It’s all Dr. Zhivago’s fault. Thanks to a fictitious Russian, I’m about to board a 10 hour Aeorflot flight to Moscow with my mother. (Considering the bulk of that movie was filmed in Spain…in the deep heat of summer… I SHOULD really be heading to Ibiza…)
My mother. Who smokes like it’s an Olympic sport. About to board a 10 hour flight without access to nicotine. I’m hoping a mix of rye and coke (her one drink per week) and Gravol will lull her into a blissful sleep…after I pry her talon-like claws from my hand, or my leg, or wherever she clamps on in some misguided notion that clutching on to me and digging her fingernails into my flesh will avert an avionic disaster.
So why, oh why, are we heading for Russia, on our own, with only a handful of Russian words and phrases in my vocabulary and a Cyrillic alphabet that makes deciphering simple street signs a near impossibility and ordering off a menu a possible minefield of regrettable choices? Because for my entire life my mother has dreamed of going to Russia. For most of her life, Russia was an unattainable place, barred to the western world, an enigma to the world beyond the Iron Curtain, a stoic, stern people who dominated Olympic Games and produced prima ballerinas but who embodied the Red Threat of a Cold War.
As a child I remember her fantasizing about being bundled in furs, riding in a sleigh across a white wonderland. Of visiting waxy old Lenin in his mausoleum. Of admiring the beauty of the onion domes of Red Square…
As an immigrant from a Communist country, my father was having none of it. There was no poetic beauty to be imagined, and he frankly had no desire to go somewhere where bread lines and black markets were a way of life. Been there, done that, got on the boat to get away from it. My father was also firmly convinced that if given the opportunity, my mother would say something “witty” to some KGB agent/Russian border guard/police officer, and that she, and he by extension, would be shipped off to a frozen gulag, never to be heard from again.
Frankly, I’m not so sure he was wrong.
And so, planning and taking this trip together is my gift to my mother. But fervently I hope times have changed in the “new Russia”… I’m too pretty for life in the gulag…