Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Disney Berezniki

Here is one of the greatest leads ever written. It begins a piece from the Times with Andrew E. Kramer’s byline datelined BEREZNIKI, Russia and entitled “A Russian City Always on the Watch Against Being Sucked Into the Earth” (NYT, 4/10/12). “Dimitry Rybolovlev, the Russian fertilizer tycoon who in February bought the most expensive apartment ever sold in New York City—the $88 million penthouse at 15 Central Park West—may have done a lot for real estate values there. But here in this old mining city in the Ural Mountains, where he made his fortune, not just property values, but properties too, have been plunging.” Rybolovlev, whose daughter Ekaterina was also the subject of a recent front page Times piece about how big Russian money is affecting prices on the top levels of Manhattan’s residential real estate market, is not exactly being blamed. Kramer makes it clear that Rybolovlev was absolved of responsibility for the sinkholes that have afflicted Berezniki by "a government commission," but there is an implication that without his potash mines the sinkholes might not have become an affliction of almost paranormal status. The holes even have names like "The Grandfather" (430 yards long and 780 feet or 50 stories deep), "The Tiny One" and "The Young One," which “sucked in a row of storage sheds and parked Moskvich passenger car.” Kramer reports that “So grave is the danger that that the entire city is under 24-hour video surveillance” (a picture of the monitors actually illustrates the story). But it’s a wonder that the local authorities have not exploited their problem, turning the sinkholes into a tourist attraction. If Disney got involved in the creation of a sinkhole theme park, the prices for luxury Manhattan residences would likely soar even more than when Rybolovlev and Ekaterina (or E-Kat as she will henceforth be known) first came to town. 

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