Bridge on the River Moscow (on Boris Nemtsov’s Death)

Nemtsov photo

Bridge on the River Moscow

by Yuri Kruman

My pulse is rushing as I write this. Upset, dislodged from equanimity, I’m punching air and jumping to the ceiling for release. I breathe out, hoping this will disappear. Why is this anger, pooled beneath my stoic’s skin an ocean deep, coming to surface now?

Changes are coming. Spring’s pushing out from under feet of snow. First pangs of March. Pandora’s feeding me some sort of Southern hipster blues. Maybe it’s student loans depressing my good mood, maybe expenses coming with our move to Brooklyn.

Nemtsov is dead, that’s it. Somehow his execution bothers me above the months of endless stress, G-d’s brutal sense of humor in my case, my wife’s complaints, my daughter’s cries, my mother’s hit of guilt with every daily conversation. Moroccan relatives are visiting. I’m drifting, but Nemtsov is looming. They have crossed the line. I can’t stay silent any longer.

Why now, why this? I’m not much of a patriot, especially with Russia. Frankly, we left and that was it, hands washed. This bothers me to hell, more than it should. It isn’t just, the guy was Jewish and a dissident – that’s bad enough.

It’s that I wrote a book almost two years ago titled, The Egypt In My Looking Glass. The character we never meet, around whom all the action swirls is Edouard Yablonskiy, dissident and physicist, who perishes *like that* when the regime decides. They killed my character, the bastards!

No, that’s too crass. It was like killing the whole world I grew up in, along with figurehead, a whole milieu already long endangered, fossilized – the context that my parents knew and lived in for a generation. Mom lurched, as well. This hits too close to home. In a peculiar way, my father died a second death last Friday on that bridge.

We left in 1992, what seems like five lifetimes ago. That’s what you did back then, especially when offered tickets to America – especially a job. We took our first flight ever on a Delta plane, Moscow to JFK, continuing to Lexington, Kentucky. November 5th, the day that Clinton was elected. Can’t get much more symbolic than Slick Willie, from a clapboard pig sty to the White House.

What was so special that we left back there, twenty-plus years ago? Soviet construction? Poverty? KGB-flavored Ceylon tea with just a hint of mint?

Our corner of the Soviet paradise had charm and character, all right. Our town of academic institutes 80 miles south of Moscow – Pushchino – sloped down toward the river Oka, truly beautiful. The rolling hills, wheat fields, lush forests with their mushrooms, berries were our wonderland. Like all good Russians, we grew herbs and veggies, made our salted cabbage on the kitchen table, pickling everything we could for winter.

The institutes attracted top-notch biochemists, physicists and other academics from around the country and republics, making for one fascinating mix. My parents, having met in Moscow, moved there before Sis was born. Dad was a physicist and Mom’s a biochemist/cell biologist.

This was a crowd well-read in literature and poetry, philosophy and film, classical music and in history. To be a polymath was minimum expected. The knowledge came in through the mother’s milk. Hardly surprising, many scientists were Jews, folks who had struggled through discrimination in their path. Only the brilliant, perseverant had got through. To be a scientist back then was well-respected in the Soviet Union, one of few ways to “make it” for a Jew.

Nemtsov was born in Sochi, never lived in Pushchino. Although baptized as Russian Orthodox at birth, he was a Jew and looked it, facing anti-Semitism. Before he ever went political, he was a physicist who published well. He had the sensibility, resourcefulness; he was “a head,” as Russians say to honor. That he loved women and loved politics doth hardly take away. A Russian Clinton? We will never know.

Simply put, he was one of “us” – “us” being the émigrés and those that stayed behind, in equal measure. He did what many were too scared to do, especially in Putin’s Russia – he stood tall. He took the road less traveled by for all of us, except the bridge before the Kremlin, in his death.

The Naked Emperor wears Gucci, after all.

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