Wednesday, May 15, 2013



                                                                THE CITIES 


                                                              MOSCOW, RUSSIA 

Moscow was mine from infant-hood until we left Russia, yet I saw it differently at  different times in my life. Out of all the cities where I've been, I loved and adored Moscow the most. Moscow, the Golden  Capped, as they call it in Russia, the cradle and the neglectful mother to many of her children. So much pride and pain and shame  - and beauty - all contained in her walls. The culture and the heart of the country, for the longest time subverted by falsehood. 
We lived well. My parents had good salaries, our apartment was roomy and comfortable Like most Moscovites, we had to go to a few stores to be able to buy the groceries that we needed, and everyone always carried with them  a couple of 'avos'kas", the net-totes whose name translates as  'just in case' -really, just in case if one saw a line for something that was sold on the street. The shelves in our flat, though, contained books from all over the world that taught us to look for more in life then just the physical well-being.  We were lucky: although the Soviet regime did not tolerate any dissension, the terror of Stalin's time was the thing of the past. We were watched, our phones were tapped and the neighbors informed the KGB about any unorthodox activities, but there  was already some room to breathe, to have an open mind for knowledge and spirituality that filtered to us through all the bans and restrictions. 
I lived in a borough next to the Agricultural Academy. The woods and a lake were five minutes' walk away from my house. In the summer, hundreds of people spent their weekends there, walking and swimming (and drinking). In the autumn,  the leaves of the birch grove on the edge of the woods turned  orange, pink, yellow and red. They gave off the heady aroma of desire and nostalgia, that seemed to permeate our very skin. In the winter, the lake froze and it and the woods became a wonderful place for skiing. Some heroic characters broke the ice and jumped into the polar temperature water, to emerge red and steaming, like cooked lobsters. Whether I ever put it into words or not, being in those woods at any time of the year brought me immeasurable joy. 
The center of the city was about thirty minutes away from where I lived. The past, the beauty and  the heart of the country were looking and breathing from the walls of the old buildings and the pavements on the streets. My friends and I could always find some program in one of the many theaters or in the Moscow University, to inspire our thirsty imaginations.  
The night when we left Russia, Moscow was cold and inhospitable. The sleet from above and the wet, brownish snow on the ground emphasized that same feeling: despite everything that our parents and people gave Russia, despite our love for her, that land didn't want us.  
Thirty years later, I still have dreams about Moscow's streets. They call and repel me at the same time, because my memories are always tinged with the sorrow and confusion that I experienced there. 
The next time I saw Moscow, it was the time of the "Perestroika". I came there as a part of a spiritual movement. We invited the Soviet teachers and students to the seminars in the Baltic states, and the response was overwhelming. Even though I was from Russia, I was surprised by the beauty of the people who came. During the seminars, the Baltics separated from the Soviet Union, but the conservative elements in Moscow tried to overthrow the government. They lost; we heard the name of Yeltsin as a new up and coming leader.  After the seminars I came to Moscow and found my old friends. Nothing was the same, of course: neither the friends nor the streets of the Russian capital. They seemed shabbier, there were peddlers selling everything, from raw chickens to electronics in the very heart of the city. But mixed with a heavy dose of skepticism, I could feel hope in people and the desire to change their lives. 
 Russia changed so much since my time there, it could be Jupiter, for all that I know about the situation in that country. I hear, it didn't change enough, though.

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