Today is Victory Day!!
I usually put the entire name of the holiday in the title of the post, but this one doesn’t fit. Once again, post-perestroika political correctness at work: День воинской славы России — День Победы советского народа в Великой Отечественной войне 1941—1945 годов (1945) which translates as Day of Russia’s Military Glory – The Day of Victory of the Soviet People in The Great Patriotic War 1941 – 1945.
What can I say about Victory Day that hasn’t already been said? As you know, May 9th, of course, commemorates the glorious moment in 1945 (choreographed by Stalin with the tacit agreement of Roosevelt and Churchill, who no doubt just wanted the whole thing to end one way or the other) when the Soviet Army triumphantly marched into a vanquished Berlin.
World War II, or “The Great Patriotic War,” as any Russian schoolchild will tell you, was a conflict primarily fought in the Eastern European theater of war: starring the Russians as the Good Guys and featuring the Nazis as the Bad Guys. As guide books say: while many millions of brave and patriotic Russians perished, the Soviet Forces ultimately triumphed over the powers of Fascism, and peaceful productivity was restored to the peaceful-loving Soviet people. Footnote: there were, perhaps, other skirmishes taking place on the periphery of this major conflict such as a minor air battle over the English Channel, and some unpleasantness in the Pacific, but they do not cover this in national curriculum of Russia, even in elite officer-training military academies such as the one HRH attended. As I have written before, HRH was baffled and unable to identify D-Day as a historical event during a screening of “Saving Private Ryan.” I rashly suggested that D-Day had been the turning point in World War II, with dire consequences.
On May 9th, there is a huge parade through Red Square. Huge ostentatious military parades complete with goose-stepping have rather gone out of fashion, so Moscow’s parade is one of just a handful of opportunities left on the planet to experience this live. I recommend it if only to see the bizarre moment when Very Senior Military Guy tries to remain standing in the 1950’s style convertible car at the beginning of the parade, as the car clatters over the uneven cobblestones of Red Square. Velvet feels, and I must say I agree with her, that there is really no excuse for this sort of thing: Very Senior Military Guys should be on horseback, like Field Marshall Zhukov who led the first May 9th parade astride a pure white charger.
On Parade on Victory Day
We always watch the parade at home with Bloody Mary’s and smoked salmon and avoid going out on the streets since you can hardly move thanks to crowd control brought to you by the Ivan The Terrible School of Civil Defense. After the parade, the veterans march down from the Belorussian Railway Station to the Bolshoi Theatre and have a big piss up. Rather nice fireworks later in the evening. Barack isn’t coming, which is a blow, although my Very Good Friend The Famous Newscaster interviewed him the other day and he wished all the Russians well. There is this issue of Moscow’s pint-sized mayor seeding the clouds to ensure good weather which is true. No one believes it, but it’s true: helicopters fly up the sky and put something in the clouds and they go away for the day, ensuring bright, hot sunshine on the day, and cold, cloudy, clammy weather for the next week after. The estimated cost of this, according to Moscow News: 45 million rubles, and that never seems like a lot of Monopoly money does it: but is actually $1,474,208.58 USD or £996,858.62 Pounds Sterling. Seriously.
But what good came of it at last?
Quoth little Peterkin
Why, that I cannot tell, said he,
But ‘twas a famous victory
-Robert Southey: The Battle of Blenheim
May 9th this year happens to coincide with Mother’s Day in the USA, but I’m not expecting HRH to remember to send floral tributes my way (he recently learned how to purchase floral tributes on the Internet and send them places…was astonished by the technology) since he is hosting a small gathering in our apartment, so everyone can enjoy the five second moment when you see the fighter planes come from Tyushino Airport at the speed of sound right towards our large living room window. Then you see the same thing on the TV and then you see red, white and blue smoke from the opposite window as they make their way over Red Sq. Prime real estate.
