Summering, Russian Style

The July issue of National Geographic has an article describing the Dacha, or Russian summer house. I found this bit familiar, as will any visitor to a New England Camp (never called a “summer home”):

Decor tends to out-of-date calendars, mismatched crockery, paintings of bears in the forest, and lace curtains hanging in doorways to defend against mosquitoes.

Although they still seem to be stuck in the mid-20th century, whereas most American camps have been somewhat modernized:

A dacha with no running water or electricity is the rule.

Finally, everything changes. This bit will be familiar to those who used to visit places like Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard in a bygone day:

On the other end of the spectrum are kottedzhy (cottages), the name for the wannabe castles built by New Russians, postcommunism’s superspenders. Many communities of steroidal cottages—there are 500 around Moscow—have elbowed aside traditional dachas and sometimes become primary residences. “Oligarchs go to the Loire, see castles, and say: I need one of those,” Konstantin Kovalyov-Sluchevskiy, a local historian, says dryly. Interiors tend to early Las Vegas: marble columns that hold up nothing, gilt thick as a call girl’s mascara. On the outside are high stone or brick walls, sometimes with slits, as if to allow archers to shoot burning arrows at any peasant foolish enough to attempt a breach. “Their owners have not developed a soul,” Konstantin observes sadly.

It’s always interesting to see how similar habits develop differently in other cultures – but also a good reminder about how we all share some of the same human impulses to connect with nature and have a restful place of our own. As the old saying says: A New Englander can’t be happy unless he’s comfortably uncomfortable.

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