“Moscow needs a lift (to grow up)” (2014–2020)
Moscow is the most provincial of all cosmopolitan cities in the world. It is full with the world and yet, not quite of this world. It needs to elevate and mature up to its image of a world leader. It needs to transform the intimacy of its people and streets into a sample on the world stage.
The first three years of my life were spent in Moscow. I was 40 days old when they brought me to the city after 3 days/night’s journey by train in late November 1957. We stayed until 1960 or so. My father worked for the Bulgarian language department of Moscow Radio at the time of Nikita Khrushchev.
I have one memory only from that time; much later, a name self-attached to it. I am walking into a huge, empty room with a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. An old, ugly-faced lady is coming towards me and I am scared shitless. She is dressed in a weird, brightly colored but faded, all-over dress of unknown identity. She has a big, wide grin on her face – they told me she loved me and she was smiling happy to see me and hug me. That’s all.
The face, I realized much later, looked like a Native American totem – chiselled and stylized with age; the dress must have been a kimono. We were visiting friends/relatives in a Moscow communal apartment, immigrants. About 15 years ago and totally out of the blue, I dropped the name “Grandma Tanaka” in front of my mother. It just popped in my mind and it burst out of my mouth. Mom replied cautiously: “Yeah…? What about Grandma Tanaka?” I said – well, that’s the smiling old lady I remember walking towards me in that huge empty room with the lightbulb in Moscow… Mother was shocked – “How could you possibly know that; I have never told you such a story, and we never mentioned her; you must have been 2–2,5 years old at the time?” I do not know how but I do... It’s probably the visual impact. In fact, this is the first memory of any kind ever in my life and it’s visual… Grandma Tanaka was the widow of a Japanese communist who had immigrated to the USSR in the 1930s only to perish in the camps. She was a survivor. Just like Moscow.
Because of her and many like her, for me, Moscow is a city of women, and as strong as a woman, standing all alone up against the whole world, in war or in peace. I can point out in the drawing where exactly we lived in Moscow; where is the church where I had been baptized, secretly; where the brave and strong mom of a dear friend was living in the city until recently.