The Breakfast Table

House Beautiful

Your older daughter attended a Soviet school? God, Paul, how long have you been here? Those dresses, btw, rank with my most profound childhood traumas. After I was liberated from Soviet school, it took me a full 15 years to be able to wear a dress again.

So you are warned about power outages in advance now? This is obviously a special service provided to the diplomatic compounds. (I am assuming your office is in one of those hideous apartment buildings distinguished from other hideous apartment buildings by the tall fence and the surly guards who try to keep out Russians.) I have long since determined that, in my building at least, one cannot log on and reheat lunch at the same time, so my money is on your microwave. I don’t think they’ve started turning off people for nonpayment in Moscow yet. In any case, Russian energos generally prefer to go all-or-nothing: In Vladivostok, for example, they shut off the entire city for days at a time.

That said, someone–Novaya Gazeta, if I’m not mistaken–reported recently that elevators in the Izvestiya building had been turned off for nonpayment of electricity bills. The city is full of rumors about the Izvestiya building, a gray 1970s monstrosity that casts a giant shadow over Moscow’s best-loved square. Apparently, since the merger with Ryssky Telegraph, Izvestiya staff has crowded into the other paper’s cramped quarters, freeing up something like 14 floors of prime Moscow real estate. Rumor has it it will be converted into a hotel, but the official line is that the Izvestiya building is being modernized. That makes sense: As of last month, many of the journalists there typed their stories on typewriters; then, after editing, typists would re-type them, and then they’d be entered into an ancient typesetting machine. Yesterday, while interviewing a media-economics analyst, I mentioned something about this.

“That’s riciculous,” he bristled. “The Izvestiya building is state-of-the-art.”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “It’s even got pneumatic mail.”

“That’s right,” he responded proudly. “I was an engineer on that building in 1974.”

Oops. You just never know when you are going to put your foot in it, do you?

While we are on the topic of real estate: Johnson’s List has a very nice piece from the Oct. 26 issue of Business Week, about descendants of Russian nobility reclaiming and refurbishing family estates. Aside from being a nice departure from the Yeltsin-losing-it, ruble-losing-it, us-losing-Russia reporting, the article tells a few interesting stories. One man, after waging a three-decade fight for his ancestors’ Moscow home, has finally won a job as the live-in director of a museum to be created there. In the countryside, villagers are sympathetic to the descendants’ cause–while the courts decidedly are not.

I hope the lights come on for you.