Wednesday, May 28, 2014

St. Petersburg - morning - international airport

Barrett booked a plane to Ulyanovsk at 7 am.  With the help of her brother in law, Vlad, she’d assured a reliable taxi with fixed rate would be meeting us.  Barrett, who speaks Russian and has dual American and Russian citizenship has been a thorough delight with such travel details.  On my own I’ve now been ripped off twice by Russian taxi drivers, paying approximately 5x the appropriate fare. I’ve travelled a fair bit around the world,  but I’d said to Barrett I’d not want to go to Russia ,without being with someone who spoke the language.
That was a left over from the Cold War and reading Solzhinitzin’s Gulag and all the ‘missing’ people,. This includes Trotsky whose image was photoshopped out of the ‘group photo’ after his death.   Meanwhile I’d had no difficulty going to Cambodia last year where the Pol Pot killed some quarter of all the citizens in a few years
So here I am in Russia, delighted that Barrett, the lawyer, is asking directions and arguing at ticket windows. I don’t think it’s really ‘arguing’.  But discussions often sound like such in other languages. I turned to see if a Chinese couple were fighting because their language sounded so harsh only to see the couple was smiling at each other, no doubt ‘bantering’ lovebirds.
Ulyanovsk is the birthplace of Lenin.  It was a fortress that at one time defended Russia against a Cossack invasion.  Thinking of Lenin, as the hometown boy, I wondered if Dale Carnegie’s birthplace is so celebrated.  Certainly Akron Ohio as a birthplace of note  gets a regular motley pilgrimage of sorts.
Russia is so European to me now. It’s certainly more advanced than Greece.  Today the news was of three cosmonauts going to the International Space Station.  Everywhere there is evidence of the high technology of the people. Yet there’s this ancient history.
Generalizations pale.  A friend was commenting on the poverty of first nations in Canada and didn’t realize that oil had made many groups obscenely rich. Indeed, within the communities today there’s a real pressure to address the disproportionate wealth of the chiefs now millionaires while their people god without housing.  So yes, there’s poverty but there’s always the problem of distribution of wealth. Add to that addiction, which is my field. There's no end to the wealth a coke addict, crystal meth addict or heroin addict will go through before poverty alone stops their downward spiral. The gamblers are a whole other problem.
As a scientist I deal in probabilities and population dynamics but generalizations are anathema.  Here I’ve a tourists slice of a great country and am just seeing a couple of cities.  This does become ‘my Russia’.  It’s the ‘anecdotal evidence’ that collated with masses of other ‘opinion polls’ would create an anthropologists ‘impression survey'.  It has 'face validity' if nothing else.  In the end, I can only really know my own perceptions.
As it is I like Russia very much. I like the churches and the people on the street. Other than the larcenous taxi drivers I’ve encountered none of the gangsterism I was warned against.  I think Barrett’s grasp of the language and Russian passport has limited that risk somewhat.  Ironically my Russian friends have said tourists were safer under the old regime because foreigners were assigned a spy and that spy scared off the low life.  Today a tourist is on his own.  I confess, older now, I  had no desire to go out partying at night clubs all night.  Older now, and perhaps wiser, I’m not drunk and vulnerable as I once was as a youth in foreign countries where prayers most likely protected me from the worst. My friend was raped and beaten in Marseille,  Another was knived cycling Europe.  I came away comparatively unscathed. I’m thankful for the safety of this trip so far and pray that it remains thus.
I told Barrett I’d bought a certified icon of the Kazan Church of the Virgin Icon. This is no doubt favourable for our impending flight.  Her mother thinks she should pray to St. Anthony because she’s always losing things.  She dropped her passport in the crazy muddle of security.  I was glad to be there if only to save her from the shock of realizing the loss when she’d passed through the metal detectors.
Yesterdat she pointed out my backpack was wide open . There’s merit in the buddy system.

IMG 5046

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