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that smell (Moscow)

The old elevator rattles and the doors lurch open. Inside our apartment I somehow feel taller. There is a smell of formaldehyde, like cutting those frogs open in tenth grade Biology class. The rooms feel dead, not like a tender museum of our things but empty, as if the only life in these rooms is born from us and in our absence they simply did not exist. I yank the door to the balcony open, thinking that smell will go away but it lingers deep in the pillows on the couch and the drapes. Sour, sad and chemical.

I think of random conversations I had in Ureki, mostly with taxi drivers who asked where I was from. I spoke to them in broken Russian, and they all said the same thing - Moscow, a cold place with cold people. Nothing seems to happen here, or change here. Sure, there may be a new sidewalk, a new supermarket, a fresh coat of paint on a crooked fence but the sense that this entire place is dead as well, a sort of sprawling, residential graveyard is hard to shake off. There is a sl…

the reward for silence (a different person)


It is hard for anyone to appreciate the sense of stagnation here. There are plenty of countries where the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. Everyone in this world struggles to carve out their own hearth and bed, their own green-grassed backyard. That is not what I mean. Here, the days pass slowly. Here, things stand broken for months, even years before they are fixed and no one complains. It is that mute response that throws me, that lack of outcry, that absence of righteous opinion. Yes, behind closed doors, people speak in low voices to a handful of trustworthy ears. But who says in public "that is wrong". No one.

Almost nine years here and I still cannot swallow that bitter pill. On the playground, in the street, on the trolley bus there are trespasses, there are people running wild over lines that have been drawn and no one says a word. It is a survival mechanism, a means to an end. I often tell myself to take the high road, which may indeed involve rising above some petty misdeed. Maybe there are more important things than saying "that is wrong". Maybe going home to your family, safe and sound is the other side of that coin. Maybe sleeping well is the reward for silence.

I was raised on a fable - that hard work, that sweat and grit and guts were what it takes to accomplish things, that the labor was noble in and of itself. But what if being invisible accomplishes the same things in the end? What if that gets you there? Swallowing pride and honor, in the name of securing safe passage - is that so terrible? Some worlds are more dangerous than others, and who am I to judge?

When I go to New York for a week I might as well have gone to Mars by the time I get back. Everything outside of here is so upside-down, so opposite, so backwards. Straddling both worlds is some kind of magic trick, like jumping back and forth across a river so quickly that you are in two places at the same time, a different person on each edge.





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