Memory

It was late and the day's work at the conference was over. We were isolated in a little village resort called Golitsino, about two hours to the west of Moscow. After dinner, we ended up singing melancholy old Russian songs about love, war and Moscow. Our piano player was an American born of Russian parents. He modestly said that he had the disadvantage of speaking both English and Russian with an accent.

Things lightened up considerably when they started with a welter of anecdotes. Russians love anecdotes like crazy. There are so fond of them that they even prefer them to over music on the radio. Anecdotes cover a wide variety of topics and lampoon anything from government officials to hypothetical and literary characters, Jews, people from Chukotka, Armenians, the New Russians and almost everyone else, including foreigners. Tonight focused on women, GAI and Ukrainians.

“The Bible teaches us to love those around us."

"The Kama Sutra explains how.”

“What is a good present for a GAI?”
“A movable speed limit sign that they can put around blind curves.”

“There was an accident where a car killed a large dog. Since the car had damage to its bumper, headlights and radiator, the GAI decided to fill out the standard accident form. They wrote:
‘There were two cars in the accident.
Car #1: Model: Opel; Type: Vectra
Car #2: Model: Animal; Type: Dog’”

After almost an hour of story telling, we all felt the urge to take a night walk outside. It was not very cold for winter and the landscape was filled with tall pine and birch trees. The dark sky was sprinkled with lightly falling snow that came down in giant flakes fantastically illuminated under the lamplights. It was pure magic. At first, things went on as they did inside with more jokes and anecdotes -- interspersed with the occasional minor snowball fight and lubricated with the odd shot of vodka from white plastic cups.

As midnight approached, the atmosphere suddenly changed. Katya, a pretty middle-aged women with curly black hair began, "As you know, tomorrow is a sacred holiday!” I started sorting through my mental calendar in vain. She looked around, paused and then continued, “Tomorrow is 'Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland!’ - Men’s Day! I want to toast you, our dear men for your sacrifice..." A few people giggled at her earnestness. She added emphatically, "No, I mean it...thank you...no, really thank you!!"

In a moment, her seriousness converted the group. The memories of the Second World War flooded into peoples’ minds and the atmosphere became quiet and solemn. We toasted without touching glasses -- in memory of those who could not be with us. What amazed me was that this woman was far too young to have been around during the war. Yet, even after almost 60 years, the enormous sacrifices of the past still mattered. The mood had irrevocably changed. As we quietly turned back to go inside, a west-bound passenger train sped by silently into the night.
 


Note: This is only a partial excerpt of the book, which is available on request.  I will be adding photos to this page in the near future.



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