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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Living It Up in the Rockets' Red Glare

I've been told not to write another column about the hip nightlife of that groovy clubbing mecca, Minsk. Sorry, but I can't help it; I have to mention Minsk again because my latest trip has led to a further development of "The Matthews Theory of Good Times."


You may recall my observation of a few weeks ago that people party more under totalitarian regimes, otherwise known as "The Forbidden Fruit Syndrome." I am now ready to reveal the second part of this truism: that people party more in times of political crisis and social upheaval.


Not that the rather half-hearted demonstrations in Minsk over the last week are on a par with Tiananmen Square -- there's more passion and violence at the average Spartak football match -- but by Minsk standards, the latest constitutional crisis created enough excitement to give impressionable young Minskians that emergency-situation frisson.


There was an unmistakable edge to the festivities at the Reactor, Minsk's coolest club, which boasts a real -- unused, we hope -- nuclear reactor core that dominates the dance floor. The vapid but well-formed models and gangsters' molls who form the Reactor's female clientele were chatting with more animation than normal, excited by the heavy police presence on the streets of the city, sporadic demonstrations and the presence of foreign journalists. There was also a distinct buzz in Milord, the younger version of Reactor, populated by hip student girls -- who get in free -- and shaven-headed mafiosi-in-training.


No one really seemed to know what was going on -- least of all the foreign press corps -- but at least everyone had a distinct sense that something big was happening, which is more than one can usually say for sunny Minsk.


The last time I encountered the phenomenon of news-event-induced abandon was in April in Beirut, where I was writing a book on nightlife and restaurants. My schedule was temporarily interrupted by Israeli airstrikes on the Southern suburbs of the city. One particularly spectacular Apache helicopter attack on a power station sent flames billowing seven stories high, which I observed with detached interest while drinking beer on the roof of my hotel.


The Israeli strikes were the best thing to have happened to Lebanese nightlife since the invention of the cocktail shaker. After five years of peace (more or less), the Lebanese were just discovering ennui, jadedness, boredom and all the usual afflictions of car-bomb-free societies. Suddenly, as the rockets began to slam into the city, all the bars and clubs of raffish, post-colonial Christian East Beirut exploded into life. Dancing on the tables, heavy drinking on weekday nights, coke binges and fond memories of good times during the war were back in style as the generators chugged away in the blacked-out Lebanese night.


What is this perverse impulse to party while others are risking life and limb in the cause of, well, something, a short distance away? It may have something to do with what you might call artificial memory creation -- in other words, the consciousness that the events you are living through will be the stuff of anecdotes for the rest of your life, and therefore history challenges you to rise to the occasion and perform something suitably memorable to match the event you've been caught up in. You don't, after all, want to tell your grandchildren that you were washing your socks while Beirut burned.