An American Babushka in Moscow:  The Obsidian King-When Moscow Went to the Dogs

moscow dogs

I skim like a gull across the dark sea of sleep.  I cannot settle.  When I finally do, I dream that my teacher has come to visit me.  I sit across the table from him, put my hand over his, look intently in his eyes, and tell him that I have written an equation.  I watch to see his response.  His eyes narrow; a flicker comes into them.  Just as he is about to speak the dogs bark and I am awake again.

The first is close.  He is alone, perhaps just abandoned, perhaps a run away.  He does not so much bark as moan deep in his throat.  In the end he wails like a wolf…just like a wolf.  He is answered by another dog on the other side of Perovskiy park whose barking is like a drum beat, rhythmic and solid.  In time, the one who wails in sorrow leaves and the other, himself now alone, falls silent.  They are nothing without a pack.

It is then that the Obsidian King enters my mind again after all these years.

In those first days in Moscow, eleven years ago now,  when I did not live near the magic of Perovskiy Park, but in the dismal hinterlands of Zhulebino, on the very outskirts of the city,  where there was only forest and row after row, street after street of buildings built high on Communist equality,I could not sleep.  I could not rest until the late morning, after the pigeons came at sunrise to scour me with their sounds, andafter the dogs that had chanted at the spirit of the moon all night, moved off into to rest.

In those days, when Putin was still establishing order, before he had chosen a new mayor who would make Moscow a symphony written for the people and played before the world, the city had gone to the dogs, and no one was particularly upset about it.  In fact, the rule of the dogs had been immortalized in a photograph of a pack making their way across an empty Red Square just as the sun was rising.  Prints were being sold in an open market and people were stopping to look and smile at the wild dogs that symbolized the city itself.

But I was new in Moscow and had not come to understand the rule of the dogs.  I thought, naively enough, that if I left Zulebino, I would leave the dogs behind.  My first apartment in Perovo was beautiful; handmade cabinets in the kitchen, Spanish tiles directly from Spain in the large entry foyer, new furniture.  The apartment was on the 13 floor, the windows were unobstructed, and the sun that entered the rooms was brilliant. I looked forward to a good night’s sleep.  Not to be.   When people went to sleep, and the streets were still, the packs came out and the party began.  They barked and barked and occasionally, howledall night.  As I came to realize, it was not just Zhulebino, but everywhere in the city that the night belong to the wild packs of dogs.  No one, save for me, just in from America,  seemed particularly upset by this fact

I was distraught.  The only thing that consoled me was that there were no pigeons to wake me in the morning.  One night, left with no other recourse, I sat listening by the window waiting for the sun to come up.  It was then that I saw him leading his packacross an open lot in which an abandoned box truck rested, He led them as they ducked beneath it and moved to the rear where they settled between the big tires and went to sleep.   Now that I knew who my tormentor was, I couldcurse him.

One night when snow was falling hard, and the weather was freezing, he brought them back early and I noticed as he passed beneath the streetlight, how his thin, black, frozen. wet coat shined, just like obsidian.

If you ever wondered how the Russians defeated the Nazis, let me tell you – their training ground was the Moscow Metro.  The Metro at rush hour is one hard, tough place where one pushes and gets pushed without thinking much about it.  I once watched apacked train pull up and open its doors.  People just stood and looked, and then, one heavy set woman in a mink coat, set herself,and  then chargedtowards the open doors with all her might and plunged like a fullback into the crowd.  The Moscow Metro is beautiful, but it is no place for the weak.  One morning I was standing waiting for the train I saw a dog come down the escalator.  And the people stepped aside for the animal as he walked towards the platform and waited for the train.  They stopped to let him in, and when he laid himself down on the floor, everyone was careful not to step on him.  A few stops later, he got off and went up the escalator.   One of my friends told me that the dogs know exactly where they are going; they travel to parts of the city where they know they can find food.  In those early years I often rode the train with dogs, and thought to myself how, if a dog had entered the station let alone the car compartment in New York, people would have called the police, who would have been waiting at the text stop to take the dog away.  But not the Russians, they were completely happy with their furry traveling companions; treated them better than they treated one another.

In the winter, the dogs who lived in the center of the city were allowed into the various metro stations and people brought them food and stopped to talk to them on their ways back and forth from work.  Such is the way things worked, some ten years ago, when the city belonged to the dogs and the dogs belong to no one and so everyone took care of them.  That says a great deal about dogs and Russians.

In time the new mayor came, and the dogs disappeared. I would hardly have noticed were it not for how rested I felt.  But the Russians mourned.  It was not they who cursed the Obsidian King.   There was only one dog left on our block, and the people at the grocery store claimed him and built him a fine wooden dog house, and every day there were many bowls of food set in front of it.  He got older and didn’t come out much anymore, and soon the food stood uneaten, and then the doghouse was dismantled and the last wild dog in Perovo, perhaps the last wild dog in Moscow,  was gone.

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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