Friday, 16 December 2011

off to London for Christmas - so snovim godom!

Have had a crazy busy week, and - suddenly - it is christmas time and I am off back to London until the new year. So с ноым годом! (the stereotypical joke being that there is no 'happy' in the Russian phrase for 'Happy Christmas').

and then (still) this

Sunday, 11 December 2011

city bingo 6: adverts for kredit

These are also ubiquitous - stickers on fences, on aforesaid posters, on metro carriage windows; offering credit, repairs and various necessary certificates. 

city bingo (re-visited)

Haven't played city bingo for a while - but posters for aging rock stars and tribute bands (city bingo 5) continue to abound...

airing the baby?

Watched this woman park her pram in the middle of our courtyard and then pace around for about 20 minutes, until she got too cold to stay. I know it used to be considered very healthy in England to put even tiny babies out in the fresh air when they were sleeping. So, does it happen here too? Or is this woman crazy?

Saturday, 10 December 2011

sneg at last?

As it got dark and people made their way home, we had the beginnings of the first proper snow of the winter. But remains unexpectedly mild, so still a wetness to it.

protesting and shopping (but mainly shopping)

Feel guilty about this, the clash that is, between the urgency of doing Christmas shopping before I go back to London next week, and the desire to show solidarity with the protests here. So I went shopping, but via Revolution Square (not Bolotnaya Square where the mass of people were) to see what was going on and to momentarily join the small crowd there listening to speeches, despite a legal ban on using that particular space. The atmosphere was calm, almost jolly, very like many similar public demonstrations I have been part of in London.

So - what an amazing sign of something happening here, of a proper large-scale peaceful public response to 'the party of crooks and thieves' almost for the first time. But, then the pessimism sets in. The government's response shows that they have quickly learnt lessons from western governments.  Just let it all happen. Police it firmly but non-provocatively. That way public anger can be defused and then (probably) safely ignored, in all its importance and futility.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


It is taken for granted here that Russians are used to elections with little or no meaning, and that people have developed other creative strategies for everyday enjoyment and survival (mainly, it feels to me, by focussing inwards on the personal, immediate freedoms of one's own mental and family life). This is despite, or perhaps because of, a simultaneously stagnating and chaotic political system. As V puts it - the problem with this country is that it manages to be completely static and immoveable, and yet leaves you always uncertain as to just what might happen next.

So those initial pre-election rumblings (well, booings) and now the street demonstrations alleging fraud over the elections, which are continuing despite a massive police presence, the deliberate mobilisation of the pro-United Russia Nashi (Ours) youth movement and many, many arrests, seem suggestive of something very important. Online there has been plenty of lively oppositional stuff for a while (such as the video evidence on YouTube of ballot stuffing/ballot falsification/invisible ink pens given to voters) but now finally - aka Arab Spring/Occupy etc., etc., it seems to be hitting the streets.

So, whilst United Russia still run the Duma, the smooth control that Putin has exuded (and assumed) seems shaken. As Brian Whitmore puts it in his blog The Power Vertical, what we have is yet another version of that static/chaotic thing - " nothing has changed and everything has changed."

The photograph shows a disputed - that is, probably illegal - United Russia election poster, which copied exactly the public information poster designed to get more people to vote.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Finally got to the State Tretyakov Gallery - again courtesy of V - and can't believe it's taken so long to get around to it. Unlike its partner building on Krymsky Val, which involves transversing acres of the smiling peasants and heroic workers of socialist realist painting, the other older Tretyakov is a perfect size.  There is a small collection of gorgeously and unexpectedly realistic icons, but the central interest of Pavel Tretyakov (as a collector around the 1850s) was Russian realism: the catalogue quotes him as writing "... just give me a murky puddle, but let there be truth in it, and poetry."

And there are plenty of poetic 'murky puddles' here including portraits of suffering serfs and their everyday lives amid the glories and difficulties of the russian landscape. There are also artistic journeys both in unison with the rest of Europe (18th century portraiture and some late 19th century impressionism) and away from it (a 19th century politically critical realism which has some very theatrical moments, and a version of Art Nouveau which is completely absorbed by the dramas of fairytale). A great afternoon out on yet another wet and sleety day.

The painting shown is called Silence, by Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov (1903), which I photographed mainly because it eeriely reminded me of Peter Doig.

the art of parking 3: the full-on

Er - that means taking up the whole pavement. And an added interest (could easily be another mini-series) is the non-art of taking disability seriously; here an example of the ribbed, yellow-painted paving slabs which are placed here and there to indicate something or nothing to blind and partially sighted people.

