Wednesday, 25 June 2008


This is the view from my window in Moscow, painted by my grandfather, Alexander Nikolajev

The reason I feel, or felt initially, that moving was so dramatic – traumatic – is that I have done it before, under totally different circumstances. It was in the Soviet Union in 1981, when marrying a foreigner meant you were a traitor, and leaving your country meant most likely that you would never be able to return. The departure was definite. Books were considered state property, and I had to get permission from the National Library and pay export tax for every singe book I wanted to take with me. I gave away most of my books, selecting carefully the ones I valued highest. As to other possessions, I was going to the capitalist paradise where I would never lack anything. When Staffan came to visit me in Moscow before we were married, he wallowed in money, by Soviet standards, so I knew for sure I would soon be rich. The thought was not altogether comfortable, because I was, even in Moscow, a modern woman used to earn enough for myself and my child. Yet I didn’t think I needed to bring along all my clothes as I would buy everything new in Sweden. I had to persuade my eight-year-old son that he didn’t need all his toys, he would get plenty when we were in Stockholm. This was cruel, as I understand now. I gave away my record player that Staffan despised for its poor quality, I gave away my book shelves and writing desk, but I didn’t have much else to give away, since I lived with my grandmother, and most of the things belonged to her. And anyway, silver spoons were state property as well and strictly forbidden to take out of the country. My jewellery in a mahogany jewel box was eventually smuggled out by a good friend.

When I now roam through my devastated home, I cannot help looking back on my first move. With all the differences, the feeling was the same. Friends came in an endless stream, to say goodbye and to collect whatever items they fancied. Book shelves were ripped down from walls leaving big ugly marks that I tried to paint over. Candlesticks, pictures, tea cups, small souvenirs from Sweden that I didn’t need anymore, going to Sweden as I was – everything was gradually disappearing, and I hoped that my friends would remember me by those tokens. I was going toward a new life, travelling with two suitcases and a child. I had no idea what was waiting for me.

Of course, I have no idea today either what life has in store. But at least I know that I can come back as often as I wish, that my extended family can come and visit me, that I don’t have to show my wedding ring to the customs or make lists of all the books I am bringing.

Yet the sorrow of breaking up is the same.

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