"European Russia 2006" story # 11

Staryy Oskol, Russia           August 31, 2006

But, what - if anything - did I accomplish with my trip to Russia?
     The first mission I didn't accomplish was a plan to start a utopic social experiment while there: to unite individuals who'd consent to follow the principles of the "Romantic Revolution". Those principles, by the way, are: 1. care about others, 2. no sex, 3. no monogamy, 4. every guy kisses every girl, and (eventually) 5. no family. The members of this experiment could've gone on living and working in the greater, existing society.
     Such an experiment would've been good for the people of Staryy Oskol, Russia, I think. The current, animalistic and business-like exchange of romance could've been exchanged for a more-compassionate one. The depressed poor, by uniting a bit as a single family, could've learned to empower themselves. But, unfortunately, I had no phone and no ability to be contacted while in Staryy Oskol, so this experiment wan't begun. Tsk, tsk.
     Here's a list of the top-ten missions I hoped to achieve on my trip, with estimates on how much I achieved them.

enter country without a visa - 100%
make a positive impact on the people - 0%
work - 1%
learn Russian - 68%
experience the romance - 100%
read the country's writers - 20%
get to know today's culture - 63%
learn about communist history - 3%
hitchhike to Siberia - 4%
explore nature - 2%

The writer who I read was called Lermantov. He was chiefly a poet, but I read some of his plays. He wrote in the 19th century, I think, and his characters were wealthy, passionate, and mortally emotional. He seemed to want to present the theme that we should care about others. Here are some of my favorite quotes from his characters:

"Chto nyne zenshina? Sozdanie bez voli,
igrushka dlya strastei - il prixotei drugix!"
(What's a woman today? A creature without will,
a toy for the passions and desires of others!)

"Chto zenshina? Eyo ot yunosti samoi
v prodazu vigodam, kak zertvu, uvirayut,
vinyat v lyubvi k sebe odnoi
lyubit drugix ne pozvolyayut."
(What's a woman? She's alone from youth,
to be sold for profit, like a sacrifice, she's taken away
condemned to love only herself
to love others isn't allowed.)

"Ya dokazu, chto v nashei pokolenye,
yest xot odna dusha, v kotoroi, oskorblenye,
zapav, prinosit plod."
(I contend that, in our generation,
there is but one soul, in which insults
and (something) take hold.)

Russians like to think their language sounds like birds singing, or butterfly wings flapping, or something else extraordinarily pleasant. But, I tell them it sounds gummy or gooey, like somebody walking in mud in galoshes.
     Should I go back to Russia? Will I go back to Russia? I don't know yet.
     But, until I do go back to that land of galosh-in-the-mud-speaking people, let me just say this: "Mum, mum, gum, glum, ya-yum, blum-gum-a-lum." No, wait. Let me say something else. This time, I'll say it in that language that sounds like a gentle, tropical waterfall playing with a mango caught in its foam. At least, that's what the language of MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! sounds like to me.
     We can reach into the waterfall and, what do we find? The Top 5 Worst Things About Russia!

Boy, are Russians lazy! They like their moments to be easy. If ever there was a people made for a political system that takes care of you, it was them. They're not risk-takers, home upgraders, life seizers, or dynamic project undertakers.
     Nor did it hold the interest of the Russians I knew, if I talked about those large problems I had. In spite of having several close Russian acquaintances, I was alone in my necessary efforts to earn independence.

A small percentage of the people jockey around for power and money, and, even within this high class, there are people almost exponentially richer than the others. Moscow has insanely-wealthy people; competent businessmen do well; the mafia bully people around; policemen take bribes. The masses are left with very little.

In the unlikely cases when people do make more than $150/month, it's almost always the men.

Poor, young women know what they have that's valuable. The sly ones may aim and wait to be romantic with rich men, as potential wives or pampered dates.

Much of the country naively sees money as the remedy for all problems.
     But money is represented by a number, and numbers can always be higher, so one can never be content when one loves a number. If people love something they can be content with, like other people or art or nature, they can be more optimistic about the possibilities.

