Leonardo loved Moscow for its high energy. “Moscow is on a roll 24/7,” he said. “There is a plethora of opportunities here for anyone. Everyone will find something to their liking in Moscow.” Leonardo believes his native São Paulo, the most densely populated metropolis in the Western Hemisphere, is no match for Moscow in terms of personal safety. “Moscow is pretty safe. I would give it 8 on a scale of 10 for safety. You get to see people of most diverse ethnic backgrounds on the Metro. That’s cool.”
The downside to life in Russia – and it’s a pretty big downside, according to Leo – is that “the winter is so cold and so long. This winter is not for the weaklings.”
“When we first moved here,” Leo recalls, “Yana (his Russian wife) would constantly urge me to go out together when it was snowing. I refused and begged her to stay home with me. I feared I would freeze and fall ill.” “Eventually she taught me to dress right for the Russian winter: a warm hat, warm scarf, and all the rest of the works…”
The weather and the language barrier were the two greatest challenges for Leo in Russia. But he broke the language barrier’s back. His Russian is pretty darn good for someone with only two years of practice behind him. “I really wanted to be able to communicate in Russian with my wife’s family. In a year or 18 months from now, I think my Russian will be good enough to talk politics,” brags Leo.
Leo’s relationship with Russian food is in flux. There are dishes he has developed a taste for, and then there are foods he feels iffy about. “I don’t like jellied meat, herring, any salted fish or pickled cucumbers,” Leo confesses. “On the other hand, meat dishes, like beef stroganoff, are pretty okay. Shwarma is good, I eat it all the time. They call it kebab in Portugal. All the world cuisines are represented in Moscow, so there’s something good to eat for everyone.”
Like any Brazilian, football runs in Leo’s blood. “In Brazil, I used to play football with whatever came along: oranges, balls of paper, rolled-up socks…” Leo recalls wistfully.
When he was a child, Leo was a Santos fan, like his father. Later on it transpired that most of his friends were Corinthians fans, and Leo had convert. “My dad understood. He never held a grudge,” he said.
Now Leo plays football for Brazil every Wednesday and Sunday. He has found some compatriots in Moscow who, like himself, have to have football in their life. They are a national team now – the Brazilian expat team.
Sometimes Leo gets this feeling… It’s of the variety that Russians call nostalgia. Leo describes his homesickness as lucid and warm. “I missed the sea and the sandy beaches at first. You see these sullen people on the street and you realize that if it were a little warmer out, they would all cheer up” muses Leo.