Moscow revisited

Olga Martynova and Oleg Yuryev in Moscow. Photo courtesy the author

Russian poet Olga Martynova returns to Moscow after 15 years and is pleasantly surprised at what she finds. Here are the first two paragraphs of the essay she published in February in the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, now available in English and in toto, thanks to signandsight, here:

Seen from Leningrad, Moscow looked like a pile of grey shapes around a postcard red Kremlin, threatening and almost uninhabitable while at the same time, densely occupied. No question, the boulevards of Moscow had a certain sweetness in spring and some houses boasted a sort of decayed elegance but all in all, it was a sad city for me, that would never again be what it once was – if one is to believe literature.

In the 19th century, Moscow was considered a sleepy nest of Pasha-like landowners and salesmen with long beards. The sharp-tongued liberal and later political emigre Alexander Herzen wrote in 1840 that Moscow, the gigantic excrescence of a rich market town, had less its own splendours to thank for its influence than the fact that other parts of Russia had so little to offer. The then capital of St. Petersburg was, on the one hand, too hard and cold for him, on the other hand refreshingly lively and practical. “In St. Petersburg, people are generally and individually especially miserable. One can’t love St. Petersburg but at the same time, I have the feeling that I wouldn’t want to live in any other Russian city,” he wrote and settled in London.

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