The Breakfast Table

In the Dark

Lights are back on. I think it was a repeat of the mouse-in-the-microwave problem, though someone here of course suggested it was because the FSB/KGB was adding a little black box to our computer lines.

When the lights went out I went to the Duma, to talk to a deputy from the North about the impending winter. The snows are already falling there, and it looks like they are heading for more misery: not enough fuel for the furnaces or food for the outlying regions. But, he said fatalistically, people will get by with the food they have put aside, and with the wood they have cut. Except, of course, for the several dozens of thousands of people in small gold mining settlements in the far, far North. The gold plants have pulled out, and the whole social and economic support system with them–everything from schools to doctors to heating plants–and they are reduced to writing pathetic appeals to their deputies. Yet again some horrible little tragedies are going to play out across this country, unnoticed and unrecorded by anyone. It reminds me of the sad little story of a collective farm in Vologda a couple of years ago. The staff organized a hunger strike to protest the fact that they had not been paid for a year or so. They stopped it when they realized that no one cared. They could have starved to death and not even made it into a news brief in Moscow. The Duma, of course, seems comfortably insulated from the woes of the country. Wood-paneled offices, spacious suites, secretaries (in the case of my interlocutor today) whose clothes, if you can call them that, seem to have been painted on. On the way back, after a quick brunch of cold sausages and sauerkraut in the Duma cafeteria (I was too tired this morning to both feed my daughter and myself–your jetlag is catching), I was dozing in a traffic jam when I heard that an aide to the Duma speaker had been shot. A contract hit, as usual, it seems. Sort of strange, though, don’t you agree? I’m used to people from Zhirinovsky’s party being killed–after all, his bunch are little more than the parliamentary wing of organized crime. The speaker, Gennady Seleznev, seems a little straighter. Or am I missing something.

Anyway, if I’ve got the count right this is my last message–at least with the editors of Slate peering over my shoulder. It’s been fun. I hear they have some writers from the UK doing it next week–another dysfunctional state, though they don’t lose too many members of parliament to contract killers. Don’t forget lunch next week, when you’ve recovered from jetlag. And this weekend I’m going to give the papers a break, and carry on with the sad memoirs of Emma Gerstein, who seems determined to settle scores with Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and the other greats of the literary world who knew her but did not love her enough.

Have a good weekend. P

(PS Yes, the Time office is in a so-called dipkorpus, located in a suite that was, I suspect, previously occupied by the Transylvanian Embassy. And the Soviet school was in another incarnation here.)