Sunday May 12
Tom and Claire take us to airport (LAX). Meet Dennis Weaver and his wife Gerrie. As we’re talking, Greg H. comes up and introduces himself to Dennis and explains that he has not been able to get it together so the film will not be happening. (He and Rae A., a Hollywood producer, had been trying to put together a documentary film about the trip to be used to spread the message -- I had had some misgivings about the idea of the film in the first place, not knowing these people and how good they were, so I wasn’t at all displeased to learn in a phone conversation with Ron Mann a few nights earlier that it probably wouldn’t be happening -- evidently Dennis had not been told before this. Dennis is not pleased as he had put himself on the line with a number of people about the trip and in particular about the film, which was being hyped as “the first Soviet-American co-production”, and now found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain it away. Not an auspicious beginning, it seems to me. I certainly don’t understand why they hadn’t let Dennis know about the difficulties to offset just this possibility, but I don’t know any of these people and it isn’t my show, so I’ll just sit back and see what develops. As we are about to board, Shelley and I remember that we had forgotten to get toilet paper. (It had been recommended to us by a number of people as the Soviet paper, when it is available at all, is supposed to be worse than you used to get in Europe.) Oh well, we’ll rough it.
After we’ve said our goodbyes and gotten settled in the plane, one of the other delegates comes dashing in at the last minute and hands us a roll of toilet paper from one of the rest rooms at the airport, saying “This is from Tom and Claire.”
Arrive Seattle about 5:30 PM. Tickets and boarding passes at the Finnair counter won’t be available ‘til 7 PM so we grab a cab and head for a local store, hoping to find a transformer, which we had also forgotten. (Needed it to convert Soviet electricity to compatibility with ours for Shelley’s hair dryer and curlers.) Since it’s Sunday (and Mother’s Day) not much is open so we return to the airport with 2 bananas and eight rolls of toilet paper. No transformer.
Check in – nice woman knows MASH so gets us seats in business class. Move carry-on stuff to gate (through subway system not unlike the one in Atlanta) and it’s now 7:30 PM. Tickets say plane leaves at 9:50 and we don’t know any of the gathering crowd, so we decide to grab another cab into Seattle to find a health food restaurant. Two guys from the trip ask to come along (Tom, a very ESTian “photo-journalist” straight out of Tennessee Williams, and a young, bouncy doctor – Oncologist – named Mark.)
Cab to Seattle looking for Julie’s 14 Carrot Café. Closed. Cabbie recommends a place close by called the Lake Union Café, so we try that. Very nice place (but they make too much of a celebrity thing out of my being there – a bit embarrassing when you’re with people you don’t know.) Dinner is pretty good and they get us out of there in a hurry so we have plenty of time. Get to know Tom and Mark a little and head for the airport. Stroll casually into the front door near the ticket counter at about 9:10 or 9:15 – plenty of time – and the guy at the ticket counter comes running out and yells “Mr. Farrell, the plane is leaving! It’s gone!!” “It’s gone??!!” (How the hell could that be?) Then he says, “They’re holding it at the gate!” and off we race. “Call them”, I holler, as we run down the escalator and head for the subway. (How the hell could that be?!) Sure as hell, as we race up the stairs, the same nice woman who got us the business class seats is there, saying “It’s OK, we held it for you.” (Seems our tickets were printed wrong, the departure time was supposed to be 9:10.) So down the ramp we clatter (they had already loaded our carry-ons and everything) and make a very dramatic entrance. (Kind of exciting on the one hand. I’ve never had a plane held for me before. On the other hand, it’s embarrassing as shit!)
Anyway, we settle in. Find ourselves right behind the Weavers, so we have a chance to get a little more acquainted. Lots of people are curious as to what happened – why we were late – I’m sure some of them are doing the “Who do they think they are?” number – but all I can do is show them the ticket. Ron Mann (the psychologist who is the main organizer of the whole project – a very, very laid back guy [so benign you don’t exactly know if he’s real about it] with a soft voice and pale blue eyes) asks if our tickets had the wrong time on them. I say they did and apologize for the delay (even though it wasn’t my fault) and he just says, “No problem.”
The sun had set as we were driving toward the airport, so the sky is just barely light in the West as we take off. I guess it gets dark for a short time, but not for long. Over-the-pole route doesn’t give you much in the way of nighttime and you can see the sun coming up before dinner is served. Weird. Pleasant service on Finnair. Lousy sleeping in the seats.
Land in Finland at 4:30 PM their time (about 6:30 AM at home) with that cotton-mouthed, gravel-eyed feeling. We get bags and say a couple of hellos to some of our co-delegates. Some of the folks seem to know each other well. It’s hard to tell if we’re the only outsiders. Shel introduces me to Diana and Paul, a striking-looking pair. He’s tall, salt and pepper hair, neatly trimmed beard, cultured voice; she’s fairly tall as well, dark, short hair, looks a bit like Barbara Rush (as Shelley points out). They are authors of cook-books. (Don’t ask me what that has to do with being on this delegation – but then, what does being an actor have to do with anything?)
Get bags together and move out (not even a cursory customs check) toward buses. Dennis is greeted by the press and a number of fans. Evidently McCloud is quite popular here.
It’s hot. We’re told it’s the first spring day. Sitting in the bus for quite a while is awful, so I go around the back and play Hacky-Sack for a bit, to get the kinks out. (Hacky-Sack, a popular sport at the time, involves keeping a little bean-bag made to look like a soccer ball in the air without using the hands. Keeping it aloft with feet, knees, shoulders, head, etc., is the idea, and juggling it between two people or more is a lot of fun, plus good exercise.)
Off to Haiko Hotel. Finnish countryside looks a lot like Minnesota or Michigan (someone else says Ohio). Lots of trees (look like birch) and farmland. Wooden houses and barns (almost all have ladders up the sides that continue up to the peak of the roof. (Testament, I would guess, to the depth of the snow here in winter)). Guide tells us about the “White Nights” during the spring and summer months when there is almost no nighttime as we know it. Must be strange. The other half of the year, she says, can be very depressing.
Haiko Hotel is in a beautiful setting among the rolling hills, amid the trees on the coast of the Baltic Sea. (Though you don’t get much of a vista as this is some sort of inlet, rather than the open sea.) Seem to be friendly people. Two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Country has a history of being ruled alternately by Sweden and Russia. Country is known by Finns as Suomi.
Hotel has two parts – old Manor House with some rooms and the dining facilities – new hotel with pool, sauna, etc. We’re in the hotel – best described as utilitarian. Clean, spare. Plastic toilet seats, beds are essentially cots built-in, no wash-cloths (though you find that to be the case in a lot of countries), the shower is a water-gun on a tube that runs from the tub tap. Oh, how good we have it at home!
Shel stretches out for “just a second”. Poor thing slept not much on the plane and is out like a light. I take a bit of a walk down by the lake/sea and kick the hacky-sack some more. Walk and look around. Pretty place. It’s strange to have people stroll by speaking a foreign tongue. It’s hard to believe we’re actually here.
Flutter of wings above and I watch a bird chase another off a limb. Stand and watch for a while and see a knothole which the bird (must be a momma) is guarding. Pretty soon she sticks her head inside the hole. As I watch, she disappears entirely. The old bird-eating tree trick.
Go get Shel up and walk down to the Manor for dinner. It’s a large, splendid old place with a lot of wood, high ceilings and a sense of history about it.
Name-tags are passed out. Shelley is spelled Shelly, natch. Also get our visas and then sit at one of a number of long tables with some of the group to have dinner and “get to know one another.”
