Friday, April 30, 2010

Back to the USSR

(URSS is the French abbreviation for the English USSR--I wouldn't want you to think I couldn't spell! This is a page from a small scrapbook/journal I kept of my senior year abroad in Europe)

Linked to my interest in nuclear disasters, was my childhood fascination with the USSR. I wasn't a communist. It was more a "know thy enemy" kind of thing but I was always able to distinguish between political antagonism and fear and hatred of individual members of a country. I read the Russians by Hedrick Smith which come out in 1976 when I was a teen. I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and as much as I could of the Gulag Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. I made it through a smattering of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as well.
I was so impressed with the graphic arts coming out of the Soviet regime that I had a poster of a steely-eyed Lenin hanging in my bedroom for several years. The poster was done in simple brown and white but was so forceful that I feared it would give me nightmares.
My father as a scientist was able to travel to the USSR and was treated like a foreign dignitary, complete, no doubt, with KGB escort. I begged to go on that trip but instead got a decidedly second rate subscription to Soviet Life, a propaganda magazine. That must have been one of my life's biggest disappointments.
I didn't make it to the USSR until 1982 when I managed a 48 hour whirlwind visit to Leningrad. I had been studying abroad for half the year in Paris and decided to spend my winter vacation with some old family friends who were based with the US embassy in Helsinki. By some miracle they managed to get my friend and I last minute visas to Russia and off we went.
It was as strange, trip in the dead of winter. On the train to Russia we chatted for a time with a Finnish worker who was also heading to Leningrad. He drank steadily through a bottle of Vodka telling us that the USSR was so depressing he had to drink to tolerate it.
There was no tourist industry to speak of but I managed to walk the snowy streets of the city by myself (wondering all the while where the spies were), get a brief run through the Hermitage and struggle not to get thoroughly lost on the Leningrad subway system. It was a great adventure although I admit to a certain relief upon returning to Finland that nothing had gone wrong. The postcard and a few enamel buttons were the only souvenirs I have of that trip aside from the memories. It turns out the stories were correct. There really was nothing to buy there. Probably just as well since I could barely afford the train ticket and Intourist Hotel.

For Postcard Friday.


Clytie said...

Wow. What a story! I had a friend who went to Leningrad and she brought me back 2 shot glasses for my collection. They are silver cloisonne, and are among my favorites. She paid almost nothing for them. That was probably back in 1988 or so.

Happy PFF!

Postcardy said...

The Russians made some great posters. I took Russian in high school but have managed to forget almost everything.

CafebyJW said...


You Got A Posty ~ PFF
Theme Day ~ Statue

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

That's a very strikingly designed card. St Petersburg is high up on my list of places I'd love to see.

viridian said...

The beginning ofa riot in background, and pretty flowers in the foreground. Interesting. And great graphics, as you say.

Bob of Holland said...

Beautiful postcard. Brings back memories of when my sister and I visited Moscow and Leningrad in the early 1980's. The Hermitage was gigantic and chockfull of paintings by famous artists. And the subway was like a palace. My sister could read some Russian, so we did not get lost. It was very, very cold outside, once we nearly got lost in a snow storm, while the hotel room was tropical. Happy PFF.

Lyneen said...

Stories and memories postcards hold... thanks for sharing a snippet of your life. TFS, Happy PFF!

Beth Niquette said...

What an interesting story. I enjoyed every word.

Snap said...

Wow, a card with memories for you. Interesting story. You were smart to keep a travel journal with postcards. Wish I had! Happy PFF.

A Free Man said...

I just finished a really good book about the end of the Soviet Union and what's happened in Russia since. It's by an Australian journalist called Kim Traill, can't remember the title as I sit here, but it's a fantastic read.

Courtney said...

thanks for this post! i feel as though I've been on a small getaway from my computer :-)