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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Maybe Things Are as Bad as They Can Get

Don't ever come back to Moscow in January, if you can help it. The post-holiday depression is just that much worse when you plunge into Russia's cold, dark winter from the bright lights and warmer temperatures of the West. It's gotten so bad that I am thinking of abandoning my self-appointed role as grouch-with-a-heart observer of Russia. I'm still a grouch, but the heart is giving out.


It's not just the weather that's got me down, although four days of sliding around on the slush-covered ice that seems to have buried the city has not improved my mood. My car is dead, my dog is sick, there are rats in my courtyard and cockroaches in my kitchen. This is all part of the scenery, and although I grumble a bit, I can usually tolerate it.


But a month of the pampered life has left me temporarily unable to cope with the major and minor tragedies of living in Russia. The sheer weight of misery in this country is hard to overcome these days, and the grimness reaches out and grabs me at odd times and places.


Just the other night I attended a cocktail party, a great evening of witty conversation, intellectual debate, and good food and drink. The crowd was made up of Russian and Western journalists, and although events in Chechnya dominated the conversation, the mood was relatively lighthearted.


Leaving with some friends, I was feeling quite happy with my life, thinking that the worst of the re-entry blues was behind me. I had that warm glow that comes with knowing there is nowhere else you would rather be. This may have had something to do with the quantity of wine consumed, but it was pleasant nonetheless.


We walked down the stairway of the apartment building, since the elevator was fuIl of other partygoers.


On the third-floor landing, propped up against the wall, was a coffin cover, a gaudy affair of purple satin and black ruffled trim.


My companion, who had just returned from Grozny, stopped dead. "I've seen so many of those lately," she remarked, and we continued down the stairs in much darker spirits.


My Russian and Western acquaintances seem united in their dejection, made up of despair over the war, confusion over politics, fear of the what the future might hold. Everyone is certain of only one thing -- things will not get better.


"Nothing good ever happens in this country," sighed a writer friend of mine. In true Russian style, he added with a wry grin, "That's what makes it so interesting."


A Western colleague, who was asked to write an upbeat story for the New Year, said he was so depressed after reflecting on prospects for the future that he almost packed his bags and left.


"Why on earth would you leave America to come here?" asked my taxi driver yesterday. I gave my standard answer -- Russia is so interesting, the people are so warm, the values so different -- that never failed to get a smile and a nod in the past. But this time the driver looked at me incredulously and shook his head.


Russia is a country of extremes, and the pendulum seems to have swung pretty far in the direction of negativism. Yeltsin the hero has become Yeltsin the villain, prices are rising while the ruble falls, the country is in chaos and there is no end in sight.


"At least, I think, things can't get any worse," a Russian journalist told me. He thought for a moment, then added, "but they probably can."