I was born in Moscow in 1976

And so, It was in 1976 that I was born into one of the households living in the 9-y micro-district of Teplii Stan, on the tenth of July to be precise, and of course, I don’t remember anything of that day, but can only rely on what I was told by my family. Apparently I was born right in the centre of Moscow, in the birth-centre on the New Arbat Eve, called ‘Roddom Grauermana’ where several famous Russian people were born. Andrey Mironov, the actor, loved by the whole nation, was born there in 1941, as well as the renown poet, Bulat Okudghava, in 1924. The birth house was popular among the elite. It was right at the central street, situated in a beautiful building, where rooms were spacious and medical care was better than anywhere else.  One needed good connections to end up there, and those, born in Roddom Grauermana’, usually belonged to some sort of upper class, albeit under the socialism, classes didn’t exist. But of course, some lived better than others, and connections, or what is known in the Russian language as ‘blat’ (a word that really has no direct translation in English, but can be understood as nepotism) was extremely prevalent during the whole existence of the Soviet Union, and still is, although judging from the readings of the Russian literature, ‘blat’ is just a part of the Russian psyche. Gogol wrote extensively about it, but so did Tolstoy and other prominent classical Russian writers.

           

It happened that I was born into a more or less elite family, by the standards of that time. The family was very intellectual as a whole. My grand-dad, who during the second world war, was a sapper, attached to special forces,  received several medals, including Order of the Red Star, and upon his return from the war, became a renowned and extremely popular professor of geology at the People’s Friendship University, situated not far from the ‘Jugo-Zapadnaya’ underground station. Due to his position he received a three-room apartment in one of the new buildings at the 9-y micro-district of Teplii Stan, and the whole family, consisting of the grand-dad, grand-mum, their daughter and her husband, moved for a while there, before my mum and my dad received their own apartment, in the same block of flats, but their apartment was only two rooms, and situated right on the sixteenth floor. I remember that once I started to have some conscious memories, every time I would end up on the balcony, the view would take my breath away. It was so high, and so impressive, because one could see for a while almost the whole of 9-y micro-district of Teplii Stan, before other, similar buildings were built all around, but it still gave the illusion of some space, even if it totally lacked in any cosiness. The apartment was awful, and remained so, until it was sold in the middle of the nineties to someone else, with some difficulties. It had always the atmosphere that it was chased by the spirits, or some similar, mystical creatures. Strange insects would appear, or weird noises at night with irregular intervals. Families ending up in this apartment, had arguments, and tough time.

            My parents, however, ended up relatively well in the beginning, because, most of the time they stayed at my grand-dad place. There, it was always cosy, and always warm. My grand-mum, who worked only part-time as an administrator at one of the theatre companies, retired relatively early, because my grand-dad, as a geologist, would often be sent away on a project to different places, such as Afghanistan or China, where they would sometimes stay up to two years at a time. She loved cooking, and the house always had the delicious smell of some stew or a pie in preparation. Because my grand-dad was very popular among his students, lots of them, mostly the PhD students, would often come to the house, for a dinner or a drink. They all came from different countries, friendly to the Soviet Union’s ideology, and it was always full of laughter, deep philosophical discussions, and delicious food. My mum and my dad, also ended up working at the same university, albeit at different faculties, would mostly live in their own apartment when I was born, but the main life and activity remained in the house of my grand-parents. It was where that everyone stayed, and my memories of the apartment of my parents don’t come to me until I was seven years old. All glimpses of family time together go back to the house of my grand-dad, Sergei, a truly remarkable man, who was adored by everyone who had the chance to meet him. He was extremely kind, and extremely intelligent. His work was his passion and it was something that he would pass to my mum, an adored child, who was born rather late (my grand-mum was thirty-four when she gave birth), and who chose mathematics as her field, and soon was working on her PhD, right when I was born.

            When I was one, my grand-parents had to go to Kabul for a year at least, on one of the geology missions of my grand-dad, my mum was still working on her PhD, my dad was busy building his career as a lecturer in chemistry, and therefore, a nanny had to be hired to look after me. However, my other grand-mum, the mum of my dad, who was at that time in Moscow on a visit, offered to look after me, and after lengthy discussions, and uncertainty in taking such a drastic decision, it was decided at the end that it could be a good idea, and I was taken for two years to the Eastern Ukraine, to a small place near the town called Krasnadon, to be raised and looked after by my other grand-parents. It was where that I would end up spending also all my summers when I returned to Moscow, alternating between Krasnadon and a Cossack farm of my grand-parents, thirty minutes’ drive from Krasnadon, but which was situated in Russia (not that borders counted then), and thus, my upbringing was marked by being a born Moscovite from an elite family, but with love and longing for a quiet countryside at a beautiful farm and Ukraine, where people were friendlier, where life was simpler, and where everything tasted better and fresher.

