I make my way down into the guts of the metro. Stale air fills my nose, as I stand on the escalator going down into hell. I see couples kissing on the opposite escalator and a man travelling up, carrying a pair of skis on his shoulder. It's Monday and I am going to meet a student. Student Z, owns a pet food supply company. I carry my teaching bag on one shoulder and take a metro train. My kids are at home being looked after by our part time Russian nanny. I have got used to using the Moscow metro. If you don't speak or read Russian very well, don't be afraid to use it. Don't listen to those langauge lovers, who say you must speak Russian to live in Russia. This is bullshit. Sure, it would help but it's a lot of fun not speaking Russian and I like a challenge. From experience, most people who look young, normal and intelligent, will speak some or even good English and are often very happy to help you if you are lost. I find my way around the metro, based entirety on visual memory, rather than on any reading ability, although I can read the alphabet and the station names, I won't win any language prizes. The metro system, consists of stations within stations. You go up an down steps and escalators to get to where you want to go, to get to your required train line. Although bigger, the trains here are like London underground trains and get packed, to dangerous levels during busy times and often stink of body odour, garlic, stale breath, beer or all of these smells, so hold your nose when taking the train, as your nose will be treated to a symphony of interesting smells. I do, with my face pressed up, against the gap in the door, trying to get some fresh tunnel air as the train goes to my stop. At each stop, I stick my head out the doors and swallow the air, like a diver swimming in the abyss, air is a luxury on metro trains in Moscow. Russian's don't usually like opening windows.
As I leave the station, I see man wearing a pair of comical orange slippers that look like fluffy cats on each of his feet, no one stairs but I laugh out loud at the sight and continue to do so for another five minutes. I go outside, through the swinging station doors, into the warm smoky air, to walk to my students office. People stand outside the station handing out cards, for some unknown service. People from the far reaches of Russia, make their way somewhere, to make a living, having escaped from the bum hole of existence, from the far flung reaches, that was once the USSR, seeking a better life in the capital.
As I walk down the street ramp, to enter the maze of underground tunnels, that pass under the vast road systems, to get to the road I need, I see a young woman with no legs, begging. She looks fairly attractive and she is sitting on a wooden box with wheels. She has no legs from her knees down. I ask myself how did she get into this situation, how did she lose her legs and what took her to the depths of begging in the street? Maybe she had an accident and could not afford fake legs or a wheel chair? Maybe she begs as she makes good money? Maybe she actually has legs hidden inside the box? Questions, questions. "I will never know the answer to that question, if I did I would tell you" ABC (1). I need to know. How does a person end up begging? It bothers me not to know. I give her money and walk on thankful I have legs, past a man playing an old accordion. He is blind and is there every week, singing hits from the Soviet times. I walk past him each week and reminisce back to another time, which is strange as I'm not Russian, I had never lived in Soviet Russia but I feel perversely nostalgic. I am stuck in a nostalgic time warp of bad 80's/90's pop music and in a Soviet life that I have never experienced, maybe from breathing Moscow petrol fumes for too long? Sorry dear reader. See (1) (2)
I walk to pet man, student Z. I like him very much. He is polite, friendly and speaks excellent English. He is a father like me and I feel we have some things in common but live very different lives. He told me he rents out his flat to a British man for 8,000 British pounds a month, "WTF" yes, that's what I said. He told me his flat faces the Moscow river. He sends his kids to a private school, he wants the best for them. I admire this guy, he is the man I wish I could be, in another life maybe? After our lesson, I leave and make the long walk back to the metro, down and up stairs and escalators to go home, back to my temporary home in Moscow. I often go up the wrong stairs at interchange stations, when I change trains, as I forget where I am going, getting the days and destinations all mixed up. Early senile dementia or sleep deprivation? Maybe both. I walk down long tunnels then turn back, lost again. Days, merge into days, that merge into weeks.
At first, taking the Moscow metro, is like Gloria Gaynor (2). "At first, I was afraid, I was petrified" (although she never took the metro here, I digress). I felt like a blind man cutting grass at a shooting range but after some weeks, I got used to it, I survived. Taking the metro can seem like a computer Pacman game, as you bounce off the walls and stairs to go where you need. I make my way down tunnels, to my train, past women selling puppies, baby rabbits or baby turtles. Are they pets or to eat? More questions. I sit opposite some interesting looking people. Most of them are either reading an electronic book, watching something on their phones or listening to music. Again, I feel frustrated not to know their lives, where they live, what they do. I feel like a frustrated voyeur, only seeing half the story. One women has blond hair and a face that looks lived in, sits opposite me, next to her a man is wearing a hood and sun glasses and next to him, another guy that looks as if he has just stepped out of a 1970's USSR sex movie. All fascinating to watch, if only to imagine their lives. Each person has a different story to tell and a life carved by experience.
I return home at 9.30 pm, put my kids to bed and eat a left over meal. By the time all that is done, it's10pm and I'm exhausted but happy to be busy and making some money after staying at home here in Moscow, for almost two years of nothing. It almost pushed me over the edge and into madness. I don't how these expat women do it? Daily trips to the park to see the same mothers and the same park drunks, endless coffee mornings and domestic life and nappies. Of course, most have one or two full time nannies, so life ain't so bad for them. I suppose some enjoy it and have become proverbial whores, to a lifestyle that feeds them well and dresses them in designer clothes, while hubby plays the corporate game. I tried to fit in, I wore a metaphorical dress, I wore the lipstick, I went to breast feeding clubs and I tried to become one of them, albeit with my male parts and face stubble. I could not fit in, I could not adapt or be accepted into their female world and to their breast feeding bosoms. Some things never change and probably never will, within the sexes and within role expectations and I have written about this before on this blog. It still fascinates me sociologically, gender divisions often cannot be tampered with and were decided a millennium ago. Some say, don't try and alter this balance, however, a small number of us stay at home dads have have tried and got a bloody nose in the process.
Two years on, life is better now and I'm busy and free, Moscow is offering English dad some of her secrets and granting him some bail from domestic duties. I have thrown away my dress and nipple cream, I'm out there living Moscow, moving around, people watching and taking notes.
Source: Gloria Gaynor, ABC, Look of love.