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Moscow on the Mall

Takes one to know one. (Photo by Ben Marcus)

Takes one to know one. (Photo by Ben Marcus)

My wife, Anna, who is Russian, was in Moscow last winter — where ice skating in a beautiful rink at Red Square, under the shadow of Lenin’s Tomb, is how the locals battle Seasonal Affective Disorder. Anna lives here now, where people think 40 degrees above zero is freeeezing. Anna finds that a little funny, but not as funny as walking around in 70-degree weather in December. L.A.’s perfect winter climate is only part of the culture shock she’s going through. Six months removed from Moscow, Anna has mixed emotions about Los Angeles, California, the United States and capitalism, though she loves Victoria’s Secret, La Salsa and Ben and Jerry’s, and is thrilled to earn $100 a day as a food runner at wedding banquets. Back in Moscow, her mother earns $400 a month working for the police department.

At the height of the Christmas season, Anna stumbles away from Santa Monica College, where she is studying computer science, with her head spinning and bell curves ringing. Suffering from PTSFS (Post-Traumatic Statistics Final Shock), it’s clear she needs some sort of therapy to cleanse her brain and get the endorphins going.

We decide against vodka and for shopping, the female adrenaline rush. Then, while heading for the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, we came upon an unexpected gift right there in a parking lot at the corner of Fifth and Arizona — an outdoor skating rink, lit up like a Christmas tree. Perfect.

Anna pays $10 to skate and $3 for a pair of socks. The skates are practically brand new but before Anna puts them on, she rushes down to Third Street to buy a scarf. Apparently skating without a scarf is a faux pas. Soon, Anna and scarf are flashing around the small rink outside, in Santa Monica, in December.

An old-school Airstream trailer parked outside the rink offers food and drinks, but no Starbucks, which was a little weird, as Starbucks helped sponsor the rink. “In Moscow the people drink Gluwein,” Anna says as she glides by. “Red, hot wine with cinnamon. Keeps you warm.”

Frank Sinatra provides the soundtrack, and as he sings about a winter wonderland, bag ladies and hobos, hipsters and gypsies are all transported to another place where snow sticks and rivers freeze. Everyone got around the rink in peace, with few collisions.

Maybe ice rinks should be installed in Gaza?

“In Moscow the center of the rink is for figures,” Anna tells me during one of her passes. “You practice inside. I learned how to do some figures on my own.”

Anna skates to the middle and does some figures in the light shadow of the Starbucks logo, pirouetting over the face of the mermaid or whatever that female Starbucks figure is. A few dozen rotations around the rink and some pirouettes in the middle and Anna transforms from stressed-out college student to a pink-cheeked winter girl who suddenly doesn’t feel so far from home.