Heat waves in Moscow are ruthless.
Air vanishes. Replaced by a burning, windless scorch.
The smell of melting rubber on concrete, dry dust thrown up by the wheels of traffic, the absence of air-con in old buses, trains, shops and most homes.
Distances stretch. Underground highway crossings, of which there are many, become endless. The metro, stuffy and claustrophobic. In peak hour, it is unbearable to stand or to have someone stand close to you or touch any part of your body.
Outside, the men give up patting their faces dry with handkerchiefs and smoke silently and drink beer and kvas.
Mentally I grab a towel, jump in my car and drive to Balmoral beach before realising I don’t have a car anymore and Balmoral is on the other side of the world.
So instead we go to Serebryany Bor |Silver Bor|
A green oasis twenty minutes from the city, Serebryany Bor is a forest, an island, a beach, a picnic spot, also a place where soviet party members and other distinguished members of society used to have their country houses |dachas|.
Since Sergey Sobyanin came to power he’s gone to a great effort to improve places like Serebryany Bor so there are new bicycle paths, walkways, flower beds and other visually pleasant scenarios available. Boat rentals, tennis courts, water skiing are all possibilities.
It’s a beautiful place in summer.
As always in Moscow though, the new and the logical clashes with the old and the confusing.
Parking is basically tetris. You just look for an empty slot next to another car and dive in. Sure, that other car is on top of the side walk or literally in the middle of the road but hey the important thing is, there is precedence.
We follow this line of collective thought wedging the car somewhere it definitely doesn’t belong before joining the mass pilgrimage of other air-starved humans into the forest.
Comment: Moskovites have a thing about air. There’s a constant desire to be in a place with clean air, plans to escape dirty air, discussions about factors contributing to the dirtiness/cleanliness of air. When you buy property it’s as much ‘air, air, air’ as it is ‘location, location, location’.
And yes, below is a road permanently turned to BBQ plot paradise. I don’t know why. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Miraculously we get a a table and a BBQ spot straight away.
Here, close to the river and the shade of the trees the heat subsides a little to our relief.
There is one very important part of this kind of nature outing in Russia.
They must be cooked. They must be accompanied by the delicious smell of charcoal and meat and vegetables beckoning all meat eaters to come hither.
We fail to get this exactly right and bring chicken breast instead of pre-cut chunks of beef and lamb that are the norm.
I look over longingly at the correct shashliki being prepared by the group next to us. I then notice they are all wearing identical sailor striped shirts.
“They are celebrating Russia’s navy day” dad explains. He is also wearing a sailor striped shirt although he is definitely not celebrating Russia’s navy day.
“Go infiltrate them” I say “and bring me back a proper shashlik.”
While we cook the food a video journalist from Channel 360 comes to talk to dad about illegal lighting of BBQ fires in the forests.
Dad suggests they introduce an online booking system to understand demand for BBQ grills and act accordingly.
I think it’s too hot for problem solving but the reporter looks thrilled.
She tells dad when to watch for the segment on TV before leaving to find other vox pops.
The navy group next to us blasts Russian ‘popsa’ music that has nothing to do with the navy and drinks copious amounts of beer.
“We need to leave before everyone gets wasted” dad cautions.
“When will that be?” I ask.
“Around four” he says casually and goes back to cooking.
We gorge on meat, salamis, salad, cherries, plums and blueberries. No one is rowdy by the time we finish eating so we meander through the park.
It happens so often, people leave their phone numbers in the front window of their cars so tortured souls like us can plead with them to move.
We do just that and wait half an hour for liberation. The concrete starts to melt.
At least there is air-con inside the car.