We knew from the twittering in the courtyard that Spring had come to Moscow. Running out onto the balcony, we saw them: the first hooligans of the season, gathered in the courtyard to sit on the old Soviet play-statues and drink.
It wasn't just the outdoor hooliganing. The scurfy birches in the courtyard greened up. The piss-smell in the Metro got much, much worse. The crows started collecting trash for nests. The other birds started singing. (They were here all winter. They just kept quiet for some reason.)
In fact, the whole paraphernalia of "Spring" as you encounter it in English poetry turned out to be real. As a Californian, I always thought that stuff about birds, flowers and Springtime was just there for the rhymes. After all, Spring in California is when things start dying, not growing. But here I am in Europe (depending on who you ask) and it turns out Spring actually IS the time when the greenery greens up and the birds do their yammering.
The same thing applies to the Moscow sky. In all those old European paintings, there's a strange sky, with high silver-pink clouds and horizontal light. I thought it was a stylized convention, but last week, when Katherine and I were walking along the river, I looked up and there it was, that very sky. They weren't lying after all, those old painters of people in three-cornered hats.
It's like what Benchley said about his trip to Italy: "I knew pasta was the Italians' national dish, but imagine my surprise on going to Italy and finding it WAS their national dish!"
Unfortunately, Spring also means Remont season in Moscow. The snow packs up and the orange-coverall crews swoop down to slap another coat of paint on, put up some more cheesy billboards, and generally make Moscow a noisier, hotter place.
And that leads to another seasonal activity: hating your neighbors.
Our downstairs neighbors, to be specific. We hate them -- "so much -- so very, very much," as Eric Cartman would put it.
We were out of shape for apartment living when we arrived. We came here from Dunedin, a remote city that's been losing population for a century. You get a house to yourself there whether you like it or not. Dunedin people are famous for not even being able to share a beach, let alone a building. So it took us a while to settle into our Kitai-Gorod building and stop flinching every time a door opened or a toilet flushed somewhere.
We classified our neighbors based on the noises that came through the walls. The young woman next to us is a happy drunk who loves Naked Gun movies. She likes Police Academy too, but what the Hell. We like her. Upstairs is a guy who likes to play some apocalyptic video game with a multi-megaton soundtrack that shakes the ceiling. There's always artificial thunder from above us. He's reliable. For instance, he always takes a noisy shower at midnight on Sunday, whether he needs it or not. You can set your watch by it.
Under us was a nice, quiet old lady. We liked her too, until she ruined everything by dying on us. Within a few hours of Skoraya Pomosh' carrying her body out, new people moved in to her apartment. Bad people. They started remonting the day they arrived. And they did their own remont, after hours. They must have jobs, because there's total silence all day, but in the evening the sledgehammers come out. And they hammer and hammer till midnight or one a.m.
The sledgehammer seems to be their favorite tool. Their only tool. How can you remodel with a hammer? I know Nietzsche talked about philosophizing with a hammer, but remodeling? As far as we can tell, their whole plan is to smash every interior wall and end up with one huge rubble-choked room.
This midnight hammering is exactly the sort of thing your hardened Moskvich wouldn't stand for. I should've been down there the first night, screaming like a Bronxite. But I chickened out. Simple as that.