May 9th is a major holiday in Russia. It is simply known as Victory Day (commemorating the Allied victory on the Eastern front that ended WWII). There are fancy new jets that roar in formations above Red Square. There are oceans of soldiers in uniform. Thousands of people attend, with children on shoulders, as veterans shuffle around the crowds with medals dangling from their jackets.
But most Russians take to the woods and make shashlik, a Georgian dish that can be simply be described as grilled meat on a stick. Men stand in groups, fanning clouds of smoke, lighter fluid and spare kindling in hand. Makeshift blankets are spread on the wet earth, or people just stand around the fire.
There is a stiff penalty for making these fires in the city, but on Victory Day there are no police to stop them. The woods are thick with smoke and people are drunk by the middle of the afternoon. I took a walk with my wife and our newborn baby, my Leica tucked in the stroller. I had to work quickly. No one in Russia wants their picture taken. The boy, the soldier’s hat on his head, the sheer joy of running in the woods. I imagined him later in life remembering this moment, full of nostalgia.