I was offered a part in the zoo project. We started remotely and, after two or three months, I returned to Kazan.
What did you feel upon returning?
I had mixed feelings. But mostly joyful. My family was nearby, and friends, because I still never made those kinds of friends in Italy. It's good to be useful in your hometown at least. The first snow fell in September that year, everything was gray, and there was not enough sun—that's what I remember.
I became Tatiana Prokofieva's deputy. She supported me; she herself had lived and worked in America for ten years and returned. That brought us together. Of course, working under her leadership was great experience, and I'm grateful to her. I had urban planning jobs, and initially they put me on the master plan; at that time, they were starting to develop a new master plan.
Now I began studying Kazan in the same way I did Milan: for example, one weekend I got on a tram and went to Sotsgorod and to Orgsintez and back—I had never been there, like most people from Kazan. I made myself a list of museums I hadn't visited yet.
I remembered one time, Emil [Sirazetdinov, chief architect of Nizhnekamsk] and I flew to Paris for four days to see architecture, study it for ourselves, and get our feet covered in calluses from walking around the city so much. On the way back, I missed the last train from Milan to Florence. All the hotels were packed, and there was nowhere to go. I called my friend with whom I had studied in Pisa. I knew that his parents live in Milan. I told him what happened, that I was alone there, at night, hotels are booked and asked if he had any friends that would let me crash at their place. He told me: "Well ... I'll make some calls, I'll try ..." In the end, he writes, sorry there's no one, and I ended up sleeping at the station.
In Russia, people come to each other's aid when they have any trouble, even if they seem unfriendly. In Europe, the opposite is true—everyone seems so friendly and sympathetic outside, but they leave you to solve all your problems yourself.
We noticed this even when we studied in Pisa: our professor invited us to his home only on the last day before we left. That was strange for us, because at the same time an Italian student from their university came to our university in Kazan, and he was being torn practically into pieces by everyone wanting to taking him out to dinner. It's clear that we have a desire to show the best side of everything to foreigners, but that's not the case in Italy, and we were even a bit hurt at first, like: "Well, is it us, or what?" At the lectures, no one said: "Foreigners study here for four months; pay attention. If you need help just ask." At the same time, in Kazan, everyone fell over themselves helping the Italian student.
Then we realized that it's not because they're jerks, it's just that for them there's not the same curiosity. There are a lot of foreigners as it is there, for one. And, second, it's a European concept that there's a public space and personal space—this is yours, your circle, and it's very narrow. If you need to meet someone, you meet in a cafe. We're now also moving towards this, of course, but then they invited him home.
Italians know how to enjoy life. However you feel about it, I think it's the way to go. For example, you see a janitor or a cleaner, but they treat their work as something important; that is, they're doing a useful job.