Have you ever felt like you are living two different lives at once? Have you ever felt your head spinning because many conflicting emotions, questions and thoughts just flooded it completely? Have you ever been surprised by how oddly your preferences have changed since the last time you looked deeply inside yourself? I have. In fact, when I was a kid it happened to me every six months; particularly when, after spending a summer in the country, we went back to our apartment in the big industrial city of Omsk.
We have all heard that our surroundings affect our lives dramatically, especially during childhood. By spending my childhood traveling between an apartment in the city and a dacha (summerhouse) in a village, I was equally exposed to two different lifestyles; and imbibed the polarities of two very different environments. Moreover, these two different lives, interlaced like two different ornaments, formed my preferences in a very contradicting way.
Our summerhouse, as I said, was built in a rural area. Mom and Dad bought a piece of land and built a house with their own hands. My mom was an engineer — she loved to plan projects and then build them. My father didn’t understand anything in this subject, but he was willing to learn and do the all dirty and heavy jobs. So, I can tell they mixed fifty-fifty cement with love. It was not a big house, because at that time in Russia, you couldn’t build a big house even on your own land. Nevertheless, when the
system changed with perestroika, my parents added on to the summerhouse and built a bathhouse with a sauna nearby. Everything in this house was very simple most of the furniture brought from our flat in the city after we bought the new one. The extremely old leather couch was outside and despite the fact that it was too old, it was still in very good shape and very comfortable, especially for a four year old girl. All our neighbors knew each other, of course. There were about 40 houses around, each situated on over an acre of land and separated from the others by a low fence, trees or a river. Everywhere you could see there was lots of open space – the biggest difference from the City. Life in the country seemed to flow gracefully, slowly and peacefully. Time seemed to stop or became a very viscous substance — you don’t feel the necessity to move fast. Therefore, people’s movements are smooth even when working in the yard or garden. Their talk is very steady, conversation longer and more intimate. Basically, you live like a community and communicate on a different level.
The absence of technology will surprise you: caravans of kids would usually travel from house to house and instead of using the phone, they would just shout into the air, “Mo-o-o-m, I’m at Max’s house.” An echo didn’t mind to work as a postman, and somehow it always delivered the message to the right destination. There are fewer worries in the village and more simplicity. Nature preserves its origin: there are no landscaped parks. Wildly growing trees and flowers, fields covered with daisies and bachelor’s buttons, a little river that almost dried out every summer — all of it made you very close to the earth, nature and yourself, providing freedom for imagination and expression. Wearing a simple dress and hat, I used to run shoeless through fields of daisies and bring home huge bouquets of wild flowers.
I tended to be more silent in this environment, but if I wanted to scream, I could do it from the top of my lungs like Tarzan, without being judged or misunderstood. Unbelievable pictures of the sunrise and the sunset uninterrupted by silhouettes of tall buildings allow you to have a panoramic view of the sky that much more fulfilling than IMAX.
Villager’s language is more figurative and full of metaphors. When I was a kid, I thought they believed in fairy-tales. When I grew up, I realized that the absence of fear in the village made me feel that anything is possible. As an example: When I was born, my father planted a pine tree near the summerhouse. He had told me that I would be like this pine tree: healthy and wise. My spirit would be as strong as the tree’s trunk; and my soul would strive for freedom, love and light like the pine tree’s branches turning towards the sun. These words made me feel very strong and secure though I was just three years old.
I also noticed that my hearing was enhanced in the village. I could almost hear the sound of a flying butterfly. There were no amusement parks or theaters. All we usually had for entertainment was a swing. I adored swinging on the swing that my parents made for me. I still remember how much trouble it was to make a seat for this swing. My father wanted to make it as cozy as possible, so he had tried all kinds of chair seats; but every time the simple wood board was a winner.
My mom loved to grow all kinds of berries and vegetables, and they grew all over the place! When I was swinging, I could reach the raspberry bushes, pick a berry and eat it really quickly. It was fun!
