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Editor’s Diary: If Moscow doesn’t believe in tears – then in what?

I was clicking my boot heels (autumn has suddenly decided to make its appearance in formerly heat-struck Moscow – with a maniacal vengeance) down the broken pavement, splashing through the puddles, my hand over my mouth, my eyes raining harder than the weather that had already managed to spoil everyone’s Saturday.

“Who hurt you?” Two security guards getting off their shift at the corner grocery store asked. I shook my head without taking my hand from my mouth, and kept walking. “Whoever hurt you is an idiot!” One of them shouted at my back. I shrugged, and kept walking.

Still, I couldn’t help but notice that their small intervention made me feel better. Popular wisdom suggests that Moscow is a pretty harsh city – not just in terms of the lifestyle, but in terms of relationships. A girl walking down a street in the dark and crying appears to be somewhat of a rarity. I’m sure it happens, but then again, I suspect that when I see it happening, I avert my eyes and refuse to see it – and I’m on autopilot the entire time I do it.

A city is harsh not because of people who don’t cry in its streets, but because other people tend to look the other way when it happens.

In 1981, “Moscow doesn’t believe in tears” won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and today, it’s somewhat of a cliche, among expats and locals alike.

“I spent all day crying in bed!” I shout at a friend and colleague via SMS.

“But Moscow doesn’t believe in tears!” He replies, thinking it might cheer me up.

So much of Moscow is firmly ensconced in concrete (something that made this summer’s record-breaking heatwave so ridiculously unbearable), that it is indeed hard to imagine the possibility that the city may have a soft heart or two, beating beneath the paneling and bas-reliefs.

Maybe, the possibility isn’t just hard to imagine – maybe it’s painful to imagine. Because where was that light when you needed it most? Where was that person who randomly – or not so randomly – told you exactly what you needed to hear in that moment?

I think that if Moscow believes in anything – it has to be fate. Fate is the one thing you never really can control, unlike tears.

Meanwhile, the man the security guards were calling an “idiot” had finally caught up with me. Even when there came a breach in the autumnal clouds, the sky above our heads remained starless, due to light pollution. We didn’t act like movie heroes – or maybe we did, I don’t know. All I know is that we were standing on the sidewalk together, in Moscow, and that is good enough for me.


Natalia Antonova

Natalia is a writer and journalist. She's the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and the co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.