13 responses to “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

  1. PT

    That was awesome ! Were you that prescient were you to take a picture of Oliver North on TV for added period atmosphere and context ? Did you foresee that one day there would be a thing called a blog post ? Or did you find it somewhere else ?

  2. PT

    mangled that last post, but I hope you get the meaning. Did you stand in the living room and think… “hmm a picture of Oliver North is going to come in useful some day… I just don’t know how exactly”

  3. 20tauri

    What a lovely recollection – and the pics are stellar! Who knew Yuri G. was as pumped as Hulk Hogan?

  4. Maria

    Jack, this brings back so many memories and a vague sense of shame for Russia. Peaking behind the iron curtain is like looking under a rock–what you find is scary and the only stuff that’s edible is pretty gross.

  5. Maria

    ugh–peeking, that is. English is not my first language 🙁

  6. Caren

    Excellent writeup, comrade. Hide it all you want, but it’s clear that you were sent over as a CIA spy, posing as an angsty teen from New Jersey.

  7. Maggie Hames

    There’s a screenplay here.

  8. Mark Flythe

    Great look back at our 1987 trip Jack, your photos turned out much better than mine! While fascinating to visit I do recall Moscow as being rather dreary overall and I distinctly recall local Moscovites telling us that back in those days, if they saw a line of people in front of a store they would simply get in it without necessarily knowing what the others were waiting for. One place had a line for shoelaces. Seriously.

    Lenin’s tomb was quite cool, I remember one of the Soviet guards berated me for not buttoning my Levi’s jean jacket all the way up to the neck as I approached the glass coffin – language barrier prevented me from explaining that you just didn’t button up Levi’s jean jackets, but as you mentioned, Levi’s were scarce.

    The visit to the small monastery village outside Moscow was one of my favorite jaunts and I have a decent photo of the bell tower where Peter the Great used to climb up and shoot birds with a gun as a little boy.

    Leningrad/St. Petersburg was so much nicer; the architecture, modeled to rival the great European capitals was, incredible and the Western design made it more comfortable. That fact that it was White Nights while we were there made for some interesting trips to the bar and two bored looking guys in rumpled dark ,ill-fitting suits would slowly follow us wherever we went at night in a sedan that look like it was from 1962.

    Funny that you posted this Jack, I just began reading ‘The 900 Days’, Russian scholar Harrison E. Salisbury’s massive account of the horrifying Siege of Leningrad by the Nazi’s during WWII. Our tour guide took us to this immense wide open park that serves as memorial to the thousands of Leningrad civilians who died during the siege. I recall standing there looking out at row after row of these huge, dark rectangular mounds and the guide explaining that each one contained 25,000 corpses.

    Because of the freezing winters and lack of food there was no spare wood for coffins and people were too weak to bury the dead. It affected me deeply as a HS senior and I think many Americans don’t appreciate the scale of suffering inflicted upon Soviets between 1940 – 1945; some estimates put Soviet WWII casualties as high as 50 million people; there’s no way to actually know how many perished.

    But unspeakable Nazi atrocities aside, it was amazing to walk around the city at night while it was light out – the light combined with the vivid colors of the buildings gave Leningrad an almost ethereal, other-worldly kind of view. Mosquitoes were BRUTAL as Leningrad, like Washington, DC was laid out over a marshy swamp.

    I was stunned by the level of opulence in which the Tsars lived – Versailles has very little on the Winter Palace; the cost (human and financial) to construct it must have been mind-bending even back then. The Luftwaffe almost completely bombed it into rubble and the Soviets spent untold sums rebuilding and restoring it back to the same way it originally was in the 40’s and 50’s.

    Above all I recall how kind the people were (there were some assholes, but we got a lotta those here too) and how eager they were to simply talk with us. It opened my mind because Reagan had famously labeled the USSR as the ‘Evil Empire’ during one of his foreign policy speeches to whip us support for his gargantuan defense budgets in the 80’s.

    The place I saw was NOT the evil empire at all. The bulk of people were simply hard-working folks trying to make a living. Many told me that most weren’t even really active Communists at all and that politics mean very little to them. I’ll never forget one evening in a Moscow park as we were preparing to leave, a tiny older Babushka-type woman came up to me and grabbed my arm looked at me with a pleading expression and told me in broken English: “Tell Americans we want NO war. NO war.” Meeting people like that helped me to understand just how completely full of shit Ronald Reagan and many of our foreign policy “experts” really were.

    They were people just like us, despite the years of American propaganda fueled by dim-witted zealots like McCarthy, who portrayed the Soviets as monsters to fuel their own agendas. Now the Soviets weren’t perfect obviously (see Gulag…), but despite the years of narrow, one-sided caricatures of Soviets portrayed on film and TV, I found the Russians I met to be passionate, well-read skeptics with a sharp sense of humor who appreciated good literature, music and vodka and knew EXACTLY what was going on even if The State rarely let them talk about it.

    Thanks for sharing those images Jack – as someone posted here, there’s a screenplay in there. Mark (tall guy with the camera)

  9. Tania Teschke

    Thank you for sharing, Jack! Makes me nostalgic and even “homesick” for those days! Living in Moscow now, I search for a sign of the past, they are everywhere and yet nowhere — so much has changed and been lost in the razzle-dazzle of “Westernization.” Thank you, again! — Tania

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