If I could pick one word to describe Russia today it would be “uncertain.” Doesn’t strike you as the right kind of word at first, does it? What is this? “An uncertain Russia”? How can a country be uncertain?

And yet uncertainty is the biggest governing force both in Russia’s daily life and the more abstract processes that are otherwise known as “Russian politics” or “Russian public discourse.” Uncertainty is like the weather. Or not, actually – uncertainty makes the weather.

For the standard expat, the kind who’ll spend no more than five years here, at most, the uncertainty is still palpable. Will I get my visa renewed on time? Will I get my visa renewed at all? Why are rent contracts here no longer than a year? How come I don’t know my neighbors at all?

For the expat who has decided that she wants to stay, the uncertainty takes on a greater shape, like a shadow growing at the foot of the bed. Will I ever be able to get residency? What if the ever-changing legislation result in me getting separated from the kid who’s just fallen asleep with his head on his toy rabbit and the husband whose tattoos I can trace with eyes closed? Will there still be a military draft seventeen years from now? Where in the world do I go should everything fall apart? Everyone should be so lucky as to have something that can be destroyed in the first place, I suppose.

Russian businessmen at the top of the food chain, clamped to the very mouth of the oil pipeline in a kind of kiss, have wobbly, uncertain dreams. Police generals walk with an uncertain gait. Models in advertisements for home loans and new cars have wary, uncertain smiles.Tajik guest workers in neon-colored vests engage in meandering, uncertain arguments with the displeased grandmas parked permanently on a playground bench.

“Anyone in Russia can end up in handcuffs,” says Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, jailed member of the punk group Pussy Riot, at her latest, Kafka-esque court hearing. The policemen inside the courtroom appear smitten with her.

“They can lock up anyone around here,” my new landlady, daughter of Crappy Landlady (RIP), confides in me over tea. The new landlady is a matronly retiree, a former City Hall worker who votes for Putin and thinks that every modern apartment should have a bidet. She’s also engaged in a fierce legal war with her father – who’s trying to have her boyfriend jailed on assault and battery charges. The conflict goes back to the old, Bulgakovian “apartment question.” The apartment in question is the one we are renting, though there are more properties that will soon be in dispute. This is what often happens when a family member dies in Moscow – the absurd real estate prices, highly influenced, no doubt, by the record 79 billionaires who officially call Moscow home, will do that to people. The billionaires are themselves uncertain – like airy, porous apparitions, blown every which way by the wind.

Mark Galeotti calls Russia’s real decision-making apparatus the Deep State, and he describes it now as being “in deep water.” It makes me think of Adrienne Rich, diving somewhere where the sunlight does not quite penetrate. It’s dark and cool there – and peaceful, the enormous pressure at that level rendering sudden movements impossible. Those who are down there, do they envy the surface as much as the surface envies them?

In the evenings, we walk on the eastern edge of Moscow, waiting for the baby to fall asleep in his stroller. The new ducklings on the ponds have already gone from yellow to brown. I realized recently, that my desires have not changed much since I was thirteen years old. All the girls want to love, and be loved and star in an epic of their own making. And in all of the epics – you can see the end, and yet the end is still surprising.



Too tired to attempt a clever blog post, so here’s a pregnant photo

picture by Maria Savelieva

I have never been this tired before *in my life*. I imagine that after The Globe is born and we’re back home from the hospital, I will be *even more* tired. The mind boggles. How do people survive? How has the human race been propagating itself all of this time?

Oddly enough, the only thing that has the potential to make me feel alive right now is Pepsi. Freaking Pepsi. Not coffee, even good coffee, and certainly no healthy fruit smoothie stuff. Not yoga. Not vitamins. Goddamn PEPSI.

Whatever works, I guess.

The Globe and I

“It’s not a fucking walk in the park.”

– Madonna, on pregnancy and childbirth.

Well, except on those rare occasions when it is:

© Maria Savelieva. 2011.

This summer in Moscow is nothing like last summer in Moscow. For one thing, I don’t wear heels (I don’t even know where all of my high-heeled shoes went, at this point – and may have to hire a detective once they become relevant to my life again). I don’t stay out until 5 a.m. I don’t fall asleep on the grass in the park. Somebody’s little feet feel as though they’re pressing up against my ribcage on occasion. The owner of the little feet is an entirely new person.

Occasionally, this person gets the hiccups or turns awkwardly. The latter causes me to stop dead in my tracks and gasp, while the people in the street pause to look at me in horror – and their faces say, “Is a woman about to go into labour right in front of me?! Will she now start screaming and watering the sidewalk with amniotic fluid? Goddamit, I knew I shouldn’t have left the iPhone at home!”

I am mostly hysterical, but every once in a while I smile – and now we have photographic evidence. I miss my husband – he is filming. I have packed a little backpack and put it by the door.

At this time of year, the nights get watered down early. Because I don’t sleep much, I greet the magical turning point at which the night sky suddenly becomes a not-quite-night sky. Something rich and strange. Having moved away from the center, I notice that the grass here smells like grass is supposed to smell in the morning.

Because of finances, I haven’t really invested in much maternity wear. Thankfully, a surprising number of my clothes are somewhat stretchy. People greet me at social gatherings – when I manage to crawl to one – and say things like, “Well fuck me, here comes Natalia, guess I have to put out my cigarette” or “At least it’s nice that you’re still going around half-naked – it means you haven’t lost your identity.”

A drunk actor who starred in one of the most controversial Russian TV shows to date (I suppose this was to be expected from the likes of him) called me “a walking advertisement for unsafe sex” recently. My husband made a big show of flying into a jealous rage. Then they made up and kept drinking.

Recently, I have discovered that my passenger has musical tastes that are similar to that of Dmitry Medvedev. I’m not kidding, nothing quite sets him off like Deep Purple.

I have discovered that I am an even bigger coward than I have previously realized. I have discovered that my capacity for love is bigger than I have imagined – and that it towers over me like a Stalin-era skyscraper, all resplendent and full of secrets.

I’m supposed to present a documentary drama project about the death of Liza Fomkina and her aunt at Teatr.doc next week, and I end all of my correspondence on the subject with a cheerful: “If I’m giving birth that day, I probably won’t make it!”

In reflecting on all of these peculiar changes, I have come to the conclusion that this could only have happened to me in Russia. It could only have been a Russian guy – who could do this to me. Clearly.