Since all my clever readers know about World War II (if not, see Cliff Notes in Paragraph 2), in lieu of a history lesson, I’ll tell you a very funny story about what happened to our family on May 9, 2005, in Malta.
Celebrating Victory Day with the Allies
Sometimes, if I want to make HRH rein it in, I need only cock my eyebrow and say, “Darling, let’s not forget Malta 2005 now, shall we?” He nods, shudders, puts down the shot glass and, tail between his legs, moves to fizzy water for an hour or so.
Malta was my choice for our annual May Holiday getaway. I had always had a hankering for Malta, which I vaguely wanted to test drive as a possible second home for when we struck it rich. On paper, it seemed to combine a number of things which are high up on my list: Italian culture, British history, a glamorous Order (with a capital “O”) of Knights, stone architecture, the San Antonio palace connected with Marie of Romania etc. It seemed like a win-win travel destination for the whole family, offering Velvet and HRH the opportunity to sun and swim while I poked around Valetta. The food, I felt sure, would be heavenly Mediterranean.
Disappointment ensued. Not the stabbing kind of disappointment that motivates you to pen an outraged letter to the New York Times; rather a dull sinking feeling that pervades you like soy sauce spilled on a white cotton T-shirt, that this travel destination is not the travel destination of your dreams. Yes, the ornate hotel was nice and comfortable, and sure, Valetta offered up some of its interesting history, but the sea was cold, the beach rocky, and the “charming” port town of St. Julian was full of brassy British expats, loud sunburnt German holidaymakers, and shifty looking Eastern European youths from the myriad Maltese language schools. The blocks of flats looked depressing, the drink of choice was Belgian lager, and the plat du jour tended to be lasagna and chips. As I poked through Valetta’s streets with the growing awareness that even Dan Brown couldn’t conjure up an ancient Maltese secret, at the hotel, HRH and Velvet fell into a nodding acquaintance with a group of disgruntled Russian tourists from Perm, fellow refugees from the cold sea, they pulled deck chairs around the hotel pool and shared their general disappointment in the entire experience.
This cordial entente continued until the evening of May 9th, arguably the most important holiday in Russia. Returning to the hotel after yet another fruitless foray out into St. Julian to find something more appetizing than lasagna and chips, we found about sixteen of the Permites had taken the liberty of rearranging the hotel lobby’s furniture into a stereotypical festive Russian living room configuration: couches pulled up around two coffee tables. They motioned to us to join them, and have a Victory toast.
It seemed vastly ill mannered on the 60th anniversary of Russia’s unqualified victory over Nazism to flee, although this was my immediate gut reaction. Since nothing as major as the 60th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War could possibly be put to bed in a mere half an hour – I braced myself for a lengthy session in the trenches. We squeezed onto one of the couches. An elegant Maltese waiter immediately approached to ask what I wanted to drink, and I mentioned a local wine I’d tried and liked. HRH ordered a cognac and we secured Velvet a Fanta.
“Lissssssssen,” Arkady, the ringleader, hissed at us knowledgeably. “No need to pay those bar prices…just order juice, look see what we have!” He motioned us to look between his legs, which I felt might not be completely appropriate for 8-year Velvet, but I followed his eyes to the bottle of Duty-Free Chivas under the table.
This under-the-table tactic was one I knew well: having successfully employed it frequently, off-duty, during my misspent youth as a tour guide in the late 1980s in Eastern Europe. It’s a good trick, if somewhat obvious, and yet somehow, as a full paying guest in the “oughts”, it seemed somehow awkwardly out of place.
“Um…” I began, but HRH gave me a no-nonsense warning look, and I just smiled. Arkady deftly topped up eleven orange juices with Chivas and we hoisted our collective glasses to victory: “Za Pobediy!”
