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Moscow's Olympic summer: rumors and 'snow'

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It's high summer in Moscow, but it's a summer with a difference. On top of high temperatures and tropical downpours, worse-than-usual fluffy "summer snow" from shedding poplar trees, and noise day and night as traffic races past our buildings on the 12-lane main ring road, there's the final countdown for the Moscow Olympic Games July 19 to Aug. 3.

It has a become a game of one-upmanship for Muscovites and foreigners alike to find the best story or rumor about the preparations -- and like the "summer snow" ("pookh" in Russian) the stories are flying around.

"Now's the time to commit a crime in Tomsk," one Russian told me. "All the KGB agents and militiamen [police] have been brought into Moscow for the games."

The "pookh" is the long, cotton-ball-like seed from a type of female poplar, trees planted in great numbers here because Stalin liked them.

For about a month it literally fills the air with white "snow," collecting in drifts on the ground, impossible to keep out of windows, dropping into food on dinner plates, sticking on faces. It is one month late this year and has hit Moscow as preparations for the Olympics swung into high gear.

The "snow" sticks fast to the new paint being splashed around town. The clanking of scaffolding going up and coming down is as natural a sound in Moscow these days as the bell on the main Kremlin clock tower. Some of the work is beautiful, other buildings weather badly.

When people meet, they ask, "Are you on an Olympic route?" If so, their apartment houses and offices have probably been painted. Rarely before have so many worked on so many projects. Roads are being resurfaced. Tunnels, markets, telephone boxes, park benches, the sentry-type boxes used by police to stand 24 -hour guard over buildings where foreigners live . . . all are being painted and patched up. It's the show of the month.

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