This is my city: poet and publisher Dmitry Kuzmin

About childhood in the Arbat alleys, about reading poetry and dating in literary clubs, and about my last visit to Moscow.

I was born and raised…

I spent my early childhood in the Arbat lanes, where one of the branches of my family, until last year’s death of my father, lived for exactly a hundred years. A little later childhood – in a writers’ cooperative house near the Aeroport metro station, in an apartment bought with money from the Soviet reader’s love for “American Tragedy” and “The Little Prince”, which existed in Russian in grandmother’s translations. Adolescence and youth – in Belyaevo, sung in the immortal verses of the underground classic Dmitry Alexandrovich Prigov (for several years we lived, as it turned out later, in the same house, and I console myself with the thought that, perhaps, the sight of someone playing in the yard once inspired me it on certain chased lines). And then another twenty adult years – in Chertanovo, first in a one-room apartment, where a bookcase blocked off a corner for guests with an antique-style fresco painted on the wall, and then in a three-room apartment, with gentle transitions of colors from orange to purple and two loggias used as a warehouse my poetry publishing house.

Moscow districts…

I cannot say that these or other Moscow locations evoked any sentimental feeling in me while I lived among them; Moscow was for me the same as for most born Muscovites – a “default city”, a default city in which you take everything that exists for granted. Maybe that’s why I always saw progress around me, albeit uncertain and not in everything. And then, when a special cheese department appeared in the nearest grocery store, and in it – an unthinkable thing! – sometimes they began to sell unprecedented Swiss cheese for three ninety, with big holes. And when a new record store was opened at the beginning of Leninsky Prospekt, where it was possible to listen to something of interest on stationary players before buying (or instead of it). And when it suddenly turned out that huge rallies at Manezhnaya and Luzhniki and demonstrations right on Tverskaya Street were possible and even necessary, and despite all the harshness of the speeches and slogans that sounded at them, there was something festive in this: there are so many people who care. And when literary clubs and nightclubs began to appear in various unsuitable places for this, at first rather comical, but for the first time they allowed reading and listening to poetry, dancing and making acquaintances – at your own peril and risk, at your own responsibility. After evenings in one of these self-made literary clubs, my then-sponsored boys and I walked next door to Kamergersky lane, where a funny cafe had just opened, which served blue milk (warmed with Curacao syrup); I remember well how one day two middle-aged men came after us, trampled, shaking off the snow, and one said to the other: “It’s a good place. But why, in order for it to open, it was necessary to destroy a great country without fail?

By the way, about how “sticky snow is knocked off their heels” by Moscow “gymnasium girls are ruddy, a little drunk from the cold”, the headmistress of the gymnasium, where I taught for a short time, sang quite charmingly with a guitar at school concerts, and this was also progress: the transformation of a teacher from the Soviet version of a man in a case, improved, into a living person.

About Muscovites…

Moscow as a default city is also a city for everyone. A city where athletes compete, and vegans go vegan — and no one really interferes with each other, there is enough space for everyone. In this sense, any metropolis of this magnitude is a bit of a utopia: a place where everyone can feel good. Which, of course, is an illusion (as soon as you try, for example, to ride a friend in a wheelchair around the city center). But it’s very convenient to hold on to this illusion in Moscow: these are our deeds and our paths – we stand our ground not out of fear, but out of conscience, and what others are doing – well, with something of their own, God bless them. It is unlikely that any other city in Russia could provide such spiritual comfort with its excess. But this means, on the other hand, that a Muscovite always has something to lose.

By default, you begin to feel yourself especially acutely as a resident of the city during a temporary absence. And not even because in other places there is always something, but no, but because there you are perceived as someone who has everything. Simply put, like a snicker. For the fact that you are so easily given what is hard to reach for the inhabitants of the province – the capital’s earnings, the capital’s service, the capital’s transport accessibility – one can and should feel awkward, but they usually accuse you not of this, but of being cut off from the roots, from the soil, from tradition. What are you doing there instead of drawing bears in a pine forest, heating with firewood, going to the wooden toilet when you need it – showing off, kowtowing before the West? It is possible to be a thinker and an expert somewhere in Rubtsovsk, but there it is a feat, but in Moscow it seems to be the norm, and many relax, of course, and surrender to inertia and entropy.

Now I live…

In 2014, I traded my usual thirteenth floor in Moscow for a white house with a garden in a Latvian village. Forty minutes drive to the center of Riga – as from Butovo. Passed on the rights (in Moscow for twenty years he was only going, but, in essence, why, but here there is no other way to deliver the child to school, in general). I learned that my home is where I am a stranger – this is an educational and useful experience. I left Moscow of my own free will, but from time to time I came to it on business, for festivals, dates, birthdays, funerals. With a strange feeling that this city was stolen from me, although how did I get it that it ever belonged to me?

On my last visit, in the winter of 2022, I took the risk of driving 900 km from my new house to my old one, which means I drove into the capital along New Riga, across the luxurious and spectacular Picturesque Bridge, in the cable-stayed grid of which I hung a ball driven in from the West a lifeless capsule of a failed restaurant, because, Wikipedia explains, engineers and builders have thought of everything, except for one thing: sewer pipes will not withstand the winds whistling over the Moscow River. Standing in a traffic jam right between the guys, I suddenly thought: this is my city – and it seems that I will not return to it.

Photo: from the personal archive of Dmitry Kuzmin

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