Goodbye to The Moscow News: on riding off into the sunset yet again

“Again the well-worn saddle creaks,
And the wind chills an old wound;
Monsieur, where in the name of hell have you wound up?
Can it be you can’t afford a bit of calm?”

After nearly four years, I am leaving The Moscow News. Now that our owner, the RIA Novosti agency, has been liquidated, the paper has been put on hiatus, all of our social media channels are frozen, and the audience we have worked very hard to build has been left wondering what’s going to happen next. I will not be with TMN in the next chapter, so I will not be the one answering that question.

I do sincerely hope that the paper will be reopened – and that it will thrive.

I also have words of advice for everyone interested both in the media and in Russia.

To say that the future is uncertain is to say that the celestial void is somewhat daunting to behold. What’s especially hard to accept is that with regard to Ukraine, nothing may ever be the same again. It’s a scary, painful time. And it’s almost bizarre to observe how the stuff of headlines and news reports also has to do with your family and fate.

Personally speaking, I have been asking myself whether or not I would change anything if given the chance to go back. The answer is “no.”

I’ve also been asking myself how I really feel about everything – and in the end, all I can think about is how grateful I am for every single day I spent in the company of amazing people, doing something I loved. 

So here’s to love. And to the past. And to the future.

the musketeers agree

Darkness on the Edge of Moscow: excerpt 2

Previous excerpt here.

“Do your friends actually call you La?” He tried and failed to stifle a laugh.

“Close friends.” The label on the beer bottle would not come off no matter how hard she scraped at it. “So you, for example, would have to refer to me as Nelly.”

“Where did Nelly come from?”

“Full name’s Leonella.”

“Wow.”

He began to say something else. La’s gaze wandered downward. On the street below, a garbage truck was trying to turn around. Its path was blocked by a flashy sports car with its hazards on. She saw the truck’s driver jump out from the cabin and shake his fist in the direction of the sports car. The driver of the sports car leaned on the horn.

From up high, it was hard to tell whom to side with.

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Darkness on the Edge of Moscow: an excerpt

This is an excerpt of a bigger work of fiction. 

The train paused briefly in the tunnel between the stations – a rare occurrence for the circle line. La leaned against the door, pressed right up against the place where it said “No Leaning,” and thought about disaster. Images from the trailer of a movie she had failed to see in the theaters – something about the river dramatically rushing into the metro tunnels – shimmered briefly in her mind.

She wasn’t sure how she would like to die in the event of a real metro disaster. Quickly? Or in some equally horrific and heroic fashion? Either way, Slava would probably be sad, at least for some brief and crucial moment.

He would have to hide it, of course. His sadness could not go beyond the boundaries of propriety. She imagined him drinking forlornly in some Soviet-like establishment with no seating spaces and lots of kitschy posters, surrounded by nostalgia-driven hipsters. She remembered that he no longer drank. She imagined him sitting in his car, his big hands gripping the wheel, as his knuckles turned white. He had told her that this happened sometimes.

Then what? Then he would drive home, pick up some groceries on the way, exchange gruff pleasantries with a neighbor in the parking lot, kiss his wife at the door as she urged him to take off his snow-caked boots, and park himself in front of the TV with a Playstation and the kids for company. It would snow lightly outside – she imagined delicate, ghostly snowflakes soundlessly hitting the glass. The kids would fight over the second Playstation controller. The neighbors would laugh and murmur on a nearby balcony. And La would still be dead.

She was angrily thinking about how Slava would never even notice the beauty and futility of the evening snowflakes bashing themselves against the glass when she realized the train was in motion.

Resigned to living for the time being, she focused on being angry. Why couldn’t he just break things off with her like the normal sort of cheating bastard who inevitably gets tired of a mistress? Why couldn’t he make her into a proper mistress while he was at it? Why was he talking about “confusion” and making plans that meant nothing?

The soldier profiles ensconced in marble at Taganskaya station side-eyed her as she got off the train. “The real problem here is that you spend too much time thinking about him,” one of them said. “He doesn’t think nearly as much about you.”

“Unless it’s to ruminate very briefly on the way your tits tasted in his mouth that one time,” another one piped up. 

“Trust us. We’re men. We would know,” a third one laughed mirthlessly.

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The lieutenant in you

Growing older becomes repetitive. It would be great to break up the monotony of cells drying out like graying laundry on the line.

But nature is its own government, recycling soldiers into pulp. Inviolate, the only thing less compromising being the phantom limb of conscience (oh God, don’t get me started on how that thing feels, like sticky tape gone weak and fuzzy with the years).

Small comfort, then, that the bureaucracy is uncomplicated, the only law being death. The baby chick laid to rest in the proteins of its own egg and shiny ant confetti on the sidewalk – death’s bannermen marching on the child.

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It gets personal: a dispatch from the Buguruslan Central City Hospital

Patients in Buguruslan

Patients at the Buguruslan Central City Hospital: note the window on the left. The blanket is hanging up there to protect the sick woman from the cold. The sick woman is my mom-in-law. Yep, they have to use blankets on some of the windows in the winter – as you see on the right, some windows have clearly been fixed up, while others have not. 

As a journalist, I frequently write about both problems and breakthroughs in Russian medicine. I write about the need for the humanization of Russian medical culture following decades of Soviet rule in particular. I also write about funding problems.

Every once in a while, this topic gets personal – extremely, painfully personal.

My mother-in-law, Tatiana Zhiryakova, is currently hospitalized in Buguruslan, Orenburg region. She was originally supposed to get gall bladder surgery – but got peritonitis after a blood transfusion (we are not sure what happened there, we are still trying to figure it out). She’s been in the ICU unit twice. Right now, she remains hospitalized – and she is not doing great.

Bulat Raigaleyevich Diusenov, the head of surgery, seems to be doing everything he can for her – but he’s just one man. The hospital’s head physician, Alexander Pavlovich Remin, has a good reputation too – but once again, he’s just one man. And the truth is, in hospital such as this one, most of the staff just doesn’t seem to care much.

Buguruslan is far away from Moscow (in Moscow, a lot of money gets pumped into medicine). Far, far away. In fact, it could almost be on another planet – or so I’m told. The funding for hospitals is not great. Hospital staff are frequently overworked and underpaid. There is hardly any public oversight.

I try to be as sensitive as I can when approaching this issue. I know that there are plenty of people trying to help. But there are some issues – such as the state of the hospital in general – that you can’t overlook, or write off, or explain away.

The Buguruslan Central City Hospital can’t even afford to have toilet paper in any of its bathrooms. When my husband asked a staff worker why this is the case, she snapped: “The hospital can’t afford medication, and you’re going on about toilet paper!”

This is bad, you guys.

P1020897

The holiday garland somehow makes the entire scene look even sadder

This is the reality we have to deal with today. It is, once again, personal. This isn’t just some abstract topic I get to briefly engage with before jetting off into the relative comfort and safety of a privileged lifestyle somewhere in the West (not that I would have that kind of lifestyle back there these days anyway – but, you know, whatever).

This is happening to people I love. It’s like something out of Dickens – except it’s not comfortably buried away in literature, cushioned by the years. This is the 21st century. This is here. This is now.