Volga Boatman Episode 5: Saratov

The infamous

The infamous "serp and molot" of the USSR, with the wrench-and-hammer symbol of the Soviet Ministry of Railways underneath.

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).

Communist Party is still alive and well in Russia, as this rally shows.

Communist Party is still alive and actually growing in Russia, as this rally shows. Probably the most serious competitor to Putin and Medvedev's United Russia.

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.

The "Death to Fascists" locomotive.

Little engine that could: The "Death to Fascists" locomotive.

Everyone

On the flag: "For the homeland, for honor, for freedom!" Below: "All as one for the defense 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.

A Baskin Robbins stands next to a Russian Orthodox church.

East meets West: A Baskin Robbins stands next to a Russian Orthodox church.

A meat seller

A meat seller displays the front of a cow's face at the rinok.

In Saratov, cops only have to go to the other side of the police station to get a donut.

In Saratov, cops only have to go to the other side of the police station to get a donut.

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2 Responses to “Volga Boatman Episode 5: Saratov”

  1. I really like the last one with “Bulochnaya” next to a police station. How convenient indeed!

  2. Your blogs and photos are so interesting. But they also keep pointing towards a dichotomy that maybe you could explain to me: I sense Russians still yearn for Communism–is this true? They feel the repression of Putin and are working towards Communism as an answer to that? The Russians seem to reject the past but yet long for it.

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