They click ahead of me. Two thin women in their micro mini skirts and especially tall heels. The platinum blond stands at least six feet tall and the brunette only an inch shorter. Despite the heat and high humidity, they move in a synchronized graceful stride across the busy boulevard. Hundreds of cars crowd Tverskaya Boulevard, filling all six lanes of traffic and pumping a loud, dull white noise into the street. A man with a mullet wearing a sear-sucker suit merges through the traffic in his convertible Mercedes. Horns blare, echoing above the din and bouncing off the grey concrete and pre-Stalin ornamental buildings that tower above us.
Despite the constant heat, the two women remain extraordinarily poised. Intrigued, I try to glimpse their faces. I hurry along; my own small, thick heels pain my feet. A bead of sweat drips down the small of my back and I pick up my pace. Together, we three reach the bronze statue and turn off the busy boulevard onto the cobblestone walk street lined with cafes. But the two women are fast. They pull ahead and disappear into the crowd before I can see their faces. And now, instead of two, there are seemingly thousands of them.
One woman wears all white: white, thick-rimmed sunglasses, a lace sleeveless top and tight white Capri pants. All are see-through. I have to look three times, and then stare outright when I realize she wears nothing underneath them and I can see her entire body. Others are dressed as if they’d just stepped out of 1982: feathered hair, Madonna black-plastic bracelets, bubble mini-skirts in neon colors, Ray-Bans, three-quarter length suede boots with fringe. Dozens wore jumpsuits with short-shorts. Every woman more outrageous or fashionable than the first two: couture, enormous sparkling cocktail rings, the newest in expensive footwear. Everywhere is glistening skin, oversized sunglasses, and high heels. Summer has arrived in Moscow.
After all our time in thick long coats and heavy boots, I too am ready to celebrate the heat. This cobblestone walk-street that in the winter had been piled with snow, is now seemingly a daily block party. Each restaurant has constructed an outdoor patio and tables are set out among flowering plants or green bushes placed in ornamental pots. Umbrellas of red or green hang over the diners to offer shade for the skin-bearing clientele drinking cold beer and endless flutes of champagne. For as much as Moscow hibernates in winter, it bursts alive in summer.
Even back on our compound at the American Embassy, the field is now covered with grass, the small garden plots at the end grow cucumbers and lettuce, and the playground is always crowded with Becca, Miles, and their preschool friends. Away from the whir and glamour of the city streets, we escape the house early and stay out late, sitting with our neighbors on the benches at the playground while Becca tries to jump from atop the train and Miles digs in the newly constructed sandbox. Most days, Miles is in costume: Spiderman, Batman, Buzz Lightyear. And Becca, true to form, dons a frock with at least one embellishment: ribbons, a sparkly barrette, her feathered boa. I can’t help but think that they too are inspired by the high style and outrageous-fashion leanings of the Muscovites.
We are all, from toddler to middle-aged, happy to shift into these long bright days of summer. The end of the school year meant recitals, shows, and saying goodbye. The intense Bolshoi ballet class for 3 & 4 yr olds culminated with an hour-long recital. Becca stood erect, her hair slicked back in a professional ballerina bun, and her feet pointed just-so, for the 5-costume-change performance. A week later, she accepted her diploma from 3 yr-old preschool while Miles looked on, anticipating his big move into the same classroom come the fall.
I can’t help but wonder how damaging/beneficial this life is for them. The NYT article this weekend about kids that relocate, despite the caveat for military kids of which we are similar enough, has not helped dispel my worries. Miles and Becca seem so content, even joyful, but even with newly made acquaintances it is hard to say goodbye. On seeing the moving truck on our street, Becca sums it up.
Becca: That makes me sad
Becca: That truck means Felicity is moving. She is my friend. I will miss her.
Me: Me too
Becca: I play with her a lot. Will I ever see her again?
How did my four year old become so aware? And what happens to a child who witness so much shifting and change? Can we maintain close relationships and a sense of community with all these comings and goings? And if we don’t, how will this manifest in their adult lives? In moments like this I rededicate myself to focusing on providing cohesion, attention, and community to our nomadic family. I’m glad again that I’ve decided to work only part-time so that I can be available for B &M. Present. Providing the cohesion between changes so dramatic.
