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Roger L. Simon

Sochi, Mon Amour

February 6th, 2014 - 8:59 pm

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The news from the Sochi Olympics — poisonous yellow water in hotel faucets, hackers and spies at every turn, the unsurprising dearth of foreign tourists — brought back memories of my three trips to Russia, twice when it was still the Soviet Union and once in its quasi-captialist current incarnation.

The first visit — as it often is — was the most interesting, with the most powerful memories.  On that trip, in the late eighties, I was with a delegation from the International Association of Crime Writers,  the first writers’ group with members on both sides of the Iron Curtain.  Only most of the members from our side of the curtain, including me at that time, were lefties.

Lefty though I was, however, it didn’t stop me from seeing the USSR, almost from arrival, as a giant jail.  Minders, i.e., spies, were everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE.  It was practically the national occupation. It was how they solved their unemployment problem.

I remember sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Cosmos, a decaying pseudo-futurist joint replete with model sputniks for chandeliers, when Laura Grimaldi, the Italian delegate, leaned over to me and said, “Watch this.”  (We had been talking about the plethora of spies.)  She then proceeded to stand and walk across the huge lobby toward the rest rooms.  Three babushka ladies with brooms and buckets, each one in separate  corners of the room, immediately stopped what they were doing, propped their brooms against the wall, and headed after her straight into the ladies’ room. As soon as Laura was finished, they followed her out again and duly resumed sweeping. It was sort of like a silent comedy, but it was the Soviet Union in a nutshell.

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Top Rated Comments   
When it comes to literature and music Russia is near the top, and they shouldn't be dissed when it comes to tech either.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Under the Tsars Russia had an unquestioned dictator with a scary secret police. The communist revolution replaced that with an unquestioned dictator with a scary secret police. Putin is seeking to change that to a system of an unquestioned dictator with a scary secret police.
Russia will not change. It's a waste of energy hoping for a change.

Back in college, probably around 1985, I picked up a copy of a secular humanist magazine (might even have had that title) to read an article about a bunch of them touring the Soviet Union. They spoke in glowing terms about how wonderful life was in the USSR. That was probably the moment when I realized everything on the left was lies.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Behold the Virgin Prostitute. The American Communist.

Our small c version loves to byotch about America (and Israel, for some reason)in denouncing the vulgarity of American excess. And, they shout it from the balconies...of their mansions.

Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, George Soros, Sean Penn, Martin Sheen, Billy Ayers....oh, how our Virgin Prostitutes love them some Che/Fidel revolutionaries. They adore Mother Russia and Mao's China...from here, though...with our clean running water and stocked grocery stores and organic farmer's markets.

They drive their ultra luxury cars to their ultra luxury abodes while spitting venom on American "greed".

And decry American "values" and "lifestyle" from the rehab center on their 8th visit. The Virgin Prostitute tells us how unhealthy the hamburger, fries and Coke is....before dying at 46 with a heroin needle stuck in their veins.

And how it takes a commune village to raise our children, to be unemployed and still living at home at 30, unable to produce anything with their Gender Studies degree.

It is important for them to lecture us on misogyny, while cheating on their 7th spouse with their best friend's wife or adopted 17 year old stepdaughter.

And the Virgin Prostitutes do it...from here...not there. Because the freedom of their hypocrisy isn't available there...and heaven forbid they should ever pass a mirror that would show the clown's face, bathed in hypocrisy and lies and slander. No, that wouldn't do. The Virgin Prostitutes all live in glass houses, with no mirrors. Here...not there.

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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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I went in 1989 and stayed at the cosmos as well!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Only one visit to Russia in 2006. My impression was that it was run by oligarchs and most of the people had limited opportunities. Mostly wonderful people that I met or interacted with. But I couldn't help but feel sorry for them. They were soldiering on without much hope of things getting better. It's a country with such incredible natural resources. If they had private property laws backed by courts, an openness to free markets, and less corruption (Much business only proceeds when the right palms have been greased.), they could be a wealthy country. At least that's my impression.

