What is this place I call home? Who are these well-meaning people who I don't understand anymore? I recognize these symbols and flags, yet they touch no chord with me. The language is free-flowing and easy; it surrounds me on the street and in the restaurant, and I comprehend but I don't understand. Why has home ceased to be home?
Better yet, why the hell have I fallen in love with Moscow?
What is it about Moscow that has seeped into my heart and attached itself like the root of a weed? Is it the stunning array of architecture from 1200 years of history, lit up in soft spotlights in the evening, that leaves an indelible impression? Certainly there are few buildings in Canada to rival the purity of history that can be seen in Moscow. Old and new are intertwined in Moscow in beautiful Slavic glory.
Is it the Moscow Metro that I miss? That monument of human achievement which no other city can rival? The crowds at rush-hour are certainly easy to miss, but the peace of the metro in the evening, as it carries the last few stragglers of the day along chandelier-and-frieze-and-marble guilded platforms, is wonderful. At each stop another citizen, whom I will never see again, leaves the train while one or two more get on. Some read books (and how Russians love to read!), some listen to their ipod and stare at their feet, while in the corner two teenage girls yap away at each other. At the far end of the car a man is passed out drunk. I love the Moscow Metro.
Perhaps it's the constant parade of beautiful people I miss? The city is filled with gorgeous women and handsome men, and almost everybody is dressed in European fashions (save for the odd Adidas track-suit and mullet). The women glide by gracefully in stilletos or, if enough of them are running for a train or bus, clatter along sounding like a cavalry charge. Now that I'm in Canada, I notice that there are so few beautiful people in this so-called home of mine. Fashions are non-existent and people walk around with a smug air of superiority, rather than the calm confidence of Moscow, yet they are overweight and wearing jogging suits. I even saw one woman at the supermarket wearing her pyjamas, her hair a tangled mess, and she sported an extremely better-than-thou look on her face and in her demeanour. That would be unheard-of in Moscow!
Is it the feeling of freedom and hedonistic abandonment and, strangely enough for such a large city, collective experience that I miss about Moscow? In Moscow, nobody scowls at or nags strangers for smoking. In Moscow, nobody pesters people about the sins of eating meat. In Moscow, one can drink a beer in a park. In Canada the police would treat a public beer-drinker like a hardened criminal. Nightclubs and bars in Moscow are a haven of flesh and touching and flirting and grinding. When I'm on the Moscow Metro at rush hour, and babushki are pushing me with their big purses and everybody is sqeezing onto the escalators, there is a feeling that EVERYONE is going through the same thing. I can make a joke to a Muscovite about Moscow, and they will instantly understand. In Canada everybody lives in their own individualistic bubble. In Canada women think you want to rape them if you try to talk to them. In Canada making a joke could result in a lawsuit, depending on what side of the political spectrum the recipient sits. How I miss Muscovites.
What is it about the underlying current of spirituality that persists in Moscow? Surely its not only the thousands of Orthodox churches that fill Moscow, their beautiful round spires and onion domes and bright colours giving proof to the thousands of years of influence the church has had on Russian culture. Compare those to the dreary gothic architecture or tacky new-age slabs of our churches. No, there's more to it than just the churches. There is an energy to Moscow, that can be felt in every park and pounding nightclub and grouchy produkty, and seen in every random firework and bad parking job and random beautiful face. Moscow is strangely powerful on the soul.
Why does Moscow feel more like home to me? Is this just a strange transition, a normal effect of reverse-culture shock, that I am suffering through? I feel like a foreigner, uncomfortable and uncertain in my own country. Do I love Moscow simply because it was my home for so long? Would having my own place again in Canada cure me of this melancholy? I'm living out of a suitcase in a spare bedroom, at the mercy of my family's generosity while my wife trudges through her workday alone 5000 miles away. Perhaps I just need a home again.
It is all these things combined. My home (wherever that is), the energy, the freedom and warped community, the beauty and the history of Moscow all have caused me to fall in love with the city. But ultimately there is one thing I miss. I didn't realize it until I went for a walk around the Rideau Canal in Ottawa today, and that's when it hit me. The one thing that is missing from Canada, but which can be found outside any metro stop or on any corner or in any park in Moscow, is this:
Trash cans on fire.