Of course too, I crave my time that I’ve dedicated to work. Tucked away in the office beside the kitchen, I’m writing, writing, writing. And, in between editing. I’m trying to embrace my inner writer and this title that I’m so afraid to hold. The novel is now edited and a query submitted to a dozen agents. Some weeks there is a buzz and requests to see more material. Other weeks there is nothing but a simple reject email. Fortuitously, my neighbor is a published novelist and her support, as a friend and writing partner, pushed me to start on the next one. So as I wait what may be up to a year to find out if there is an agent for the first novel, I’ve begun working on the next one. And, I started sending out a children’s book manuscript as well. My insecure self says that if I publish, I can accurately and authoritatively call myself a writer. My writer friends tell me that simply writing is enough –the title is already mine. But can I really allow myself to be a writer, to have this as my career? I want it, not just because it is so portable and perfect for this lifestyle, but also because I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I want it bad. Terrifying this, but it also feels good to have such a concrete goal and be working towards it.
So as to not make myself crazy with this new dream/goal/obsession, and in order to get more material for writing and (of course) because we are here to see and explore Russia, we spend many hours discovering the city and its environs. Weekends we head to the expansive parks in the outskirts of the city. In Kolomenskoye we creep through the dark former cabin of Peter the Great and stare up at the banging bells on the white massive church built for Ivan the Terrible. There too we ride a horse-drawn carriage through an apple orchard and Miles pretends he is a warrior with a big stick while Becca stands a top a podium posing as if she is a statue of a queen. In Kuskova, we stroll the palace grounds, encircling the picturesque pond before holding tightly to our babes hands while we peek in at the elegant ancient manor home, the Versailles of Moscow. At ancient Sergey Posad Monastery, Miles screams because he wants to drink the holy water directly from the tap and Becca shies away from a babushka beckoning her inside the candle-lit cathedral. In the overgrown Botanical Gardens, we teach Becca how to ask for an ice cream cone in Russian (a question she quickly mastered) after the two race under a shaded grove pretending to fight gnomes and battle snakes. And in Victory Park while temperatures reach well over 90 degrees, I dangle my feet over the edge, while Eric and the kids peel off layers of clothing to jump into the fountains and frolic in the cool water.
Inside the city, we frequent Novodevichy Monastery where, like the other famous sites around town, brides in enormous bright white gowns pose for wedding photos. After staring adoringly at the brides, Becca & Miles climb onto the backs of the bronze Make Way For Ducklings statue, a gift from Barbara Bush to Raisa Gorbachev, and a replica of the same one you know from Boston Commons. Beneath the golden domes of the monastery and beside the cemetery where Yeltsin, Chekov, Gogol, Khrushchev and others are buried, is a perfectly sweet pond and park, perfect for afternoon play.
In Izmailavo, I eat shashlik (shish kebab) with my neighbor after buying a shiny red Faberge egg, hand-made linens, and a wide lacquered bracelet from some of the hundreds of wooden stalls filled with traditional souvenirs and artwork.
Closer to home, we walk the inner garden ring of the city with cafés and boutiques. I have an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) meeting one Sunday at an tiny gallery with antiques and wonderful contemporary art, returning later to buy Eric a father’s day gift. When our book club from Turkey arrives, nine dear friends, I tromp through the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art with them, we drink shots of Vodka on the balcony at the trendy, cosmopolitan Scandinavia Restaurant, and then host them at our home for a light dinner and a long discussion of Anna Karenina.
This last weekend Eric and I went to the island in the middle of Moscow that holds the former Red October Chocolate Factory. Massive warehouses stand erect in various states of disrepair. As if we’ve been transported to Soho, tucked between the failing warehouses are modern galleries and cafes. We climb a flight of stairs to see the powerful and impressive World Press Photo Exhibit inside a crumbling room. After, with friends, we dine on the rooftop balcony of an uber-chic Chinese restaurant overlooking the Moscow River and the towering black monument to Peter the Great. Eric and I head home in the late summer light, crossing over the bridge toward the sparkling domes of Christ the Savior Church and ducking into the metro, where at last there is a slight wind to cool our hot bodies.
And summer is only getting underway. We have three sets of visitors coming and a week planned for the whole gang to visit Laura and Bruce in Paris. Eric’s boss has curtailed to assume a deputy secretary job back in DC and he was given her position. Starting in August he’ll be the head of the political section. It’s a big deal and a great opportunity for him, even if it means we will likely see less of him. Also, as summer ends and we shift into fall, we’ll have to start bidding again on our next post. Will we go back to DC? Cyprus? Kazakhstan? Kuala Lumpur? The options are endless, and you can only imagine how my mind begins to work overtime, fantasizing or worrying about how we would fare in each different country/city.
I hope this, my long rambling dispatch, will be the first of many on my new blog. Here, I hope to talk about Moscow life, our family, our adventures, and who knows, maybe even excerpts from the upcoming novel. And, perhaps, with all this babble, you’ll find something intriguing about Moscow and be inspired to visit.