Monday, January 11, 2016

Ode To Moscow

In all 27 years of my life, I have met a well above average amount of people from all over the world: travelers, intellectuals and vagabonds that will go anywhere gladly because they want to see the world, no matter which one. Thailand, Australia and Paris are the absolute front runners of destinations all these guys have been or are prioritizing to check out. Never, however, have I heard one of them tell me "You know, Sina, Russia is really the gem you need to see before you die" because few of them have been there or are prioritizing to check it out. After my first visit to Moscow last week I have difficulty understanding why that never happened! I have seldom been to a place more beautiful, more interesting and more surprising than the Icicle of Eastern Europe, but then again not everyone is me...

Seven out of my eight semesters at university back in the day had one very predominant theme: Russia, its history, politics and maniacs in charge of both of them. For an even longer ongoing time I have considered Russian Politics my favorite passion, trying to learn as much about Vlad Putin as possible, culminating in my (very, very close!) attempt to meet him last year at a press conference in Cairo. One may argue that there are few people in the world who would have as many incentives as me to go to Russia. And next to the visible history of communism, the possibility of seeing Lenin's corpse and counting sickles and hammers around the city, I had a rather unprofessional one to finally make the trip to Russia, and his name is Daniel.

Now to start out with what I saw and encountered in Moscow, I have to admit, my experience is heavily influenced by the fact that Russia had been my prioritized travel destination for half a decade and that it now played host to one of my best friends of over a decade. And out of all the ridiculous people I met throughout my life, for example Syrian documentary filmmakers or world-renowned Russian political scientists, I never expected it would be the call of Daniel that would bring me to Russia. Needless to say, experiencing a country you knew nothing, and everything, about with a person so close to your heart was an absolute pleasure, not in the very least because said person went out of his way to accommodate my weird fetish of chasing Moscow's communist past and freaking out at the sight of the Duma or Putin's public New Years address.

And indeed, Moscow's communist past was, unlike many other post-communist countries I visited over the years, on display like it was a period of pride, not contention. To me as a leftie European girl the perpetual question of why and how communism ever became the evil of this world is hard to answer, and the Yeltsin/Putin administrations must have thought the same thing: why get rid of all these glorious artifacts, Metro stations beaming with Soviet flair and stunning buildings with a rich history of a periods that may have ended in disaster but is undeniably a milestone in Russian development? Heck, Human development! I'm glad post-communist Russia decided against forgetting about those years (although, one may argue, they could start forgetting about those days in, let's say, Elections or media treatment) so that I was able to walk these streets and be stunned like I never get to be anymore.

The only analogy I can think of about walking through Moscow in early January, wrapped in three sweaters and a ski jacket, my scarf covering my whole face except my eyes while it softly snows on a frozen Moscva river is that of a walk through a Disneyland that is actually real. Yes, Cinderella's castle is really nice, but St Basil makes it look like some Idaho shag not worth being called a castle if stood outside, just outside, the mesmerizing building. The majesty of the Red Square or the Bolshoi Theater isn't just overwhelming when thinking about the formation of a 20th century superpower taking place there; the beauty of the architecture of some of Peter's first few buildings before he moved everything to St Petersburg is breathtaking and unseen to me, as well as the displays of arts and culture from old and new everywhere. In the distance, the skyscrapers of Moscow's ghostly financial district throw shadow on a historical place that is moving past its history in the same way it made the past.

Moscow has been the only city I ever explored around temperatures well (!!!) beyond freezing and still not being able to stay inside in the bathtub. Especially coming from Egypt, where the heat and the noise never stops, walking through the calm of the snow in Gorky Park offered a kind of beauty I had never experienced. And at the same time, I imagined Moscow in the spring and how it would be a completely different city with ice thawing, flowers blossoming and young Russian girls wearing even less clothes because not all of them seemed to be perceiving the same -20°C temperatures I was. With so much love for Russia, the choices I made in life to end up right there that moment and my company, I forgot that I should have been freezing, inside and out. And as any reader could probably imagine, the literary memory I am creating here is only an attempt at recreating the actual memory which was even better!

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