I’ve travelled the last two weekends, and now that the sky has finally found its studded edge and that the wind has lost its keen and purposeful airlessness — now that Monday is untangling itself steadily and irrevocably towards me — I trace my nail across the bend of RB’s book I have been mangling for the past two months – lilac broken into white resentful folds of a cheap paperback. –‘So that this whole inner world of steppe was mapped on a system of infinite minute recessions, having just those gradations of distance that the outer lacked..’
Travel diaries, indeed. And what of my own then?
I went to Moscow, superintended by a long-legged Canadian, exotic and lithe, with a Hong Kong passport that allowed her to enter to Russia visa-free (despite chronic hold ups at passport controls both ways), and by a jovial debonair Frenchman whom I will have known for a full decade this year in September. The Frenchman lived in a Moscow for a couple of years a couple of years back, and it was Canadian’s first time (as cliché as it is to refer to both by their nationalities—- but try as I might, in the end, I will always be known as ‘that Russian’, or if I am lucky, ‘that Siberian’; our passports dictating tastes, proclivities and what not, in spite of our seemingly cosmopolite lifestyles).
I started off picking my friend up from the Kievskaya station, but not before nearly smashing my face into the metro entrance doors, having tripped as per usual and nearly flown horizontally, with the full force of my signature don’t-see-nobody-power walk. Now I have a nice tender lump on my ulna, that my dance partner thinks is a sign of a hairline fracture, to show for it. We ended up snacking on hummus and vinaigrette salad outside a Russian grocery store near Patriarchy Prudy, where Mr Voland made his appearance some 90 years ago – before snagging a table in a tiny bar, named after Keanu Reeves. Moscow turned to be stuck in the midst of a heat wave, which gave you a lovely glow during the night, and left you perpetually sticky with grime and sweat at daytime.
For the next two days, we explored the main attractions — like the Common Tourist – Red Square, Tretyakov Gallery, Christ the Savior’s church — and searching in vain for an appropriately themed kitchen towel at the souvenir shops in Old Arbat (a magnet in the shape of a piece of white bread, one half of it smeared with red caviar, the other with black, turned out to be a rare and obnoxiously delightful find). For the first time since a long time, I enjoyed Moscow — and not just through eyes of my friends, one of whom had had a really good time here and knew the city well, and the other who had never seen anything like it — in her own words, gaping open-mouthed at the marbled metro and the sheer size, well, of pretty much everything (yet with dutiful attention to proportion, so as not to appear bloated). But also maybe because for once, I hadn’t been in transit – to or from Siberia, anxiously waiting for a visa, or trying to squeeze as much hours as possible to see friends in between flights. Perhaps, too, after Africa and Singapore, and at 30, it felt quite relaxed even despite the bustle. Moscow looked and felt better than I remembered it. Seeing my parents, ‘cute as buttons’ as my friends put it, was a rare treat.
And now a week later, having said goodbye to a dear one from uni visiting Hamburg for the first time, one of the very few people – in fact, very likely, the only one — whom I am still in touch with from Russia — I am quite melancholic. I was told — ever so sternly — not to cultivate it, this very counter-productive, anti-functional feeling. And yet, I carry it around as a rare treasure, this pull in my solar plexus, and how strange it is, how quickly one gets used to one’s presence, especially if it’s a welcome one.
I haven’t done a tourist walk around Hamburg since I moved here, eight years ago, about to start my masters, bright eyed, fresh faced and heart-broken – even if I were unwilling to admit it – the rip of the cord!.. Walking along the Alster, admiring the clean-cut lines of Rathaus, and blackened walls of St Nikolai Memorial, and even the throat-tearing yells of marketeers at the Fischmarkt — all made me see Hamburg differently, same and familiar and yet not quite, as if a reflection in a mirror.
And for a precious few moments it felt reassuring —- when missing a train, or being late, or even losing a year metro pass in a jazz club, wasn’t as big of a deal.