Moscow in my heart

 

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I just came to my hotel room in Moscow, wet after being surprised by a shower during my evening walk in a nearby park, next to the monastery of Novodevichi. This park has become one of my favorite spots here in Moscow. It feels good to be here, I feel a different kind of peace in my soul, something nostalgic.

I was three years old when my mother took me to Moscow to visit her aunt Rauha. I remember her holding my hand when we walked to the railway station couple of kilometers from our house in Rakvere, Estonia. In her other hand she carried a small suitcase. The road to the railway station seemed endlessly long – I was so excited to come to Moscow where I was promised to be taken to the zoo to see the elephants. I have no memories from Moscow though, I guess everything was just too big for the tiny little girl I was. Mother told me later that when we at last were standing in front of the elephants I was too tired to even look at them…

Somehow in my mixed-up little head Moscow was just behind the hill on the way to the railway station, not far from our house. When I was a bit older, I went there to see the view I remembered. I got really disappointed when I saw just the houses of our neighborhood there…

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Park Novodevichi Prudy is one of the pearls of Moscow, far from the crowded city center around the Kreml and Red square. Here you hear only Russian. A group of girls with plastic champagne glasses in their hands trying to walk normally on ridiculously high heels. A babushka with a handbag scaring a big black crow away from a mallard with a tiny duckling hiding under the mother. Babushka is waiving with her bag and mumbling “you are not taking the last one from her”. Her husband says “there is no point Masha, it’s hopeless”. She tries to find something to throw on the crow. I walk away with sadness in my heart.

People love their parks here in Moscow, in weekends these get crowded by families with children, dogs running around and people sitting in the grass having picnic. Someone is playing guitar. The row of benches in the shadow of the trees welcomes you to slow down for a while. Gorky park is one of the most popular parks in Moscow. It is known for its beautiful main entrance and the colorful flower beds where admirers gather. But even here you can find som hidden gems, where it is quiet and peaceful.

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The second time I came to Moscow was in autumn 1993. It was my first business trip to Moscow where me and my controller colleague were gathering the Russian accounting ladys from Thomesto group companies for a course at Ernst & Young’s headquarters. The goal of the course was to implement a new group accounting system in our offices around Russia. However before that could be done we needed to teach our ladies to use computers….

We left Arlanda on Sunday evening and were met at the Sheremetyevo airport by the company’s driver. He was to take us to hotel Ukraine, a huge tower constructed during Stalins government. We were excited to see Moscow, driving closer to the city.  The excitement grew when we realized that something abnormal was going on. The closer we came to our hotel, the messier everything looked! The streets were empty except for loads of trash, broken windows, abandoned vandalized cars and groups of men shouting loud. Our driver was worried but managed to find a way through the blocked roads and park close to the hotel so we could take us in to the lobby. We noticed lots of shields placed in rows in the lobby and lot of men in old style uniforms – probably called in to do their duty for the Russian state.

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My room was on the 24th floor. From the window I could see the Moscow river floating by and on the other side of the river, opposite to the hotel, the Russian White house, the Parliament, was standing. I switched on the TV. To my surprise I saw the same view from my window as from the TV. The newscaster reported about an uprising against president Jeltsin. Some members of the old parliament (supreme soviet) barricaded themselves in the parliament building and had proclaimed the vice president Alexander Rutskoj a new president. They agitated everybody to take over the TV station Ostankino.

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From my hotel room I could see the tower of Ostankino far away. I was following the news, feeling a lot of excitement. Unfortunately there was no film in my camera I brought with me, I had intended to buy a roll at the hotel. I took my laptop and made some notes – I felt I was part of a historical happening. Suddenly the TV sending stopped and the screen turned black. Far away I could see the TV tower lighting up strongly – was it fire? It got dark around the hotel and there was a total silence. I left my window open and tried to get some sleep.

I woke up to a strange sound on the streets below. I jumped up from the bed and looked down – everything was dark grey, just that rattling sound. I fell asleep again and the next time I woke up it was light. Rushing to the window I saw the parliament house totally surrounded by tanks, pointing their pipes towards the white house in the middle. Military helicopters were circulating above the parliament, sending firearms down over the building. Armored wagons were rolling over the big bridge. Jeltsin had sent his troops to hit down the uprising. I was looking down on a battle.