That visit made me ever so much more appreciative of the fact that I was born in the USA.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
THE SPIES WERE EASY TO SPOT.
Ah, the good old days. However, today, in the good ole USA we have reporters in a dying industry who want nothing more than to work for the administration they're supposed to cover. They suck up with what they write. They suck up with what they don't write. Basically, they just suck. But their lefty views and their subtle lies are not so easy to spot. Especially by a unsuspecting citizenry who've never heard of Arthur Koestler.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr. Simon: Do you think the ridiculous mess of Sochi is a cry for help by the Russian workers under the thumb of their dictator? Are they screwing everything up on purpose to send a message to the world that life in Russia is still crap, kind of like a message sent out in a Chinese fortune cookie?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
CFB, good to read you again.
I did some work in the USSR in 1973 (under Breznev).
Czars, dictators or nomenklatura, nothing changes.
I've been to Cuba several times. Under Batista it was just like southern Florida in many respects, and was treated as a 49th State as far as travel to/from the US was concerned.
The last two times it was just like the USSR. Watchers everywhere. Harrassed for anything.
And now the Soviet USA is coming (or has come?).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've visited Russia three times, traveling alone, since 1998. Foreigners who speak Russian usually get taken aside for questioning, but my Russian is very poor, so they just let me pass. This story illustrates my impression of post-socialist society:

America's political system in 2024 has come to resemble Russia's. We still have elections, with the National Unity Party winning 90% of the vote and the Libertarian, Constitution, and Green Parties dividing up the rest. No one's really sure where the NUP stands on the political spectrum. When asked about it, most people shrug and say they don't follow politics.

In 2021, Congress balanced the budget and ended hyperinflation by voting unanimously to abolish Social Security, Medicare, and all welfare programs. They plan to introduce a "new dollar" equal to 1000 old dollars, bringing prices roughly back to 2014 levels and the national debt to a manageable $100 billion.

After a few "accidental" deaths, the news media quickly learned to treat the NUP with the same deference they once gave Barack Obama. Drugs, guns, and prostitutes are illegal but very easy to get. So many men in various uniforms carry high-capacity assault weapons that one hardly notices them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I should add that I've traveled to many places in Russia and spoken freely about many topics (when asked what I thought of communism, I called it a "crime against humanity"). No official ever followed me, or showed even the slightest curiosity. You really have to do something to get arrested, like scream obscenities in church or try to board a floating oil rig.

Russia is not a police state, it's just a poor country with a lot of social problems.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Only most of the members from our side of the curtain, including me at that time, were lefties.

Warms my heart that people can change.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Soviet "international" communism was always just old fashioned Russian imperialism in a new suit of clothes. Hitler figured that out pretty quickly and that's why he developed his own brand, "National Socialism". The more things change ...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Whatever music or literature that has come out of Russia is a piffle next to the outpouring of greatness that The West has produced. The Russian state and its former possessions are copycats of Western technologies as the bulk of the citizenry are of peasant stock, the smartest among them having fled west decades ago.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And to add to what Bill and gwilym have already written, while France may have invented Ballet, Russia fully developed it into the great art form it is today. There is an undeniable greatness to classical Russian art -- that being dance, music (agreed, Tchaikovsky is a total original and utterly fantastic), and literature. They may have a horribly decrepit and insidious system of government and society, but their art, wowzers!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When it comes to literature and music Russia is near the top, and they shouldn't be dissed when it comes to tech either.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Russia will always be Russia"
====================

Will America always be America?

I'd like to think that our base culture - like that of Russia - will always prevail. The culture that put a man on the moon - the one that (racist though it maybe) elected a (half white) black man. Somehow I don't see that happening - change is coming - and in fact is here. Shock changes systems - body or culture. Are we more easily swayed than Russians? Time will tell.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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