night train to Leningrad. Leningrad Leningrad is quite as lovely as Moscow is homely. Although its outskirts are marred by Soviet cracker-boxes, its center is in a class with Paris and Florence. It is called “the Venice of the North” and is built on a series of islands laced by rivers and canals. Peter the Great, that most impressive and peculiar of Russian Tsars, was chiefly responsible for its planned beauty and solely responsible for making it the capital of Russia \(Lenin moved the capital back to Moscow as soon as was decently possible the French, in a fit of idiocy, had moved their capital to Nancy and then declared that Paris was merely the second city of France. Saying it doesn’t make it so. Leningraders seem, on the whole, more lively than Muscovites. The flavor of their city is distinctly European, as opposed to Soviet, and so is their intellectual outlook. They are gayer and more articulate, a shade more critical of the Soviet system, a trifle more daring in their political opinions, a little looser about a lot of things. And also very snobbish about Moscow. But while most foreigners are drawn to the European ambience of Leningrad, I found a curious, very close to home kind of sympathy when I listened to Muscovites discuss, rather defensively, their differences from Leningraders. They said exactly the same kind of thing that American Westerners say about Easterners. The Muscovites said that Leningraders are snobs, that they place too a high a value on form rather than content, and that they will ridicule a person for not knowing a fish fork from a pickle fork while entirely overlooking that same person’s honesty and warmth. The Muscovites said they cared more about what was in a person genuine feeling and goodness even if the person’s manners were not so highly polished or if he had no knowledge of opera and ballet. For a while there, I got the feeling it was country music against the New York Philharmonic. Nobosibirsk Nobosibirsk is the capital city of Siberia and it was here that my Texas flashes, reached fever pitch. It’s an irremediably ugly city of one million. You’d have to go a lot farther down than Dalhart and Midland to find anything as just plain unattractive as Nobosibirsk, even in our state. But its spirit, folks, is pure Dallas. For one thing, Nobosibirskians have got an incurable case of the Texas brags. They’ve got the highest this and the widest that and the longest something else in the whole world right there in Nobosibirsk. They’ve also got a lousy ballet company which they have the demented gall to show off to folks who’ve just seen Moscow’s Bolshoi and Leningrad’s Kirov. Well, let them tell yew, Nobosibirsk is a-boomin’ an’ a-bustlin, an’ a-boostin’ and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce just ain’t nothin’ to it. Right there in Sy-beria they got oil and they got gas and that ain’t to mention their diamonds and uranium and gold that they’re gonna git mined someday. In fact, Siberia is almost ludicrously wealthy in natural resources, most of which are still untapped. The frontier spirit is there in spades, damn the Indians and full exploitation ahead. But, unlike the history of our own gem-like state, which folks rushed to settle for the simple reason that they stood a semi-good chance of getting rich here, the Soviets have a problem finding volunteers for Siberia. Soves do not get rich, and even early Houston’s malaria-and-mosquitoes or El Paso’s desert-and-rattlers are fairly appetizing compared to Siberia’s permafrost. But, happily, since the Soviet system never has to wait for folks to do what they want to do, Siberia is fact being settled. A little bribery \(you can get a and a little coercion \(“Ya’ wanna get ahead in the Party, kid? Then go volunteer to spend the summer wotkin’ on the Irkutsk Yerevan Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is chiefly a relief after seeing other parts of the Soviet Union. It’s almost like going to stay with simpatico black folks or brown folks after doing time with a bunch of super-up tight , middle-class, white Dallasites. One’s first reaction is, “Hey, these folks are real.” They’ve got flavor in their food and soul in their songs and they pinch women in the streets. \(Sisters, believe -me, such sexist manifestations can be a genuine joy after two weeks of not Armenians, of whom we have about a jillion here in the U.S., are not only Mediterranean in appearance \(dark brown in manner: they wave their arms when they talk, shrug their shoulders, make great faces, and generally carry on as though they care about whatever they’re carrying on about; One beautiful moonlit night a few of us went with David, our Armenian Komsomol host, to the stark, simple ,monument built on a hillside near Yerevan to the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks. The monument is an open circle of concrete slabs with slits in between them and in the center burns a gas flame. We were standing around outside, joking and enjoying the view of the city from the hill, when someone said, “Shhh, David is singing.” We tiptoed silently back to the slits in the monument and from there saw David’s face, lighted below from the flame and above from the moon, as he leaned back against a slab and sang just for himself a song of quiet mourning for his dead countrymen. Myself, I weep when a fellow Irishman sings “Kevin Barry” at a beer bust. The sorrow in David’s song was too strong for tears. On our last day in Yerevan, after a visit to a collective farm, we had an afternoon banquet \(all our visits to different cities in We went to a “worker’s rest home,” i.e., a lakeside resort, and there was spread such a feast! Before I became completely pickled, I counted five main courses and innumerable side dishes. According to Marxist-Leninist theory, if you give a capitalist beer, wine, champagne, cognac, and 15 glasses of vodka for dinner, he’ll get drunk. I maintain, along with Carter, that man for man, so to speak, we could have drunk all of them under the table. But every couple of days they sent in a new team while we were still trying to recover from the effects of our last banquet. That sun-splashed afternoon by the lake, the obligatory toasts to peace and friendship were all the more hazardous because we had to drink them not in vodka but in the deceptively smooth Armenian brandy. In Armenia there exists the tradition of the toastmaster, a highly respected member of any community whose function it is to offer toasts at such ceremonial celebrations as weddings, baptisms \(Armenia still being Amerikanskis. The toastmaster, who does not drink himself, may offer a thesis and then call on anyone else at the table to amplify or match the original toast with a similar theme. It is, as practiced by the Armenians, a high art form. As practiced by us, it was just a bunch of fun. The local folk singing group, with accordion accompanist, favored us with several Armenian songs and then got us all to dancing. The sight of David, the Christian Science Monitor, the Reader’s Digest, a senior Armenian Komsomol official, the Colorado Rocky Mountain News, and our man from the White House, all with arms linked and attempting to perform what looked like an Israeli schottische, gave me considerable encouragement about the future of Soviet-American relations. Detente proceeded so far that day that the Observer even persuaded Human Events to stand up for a particularly stylish box-step around the floor. Random observations The Soviet telephone system is enough to make any right-thinking American fall down and turn into a geyser of gratitude to the much-maligned Ma Bell. On relative wealth: It is well said that the Ripirieftitioti is *either the poorest of November 1, 1974 5
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