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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

the irony of seeds

I find no need to overstate the fact that Spring can be a painful time. We are all aware of the flowers popping up, the smell of warm rain while we fall asleep, the sound of drunken students downstairs laughing and drinking late into the night. If we are tired, or waking up late and missing out on each bright green shoot pressing through the earth, we feel guilty, even jealous. In a land where snow covers the ground from October to the end of April it is no surprise that Spring brings a fierce sort of enjoyment to Moscow. Is it ironic that the days grow long enough for us to enjoy an eight-hour afternoon? It’s like a sort of challenge to live with wild, reckless abandon before October returns, all too fast.

The sun comes up at about four and sets after ten now. There are clouds of white, puffy seeds floating in giant clouds over the street – Пукх (pukh). They swirl into giant drifts along the curb, and the children say it is snowing.

Some of them float into my mouth, and I swallow them, coughing and wiping more from my nose. These seeds are from poplar trees – cheap shade planted by Stalin, as a sort of program to green up Moscow so many years ago. Most see them as a nuisance that takes about three weeks to play out. In truth, it feels like mysterious beings ripped apart some giant down pillows a mile above the city, far above the clouds.

If you are stuck in traffic, or sitting in a café you cannot avoid watching these white tufts moving in slow-motion as the world churns away. The seeds are females, looking for compatible mates. The men are very hard to find. And yes, the streets are clogged with красивые девушки (beautiful girls) hobbling around in spike heels and minidresses. Perfumed and done up, with careful strands of hair falling across their faces they stand on corners and eye the crowds. They sit at outdoor café tables, with their girlfriends sipping cappuchinos and mohitos, all looking for the same thing. The men – well, they're nowhere to be found. Suddenly they are all old, huddled together with briefcases propped on their legs, sipping tea.

As these first luscious days play out, the pukh gather in spider web patterns in the grass, and in filthy piles along the sidewalk. The girls have blisters from their new heels. Fixing their lipstick, powdering shiny spots from their foreheads, they march on into the eternal afternoon. The sun grows stronger, unstoppable – as balconies bloom with marigolds and strawberry plants. Summer will be here soon, and we will wander deep into the woods, and build fires to roast meat and drink vodka.

Russians have lived with a daily dose of irony for as long as anyone can remember. This is why most situations - even the most devastating, are solved by telling a joke. A finely tuned (and dark) sense of humor is required to cope with the slippery dealings that define modern Russia. One day a man is an oligarch, the next he is driving a beat to hell Peugot with an empty briefcase, still trying to plan meetings, still networking.

If you ask him "What happened?" He may shrug his shoulders and say "It was a tough winter." and leave it at that. He may have a bar of chocolate in that briefcase, come to think of it.

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