Sunday, September 8, 2013

Back in the (former) USSR

After much ado, I am back in Mother Russia for the first time in eight years. Thanks to a Fulbright grant in creative writing, I have nine glorious months to write a screenplay (and maybe novel?) about the generation gap in post-Soviet Russia, blow my stipend on caviar and kvass, and attempt to learn one of the most difficult languages in the world.  While my Russian has improved dramatically since 2005, I am far from fluent.  Just yesterday, I asked a street vendor for vodka (self-explanatory) instead of voda (water), but that was probably a Freudian slip.

After spending the last few months oscillating between terror and excitement about my return to Russia, I was relieved to discover that Moscow is every bit as weird and wonderful as I remembered.  There is a tangible “Russianness” to this country that can’t be stamped out by its rapid Westernization.  However, the influence of the West is more apparent than ever before: BMWs and Mercedes have replaced the old Soviet Ladas, the Moscow metro map now includes Latin transliterations, the supermarkets have nearly as much selection as an American Wal-Mart, and massive advertisements for a “Биг Тейсти” (Big N’ Tasty) are juxtaposed against the Kremlin in the background.  I suspect Lenin is rolling over in his tomb, a fact I plan to personally confirm with a pilgrimage to his eerily preserved corpse.

But with all the Western influence I’ve seen, there is much that has stayed the same.  Peroxide blondes in leopard print are a ruble a dozen and there will never be enough spray paint for PETA to shut down the Russian fur industry.  The metro stations, which doubled as bomb shelters during the Cold War, are still works of art with intricate mosaics and stunning architecture.  McDonalds and Starbucks will never put the blini stands and pirogi kiosks out of business.  And Red Square will never cease to stun me.

I have never really been able to explain what it is I love about this country, and I suspect this time will be no different.  It’s the kind of place that polarizes people—you either love it or you hate it, and I definitely fall into the former category.  I’m sure my enthusiasm will wane when the amount of daylight can be measured in minutes rather than hours and I am up to my neck in snow, but for the moment, I’m still in giddy disbelief that I am back.


  1. You should TOTALLY buy a floor length mink with a big ole foxtail collar. Seriously though, I bet people wear the fur in a sincere and desperate attempt to stay warm. When my mom wears her mink into Whole Foods (favorite pastime) she says it's nice and toasty.

    1. I want to come wear fur in Colorado with your mother SO badly.