30 Years ago, today, 5 year old me, living in Soviet Union, had no idea how the world around me was about to change. It took several years for the former Soviet Block to start its dissolution after this historical event. I just have this vivid memory of a life before and after, something in the air felt differently.
Because the contrast between the Soviet Union and the Western World was so strong, it left such an impact on my life as a child. It had a transformative effect on me and shaped me into becoming the person I am today as well as how I ground my values as an adult.
In the early 80s, as I was a little child, I remember the weight of going to school, like a burden in the air, the heavy clothes you wear in winter, the dirty boots because all the roads are muddy. When the snow melts, the dirt is omnipresent. As an artist, my perception of colors and my environment is recorded by my photographic memory. I remember the long pipes of the Miassa Combinat, the disgusting smell of what my mom told me is a meat factory, and the muddy roads taking us home from the crowded buses. In winter going home in the dark was a struggle.
My mother carries tons of bags and has to drag me along because the weight of my winter clothes and boots becomes unbearable. It’s so dark, I can’t remember any colors except the bright red of my winter full body overall wrapping my little body. I remember the kindergarten and the smells in particular: the smell of the apple compot we had during lunch time, the smell of the classroom. I can still see the wood, the doors, the linoleum, the wallpaper, the metal beds in my mind. The way we were instructed to take our naps holding both of our hands palm to palm under our ears. The presence of our teachers, the singing classes. I don’t remember much fun even though there was a lot of playing, my impression was that my teachers were strict and there to teach me, not there to develop me. During the music class someone was playing the piano. Singing and dancing was taken seriously. I have an old photo below illustrating our little performance.
Then, flash forward, I take my first flight: Aeroflot. My little brain, doesn’t grasp what’s happening. Arrival in Paris, France. I have zero concept of countries or borders but my little mind knows they are stars, cosmonauts and space. A concept I remember learning from a little book my mom got me, it was in black and white, with one more printed color like red or orange to illustrate stars and constellations. I can’t remember seeing the city of Paris, as we basically arrived and went straight to the parking lot to pick up our car, a Peugeot 205 and drive all the way down south, toward Provence where we settled. The smell of the underground parking lot stayed with me until this day. I remember seeing this intricate underground construction of the parking lot and feeling in awe. It felt so “high tech”, something I have never seen before, the smell made me feel nauseous and my car sickness started to creep in from that day on. Strange that I didn’t feel that way about flying in a plane, maybe because it was Aeroflot? I can remember sitting close to the area where all adults gathered to smoke. Somehow it didn’t bother me. Now as an adult, I have to run away if someone smokes while walking in front of me in the streets of New York City, where I live now…times have really changed.
It was in February 1990, few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Day that marked me so much, it’s even on my Twitter bio. The day after my arrival in the free world, we went grocery shopping. France and its supermarket chains, such as Auchan, Leclerc, Géant etc. I can’t remember which one it was, but I remember the aisles clearly, the neon lights making all the items sitting on the shelves appear so gorgeous and colorful. I don’t think I understood that it was mostly food, it was all in boxes, it wasn’t always obvious that it was eatable, because the colorful boxes contained things I have never seen or ate before. I remember my step father buying me “smarties” in these colorful boxes, a bit like M&Ms type chocolate candies. I would eat them one by one with such pleasure and appreciation, a new experience so hard to describe. It tasted devine for a child like me used to Russian sweets and who rarely ate chocolates or treats even though my family wasn’t struggle as much as others. These smarties and their colorful boxes, left such an imprint in my childhood memory. 30 years later, when I reflect on my life and these experiences that shaped me so much, I realize how transformative it was. It made me into a person who wants to cherish little things, who wants to ground her life in appreciation, gratefulness and who wants to cherish every single person in my environment as their own experiences are so valuable because they shaped them into the unique human being they are.
The wall fell in Berlin, Germany, in the city where my mother lives now. This historical event is so meaningful to me. My best friend from high school grew up in former DDR (East Berlin), and we were able to bond so much because we related through our similar childhoods. Picture below is of both of us, during our highschool days, as we attended a French-German program in an international school.
We would laugh about having only one choice of toothpaste and the limited food rations. We laughed about it with the experience and eyes of teenagers, but when you think about it, this wasn’t that long ago.
It’s November 2019, and what I aspire and want today is to see a world free from Communism. I see my friends from China, and now Hong Kong and wish that one day they too get to experience a critical and successful life changing event where the most evil regime that ever saw this planet get to dissolve. Socialism leads to communism and these ideals brought so much suffering and destruction to the world. These experiences even though short, left a great impact on me and made me into who I am today: someone who deeply cherishes the values of the free world, the values of the United States of America, a country I grew to understand and love. I cherish the values of Individual Freedom, Self-Reliance Equality of Opportunity and Competition, The American Dream and Hard Work.
When I moved to Berlin in the early 2000s, I met Bernhard from Charlottenburg. He shared with me the photos I posted below. I kept them for years not knowing what to do with them, yet they mean something quite powerful to me now. A time I actually got to experience from the other side of the wall… kilometers and miles away. Of course as a child, you experience the world so differently, yet you’re so sensitive and absorb moments like that in an impactful way. Only later I realized that because of this event, and its consequences my life took a completely different turn.