Shel, on my left, is talking to a guy across and at the end named Jim, who is a sort of type-type who talks an awful lot about “Unconditional Love”. He has designed a button with a logo that he says means “unconditional love” and is passing them around for us to give out on the trip (give me a break!). He has also designed one that’s supposed to mean “I Love” in Russian. He has those for us too (cringe). Across from Shel is Dulcie, a make-up woman. She seems OK. Across from me is Doris, a “spiritual counselor” – God talks through her, she doesn’t know where the information comes from. Next to her is a youngish man who is an ND (Naturopathic Doctor). He seems bright, sturdy and sincere. There is a young woman next to him and I don’t hear much from her. Across from her (end of table on my right) is a woman in her 60’s or 70’s who is a Freudian psychoanalyst. Born in Russia, speaks the language fluently. Her name is Nina – says don’t drink the water in Leningrad, don’t use it to brush your teeth and don’t even use it to wash your face (What does one do, I wonder?). She seems tough. Maybe that’s my fear of shrinks or an anti-Freudian bias. Next to her (between us) is Angeline (not pronounced ine or een, but in – An-gel-in)(All together now.) Same age as Nina, maybe older. Says she talked to the Raj Neesh girl on the plane who says Armageddon is on its way, inevitable. Says Barbara Marx Hubbard (also on trip. A “futurist” who ran for vice-president and had her name put into nomination at the Democratic Convention. Talks about fact that we are at “the next step of evolution”, “higher consciousness”, friend of Buckminster Fuller) says it’ll never happen. What do I think? (Huh?) Later she talks about Osteopaths. Says they are the greatest. Describes a healing she knows of personally that was nearly miraculous. Naturopath (whose name is Bill) listens silently, as does Nina. At the end of the discussion, Bill says he’d like to talk to her more about it. Seems nice.
The Spiritual Counselor says she wasn’t planning on coming on the trip. A friend asked her to come to the press conference. “What happened there?” “I don’t know,” she says, “I just couldn’t stop crying.” “About what?” “All that love.” (that’s what she said, I swear it) About the tour, she said, “We are a love bomb.” Said it twice as a matter of fact.
Now I’m trying hard to be straight, open and not cynical. This isn’t making it any easier.
On my left Shel is telling these folks about how we met and got together. Some career talk. She’s amazing. Someone talks for a bit about how much warmth she radiates. (Well, obviously these people do have some sensitivity).
Walking back to the room we talk about what we’ve gotten into. She says that at different times she knew if we made eye contact it was all over.
Dinner wasn’t bad. Spare. Vegetarian menu offered. I took. Home-made beer offered which I didn’t. Veal (I think) also offered. Shel took both (Pig). Didn’t finish (tsk tsk)
9 PM is a “Plenary Meeting” (What the hell is that?) One of the guys we saw at dinner – long hair, baggy pants, funny hat – looked sort of like a hippie/clown – name is Patch – greets all at door to the meeting room wearing a big rubber nose (!!?). We sit and hear from Ron Mann and a woman named Rama, who is our other leader. (She is a yoga teacher and self-professed grandmother. She looks young and good so I suspect that’s why she tells everyone she’s a grandmother). They introduce the staff and talk for a while about this tour being “a year in the making” and that “the schedule is in transition” (which means don’t blame us for the fuck-ups) and a lot about “be open” or keep “an open heart”.
Group seems to be made up primarily of Unity Church people, some yoga people (which may be the same thing, I don’t know) and some sort of “New Age” psychology organization. (What are we doing here?) Be open.
After talk about tomorrow’s schedule (starting with a 6 AM meditation session – which I’ll manage to miss) our itinerant troubadour from dinner and a woman who sat across from him sing a song about spreading seeds of love and freedom and crap like that. His voice and style is OK, her voice is terrific.
All of this stuff on all these people’s part seems to be well intended if a bit presumptuous, forced and over-sincere. (But then, maybe it’s because we’re new to it.)
Patricia (big blonde woman, looks like she stepped out of a milk-maid ad or out of a fjord somewhere – great big smile) is introduced. She is a healer (a lot of these people seem to be) and talks about how much energy she creates around her and then she creates some energy. (Process involves closing our eyes and “letting go”) Then she asked if anyone didn’t “get it”. Says “Come on now, be honest.” Woman in front raises her hand (brave thing to do). Patricia says “Good for you!” and asks her what happened. Woman says she just “got sleepy”. Patricia says that’s the way it works sometimes. (Well, then it sure worked for me.) She then has us all close our eyes while she leads a quick-fix-meditation and makes some sounds that, she says, link the right and left brain. The sounds (kind of an ooooooo) go on for quite a while. I sure go somewhere.
Interesting that in an individual one-on-one some of these folks might be very neat, interesting and easier to take.
After some more talk a pile of “very special” crystals, which have been prayed over and blessed and filled with all sorts of good vibes, are put out on a table and we’re asked to line up and file by the table and take one (whichever one feels right – make a heart connection) to take into Russia and give to someone you feel moved to give it to. The whole thing has a very religiously ritualistic flavor to it.
So to bed.
Tuesday May 14
Up at 6:30. Walk out the kinks. Breakfast at 8:30. Good. Patch is there, his nose in place wearing another outlandish get-up. What his story is, we don’t know, but if some of these people are space cadets this guy is on Jupiter.
Heard one of the people talking about having been aboard a nuclear sub when he was 21 – now probably in his 40’s. Said the experience of being there (off the coast of the Soviet Union) and told they would be ordered to fire only if the US had been attacked left him feeling rootless and helpless. Said, “What would be the use? We’d have no homes to go back to?”
9:30 Press conference is cancelled. Again. (Supposed to be last night.) We walked a bit this AM with Dennis and Gerrie Weaver. As it turns out, they don’t know much more about the group than we do. They seem to be very sweet, simple people. I know he’s involved with meditation and the Self Realization Fellowship church (he’s listed in some of the literature for the tour as a minister, I think). Gerrie says she’s worried that the whole tour will fall apart because it’s so flaky and indefinite. She tells us that Patch, the clown, is in fact a doctor who treats bulimics and others through laughter. (I haven’t laughed yet.)
10 AM meeting opens with another offering from the troubadour and the woman (whose name is Fern – has the voice of an angel). Still feels pushed to me, though many obviously don’t agree. Maybe some of them are just going along. We’ll see. (The fact that most of them seem to know the song tells me something.)
Rama says we’ll start off with some comedy – from guess who? She goes on to tell that during pre-trip negotiations with Soviets she had to ask for their permission to have Patch put on his gorilla suit and run around Red Square. Guy on other end of negotiations said he’d be shot. (Turns out that was the idea of the moviemaker. I also heard another of his bright ideas, that Shelley and I repeat our marriage vows in Red Square. Seems to be better and better that the movie didn’t work out – they’d have one dead hustler on their hands by now.)
Patch turns out to be a delight. He goes around giving lectures on “How to be a nutty doctor”. He’s trying to raise money for a free hospital in D.C. Uses his home now. He and Linda, his wife (bright, pretty, seems very straight), have patients and their families live in their house with them and don’t charge anyone for anything. Sort of a communal affair where people do chores or bring food or whatever as payment. He does a wonderfully nutty few minutes and then tops it off with a take-off on the crystal number last night that endears him to me forever. Puts a pile of rubber noses on the same table and asks people to come up and get them (“just take one that you have a nose connection with”) and says they should use a funny walk when they do. Great!!
Next we meet Boyd, a sharp, entrepreneur/hustler who is the controlling force behind the Day Runner & Running Mate, appointment book/personal organizer things. (Shel says they are very good and very popular.) Boyd’s rap is that “Personal power and information are the two things which, if taken away from an individual, produce paranoia, weakness and insecurity”. The organizer fixes that. His company had a bunch made up for this trip in Russian – one for each of us to distribute “to our counterpart”. Looks to be an impressive book. Boyd goes on – the ability to “take notes relieves the pressure of having to remember. Once freed of the need to remember, the mind is open to inspiration.”