This all-too-familiar ritual was repeated about six or seven more times. I was getting woozy, and I could see Velvet was on the verge of collapse from the gassy combination of stodgy lasagna and chips and three large Fantas. I cast a few pleading glances at HRH across the coffee table, but he ignored me, deep in a conversation about the 900 Day Siege of Leningrad with an older man who’s face was borscht red with sun and drink. We drank to the Soviet Army a number of times, and Arkady was kind enough to indicate, that, of course, America had had a role in World War II, so a toast was drunk to me, which I tried to acknowledge gracefully.
A discreet cough.
“Madame,” said the suave waiter in English. “Madame, may I speak with you?”
“Of course,” I said, welcoming the interference, but wary about the conversation I felt sure would ensue. I awkwardly extracted myself from between Sveta and Aniuta, who were on either side of me, and went to join the waiter a discreet distance from the group. My tour guide days had made me feel an intense solidarity with hotel staff, and I smiled encouragingly.
“Madame, I realize your friends are guests of our hotel, and as such are most welcome in the lobby bar. They are, we recognize, celebrating a national holiday, but we cannot allow them to continue to top up their drinks from under the table. There are a number of hotels and hostels where this kind of thing is permitted – even encouraged — but this is not one of them. It is not our custom to allow such things.”
I sighed; feeling much as I imagined Roosevelt must have done at the Yalta Conference.
“I understand,” I said, “and I will try to get them to move the party elsewhere, but I fear these things are –“
“We know, Madame…we have many Russian guests. If you could explain that they are very welcome to order their drinks from the bar, I’d be most grateful.”
He had the impeccable manners to hand me a complimentary glass of wine and we exchanged watery smiles.
I returned to the couches and explained, as sweetly as I could, that the guerilla tactics with the Chivas under the table had been outed, and I thought it best that they repaired to someone’s room to continue the party.
Arkady shook his head and, thumbs tilted at right angles to his body pounded his upturned wrists in the universal gesture of Russian emphasis.
“Urodiy!” he spat out, “Italian Axis Power BASTARDS! But what can you expect…all these other countries can’t stand it that we won the war…and look at it now…EU money while we…”
“Besieged,” I whispered, miserably, but with the confidence of one with a complete tour of the Valetta History Museum under her belt, which I (correctly) conjectured Arkady wasn’t, “Malta. Under siege by the Germans from 1940-1942. British Naval Base. Allied forces all the way.”
Abject silence ensued, as seventeen pairs of eyes squinted in suspicion and an effort to focus vision. The suave waiter gave me a big smile and a nod of acknowledgment.
“I think Velvet and I are going to say good-night now, she seems very tired. Once again, congratulations on victory in The Great Patriotic War.” I beat a hasty retreat, dragging Velvet, now on a sugar high, behind me.
HRH lurched in around 9:00 the next morning as I was trying to decide whether to go to breakfast or call the Maltese police first, while simultaneously trying to reassure Velvet that Papa had just stayed awake with the nice people we’d met the night before. HRH stood in the doorjamb, swaying back and forth. I felt a rush of relief that he was alive, which is all that matters in moments like this.
“Vraaaaaaagggg-eeeeee…” he drawled, in is his standard morning-after condemnation and accusation of the external forces – or “enemies”, which have forced him, unwillingly, into a drunken stupor the previous evening.
“Allies, surely.” I quipped as he fell senseless onto the bed.
Happy Victory Day to everyone…where ever in the world you may be!
The phrase “In defeat unbeatable: in victory, unbearable,” is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, who used it in reference to Lord Montgomery, not The Russian Federation.
Happy Victory Day! Unless, of course, you don’t celebrate Victory Day, and there are those who don’t. There are those who already celebrated it yesterday, but anyway. What’s your take on seeding the clouds? Do you think I was right to get Velvet out of the Maltese lobby? Did you think the waiter was being churlish? Thanks for making it through a long story…but hopefully a funny one. You can tell me to “edit edit edit” which is what my Mom always says to my Dad, by clicking the comment button below and leaving me your thoughts! Stay with me as we set sail (hint hint) for next week’s exciting line-up of Russian professional holidays!