Russia occupies a soft spot in my heart.
It grew out of the boundless enthusiasm for everything Slavic exuded by my Russian-major college roommate – or may have been seeded earlier by the cloth-covered storybooks full of babushkas, snow-covered cottages and deep forests that I so loved as a child. It expanded through and beyond the one time I was lucky enough to visit the country. I love the vastness of its countryside, the majesty of its ancient cathedrals, the intriguing complexity of its history, the wonder of its literature, the no-nonsense hospitality of its people.
I especially love every single one of those non-English-speaking Russians who helped me find the Dostoesvsky Museum in St. Petersberg one day, as I wandered a very long boulevard, counting canals, clutching my map and repeatedly smiling at perfect strangers, pointing to the spot and saying “Dostoevsky Musee?” More than a dozen of them patiently took turns guiding me along. The last took me by the arm and walked me several blocks and down the steps to the obscure doorway through which I entered the last apartment inhabited by one of my literary heroes. (I would never have found it!)
Many friends and strangers across the U.S. share this affection. Much travelled scientist/author Jo Anne Valentine Simson writes in her small, lovely new book Russia Revisited: Come Take a Tour with Me that it “is one of my favorite countries in the world – huge and beautiful, with a complex and tortured history and a culture to match.”
But we do not love Mr. Putin. From this vantage point, he is among a handful of dangerous tyrants determined to centralize power and increasingly restrict the freedom of ordinary citizens. Simson puts it this way: “Unfortunately, in 2016 the political power seems to be devolving once again into a form of aristocracy, with Vladimir Putin behaving like an autocrat.”
We also don’t like the prospect of nuclear annihilation. Or another dangerous arms race destined to increase the supply of nuclear weapons in the U.S., Russia and who knows where else. Which is why we find the “bring it on” tweets of our president-elect more than a little scary.
According to the good people of Ploughshares Fund, there are currently 15,375 nuclear weapons held by nine countries. The U.S. and Russia have 93 percent of them. That means each of us already has enough nukes to destroy the planet several times over. A small dispute between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, whom our president-elect admires but seems eager to challenge, could unleash a few and end life as we know it on this fragile planet.
A little less trash-tweeting and a little less talk about building nuclear stockpiles would be a nice Happy New Year gift for Russians and Americans alike.
Wonderful vignette on Russia–the charm of its people despite their frightful past (and threatening present).. Would love to hear more about your trip there. When did you go? How long did you stay?
Well-written, sane and thoughtful as usual.
Fran, Your musings about Russia and the arms race are germane and poignant. Great photos,
including the one of the above-ground bomb test. I recently obtained a copy of Michael Light’s 2003 publication, “100 Suns.” It includes photos of the moment of detonation of 100 above-ground tests conducted by the U.S. between 1945 and 1962. I’ve never forgotten the spectacular sunsets I witnessed from the Berkeley Hills during the years nuclear bombs were being exploded in the Nevada desert. Some years ago I attended an exhibit of Light’s photographs in large format presentations. Unforgettable! Terrible beauty. And, of course, this way lies madness. Trump and Putin: rogues and fools both. In tweet form: such a disaster for the world — so dangerous. [“disaster” = dissolution of a star] Thanks for your perspective. Lovely photos of Moscow and of Dostoevsky’s hood — an anodyne juxtaposed to the prospect of an accelerating arms race and the crazies who fuel it.