I feel sure my detractors will point out that what follows is yet another of those niggling problems, which plague the – well; let’s say the 5%, shall we?
I have only myself to blame. Had I not initiated the conversation, I could have spent a perfectly pleasant ride from the airport to my house catching up on McFaulty’s latest Twitter scorchers.
But no. Tolya-the-Driver picked me at the airport and I asked him what was new. As soon as he was done paying the parking ticket, he launched in to a response that lasted all the way to my apartment building. I staggered out of the car feeling like Sam Seaborn after he first encountered Ainsley Hayes on “Capital Beat.”
Before the whole Crimea thing, I used to enjoy talking politics and world affairs with Tolya. He was my “Ivan in the street,” helping me to understand what ordinary Russians were thinking and why. He liked Navalny, though he thought the Pussy Riot gals took things a bit too far. I shared his slow and somewhat grudging admission that Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow’s sour-faced mayor, was doing good things for the city. We once had a very interesting conversation about organized religion, during which Tolya expressed the view that all major religions would be obsolete in 75 years.
“I wouldn’t put money on that one,” I cautioned him. “The Catholics have a lot of skin the game, and as for the Jews…”
Post Crimea, however, Tolya’s views have morphed, as has his way of expressing them. We don’t so much discuss these days, as he recites things he knows to be true because Dmitry Kiselyov tells him so. He seems unwilling to entertain any other viewpoint.
So here’s what I learned last night: while there may be Russian weapons in the Donbas region, there are certainly no Russian soldiers there.
“That is simply not possible,” stated Tolya in that definitively squelching Russian phrase: Это просто быть невозможно.
And, clearly, no Russian soldiers have died. Why? Because the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee hasn’t applied for any information about the whereabouts of missing Russian soldiers.
“That’s not what we’re hearing,” I said when he paused for breath. “As far as I know, they’ve been fairly vocal – “
“Any Russian soldiers who are there are volunteers,” Tolya cut me off.
“So there are Russian soldiers in the Donbas?” I pressed.
“No. Those are volunteers. If there were regular Russian soldiers there, we’d be in Kiev by now.”
“And the peace march this weekend” I asked.
“What peace march?” asked Tolya.
Several large tractor trailer trucks edged their way onto Leningradsky Shosse, and Tolya commented that, despite sanctions on foodstuffs including all meat, poultry, dairy, produce, chocolate (chocolate!) and nuts, there seemed to be as many trucks on the road as before the sanctions were imposed.
“Obama really fumbled the ball on that one,” he observed. “These sanctions are great for Russia. They are really giving Russian companies a leg up.”
“Do you feel you are paying more for food these days?” I asked. “Because I certainly do.” I didn’t add that I thought I was paying about thirty-percent more for exponentially lower quality.
“Maybe,” mused Tolya. “But that’s not the point.
I silently wondered what the point was. I remain baffled how taking away crème fraiche and Australian beef from ordinary citizens makes Russia a great nation.
Tolya then moved on to the UN Security Council meeting and what he called “Ee-sis.”
“ISIL” I corrected.
“I don’t think so,” said Tolya.
“No,” I said firmly, “we’re calling it ISIL because it isn’t Islamic and it isn’t a state.
Tolya ignored this in typical Russian fashion: if you pretend not to hear it, it never happened. Like the Gulag. He then plunged right in to a cogent one-point analysis of the ISIL problem in a tone of voice normally used by Noho mothers discussing minor transgressions with their 7-year-olds. The problem is that we (meaning the Americans) should never have funded them in the first place. I found it hard to split hairs, so I just nodded non-committedly. I gave Tolya full marks for getting in not one, but two Putin-esque vocal tics: a long drawn out sigh following the first three words of a sentence, implying that everything that was to come after the sigh was a.) not his fault, b.) certainly mine, and c.) so avoidable. He then proceeded to the second tic: swallowing a word into a sort of a drawn out word that sounds sort of like a fog horn tuning up or someone trying to pronounce my last name: “errrrrrehmmmmmm.”
“Of course,” finished Tolya as we mercifully swung into our courtyard, “The United States and Russia should partner in ridding the world of terrorism. We are two great nuclear nations and we should be working together. There are real live fascists in Kiev.”
What I yearned to say was, “Tell Vlad the Impaler that.” But instead I asked: “what news outlets do you watch these days, Tolya?” knowing full well that he is one of the 10% of Russians who uses the Internet. Before all this mishegas with Ukraine began, Tolya was addicted to Modern Family. Now? I’m not so sure.
“You Tube,” he informed me.
Next trip? I’m joining the 95% on the Aeroexpress. Because if you don’t hear it, it never happened.
Have you experienced conversations such as these lately? Are you baffled by the parallel news universes? Hit the comment button below and tell us about them, won’t you?
Please also take a moment to explore this wonderful new website of mine! I’m really delighted to have all my writing under one unified and deeply elegant roof! Thanks so much to the wonderful team at Studio2 in Lenox Mass for all their hard work, creativity and drive!
Lenin Lives Next Door: The Audiobook
I’m delighted to announce the release of the audio version of Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow!
This was so much fun to narrate and record and I’m so pleased that it comes just in time for school runs, marathon training, soup-making sessions and Moscow’s year-round traffic jams!
You can purchase and download this 9-hour, unabridged version of Lenin Lives Next Door with me narrating (and doing Jesus’s voice, no mean feat!) on amazon.com and its affiliates, audible.com and its UK affiliate and iTunes.
Click here to download a brief sample!