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On September 24, 2012, I will leave Moscow after three years of living here, a few weeks shy of the day, thirty years ago, that I was born here. Perhaps I will come back to Moscow for the occasional story, but my life will be in the Chesapeake basin.In between, I managed to have half a childhood here, a whole life in America, and a fellowship that brought me to Moscow, on September 12, 2009, for nine months. I never expected to stay that long, and I never expected that these years would make me a real, live journalist. And, after months of heartache, Moscow will slowly become a bright blur, fodder for dinner party conversation, or a handshake to inaugurate me into the secret society of all the other American journalists who have come through this place and come away transformed. But folded deep into those anecdotes will be the fact that this foreign city is also my native city, a place where I feel both completely at home and completely alien, a place I’ve loved and hated for so long.In Moscow, I have debated the following topics: whether or not the archived kill-lists with Stalin’s signature are forgeries; the allegation that I am naïve for thinking that American traffic cops generally don’t take bribes; that I am a C. I’ve also been asked to prove how smoking causes lung cancer.I won’t miss the casual racism and the relax-I-was-just-joking anti-Semitism.I won’t miss the fact that nothing is planned here, that everything on every level is slapdash and knee jerk, that everything happens, as the Russians say, “from the cunt.” I will miss the fact that this means you don’t have to plan with whom you’ll have dinner two weeks from now, and that your social life can be spontaneous, organic, and sincere. (And that, as they say, is “speaking truth to the uterus.”)I won’t miss the fact that there is only a handful of decent bars and restaurants in this city of 15 million.I will miss that this means that most of them are like Cheers, and that you are guaranteed to bump into half your friends on any given night. I will miss ordering water in a restaurant and having the waiter ask you if you want it “room temperature, or cold? I won’t, however, miss the fact that I’m afraid to go to the doctor’s office here.” with a look on their faces that suggests that opening the latter door will lead you to a desolate place of upper respiratory demise (see below). (Once, my friends’ six-year-old daughter broke her arm and, when the doctor saw the x-ray, he did a double take, pulled a medical reference book off the shelf, and started feverishly reading it.I will miss the way that Russian journalists will readily drink beer with you till 3 am on a school night. A friend of a friend was mistakenly told he was HIV-positive, and lived with this diagnosis for about a week.)I will miss the fact that you can get antibiotics and just about anything else over the counter.
Down there, nothing is provable and nothing is knowable, except for your sparring partner’s increasingly bizarre pronouncements. spy; and the reason America is a more successful country than Somalia (hint: it wasn’t founded by black people).Without the right notarized slip of paper, the saying goes, “you’re a doodie.”I won’t miss the fact that no one ever seems to have any change, especially cashiers. I won’t miss the aggression and rudeness in every interaction.I will miss the creative sarcasm it engenders in all participants.I will miss the twisted, clever Russian sense of humor. ” “Second floor.”I will miss the long and freezing Russian winters and the heat-generating habits they inspire.I will miss the laser precision with which Russians answer questions. I will especially miss the warm, short Moscow summers, when it gets dark close to midnight and the whole city seems to live in outdoor cafes.
I’ll miss the beautifully Soviet metro stations—the stained glass, the marble, the utopian, gilt mosaics.