Living In Moscow…

A re-printing of “Living In Moscow…” (THURSDAY, AUGUST 23, 2007)

I had a magnificent view of Moscow from my kitchen window. In the mornings, before I headed off to school, I would eat breakfast at our tiny kitchen table and look out over the city. In the distance stood one of “Stalin’s Seven Ugly Sisters,” the Moscow State University, which was surrounded by thousands of old Russian apartment buildings.

The city was always awake and you felt like you were constantly struggling to move around it. Pushing your way through the millions of people that called the city their home. Fighting your way onto buses or into packed trains, through crowds of people when you were on foot or through the endless heavy traffic that took up entire boulevards.

It was scorching hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, but nothing changed about the city’s people as dirt – not sand – was put on the roads to melt the snow. People kept moving forward with their lives. When you walked down the sidewalk, you kept your eyes focused in front of you. People rarely smiled and, when you smiled at them, a look of confusion usually spread across their face. It was not the friendliest city. The people were just as hard as their buildings. Walls were built up around them as high as the University. But you didn’t have to wonder why. You understood their apprehension.

There are places that I have been that I desire to return to, but Moscow is not high on that list. I am sure that I will go back one day, but the memories of living there are of painfully cold winter days, dirty city streets and attempting to master a difficult language. There was a darkness to the city. A depression that blanketed everything and everyone. Some mornings you went to school or work before the sun rose and you left after it had set. Other times Russia’s “White Nights” forced you to use your black out curtains in order to sleep, but as you laid in bed as the clock ticked by, you would push the curtain aside and see a brightly lit sky at 2 in the morning.

But there were moments in Moscow that were magical. Near my apartment, at 83 Leninsky Prospect, there was a bakery that I would regularly walk to in order to buy a loaf of Russian black bread and two loaves of white and, by the time I returned to the apartment, one loaf of white would already be half-consumed.

The open air markets of Moscow – Рынок (pronounced renok) – were filled with fruits, vegetables, flowers and other foods. I would go with either my Mother or my nanny – Katherine or Maureen – to the market to get fresh produce and along the way were tables filled with flowers. Young girls that were my age spent weekends selling flowers and other goods along with their fathers, mothers or grandmothers sitting beside them.

There is magic in most places you go. For me, it’s found in the little moments. In my memories. The last day I was in Moscow I spent with my friend, Carrie, and we traveled all over the city. After going to the Kremlin – so I could see St. Basil’s before I left – we went to the Arbat, which was one of Moscow’s most famous streets. It was also a place where gypsy children hung out and tried to steal your wallets and bags. As you walked down the Arbat, the children would come up to you in a group and you would spend your time watching your bag, handing out kopeks and trying to get away.

In 1991, Communism fell with the August coup d’etat. After three days, the Soviet Union no longer existed and three men had died on the streets of Moscow. From inside the American Embassy Compound’s walls, I sat looking out at the Government of Russia Building and took photographs of the people walking the streets.

Government of Russia Building taken from the Embassy

American Embassy Compound

Streets of Moscow

People don’t realize how close these two buildings were – they were across the street from one another – and you can see from these photographs that the protests over the three nights were very close to the Embassy. People had to be moved from the Government building side of the Embassy and into the gym, because of stray bullets and fighting on the street.

After the coup ended, the people of Moscow took the streets and paid their respects to these three young men by putting flowers at the places they died, as well as in the buses that had been set on fire. Here are some photographs from the day my Mother and I walked the streets…