Boyd sounds very EST – even looks very EST – runs down his success story. He then introduces his Communications Facilitator, Dino (the guy who brought the toilet paper onto the plane from Tom and Claire). Dino turns the meeting into an EST session, expressing his feelings about the cancellation of the film and encouraging/bullying everyone else to get “clear” about it. It’s presumptuous as hell, it seems to me, but, again, this isn’t my show and maybe this is the way Ron Mann wants it to be. With Dino’s encouragement, lots of stuff comes up from different members of the group about “taking personal responsibility” for getting out the word in view of the loss of the film. As is always the case in these kinds of sessions wherein people “share” their feelings, some of it is incredibly self-indulgent bullshit, some thoughtful, heartfelt concern, some silly games. One woman, Gretchen (a singer) spent a lot of time in woeful self-indulgence, going all over the place (she’s clearly not in good emotional shape) and finally getting to the point of singing her “hit” – “Come Softly to Me.” It was incredible. And incredibly sad. (Shel passed me a note, saying, “Don’t you just wish Bonnie [our friend] were here to hear this?”)
Upshot of the whole process, it seems to me, is to underscore the naiveté of the group, their desire/need for this whole thing to be OK, and the inefficiency (despite the good intentions) of the leadership.
Lunch is in a different, smaller dining room in the Manor. Sat with the spiritual advisor again, also three other women, two older, one younger, who are all shrinks. One, mother of six, interior designer, was inspired by a therapist, went back to school and changed her career. Now working with a Jungian sand-sculpturing technique that sounds interesting.
Younger woman therapist works, she says, mostly with airline employees.
Bus to Helsinki. Stop at a beautiful Rock Church, built into the side of a hill. Very impressive natural stone walls. Low key, very little religious décor, simple altar. 800 Seat capacity. A lot of copper (organ pipes, ceiling) to offset the stone. Very neat. Have a sort of service for just our group. Interesting.
Two young people get up and lead (after teaching us a song) a round. He is an officious type. Sort of a cross between an ex-Peace Corps volunteer and Nazi Youth. Something about his manner sets my teeth on edge. Name is Peter. The woman is a Swami (I didn’t even know there were women swamis – what do I know) who is American born, has red hair and is never without her caste mark and her sari, or whatever you call that dress thing.
Then Swami Sachidananda, who I think of as a real swami and who just joined us this AM, gets up and leads us in some mantra stuff. (God, the things I’m gonna know when I get back from this trip!) His thing is pretty much OK too, there is just an awful lot of “being holy” associated with this trip.
Interesting note – Patricia’s name was on the schedule to do her thing here, too, but because of time constraints (some of the more worldly of us wanted to walk around Helsinki and maybe even shop a little) Ron Mann talked to her and although I didn’t hear the words it appeared that he was suggesting she do her routine another time and place. Anyway, after the Swami was done, Lori (one of the staff) got up and suggested that we split, it was over. Some of us started toward the rear of the church and then Patricia got up in front and let it be known that she wanted to do her number. Some, of course, said, “Oh yes! Do!” So back everyone went and she did her sounds again to heal us or connect our right and left brains or whatever. I couldn’t help but feel that we were being treated to a little display of spiritual egotism, or at least a bit of a turf struggle. (Now, in fairness, I could have just kept walking, but I was afraid someone would turn me into a pillar of salt.) So Patricia did her sounds and I’m afraid that in spite of the smiles and the good grace and the warmth and charm it seemed a bit self-involved to me.
Now, naturally, when she finished her stuff and before any of us could move, another voice is raised in song. Praise the Lord! It’s Gretchen (Miss “Come Softly”) who now has to get into the act. Lordy, Lordy how the spirit does move some of these folk! (Interesting to see the ego contests set up in this situation.) When she finally finished (it was a long one) we went outside.
The bus was set to take us to the Presidenti Hotel and from there we were free ‘til 5 PM. Shel and I decided to walk from the church.
Helsinki is a sort of drab city. Not much color. We bought an ice cream cone and fed some pigeons and did some people-watching after trying unsuccessfully to find a converter here. We get back to the Presidenti before a lot of them, so while waiting we have a chance to talk to Patch and his wife. Very interesting people. Talked a lot about medical ethics and why they made the choice they did. His hopes and dreams. Seems to be a good guy, if a bit bizarre, with his clothes and nose attracting stares from everyone.
Bus takes us to pier and we board a harbor boat for a trip to an island where there is an old fortress which has been converted into a restaurant (called Valhalla). On the boat ride one of the women asked Shel what she thought of the group and if she found any of it off-putting. Shel was pretty straight with her, but in her special way was able to be so and still not offend.
The fort was impressive. Thick walls and battlements. Tunnels. Inside are heavy brick arched walls, deep windows. Very reminiscent of the catacombs. Good meal, too. Sat across from David (young guy, teacher, soft-spoken, looks about 15, thinks of himself as a Peace Pilgrim-type – goes around lecturing and talking to people) who is having physical problems. Seems, in his low-key way, to be a very anxious guy. He and Patch and Linda (Mrs. Patch) ask me about Central America a bit. Another interesting new face has just joined the group. She’s a neuro-psychotherapist (works with brain damaged).
Two talks after dinner from people not with the group who are big in the Peace Movement, active in trying to reduce the level of tensions. Man is leader of a movement called (?) Netocis (?) can’t think of the word – about bringing together the scientific and spiritual worlds. Group formed by an astronaut who had a psychic/religious experience on the way back from the moon. (Was it Schweichart?) Woman left professional world (was a nurse) and now devotes herself to leading tours of “grass roots diplomats” to the USSR. Spoke of the country and the people with great respect and gave some pretty good tips on what to expect, what to do and not do. (Don’t tip, give them some respect, don’t push, etc.)
A bit of hacky-sack with a guy from the tour while others are finishing dinner. Back on the boat by 9 PM (sun still bright in the sky). Bus back to hotel and to bed.
Wednesday May 15
Up at 6:30 and off to breakfast (alone as Shel washes her hair). Walk on the beach and hacky-sack a bit. Sure is fun.
9:30 Press conference. Fairly simple. They were mostly interested in Dennis. Ron made a short statement. Took pictures of the Swami. One of the reporters asked me about Central America after some prodding by Rama. Says Daniel Ortega is coming here tomorrow (trying to clean up after the mess he made by going to Moscow right after the vote). Also says Robert McNamara is in Leningrad now and will be going to Moscow about the same time we do.
10 AM Plenary Session – starts off with a man (Michael) showing a flag he designed for us to present to the Soviet Peace Commission. US & Soviet flags united by the Scandinavian Peace Knot. He then spoke for a while about Russian history. Very interesting perspective. Says today’s methods, traditions and styles have historic precedent and are seen incorrectly if ascribed to Soviet, or Communist, training. Says the Tatar invasion and occupation and subsequent invasions and occupations obscured both the Renaissance and the Reformation – that there effectively was none in Russia. Relationship with Greek Orthodox Church added to a separation from the Western traditions. Says Poles treated the Russians very badly over many years and that bears heavily on the situation of Russia vis-à-vis Poland today.
Susan (attractive blonde artist – quiet, seems nice) shows an oil painting she did which will be presented by the delegation. Wants us all to sign it. It’s very modern, very symbolic. Not my kind of thing.
Rama tells of her experience in USSR. Warnings as to how to behave (if women wear tight pants they’ll think they’re hookers). Don’t be pushy. Play down New Age jargon (thank God). An awful lot of condescension, it seems to me, in the attitudes being expressed here. Especially (I hope I’m not giving away any latent hostilities) by Rama. Much talk of “higher consciousness” and being “non-judgmental”. Urg.
Bad scene. Barbara Marx Hubbard got up and suggested that we form some sort of sub-groups that can meet every night and tune in the higher consciousness and support “our” intention. Dennis, bless him, got up and objected that it felt to him as though some people, who might not be in total agreement with all these suppositions, were being pressured into something they weren’t here for. Barbara quickly retreated from her position and Rama made noises about no one being pressured. Ron Mann then asked if there was anyone who felt that way and Shelley and I and a few others indicated that that was the case with us.
