An American Yankee in the Wild, Wild East
Love and loyalty recently landed me in Russia. One of my oldest friends was marrying the love of his life, and ever the loyal pal I had no intention of missing it.
Patriotic propaganda from the land of the free and the home of the brave had definitely inspired some brainwashed notions about what to expect when crossing the border into the land of the vodka and the home of Putin. Let’s just say I had some very distinct images of Gregory Hines busting a move and Baryshnikov scamming him for 11 rubles. Which nowadays, incidentally, is not even worth 20 cents.
But it was time to let go of all the stereotypes I had stockpiled. My life trajectory had me on course for Yekaterinburg.
It’s a good thing I had dropped all my expectations. Because I freed up plenty of space to absorb all the beautiful insanity. Stuff that my wildest imagination could not have begun to anticipate. From a troupe of Russian singers and sword dancers, to a fire performer, to costumed speeches with dancing mimes, the wedding was a vibrantly campy introduction to the richness of Russian culture. My eyes and ears could not get enough. Sensory meltdown!
The rest of the trip continued much in the same spirit. I felt my entire being on high alert with the knowledge that there would always be something more astonishing to come. I didn’t want to miss a moment. Not the tour guide who insisted I don a traditional Russian kokoshnik and pose coquettishly for a photo. Not the boat tour captain who skipped the history lesson in favor of pointing out all the shapes and animals visible in the shoreline rock formations. Not the adventurous children diving into the river dangerously close to a gushing fall. Not all the ornate beauty of epic churches. And certainly not the most amazing paintings I have ever seen from the avant-garde period.
The whole time I was in Russia, hanging with my oldest friends from Berlin, I couldn’t help but think back to September 2000 — when I decided to move to Germany. That one life-altering choice had led me to Russia of all places. Then I took it back another year to 1999. I was filling out applications for doctoral programs. Because that was just what you did when you were about to get a B.A. in art history. If you ever wanted to do anything in the art world other than work in a museum gift shop that is.
Never in my most creative 1999 mind would I have imagined a life in Germany, attending a wedding in a region of the world bordering Siberia, toasting my French buddy and his Russian bride alongside old and new Swedish, Spanish and Belgian friends. Never.
And that made me wonder about all the other things that I will never be able to imagine. All the things that I can make space for in my life simply by not trying to steer it in a comfortable and familiar direction. What other never dreamed of things can I say yes to? What other doors — nay magical portals — can I open up by letting go of the need to push and conform to what my limited thoughts can fathom? What can I live by saying no to fear, suspicion and doubt and yes to the unknown, the mystery and the impossible?
Now that I’m back in Berlin, my mind wants to plan the next steps: where to now? Back to Spain? Stay in Berlin? Somewhere new? But now I know better. I take a moment to quiet my mind. To quell the rote responses. To give free rein to fantasy. And to hopefully sink into the most profound depths of my essential being, where anything and everything is not only possible but also probable.