It happened as it happens in this town. A couple of weeks ago, I ended up spending an evening with a Swedish theatre group performing in Moscow. I hadn’t seen their play, but I met them standing in line outside one of the French cafes scattered around Nikitsky Bulvar.
Now, I’ve never managed a large restaurant, but if it’s 10:30 pm and more than half of your tables are empty, you’re doing something wrong – especially if you turn away a hungry group of Swedes with good taste in wine. After being refused for a third time, I took pity on them and led the whole bunch to a good restaurant in a small side-street.
As most of us know, it doesn’t take more than 24 hours to see if someone is Moscow-proof. Most of the actors weren’t.
Some of them had paid 5,000 roubles for a five-minute taxi ride, while others got hopelessly lost in the metro – and all of them tried to ask police officers for directions.
After we were finally in the restaurant, the group got mad when some of the desserts were served before others had their starters. Only Stella seemed to enjoy her plate of borshch.
“It’s a long story, and it’s not easy to tell,” Stella told me, hesitating before she explained that she had always really loved the taste of dill. Although born in Sweden, her mother was from Moscow. And as she found out just a couple of years ago, so was her father.
“I always knew something was wrong – there was something different,” she said. “Of course, my mother was Russian, but I noticed there was another secret in our family. I simply sensed it; I don’t even know how.”
Other than the borshch that was served in her youth, the rest of her childhood memories were “as Swedish as IKEA”, she said.
But where her mother got older, suddenly Stella felt she just had to ask.
“I remember it very well. I took a glass of water, my mother was about to take a seat and I simply asked if my father maybe wasn’t my real father after all.”
It turned out he wasn’t. Her real father was a Soviet soldier who had returned from the war and met up with her mother just before she moved to Stockholm. Her husband was aware of the “Red Army incident”, but they agreed never to speak about it again.
“So, go figure,” Stella said. “I’m as Russian as all the Russians here. I was conceived in this city, my roots are here. I might not speak a single word of Russian and have only been here a couple of times, but I know it feels, somehow, like home.”
The next evening, I went to watch Stella perform on stage. She shone.
Afterwards, she introduced me to her Moscow family that she’d only met for the first time just a couple of years ago. After some thorough archive searches she’d found cousins, half-brothers and a whole group of close relatives.
“You know, all my life I’ve played different characters who were never ashamed to ask the boldest questions at very painful moments,” Stella said. “I never dared to ask it myself, but I’m so happy now that I did. And if you ever wonder if something’s wrong, just try to find out. Who knows, you could be a Muscovite too!”