Your Honour, Madame Farewell

on pushkin

"High culture meets hooliganism": Taping a bottle of champagne in Puskin's hand.

I’ve left St. Petersburg after a year there and 15 months in Russia.  What did I learn?  That Russia’s an arbitrary, unpredictable and sometimes mean place, but that’s why we love it  It’s the Wild East, the big vacation from the Western banality that suffocates like a drawn-out waterboarding.  It’s simultaneously a refined culture that is breathtaking in the beauty of its everyday manifestations; high culture meets hooliganism.

My last day was a lesson in these contradictions: In the afternoon, I raced a bunch of drunken Russians down a river on blow-up dolls in the 2009 “Bubble Baba Challenge.”  Then before I left for the airport at 3 a.m., we followed Russian tradition and sat down for a moment of silence, airplane be damned.  It’s the second time I’ve left, and the second time this moment of silence has buoyed me up before the coming storm.

In Russia, I love the bold people, the contradictory culture.  I love sovok.   I love the angry cashier ladies.  And I even love the language, kind of like how a dog owner loves his mangy pooch even when it shits on the carpet every day.

Of course, back in America it’s very … nice.  A lady in the airport saw me breaking my fist on the bank of pay phones and offered me her cellphone: “Good karma,” she said.  Boring, but nice.

Even though my Russia dream has died its inevitable first death, the blog won’t be going the way of the Dodo.  I’ll be focusing on translations of Russian literature and music, reviews of Russian movies, and bits of Russian current events that may elsewhere be overlooked.

I’ll soon be back in Russia, or at least the former Soviet Union, but until then, I take my leave with these lines from Bulat Otkudzhava’s song “Vashe blagorodiye”:

“Your Honour, Madame Farewell,
We are kinsfolk of old, what a thing to see.
The letter’s in the envelope, wait, don’t worry,
I’m not fortunate in death, but in love I will be lucky.”

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