The Russian textbook I use is the same one my teacher used as a college student at Indiana University, c. 1960-something. The pattern sentences and reading describe not Russia but the Soviet Union, rich with nostalgia for anyone who lived through the Cold War. Everyone is always going from the library to the university, attending ochin interyesny lectzy or perhaps a zacyedanieh klooba, playing shakmatii or going to see “Lyebedinoye Ozero” at the Bolshoi. (Very interesting lectures, club meetings, chess and “Swan Lake,” for you Yanks.)
This week’s reading was about an Amerikanskii, Bob Cook, whose name transliterates amusingly as Kook, who visited Leningrad and stayed at the historic Astoria Hotel. Very nice, but very expensive, Kook tells his studentskii kloob. I’ll say. If I’m reading their website correctly, a deluxe room, double plus twin, perfect for our family when we travel, is 36,000 rubles per night, or — gasp! — $1,275. Don’t forget the 18 percent VAT, too, and buffet breakfast at $58 per person. I guess if I ever get there, it’ll be your basic Soviet-era concrete block guest house for the Derringers.
At this point we stopped the lesson and discussed the siege of Leningrad during World War II, one of history’s great stories of cruelty and endurance. Adolf Hitler planned to take the city, burn it to the ground, raze what couldn’t be burned and rename the city Adolfsburg. He planned to hold his victory party at the Astoria, and even printed invitations. Alas, Joseph Stalin had other plans, and the blockade and siege lasted 900 days. The dead numbered 1.5 million, most from starvation. Sydney, my teacher, met a woman who lived through it, who said they stripped the wallpaper in their home and and scraped off the paste to eat. The bread ration, given to only a few, was mostly sawdust. They ate rats on the street, their beloved pets, each other — cannibalism was common.
But in the end, Leningrad was spared, and today we can all visit the Hermitage, if we can afford to get there. Kook then traveled to Moscow, and we looked at photos of Krassny Ploschad — Red Square — and I wondered if I ever will get to see Lenin’s Tomb with my own eyes, lying in his own red square on Red Square. One of these days. By the way, the old Soviet version of Bloomingdale’s, GUM, which translates roughly to Universal Government Store, is now a shopping mall. Super-expensive in the New Russian style, konyechno. Here’s a joke about the New Russian style:
Boris Nikolayevich is walking down the street when he runs into his friend Andrei Ivanovich. “That’s a lovely tie,” Boris Nikolayevich tells his friend. “Thank you,” says Andrei Ivanovich. “I spent $900 on it in Paris.” To which Boris Nikolayevich replies: “You fool! You could have stayed in Moscow and paid $2,000.”
As you can tell, today I am empty of thought. Every time I open the newspaper, I scowl and think, what the hell are we doing in Libya?, but there are occasional amusements, like this. Apparently $P went to Israel and forgot to check a map:
Bethlehem was supposed to be her first stop of the day, according to a leaked copy of her schedule. But, after an uneventful drive from her hotel in nearby Jerusalem, her car stopped just short of the main Israeli military checkpoint outside Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, appeared to hesitate and then performed a u-turn.
Israeli military officials declined to comment on why Mrs Palin may have turned back, but the country’s defence ministry confirmed that she had made no formal request to visit the occupied West Bank – standard protocol for any foreign dignitary.
You know you’re a joke when a business weekly makes fun of you. Congratulations, Hoosier tea partiers.
The Free Press informs me I’m paying the highest auto-insurance rates in the country. No surprise there — I just came through the six-month premium season here at NN.c Central, otherwise known six weeks in the Po’ House, but these numbers are stinky. A prototypical 40-year-old man with a clean driving record pays $2,541 a year? What does he drive, an Escalade with spinners? We pay about $2,000 a year for two cars and two drivers.
CNN beats up on Fox. For once.
Off to the showers for me. Have a great day.