Completely  randomly.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

on photographing

Went to check out GUM and its christmas decorationss (which are different from the last two years - when they were the same - but also not as good) and couldn't move for people photographing each other, mainly wedding parties. I counted 16 brides-and-groom pairs, as well as several women being snapped by their boyfriends. As I have mentioned before, Russians have no problem posing; everyone seems able to gurn to the camera as if to the manner born, all happily dolled up in thick makeup, (male and female both) and enough hairspray around to destroy the planet. 

christmas arriving

Bleak solid grey skies today, varying between rain and sleet; but hurrah, those christmas decorations are appearing in the streets and shops. Feeling surprisingly cheery about this - which is not my usual way. So just going to go with the happy flow for now...

fish-n-chips (almost)

What is it about living abroad that makes me culturally regress around my eating habits? I often crave fish and chips here (not a dish I eat that often in London - although there is a terrific one near where I live). So got very excited when I found a Nordsee on Pokrovka on my lunchtime walk today, one of an international german-originated chain which "ist die größte europäische auf Fisch und Meeresfrüchte spezialisierte Restaurantkette („Quick Service“ und „Casual Dining“) mit eigenen Restaurants" according to their website.

More like IKEA than an english fish-n-chips shop but still who cares? Fish! And Chips!

Friday, 25 November 2011

back to Moscow...

Who can choose?

back to London...

protesting (3): booing for Putin

Well, who would believe it? Seems that Vladimir Putin was booed by a huge audience last week, when he climbed up into the boxing ring following the success of his favourite martial arts fighter over an american opponent, and used the occasion to promote his party, United Russia.

Of course, as with all news here, there are immediately many contradictory and/or weird fuddlings -  he was not booed it was people cheering; the whole story  has been fabricated; it was the outgoing loser being booed; people were only booing because they needed to go to the toilet; people were booing but only because they don't want sport and politics connected; booing is a good sign because it shows that people have freedom of speech; he was booed and it represents 'the end of an era'. Make up your own mind (or not) here.

Monday, 21 November 2011

about that kitten....

So cute - but. I have been putting off admitting to the next stage in my stray kitten story - only because I did what I planned and returned it to the (warm) building corridor in which I found it, behind some heating pipes. No further news except to say that when I went back to look it had disappeared. So here's hoping... 

protesting (2)

In fact one of the strongest and most public ongoing campaigns in Moscow has been against the (elite) privilege of being able to beat the always terrible traffic, avoid speed limits and generally drive like shit - by having special removable, flashing blue lights on your car roof (migalki). Made worse by the fact that many more than the allocated number are being used, because such lights can of course be bought illegally.

The Blue Bucket movement has seen people put blue buckets on their cars, in ridiculous mimicry of the lights, and then when that was banned, putting them on their heads. The protests have been vocal enough to bring on what appeared to be a recent police clampdown - with migalki drivers being stopped and checked. But as usual here, the response has been mixed; some say it is just for show, others that it is just legal migalki owners trying to stop illegal abuse 'watering down' their privilege. Nobody ever really thinks anything is going to change, even when they do go out on the streets in frustration and anger (and with humour).

protesting (1)

Got momentarily excited by this poster, suggesting that some political protest was at last happening in Moscow, until I realised that it was just a design student project. In fact, some of the liveliest campaigning groups in Moscow seem to be around architectural heritage and its destruction (no Occupy movement here yet).

The group Archnadzor  has brought together some of the different preservationist groups and do a lot of campaigning including some direct action - still a risky business in Russia. You can see some old photos at Moskva Koterey Net (The Moscow that is No More) of what has already been demolished to make way for the post-Soviet/Capitalist Realist boom; and read more at MAPS (MoscowArchitectural Preservation Society) - the only site with an English language version.

games time

When I first came to Moscow, I kept reading and hearing references to Mafia Games. Also did a bit of geo-caching, so just assumed (perhaps stupidly) that this was some kind of street-based cops and robbers role-playing game. But recently bought a designer cards version from Art Lebedev of what turns out to mainly involve a lot of sitting around and opening and closing your eyes.

