An American Babushka in Moscow:  An enigmatic sky and the stillness and silence of Moscow

moscow winter

Of course, one never knows the degree to which what one sees is distorted by “subjectivness”; the extent to which one projects oneself upon the screen of existence.  But it does seem to me that Moscow, from Tverskaya Boulevard to the streets of KitayGorod, to the familiar paths of Perovo Park,  a great stillness has descended upon the people.  A collective inhalation that is being held in their hearts.  It is not just the deaths of the people and the children killed by fire in a mall, not the solemn approach of Easter, not Spring’s delayed dance, but something else.

For me the goal of the day is to sit in the sun for as long as possible, to get even a sliver of  Vitamin D into my body.   I yearn for some salmon, to consume its fatty meat and get my Vitamin D that way,  but I weight its cost against the small potatoes that are now flooding the market at about 12 cents a pound.  I go to sit on a bench in a small open space surrounded by the Krushchev buildings as they are called, 16 story gray buildings with enclosed balconies.    When I first came to Moscow and moved into one of those apartments, I called my friends and family in New York and told them, “My apartment has a balcony.”    In New York a balcony is a rare luxury; in Moscow nearly every apartment has one.

There is the slightest wind, but it is cold and whispers winter in my ears.  Despite it I can feel the sun and its whimpering warmth.  But the sky is the puzzle, the problem my mind finds to fixate on.  It is blue and uninterrupted by clouds; but the blue is a stranger to me.   It is dark, not the blue black just before sunrise, but only slightly lighter.  It is a sky without pity and I am threatened because I do not know it.

It is then that I hear the silence that fills the world around Perovsky Park.  There should be no silence.  The Tajik workers should be cutting down branches and shoveling snow, the children in the parks should be screaming, cars should be passing, the drumbeat of soccer balls hitting wooden walls should be torturing my ears, old men should be standing in the company of one another talking about what it is that old Russian men talk about. Babies should be crying.   But there is none of it.  The children are there, the old men are there, the Tajiks are there, but they are soundless and still under a challenging blue sky.   It is only the flapping of the pigeon’s wings as the move from one scene to another that assures me that my hearing is fine.

It is a battle between the bite of the wind and the candle light warmth of the sun and in the end the wind wins.   I go home where my friend Andrey and his daughter come to visit.  Andrey is a tall, strong, good looking man of 45, but that is only the way he looks.  He is troubled by respiratory illnesses, and he has a worried mind that wakes him in the night with problems both real and imagined.  He looks tired and coughs a deep cough.  He complains that tomorrow he has to get up early, in the wee hours of the morning, to take his parents to the airport.  They are going to Crimea, for a two week rest in the sun. They are pensioners and last week the Russian government called them up and told them that they would be going to a health resort in Crimea for their annual rest.  Another residue of the Soviet Union-  the idea that old people should go somewhere in the sun to rejuvenate themselves.  “Wow,” I say to him and myself, “wow”.  He snorts and replies, “Yeah, but it is not Sochi.”   Neither is it Perovsky Park,

But believe me when I tell you, that in Perovo, I sat under an enigmatic blue sky and heard the silence of the Russian people, saw them standing still in the breeze,  and knew that they are waiting to see what will happen now – now that Mr. Putin has been reelected.

Mary Metzger is a New Yorker living in Moscow

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