By BARBARA SIBBALD
— Trish! It’s so great to see you. Now I can stop cleaning the damn house!
— Sorry to just pop by unannounced, Fee, but I was at the market and I just thought I’d see if you were at home.
— Is something wrong?
— I’m succumbing to guilt overload. I’ve asked Iryna to leave by Sunday and I’m dodging her!
— But I thought things were going well.
— The first few days were great. Last Saturday, we took a long walk along the river and in the evening we sat around talking and drinking shots of vodka. Well, they drank vodka, I had tea.
— What did you talk about? The political situation? The corruption? That’s what I’d be interested in.
— Craig too, but she didn’t seem to be interested in politics at all. I think half the reason Craig didn’t make a fuss about her staying was he thought she might give him some insight into what’s going on there. I think she knows a lot, but she skirts his questions, pretends she doesn’t understand. Did you read that article in the Globe a couple of weeks ago about Russia’s nouveau riche and its corrupt bankers? I asked her last week about the banking system, and she pretended she didn’t understand the meaning of “corrupt.”
— That’s so bizarre.
— I know! On the one hand, she’ll talk about the hardships now, and how it was better before — under Communism — for the average person; then there was work and food for everyone, all the basics. On the other hand she’s totally loyal to the new system, to the national goals. She’s strident about it, talking about how well they are doing, how rich in resources they are.
— So nothing about the cowboy capitalism?
— The Wild West seems to be settling, from what I read. She was a lot more forthcoming on the train. Since she’s been with us, the closest she’s gotten to being critical was on the night of the vodka shooters. Vodka with dill pickle chasers no less. (“Is the Russian way,” she says.) So after about five shots, she admits that the people feel “humiliated.” But then she seemed to immediately regret saying it, but refuses to elaborate. Craig and I talked about it afterward. Our guess is that people feel humiliated because of the failure of communism. Because it didn’t work: with the corruption, the inequity, the brutality under Stalin, people’s innate greed. Yet it seems that, in some ways, people were better off. Free apartments and education, inexpensive cultural events, strong family values and nationalism. (more…)