Volga Boatman Episode 5: Saratov
Somewhere deep in the Russian psyche lies a desperate need to commune with past glory. As we saw with Samara’s Stalin bunker, this does not mean a close analysis of what actually happened: The Soviet era lingers like the memory of a crusty grandfather, fondly reminisced over whenever his mug shows up in the family photo album, but never condemned for beating up grandma (Let a dead dog lie, to used a mixed metaphor).
In Saratov, this deliberately simplified relationship with the past comes to life at Park Pobedi (Park of Victory, only the millionth such-named park in Russia), where you can clamber around on Soviet tanks and pose for funny pictures under Communist-sloganed rail cars, all while paying your respects to the victorious soldiers of the Great War of the Fatherland.
And since every Russian city has a fetish with some historical figure (possibly an outgrowth of the Russian inferiority complex based in its mixed history), you can also get yer yuks from the many memorials to first man in space Yuri Gagarin, who learned to fly here, and ironically landed (crashed?) nearby after his historic space flight.
The cultural side of the city — a stroll through the market and the pedestrian street — was better than nearly cutting my feet on the broken bottles lying around the famed beaches of Samara, but it also served as a reminder of the current collision between the brashness of consumer culture and the stoicism of tradition.