to be miserable, and sorry, but it probably was your fault after all.
They have every breed of the critters now: from helpless little lapdogs, wrapped up against the ice in a range of tacky dog costumes, up to the noble Siberian Husky and the muscular “Caucasian Sheepdog Dog, with his coat that protects him against the harsh weather conditions and predators that menace the sheeps it has under its custody.” …which takes us nicely onto the next good thing:
Russian English can be so beautiful and strange: comically wrong can feel better than right sometimes. Their language can be direct and abrupt and still remain basically polite, ours cannot be polite until we have performed the dance of the endless modals: Could you would you, might you perhaps, do you think you could possibly be able to, would you mind awfully ignoring this blather of courtesy and bear with me till I actually say what it is I need to say? Worlds collide six times daily and it’s mostly a trigger for laughter. Will somebody please transmit this information to Vladimir? If you laugh with them and not merely at them, you find they have a gift for laughing at themselves.
Moscow is not Russia, yes, yes, yes, God bless you yes. I remember you mentioned it, a few thousand times already. But then we live in Moscow, and 10 or 14 or 20 million, Lord knows how many other people, live there too, and most of them are Russian, so I think we are safe in assuming that we are not in Sri Lanka. What’s more, everybody seems to be speaking Russian, so am I to understand that Russia is stealthily invading Moscow, silently and unheeded? Are those trains and buses and planes, bringing unnumbered people in from the provinces and the other great cities really nothing more than troop transports for an invading horde?
If so then I fear it is too late: for they have succeeded in their nefarious plans, and we are lost. (I think this might be what happened to those elderly and angry Americans, in comfortable clothes, who keep shouting that they want their country back: at least Russia had the sense not to give them all guns.)
But even if it’s not Russia it’s a fairly astounding place: pretty much all of human life is here now. Used to be just poor stuff and the old soviet high culture, but now there’s all the consumer frenzy world of IPods and IMAX and Iclaudius etc as well; you no longer have the sense of being removed from the good stuff that the world is up to. There are still thousands of beautiful buildings dotted around, some views that are as beautiful as anything St Petersburg has to offer: the Kremlin from over the river with the sun setting is the most breathtaking of all.
You can sit in vast and airy forests of silver birch trees watching their bark dappled by the sunlight through leaves that rustle and dance in the breeze, then you can stroll through the long grass under a hot sun to go swim in clear lakes where the water glitters around you as it catches the light. If you want you can find a way to do this for days or even weeks on end.
You can hear the crisp snow underfoot in a sombre pine forest in winter, the sun still impossibly bright, but now pale and golden throwing shafts of light between the dark green needled branches. Or stop and just listen to the almost perfect silence, you might hear voices, or a dog’s bark, or a crow screech carried to you for miles over the frozen air, or you might hear nothing at all, for hours. You can’t do that bit for weeks though, as you would freeze.
Then there are the endless remnants from the evil empire: the Soviet fossils. Architecture, town planning, that metro, which is the best there is, they won that competition. And in the culture: there is a love of children and childhood that is seemingly lost in the world of star wars toys and happy meals. Endless books full of old stories and kids poems written by real poets, like De La Mare used to do in England 90 years ago, full of witchery and magic. There are more museums per person than anywhere in the world I have been told, and, wanting to believe it I never fact checked, but there are many. There is a museum of wood here. A Museum of wood I tell you.
The world of credit and constant debt is still weak here too: the likes of Citibank are doing their best to bring that misery to the people but, so far, that ugliness is nowhere near as advanced and so as desperate as it is in England or America
One last fact that they understand and that we have lost sight of in the west is the centrality of family for keeping you safe and sane in a tricky world. I fear that the lust for shiny things will obscure this truth, as it has in America and Britain, and I also fear that fearing this means I am turning into a conservative.
Maybe their Russian souls will save them