Moscow: Summer 1976

In the summer of 1976, which proved to be uncharacteristically hot, Moscow stood still in its stability and relative quietness. Later, under the reign of Gorbatchev, this period would become known as the ‘’era of stagnation’’ but if you looked at people living in 1976, you certainly wouldn’t notice that something was terribly amiss. The shops, while with impressive queues outside, had most needed groceries, festive tables were full of food and vodka, and everyone had the right to free education, medical care, and nice pension. People were nicely dressed, modestly but with style, with men wearing suits and women walking about in pretty colourful dresses. Trousers and let alone, jeans, were not yet on the radar of women’s fashion, and so they would differentiate themselves through colours. If one looks at the pictures of Moscow in the summer 1976, one can see lots of pink, green and red variations among female dresses. The winter fashion was, however, awful, due to a lack of choices, but let’s stay for a moment in summer 1976, and stroll to the region of Jugo-Zapadnaya, translated with some difficulty as ‘’South-West’’, even if it didn’t incorporate the geographical area per se (although it was definitely situated at the south-west of Moscow) but was one of the most-sought after region located around an underground station of the same name. It was known as one of the dormitory areas, due to its architecture, with new buildings of sixteen floors that became popular at that time. The apartments were more spacious than tiny, grotesque constructions built under the earlier area of Krutchev, and their raison d’etre was a better thought enterprise than the buildings which had seen the light in the years fifties, resulting in weird spaces and suffocated corridors. The typical buildings of this awful construction had usually three bedrooms, but one of the bedrooms was, as a rule, at the end of the living room, hardly even separated from it, and those who slept there, had to wait for the whole household to be ready to sleep. The rooms were also small, and often didn’t make any sense.

However, in the sixties, there came a new wave of constructions that aimed at some modernization and a more careful consideration for people who would eventually end up living there, and huge buildings spread across sixteen floors started to see the light, mostly at the uptown area of Moscow. The underground station Jugo-Zapandaya was created in 1963, and shortly after, shiny but quite ugly blocks of the apartments followed. If one notices them now, while visiting Moscow, one might become shocked by the absence of any consideration for beauty: the building are truly ugly, but as a result, quite impressive in their simple dare to exist. They stand the matter of time, and are quite still popular among middle class, among all those who can’t afford any new apartments, but still want to live in the proximity of a more or less comfortable life. Not that the newly built buildings are any better. The perimeter of Moscow once outside of the centre, represents an absolutely awful sight nowadays, a true fruit of the new capitalistic ideology, where new constructions of stores much higher than sixteen, are spread all around, without any well-though plan behind.

The Jugo-Zapadnaya region soon became extremely fashionable among the citizens of Moscow, and was renown as one of the best areas to live. It takes forty minutes sharp to arrive to the closest underground station in the centre of Moscow, called ‘Park Kyltyri’, which is relatively nothing for the size of Moscow as a whole. If you live in Moscow, a drive of two hours each day to work and back, is the cumbersome reality that most Moscovites experience. It is huge, it is difficult to understand, and one has to be born there in order to enjoy a relatively nice life.

Jugo-Zapadnaya also had all nice facilities. Several universities were situated in its proximity, it had more green spaces than the rest of the city, shops were built around, and if one had a ‘dacha’, some sort of residential house, when it was also strategically located next to the highway. But the most prominent future of Jugo-Zapadnaya was that it had the illusion of space in the otherwise quite busy and suffocated city, and one could enjoy relative quietness and a feeling of rest if living there.

Several sixteen-floor buildings were built twenty minutes away by bus, and it soon became an area on its own, called 9-y micro district of Teplii Stan, translated as the region number 9 of Warm Camp, attached, however, officially to the bigger area of Jugo-Zapadnaya, because of the nearest underground station. This small area became a little gem of the Jugo-Zapadnaya perimeter, where Moscovites tried to get an apartment. Despite the ugliness of the sixteen-store buildings, the apartments were relatively spacious in comparison to what else was available, and the whole little area contained everything one needed for a good life. Several schools opened their doors, big grocery shop was created, and a park, known as ‘area of rest’ got built around a lake. Those who lived in the district, and it was especially popular among families, would stroll to the ‘area of rest’ at weekends. One could hire a boat to sail on the lake, and children could even swim in designated spots. All in all it was comfy and nice, a sort of a small village (albeit with tall buildings) in the middle of Moscow.

I was born there on 10th of July 1976