This is my first missive/dispatch from Moscow. Bear with me while I figure out how to use the blog. Watch this space.
The news says that it is -7 (F) today, but that it feels like 15 below with the wind chill. Everywhere people are wearing fur. Thick black coats, long brown shaggy sable, hoods made of fox, hats of minx, shearling gloves, fuzzy boots. It seems everyone is draped in an animal. I constantly think about bears. The slow moving babushkas lumbering slowly into the perihods (the underground walkways). Thick and stout, they amble, upright but incredibly ursine. The streets are dense and crowded. I feel I may have already walked by the 13 million people in Moscow, and nearly all of them were wearing the ubiquitous and very fashionable high boots. Behind all this clothing, I can see only pairs of eyes, as I feel the sting in my own face, the only part of my body that is exposed to the air. I tear, my nose runs. We’ve been in Moscow three months now and already I am entranced by these winter parades, customs, spectacles.
Until recently, there were few days that passed where I didn’t pause to note how markedly different this city is from Adana, Turkey. And with that comes a brief feeling of vertigo, a sense of total confusion. How did we end up here? And where was there? I can so clearly see the view of the never-ending cement buildings from our old apartment, feel the intense Middle Eastern heat sitting heavy on my skin. In my memory I’m always sweating, and my Turkish is fluent, as is Rebecca’s, as we drink tea, chatting away with our dear friends. And then I look around and realize we have unpacked. The same paintings—a grey sky and laundry hanging on the line, the black musical notes, and the beach photograph – are hung. We are settled into a spacious townhouse within walking distance of the Kremlin. The ground is covered in a foot of snow. There are snowflakes, two inches in diameter, floating by the window that overlooks the embassy compound. My nomadic family has stopped again, landed in what feels like a different world, here for another adventure.
I think I’m getting to be quite good at this—a professional expat. But I’m not. The move is hard. Jet lag with two kids under the age of three, close to miserable. It took two whole weeks after we arrived before they slept through the night. And you simply can’t force a toddler to sleep, even with drugs. The third week after our arrival both kids came down with the gastrointestinal bug that was doing rounds at their new daycare/preschool. It was well into week four before the fog in my head lifted and I could see clearly during the day. And even with that there was little to see. Daylight was only from 8:30am-4:30pm, with sun rarely peeking through.
But slowly, we began to explore. Bundling up the kids and ourselves, we sped to the walk street less than a mile from our house. Stary Arbat has cafes, tasteful boutiques selling souvenirs, gold statues of dancers, artists selling paintings on the sidewalk, and even a woman panhandling with her snowsuit-wearing monkey. I went out by myself to the Starbucks and Le Pan Quotidian. Then we ventured further to Red Square and the ornate, upscale GUM department store. Saint Basil’s looks even more regal and splendid in real life then it does on television. With my parent’s visit, I forced myself to act like a tour guide. I pretended I knew what I was doing here, getting them around on the grand and incredibly efficient metro, taking them to see opera at the Bolshoi, world-class ballet at the Stanislavsky Theatre (Becca’s first Nutcracker), dinner at the marvelous and luxurious Café Pushkin, a night-time stroll along the New York-esque Tverskaya. I totally impressed them. My parents were even awed by the snow-filled wonder of Patriarch’s Pond and the warm pastries from the gourmet French bakery beside it. Moscow is impressive. A world-class city. There are high-end boutiques and snow-filled parks, hot chocolate cafes, and towering statues at every turn. Symphonies, puppet theaters, art exhibits, and plays—it would be hard not to be taken by the variety and array of cultural offerings. Already, I too love this city.
Amidst all the frenetic and frenzied masses of people, grey buildings, and ten-lane roads, we live on a quiet compound about the size of a small city block. It is a little too easy to stay within the compound walls. Preschool/daycare is a few feet from our front door. There is a small commissary selling foodstuff, a gym with an indoor pool and a basketball court that the preschoolers preside over in the afternoons while parents and nannies chit chat on the sidelines, a community center where Becca takes ballet from former Bolshoi ballerinas, a post office, and of course, the big embassy building (aka Eric’s office). It is so easy to live here. Not to mention that our house is so spacious. We lucked out and were assigned one of the biggest apartments. It is amazing what a difference it makes being able to really spread out and have space for the kid paraphernalia. Our living/dining room has almost been spared from toy clutter and still looks grown-up. I like that—spaces where there are glimpses of serenity, art, almost design.
