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The Last Word

American Center director Marisa Fushille
Marisa Fushille is leaving Moscow this month after 8 years as director of the American Center at the Library for Foreign Literature on Nikoloyamskaya Street. Marisa comes from El Paso, Texas, and is heading for Nairobi, Kenya.
Text and photo Ian Mitchell

When and why did you come to Moscow?

I first visited in 1974 on a student program to study Russian. After I graduated, I spent a semester at Leningrad State University. I loved it. I didn’t want to leave. I fell in love with Russia. I thought: This place is exactly like Mexico, where my mother is from. There was something about Russia and the way Russians interacted that reminded me of Mexico. In 1999 after my daughter went to college, I decided to move from Austin, Texas, where there were very few jobs using Russian. I thought about it and realized that I had more friends in Moscow than anywhere except Texas. So I bought a ticket and moved here.

Did you come for the job at the American Center?

No, I had no job! I worked with an academic exchange program for a year. When the American Center position came up, I thought: Th is is the job for me. And it was.

While working here, I’ve planned lectures, art exhibits, concerts. Besides being a public lending library, the Center offers cultural and educational programs. We have hosted authors like Michael Chabon and celebrities like figure skater Michelle Kwan. It’s unbelievable, but we have about 4,000 visitors a month. Take a look at our web site:

Not wanting to lose her foothold in Moscow, Marisa intends to hold on to the apartment she renovated. Presumably the remont process was smooth sailing?

Russian bureaucracy! Don’t ask me about it! When I was redoing this apartment I went to the authorities to find out what I had to do. They said, we’ll start with an inspection; we’ll come in a couple of months. Months! I said, I want to get started this week.

I got around these obstacles — eventually! I love living across the street from a church. They are not going to knock it down and put up a horrible office building. Napoleon burned it down, but the Russians rebuilt it, and I don’t think they’ll want to knock it down again.

Why are you leaving Moscow?

I’m only leaving because I met Mark. Three years ago we met on the metro and discovered we were both headed to the Tretyakov Gallery. We spent the afternoon together and ended up listening to the Tuvan Throat Singers … This April 1 we were married at ZAGS No. 4, the Weddings Palace at Butyrki. Mark’s next posting is Kenya, so we’re going together. Now I’m reading everything I can about Africa!

How would you sum up your time in Moscow?

I have enjoyed it thoroughly. I found a wonderful job, met many fascinating people, have taken advantage of the wealth of museums and cultural events. For some reason, I have never been bothered by some of the things that bother other foreigners. After living here in the 1970s, I have a different perspective. I don’t complain about how things are but think how much better it is now than it used to be.

So, as you sit in the African dusk under the spreading flame tree, do you think you’ll miss scruffy old Moscow?

Of course I will. But I know I’ll be back. I’ll always return to visit friends. It’s an incredible place with wonderful people. It’s become home.

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