This week the G8 shrank down to the G7. The other powerful nations threw Russia out of the club due to its extremely naughty behavior. This was a good choice: you would never see, say, Canada behaving in such a fashion. In fact, if Canada found Crimea just lying around–on a park bench or in a bathroom lavatory or something—Canada would probably take the wayward peninsula to lost and found (I won’t speak about France, Great Britain, or the United States: we can have sticky fingers sometimes). Anyway, now that Russia is no longer in the club, I have been reminiscing about all the Russian things which we will miss: ineffable literature, banyas, the unsafe (but vibrant) space program, and Russian architecture—particularly dachas, which are among the prettiest of all the world’s cottages.
A dacha is a country vacation house. They are usually located in the exurbs just outside of towns and major cities on tiny 600 square meter [0.15 acre] land plots, where the Russian middle class plants little gardens and enjoys playing at country simplicity. Originally dachas were gifts from the tsars to loyal or interesting Russian subjects. In fact the word dacha (да́ча) meant “something given”. These tsarist-era dachas were country estates which could be princely chalets or manor houses. After the civil war, the era of landed country estates was over and having a dacha could get a person sent to Siberia or killed (although, of course party luminaries had magnificent dachas, like Stalin’s great green hall). During the later Soviet era, however, dachas made a comeback among urban professionals. The concept was changed though: the little vacation houses could only have a tiny amount of living space and plot sizes were similarly regulated by central authority. This meant that clever dacha-owners had to push the boundaries with mansard roofs, architectural flourishes, and elegance (as opposed to sheer size).
After the fall of communism, the rules all went in the scrap bin. Oligarchs began to build huge whimsical monstrosities (below is a contemporary dacha with one of the oligarch’s toys parked beside it).
Dachas have actually come to New York with the recent wave of Russian immigration. A number of Russian-born Brooklynites have pretty Russian-style dachas in the forests and mountains upstate. Although I am not Russian, I love ornate little cottages in the forest and I have been enviously looking over these fretwork masterpieces. Unfortunately I do not currently have a Soviet level of personal prosperity, so my project to build a dacha back in my native mountains may have to be put on hold until I learn to manipulate the system and ruthlessly crush my enemies.
In the mean time here is a gallery of lovely dachas for you to enjoy. Maybe it will inspire you to put some onion domes and scrollwork on your own vacation cottage. It has been a long rough winter and we could use some fru-fru ornamentation, some bright colors, and some time out of the city…