Down with dachas!

In its most basic incarnation, a dacha is a mosquito-infested country shack, with no indoor plumbing, electricity, or comfort, sitting on a postage-stamp plot of land. Traditionally, every available inch of the stamp is given over to the cultivation of root vegetables that form the basic subsistence for the dacha owners, a time-honored economic model dating back to the baptism of Prince Vladimir in 988 A.D.
In the halcyon pre-perestroika days, a dacha, added to a Soviet-made car and two rooms in a Khrushchev slum, formed the Holy Trinity of “The Soviet Dream” come true. Although Russia is the largest country in the world, most dachas are inexplicably built in clumps, one on top of the other, creating an effect of housing developments rendered in Lego by a four year old. HRH, my “Handsome Russian Husband” has patiently explained to me that the utility lines are limited outside of major city areas, but how can that be, for a country that put the first man in space?

True to Russian form, the dacha is a lot more complicated, and seriously less appealing than its obvious counterparts in South Hampton, Sussex or Aix-en-Provence. Country residences of all kinds have sprung up like mushrooms with vigorous disregard for any consistency of style, size and, I fear, taste, resulting in exact replicas of King Ludwig’s Neushwansian bang-up against plywood Frank Lloyd Wright knock-offs. To be fair, a certain sophistication prevails in the more up-market compounds, called things like “Sherwood Forest,” “Tivoli” or “Longchamps.” One of my HRH’s less appealing buddies took him off for a long liquid look at a new community called (and spelled) “Green-vitch.” Greenvitch’s glossy brochure offered a.) The Swiss Chalet, b.) The Anne Hathaway thatched cottage, c.) The Spanish Hacienda or d.) The Florentine Villa. I offered The Contested Divorce as Option E.

Dachniki (those who own and use dachas) adhere to an exacting annual schedule. Over the May Day weekend, the family car is loaded with everything from barbecue spears to economy-sized packets of nappies, and the man of the house ferries his wife and children out to the dacha for the opening of the season. Russian men, for it is only ever Russian men who do this, refer to this process as “I have sent my family out to the dacha,” accompanied by a mischievous grin and the brisk rubbing of hands.

This is the opening salvo for a season of unchecked urban hedonism. Witness the mind-boggling transformation: Bus drivers start to shave daily, cafes and bars extend their happy hours, restaurants offer aphrodisiac food festivals and hotels weeknight specials. My dachaphobia, much like my preference for uncluttered surfaces and ice in my drink, baffles my Russian acquaintances. But the fact of the matter is, this dacha thing is a well-oiled vehicle to keep female servitude alive and well in the 21st century.

Jennifer Eremeeva is a long-time resident of Moscow; she blogs at www.rbth.ru/blogs/ and www.dividingmytime.typepad.com. She is currently working on her first book.

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