Well then, let’s all get up and have a movement and dance session! That’ll fix everything. Everyone is invited to come into the back of the room and take part in a movement/dance/therapy thing. We opted out, but certainly felt separated from the rest of the group as a result of it.
So off to Porvoo. Great recreation! Took a bus to the local town and walked around. Bought a couple of ties (forgot to bring one). Shel sees a tie on the rack – bright chartreuse with a Mickey Mouse face on it – perfect for Patch, so we get it, too. Then, sweet thing that she is, Shel spots a health food store. We go in and a young woman directs us to a natural food restaurant! A bonanza! Have to walk up a part-dirt, part-cobblestone street to get there – kind of like walking through the last century – and we find this wonderful place with herbed soup and vegetable salads and great bread – and we’re the only ones there. Neat meal! Stroll back into town, miss the 4 PM bus back to Haiko, so catch a cab after picking up two copies of the local paper with Dennis’ picture on them.
Back at the hotel we knock on the Weaver’s door to give them the papers – they invite us in and we talk for a bit about the state of things – turns out Gerrie is worried that we blame them for getting us involved in this (I had called Dennis a few weeks before and asked him what he knew about the group) so we assured her that we were big kids and made our own decision, so not to worry. She’s really a very sweet mother hen.
Dennis, as low keyed as he is, is clearly hot about the way things are going. Says he’s “up to here” with all the EST dialogue and the “New Age” jargon and the programming and the horse manure.
5 PM – Dress up for champagne reception with the Finnish Peace Society. Meet the president, Dr. Ole Was-Hockert, who is a member of Parliament and founder of International Physicians to Prevent Nuclear War. Hard to tell much in a few minutes of conversation, but he seemed terribly full of himself and his “accomplishments”. Said he had refused, that day, to sign a document on the floor of Parliament opposing the US blockade of Nicaragua. I asked why and he said that Reagan could make things uncomfortable. My, such raw courage.
Gave Patch the tie we had found. He was really touched – took off the one he was wearing right there and put it on. Loved it.
In to dinner with Peace Committee. My sense of resentment toward some of these folks seems to be growing. Talked to Larry, one of the staffers who seems to be an OK guy, about a need for some clarity of purpose for the group. He seemed to agree. Told him about the rumor I had heard about Shel and I re-doing our marriage vows in Red Square – he knew nothing of it – told him that that was the kind of thoughtless thing that could do great harm to me at home and I wanted to know where it started and how and why.
We found a seat and Gary (artist/businessman who goes with Patricia – seems real straight and has a crisp sense of humor) comes up to say that Rama had dispatched him to ask us to sit at the “head table” with the Weavers, herself, Ron, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Swami Sachidananda (who seems neat), Patricia and Gary, Dr. Was-Hockert and one of his colleagues. It seemed inappropriate and elitist, especially since we had already started conversations with some of the people at our table, so we said no thanks. (It’s going to be some great trip if they start doing that kind of social layering crap.)
Interesting dinner. Woman, member of Finnish “Journalists for Peace” sat with us. There was some conversation about journalistic objectivity being compromised by membership in the organization – she didn’t seem concerned – I said I thought US journalists would avoid that type of commitment. Also at table, Gretchen (“Come Softly”), a woman named Judy (psychologist from Denver, seemed bright and neat), and the woman swami who was one of the song leaders at the Church of the Rock (says she had spiritual inclination all her life, put down by family, most regular religions didn’t satisfy, she found this and made necessary commitments to become swami – something like “poverty, chastity and obedience” but not quite that). We talked politics most of the evening. (I think I was right in my concern about the naiveté of this group.) Judy is the only one who demonstrated any political sensitivity. I expressed my concern about people being snowed by a lot of what they see and hear if they aren’t willing/able to ask probing questions. Gretchen says that her philosophy is “To know is to understand, to understand is to love.”
Speeches – Swami Sach did a kind of opening blessing that was great. He talked about being open to different approaches to dealing with problems – directly addressing the baloney that’s being going on here with the “one way” attitude – and he did it very subtly.
Dr. Was – Spoke interminably. Lousy speaker. Took a shot at the “leftists” in France being responsible for the last nuclear test.
Barbara Marx Hubbard – very “New Age”. I was not impressed, but am by now prejudiced.
Michelle – (Woman story teller – has been in Russia before) told some stories (she does this for groups of children around the world). It was fine and actually kind of fun. Then she read a letter from kids in the U.S. about peace and did what seemed to me to be a very fake emotional/dramatic number at the end.
Off to bed – the sun is mostly down as we head back at 11:30 or 12.
Thursday May 16
Up at 5 AM – can’t sleep. Shower and go down and call the kids. 7 AM here, 9 PM last night there (weird). Breakfast and pack. Meeting, mostly logistics, and off on bus to Helsinki for train to Leningrad. (The big R.) Some confusion at the train station as to which car and how many per compartment. Compartments are very small and have bunk beds in them that take up most of the room. We’re first told that we’re supposed to be four to a compartment, which is going to be a very uncomfortable and very tight ride. Then it’s determined it is in fact two to a compartment (whew!). Off we go.
Had a couple of hours before crossing the border and had been told to be very careful about the stuff you bring across, as they check very closely. (Last night we had all met after dinner in one of the rooms and each taken a few items that different people had brought large numbers of. Idea was that if one person was to try to bring in a lot of a certain item it might bug them more than if each of us brought in a little of it. Kind of items reflected much on the people on the trip – dolls, little toys, pictures of Jesus, more crystals, tapes (of “Come Softly to Me”), records (“We Are The World”), little elastic do-jiggers with fluffy colored balls on them (for little girls to tie up pony tails with), more dolls (made by a church group – each having a little personal message included), art work, books, and lots and lots of religious material – mostly connected with yoga or New Age kinds of concerns.)
Before (or because of) worrying about the border I wanted to get the group of psychologists together (we had been divided into groups by profession or personal interest, each with a staff member as group leader or coordinator). It involved searching up and down six cars for the leader, Phyllis (dark hair, bright smile, a periodic glassy stare which had me confused as to who she was), and then going with her to get all seven or eight of the others together. That accomplished, I told them all about Anatoly Koryagin, an Amnesty International case considered an “Urgent Action” matter because of fear for his life. Koryagin is a psychiatrist who formed an investigative group in Moscow to probe charges of Soviet abuse of psychiatric hospitalization and treatment for political purposes. He had interviewed sixteen people who the Soviets had charged were mentally ill and wanted to hospitalize for “anti-Soviet activities” and had found them all to be totally sane. He was subsequently put into a psychiatric hospital himself, with the same charge, and is now considered to be in critical condition as a result of a hunger strike he had gone on to protest brutal treatment and poor conditions. He had reportedly been force-fed and beaten.
With all of them gathered in one small compartment and me standing at the door I kind of had them at my mercy when I ran it all down. I really had no idea how they would respond, but the AI people had asked me to try, so why not? To their credit, they all seemed interested. Some didn’t know what Amnesty International was, so I explained, and in doing so got an assist from a quarter I really didn’t expect it from. Nina, the Russian-born Freudian, expressed her strong support for Amnesty and her agreement with the idea that they should check into it. It was kind of a neat feeling – plotting together as we raced across the Finnish countryside toward the Soviet border. They even asked if they could hang onto some of the printed information I had on Koryagin and a couple of other cases. After urging them to get rid of it before the border, I went back to our compartment.
Shel and I have a good talk with Ron Mann about the set-up for the trip, his disappointment with the way the whole film thing was mishandled and the general stress involved with being responsible for this kind of a thing. We tell him of our concern about the “marriage vow” rumor and he claims no knowledge of it. Suggests I talk to Rama. He seems a good guy. Very level and easy. A little studied, perhaps, in his easiness, but I have a sense that he tells the truth even when it’s difficult to do so.
