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City Beat July 10, 2003
Afternoon At the Reformed Rajj
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3
Besides, Muscovites are actorly people; they want to be watched. There was a woman in a day-glo pink floorlength dress dancing to the Mexican songs, and an anorexic New Russian lady who held her digital camera above her head and swept the scene with it, like a periscope.

There seems to be something in the cheesy romanticism of Latin American culture that really appeals to Russians. It makes me ashamed for them, though I know that's presumptuous and offensive. I can't help it. The singer was sweating, gasping out, "Yo soy un hombre sincero...." while a dozen young Russians, mostly girls, danced away muy sincerely. Only one of the dancers was camping it up, a short guy with a red Franco cap and a pipe in his mouth -- an American, as it turned out, too scared to dance, ironizing the ritual to hedge his bet. All these short, ironic guys -- I thought each generation was supposed to get taller, but people seem to be getting shorter. And campier.

Behind us was another group of Americans, exchange students, a flinchy covey of short and shaggy folk with handkerchief heads and downy beards, huddled against the wall, with the dominant male proclaiming, "First of all, when John Adams said that, he was being ironic about the Jeffersonians..." I remembered speaking in exactly the same tone and volume when I was a young pedant myself -- just loud enough to be overheard, hoping to inflict my snotty opinions on the strangers within range of my voice, yet able to deny speaking to them at all if attacked. And I remembered how soon the game grew frightening. That's what happened to this covey of fuzzy, half-brave pedants: they fled, shocked at their own daring and fearing some Federalist sympathizer might answer back.

The tableau I found most interesting was a wealthy Caucasian family who had set out their chairs in front of us. With them was one of the dykiest dykes I've seen here, a middleaged aunt with Army-cut, iron-gray hair, Terminator sunglasses, muscle shirt and black VC pajamas. She was clearly a relative; she had the family's fierce nose, gray-yellow complexion and way of settling deep into her chair. They didn't look like "progressive" people, and yet she was accepted, almost ignored, as she stomped off and swaggered back with a glass of wine for her girlfriend. How does a family like that deal with an aunt like her? Does it even matter what women do in a real old-style clan, as long as the genealogy is maintained? It's nice knowing you'll never know the answer. Those are the best things about Moscow, the things you don't get and never will. A real pleasure to wonder, and not have to know.

When I went back for some more of those great, cheap cans of Coke (20 rubles! Did I mention they were only 20 rubles?), I ran into Flounder, who told us more about the Tushino bombing: 20 people dead, he said. Suicide bombers -- a much more serious sort of bomb than the usual pipe- or car-bomb.

I hurried off to tell Katherine the details. It's a weird pleasure, bearing bad news that doesn't actually involve anyone you know. It's not grief; more like heat, as if the landscape vibrates faster now that you know people doing exactly what you're doing just got obliterated. At any rate, the crowds walking around seemed more historical now, now that another Moscow festival crowd had had a couple of bloody holes ripped in it by vests of ball-bearings and plastique.

And it definitely made the American ambassador's speech a more interesting prospect. We zigged and zagged through the quasi-Versailles gardens toward the main stage where he was due to talk. But we got distracted by a Republican booth, complete with photos of the President. We should've known an AmCham event would have a Republican booth, but it was a shock, a provocation, "gratuitous" as they say. Bravely occupying the booth was a wizened college-age fogey dressed like the preppies of yore right down to his boat shoes, the kind of GPA-obsessed dweeb whose fratboy heroes despise him and who loves them all the more for it. You'd recognize him. I certainly did. I taught thousands of him, and there are more coming down the pipe every day. All the suicide bombs of Araby will not suffice to wash him and his like away. I felt obliged to provoke him, and asked innocently, "Jeez, is this for real? It's not a joke?" He blinked and said "Yes." And they say the age of witty banter is past.

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