THE SIMPLE LIFE

Photograpy by Nick Haymes.
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Country living—the Russian need to beat a retreat to the bucolic wilds transcends borders. Photographer Nick Haymes records an emigre family’s visit to their American dacha.

 

The dacha is not a villa. It’s a dacha. The dacha is a given. Literally: the word means “given,” as in a plot of princely land given to a plebe to potter around. The dacha was the Soviet Union’s gift to the beleaguered citizen – its implicit admission of the fact that living in the U.S.S.R. 365 days a year was somewhat exhausting. A gift of seasonal privacy. Something resembling freedom, not just from the city but from your workplace self. It was the place where the worker was allowed to lose his usefulness. That’s why the opulent, multi-story summerhouses of the Soviet elite were not true dachas: the party functionaries and generals ensconced in them proudly retained their status. And the whole idea was to become, for a month or a week or just a weekend, a bit of a savage. The proper dacha needed a touch of squalor.

A whiff of the hovel. The obligatory 30 minutes of gardening were an appetite-building precursor to the main event: drinking. (Unless the drinking itself was the precursor to the main event). The dacha spirit has now outlived the country that conjured it; the smells of sweat, cigarettes, and sunflower oil infuse Russian summer residences from Lake Como to the Poconos. Turns out that a dacha, once given, can never be fully taken away.

—Michael Idov

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