Actually, the game looks great and somehow very Russian. People are allocated roles on the basis of cards, resulting in a minority of mafia and the larger group of unknowing innocents, plus some other characters. In the 'night time' when the goodies have their eyes closed, the baddies get to murder someone. During the 'daytime' everyone tries to work out who the baddies are (including, of course, the baddies). The game continues until either the mafia are destroyed or they outnumber the good people.

Then almost simultaneously with this discovery, I found out that you can do an 'adventure' game in Moscow. It is basically a tour - sorry quest - with clues. Will report back more when I get around to trying it....

You can read the original Mafia Games rules here and a more detailed explanation and brief history on Wikipedia.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

I know I know..

I know, Moscow is full of stray dogs and cats and the last thing you want to do is to take one home. But this kitten was so tiny, abandoned so late in the year, good at the piteous squealing, and unusually fluffy and fancy for a feral.

My current plan is just to fatten her up over the weekend and return her to the streets, but then I am such a sucker for small furry things. Or unless anyone else wants a cat.............

watching Down Terrace

Went To Ben Wheatley's film Down Terrace last night, which is being show as part of the New British Films Festival here. Offered as a crime thriller, it is actually very very funny, with the action mainly set in claustrophobic close-up in a Brighton crime family's seedy terraced house. Besides some odd questions - (Why have you filmed in such a shabby house? Why are no policemen shown? Why doesn't the plot make sense? Are all British families like this?) which Wheatley answered with droll good humour - the film's disfunctional characters, chaotic family relationships and miscellaneous murders seemed to resonate just as happily with a Russian audience as they did with me. 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

magic lorry?

I don't understand why there is a higher proportion of random and slightly weird things in Moscow, but there are. Even the trucks behave in mysterious ways. 

missed as usual

Last Sunday was the 70th anniversary of the 1941 military parade - celebrated by a military march through Red Square -  that began the Battle of Moscow (which defeated Hitler's army right at the edge of the city). Missed it, but you can watch the RIA Novosti video here.

Also first real indication of winter. Beautiful, bright but piercingly cold weekend followed by several days of mainly rainy, sleety, wet and icy flurries, at their worst moments slanting in almost horizontally. Lovely. 

only a little bit weird

Spent some of the week with friends and colleagues on a visit from London; mainly sharing in late night eating and drinking activities. Which gives me the chance to introduce you to a regular haunt - Gladiator, a Georgian restaurant just around the corner from Kurskaya station. Proper shashlik, served with great bundles of herbs and leaves: all served in pavilions banding a central garden (which is populated with.. well you can see.)

the art of parking 2: the insouciant

Friday, 4 November 2011

building, building everywhere

As I have mentioned before, there is currently so much building and renovation going on around this area, that the ongoing health-and-safety(not) theme is just too easy to illustrate, frighteningly so. I read an article recently about Tajiks, who make up a large percentage of the mainly immigrant building labourers. Tajikistan’s migration service reported that during the first eight months of 2011, the bodies of 603 Tajik gastarbeiters had been repatriated from Russia. Of these, reports James Brooke67 were attributed to “attacks by nationalist groups” - which is bad enough in itself - but which also means over 500 deaths on building sites in less than a year.

And today is Unity Day, a day off and a yearly excuse for Russia's nationalist extremists to march, reminding these Tajiks that their position in Moscow continues to be fragile in every way.

more balancing acts

This may appear as a simple case of standing on a chair (on scaffolding). But actually, the chair is also balanced on a low coffee table....

more on books

Reading Snowdrops - with its emphasis on the rotten side of Russia - made me think of the other books I have read about the country since I got here. Nothing has been worse than Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia which stayed so much inside his self-centred head, that we never really heard from anyone else (sample - chapter 2 is entitled 'how shall I die?', followed by a quote from Fight Club.) In comparison Dervla Murphy's Silverland - also involving Siberia and a bicyclemay be be traditional in including some history and useful facts (rather than just what the traveler is feeling at the time), but shows both insightfulness and modesty in her engagements with people and place.

Then there were two authors who write about Russia through the prism of its literature; Elif Batuman's The Possessed and Rachel Polonsky's Molotov's Magic Lantern - the first of which I read very fast and without much concentration; and the second of which I have not yet got around to finishing. And enjoyed, in a fairly abstract way. But I can't help feeling that - except for bits of Murphy - A. D. Miller is quite correct when he admits that we write about Russia mainly to write about ourselves:
"Just as travel writing chronicles the traveller's preconceptions as well as his journey, so for some novelists, Russia is not, or not only, a sort of moral zoo, which writer and reader can visit with a safe sense of superiority. It is also a place to test their moral pride and presumptions." quoted from here.
Which means that Russians themselves, as themselves, (and in all their variations) don't turn up very often. Or that I am reading the wrong books.

