Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Ark without a Sail (Moscow, August 1998)

The Moscow River passed before me so still and dark that it almost appeared motionless, as it stretched out in either direction. The office building was so close to the water edge that, looking out from a conference room window, I easily fell into the illusion that it was floating on top of its filthy waters.

Every time I looked out at the river, even for a moment, it lulled me into an inertia that felt particularly Russian. Perhaps it was the way the water darkly reflected the late-summer’s perpetual twilight. It anestitized the mind and imagination. The sun would not set till at least ten o’clock tonight, which made the day seem unending.

My work day had finished. From that conference room, I taught Russian attorneys and their secretaries, who worked for an American law firm, how to use Microsoft Word and email. I had come to Moscow three weeks before – in late July, after working my way through the Firm’s offices in Singapore and then Istanbul. It was my eighth month abroad.

I knew the curriculum by heart, and also every potential question my “students” would ask and my responses to them. That left lots of space in my mind to contemplate where to eat dinner, or what sights to see at the weekend, or to stare out the window.

On the opposite, and almost distant-seeming, shore I could see a Russian Orthodox church topped with baby-blue onion domes flanked by rows and rows of plain cement Soviet-style housing blocks. To me, this represented the tension of modern Russia, as a beautiful imperial-style church tried to coexist with those ugly relicts of Soviet utility.

Year before I had become fascinated Russia’s constant aching turmoil, to its almost absurdly poetic struggle. This attraction led me to study its history and language throughout high school, and then college. So to live and work in Russia, even for just four weeks, fulfilled a latent wish of mine.

Still I felt burned out, tired of computers and training, so bored repeating the same lessons every day, so I keep looking out the window at the Moscow River and writing email.

My friend and co-trainer Karen sat in the conference room adjacent to mine. I sent her an email:

“I am drowning in the Moscow River.
Are you ready to leave?”

(To read the rest, click here.)

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