Later, Ron asks if he can do an interview with me on the Swami’s tape set-up (he’s doing a number of them with members of the group). It gives me a chance to make some of the points I’ve been expressing to Shel about my fear that people with the kinds of naiveté shown here can be very manipulated and misused in a situation like this. He doesn’t seem to be offended by what I have to say and even indicates a kind of agreement, which pleases me a little, even as it surprises me. We also get into a discussion about the concept of Karma. Peter (the officious Peace Corps/Nazi Youth type) had made a comment at one of the “Plenary Sessions” about “these people” having made a karmic choice to be in the situation they are in (referring to the Soviets). The pomposity of that position infuriates me and, again to my surprise, Ron agrees with me – saying that it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the idea of karma. So, I get the idea that while we may play a somewhat different game, we seem to play by the same rules. Interesting.
Swami Sachidananda’s tape set-up is going to be Godsend, I think. If handled well, it can provide the record of this trip that the documentary might have provided, but do so without the nonsense that the filmmakers would have inserted. The camera is run by the young woman (whom Patch calls Swamiette [but he got it from Shelly!]) who is the Swami’s personal assistant (as best I can get it) and she has occasional help from a young guy named Jim (Yoga teacher from Denver) whom the Swami has labeled Vishnu (evidently a compliment to those who speak Swami) and the name has stuck.
One last stop in Finland. All get off and get snacks and drinks (bottled water to ward off the dreaded Leningrad Leap). Much excitement and nervousness about going through the customs check at the border. Nervous laughter and jokes and rumors abound.
Back on the train we go over our declaration forms once more (you have to declare all currency, traveler’s checks and foreign currency [if any] you’re bringing in). Shel has had to change her form a number of times because of changing money and shopping in Finland – I’m worried about whether or not to declare the $250 that David R. has asked me to give to his friend B. (interesting that I’m even reluctant to put their full names down here, but you never know where this will end up). If I don’t declare it and they find it I’m not sure what they’ll do. If I do declare it, how do I explain where it went when I come out? Oh well, I decide to declare it. Another concern is the note to B., and the name and address. Shelley also has some names and numbers of people to contact and we’ve been told to separate them, write them down somewhere in code and/or hide them. If they are discovered it’s no particular problem for us, as I understand it, but might be for the people in question.
A U.S. Marine diplomatic courier has a compartment in our car and is giving a group of people a run-down on what to expect, how life is in Leningrad, etc. when the train stops. We’re all standing in the corridor when the customs police appear at the end. There is a loud word spoken, or noise made, and they head down the corridor toward us, herding people into their compartments, slamming the doors after them. It’s quick, efficient, intimidating as hell and very cold. And suddenly we’re alone in our compartment, cut off from everyone else, and it’s very quiet – unnerving as you wait, which is probably the intended effect. After we stew for a while, and I find myself wondering if the door is locked, there is a knock and I open it (not locked) to find a smiling young uniformed woman who asks for our passports and visas. She takes them with her and a guy on her heels comes in, lifts up the seat (bottom bunk) and checks the storage compartment underneath – looks behind the curtain in the shallow recess where things are hung (obviously to see if there is anyone being hidden in either place). A crew passes outside the window, checking the undercarriage of the train, and as the train moves slowly forward, another crew of soldiers, standing on an overpass, checks the top. You sure get a sense of tight control.
After another wait a guy comes to the door and asks to see the dreaded customs declaration forms. He insists we put our wedding rings and all gold and jewelry on it. He leaves and there’s more wait. Guy comes back and asks us if we have any books. Shel shows him some of the paperbacks she has. “All novels?” “Yes,” she says, “Except the Bible” and shows him that. “Only one Bible?” “Yes.” To me, “You have a Bible?” “Nope.” (They clearly don’t want people passing around extra Bibles.) More questions on gifts “Yes, we have a couple of pens and a doll”, (Gulp, we have a pot full of stuff) printed material (“Well, sir, I have this interesting information from Amnesty International and some U.S. anti-nuke stuff here…” I wonder how that would go over) magazines? As a matter of fact, a Newsweek with Gorbachev on the cover is sitting in plain sight in my purse, so I point at it and he wants to see it – looks it over and says to leave it open on the table top for “Border Control”, which I take to mean that someone else is going to come to see us. “Anything else to declare? Gifts?” (Rama had suggested the gifts saying that the Russian people were very generous and that we should expect to get little things from them as an expression of thanks for our visit – postcards, pins, etc. And that we might want to respond in kind – certainly not with money, which they would find insulting, and not to over-do. Well, of course, everyone had over-done, resulting in the frenzy the night before and the load of crap in our bags. I had even thought to stick a couple of extra hacky-sacks in my bag. But with all this emphasis on gifts, I kind of wished we hadn’t all been so generous.) Again, “Some buttons, a couple of pens and a doll.” (Goddam doll was a giant!) “How many of each?” Shel and I look at each other, shrug (when in doubt, lie) “Oh, three or four.” “Anything else?” A little (very little) shake of the head. He looks at us for a second, shrugs and says “Thank you” and goes.
God. Can that be it? He didn’t even open our bags! And am I glad! The more he asked us the deeper we dug ourselves in! Then I remember what he had said about leaving the magazine on the tabletop for “Border Control” and have the depressing thought that there is a whole other team to come. After another long wait (during which I can’t stand it and open the door and peek out into the corridor, seeing nothing but the guy going into a compartment down the way) another woman appears and gives back our passports and visas and we’re in!
After a short time, the train comes to a stop in a small town. We have been watching Russia go by out the windows (like a poorer version of Finland so far) and comparing border stories (Vishnu had so much spiritual reading material with him that the guy evidently sent for higher-ups and took a bunch of stuff with him when he got off – if they got off, come to think of it, we never stopped!). No one else that we talked to in our car seemed to have had much trouble.
As we step down in Russia for the first time, it feels a bit tentative. We’re not sure everything is clear from the border check, but we think so.
Looking around, we are in a small city with many old and damaged-looking buildings. A giant picture of Lenin has been painted on the side of one of them. We had been told that the Soviets don’t want people taking pictures of their railway facilities, so we set up Patch, who attracts attention wherever he goes, and Swami Sach, who is no slouch in that department, and take pictures of them, just by accident getting a few shots of the big Lenin picture in the background.
Back on the train a real goose-stepper comes down the corridor. Older man than the others we’ve seen, probably their superior. Goes by us, thank the Lord, and into Vishnu and Ron Mann’s compartment. Seems they returned all of Vishnu’s books and took a stack of them from Ron. (He said they probably just didn’t want to leave empty handed.)
As the train pulls out again some of the tension is eased. Shel goes up to the dining car for a drink with some of the folks and I nap until we pull into the Leningrad yards. When up I hear of some of the stories the Marine has been telling of life in Leningrad. He’s allowed no contact whatsoever with Soviets – only wears uniform in embassy, civvies elsewhere – had had a buddy set up and attacked by KGB (?) earlier this year – says there is a display in a local museum describing Marines as “molesters of young girls who have to kill a friend or family member in order to be able to join.” (How much of this is true is open to speculation – Ron had been there when the incident with the Marine occurred – it was reported he was drunk – this guy says his buddy doesn’t drink - ??)
Arrive Leningrad 8:30 or 9 PM – still full light. All smiles, we get our bags out, meet our Intourist Guides: two young women, fairly attractive, speak excellent English. (Intourist is the Soviet organization that handles all tours and tourists to USSR. Assumption is that they are Intelligence agents [or, if that’s an overstatement, certainly Intelligence sources] who will give information that is strictly Party Line, but then, what would you expect?) They are certainly helpful. One of the women left some paintings she wants to present somewhere on the train – the guide dashed back with her and chased all over trying to find them. They didn’t, as I understand it, but will make arrangements to have them found and delivered.
