"If you are planning to spend this winter in Moscow be ready to survive in -30, to walk on ice only and to get acquainted with our special 'metro smell'"
The subzero temperatures and ice are holding off for the moment, but the Muscovite cologne is beginning to waft off people. This week has been pretty miserable in some ways.
In the morning maybe my cup of coffee and bowl of hot kasha (porridge) with honey sit smoking in the half-light as the sun struggles to throw light behind the blanket of clouds. My gluey eyes moan at me as I continue to prevent them from closing again and I sit, flumped in my little wooden chair in front of my searingly bright laptop screen. My wind-up internet connection delivers me my emails and some news and I double slap my cheeks, 'wake up!'. I try and kick start my head by reading some Dawkins or some Tolstoy. I huff and puff at my sloth and put on my sports kit, along with the little zip up jumper I bought to deal with the plummeting degrees. Although they aren't plummeting as Moscow is experiencing a warm front. 10-14 degrees during the day. I sweat in my little jumper, ignoring the occasional car horn and constant confused/bemused staring faces as I run down the grey, overcast streets and along the steel-coloured Yauza that feeds off the Moscow river. Side-step dirty puddles and crush deflated, wet browns and oranges; flesh that has fallen from the autumn trees.
In the afternoon maybe I boil some grechka (buckwheat), fry some chopped vegetables - tomatoes, mushrooms and pickled odds and ends - and throw in some adzhika (spiced tomato sauce) and some smetana (sour cream). I'm full. I trudge out into the muggy air, busy with spitted rain and hurled bricks of wind. I find the local babushka and her stand just outside the forecourt of my flat. I buy some musky freshly made cheese, 'from the cows walking around in the field this morning', and a little bottle of some home-made green spicy herb sauce that she makes, 'ochen vskusna, ochen vskusna!' (very tasty, very tasty). A hearty smile shifts her moustache as she warbles away at me in exuberant Russian. 'You're not from here are you?' she giggles 'I heard your accent and thought 'that's not a Russian accent'. Well, we'll talk again soon'. It's 4 o'clock and the world has been dim all day. When will I wake up?
In the evening maybe I slink into my suit or some other fairly smart looking clothing and suffer on the metro, inhaling the pungent, heady bodily aromas (that I can almost taste) of the unwashed rush-hour traffic heading home as I head to a class. The sky has turned black and the roads are clogged with twinkling headlamps and horns. I feign interest in the lives of my students for two hours as they fumble their way through the English language to tell me about something neither of us really care about. Groggy, I jostle back through the city and nearly collapse in on myself. Little glimpses of beautiful metro stations flicker through the train windows. At Kurskaya I descend into the foetid sauna of my little local supermarket and buy a large bottle of Baltika beer and some necessities. I choose the cashier who I know won't badger me for lower denominations, rouble coins. She'll take the note and let me be. Plastic bag, underpass, babushka gone, key-lift-key, back on my little wooden chair. Maybe I have a last cup of something hot and hang my head as my eyes burn with an unearned tiredness.
The half-light, the never-day, the rain, the colourless world around me at the moment is getting to me. Not emotionally, but physically. I'm tired all the time. I keep wanting to sleep but in my head I think 'no, I'll make the most of the day' and I end up making a compromise by just staring inanely at facebook or nearly nodding off trying to read Anna Karenina.
This isn't the case every day. Last Friday the sun broke through for a few measly hours. I had a day off and spent it wandering alone around Kolomenskoye; a perfect UNESCO park of wooden cathedrals, tended lawns, chapels and sweeping vistas. And then on Sunday a long walk to the red and white birthday cake churches, towers and turrets of the Novodevichy Convent. Now my favourite places in the city.
Bar the metro I'm looking forward to the other part of my Russian's predilection. Bring on the -30 and the ice. I'm tired of this irritating weather pretending to be English but succeeding only in ruining my free time and making the city look unhappy.
I am happy though.