And the eagle-eyed will note that the photograph here is from earlier in the summer. In fact the leaves in Moscow have almost all gone. Must get my camera back from London (where I left it) somehow.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

and back again

Actually it wont be Moscow or my Russian colleagues that finally chase me away from here. It will be a few of the English people I work with. Maybe it is an expat thing more widely, but it's as if being in Moscow makes some - particularly young men - regress to juvenile behaviour in ways that I cannot believe they would do at home, or would be allowed to do.  Somehow their sense of entitlement (the slouch of confidence) takes on a smothering excess of smugness and self-importance; producing a depressing mixture of often-vocalised assumed superiority over everything Russian, and a kind of swaggering copy of the worse of Russian macho manhood.

I have just finished reading Snowdrops, a thriller-ish novel by A. D. Miller, who was the Moscow correspondent of the Economist for some years. His hero has some of these qualities (although the author lets him off lightly), using the excuse of joining in with wealthy Muscovite hedonism as a means of easily slipping into other, more unpleasant, thoughtless and unethical activities. The book was recommended by two people separately who have both come to visit here, because it evokes many of the experiences of being in Moscow. Although a little thin as to story, and with a tendency to treat all Russians homogeneously as a collective 'them', my friends are right about this book. The asides about everyday life here made me snort happily in recognition.

blighty (more)

I also said, absented-mindly, that Russians have terrible posture. This was after we had been on the tube, observing other passengers and thinking about differences . V noted that everyone looked a lot more relaxed, had what I suggested we call the 'slouch of confidence.' This is partly a matter of fashion; English styles are a lot baggier, hanging off the waist and the shoulder, loose fitting, more casual. But it is also that Russians (in Moscow at least) do seem to hold themselves more hunched.

This is not because of any discomfort with their own bodies; as I have said I find the Russians I have met much less self-conscious than English people, easier with being up much closer to each other and happy to consider themselves in any mirror, any time. So I don't know why there is such a big difference in shoulder/back rigidity. Comments welcome.

Photograph courtesy of Leeza Semionova

thoughts from blighty

Been in London for a few days with my Russian colleagues V and L, and stupidly blurted out at some point that I found London much more civilised than Moscow. Then spent a lot of time back-tracking (and trying to clarify what I was getting at). That I didn't mean that the people are uncivilised, or even the mindless rules combined with chaos - muscovites notice lots of random rules in London and cannot believe that we follow them - only that the public urban space of the city is so much more comfortable, much more for the 'public'.

Although we also nicknamed London ToyTown, both because of the tiny houses all lined up, and because compared to Moscow, public transport is designed for midgets.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

the art of parking 1: "the 45 degrees"

In honour of returning to Moscow,  a new mini-series on the art that is parking. Technique number one; when the parking space is not wide enough for a complete car, just prop the nose on the pavement.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

can't believe it!

Can't believe it! I have been using a very cheap compact camera to take photographs for this blog (it is a rule of mine not to use anything more fancy) and have only just noticed - after having this one for over a year - that it takes panoramic pictures by stitching 3 images together. Well, I just thought it did one of those stretched image size things so have never checked it out... and then found out by accident whilst wandering home via Metro - hence not a brilliant example.

 So - now I have to decide if photos like these are within my blog-photo-rules or outside of them....  

more hanging

There seems to be a lot of building work going on, both new construction and renovation. It is almost too easy to add to my collection of people hanging off buildings.

a lovely walk (oh and where do you get the best coffee in Moscow?)

The area across the 10-lane Sadovaya (Garden) ring, away from Kurskaya and towards the centre is one of my favourite parts of Moscow. There are certainly other nice parts of the city within this 'second' ring road* - such as around Patriarchs Pond - but I guess this eastern side has always been my patch for happily idle strolling. 

There aren't any special landmarks, just the usual muddle of pre-revolutionary, soviet and post-soviet buildings, in varying stages of decay and renovation. Yesterday I walked along подоссенский/Podossenskii pereulok which runs parallel between these rings, and then further in the same(ish) direction, which - with a certain amount of getting lost, shortcuts through yards, and some serious zig-zagging - ends up (after coffee in the Coffee Bean on покровка/Pokrovka ulitsa) at Lubyanka metro. 

