"Siberia 2007" story # 42

Tomsk, Russia           December 21, 2007

No other Thursday regulars left the rock bar with me. I was disappointed. They could've left with grace in protest. Instead, the hateful and uncompassionate owners became more powerful.
     But, Russians aren't revolutionaries.
     They really, really "zaleyut" (spoil with preference/baby) their ego's.
     Russians, who don't know how to live with great freedom, feel a lack of potency. They accept the belief that they and "God" aren't one.
     They, naturally after this, accept the belief that they and "all other humans" are separate, too.
     They feel ashamed of their shortcomings. They comfort their ego's by placing themselves above others on an imagined hierarchical system. Most Russians place the Orthodox Christian God at the top of the hierarchy, believing lazily that they and those above them will simply be brought to God eventually.
     In this life, they climb the hierarchy's steps by becoming: more powerful; smarter; more beautiful, if women; and, now that there's capitalism, richer.
     Some climb heartlessly. Those who possess a certain Russian character (usually, these are uneducated, yet sometimes they're very successful businessmen) are dark and interested only in what's "interesnyy" (having monetary or otherwise very practical benefits) and look like they haven't enjoyed themselves in years.
     They remember the recent "perestroika" (reorganization) of their country. They remember having to rely on their own wits in order to simply eat each day. They remember that those who learned quickest to lie and intimidate became rich. They know that those who didn't continued to live in poverty.
     Today, Russians don't need to lie to be successful - however, most believe businessmen still do.
     They work and study, with most of their energy. During long days at school, they follow efficient yet rigid study programs. They don't study art nor music in the schools, and they've few students' sports teams.
     Within the society's hierarchy, they accept their positions without complaint. They serve bosses and customers, as if robots. They obey authority and follow the rules of a very beaurocratic system. Some say, a privately-owned public bar can throw someone out simply because he doesn't flatter the owner's ego.
     According to a line in a DDT song, Russians: are so used to prison, that they despise cleanliness.
     When Russians finish working and studying, they feel uncreative. They like their leisure activities to be effortless. They like vices: drinking, smoking, and sex. They like easy activities: walking, talking, drinking tea, going to the movies, and playing computer games. The vast majority consider dressing up for Halloween parties to be too much work. They like dancing, singing, snowboarding, and making art.
     And Russians like people.
     Dostoyevsky wrote: Compassion is the main, and perhaps only, requirement for being human.
     Russians like sharing food, having overnight guests, helping travelers, and experimenting with new friendships.
     And yet, Russians aren't revolutionaries. The exception is Sergei the Anarchist. He'd told me long ago not to go to Tomsk's other rock bar (where the owners of the "Sinyaya Boroda" had previously worked) because it's owned/frequented by Fascists. I - associating rock music with "freedom" rather than "authority" - hadn't listened to him.
     The two sisters who own a successful hair salon have said they won't return to the Sinyaya Boroda. They believe in the power of the mind and practice meditation, but they too have notions of a hierarchy. One sister says poor people are poor because, deep down inside, they "want" to be poor.

A 19th Century essayist, Henry David Thoreau, wrote, "None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage point of what we should call voluntary poverty."

Maybe he wanted to be poor. Maybe I want to be poor, out of solidarity for capitalism's less fortunate.
     I am quite poor. I usually shop in supermarkets, so I can see the prices. Sometimes, I take something, only to learn at the cash register that the price is higher. Even a few rubles make a difference to me, and I freeze in horror at the register. I wonder: why do some people want to buy huge SUV's? I can barely buy milk.
     Other times, I go out. Once, I learned a bar's entrance was 150 rubles instead of 50, after traveling there. Another time, I learned a classical concert cost twice as much as I'd thought, while at the front of the ticket line. I didn't disagree with these prices, but I couldn't just throw at them an amount of money I hadn't anticipated spending. Ultimately, the bar let me in for fifty rubles; the guy behind me in line for the concert guested me to a ticket. For a small time after each occasion, I felt poor and small.
     Really, I doubt anyone wants to be poor. I want to be middle-class. I just wish all the other people could be middle-class, first.

A week after being expelled from the rock bar, I went to Tomsk's "80's" club, "Absent."
     The music was "80's"-ish but idiotically simple. The people looked slimy and sexual. Ugh. I didn't stay long.
     But, there was one wonderful thing about this club. Old, communist propaganda posters decorated the walls! I read them all.
     One showed a mighty Lenin, before a red background. "LeHuH *uL. LeHuH *uB. LeHuH 6yDem *umb." (Lenin lived. Lenin lives. Lenin will live.)
     One of the cartoonish posters portrayed Uncle Sam, holding a hydrogen bomb, and standing outside a Russian's window. It advised people "not to run their mouths", because spies could be listening.
     One read: "For a friendly discussion, we invite nations, but we're ready to strike back, following any provocation."
     Others advised: "Don't ever lie!" ... "Learn how to relax." (This showed a girl skiing, then reading, then playing guitar.) ... "Don't relax on railroad tracks." ... "A family's honor is its most important thing." ... "A mother's milk is the best thing for a child."
     And one showed two babies in the nursery, each wearing happy smiles. "C4acmLuBbIe poDRmcR roD CoBemcKuU 3Be3DoU." (They're born happy under the Soviet star.)

peace, Modern Oddyseus

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