An American Babushka in Moscow: You Can’t go Home Again


It should come as no surprise to me, but it does, that after decades of studying the thinking of the ancient Greeks, I have begun to think like them. In saying this I am not merely speaking of their philosophy but also in reference to their religious beliefs, which, no less than their philosophy, set great insights about Being before us in the form of stories which are so fantastic they seem to defy Reason. Yet their myths, incubators for the dialectic, prepared our minds for what the philosophers would uncover. As I grow ever older, it becomes clearer that their mythical messages to us were true. We are little more than playthings of the Gods, living and dying as they have decided we should. Our stories are written before we are born and we can hear them told to us by prophets and oracles. If we are clever and still we can read them in the omens: in the flight of birds or in the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, in the good things or bad things that arise and pass away.

The omens were there, to be sure they were there. The air in Perovo was sweet. Zeus was casting slender shafts of lightening into the heart of Perovskiy Park, but then, Apollo, as if to entertain his father, drove his chariot across our sky, and the sun warmed the small beads of rain sitting on leaves of the abnormally large and productive cucumber bush on the sill outside my window, and I was sorry that I would not be there to eat any of them.

Then there were seven straight evenings filled with good food and good conversations with my friends before I left. Ira and I have salads before I move on to find gifts to bring home for my family. Over dinner Ira offers to drive from her home in Academitchiskaya to mine to water my plants while I am gone. This is an hour and half drive each way.

The next night I spend eating buffalo wings, drinking beer and watching the World Cup in a bar on the rapidly developing outskirts of Perovo with Vlad, a former graduate student of mine.

On Thursday, Andrey and Gulya and I dine on lamb Kabab and then go to wander the length of Nikolskaya from the Kremlin to the infamous tan building of the former KGB. They have decorated the street with lights and tiny stars and silver shafts that seem to be falling directly out of the black sky. Parents lift their children onto their shoulders and the children reach out hands hungry to touch the falling stars. It is a magical night in Moscow as Croatia defeats England in the World Cup.

My friend Valera, without being asked to, takes my keys to be duplicated so Ira and others can come in. Without my asking him to, Andrey comes to pick me up and take me to the airport, he will carry my luggage and stay with me until I am checked in, and then watch me until I am out of sight.

But the bad omens were there to be read if only I could read them. Because of the World Cup, the tickets were hugely expensive and I had to push myself beyond my capabilities to pay for them. Gulya searched and searched to find me the cheapest flight she could find, and so I would be leaving for America on the 14th of July . On the 6th of July I, learn, in a small expat newspaper, that there is a huge panic in the immigrant community due to the fact that Putin has just passed a new law mandating that all visa holders must now register with their landlords by July 9th. Most landlords, because they collect rent in “black money” will not do this. Mine, Ludmilla, is very good to me and she will do this. However, she is in Spain. She flies home Sunday night to go to Migration Services with me to get me registered. There are still other things she has to do, and she manages to get everything done in time to get these papers to the Migration officer before the office closes. She has put forth a monumental effort to ensure that I will not be fined and/or deported. I am so relieved I want to cry.

Zeus is still hurling thunderbolts and the rain on the road to the Airport is heavy. When I land in JFK, I am met by my oldest daughter Tiel, and her father-in-law, who also happens to be one of my oldest friends, Henry LaFargue. Henry is a book of stories in and of himself. We have been friends for over five decades, and I am happy to see them both. They tell me the journey from New Jersey to JFK has been long and hard and they are tired. I am exhausted. We leave the parking lot at midnight, and Zeus now let’s loose; The rain falls so hard that we cannot see; the trip is a dangerous one, and we follow the wrong road directly into, instead of past, the city. This city where I lived and worked and went to school in for so many years; the city I once thought of as the center of the universe, now seems quite dull. I think of Nickolskaya Street shining, shining, and the symbol or omen, of the small children from all over Russia, from all over the world, reaching up to touch the stars floating in the Moscow night.

The next morning I wake up and go downstairs to find my son-in-law, Emile, already up. We begin chattering; he is his father’s son and although he has not led a life that has written many stories for him, he is his father’s son and loves a good discussion/debate. I am talking to him and suddenly I feel this tug in my heart and understand, that here, in my daughter’s beautiful and well appointed home, surrounded by my flesh and blood, and perhaps my oldest friend, that I am homesick.

That afternoon as I set up my computers to do the work I have come home to do, I realize I have left my adapter in Moscow. I am not in Moscow, with endless stores and never ending transportation within meters of my house, I am deep in suburbia, where people live lives of, as Henry says, “quite desperation”, probably because there are no beautiful parks to walk in, nor deep dense forests nearby, but only strip malls and convenience stores, none of which can be reached without a car. My daughter has gone to work, Henry does not drive, and so I am thrown on the mercies of my son-in-law who, overwhelmed with a dozen other things to do, must yet go and buy an adapter. I wait hours with no where to go and nothing to do. When he brings me the adapter at last, it is not like any I have ever seen, and I take that as an omen.

Finally, I get down to work and write for four hours. I am weary from the effort, from the long journey here, from going up and down the steps from one floor to the other in my daughter’s home, from the high heat which has yet to torment the people of Moscow. I go downstairs to get a drink of water, My daughter and her family are in the living room watching baseball. The light for the steps is off, but there is still a backdrop of light from the living room. I miss a step, and twist my wrist and neck. I know now what the Gods were telling me all along – that I have not come home but left it.

Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.

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