Onto the buses and off through the city of Leningrad. 4.5 million people. Built by Peter the Great on a swampy area in the north to ward off attacks by the Swedes. City built on “the blood and bones of Russian peasants” – over 100,000 died during the construction period. Sixty-five rivers and canals run through and every year (in the fall) it has flooding problems. Because of the canals it’s called “the Venice of the east” (by somebody). Typical middle-European city – architecture kind of thick, massive, imposing, but to my eye not particularly attractive. Not much color, from this first look. Seems drab. Everything is of stone and done in what is known as Russian Traditional or Russian Classic. But the city is full of history. Leningradians (Leningradniks?) consider this to be the cultural center of the Soviet Union. There is much theater here, and museums around every corner, it seems. Dostoyevsky, Lenin, czars, Pushkin… Every other building has some grand historical significance and you begin to get (by osmosis) some appreciation of its place in history. (Interesting connection to Michael’s lecture – from Tatar invasion of 12th or 13th century through Czarist rule and alignment with Byzantine Greek Orthodox Church [sent emissaries to the four great religious traditions, Jewish, Islam, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic – Jewish was foreign, clannish – Islam didn’t allow drinking – Roman priest had his back to the people and spoke a dead language no-one could understand – so they chose Greek Orthodox] plus no exposure to the Reformation and the Renaissance. Nine-month period after the original revolution of February 1917, the Kerensky government [parliamentary] was the only representative government in the history of the nation. Bolshevik revolution on October 1917 over-threw that one.)
There is much talk here of World War II and the 20 million Russians who died. One can almost not overstate the significance of it as a deeply felt tragedy that touches every life. It is especially remembered here because of the Siege of Leningrad by Hitler’s forces for 900 days (almost three years). Over one million people from this city died during that period alone – at one point 40,000 per day were dying, many of starvation. They say there is not a family in the city today that didn’t lose loved ones during that time.
We arrive at the hotel and check in. Hotel Pulkovskaya (new looking, clean, pleasant – holds 1500 people) is an Intourist Hotel, natch. Directly across from Victory Square (Big monument we’ll visit later). Larger room than in Finland. Same cot-style beds. Lousy, thin, rough toilet paper, but at least there is some. Porter brings bags (no tipping please). Assume the room is bugged, but for what reason is a question. (Also, what kind of manpower necessary to handle such a feat? We’ve been told that if we have numbers of people in either city to call, or meet someone on the street that you want to call later, don’t do it from the hotel – that will cause trouble for them later. Use pay phones on the street. Paranoia?)
Hang out stuff and go down to dinner. Nice enough restaurant. Sort of peremptory service. Lousy, unimaginative food. Since we’ve been warned against the Leningrad water (even by our Finnish guide in Helsinki, who says it’s got some amoeba) we are tempted to try the bottled water, but even that is lousy. Sulphurous. At dinner we sit with four women from the tour (One is Morrine, a sweet, pretty housewife who is trying for some independence for the first time – later becomes a pal of Shelley’s – another is Dulcie, the make-up lady – the other two have names but I never get them clear) who were in another car on the train and had an awful time at the border. They were terrified by the guard and said the guy went crazy with all the religious paraphernalia they had in their bags. Tore stuff out of their bags and confiscated it all – took heaps of stuff from them, all the presents – even threatened to send one of them back. Sounds like a real putz. And it was clearly a scary experience for them. We don’t know (or didn’t know) how lucky we were.
Evidently one of the guys, Alan, wrote up some sort of religious/philosophical tract with a Russian translation included that really pissed them off, so they came steaming into compartment after compartment looking for his stuff and then branched out into a tirade against gifts in general. Interesting that the ones who seem to have gotten the most heat were the women, particularly women alone. Anyway, the stories were upsetting, but they all seem to have come through OK.
Curious experience to be sitting where we are in a modern, fairly nice hotel in Russia, having been treated courteously in every way and hear these stories. Kind of schizzy.
A rock group begins performing and a bunch of people dance, including some of our group. No one seems to find it peculiar here to see men dancing together – women too. Interesting.
To bed for us.
Friday May 17
Slept ‘til the 7:30 alarm, which is new for me. Meet downstairs for breakfast at 8:30 and are off for the city tour. Helen, our guide (kind of cute, I tease Shelley) is incredibly knowledgeable. Tells of city, history, architecture, customs, habits. She points out directions and Metro stops for our “free time” which answers a question many have had. Can we go anywhere on our own? No problem, apparently. She points out many cathedrals (most of which have been turned into museums) statues, monuments. Surprising how much of it all is pre-revolutionary. (Actually almost all.) (Well, a lot.) Admiralty Building is a famous sight – gold dome and spire was a particularly hated symbol and target for the Germans. During the Siege they had one big gun trained on it that lobbed a shell every two minutes all day long. There is much talk of “restoration.” Buildings damaged during the war or any other time (mostly war) are being, or have been, restored to original specifications. Again, pride in and sense of history seem to predominate. Helen pointed out many apartment buildings that she says are modernized inside while being maintained in the old style outside. (Makes me want to look inside.) We stop at a point on a bridge over the Neva to look around and take pictures. The Winter Palace complex across from us includes the famous Hermitage Museum and is one boundary of Palace Square (site of the Revolution). In another direction is Peter/Paul Cathedral, which was an infamous political prison (pre-Revolutionary) and is now a museum (and the place we’ll lunch tomorrow). Shel, Michael (historian/artist, born in Holland during the Nazi occupation) and I walk across the bridge, past Winter Palace to Palace Square. (Bus went on to another monument and then met us) Square is an impressive place – reeks of history. “Place of Three Revolutions” – 1st by officers of the Czar who returned from France after the French revolution, was put down by Czar – 2nd resulted in the nine months of Kerensky’s government (Parliamentary) – 3rd was Bolshevik.
On to our first meeting – Pushkin Theater, with director Gorbachev (Igor, not Mikhail). Very affable, warm, cheery guy. Evidently an actor of some repute on stage and screen. Fun to talk theater with him. Others in the room include some members of his staff and a woman who, after she introduced him, he referred to as the woman who directed him. (Some took this to mean she was his wife – others that she was a director of the theater.)
After some discussion of theater and film in the USSR, the subject of Gorbechev’s (Igor, not Mikhail) position on the Soviet Peace Committee came up. What is the significance of same? What methods are used to discuss/promote the issue popularly? Is there any room in this society for disagreement with Official positions? – Essentially, his response was that there is no need for alternative views. The government is an expression of the will of the people. Gorbachev (Mikhail, not Igor) has offered a freeze on nuclear weapons, the US has not accepted. Lenin’s first official act post-revolution was to offer a “Peace Proposal”. (The Party Line, which is what we were getting, is that US aggression is responsible for all the trouble – the Soviets want peace and are willing to lead the way.)
This discussion was continuing, all fairly civil and hale-fellow-well-met, when Boyd, our EST-style self-made, wealthy business type (whom a Gypsy later called “Plastic Man”), piped up with a few ill-chosen questions-cum-observations about motivation, wealth and morality. He has a kind of didactic manner that is off-putting because it’s so clear he’s trying to score points. (Plus a habit of rolling the cuffs of his shirt over those of his jacket and/or pushing his sleeves back up on his forearms when he is about to plunge into battle that we began to watch out for.) Anyway, you could feel the tone in the room change to a combative one. Dennis tried to steer it back onto course, but to no avail. Finally, when we were almost all on Gorbachev’s side and Boyd was making a point about wealth being the basic motivating force for all inspiration, I suggested that he was preaching to the wrong crowd. He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Read Marx.”
Finally we got on to other things – went out and had a look at a rehearsal (amazing how, even when you don’t understand the language, you can pick up an exchange between an actor and a director) – went up to the scenic design shop, etc. The inside of the theater was very grand – boxes and balconies – theater dated from Czarist times – much gilt and ornate décor.
