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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Sad Sam Party Is Back

At the center of the Moscow foreign community legend is an address: 12/24 Sadovo-Samotechnaya. During the Cold War it was a so-called hornets' nest of imperialist propaganda, a building guarded and bugged almost as intensively as the U.S. Embassy. The virtual headquarters of the Western press -- the New York Times and Daily Telegraph, CBS and BBC, AFP and Reuters all had their offices there -- Sad Sam was the Mecca of Russian dissidents and the bane of the KGB. Once a year, however, the narrow inner yard of this ghetto fortress came to life, for a wonderful open-air party celebrating the coming of summer in the city and the year's shortest night. I don't know how far back this tradition goes -- probably to the mid-1960s -- but I think the first time I took part in it myself was 1985. For Russians at that time, if they did not belong to the Glav UPDK, it was nearly impossible to get in. So for my first Sad Sam party, I was literally smuggled in, hidden in the car of Martin Walker, the Guardian's Moscow correspondent. It was like a fairy tale: all-night dancing, drinking and meeting new and unusual people. Several generations of foreign correspondents have passed through since then, but the celebration goes on, under very different conditions. Gone are the KGB guards from the building's arch; gone too is the hot weather. Last Saturday I attended my first Sad Sam party in four or five years. This time there were slightly fewer people, but overall more Russians, more kids and a much better band (seven guys from the Congo). I was told there had actually been a break in the parties during the early 1990s due to a lack of interest, but what I saw this time looked like a full-scale revival. This seems to make sense. I suppose that back in the Brezhnev days, the party was very much an act of emotional resistance to the gloomy surroundings, a brave and self-asserting statement of defiance that said: No matter how much you watch us, isolate us and put pressure on us, we're still alive and well and capable of having fun. Now the times are, in some ways, equally frustrating: Instead of bugs, bans and expulsions, there is violence, crime and skyrocketing prices. Sad Sam fights back. n MMM's advertising campaign has finally gotten to me, on a subconscious level. After watching 20 or so MMM commercials on television on a single night, I had a nightmare. The ads continued on in my sleep, taking outrageous forms. I don't remember the dream precisely, but both Lyonya Golubkov and Marina Sergeyevna, saved in the ads from loneliness and unattractiveness by MMM shares, were there. The latter, I recall, was trying to seduce me. Am I losing my mind? n Last Friday, along with a camera crew, I was invited on board the Sergei Yesenin riverboat to report on the national semi-finals of the "Look of the Year" modeling competition. Putting aside the basic arguments concerning beauty contests, I just want to point out that here in Russia such events can be truly grotesque. Sixteen models, aged 14 to 19, were dancing in front of a small international jury, a dozen journalists and a crowd of cheerful "new Russian" playboys, who were behaving as though they were at an auction or the racetrack. After the showcase, the men lined up to give away their "very personal" prizes -- between $100 and $500 -- to the model of their choice. Getting off the boat, I was witness to a deeply touching scene: One of the unfortunate models, who failed to win anything, was sitting alone on the pier, with two stray dogs playing nearby. Too bad we were already out of tape. n I celebrated my 39th birthday in the editing room, putting together this week's edition of my TV show. Incidentally, I would like to remind the editors of the TV Guide in the Weekend section that the show is called Cafe Oblomov, not Oblomov Cafe. Also, I don't understand why NTV, which is broadcast on channel four, is listed in the guide at the very bottom of the local stations, even after the barely watched channels five and six. You don't have to list it first (as in quality) or second (as in viewer ratings), but at least follow the numbers, please