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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CONFESSIONS OF A RUSSOPHILE: July 4 Needed Mayor's Help




I've spent the greater part of my adult life bouncing around Europe, and, in my brighter moments, I like to think that I have acquired a thin veneer of international savoir faire. I can negotiate the Paris metro system, order cappuccino in Florence (only up until noon, of course), and hurl insults in several languages, including Norwegian.


While these may seem like minor accomplishments to Moscow's sophisticated expat community, in some of America's more obscure suburbs I can dine out for days on my experiences.


But no matter how exotic my collections of friends and jewelry, I turn into a misty-eyed, small-town girl on the Fourth of July. Hot dogs and corn on the cob, three-legged races and pole climbing contests -- these may not have been major activities in my native Boston, but I have seen "Carousel" and "The Music Man" several times.


So it was with celluloid images of good old-fashioned fun that I set out for the American Chamber of Commerce's Fourth Annual Fourth of July Extravaganza, held at the lovely Kuskovo estate on Saturday.


But, as the Russians say, ne tut-to bylo, which means, roughly, "dreams and reality seldom coincide, especially in Russia, and this is no exception, so it's no use complaining."


Russians can pack an awful lot into just a few words.


The wieners were there, and plenty of beer, and flags and balloons and lots of red, white and blue. But it was all covered by a relentless icy downpour. The organizers had thought of everything except the most essential item -- making sure that the weather was being managed by God and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov (not necessarily in that order).


I was to be the master of ceremonies, which was a boon, since the central stage was one of the few places that was actually under cover. I had dressed in summertime white, however -- isn't it always hot on the Fourth of July? -- so most of my announcements could not be heard because of the chattering of my teeth.


My first task was to warn the crowd (if 20 people in a field made for 10,000 can be called a crowd) that the organizers were about to turn on the electricity so that the food providers could begin to cook.


So instead of "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy" I was warbling "Stand back! Possible danger of electrocution!" It put a crimp in the festivities, I must admit.


Most of the vendors opted for charcoal barbecues -- wise, under the circumstances. Walking around the grounds a bit later, I saw one forlorn pizza stand, with a bedraggled cardboard sign saying something like, "We have been told that there is no way we can turn on our super-duper electric pizza oven without killing ourselves. Have a beer."


The heroes of the day were the sports teams, who valiantly carried on with their football, soccer and volleyball tournaments, even though mud wrestling would probably have been more appropriate.


The American "can-do" spirit, combined with Russian inventiveness, eventually triumphed over adversity, however, and the crowd arrayed themselves in a very chic assortment of plastic garbage bags and danced the afternoon away under golf umbrellas.


The pie-eating contest was a definite success, although no one seemed quite sure of what the rules were. But much coconut cream was ingested, even more was smeared over the contestants' faces, and our Russian friends were ecstatic: "Pirogi! Na Khalyavu!!!" went the cry -- which means, simply, "Free pie!"


By evening, everyone was well-oiled enough that the weather was becoming less of a problem. We did have a few crises, though. The tape of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that was supposed to accompany the Marine Corps Color Guard in their presentation of the flag went missing. We tried to round up a singing crew, but we couldn't find anyone who knew all the words. The tape surfaced just in time to save the audience from my imitation of Kate Smith doing "God Bless America."


By evening's end, there were just a few hardy souls left for the firework presentation. Cold and miserable, I was edging toward the exit myself, but stopped to watch the spectacle.


As I paused in the rockets' red glare, a drier, drunker and infinitely better-traveled group came up behind me.


"Not bad," one of them said breezily. "But really, after Hong Kong this is nothing."


It's a good line -- hard to beat for snob appeal. I'm practicing it for next year, provided I'm seeing out the Fourth somewhere in Kansas.