Outside, waiting for the bus we began to speculate that the woman we had been wondering about earlier was neither director or wife, but in fact KGB. May have been paranoia, but she was very much a controlling force and knew an awful lot about us.
Back to the hotel. Dennis, Gerrie, Shel and I decide to forego another bus ride to the main war memorial and cemetery and instead take a look at the Victory Square memorial in front of the hotel and then take a Metro ride downtown. (Gerrie and Dennis had had a moving exchange with a woman outside the theater while waiting for the bus – she was a “Babushka”, the name given to the older Russian women who abound here, usually heavy, stooped, and wearing a babushka [scarf or head covering] – and they had somehow engaged her in conversation. They talked of peace between our countries and she had come alive, speaking fervently of her belief that it was necessary. She had, she said, lost her whole family in the Siege here. Gerrie gave her a pin or something that she had brought and the old woman had reached into her bag and pulled out a lemon and thrust it into Gerrie’s hand and insisted, when Gerrie tried to give it back, that she keep it. They hugged and smiled and she left and felt as though real contact had been made.)
We found the underpass (you take your life in your hands crossing the street here – some began to feel that that was symbolic of the fact that the individual had no rights at all) to the memorial and walked in. Very impressive! The layout is very dramatic and the statues are breathtaking! Being here you get a palpable sense of the anguish of these people over the losses they suffered during the Siege – and of the constancy of the pain. Because of the use of the Cyrillic Alphabet we can’t read anything (a kind of ongoing lesson in humility – makes you have a better sense of what it must be like to not be able to read in our society) but you can see the constantly repeated theme of the numbers – 900 days – 1941 to 1944 – dates, etc.
Recorded music, very somber, funereal, plays constantly at the memorial. Flowers have been freshly laid at the feet of the statues (some are laid as we watch, by children and adults) and the statues themselves are incredibly powerful. A bare-breasted woman, shoulders squared, stands looking defiantly forward, about waist high in front of her another woman, wounded, perhaps dying, slumped over, looking at the ground. Beside them a soldier with a determined, grief-etched, Lenin-like face looks away, holding in his arms another dead or dying figure. Extra-ordinary power. And the fresh flowers give it a currency that is chilling beyond the work itself.
We find our way into the underground museum where artifacts of the Siege are displayed. Again, the frustration of not being able to comprehend the engraved poems and descriptions heightens our sense of separation, but the litany of the numbers is a constant. 900 days. 1941-1944. A short, silent film is running at one spot so we stop and watch the end of it from behind the large group gathered. When the film ends, the group, all of whom look to be Soviets, turns away and we move up closer for a chance to see it from the beginning. I am struck, as we move through these people, at how many of them, young and old, are weeping as a result of the film.
It is a documentary of WWII from the Leningrad view – the Siege. Enormously powerful footage shows great heroism – particularly impressive are the gangs of women digging trenches, clearing away debris and bodies, doing all the brute work. The message of devotion, commitment and heroism is a parallel story to the pain and grief of the war. It’s a very moving experience for all of us.
Outside we walk down and take a look at some more very impressive statues, then decide to head downtown.
As we walk down Moskovski Prospect toward the Metro stop we notice a supermarket and decide to look in. No lines. Plenty of goods on the shelves, but nothing like the variety at home. Meat is available and plenty of canned and packaged goods, but very little fresh stuff. Almost no fruit and veggies that we can see. No snacky things. All is plainly wrapped, very utilitarian. None of the hype and consumer incentive stuff we would find at home – and not much in the way of color.
The Metro is a trip! Machines change coins into 5 kopek tokens which you insert in a turnstile on the order of the NY subway, then you go down an escalator (which moves very fast by our standards) into a long tunnel. Very long. Stand on the right so those in a bigger hurry can race by on the left. And race by they do. Once down on the clean marble platform area we’re stumped. Can’t read the signs. Even if you know the name of the place you want, the Cyrillic Alphabet defies you to sound it out. P is an R, 3 is a Z (I think), something that looks like a squared capital M is a T. You can go nuts. Finally a kid stops and offers help but doesn’t speak much English. No map (clever us) so it’s hard to communicate what we want. I remember the name of a canal/street we came down in the bus and try it (Fontanka) and he smiles and says, “Nevski Prospect” and points us toward one wall where elevator-like doors open when the train cars arrive. So on we get, headed for Nevski Prospect, (which we now remember is the name of the main street in the shopping area) then realize that we can’t read the signs to figure out which one is Neski Prospect. Shel saves the day by remembering that Ron Mann has said, “Seven stops on the Metro and you’re downtown.” So we count stops and step off at #7, hoping. It’s a much bigger and more elaborate station, evidently a main downtown terminal. Walk out through a labyrinth of tunnels, stairs and another long (longer) escalator and finally emerge. Nevski Prospect! (We think. Still can’t read the signs, but it looks like what we saw from the bus.)
We stand around and gape for a while. People going by, shoppers and business-people, mothers pushing baby carriages, cars and buses and taxis on the street, even pigeons flitting about. Looks like the world. A wonderful looking old man comes by in a worn dark suit and a military cap (I think), sporting a chest full of medals. We are here at a time of the celebration of many significant dates – anniversaries of 40 years ago – the end of the war.
Cross (through the underpass) the street to a department store and look around a bit. Find some souvenirs, so we all walk Shel through the three-step process to buy some small pins. #1) Get salesgirl, show her what you want and she fills out a chit - #2) take chit to cashier (Kacca) and pay - #3) bring stamped receipt back to salesgirl who gives you the purchased items. Only problem we encounter is that Shel ends up paying almost ten rubles for something which we thought added up to less than one ruble altogether. ($1 = .84 kopeks. 100 kopeks = 1 ruble) Either we read the signs wrong or she was ripped off.
Time to head back so we retrace our steps and board the subway headed the other way. Still can’t read the signs so Dennis counts and announces each stop. (Because it’s quitting time the subway is jammed with people – Soviets don’t seem to smile much on spec. which causes an on-going discussion among our group as to whether this reflects their unhappy life experience or simply indicates that they play it closer to the vest – are more inscrutable. In any case, the non-smiling Soviet seems to bother many Americans, both on our tour and others we run into – and surprisingly we run into many – causing many of the people on our tour to decide it is their lot in life to make the poor, benighted Soviet smile – a fact that I find discomfiting and more than a bit self-righteous. (It also, I fear, makes the Americans look foolish in the process.) Because none of us is anxious to get lost in Leningrad, Dennis’ counting of stops is fairly important. In the interest of consistency, having retraced our steps, he’s counting stops backward. At #1 we’re ready to get off, but Dennis insists that we have to wait for #0, which sets up a funny, quick debate. He’s right.
Dinner at the hotel and the four of us (who are becoming something like the Four Musketeers) mosey over to the Russian Folk Dancing and Singing Show. As we’re all pretty tired, Dennis’ main expressed concern is “How comfortable are the seats?” The show is fun. Very athletic, with some terrific leaping about and robust singing. By intermission I can’t keep my eyes open any longer so I leave Shel with the Weavers and head back for the room (the show is in the hotel). Later I learn that Dennis, who insisted he was fine and awake and going to see it through, followed me by about two minutes.
Saturday May 18
Up at 5:30. Can’t seem to get the body clock to settle down. Breakfast and off to the Soviet Peace Committee. (Actual name is the Soviet Peace Defense Committee, which is interesting.) The office is in a very large, ornate old building off one of the many canals. (Very different from the storefront hand-to-mouth peace organizations at home.) In terms of attendance, we outnumber them by a large margin, but I don’t think any inference should be drawn from that. A long welcoming speech from Guess Who, the same woman who welcomed us to our first meeting and introduced Gorbachev (Igor, not Mikhail). She’s one of the officers of the SPC. I’m not sure if that lessens or intensifies my suspicions. First off, they show us a movie about Leningrad. Much footage of the beautiful city. (Having learned some of its incredible history and of the determined restoration projects and the pride taken therein I find myself moved to appreciate the architecture much more – the determination inherent in having built and maintained this city where a city shouldn’t be, and the astounding feat of having survived the Siege, imbue it with a sense of power that is almost beautiful itself – and in fact, some of it is quite beautiful, though I still don’t find the Russian Classic style esthetically attractive overall). The film is shot through with flashbacks of WWII and the Siege. Actually some of the edit/transitions are rather heavy-handed, but the overall impression is positive and again gives testimony to the character of the people.
