People are quiet in Moscow these days. First, because the one thing on everyone’s mind—this summer’s unremitting heat wave—has generally been deemed an impolite topic of conversation. If one does broach the topic, one must first make excuses: “I am sorry, but this is going to be about the weather.” Second, because it is plain boring: Even the newspapers and radio stations have stopped reporting the all-time heat records, to which the city’s thermometers attest daily. In a city where 90-degree days used to be rare—not even annual—occurrences, 100 degrees has become the new normal. Third, it is plainly difficult to talk: The air is thick with smoke from wildfires and peat fires burning in and just outside the city, and breathing this air tends to make one’s throat dry and scratchy. There is no relief in sight. Few Muscovites’ apartments are equipped with air conditioning, and the stores ran out of electrical fans in the middle of last month. Most pedestrians still in the streets have donned surgical masks, even though doctors warn that they do nothing to keep out the tiny particles that fill the air; nor, for that matter, do air conditioners. For weeks, the weather forecasters have promised that the heat will let up in about 10 days’ time—but as the days march on, the amount of time separating us from that illusory cold front refuses to shrink.
more from Masha Gessen at Slate here.