... Wow, that was an intense list! The SCARY GUYS galosh their way in through the mud in time to be HONORABLE MENTION. Never count out the scary guys.
     Now, here comes the sweeter list, entitled not-at-all surprisingly, The Top 5 Best Things About Russia!

I must've been invited to tea about forty times during my stay, and I had at least that many varieties of sweets accompanying the tea. Whenever I drank tea, there were three or even six sweets out for me to taste. They included cookies with marshmallow-supported insides; "varenki" (homemade jam) on bread; chocolate-covered "tvarok" (a cold, sugary, hard cream-based product); and many other scrumptious things I could hardly stop eating.

Nadezda, Elina, and I bought little ice creams and swam in the brown Oskol River in town, on many days. Life was good.

Russians like to love.

I still haven't read Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy or the country's favorite poet, Pushkin, but I'm already excited for when I will.

5. "RYNOK" -
This place could be called a bazaar. It's a large area densely packed with people selling and buying things. Everything is remarkably cheap, and you could probably buy anything but a car or a house there. It's mostly outside, and it's where the poor shop.
     People sell clothes, appliances, silverware, hygiene products, stationary products, electronic goods like shavers and flashlights, CD's, books, umbrellas, hot hamburgers and pastries, meat and cheese products for home. The people sell things on tables, in cramped stalls, and rarely in buildings resembling trailers. Shoppers try on pants out in the open.
     It's like a big maze, and you can barely walk through at times. I loved the feeling here; so many people so close together, and all peacefully regarding each other. The people were so beautiful, so peaceful.

HONORABLE MENTION includes the cleverly funny OLD MOVIES, and ELENA VIKTOROVNA. Mrs. Viktorovna was a sexy, older English teacher with a happy and playful personality, who always compassionately tried to help me when she could.
     So, that's a wrap. I wouldn't say the life in Russia is good, but I always find myself attracted to and rooting for poor people. And almost every poor person I met was friendly to me. Russia will have a fond place in my chest.
     Here are five final observations:
     1. My wise Russian friend living in the Czech Republic had told me about Russia's recent democracy. In one of the first presidential elections following the fall of the Soviet Union, the communist candidate was poised to win. The capitalist adversary won by employing an American marketing company to run its campaign. The marketers went to villages and talked to old people about communism. The old people spoke of bitterly blaming the communists for getting them into WWII. World War II is fresh and vibrant in the mind of this country, which lost ten million lives to the war. The marketers made commercials emphasizing this link, and that's why the communists lost in the election.
     2. The same friend told me how the Russian oil tycoons avoid paying taxes. If a barrel of oil is being sold on the world market for, let's say, $50, the oil company might then be forced to pay $10 to the Russian government. Instead of selling it on the world market, then, they arrange for an un-taxed transfer of the oil to a firm in, for example, the Jersey Islands. The Jersey Islands give the oil billionaires $49 a barrel. The firm in the tax-free Jersey Islands then makes a dollar off the barrel when it's sold to the world; the oil men get to keep $9 more per barrel; and the Russian government and the people who'd conceivably be helped, miss out on a whole bunch of money from their natural resources.
     3. I was told, while in Russia, that there had been virtually no crime during the communist era. No one, even in an apartment building, used to lock his door.
     4. I was also told that Stalin had killed 20,000,000 intelligent and creative Russians - whom he viewed as threats - while he ruled. He kept some scientists alive, but sent them to secret military sites where they were forced to work on the technological progress of the nation.
     5. Although I lived in a house in Staryy Oskol, I was often charmed when visiting other people's tiny apartments. Lime-green paint closed in on me in small kitchens; I ate cold, cucumber soup from old bowls with blue, hand-painted borders; ugly gray and brown designs decorated the carpet; kids' fairy-tale books depicting village life idled in wilting bookcases. It seemed like the apartments themselves had life.

Okay. So, the last thing left to say is that I think my trip to Russia could've been successful. I could've: given private English, Spanish, or French lessons; found a $125/month job from among the surprisingly many help-wanted ads in the Staryy Oskol newspaper; sold my translated travel stories in the "Rynok"; or, gone to the Black Sea and found a job in tourism.
     Or ... maybe I'm just too foolishly optimistic?

peace out, Modern Oddyseus

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