Many long speeches. Essentially the Party Line from the woman I think of as “KGB”. We want peace – our history has stamped us with a horrible war – its personal toll is more than any human being should be asked to bear. A lot of the “never again” sort of thing you hear from Jews re: the Holocaust. (Interesting irony there, considering the situation vis-à-vis Soviet Jews.) Implicit in this line, explicit in some of the discussions, is that US’ aggressive tendencies lie at the heart of the problem. If only they would cease… Then there are some speeches from our folks about our purpose here – bringing US and Soviet citizens together in a common search for peace.
Flag designed by Michael is presented (US & Soviet flags joined by Norwegian Peace Knot). He makes a little statement about the common heritage of the two peoples – both originally settled or discovered by Scandinavian adventurers. A bunch of the dolls are presented for the kids at one of the schools (my cynical mind wonders where and on what basis they will be distributed). Some other stuff, then we sing a One World song in both English and Russian (learned phonetically). (The song was brought by a little bird of a woman named Althya, about 75 yrs. old, who is with us. She heads the Artists Embassy International in San Francisco, is pure and beautiful and feels if you can get everyone singing, everything will be OK.) I am torn between appreciating the sweet simplicity of the gesture, its forethought and planning (which I do) and seeing it as naïve and sentimental foolishness that plays into manipulative hands. – The song seems to be received well. Some ask for song sheets so they can join us. (Perhaps part of my reaction to the song is in fact to Peter, our self-appointed little song leader. He strikes me as officious and self-righteous – kept wanting to rehearse the bloody song all the way here in the bus – not to mention any other time he can get the attention of the group – but the definite feeling I have is that it’s somehow all about him being in charge – seems to want to turn this into a camp tour, with himself the leader – a real putz.) (I mean that non-judgmentally, of course.) In fairness, the Soviets seem to like the song. (Maybe I was bitten by someone like Peter in the Cub Scouts.)
We divide into groups for discussions in our area of interest. Instead of going with Shelley and Dennis and Gerrie to meet the actress and producer they have here, I get the opportunity to meet two political types. Alex and Sascha are both PHDs in Political Science and American Studies at the University here. (Alex says he earns 300 rubles per month – average salary is 200 to 300 in the country, we’re told.) Pretty heavy-duty guys. Rather condescending at first. Well read, obviously. Quote Reagan (naturally), Ford, Richard Pipes (Reagan advisor), and blame all international troubles on the capitalist system and specifically on the military/industrial complex (about which they quote Eisenhower). The notion that free expression of dissent can effect policy in the US is met with derision. (e.g. The US got out of Vietnam not because the people opposed it but because the Vietnamese people defeated them.) Tough debaters, practiced dialecticians, cynical about US intentions, unwilling to see (admit) culpability of USSR in any area. Finally gave in a notch, expressed some hesitation re: correctness/necessity of decision to go into Afghanistan. (And this is the Peace Committee!!)
Barbara Marx Hubbard and Patricia then entered the discussion (just when I had them on the ropes) and tried to move it into the area of “the next step in evolution.” Citizen diplomacy. Sponsorship of two-way delegations. Moving past debate of opposing positions to acceptance of desire for peace on the part of both peoples. The concepts are not easy for these guys to accept, much less deal with. They’re much more comfortable with the dialectical approach. Then it was time to leave and it was all smiles, exchange of addresses, buttons, pictures are taken. Maybe the one-two punch works after all. Alex and I have a small quiet conversation in which I express the hope that at some point they can look (or will be allowed to look) objectively at the situation of human rights violations in Afghanistan, repression in the USSR, and the general problem of required adherence to ideological dogma over the acceptance of the primacy of human value (on all sides).
Lunch at the Austeria Restaurant in the Peter/Paul Cathedral. Ate with the Weavers and Nina (Russian-born Freudian shrink – now seems kind of sweet and lonely). Food, as always, simple, heavy, bland and dull. The nearest thing to a fresh vegetable is a single flat, dead piece of lettuce. Except today we have a treat – the much-talked-about Russian ice cream for dessert! It is rich and excellent. (Maintaining a health-food diet here is next to impossible.)
After lunch a quick walk-around and buy another ice cream from a vendor – a disappointment – cone tastes like paper. Dennis has a brief sideline conversation with Boyd pertinent to something of a less bombastic approach in these meetings. Pleasant, fairly warm afternoon.
Bus to St. Isaacs Church/museum. (Churches that have been converted to museums are on the official maps. Practicing churches are not.)
On the way we learn a bit more about the economy. Average salary is between 200 and 300 rubles per month. A few thousand high political officials get about 800 rubles per month (our guide said that would be more money than she could ever imagine or know what to do with). Members of the Politburo are not paid. Average cost of living is 70R per month per person, including everything (except car – car and gasoline are very expensive and are therefore not owned/used by many). Rent is 13 kopeks per month per square meter of living space and should work out to about 3% of one’s earnings (according to the formula). Rent is the same no matter what the accommodations – has been this way for every Soviet citizen since 1927. There is a 70R minimum/floor/pension for everyone, available whether one works or not, but if one is out of work for more than three months (according to one report) you are breaking the law and can be arrested. Idea is that there is full employment, no one starves, everyone has a roof over his/her head, and education and medical facilities/treatment are available to all by birthright. (Not a bad ideal.)
St. Isaacs is another massive, gold-domed ornate structure. A pendulum hangs from the inside of the dome to the floor demonstrating, as in an observatory, the motion of the earth. There is much discussion of the restoration and the cost of same. Original construction cost the lives of 45,000 people. Many died from use of a technique of mixing mercury with gold to apply the gilt layer – mixture made it more pliable, more easily applicable and it resulted in the mercury evaporating and the gold remaining – presto, gold plate! Problem was that many of those doing the application died. It was later discovered that the fumes of the evaporating mercury were deadly. “So they simply switched to the use of convict labor” was someone’s statement, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. At any rate, the architectural and building feats (raising gigantic columns and facing them with marble, etc.) are enormous accomplishments, but I find all the ornate décor, the gilt and the statuary, mosaics and paintings as oppressive, given the cost of it all, as they are impressive. A powerful sense of history is clearly part of these people.
Return to hotel for dinner and get ready for the opera. “La Traviata” in Russian at the Kirov Theater. Another impressively done place with an unbelievable embroidered curtain, tiers of box seats, five or so high, more gilt and paint, statuary, chandeliers and candelabra. It has been arranged for one of the two buses to return to the hotel after the first act (Ron has delicately informed the guides that some in the party are exhausted and concerned about the length of the evening.) (Dennis is concerned about how comfortable the seats are in case he dozes off.) (He’s out of luck; they look like dining room chairs, padded, but hard backed and wooden.) Before the opera starts, someone notices a woman sitting on the side of the theater a few rows ahead of us who looks like the stern-faced Finn who was in charge of the dining room back at Haiko in Finland. Much buzzing about the fact that she’s been seen everywhere we’ve been, maybe she’s following us. (Or maybe, someone suggests, she’s on vacation).
Opera starts. Very Russian. OK if you like opera. By the time the first scene ends, Dennis leans over and says “Is that it?” At the end of the first act a number of us stroll casually toward the bus and make a getaway (Shelley, sweet thing, was very tempted to stay). As we pull away from the theater, Gerrie stands up in the bus and reads the libretto to fill us in on what we missed (as well as what we saw) to the accompaniment of much relieved laughter. To bed.