23 October 2009

A long-distance relationship

Lately, more and more people have been asking me for directions. Shocking myself but not thinking twice, I've been able to give them accurately, in most cases.

An uncultured sea of outsiders from the periphery moves to the center in an attempt to conquer it. It's no different here. Cartographic proficiency is not expected. Yet, I once was the real deal -- a rooted Muscovite, as Russians say, born and raised. I suppose this means that I'm now passing for that real deal once again.

Fifteen years after leaving for good.

The ladies of Moscow

Perhaps it's the fact that I've (temporarily!) dropped the socially necessary, yet occasionally uncomfortable, often dishonest, and certainly ill-fitting North American how-are-you-I'm-well-thanks-how-are-you? facial expression. And, maybe it's my ever-present high heels, which I wear in Canada too. In fact, I pride myself on perfecting stiletto hopping over puddles and cracks in the pavement. Only now I walk faster and more from-the-hip, as women should (and as womyn-historians say we shouldn't). These heels have even contributed to Moscow-style fitness, involving endless self-imposed escalator stair climbs, skillfully maneuvering -- laptop-over-shoulder -- around, uh, less fit ladies on the breathless way up.

@ one of my many "offices" / caffeination stations in Moscow

And I've become a regular in smoking sections at caffeination stations too, not because I don't start feeling rather nauseated after a half hour, but because there's no difference in air quality in non-smoking sections. The latter is combined with fearlessly, carelessly jaywalking across the road, too many grocery bags in hand -- only to end up on the white line as reckless Muscovite drivers pass me by in both directions at twice the speed limit.

I've always idealized Moscow as my city. A living city, it grows organically with a great mishmash of architectural styles and people, and yet is so quintessentially representative of the Russian Empire. In fact, large urban centers I liked well beyond their tourist attractions reminded me of Moscow in some way -- Rome's chaos, noise level, and bad drivers, and Tokyo's sheer human mass in proper black suits -- they are alive too.

At the same time, my recent memories of my city also involved playing tourist: two vacations three years apart. Theaters, dining, museums -- leisure, even if active, is too euphemized to represent life. Careful! This third visit -- another three years later -- gave me just what I wished for. Packed subways, rude clerks who refuse to exchange slightly folded dollar bills, endless rain, angry underpaid public employees, and, yes, general chaos, noise level, and bad drivers too, of course.

Toronto is too rotten to be forgiven for such failures even to a small degree, while my first North American home (mine and Winnie the Pooh's, to be more exact), Winnipeg, is simply too suburban. Yet, somehow Moscow manages to get away with everything. It's like Any and All of Your Boyfriends who always seem to fail at perfection. Or, like a puppy, who jumped onto your brand new couch with dirty paws (or worse), but, unlike Any and All of Your Boyfriends, doesn't know any better.

Though, perhaps, Moscow's been considerate of me as well, and that is why I've been able to practice extreme jaywalking, and that is why I've been fitting in.

Just as I'm about to leave again.

No comments: