In Russia For Love

Alan Broach Issue: Section:

In previous articles I have described some of the frustrations of living and working in Moscow. But there are joys of living in Russia and not just the incredible number of beautiful girls. As one of my Italian clients puts it when he is here “every timea I walka downa the streeta I falla in love”. He really does talk like that.

Perhaps my greatest discovery here is our “dacha”. The traditional Russian wooden summer house in the country. The idea being (a) that living in Moscow in the summer is bad for your health (true) and (b) to give people a chance to grow their own fruit and vegetables. In Russia prices of staple foods decline every summer because there is a decrease in retail demand. People eat what they grow.

When I first met my wife in 1997 I was aware of dachas and the concept behind them.  My wife had told me that she had spent her childhood years at a dacha in a village on the Volga river to the north of Moscow in a place called Prislon. It is near the confluence of the canal that connects the Volga to the Moscow river. An enormous engineering project undertaken in Soviet times at the cost of thousands of lives. Anyway, in the year 2000 my wife told me that she had heard there was a dacha for sale in Prislon and did I want to go and look at it? So one cold late April day we bundled the dog and everyone into the car and headed for Prislon. First surprise was that my wife clearly had no idea how to find the place so we reverted to the usual Russian tactic of stopping every 2 miles and asking for directions. Second surprise was how awful the roads were outside Moscow (and still are).

We eventually arrived, I was cold, tired, car sick and crabby in equal measures. The dacha we were being offered was only half built. The owners’ previous building had burned down (a big fear for dacha owners) and half way through re-building they had decided to sell. I was not overly impressed by what I saw so took myself off for a walk. I went down a narrow lane between peasants’ cottages and came out to a view of the Volga which still takes my breath away every time I see it. The nature in Russia is incredibly beautiful. The vista showed a broad sweep of the Volga to my left with a perfect white church on a promontory where the river bisects into a tributary. To my right on the near bank is a forest which as far as I have been able to tell goes on for ever.

That settled it. We decided to buy. The first years were really devoted to finishing the building and making the valuable addition of a north facing terrace. We eat all our meals there and the inside is only really used for sleeping and storing things. Having completed the building we started on the garden which, other than lots of raspberry canes (which grow as weeds) and some mature fruit trees (quite a few of which did not produce fruit) it was a jungle.

I have always been a fan of English cottage style gardens while my mother-in-law prefers a more formal approach. Slowly I have been winning the fight and after a few years hard work the garden is starting to take shape. Another of my obsessions is lawns (“gazon” in Russian”). Lawns do not normally seem to be a feature of Russian dacha gardens (flowers, fruit and vegetables pre-dominate) but I decided to give it a go. Being mad enough to consider turf as cheating I bought Canadian grass seed, then selected the part of the garden the builders had used as an outdoor work shop (I like a challenge) and set about it. The local people who call me the “mad Englishman” watched in fascination. The scheme worked though and now everyone in the village seems to have a lawn. Sunday mornings the sound of lawnmowers is everywhere.

The drive to our dacha takes about 2 hours on a good day (and you do not get many of those) and we spend pretty much every weekend in the season (May to September) there. One of the other joys of being in the country is hunting for mushrooms (a very Russian past time) but I will save that story for a later article.

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