Features

Discovering Moscow: A Story of Fragments

PHOTO COURTESY OF ASHLEY LANHAM

By Ashley Lanham
CONTRIBUTOR

A city is a constantly evolving creature, living through its interactions with its inhabitants. The drabness of Moscow buildings serve as a reminder of an era some people try to forget, and some have acknowledged. All around the city, there are construction cranes building new structures in place of old ones. As one ventures underground to the metro, the swarms of people scuttle past the mosaics which depict Soviet ideals. It is estimated six to seven million people use Moscow’s metro system daily. Even with this high volume of people, the roads are choked with domestic and foreign manufactured cars maneuvering their way around the city.

“Tweet!” Tap. “Ta-weet!” Tap. Reading in my chair, I look to the window. My friend is paying me a visit. Practically every morning, a small yellow-breasted, white-striped and gray all-over bird stops by my window. I smile in greeting. What song will I hear today?

I glide down the metro escalator, during rush hour. A plethora of people is waiting on the platform for the next train. The platform feels the breeze. We see the lights and hear the scream of the brakes. Train is here. It’s standing room only. Oh, dear.  Push. Shove. Against the back door, next to the sign “No Standing,” I stand as the train car fills with black overcoats and broad shoulders. The train races to its next stop. It’s mine. No one moves in front of me. The width of the train car never seemed larger, as “caution, the doors are about to close” politely comes over the loud speaker. Like the cork of a shaken champagne bottle, I pop out of the train car, as the unforgiving doors slam behind me.

Crossing underground to a different metro station, the mosaics on the wall remain unnoticed. Their bright colors calling out to be recognized, to be appreciated, yet the sign indicating which tunnel to cross through to the other station proves much more interesting. Heading into the tunnel, I notice to the left there is an old woman dressed in a traditional Russian headscarf, clothes pieced together, holding a sign reading “help me, money, please?” To the right is a quartet playing a Mozart etude. The ethereal music soars above the mass of people cradling the woman’s pleas for help, leaving metro users in a dilemma about which cause is more appealing.  However, the end of the tunnel is now in sight. Upon hearing the faint noise of the upcoming train, people continue to rush towards it, leaving the beautiful music unheard and the woman unseen.

On sunny days, I like to take my homework to the park near the university. The walking paths are for relaxed walking, much different from the walking pace taking place ten meters away by the street. Slowly revolving around the circular path of the park, old couples are holding hands and speak about what is for dinner, parents coo over their infant in the pram, and then here I am in pursuit of a free bench. Russians enjoy the park as much as I do on a nice day, for every bench is full. Young couples are being romantic; old men are playing cards and children are tuckered out on their mother’s lap. Walking further in the park towards the basketball courts, men dominate this area flexing their testosterone. A pick-up soccer game started. Figuring this was not the ideal location to study, I join the steady revolving once again. A young couple joyfully sprung from a bench, causing me to look around to see if anyone else saw what I saw. Not seeing any takers, I sit down on my coveted prize. Taking out my homework, the circular revolving continues, until the sun melts into the ground.

Roaring, the full orchestra strikes its first chord. The dimmed teardrop chandeliers of the New Opera House create mysticism and romance, while the music whisks listeners away. A guest from the New York Metropolitan Opera stands as a pinpoint on the stage as his voice fills every crevice of the room. He expresses “Я вас любил—I loved you” by the beloved Alexander Pushkin in Russian. The swells of his voice mirror the crescendos of the orchestra. All threads of sound interweave to flow out onto the audience. The last vibrato pierces the air. “Bravo! Bravo!” ebbs its way back to the stage.

Humming softly to myself, I look to the sky. Nighttime in Moscow doesn’t bring any stars. Light pours onto the street from the surrounding buildings. Peering up at the structures, the window lights twinkle bemusedly down at me. People are moving about inside, putting books away, peeling off coats, frantic hand gestures. Each window has its own story to tell, its own take on the life of a Russian. The darkness stretches from the sky until it stops upon the lights of the buildings, upon Moscow’s stars. I take comfort in being surrounded by so many stars, by so many stories of the occupants inside. As if every light sheds away a layer of ice from this cold city.

Before I came to Moscow, I heard and somehow instinctively knew that Moscow was a cold city where the people do not smile and getting assistance is absolutely out of the question for a foreigner (and perhaps even a Muscovite!). Moscow loomed in front of me as a drab place where someone becomes suffocated by their surroundings, frightened by the judicial and criminal system, talked about Communism, and long, long lines. Soviet Moscow continues to persist in the minds of those who have not had the opportunity to visit. For I have seen Russians smile, heard them say “thank you”, and received directions and help when I asked. If I unquestioningly believed my previous perceptions about Moscow and its people, I would be missing out on the opportunity to discover and explore the tune to which this city runs.

Moscow acts like a coy smile, where curiosity fills the observer with a decision, either to accept the smile as it is or to take the risk in exploring the depths and secrets behind such a smile. With a more thorough look at the city, the Russian cold does not reach the core of the Russian people.

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