I rank Coffee Bean as one of the best places for coffee in Moscow, but there is lots of choice on both Pokrovka and on, or just off, the other key radial road down to Lubyanka, called мясницкая/Myasnitskaya Ulitsa. I also paused at the Art Lebedev cafe and shop (Ul. Myasnitskaya 22, bldg. 1 (Bankovsky per.5)) and thought about visiting the Red espresso bar, further up Myasnitskaya, towards Chisty Prudy, but stopped myself. 

As you may guess, I am a coffee snob - so would really like recommendations for the very best coffee in Moscow. Beanhunter only lists 2 for the whole of Moscow (the other Art Lebedev cafe and Coffee Mania, which is okay but screamingly expensive), so I think it is time to add some more....

*The innermost one is called the Boulevard ring. The Garden ring was built where the old city ramparts had been, and originally had trees down its centre (as the Boulevard ring still does). These were cut down in the 1930s, opening it up for soviet military parades and more recently post-soviet traffic jams. There is also another ring, further out, which as far as I can tell, has no name, err, just the fourth ring. And then a fifth called MKAD, which stands for Moscow Automobile Ring Road.  

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Unidentified packages (7)

One last thing from the Extreme Room, before I leave Perm behind. I can't really blame the package this time; I just did not bother to turn the lights on when I got back to my hotel and took what I assumed was a small bottle of wine out of the mini-bar for a (very) late evening drink.

Er, it was cognac. 

can bleak be nice?

I kind of like the bleak beauty of Perm. Behind the gallery, down by the river which runs wide and slow are a few couples walking and some men fishing. On the other side - in the medium distance - rows of small dachas watch us back across the dark water. And to the left, factory chimneys blast out smoke into the autumn air. Perm, once a closed town, and still a (dying) industrial one, may have powerful people trying to re-invent it but I am just reminded of that famous Russian saying - ' we wanted the best but it turned out as always.'

The sign reads 'happiness is not far off.'  

a cultural revolution?

The collection and display of contemporary Russian artists and the associated public art commissions - most notably the wooden arched п of artist Nikolay Polissky which has been artfully placed on a roundabout - seem to be what are causing the most complaint in Perm, both because of the cost and because of a general lack of enthusiasm for modern art. Interestingly my interpreter calls all the current activities not a 'city of culture' but a 'cultural revolution'.

For a sense of the debate read Yelena Fedotova, Moscow-based art critic, in her piece 'In praise of little red men: cultural revolution in Perm'.

To enter one of Perm's Public Art competitions go here.

poor art?

PERMM is currently showing some Russian Povera work -  the deliberate use of 'poor' materials, associated with the idea of authenticity and deep rather than surface beauty. The full show has been to Milan: what has returned are mainly the 'skeletons' of Olga and Alexander Florensky, based on the raw wood and metal of argricultural and other working equipment. Not my favourite kind of work, but well curated and effective in the space - the interior is much more a proper gallery than the exterior implies.

For a sense of the debate read Yelena Fedotova, Moscow-based art critic, in her piece 'In praise of little red men: cultural revolution in Perm'.

To enter one of Perm's Public Art competitions go here.

the place of art

The Perm contemporary art gallery (now re-badged PERMM) is currently housed in an old ferry terminal, down by the river Yama. It had been abandoned, and still looks both small and frayed at the edges; not quite of the calibre of its references (Bilbao, MOMA, Tate Modern, CaixaForum, etc., etc.) But at the same time, the ambition is impressive. I met a young curator who is involved in the task of building a permanent russian contemporary art collection. Perm may not want it, but still nothing of that scale is happening in either St. Petersburg or Moscow as far as I know. And her enthusaiasm was a lovely thing to see.

Sunday, 16 October 2011


The older wooden houses in the centre are amazing. Easy to see these as picturesque ruins and to photograph their beautiful, lop-sided, hand-crafted details without thinking much about the occupants.

I was also shown rows and rows of wooden barracks on the outskirts of the city, still surviving from the 1920s, built in that optimistic moment in the belief that a the new type of worker would be formed who would not need a private kitchen or much domestic space. Again, still occupied and almost completely collapsed. 

getting on with life

Then there is the city itself. Quite wealthy through trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, the centre of Perm is laid out on a grid, with what were mainly two-storey wooden and brick built mansions, now fallen into decay. Around this are masses of poorly built and now also crumbling Soviet housing blocks. Still, it feels a lively city (for some reason I kept being reminded of Birmingham) with - in this last autumn moments - many people out and about.

