3 august 2013.
Dacha, we go walking, three generations of Russian girls and I: the demented summer is all around us, the energy almost tangible.
The Russians have cleaned out the little lake. The water had been full of weeds for years and made for tricky swimming, especially for the little ones. There was talk of clearing it up, ten years of fine talk. Finally they did, and now the whole area looks like a scene from the aftermath of a jungle battle between an army of aliens and an army of predators. Trees are sheared off for two hundred yards around, some down to stumps, others seemingly abandoned after attempts by drunken, chainsaw wielding Giraffes on roller skates bent on cutting the trunks in half lengthways. And what a film that would be Giraffosaw: bloodbath from Above.
The banal but insane truth will be that they handed out chainsaws and axes to a gang of lads from Uzbekistan, pointed in the general direction of the lake and said: "Chop that down." Before meandering off to get drunk on the money they had raised from the good Dacha folk. If the Uzbeks were lucky there would have been some roubles left when they had finished. Uzbeks are a noble folk, but 18th century landscaping is not well taught in their schools and colleges.
The central Asians have taken over dachaland as they have taken over the city. They have cheap bicycles and roll around smiling and saying hello politely to everyone they pass. They clean gardens and cut lawns and carry rusting fridges away, and they do it all cheaply. Still the Russkies gather and complain about all the foreigners, and they don’t mean me.
One family have built an Arizona style ranch house on their 600 square meters of mother Russia, then ringed it with steel fences and then concreted over all the greenery before unleashing a mob of large angry dogs to run around barking threats at the world: we hear them bouncing furiously off the corrugated cage of pig ugly wealth that used to be a dacha: they paved paradise and put up Stalag 15. Nineties Russia in all its infantile glory.
But you wake up here to such quiet, after Moscow’s buzzing and shouting, it takes some getting used to: only the breeze idly rustling the birch tree leaves and the song of busy little birds rushing around nervously, one eye, or instinct, on the approaching winter that will try to kill them. In Russia the winter tries to kill everything.
I am even starting to get used to the lack of internet:
Once I start baking I could stay here forever, but then once I start baking I could stay anywhere forever.
The women awake, Ksush first, running to my shed with wild hair to announce that today is her birthday. She has told me forty times: how old she will be, how old I am and Mama and how old Zhenya will be on his next birthday, because birthdays are how we measure things.
Then present giving: the 500 roubles she gets is nothing but a piece of paper to be carried around in a wallet until it is dropped or forgotten somewhere in a box of other toys. The woman babble and squawk about tea and porridge, plans are made to move a bottle of milk into another room, but much needs to be pondered before such decisions can be made, responsibility taken, and while this goes on Ksush runs off into the garden carrying the milk and three spoons for some purpose beyond the imaginings of mortals.
This is how it is here, bumbling, contented, almost perfect.