I was surrounded by love and it has taught me how to love and be generous. I realized then that if I have love I have everything. It seems that the “rural life” energy was just pouring on me, and I didn’t have to make any effort to absorb it, I would just soak in it like in the hut tub.
But lo and behold, the school season would start, the weather became colder and we were on our way to the city. We put some of our belongings in the car, locked the house and started the journey to another life, “city life.” For a while the scenery would be village-like, but very soon the trees became thinner and shaped by human hands, the flowers organized in flower-beds, the asphalt started to have marks of white and yellow paints ; red, yellow and green “eyes” regulated all movements together with the stop signs and honking cars. As soon as we got close to the city, my dad always turned on the radio. I felt like my ears were immediately plugged, but soon my energy changed. My body and mind adjusted to the rhythm of the music, the city lights, and different type of excitement.
The population of my city, Omsk, was 2.5 million at that time. Can you imagine all those people running around? They were almost literally running — their movements were fast and abrupt, as if time had suddenly shrunk, and they were desperately trying to fit all their routine into one short day. I learned to walk fast without noticing anything but my destination at the moment. I adapted to the city noise. I and found myself choosing roses for my bouquets instead of daisies. And if in the beginning I would smell them, later I discovered that I would be more concerned about their looks.
I think the city life is more visual in contrast to rural life that involves our feelings and all our senses. Village life develops our kinesthetic sensors — the city is a perfect place for a social life. It blooms there like a sunflower. I love to go to the theater and drive around the city at nighttime when the lights are on, especially during the Christmas season.
Relationships tend to be more complicated in the city for some reason. People seemed to mean something different than the words they used to express their feelings. Intrigues and mysteries, special “rules” to charm someone, silly, sometimes almost insane rituals, would drive me nuts in the beginning. But very soon, I would find them interesting and play my role without even realizing the change inside. An uncomfortable feeling like I am not quite myself would bother me from time to time, but the desire to fit in and to be a part of the new life will win.
The city life is more convenient: stores are very close and you have all kinds of variety in them; though the fruits are not as fresh as from your own yard, they are packed and even made into fruit salads. Any type of transportation is always available; any type of technology is always there for you. The business eats up time, age, serenity and freedom. We use more technology to free ourselves, but in reality grow more dependent on it. We use different vocabulary and tend to be more controlling. We select the types of flowers that are bigger and prettier, seedless watermelon and buying applesauce instead of an apple. All of a sudden, we have one more thing to worry about-nitrites and pesticides.
People live in apartments, in tall buildings; and strangely enough, it brings people close and separates them at the same time. Kids will be kids though. They still go from one apartment to another to play, but get more warnings from their parents about security
and strangers. It seems that people are more fearful in the city. Somehow, the city spirit has the ability to pull you out of the fairytale and drop you in a thriller, which is exciting but also can be more dangerous. I love some aspects of city life: the opportunity to meet new people, the merry-go-round of parties, holidays, theatres, lights, the need to dress up and even the fast rhythm of life. But as this fast pace keeps racing and asphalt keeps draining my energy, I feel all my body contracting and tense. I slip out of the city’s hands, and I rush to my summerhouse to give my soul a gulp of freedom and revive my body, to free my mind and create my fairytale, to amalgamate with the smell of wild herbs, flowers and fresh air. I feel the need to run in the corn flowered field to exhaustion screaming with all my might, meld with the surrounding feeling and, connected with myself feel my heart beating normally again.
Sometimes I think of the City as a brain and Rural Area as a heart. Generally, people want to be sophisticated, smart, but in order for the brain to survive the heart has to keep it’s normal pace, its beats have to be sufficient to nourish the body. We strive for balance, and it doesn’t have to be “either/ or” It might be that the ability to incorporate “two lives” without damaging the brain or the heart is an art that one-day will reveal a master. Embracing the polarities is one of the fine abilities that human beings are capable of enjoying.