What I saw actually happening was some renovation going on to some of the older brick buildings, and a small amount of miscellaneous additions of street furniture and public art. Hardly enough to scratch the surface of general shabbiness and dereliction, but just enough to make people cross. 

festivals and more festivals

Following cities like Barcelona, Bilbao and Dublin, Perm (in the Urals) is trying to sell itself as a City of Culture.  This has even involved going to Brussels back in May to propose that that the European City of Culture title should be formally extended this far East.  However,  local opinion is clearly a little dubious about the motives of those in power. What everyone knows is that a Muscovite gallery owner, Marat Guelman has been invited in by the regional senator Sergei Gordeyev - or maybe by a regional governor, Oleg Chirkunov - and this can easily be read as a sign that the Moscow elite are taking over.

And, as usual, there are complicated gaps between appearances and actualities. I have been invited here to talk at one of the masses of festivals Perm now organises, in this case bringing together a craftt/household items fair with an architectural and interior design competition and festival (like a miniaturised Ideal Home Exhibition). Quite how these may improve the cultural or economic generation of the region is a little unclear. But there is plenty of energy and many good and creative conversations.

But in terms of other - more solid and long-term - projects, much is started and not completed, There has also been an international design competition for the Perm contemporary art gallery - marketed as PermMuseumXXI - a winner chosen, but then nothing; although now some plans for a much simpler glass extension. There are also proposals floating around for the Opera House (which nobody I talked to knew anything about) and last year some proposals for new wooden houses. So nobody really believes anything will happen.

Perm - city of culture

Got the day (or rather night) wrong for my flight to Perm, and so had to do one of those running to the airport things, and then get onto a plane leaving at 1.30 and arriving at 5.30 in the morning (2 hour flight, 2 hour time difference) and then go straight into the conference, and my session and then all those associated 'performing animal' meetings and greetings and meals. Finally to this room - called the Extreme - trying and failing to be a downtown boutique hotel. I quite like it in a funny kind of a way, although the lovely translator delegated to keeping me happy said she found it scary.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

idyllic, with kebabs

Can't decide if this scene is also Parisian. There were a set of working boats, for trawling out leaves and rubbish from the water, and - I guess - mending things from. These three guys were standing next to a low and fiercely smoking charcoal grill, layered with fat meat kebabs. And they also had a standard domestic bathroom sink rigged up next to it, on the pontoon. Have lived here long enough to find that completely normal (or maybe odd).  


This idyllic scene is literally 3 minutes walk from where I live; an unexpectedly Parisian-looking section of the Yauza river, a shallow tributary to the Moskva. There is a beautiful pink and white neo-classical set of buildings for the lock machinery and (presumably) the lock-keeper, given that the middle island has a small but exquisitely kept garden and house.  And I hardly ever go there, because both sides of the river are major traffic routes. Most times of the day it is completely impossible to cross. And I mean impossible; the flow of very fast traffic never stops. At weekends it is fractionally quieter, so yesterday I took my life in my hands, and ran.

And on the other side of the road there is this short stretch of path by the water which is separated from the cars by a small park. Lovely.

doing up the dvor

The courtyards/dvors/двопа of Russian housing blocks come into their own at this time of year; as people sit out with a book, or their dogs, or their children, or their friends, and/or their cans of lager and snacks, and/or just staring into space - and bask in the last moments of autumn warmth.

There is something uniquely Russian about these spaces; both because of the block layouts (which seem weirdly random), and the endless ubiquity of green-painted low metal fencing, yellow-green striped kerb-stones, primary coloured play equipment, tarmac paths and tightly packed trees. And their slightly hidden quality - offering brilliant (but difficult to negotiate) green and pleasant short-cuts across the city.

Came across a fascinating investigation of this micro-rayon living by partizan publik, which explored two such dvors, one in Tblisi, Georgia and one on the outskirts of Moscow. On the surface these are almost identical - given that blocks like this were built right across the Soviet Union. But the group provide what they call "an inventory of user strategies' to show differences as well as similarities in how people occupy these spaces, and their various responses to a post-soviet world where such public spaces are really beginning to show neglect.