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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

First Impressions of Russia

Over the December holidays, I’ve been waxing nostalgic. It was earlier that month that we went to visit our first son, seven years ago, when he was just seven. My first impressions of Russia will always be with us.

I grew up amongst Russians, all older. These were in the days when nobody got out of the USSR, so the only Russians who were out and about were elderly. I ended up surmising that all Russians spoke in old, creaky voices, debating politics, retiring to Miami, wearing socks and sandals, and watching Lawrence Welk.

What a shock to arrive in “Moscow nights” and find so many gorgeous, six-foot-plus girls in stiletto boots, while I imagined that most women would be 5×5 babushkas in worn-down, felt valenki boots. Prepping myself for the drab, Soviet-style apartment blocks, we spent the first couple of days gape-mouthed in Moscow, where many historic buildings and churches were yellow, and peach, and blue, and green, not to mention red brick and gold-domed, a sensory overload. The sparkling New Year’s trees and neon advertisements did nothing to dispel that over-the-top impression, as snow softly fell.

It was like a dream come true for us:  pelemeni and blinchiki, markets and a mission:  our first child was waiting for us! I had come home to the homeland, and it felt right. We walked and walked everywhere, crunching in the snow and reveling in the short days, and long, magical nights.

Thinking we would freeze, Benedetto and I packed long underwear, bundling up before venturing out. But really, in Moscow, the temperatures were similar to what we had back home. I wore long skirts with tights, boots, and a pair of socks, a wool sweater and wool jacket under my long, heavy, teddy-bear coat. Inside every building, I was ready to pass out in the overheated interiors, while outside, I was fine. No need for the long johns. Siberia, it was not.

Until we arrived to our region, there were few be-medalled octogenarians, nor grandmothers with gold teeth. Sure, they were there in the captial, but not so many in our high rent district. We marvelled at the normalcy of everyone on cell phones, eating in pizza joints, and nursing a cup of chai (always Lipton’s) at the corner cafe’.

The orphanage was a living, breathing place with dogs sneaking in and village children passing by. We took a one-minute video clip of us with our new son, strolling outside the metal dyetsky dom gate, making a statement for the camera, walking out into the rut-lined, muddy dirt road, geese waddling this way and that, our son smiling to himself, sandwiched between Mama and Papa, and headed for a new life that none of these locals could ever conjure up in their wildest imaginations, while our facilitator kept calling, “Come back! Come back!” as though we might hop into a waiting get-away car at any minute.

Naturally, we had to leave him behind until we could return for court, months later. It was hard, probably like any approach to parenthood, not 100% smooth sailing. I cried when the plane touched down in Moscow, we boarded the bus, and I realized it would be months without the child I already knew was ours.

Benedetto headed home and I stayed for a couple more days, traveling to the countryside and catching my breath amongst the beriozki (birch trees). I stepped into small chapels and spoke with locals and ate carrot and raisin salad. This was the terrain of my past, and of my future. The umbilical cord had never been cut and now it stretched to my new child, across the miles, across the forests, across the snows.

This Russia of my dreams was both typical and atypical, causing me to connect the dots and prepare to return. He was waiting.

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