Notes of a marginal

13 02 2012

One month before visiting my parents this summer I felt obsessive dizziness of homecoming. It is not that I am a great patriot in a geographical sense of this word: the feeling of longing and belonging spreads mainly on people and smaller topographical units for me (cafes, galleries, libraries, university lecture halls). Of course I wanted to see my family, who wouldn’t want that? But the intense nostalgia young people feel living separately from their roots was over long time ago by then: 3 ½ years in Russia were a great preparation after all. What made me almost faint was fear of seeing the country I come from.

Austrians complain about how impolite Viennese can be and how dirty and brownish-grey Vienna looks like. They haven’t seen different societies. Every thought about unwashed pavements made me shudder as I packed my luggage for Aktobe. Every “Russian-speaking European” (let’s put it like that) adores sharing Goosebumps stories about how they visit their historical motherland from time to time. It is said, when you fall out of habit of seeing robot faces in public transport and saliva spits on the sidewalks, you get a true cultural shock, mixed with deep depression. Here I go, dear motherland!

The sense of motherland has actually begun in the duty-free zone of Schwechat. My accent in German is normally connected with South-Western Germany or (on bad days) with Sudetenland, so in the waiting lounge I enjoyed language anonymity and a rare chance to observe the people of my culture (post-Soviet one) from outside.

The first funny thing noticed: Russians form a queue as soon as they get to the waiting lounge, approximately 40 minutes before boarding. All this time they stand there (women on their unthinkably high heels), speak to each other and boast with “Austrian” souvenirs: Givenchy, Gucci and Mozartkugel. I’ve got a sneaky feeling somewhere deep inside they are all afraid the plane will depart without them, so they try their best being as near to the registration as possible.

I should fly through Moscow (what always means the way gets at least 1,5 times longer), read: I was condemned to touristic surrounding during the flight. This meant in particular that the discussion of who bought what and where continued all 2 ½ hours. Only a couple of times such words as “Belvedere” and “Schönbrunn” were mentioned, and, indeed, who needs those palaces as long as there is Givenchy? I wonder why they don’t buy all this stuff at home, you know. In this sense I feel somehow insulted: am I the only creepy pervert who loves Vienna because of music, architecture, coffee and “Fiaker”? No, luckily, there are a couple more of such Russian-speaking freaks here (I should kindly thank them for keeping in touch with me!).

As soon as the landing is declared, a great mess begins. Hundreds of clicks and rustles and crinkles and whispers: women take out their make-up stuff and start “bringing themselves in a proper order”. Odour of perfume fills the air. I smile to myself: welcome back!

The second funny thing noticed: no one smiles but me. I guess I look like a complete idiot in Domodedovo and later on, because smiling and talking to people became automatic since I came to Vienna. So instead of saying “yes” and “no” when asked I answer in long and polite sentences. A week after as I buy something in a supermarket in Aktobe a cashier seems really nervous, she avoids looking at me. There is obvious relief on her face as I pay and go. A minute later I understand: I smiled all along and the poor woman thought something’s wrong with her.

The third funny thing noticed: Aktobe is a (dull but) lovely town. What I call a town has population of 370,000. It is by no means dirty (I was afraid of that so much!), well, not in those parts of the town I normally visit. They have built a couple of more new districts since I’ve been here last time. Young citizens of the young republic leave their newly-built houses and go for a walk in new parks in their hometown that was grounded when St. Stephen’s cathedral was 5 centuries old. They celebrate both Christian and Muslim holidays and sometimes visit either a new cathedral or a new mosque placed within 500 metres from each other. Kazakhs (traditionally Muslim) are as outraged about “strange fashion” to wear hijabs as Russians and about 100 of other ethnic and religious entities. I love it about my native town and my motherland (one of the only things where I feel strong cultural belonging to Kazakhstan that it is exemplary tolerant to differences, especially in comparison with Russia).

Fathers and children

Aktobe, Kasachstan

The problem with litter begins when we decide to go on picnic all together. For post-Soviets “home” ends on the threshold of their flat or house. This is not so obvious in comparatively new houses of my parents and grandparents (the only things reminding it are the light-bulbs in common corridors that disappear with horrible regularity). But as soon as you get out of town, you are violently forced to face this shameful thing: plastic bags and wine and beer bottles, condoms, cigarettes – just everything you can imagine lies around, left on the ground as people leave after having had a nice time. This is where my madness broke out: I pranced all around the place we’ve chosen for having rest, gathering the litter in a plastic bag, scolding like hell in a mixture of Russian (hard-core among swear words) and Viennese (because when someone is Deppert, this cannot be translated into any language). I don’t know if those people were all disabled with their hands paralysed so that they just could not collect all the garbage they left. Something in me says, even if they were disabled, then only mentally.

The fourth thing noticed: the steppe is really nice when seen from the airplane. It is not only this indescribable feeling of free space Austrians can hardly imagine: endless blue sky uninterrupted by any mountains and only ornamented with several towns here and there on the horizon. It is also the beauty of waterless steppe being turned into a place of living: here and there you see gardens and summer houses hidden between narrow twisting rivers. For me this picture, seen from a plane as I was leaving, felt similar as listening to the 9th symphony by Beethoven or the 6th one by Mahler. There is always something superhuman in this wild and rebellious struggle, there is romantic overwhelming of natural difficulties. This struggle makes people to humans, doesn’t it?

The fifth (and final) thing noticed: Process of social integration always takes much time and energy. Living in Vienna feels like “mine” in the very depth of my uprooted soul. When I was packing my luggage for visiting my parents this summer I was seriously afraid of possible rejection of Kazakhstan and culture I was brought up in because of those daily trifles that constitute our lives: dirt on the pavements, gloomy people and whatever else. When I was unpacking my luggage five weeks later, back to Vienna again, there was no fear any longer. Something in me relaxed and stopped aching. I don’t know why, but I have a couple of hypotheses, of course. Let’s see if the time proves or disapproves them.

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