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City Beat July 10, 2003
 
Afternoon At the Reformed Rajj
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 

It was a big weekend for outdoor shows in Moscow. We went to the one that wasn't bombed, the American Chamber of Commerce's 4th of July party at Kuskovo Estate.

Like a lot of holiday ceremonies, this one has a shameful history. Back when it started, in the early nineties when the Americans were stomping around Moscow like a chubby Golden Horde, the AmCham Independence Day Party was openly advertised as "Americans Only." Meaning, No Russians Allowed.

AmCham's much more broadminded these days, or at least more sly. "Occultior non melior" -- the perfect slogan for the Bush years. No more crude Russophobia. In fact, as I learned from AmCham's cheery little handout, 62 per cent of this year's crowd was Russian. The handout was full of excitable statistics on the wealth and influence of the crowd: 76 percent owned cellphones! 83 percent wax their chests! 47 percent drive three or more Lexi! In other words, Bush Country.

Katherine and I swam in from the draggier part of the demographic curve, pariahs with no cellphones and no connection to AmCham. We've seen AmCham's brochures around town, in the cloakrooms of some expat-friendly restaurants. They usually feature the steely anchorperson smile of AmCham's President posing with George W., followed by a cheerible, boastful article enlarging on his Grecian-formula photo op and 17-second "private conversation" with the Great Man himself. Good for a quick laugh while waiting for the omelet at Starlite, then tossed contemptuously away. Like the song says, "These are not my people."

I've always heard about the xenophobic expat parties in pre-Crash Moscow and thought there might be something of that tone at AmCham's July 4th gathering. But it wasn't quite like that. Most of the American chauvinism in evidence was dully depressing, not funny. And not all of it was by Americans. There were dozens of Russian dyevs running around in t-shirts that read, "Proud to Be an American." They were corporate shirts, handed out along with a free ticket to the party by the dyevs' employers, but it was still odd to see them being proud to be what -- thank God!--they aren't.

And they weren't the only ones. There was a huge line of people waiting to get into the party, mostly Russians. I hadn't realized there were so many America-phile Muscovites left.

The guards at the gate held us up to search Katherine's bag. After we heard about what happened at Tushino, we realized what a great target the line of AmCham partygoers would've been.

The first we heard about the suicide bombers at Tushino was from a Russian friend who was wandering around beside the huge inflatable statue of Ronald McDonald as a reclining Buddha. Ronald McDonald on the shore of an artificial lake, on the lawn of an imitation Versailles, on the outskirts of Moscow. It was creepy more than funny. In fact, it wasn't funny. We were staring at the huge inflated Ronald McDonald Buddha as the Russian explained to us, "Yes, it's mostly Russians here, but America-friendly Russians...most aren't. There was a bomb at Tushino...."

But you know, "a bomb" doesn't mean much these days. We didn't know it was two suicide bombers blowing themselves up in the middle of a festival crowd. We went on wandering around the estate, ending up in the shady corner where a Latin band was playing. It was restful there, and Santa Fe restaurant was selling cans of Coke for 20 rubles -- the cheapest Cokes in Moscow. Coke was one of the sponsors, maybe that was why. Katherine and I bought two cans each and sat in the shade of a fake-Roman temple, by a stagnant pond, gulping fizz and looking at people.

We never get tired of looking at Muscovites, maybe because we came here from a small town in New Zealand where the gene pool is tiny and flat. Here there are so many geometries at work in the faces, from the duck-billed Hadrosaur jut to the hollow-eyed monk-in-glasses stare.


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dolan@exile.ru
 
 
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