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Last Year's Play

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This is a neighbourhood in the north of Saint Petersburg, Russia. My wife grew up here. I have always liked this place with its large open spaces, birch tree groves, wide roads, and endless apartment blocks.

I have seen it change over the past decade. It was a change at different speeds, and this is what makes its character.

A few sturdy, battered tramways and old Shigulis – scattered reminders of a Soviet past – share the roads with new Chinese Yutong buses and a mix of German, Japanese, and US cars. Expensive limousines and SUVs are parked next to ageing apartment blocks; their crumbling tiled facades make them look much older than they are. Playgrounds and public fitness corners have emerged, while the small kiosks so typical for an earlier phase of private enterprise are disappearing one by one. Food prices are higher now than in Germany or the US, but pensions have remained so low that they hardly pay for the monthly utility bills.

Nevertheless, many people around me seem to be better off than ten years ago. And now in summer, when the nights are nothing but a dash of dusk, a lightheartedness pervades this place; and its weathered structures with all their post-Soviet melancholia seem like nothing more than the neglected set of last year’s play.

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