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World

As Warm Days Wane In Moscow, An 'Air Of Desperate Celebration'

Aerosmith's Steven Tyler performed during Moscow's 868th birthday celebration last week.
Aerosmith's Steven Tyler performed during Moscow's 868th birthday celebration last week.

NPR's correspondent in Moscow, Corey Flintoff, has been covering Russia since February 2012 and just got his Russian visa renewed for another year. He applied for it August, when the summer was nice, and received it in September — when, he says, the weather starts to give a person second thoughts.

It's fall in Moscow. Promptly on the first of September, someone turned on a tap and the rains began.

Corey Flintoff stands by an "I Heart Moscow" statue after his Russian visa was renewed for another year.
/ Courtesy of Corey Flintoff
Corey Flintoff stands by an "I Heart Moscow" statue after his Russian visa was renewed for another year.

The sun got a few light-years further away, and the young women who'd been strolling around in shorts and flip-flops suddenly showed up in fleece coats and boots.

There are signs of autumn everywhere — a last-minute rush to get repairs done before winter sets in. Many of Moscow's 19th century buildings are getting fresh coats of plaster and paint — in pastel pink and yellow and powder blue, colors that'll look wanly pretty when the city is blanketed in snow.

The sidewalks are all torn up as workers scramble to replace the asphalt with fancy paving blocks. Cynical Muscovites pick their way between the rubble and the puddles, muttering that the wife of a city official owns the company that produces that pricey pavement. The mayor himself apologized for the inconvenience, but said it's all about building a modern metropolis.

Moscow is the world's northernmost megacity — it's as if you dropped the population of greater Los Angeles, say 15 million people or so, onto the plains of northern Canada.

There was an air of desperate celebration in the city as the short summer slipped away. Every weekend in August, there was a festival celebrating something or other — food or jazz or theater in Gorky Park.

The culmination of all this was the city's 868th birthday last weekend. Budgets may be tight because of low oil prices, but the city splurged more than $7 million on its birthday party, with lots of live music from street performers and popular bands.

And despite all the anti-Western rhetoric on Russia's state-owned media, the headliner was an aging band from Boston: Aerosmith.

Front man Steven Tyler, who's part Ukrainian, said he was looking forward to a nice bowl of borscht. Soon we'll all be looking forward to a big serving of beet soup — with a dollop of sour cream, white as the winter that's waiting, just around the corner.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.