Russia, Contrariwise

At an American coffee bar not far from Red Square. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

At an American coffee bar not far from Red Square. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Five months back from Russia, I am still challenged to write about my trip, still trying to even begin understanding this vast country. Russia seems to me to be a nation of contradictions, the brute of a country cousin to its sophisticated European neighbors, a country full of capitalists despite its century of communism, a place whose sheer size and impenetrability can wear anyone down.

Having grown up during the Cold War and practiced sitting under my desk in the event of an air raid, remembering the sense of victory when the scrappy U.S. hockey team defeated the mighty USSR at the 1980 Olympics, I anticipated aggression, intimidation, and dislike of Americans. Having seen riot police in Germany during an Occupy Berlin protest, I imagined bigger, bulkier, scarier law enforcement in Russia.

law enforcement officers outside Red Square 2012-07-17 07.19.50-2165 (2)

Newly inducted law enforcement officers just outside Red Square.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

The Russians I met seemed remarkably laid back and, about their leadership, quite lackadaisical. Regimes come and go. Laws restrain or ease. The need to make a living and find one’s way remains the same. A definite fondness for the old days was expressed: Everyone is working harder now than in the Communist years. Caviar is much less affordable and infrequently obtained.

No one I met seemed to dislike Americans.  Sure, I did encounter a few scowling workers, but they probably aren’t in the practice of smiling at anyone, no matter what their nationality. I wasn’t certain what to expect when visiting a nation that had been the United States’ former enemy. Could the formerly evil empire actually have become friendly?

© Lori Tripoli

 

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