Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Moscow Diaries: Part II / Дневники Москвы: Часть II

During our first day in Moscow, we visited the cemetery in which many of the former Soviet General Secretaries--minus, of course, the wax figure of Lenin--and other famous cultural figures (ex: Chekov) are buried. Of that experience, I can remember only two things: 1) Russians placing fake flowers on graves, and 2) the absolute appalling conditions of the on-site bathroom . I'll begin with the less crude.

Just as the large state cemetery in St. Petersburg exhibited, graves were not garnished with wreaths of flowers or memorabilia in the same way that they are in the US. Russians place fluorescent orange, pink, and yellow flowers on the graves. On one grave, they also placed their cigarette butts. Apparently, the man buried there was a chain smoker and it is tradition to "have a smoke" with him...or at least the bronze statue of him.

The other recollection is of having to go to the bathroom while standing in the bone-chilling Moscow air. I followed two old babushkas into the women's side of the bathroom, carefully using my elbow to prop open the door lest I become even more contaminated. To my surprise, there were stalls! Lots of stalls! That meant no waiting in line, suffocating.

Propping open one of the stalls with my elbow again, I choked in disgust at the "toilet." There was no seat because there was no bowl because there was just a hole--an airplane bathroom-like funnel into the ground with a vertical pipe extending from the ceiling. What am I supposed to do here? My eyes watered from the stench. Okay, just do it. Just squat and get it over with. It adds a whole new dimension to the expression, "It pissed me off."

As I left, I peeked into one of the open stalls to make sure that I didn't just pick the unluckiest one of them all. Nope, they all were the same. I looked for the sinks. Sigh. No sinks. As I elbowed the exit door, I caught eyes with one of the babushkas who had entered before me. Did she just do what I did? How can these women--seemingly refined, sophisticated, middle-aged--accept these substandard conditions?

The next second I saw another girl from our group walking towards the bathroom. "How was it?" she asked. "I don't want to talk about it," I responded gloomily.

Click. That is how they accept these conditions, without asking questions, without complaining. They accept the harsh realities of life because they have resigned to the state of present affairs. It reminded me of an interview with a newspaper editor in the countryside that I read today, in which the editor was asked how people related to the government. His answer? "As long as I don’t get shot in the back of the head, everything is alright.”

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