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Previously in Atlantic Abroad

  • On the Ground in Patagonia (William Langewiesche, Chile, March 18, 1998).

  • Dog Days in Paris (Katherine Guckenberger, France, March 4, 1998).

  • The View from Awolowo Street (Jeffrey Tayler, Nigeria, February 19, 1998).

  • The Courts of Pondicherry (Akash Kapur, India, February 4, 1998).

  • A Convent with a View (Katherine Guckenberger, France, January 22, 1998).

  • The Moscow Rave (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, December 24, 1997).

  • Waste Not, Want Not (Ryan Nally, Poland, December 10, 1997).

  • Sikkim and Ye Shall Find (Akash Kapur, India, November 26, 1997).

  • The Magistrates of Creektown (Jeffrey Tayler, Nigeria, November 5, 1997).

  • Brando's Birds (Marshall Jon Fisher, France, October 22, 1997).

  • Dinner at the Gostilna Novljan (Chris Berdik, Slovenia, October 8, 1997).

  • The Dacha Regime (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, September 25, 1997).

    For more, see the complete Atlantic Abroad Index.

    Share your tales of life abroad in the Global Views forum of Post & Riposte.


  • A Day at the Moscow Beach
    April 1, 1998

    After six-month winters of snow and dark, summers in Russia are intoxicatingly sweet, with long balmy days followed by three-hour dusks of pale orange and purple. Russians are understandably eager to enjoy the good weather while they can; summers bring a widespread pagan lust for release from the confines of musty apartments.

    In 1985 I visited a Black Sea resort in the southern Russian town of Sochi, and I have clear recollections of Soviet-style holiday cheer: the indestructible loudspeaker in my room roused me at seven in the morning for courtyard calisthenics, and red-lettered placards flapped in the breezes, exhorting citizens to rest thoroughly so they could return home and build communism with renewed vigor. A wall above the amusement park had been emblazoned with the words, "Holiday makers! Lenin is more alive than all the living!" Lenin had died in 1924. After a week in Sochi I felt like joining him in his mausoleum.

    Times have changed, however, and people are now free to enjoy themselves at the beach New-Russian style -- even in Moscow. Wanting some beach-time myself, I recently collected my thermos and towel and hopped on the metro to the Moscow River's Serebryany Bor Park. At each station along the way tanned Russians young and old boarded the train carrying Russian translations of Harold Robbins novels, cans of Bear Beer, bottles of chili-pepper vodka, and beach towels emblazoned with images of Rambo and Jean-Claude Van Damme. These were salt-of-the-earth proles out to enjoy the sun for the price of a metro token.

    A brief taxi ride from the Shchukinskaya metro station left me amid twelve-story apartment buildings and chattering beachgoers. It turned out that selecting a spot in Serebryany Bor was half the fun -- or battle -- of spending the day at the beach in Moscow. I set off with the crowd for the river to begin my search.

    The first stretch of sandy bank was crowded with pensioners who stood sunbathing in a variety of statuesque poses. Some resembled Pavarotti in his underwear, arms outstretched as if performing fiery though silent arias; others stood in baggy trunks with their legs splayed; a few rotated rhythmically, like chickens roasting on vertical spits. I moved on.

    On the next beach boomboxes blasted rave and disco, and younger bathers soaked up the sun horizontally. A topless beauty in Rêvo sunglasses sat atop a sandy ridge, impassively observing the shoals of recumbent, bronzed humanity; copper-skinned teenagers kicked a soccer ball around by the water. In the parking lot there was a huddle of four black BMWs with tinted windows. Beside them were muscular young men in black T-shirts and black trousers, hopping about on one foot as they struggled to take off their black Gucci loafers. A bit farther on, wasp-waisted women teetered on stiletto heels as they navigated seas of pebbles on their way toward the sand.

    I followed a path into the woods, through the heavy fragrances of honeysuckle and fern. In the clearings naked middle-aged men in waist-high grass ran in place and performed floppy jumping jacks. I kept moving.

    Finally I emerged onto a riverside plaza of cafés and tennis courts, and, tired as I was, took a seat. Two bull-necked mafiozy were facing each other off on the nearest tennis court. One served and the other missed, flailing his racket and spinning in a mad pirouette. Their molls cheered them on with curses and throaty laughter. Judging by their Ladas and bottles of Ukrainian cognac, the men were melkie bandity, minor crooks, thugs far down the Mafia food chain. But it made no difference to me -- the air was fresh and the river lapped at the sandy bank. Satisfied that I had found what I wanted, I sipped my cola and soaked up the sun, which flooded the birches and courts with a delirium of warmth, softening even the beetle-browed thugs. After the pummeling of a Russian winter, no one, I thought, whether mafiozo or pensioner or displaced American, should resist the simple pleasures of a day at the Moscow beach.


    Jeffrey Tayler is a freelance writer and traveler based in Moscow. He has recently written on Greece, Moscow, Siberia, Transylvania, and Zaire for The Atlantic Monthly. He contributes regularly to Atlantic Abroad.

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