Russia has been one of the more challenging countries for me. Some of it has been bad luck: A mix-up causing our eviction on the first day here; an eviction six months later because our apartment had been sold. Some of it has been the grind of the EFL factory: Arriving having agreed to work five-day, 36-hour weeks and being informed we’d be on a six-day schedule with an expectation of loving overtime. Some of it has been incompatible cultural mindsets. Still, Moscow, like life, like all great places, has its moments.
This city has been exhilarating where it should be: Red Square, Arbat St., Gorky Park, the statues, the ex-Soviet government buildings, theatres, onion domes, cobblestones, beer, funky wintertime hats, Russian markets—these things are expected and overcome any qualms about jobs or apartments. And, it has delivered surprises as well: a fantastic culture of taking walks and a fleet of amazing parks in which to do it, a beautiful river bedazzled with eclectic and stunning architecture, great pickles, diverse and inspiring Metro stations, a regular Tuesday night bowling engagement.
Unfortunately, my appreciation of them has been sparser than I’d have liked, whereas my tough daily commute, long hours with restless students, and hurried lifestyle has been ominously present. On my one day off, there is shopping to do, clothes to wash, all the minutiae of preparing for the next six days, which was the reason for finding a five-day-a-week job rather than what this turned out to be. While these things are more industry-related, the apartment evictions likely freak incidents, the sourness of them has no doubt colored the country in an unflattering light for me.
Things go wrong so often that “Welcome to Russia” is used to explain crap situations. It’s expensive. The snow melts and makes the city a pigsty. Shop assistants are as likely to frown at you as greet you. Then, it snows and melts again. There is no common exchange of pleasantries between pedestrians, neighbors, or many colleagues. Fur is still in high fashion. Though students mock foreigners for thinking Russians have pet bears and shoot vodka all the time (opinions I had no concept of), I’ve never seen as many people, at any hour, stumbling the streets as here, and a stranger has shown me footage of him poking a hibernating bear with a stick. It has seemed a culture both unwaveringly proud and resilient in its faults.
However, this week has delivered a long-awaited holiday and, with the free time to go out into the city, a renewed vision of what Moscow could have been. The weather is fine and warm, sunny with a tickling breeze, and the world is turning green again. People are out enjoying the parks, having picnics. Impromptu food stalls and beer gardens are sprouting up like springtime foliage. Unfortunately, my wounds are deep, the life of me as a Muscovite too tainted, but my dormant aspirations for this place feel a little more justified. If only I’d been able to give it a chance before the milk had gone bad, the story of Russia may have been different for me.