Grandma Kay and Momdog Meet Sound of Music: Russian Style
March 1999. As Grandma Kay continued her conversation at Veronica’s and Igor’s kitchen table, I decided to take a few photos in case I ever decided to write a story about my Russian adventure with mom.
I excused myself and got up from the table at about the same time Igor excused himself to go to work, then checked out our “quarters”– a couch and pull-out bed in Igor’s office, a teensy bathroom with a sink, no window or hot water and a sense that something about this situation wasn’t quite right.
How could two people with advanced degrees be living in an apartment with no bathtub, no hot water in the bathroom, no shower, and no elevator? Instead, they had to climb six steep flights to the apartment. They had a car but couldn’t drive it because gas was too expensive. I almost wished I could have packed them into a moving van and bring them to the US where they could live like a professional couple in the United States did.
I asked Veronica what she thought of the American way of life.
She huffed: “Freedom? Who cares about freedom? We are taken care of under communism. I have a few friends who are living on half a sausage. Alcohol and drugs are worse now. I hate Gorbechev. I remember the last day of the Soviet Union. I went to work. There was a notice over my workplace that my job was gone. The doors were locked. There was something written about the capture and that was the end of the Soviet Union.”
I remember Gorbechev’s “Glasnost” which meant “Openness.” And I remember “Perestroika” which meant “restructuring”. All this new terminology was really meant to undermine the one-party state, and lead to the end of the Cold War. I also remember the August coup of 1991 against Gorbechev’s administration and the beginning of two failed leaders: Yeltsin and Putin. The leader who wanted to modernize Russia received the Nobel Peace Prize.
All of this Russian history buzzed in my brain as Grandma Kay and Veronica talked about the different teaching methods, but my heart was back in sunny California.
After half an hour of conversation about a neighbor who lived on half a sausage and wasn’t communism wonderful, I told mom we needed a break. Let’s grab a taxi and check out the Hermitage Museum before our visit. We grabbed a taxi and headed for the museum. Once we arrived, it wasn’t the museum that grabbed my attention. I heard music for the first time in days.
Standing by the street curb across the river from the Hermitage was a trio of musicians. But these men were not in the same category as a high school prep band. They were every bit as polished and professional as the jazz musicians I’d listened to in New Orleans Preservation Hall. Their musical style had a rhythm and beat that felt like a cross between When the Saints go Marching in and nightclub blues. I stood on the sidelines while the musicians played with the Hermitage in the background. Suddenly, one of the musicians asked me to dance. One look at a rejected Grandma Kay told me she wished he’d chosen her. Oh well…
The musician with the triangular guitar, sunglasses, and beard and I had such a grand time dancing the polka around each other I forgot all about Veronica and Igor’s Picasso kitchen.