I was sitting watching an old man and a little boy on a sunny afternoon, all around me were Muscovites in Lizard mode soaking up the first warm sun of the year after a winter that just would not stop. The old man is well past 70, maybe over 80 and the kid no more than a walking baby, two years old at most, unsteady and stupid as kids are. Kicking a ball and falling over with a cheap plastic shovel in his hand.
They were in an open air basketball court, handy for spending time with little people. After a while his granddad/great granddad/kidnapper(?) took the shovel from him and began to break up the chunks of ice that were left over from the winter, knocking them into small pieces so that the warm sun would melt them quicker, and taking the ones that would not break to the edges of the court where he leaned them up against the wire fencing. One sees central Asian guys doing this in every street and courtyard daily, hastening the moment when the death of winter is decisively proven.
And then the kid noticed what the old man was doing and toddled over to get involved. So the lesson began, and through trial and error the baby took over the task and the pensioner stood back and shouted out encouragement and tips until all was done and the pair of then wandered off leaving the court clean of ice.
And I thought that, there, that banal little moment of intergenerational shovel play was it. That was civil society and social responsibility and community and all that crap that we all, Russians and visitors alike, spend our time mourning for. An old man teaching a kid how to make stuff better for no reward. In the soviet days that had a tradition of “Subbotniks”, special Saturdays when people would clean stuff up because it needed doing, and when I spoke of this to friends a few of them said that such days still happen.
And in truth I have seen gangs of schoolkids or adults here and there cleaning stuff over the years, without ever really thinking much about it.
Add to this the increasing number of videos showing young people standing on sidewalks getting run over to discourage ignorant bastards in cars from thinking a Mercedes Jeep means you own the world, and the other phone cam videos and dash mounted cams recording twattishness and putting it on youtube and you have to accept that some people do care and try to make a difference.
And, sure it’s not enough, and none of it says anything much about Putin or Gazpromor civil service corruption, but the idea you hear so often, that Moscow is hopeless and nobody cares is just wrong.
This may be idiotic spring optimism kicking in, but I’ll take it anyway.