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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hot Dogs, Rain and a Mini Statue of Liberty

For MTChildren playing at a U.S. Independence Day celebration attended by thousands of people Saturday at Kuskovo.
A dose of old-time Americana greeted throngs of Americans and Muscovites alike who swarmed the stately grounds of the Kuskovo estate on Saturday for the American Chamber of Commerce's annual Fourth of July celebration.

Decked out in balloons and flags and adding a mini Statue of Liberty to its array of busts and monuments, the lavish estate hosted thousands who braved breezy, overcast weather and packed free buses from the metro to fete U.S. Independence Day.

The central lawn turned into a food court lined with dozens of restaurant stalls, as the tantalizing smell of hot dogs and grilled shashliks swirled across the grass, where picnickers gnawed on corn on the cob and sipped cold beer. A sound stage set up at the end of the courtyard featured live music, including the rock band Voskreseniye.

As visitors wandered among sponsors' tents, they snatched up free trinkets such as refrigerator magnets and bite-sized Swiss chocolates. Auto-buffs examined the latest cars from General Motors, parked in the middle of the courtyard, while ducking the ubiquitous Golden Telecom frisbee.

Near the estate's pond, volleyball and soccer teams dueled one another, while in the children's area a few meters away, youngsters scaled an inflatable Ronald McDonald, swung on a rotund swingset and cavorted with convivial clowns.

Nearby, toddlers switched off with riders 10 times their age wearing 10 gallon hats to ride a mechanical bull erected by the Pony Express courier company.

Sometimes it was hard to tell the Americans and Russians apart. Sporting boots, overalls, flannel and a cowboy hat, Oleg Petrov, a Moscow-born bank analyst, looked thoroughly the part of a Old-West cowpoke, while Amy Sanders, an American student studying abroad, ditched her stateside gear to show off a Russian tricolor on her cheek.

The windy weather and cloudy skies put a slight damper on some of the revelry. Although visitors were promised hot-air balloon rides, the relentlessly gusty weather ensured that only the bunches of helium balloons periodically released by partygoers sailed over the treetops.

"Next time, they should import some California sun along with the Statue of Liberty," said a shivering Valeria Borodina, as she clasped a cup of warm tea.

For MT
Men playing flag football. Others participated in volleyball or soccer matches.
While many visitors who came were affiliated in some way with one of the over 800 companies represented by the chamber, others stumbled upon the event by chance.

"We just came to Moscow on vacation, came to Kuskovo, to do some sight-seeing. Imagine our surprise to find a Fourth of July bash in Russia," said Daniel Thorndike, a doctor from San Francisco, who watched as his 8-year-old daughter had a makeover with face-paint cat whiskers.

Those with a sweet tooth got a taste of edible stars and stripes, as they mobbed the stage for a mammoth quarter-ton, 2-by-3-meter flag cake baked by the Radisson SAS Slavyanskaya hotel. The cake was polished off in minutes.

Not everyone was thrilled at the thought of a U.S. celebration in Russia, however. Visitors were greeted frostily by picketers from various organizations, including the Levy Front and the All-Russian Communist Party of the Future, who carried "America is terror" signs and chanted, "Yankees, get out of Kuskovo."

Squadrons of police officers remained close at hand.

Toward evening, amid raffle giveaways and athletic competitions, Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Somers and U.S. Ambassador William Burns officially greeted the revelers.

Despite an evening cloudburst that prompted a small exodus of the less hardy, the event ended with a bang as a brilliant fireworks show lit up the night sky and sparkled in the reflection of the manor's pond.