After all the wonderful coddling of Adana, one of my biggest adjustments to life in Moscow was doing all the household chores. Cooking three meals a day for a family of four takes so much time! But, you already know that. I like having control again of what I’m eating, but I deeply miss our cook. And I miss our Adana preschool that served a healthy breakfast and lunch to the kids. And I love that every week there are two mornings where I am the only one at home, I truly savor this alone time. At the same time, I miss the full-time nanny and housekeeper too. But I’ve found a schedule that is almost perfect that gives me lots of time to be a mom and I’m totally present and involved in their world. It also gives me just over 20 hours to myself and I’ve started working. With a partner, I’m creating children’s stories, producing books (writing, editing, hiring illustrators, designing them and then selling the completed file to publishers) and then looking at ways to translate these properties into other forms of multimedia. We are in the preliminary stages of setting it up and are both putting a lot into it now. I’m really excited about putting my energy into unique, smart, well-crafted children’s books. These are projects that I love. And too, I’m still working on that novel and occasionally pitching stories or projects to other outlets as they arise.
Things are falling into place. I start to feel totally at home and then realize there are some things not quite there. Like, I don’t have any friends yet. Kind of an important component. When Christmas rolled around I felt a bit depressed about the fact that we had no one to invite over or visit with. So I spread the word to the preschool parents that we would be in the park out front with hot chocolate and cookies on Christmas morning. It was a great community event, almost everyone showed up, and the kids thought it was a blast to play with all their friends and parents in the snow. That worked but, aside from my idle chitchat with the neighbors and other preschool parents, I haven’t found anyone to have a beer with yet or talk about life stuff. I tried asking out a few of the other preschool moms for a girls’ night, but making new friends is like dating. I got excited, then I got a lot of excuses, some yeses that later flaked, and after much back and forth, it didn’t work out. I’m still trying with this group, but I realize that I need to cast a wider net. I did join an international women’s club but have only attended one welcome coffee. Oy, it takes so much effort to put yourself out there and hope you connect with someone. But it must be done. Poor Eric has got to be tired of being the only adult with whom I actually have meaningful conversations.
The family is doing well. Eric seems to be enjoying Moscow too. His work is busy and interesting and he has a lot of responsibility. His title is Chief, which cracks me up, but really means that he is responsible for heading up the Political/External section. That means he reports on Russia’s relations with the rest of the world. You know, what they are thinking about Iran, Iraq, the easy stuff. Becca is full of energy and loving school and her ballet classes. She is always in something pink or sparkly and has a new best friend, J, that she talks about constantly and plays with every day. Miles is still sweet and very huggable, is growing into a real big boy. These days he loves to put on his batman cape and run through the halls or wear his Bob the Builder belt and introduce himself to everyone as Bob. Together the two have become quite mischievous. I’ll spare you the details of the time that Becca ran away and was “lost” on the compound for thirty minutes. Or the story of them running ahead of us and into the house, putting the chain on the door and heading up the third floor-out of earshot- while we were locked outside, banging on the door trying to get in. I’ve got a few more stories like that. Needless to say, we’re trying to practice positive discipline and channeling that boundless energy, developing their character.
I really think this is going to be a good post for us. As I mentioned, all the little pieces have still to fall into place, but we are getting there. For even though the china cabinet has all of favorite trinkets finely displayed, we are still in transition mode. What a transition it was. Our departure from Adana and subsequent time in the US was so bittersweet. We had wonderful goodbye parties and dinners and we really miss the dear friends we made in Turkey. Then we embarked on our two funerals and a wedding tour in America. It was great to catch up with old friends, reacquaint ourselves with American life, and see family. But we lost both Eric’s dad and my grandfather (Ghido) while we were home. The upside was that we were able to be with our families and say goodbye to both Leon and Ghido. And, we ended our stay in the states on a high note. Megan and Flavio’s wedding on the beach in Santa Monica was precious and spectacular. And two days later we arrived here. Thinking about that again, brings back the vertigo. Where am I? Where was I? Where is there? Where is here?
In my next missive, I’m sure this falling sensation will have subsided and I’ll be telling you about Russia in the springtime. I can’t wait to see what it looks like without all this snow. I hope you want to see it too. . . we love to have visitors. I hope too that this dispatch-my ramblings on our nomadic life and recent landing- finds you well.
Much love from Moscow. As they say here,
Dostvidanya. Paka. Paka,