So, Berlin has done it again. The city promised the start of Spring and then spat the last remnants of a bleak and bitter Winter back at me. I don’t know which is worse: The wicked wind that hits you with the force of Zeus each time you turn a corner or the rain that feels like a thousand frozen, rusty nails are being hammered into your scalp. You might think I should be used to the German Hauptstadt’s capricious weather fronts by now. After all, I did live in Moscow for five years. My first winter in the Russian capital was beyond belief. The mercury plummeted to minus 50 degrees Celcius seemingly overnight. One minute, I was standing outside the Okhotny Ryad metro station waiting for a friend in a pink, silk summer dress, and the next, I was only recognisable by my big grey eyes. Yes, it was cold. Indeed, the streets were like an ice rink for months on end. Forget about daylight. The Russian winter is out there as one of the hardest. Yet, I never felt down. I was never depressed. I have picture postcard memories of watching the first snowfall from Bolshaya Kamenny Most (The Big Stone Bridge) which arcs across the Moskva River. For me, this is what Moscow should look like. How it should feel. The first snow is poetic. It’s a polite dusting in contrast to the wall of filthy ice which builds up and chokes the city for months on end.
One of my favourite Moscow pastimes was to walk around Patriarchy Prudy in the early evening and then meet friends at the Pavilion restaurant on the water’s edge. We would sit by the Palladian windows on the ground floor and sip wine. For me, the boating lake completely enveloped in the whitest snow and ice was exactly how the Patriarch’s Pond should look. It was so very Russian. One evening, I saw two men drinking vodka on the ice. I looked at my friend Anastassia. “It’s all normal, chica. They are drunk. Nothing will happen.” I observed them trying to punch each other’s lights out. “Are you sure about that, Nastik?” They were lunging at each other. With one fist clenched and the other hand clutching a bottle, they would swing, miss, fall and get back up once more only to repeat the process. They were determined, it seemed, to bash their brains out on the ice. They didn’t even need to batter each other senseless. The vodka had seen to that. At one point. the two demented Cossacks just lay there. I think they had fallen asleep mid-swing. Satan and his henchman were definitely having a ball that night. It could have been much worse: The vodka had given them joints like jelly that refuses to set. Every vacant punch had the force of a butterfly’s wing, the swing of their fists played out in slow motion. Idiots.
I have one enduring, affectionate memory of my time in Russia: People could pronounce my name on first meeting. They loved to say it out loud as if it was poetry. I made great efforts to do the same, and if I genuinely didn’t know how to say their name, I would politely ask for help. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. Fast forward to the here and now, and despite having seen the same faces nearly every day for the last two years or so, they still can’t get it right. Maybe, it’s that they don’t want to. Maybe, they just don’t care. I think the latter is somewhere closer to the truth.
This is the point: You can’t force someone to love you.