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cold nostalgia

There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water c…

the idiots and the children

The accordion player is not in the underpass. Not even the soft faced beggar lady or the gypsies who sit on the ground with babies in their arms are here. The sun flashes at the end of the tunnel. Traffic is heavy, honking and rumbling along Kutuzovsky. A man in front of me pauses to toss something into a bed of flowers. I guess it is just some trash, or an empty matchbook. I pass him, as I suddenly feel the urge to get to E's school a few minutes early. 

A massive snap fills the air. A few more times, in quick sequence. I think of the gunshots I heard in the street below our balcony last Spring. My head twists, looking for the shooter. The man I passed is laughing. A tiny cloud of smoke hangs over the flower bed and the firecrackers he tossed there. I shout at him in English, furious. He laughs harder, making pistols from his fingers and making toy gun noises as he mimes shooting at me. 

I know there are policemen a few yards ahead of us. They are always in a car there, next to the hotel Ukraine and just across the river from the White House. I think to tell them about this bored fool, but my passport is not with me so I think better of it. Better to leave them staring out at traffic and to forget. 

But forgetting is not possible. A few days ago a drunk driver plowed into five children and two adults at a Moscow bus stop, in the middle of a sunny afternoon just like this one. They were all killed. The children were orphans and had just won an award. They were buried in a single grave. The man will not get more than nine years in prison for this. The questions turn and turn inside me, and find no exit. I think of every driver I have yanked E away from as we walk the sidewalks. My stomach becomes a sort of fist. My throat goes tight.

I have been watching documentaries about the history of Russia. On some days it feels as harsh and barbaric as it must have been centuries ago. There is a sheen of capitalism, a facade of democracy and advances like cable tv, but on days like this it feels like there is no modern conscience or sense of right and wrong here. This is not an enlightened society, I tell myself. It is just a place where people are born, go through a series of half-baked motions, then die. They can just watch MTV and crave the newest iphone now. That is all that has changed it seems, when I stare into dead eyes on days like today.  My thoughts turn darker and darker, the poison from a handful of idiots deep under my skin as I see every desperate face behind the wheel of a black Mercedes as a potential murderer just like the man driving that car, like the fool with his firecrackers.  I think of the schools in America, where there are gunshots and innocent deaths. In truth, no place is safe. A woman here once told me, "Moscow is a good mother, if you can find a way to love her." I have tried for years now, and the best I can muster is a forced tolerance. I see too much to be ignorant about what happens and what does not happen here. 

Standing in front of the school with a cluster of mothers and grandmothers, I am the only man. The children burst through the doors in messy groups, bags dragging across the asphalt. E appears, chirping about our weekend homework, to go Red Square and take pictures. She is in a good mood, asking if she can have a grilled cheese with sliced tomatoes for lunch. I take her hand, and bring us home a different way.


Sid said…
Poetry. Beautiful.
Mrs. Munchkin said…
Walking these streets and living this life here, I can most certainly see your perspective. I am still too new and fresh here to really understand the depths. I am not able to put words together yet. But I think you said this very well!

You can see the harsh life on faces as you walk by. There is almost a sadness on faces as I ride the metro. I feel like my children and I shine in brightness...good sleep, healthy skin tones, clothes in colors other than black, big eyes excited to see something new, a bounce in our step.

We are fortunate to be here with a global company. We have the support we need (to get a phone, order a taxi) and the kids go to a nice school. I can not imagine being here any other way. Living here is a life to live for a few years and then move on regardless of what brought you here.


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