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Press Review November 25, 2003
 
This Passport is Not Valid
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 

You have to admire a magazine that devotes the cover of its first issue to a picture of an expat being run over by a Moscow taxi. You just know that its heart is in the right place. There she is, this smiling Western lady in expensive clothes, leaning on the hood of a yellow taxi and smiling with all her might as the driver leans out to get a look at the woman he's crippling. A caption inside the magazine tells us she's "Melissa Goldstein, a physician at the European Medical Center," so she can count on evroremont-standard prosthetics after they scrape her off the pavement. Melissa, we learn, is demonstrating "the best way to stop a Moscow taxi." Everything in the photo is fiercely wrong, from Melissa's suicidal technique to the taxi itself. It's wonderful to think that this winter, dozens of expats will wait on cold Moscow streets for a western-style yellow taxi to pull up -- and those who haven't frozen to death by the time they spot one will jump out into traffic, Melissa-style, to hail it. "Passport" magazine

The whole magazine is as witlessly, relentlessly smug as its cover. Everything is wonderful in this best of all impossible Moscows. Even the orphanages are looking up, we learn, thanks to the charity of another expat lady, Mary Dudley. Mary, whose husband happens to be "CEO of newly-formed oil giant TNK-BP," devotes her life to the sort of treacly oligarchic patronage that gives charity a bad name. She's even given her orphanage work one of those disgusting alliterative names, "Diema's Dream." Some of us fled across the world to escape names like that, and magazines like this, in which suffering is never permitted to appear except as the before shot of a before-and-after vision of a world reformed by the grand condescension of the oligarchy.

So the article on Mary's bored-rich-lady exploits tells a simple story in which all is well, thanks to her: "A few years ago [the orphanage] in southern Moscow was a cruel asylum where handicapped children...were locked up by an uncaring government. Today, it's a modern care center bustling with specialized teachers, shiny new toys and smiling children. How did this transformation come about? Ask Mary Dudley."

The going rate for Passport seems to be one bored rich expat lady per article. After Mary Dudley has solved the orphan problem, we are treated to another Reader's Digest style story about one Barbara Childs, who tackled a problem even grimmer and more Dickensian than the orphanages: furnishing her apartment "before the arrival of Ikea on the local scene"! And the scale of Barbara's problem was especially daunting: she had to find enough pre-Ikea furniture to fill up "...a spacious, five-room, 100sqm apartment [with] two balconies overlooking the Moscow River...and a third hanging peacefully over the quiet, tree-lined courtyard in the back of the building."

I'm sure we're all glad that that third balcony decided to hang peacefully. But even with the cooperation of all three balconies, Mrs. Childs had a lot of work ahead of her, and no help other than the limitless funds of her "husband, Ken, who runs his own logistics firm." Her solution was to while away her weekends at Izmailovskii. The sheer daring of this feat awes Passport: "By keeping her eyes open, Barbara Childs pursued a hobby, furnished her apartment and discovered aspects of Moscow that many expats don't know exist." Indeed, who would have thought of going to a flea market for secondhand furniture?

In its inaugural lead article, Passport makes the transition from the merely stupid to the downright evil. This lead is an interview with Roman Abramovich, an interview which could well win the prize as the most fawning whitewash in the history or English-language oligarch blowjobs -- no small feat, as Moscow presswatchers will attest.

As usual, Passport deals with important matters. In the case of Abramovich, this means devoting no space whatever to his rise to power, and focusing instead on matters of decor, starting with the paint-scheme of his jet: "The private jet is an understated cream and white, but impossible to ignore."


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dolan@exile.ru
 
 
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