Lipp Service: Moscow on My Mind
Text Linda Lippner
This December I bid my readers adieu with my final column for Passport aft er a threeyear run. The reason for this sad goodbye is my move back to the United States, where I arrived just in time for the financial and electoral whirlwind that is sending seismic waves not only from sea to shining sea but well beyond domestic shores as well. While all these developments provide plenty of excitement, daily life in my new home pales in comparison with the tempo of working and living in Moscow. “I miss [x, y, or z] in Moscow” is something I find myself thinking — and saying — quite oft en as I readjust to life in my native city after five years in Moscow.
For example, while I have access to good public transportation here (not a given in most American cities), descending into my town’s metro is certainly diff erent than hurtling down into Moscow’s palatial metro stations. It is hard not to show my impatience with the excruciatingly slow escalators (if the lighting weren’t so bad, I could read an entire magazine article during the escalator ride). One thing is the same as in Moscow, though: the moving handrails are out of sync with the pace of the escalator steps!
In addition, I was surprised to discover that my time in Moscow has beaten a bit of gratuitous friendliness out of me. Riding the public buses in my city, there is a certain obligation to greet the bus driver upon boarding and say “thank you” upon disembarking. OK, so it is nice that s/he got me to my destination safe and sound, but do I really need to have a conversation with him/her?
Along the same lines, here is a word of warning to those who are planning to move to an American city: Don’t make eye contact with a stranger or you will risk having a brief but achingly friendly exchange. It is simply not polite to pass by without acknowledging the other person. Try looking through the approaching pedestrian and s/he will mentally brand you a snob, a cold fish, or perhaps wonder if you are a bit mental!
And have your smiles ready. Smiling is a way of life back in the U.S., and you will be doing it to one and all you encounter on streets, hallways, buses, and queues if you don’t keep your head down, which, of course, is considered anti-social behavior (see above). I yearn for the typical Moscow pedestrian traffic where you can remain in your own world, free to ignore and be ignored.
Despite the oppressive friendliness, I have been enjoying the restaurants and good food at reasonable prices back here, but there is a small (or, more accurately, rather large) problem with eating out in the U.S.: The portions are huge! Aft er a few giant salads and slabs of prime meat, accompanied by giant beverages (with free refills) to wash it down, I have learned to be a bit more disciplined when it comes to cleaning my plate. In Moscow, a restaurant meal might set your bank account back a few thousand rubles, but it won’t push you into the ranks of the overweight within a few weeks.
All these differences aside, my daily life does provide constant connections with Russia. It is amazing how oft en you hear Russian spoken on the streets or in stores. It seems that at least a third of the playlist on my local classical music station is by Russian composers, not even counting the selections from Th e Nutcracker that dominate airwaves as the Christmas season gets into full swing.
I have already seen a Georgian theater group perform (not Russian exactly but definitely regional, though perhaps rarer in Moscow these days than it used to be). And I have found a Russian restaurant to satisfy the yen for pelmeni and borshch with sour cream when it strikes.
I often find myself reminiscing about Moscow and wondering what has changed — for the better and worse. Will I miss a proper Russian winter this year (I remain resentful that my last two Moscow winters were lacking in iconic snowfalls)? Is the Hotel Ukraine almost finished with its remont? How high is Moscow-City these days (or has the financial crisis slowed construction)?
While I worry that I am forgetting the little Russian I picked up while living in Moscow, I will always remember the great sense of belonging to that great and fascinating city that, in its own way, embraces everyone who lives there, even expats like myself. Do svidaniya, dorogaya Moskva!