Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Russia in 1970

Anton Chekhov
The Culture Vulture

Joe paced nervously around the apartment he shared with his friend, Emile, wondering how to approach the question on his mind, or just let sleeping dogs lie. In the end, he knew there was the only way to resolve the situation, "Please tell me you're not a Communist, Emile." He said with more courage than he imagined he had.
Emile laughed, and the asked, "What would make you think I am, Joe?"
Nervously Joe began to explain, "You're reading Chekhov while listening to Shostakovich on your cd player, and I noticed you have a selection of other Russian literature on the shelf as well as Russian operas on DVD."
Emile put his book on the table and getting up from his chair, he said, "I like Italian music, I listen to Italian opera and would love to live in Italy, does that make me a Fascist? Not forgetting one vital thing, years ago, I went to Russia and the trip scarred me for life. 
It was a school trip - admittedly a long time ago - when we docked, we were greeted by children who gave us a bar of chocolate in exchange for a mass produced tin badge that anybody can make in art class for less than $0.15 cents a badge. 
My first reaction was sorrow, those people probably saved their rations for weeks just to get a tin badge that we would have thrown in the bin as soon as look at it. Even now, all these years later, I can't escape the haunting sight of those children. 
The agony was heightened by the first place we were shown - the Kirov Theatre - inside the theatre we sat in some of the most comfortable seats I had the pleasure of sitting, and viewed boxes that the members of the Committee would have used to entertain noted guests while less than a few kilometers away, families lived from hand-to-mouth eating black bread which was stale.
Like many people, Joe, you made the error of thinking my reading and tastes depict my political stance. They do not, I read what I think is a good story and I listen to music I like for various reasons, none of which has a political motive.
If you take the time to study my books and music, you will find reading from many writers, some Russian, some American, Jewish, British, and even Spanish. The books have one theme, I find the stories interesting, I've read Hemmingway, Solzhenitsyn, Peter Straub, Sandy Gall, Michael Herr and Marie Colvin, what does that say about me?"
Joe paused to think, and continued, "I know that you have read a lot of books written by reporters like Ms. Colvin and Mr. Herr as you dislike stories written by people who hadn't seen the action."
Emile smiled, and then went on, "If you reviewed my music selection you find tunes by Brahms, Weber, Charpentier, Verdi, Britten, Berg, Janacek, and yes Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Glinka. I like the expansive expressionism in the Russian music, it may be their reaction to such a restricted society. 
I enjoy listening to the deep tones of singers from the Eastern European countries as much as the lighter tones of the singers from the West. 
I won't deny I enjoy the music, art, and literature of the old Communist states, but I am far from being a Communist, Joe, in that matter you can put your mind at ease."
This story is based on a school trip to Russia, in 1970, and its effect on my life.

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