I observe an ocean of heads underneath me, while I am slightly climbing the surface with the escalator. Bodies rubbing against one another, elbows desperately trying to push their way through the mass. I’m rising higher, the stairs are moving. The heads slowly disappear, become smaller and the faces turn into blurred grimaces. They’re not smiling. “Russians never smile. They’re very gloomy persons”, It’s what was told me before my departure. I wanted to experience it by myself, dig deeper into this Russian heads, find stories behind the thin lines of lips, pressed together to a serious expression. Look behind these looks. And what I found amazed me. It’s not concrete, not ice. It’s pure tenderness. Like fences all around Moscow, that hide the most precious beauties in the insight, Russians keep their treasures for themselves.
On my first evening in Moscow I experienced it for the first time. Imagine a stereotypical Russian man. With eyes seemingly made out of steel. A proud face, muscular body with arms crossed, to show that nothing could ever harm him. He’s standing there, in a backyard. Suddenly a little cat appears. And that’s when I saw the transformation. The man’s arms open, he takes the kitten, he looks at it with such softness in his eyes that almost made me cry. He cuddles it, strokes it, gives him some of this tenderness I wouldn’t have thought he possessed.
Another scene comes to my mind. I had surpassed a spot in a park where I wasn’t supposed to be. Suddenly a guard approaches me, lookes at me very severe and tells me to get of there. I, intimidated, move. Then suddenly he smiles. And starts to sing, in complete harmony with the world, lost in this sweet melody.
If there is something that opens the heart of a Russian it’s music. I’ve seen street artists playing, Russians gathering around, listening to the sound, seemingly unmoved. But when the musician started to play a famous Russian song, I saw faces suddenly brightening, I saw sparkling in their eyes and everyone starting to join the song: A bunch of Russians on a square singing, swinging in the rhythm.
And again on a concert of a famous band: There where Russian students listening to the music. But unlike Europe, they just were standing there, without shouting, dancing, chatting. In my Europeanised ignorant view I wondered whether they didn’t like it. And asked a Russian friend of mine. He looked at me in surprise and said: why? They’re just enjoying it. So I realised the beauty of this moment. The way Russians perceive and appreciate. There’s no need to show the world that they are happy, that everything is fine, they just feel it, absorb everything and treasure every moment. That’s enough. That’s sincere. It’s intensive, and so true. I realised why Russians apparently don’t smile. It’s not about appearance. I arrived in a country where smiling is not a superficial politeness like where I come from, but it’s an emotion. It’s sincere. It’s intensive, and so true.
These are just some little episode during my stay here. They thought me to appreciate very much the Russian mentality, although it also made me notice the contradictions.
I’d like to explain this impression of mine through symbols. The two objects precisely, that I mostly noticed in Russia. Symbols, you don’t see often in Western Countries. On the one hand, it’s flowers. You see them everywhere, on streets, on squares, in front of buildings, women carrying them insight the metro, on the streets, in the shops, men buying them to make their darling happy and anyway on every corner there seems to be a flower shop. It’s actually zwetok the first word I learned coming to Russia. Against this one symbol, there’s another thing that I associate with Russia. Dark against a tender flower appears the tank. The tanks you find everywhere, even on playgrounds, showing the military strength of Russia.
Is it a contradiction? Isn’t it almost ironic that people of a country, where tanks are not despised in civil society, not seen as a shadow lying in the dark past but where tanks are hymned to the symbol of power and strength, where arms are something to be proud of; That in this country there is friendship above everything, where people stick together and consider same values so important? Isn’t it contradictory when publicly showing homosexuality is still degraded of most of the society, on the other hand men treat each other so softly sweet, whereas in western countries that would be considered awkward in public? Like a group of policemen trying to get their way through the masses of a public event, holding hands and forming a human chain in order to not get lost and stick together. It’s one of the many anecdotes I could tell about my observations in Moscow, which confirmed my image of a tender society.
I am not an expert; I know little about people here, so that’s why I only consider myself a humble observer from outside, nothing more. I will continue to look for flowers around the Russian squares and spots, getting touched by the Russian tenderness, that draws a smile on my face every time I see the coloured petals. If I look into the future of the society I can only hope that it’s going to be flowers to bloom, to grow, while the tanks will slowly disappear, become smaller and turn into blurred shadows like departing faces on the escalator of a metro station. Shadows, of something dark that lays in the past, but that has been overcome by tenderness.
Photo: Stas Mikrükov / rs