I finally got contact with my colleague who was apparently totally unaware about the situation. Her window pointed to the other direction and she was tired after waiting in the corridor several hours of the night for somebody to open the room door for her – the new Indian door key system didn’t always work. I explained to her that she must go up as there was war going on outside, we needed to have some breakfast and find our driver. We tried to find some place to eat in the total mess in the lobby area. Everything was closed, people were being evacuated because the hotel was within the shooting distance from the white house. The desperados inside the parliament were shooting on people, military and civil, ready to die for the soviet union that Jeltsin was taking down…

We managed to fill our empty stomachs as our kind corridor guard, a fat Russian lady, found some bread, butter and sausage for us in the small kitchen for personnel. We also  found our driver in the chaos of the lobby and left the hotel back way. We joined the row of hurrying people carrying suitcases through an endless maze of corridors and kitchens with benches of stainless steel while the uniformed hotel personnel was standing in every corner to show us the way out. When we finally came out on the backyard the sounds of war, familiar from the movies, hit us. The moment we were passing through the high gate to the main road where the armored wagons still were rolling towards the parliament we heard shooting from a Kalashnikov. Everybody took hide and pressed their backs against the wall – an innate reaction. This was far too much for us, two young girls first time in Moscow…  We couldn’t take it seriously, we laughed hysterically while running with our suitcases after our driver who had parked the car a kilometer away. After taking a passage under the road and coming up on the other side, away from the war, I remember sunshine and birdsong. Even if our employers wanted us to fly back to Stockholm immediately, we checked in to another hotel and joined our accounting ladies who were waiting for us at the Ernst & Young offices. We thought if the rest of the millions of people are staying, why should we leave!

147 people of Moscow died during these two autumn days of 1993. Boris Jeltsin stayed on his post until just hours before the new millennium when he announced about his early resignation – his health was very bad after years of alcohol and heart problems.

 

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Moscow State Academy of Choreography – also named Bolshoi Ballet Academy – is the reason for my xx visit (I have lost the counting order) this time. My daughter Elsa is completing her second year here as an international ballet trainee. She has been living at the dormitory located on the third floor of the academy building. This is the last month of her stay here at the academy and she feels a bit sad to leave the school and her friends from all over the world. The time here has been an unforgettable experience both ballet-wise and for her personal development.

As mother of Elsa, who is loved by the nice ladies of the dorm because she of her kindness and good behavior, I was invited to the small concert held at the dormitory where Elsa was going to play two songs on the piano. After some difficulties to persuade  the guard at the front door I got the permit to follow Elsa to the dormitory. It is really exciting to hang around backstage at one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world! Long corridors with doors on both sides, marked with names of the pupils, 2 – 4 names at each, Russian, English, Italian, Japanese… Girls and boys in training clothes in every corner and corridor stretching, dancing and rehearsing for the concert.

The concert was opened in a traditional Russian way, the headmaster of the dormitory holding a small speech for the pupils of the 3rd grade soon leaving the school to find a job – not easy for a new professional dancer… The concert was meant for them but they also took part of the acting. The students from different countries showed a variety of mainly funny small acts. The public applauded, enjoyed and laughed – so did I! I caught some small pieces of the show. The princes of various countrys are trying to wake up the sleeping beauty:

 

 

Moscow of today is a huge but still pleasant city where you easily can move yourself from one part to another by the metro. The metro is both effective and the stations, especially the old ones, are beautifully decorated. It goes deep under the city and when crowded, you literally search for the light in the end of the tunnel…

 

Tomorrow I will leave Moscow for this time, which is the best time to be here – June! People of Moscow are enjoying themselves, their faces are happier and their steps are lighter. The weather is a bit changing but the sun is always there, sometimes just hiding behind the clouds….

Finally there is the light…

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After some weeks away it was a real pleasure to spend a week in our Swedish home. At this time of the year, in May and June, there is this special light in the Northern countries that takes over and fills your heart with expectations and joy. I need to be there in our garden enjoying the bloom of cherry, plum and apple trees. A wonderful smell is following you when shooting the wheelbarrow, loaded with dry branches, soil or flowers, through the garden. Luckily the evenings last long so I managed to cut and fertilize most of the roses and to plant some flowers in the big pots, finishing after sunset the day before my trip back to Spain. Our garden has a bit of the sleeping-beauty-rose- garden feeling over it which we find is charming 😀

 

 

The first thing to do after my arrival at Alicante airport was to collect our dog Uzanna at the VIP dog hotel in Benissa, the best place to leave your dog at while away for a week or two. We had followed her stay through daily video updates and knew she had a great time playing with other dogs as much as she wished or lying in the sun which is her favorite “activity”. Of course Uzanna got slightly mad of happiness to meet me again – it was my husband Per who left her there so she was not expecting me.

I have discovered that I am equipped with an on-and-off switch. At these busy times I have learned to use it more and more – while in Sweden, Thailand or Estonia I do not worry about how things are going in Spain – I trust that everything goes as planned. Every now and then I get some questions from our building team and after answering them I put the building aside again. I am truly thankful for this switch, whoever gave it to me!

Now it was high time to turn Spain “on” again! After 2,5 weeks away in Sweden and Estonia it was exciting to enter the house to see the progress. The house feels much more like a home now as it is filled with warm light, the light I was missing so much from start. Most of the walls are painted and floors are ready at the main floor. The bathrooms are being tiled one after another. Also we got two new small windows, heading south, letting a beautiful afternoon sunbeam to otherwise dark rooms. It is time to think of furnishing the house! In fact we already ordered beds for all bedrooms in the house that will be delivered in mid June! Also most of the bathroom equipment is ordered.

