Dear Folks Back Home,
Hello, folks back home. I hope your lives are peaceful. We’re here in Moscow. This should come as no surprise. Some of us are stuck. Let’s not say who.
It is May. The weather is sunny, cloudy, rainy, hot, cold, humid and windy with intermittent thunder and lightning. Fields need to be avoided when the black clouds build up. Lightning could strike anything out in the open, including foreigners. Barbecue season has begun. Meat is grilled just after it stops raining. We eat under some kind of a roof or awning. By the time we tuck in, it is pouring down rain. Then, the sun comes out.
My dog got bit by a tick. He was as sick as a dog. It’s a great country for pets except when it isn’t. My dog survived, after being fed drugs intravenously over a three-day period, 6 hours per session. He got a vast number of shots. The tick almost did him in. I paid the vet 12,000 roubles. He drives an Audi. The ticks in Russia are mighty, if you are a dog. An industry has been formed. Pet shops sell collars and pills to save the dogs from the ticks. They don’t work. After the preventative measures fail, another branch of the tick industry kicks in to bring dogs back to life. Like Lazarus, Chuck Norris, our dog, is again among the living. He moves slowly and takes naps. I’m $184 lighter.
Russia is stagnant, booming, healthy, collapsing, confident, worried. Oil prices go up, then down. The rouble weakens, then it strengthens. It will weaken soon. Iran’s loss is Russia’s gain. The Russians are rooting for Trump. Everyone keeps a mental image of oil prices and the rouble exchange rate in their minds. The country is in fantastic and terrible shape. The government is everywhere, and nowhere to be seen. Russia is spreading nationalism and populism to other countries. It’s payback time. No one in Russia complains about anything other than the things they complain about. Moscow is getting fixed up. Much of the rest of the country is stagnating, like a bog. It has always been this way. Moscow gets first dibs.
Foreigners living in Moscow are ecstatic about public transport. The metro in Moscow comes every few minutes and the buses are everywhere, mostly ridden by people who are no longer young. Some of them wear berets purchased long ago. Moscow is lovely in the centre. Its sidewalks are newly re-tiled and now, the new tiles need to be retiled, again. Women in high heels are at risk of hurting their ankles if they step in the cracks between the new tiles. Some of the Christmas decorations have not been taken down. Outside the centre, the other parts of the city are made up of vast rows of high-rise buildings. They are mostly grey. The grey buildings stretch as far as the eye can see. Those living in them have a fabulous view of other grey high-rises. Some expats live in the centre, others in the periphery. Most expats have left the country entirely. No one came blame them.
We went out to a restaurant yesterday. Italian, Georgian, Uzbek and Japanese dishes were on the menu. One half of the same restaurant had an Italian name. The other half had a Japanese name. The décor in both halves of the restaurant was identical, as were the waiters. The menu was 36 pages long. Everything was expensive, and the portions were small. Some items on the menu weren’t available. Smoking was not allowed in the restaurant. Several men were smoking hookahs. No one was eating any sushi. The beer was cold. We had a great time.
At one time, real estate was worth a lot more in US Dollars back when Russia was the flavour of the month. Rouble prices are holding steady. Perhaps the rouble, and the banks, will collapse. Either that, or they won’t. The future of the real estate market was bright before 2013. Now, it is either the best real estate market going, or it’s going to be a disaster. The Russian economy is in the doldrums. Moscow’s real estate developers don’t care. They are putting up new buildings all over the city. The properties in the good locations are selling like hotcakes, or so they say. It’s rumoured that the Chinese are buying Moscow properties in droves. Russians from the regions outside Moscow are doing the same thing. The Muscovites aren’t happy about either option.
Two weeks ago, Russia was brown. Now it is green. Plants are growing like mad. The air is full of pollen. People are sneezing. The air is packed with birds; the ravens are the worst with crows coming in a close second followed by seagulls, liked by no one. We have nightingales, sparrows, ducks, blackbirds, owls, doves, blue jays, hawks and other birds. The nightingales make beautiful music. Many of the birds are here until the solstice. Being rational, they go south in winter to keep warm. They fly to Spain together in a flock, being of one feather. Many foreigners in Moscow are thinking of flying to Spain as well. Then, they hesitate. Finally, they say, let’s stay in Moscow another year. Their flock is here.
So, folks, let’s hope this letter reaches you. In case it doesn’t, I’ve made a copy. I’ll put it in the post again, if you like. Please write back and if you do, I’ll send another one. Until then, don’t let the bedbugs bite.
Daniel Brooks, copyright, 15 May 2019