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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Take Time Out In Moscow to Think Positive

February is on the wane, and I can feel the winter doldrums receding with every minute of daylight we gain. A few days of sun have helped, as well, and I am finally starting to remember what it is that I love about this place.


I, like just about everyone else in Moscow, went to see the ice sculptures in Gorky Park earlier this month. The temperature was frigid, but the sky was blue and there was a festive feeling in the air. Grownups and children alike were romping around, climbing on the sculptures, sliding down the ice chute and laughing. I remember in particular one stout middle-aged lady who shot down the slide on her bottom, clutching a small, scruffy black dog in her arms. Both parties seemed delighted with the venture.


This ability to enjoy the moment completely, to put cares aside and just have a little prazdnik dushi, or holiday of the spirit, is one of the things that drew me to this country and its people.


Russia was never an easy place to live. I can't quite buy the rosy pictures being painted now of the good old days of Leonid Brezhnev, when sausage was cheap and crime did not exist. I remember all too clearly my first trips here, hoarding two-kopek coins and walking the streets at night to find phone booths so I could call my friends, because I did not dare call them from my apartment. I remember acquaintances being harassed, even beaten by the KGB just for associating with me. I remember the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness in many of the people I encountered then -- the conviction that nothing ever could or would change, no matter what they did.


But even then, we had fun. The endless evenings in cramped kitchens, drinking tea and talking about literature and philosophy. The long walks in the woods, the midnight sledding trips, the summer days at dachas (to which I had to be smuggled, since foreigners could not go outside the outer ring road without a visa).


I went to a birthday party the other day for my friend Galya. She lives with her husband, daughter and two lively dachshunds in a two-room apartment on Moscow's outskirts. She is a linguist by profession, but no longer works full-time for health reasons. Her husband, Sergei, is a translator whose institute has been unable to pay him for several months. The guests included a man who had just lost his job at a prestigious newspaper and a woman who had just had a serious operation.


But the conversation centered around Galya's 10-year-old daughter, Anya, a budding musician. Anya played her own compositions for us on the upright piano that dominated the apartment's main room, and Ivan, the newly unemployed journalist, sang and played the guitar. We discussed the importance of music for the soul, we told jokes, and Galya and her husband recounted the numerous adventures of their dogs at their dacha in a distant village.


It was a warm, wonderful evening, hours of laughter and camaraderie, a brief respite from day-to-day troubles.


These evenings are fewer and farther between now. Everyone is much busier trying to make a living. But in all the chaos, it's comforting to know that people like Galya and Sergei are still there, providing these islands of comfort for friends in need. It made me remember how glad I am, after all, that I'm here.