We never thought that our trip to Russia will become politicized, and this was our main mistake from the beginning. But when in March of 2016 my boyfriend Forrest booked the tickets in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, we succumbed to the feeling that we live in is not too difficult times, when decisions such as a 10-day vacation on the territory of the former Soviet Union can explain a literary or intellectual curiosity, not political motives.
How wrong we were. In the eight months that have passed since the booking and until the moment we went on Board of the aircraft company “Aeroflot”, the world has changed irrevocably, and we still can’t figure out what it was.
For 32 days before polling day and 48 days until our departure to Saint Petersburg, the Ministry of internal security and the office of the Director of National intelligence issued a joint statement in which they expressed confidence that Russia attempted to influence the course of U.S. elections, tip the balance in favor of Donald trump. Today, the scale of the Russian intervention remains in question, and the attorney General Jeff sessions (Jeff Sessions) was another member of the team trump lied about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak held prior to the inauguration of the President. Earlier adviser to the President on national security issues, Michael Flynn (Michael Flynn) was forced to resign due to the fact that he also lied about his contacts with the Russians, having made themselves vulnerable to the attempted blackmail from Moscow.
In a file containing untested materials collected from trusted spy of British intelligence, there is evidence that the Kremlin is probably a lot more puppets than we think, perhaps even the President of the United States feeds the fear of the Russian intelligence community and its leader, President Vladimir Putin.
However, in late November, the American public had yet to know all the details of this scandal. Most Americans were still trying to get used to the phrase “President-elect Donald trump” in the same day, when Forrest and passed the customs control in Moscow and climbed aboard the old rattly plane traveling to St. Petersburg. Only when we began to exchange American dollars for colored Russian rubles at the airport, I experienced my first injection alien to Americans of guilt that reminded me of a story told by my father in 1973 when he traveled to East Germany at checkpoint Charlie, he was forced to put all the stamps of East Germany in a box with the inscription “Vietnam”.
But all my doubts were dispelled when in the early morning we entered the town, shrouded in fog. Saint-Petersburg! It is absolutely amazing the city has a Royal splendor and spirit that is not in any European country. This is a unique and distinctive city. Light fluffy snow swirled over its winding canals, accompanying us throughout our stay there. I felt as if I was inside a snow globe or a fairy tale. Even the abandoned buildings and dilapidated houses of the nineteenth century exuded the charm of magic easy to believe that they live frogs awaiting their transformation into princes, ugly ducklings to become swans.
Our American accent and completely incomprehensible Russian is also quickly acquired features of transformative magic. Every “thank you” and “Hello”, we said, pointed not only to the fact that we are tourists, but that we are Americans. For all the time we have not met one American tourist, though, when we got to a Museum or Church, I listened closely to the voices around.
Perhaps it is because of this I felt like a representative of the entire American nation. This led to one-sided embarrassment every time we engage in surrounding us with people from ordering coffee (Soviet-style with a fat sweet condensed milk) to a friendly doorman at our hotel. Any eye contact again and again raised in my mind a question I wanted to ask and didn’t want to ask them.
You tried to hurt us? We tried to hurt you?
On our first day of stay in Russia died Fidel Castro. We took this opportunity to go to a bar in the Communist style, dedicated to Fidel, which was located near the bar “USSR”.
The bartender at bar Fidel spoke no English, but he understood that we wanted to take the cocktail “Cuba Libre”, was very sweet. We sat at a table next to a group of young people around our age that are fun toasts were raised to the cube. Like most visitors of this bar, Forrest, were born almost immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Raising toasts to the Communist dictator with the Russians, who were early 20s, we did not feel the burden of a pretty terrible experience of the cold war and were free to indulge in nostalgia for Soviet times, not realizing the difficulties that accompanied that era.
A few days later, sitting in the restaurant for the steaks and a glass of Georgian wine, our Russian friend Katherine said that when she heard about the victory of Donald trump, she burst into tears. Katerina and her friends really wanted to permanently move to America with the help of a program grinkart, according to which every year the United States took about 2 thousand Russians — a very attractive prospect for young, educated and sociable people from St. Petersburg, which may be under threat because of the policies of trump.
But even Katerina and her friends recognized that it was very interesting to follow the elections in the United States from afar. For them, these elections were the first elections, which was dominated by the tension and the spirit of competition. When Forrest asked when Russia will hold the next election, there was an awkward pause. It turned out that, when your voice does not matter, it makes no sense to remember such details as the date for the next election. Putin is just a reality that we have to accept, kind of the Russian equivalent of the death or taxes.
Putin in Russia is everywhere and nowhere. Later, when Forrest took a night train to Moscow, we eventually went to a hotel, which, as it turned out, often stopping children trump engaged in business in the capital (we took advantage of seasonal discounts on accommodation). Luxury hotel national is situated directly opposite the Kremlin, and, wrapped in scarves on a crisp breeze, we went to Red square, and then watched the sunrise, the pink rays which illuminated the frozen walls of the former fortress. At some point, passing by the Kremlin Palace, I wondered how close I was from Putin. But honestly, unless there is in Russia such place, over which hangs, not the invisible presence of the omnipresent Putin?
On our last day in Russia, Katerina showed us the loft where we watched “Dr. Strangelove” on the wall of a coffee shop. Sipping a latte and listening to the dialogues in English is lost in the flow of Russian voice, I felt the irony that I’m watching a film about crazed American General Jack Ripper, who ordered a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.
Only at the airport in St. Petersburg, preparing to fly back to new York, we finally met our first fellow, Chinese teacher from Massachusetts, who managed to buy a fantastic accordion in an antique shop. “You talked to someone about Donald trump?” — immediately he asked us.
He explained that the taxi driver who drove him to the airport really wanted to talk about trump and elections. “I’m happy,’ said the taxi driver. Maybe now we will finally be able to mate.”
After returning to new York I think about Russia. When someone holds the door for me, I just wanted to say “thank you.” I was annoyed the new York subway trains, which in comparison with their Moscow equivalents seem very dirty. I miss intellectual conversations with St. Petersburg, which are characterized by dark humor and incredible wit. And when people ask me about my trip, I feel I can’t Express my emotions with words.
“Russia, — tell me of my interlocutors. Now this is quite an interesting choice.”
I usually say that I want to go there again, what are the causes of my interlocutors even more surprising. Because — while I personally didn’t feel it — such is the strange reality of travel: how can we blame “Russians” for interfering in our elections and at the same time, meeting my eyes with the waiter serving us coffee with fat milk, be aware that the question of malice seems to be as wild as General Jack Ripper?
At this point, there’s only one question, no matter if voiced or not, whether it is transmitted through the universal language of smiles and curious glances or not: can we still be friends?