 

 

The most exciting though is the delivery of kitchen. When I first stepped in to the house the living room was full of boxes with kitchen furniture and -machines. The next day most of the furniture was already installed and in couple of weeks it will be ready for measure taking by the “stone guys” who will cut and install the worktops in natural stone. We love the kitchen already and look forward for spend time there cooking and chatting with our visitors.

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Time for bed, tomorrow is a new full day! My to-do list for coming week is looong so it is important to put the energy on right things. Luckily there are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables of good quality available here that give you lot of energy. I already look forward to the green morning drink I make on fresh mango, freshly squeezed oranges and plant proteins (moringa). Yummi yummi!

See you soon! Buenas noches!

 

 

 

The Estonian house

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Some days ago I left Spain and the building for a while to go back to Sweden and further to Estonia. Not surprisingly it became quite hectic before my trip home so I needed to postpone the flight one day to be able to make some important decisions regarding materials for bathrooms, kitchen etc. However I feel confident that our builders are doing a good job!

Anyhow, here I am now, in my Estonian home, in the outskirts of a small town Loksa at the nothern coast of Estonia. It always feels relaxing and joyful at the same time to come here and spend some nice days with my Estonian family, my mother, siblings and nephews. We enjoy Estonian sauna and Estonian food of course!

 

The house itself is located only 50 meters from the Baltic sea. From the windows you can see the sunlight glittering on the waves and when you open the balcony doors you can hear the sounds of the sea. This year the sea is still frozen but the winds have made some serious attempts to break the ice. I enjoy walking in the pine forests and sandy dunes of the beautiful beach. It is a must to go down to the beach to see the sunset. Pure magic!

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However, the Estonian people have not always been able to enjoy their beautiful beaches. I was born in the sixties in a middle-size town Rakvere in Estonia then occupied by Soviet forces. The military bases were located all over the country and the coastline was guarded especially strictly to avoid people leaving the country in small boats. Only those living in the coastal villages had permission to enter the area. Most of the coastline was cut off by fences or by several meters wide stripes of sand where footprints of a runaway could easily be detected.  Only certain guarded beaches were open for public. I remember the summer holidays spent in a school camp at the coast. When arriving to the coastal zone, the border guards stopped our bus to control all the passengers, childern and teachers, in the bus. The camp was frequently patrolled by the guards, day and night. I also remember the feeling of horror when the guards lit in through the window of our cabin at night with strong torches that lightened up the room as if it was daylight. They even made an attempt to beak up the window, luckily not successfully…. However except for this special occasion we felt safe – somehow this made the camp even more adventurous. We knew we could not do anything about it,  it was just another stupid thing we had to live with.

In spite of the fact that we were living in a closed country, isolated from rest of the world (exept the Soviet Union) and totally controlled by a foreign regime, we children enjoyed our childhood. We did not have to worry about standing in lines for hours to buy groceries for preparing the dinner or building a house and buying housegear for the family. Our parents let us children enjoy our innocent unknowledge about the political situation in the country. But we understood and sometimes it felt as if you had a role in a silly play. My parents grew all possible kinds of vegetables and kept hens and chicken in our garden, where every square meter was well used. We got a glimse of the “real world” through Finnish television that could be caught in Northern Estonia by homemade antennas. People got an impression that life in the West was like in Dallas….

My father who was a schoolteacher built a home for us, a two-story house of grey silicate bricks, typical for that time. My brother and my sisters were helping him with easier tasks – it took some years to get the house ready.  When I was born, the family moved from the small village where my parents had been working as teachers while my grandma took care of the household. The new house was much bigger and had amenities like cold water in the kitchen tap and big stoves heated with wood. In the kitchen you could always find our grandma in a clean apron standing in front of the cooking oven. Our kitchen was the cosiest place in this world where everybody gathered but I also loved the garden. Summer mornings when I woke up I grabbed a cup and run into the garden in my nightgown to pick some fresh strawberries, rasberries and black current. I would mash it with some sugar and eat the smoothie sitting on the staircase.

 

When my father died  at the age of 87 my mother, who was 19 years younger, stayed alone in the cold and uncomfortable house in Rakvere. It took a big effort from her to carry wood for heating and take care of the big garden. We felt there was no point to modernize the house and started to look for a suitable house for our mom and her many visiting children and grandchildren. In autumn 2007 we found the house at the beach in Loksa, originally built as a shop, in a terrible condition but with high ceilings and lot of possibilites. We all fell in love with the place with coastal athmosphere and high pine trees and very soon the house was ours! Me and my brother replanned and rebuilt it totally. In december 2008 our family gathered in the new house for Christmas.