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Civilian Defense Day

Posted in Cultural Impressions, Fun facts with tags , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2009 by Alec

Has a nice, Cold War-tinged ring to it, doesn’t it?  Civilian Defense Day.  Folks come together to run drills in case of nuclear attack, then afterward maybe have a barbecue and run football plays on the lawn.

Last week was Civilian Defense Day here in Petersburg, and so the secondary school where my friend works observed the holiday by having a whole day of civilian defense classes.

The kids normally have “Protection of Safety in Everyday Life” class once a week, but on this day they spent the whole day running evacuation drills, learning what to do in case of a nuclear attack, watching a demonstration of how to use scuba equipment (?) and learning how to assemble and dissemble an AK-47 machine gun.  An upperclassman from one of the city’s many military academies came in to teach them how to sort things out with the weapons.

One of these days, though, my friend and I plan to go assemble and dissemble the AK-47 the Protection of Safety teacher keeps behind class in his classroom.  Can you imagine a machine gun in a classroom in a U.S. high school?  I remember kids used to get kicked out for having jack-knives.

But the memory of conflict on home soil are never far from Russian’s minds, and with good reason, since such conflict has recurred through history, with higher casualty numbers each time.

The reminders are as plethorous as boils on a leper.  Here in Petersburg, I live by a museum dedicated to the Siege of Leningrad, which includes recipes for dishes based on ingredients like auto oil.  Outside of Stalingrad, where I was this fall, there’s a field of bones 20 kilometers wide by 30 kilometers long, where some 300,000 Germans died.  The Russian bones, had they been left to lie, would have been even more numerous.

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Volga Boatman Episode 4: Samara

Posted in Photo, Soviet kitsch, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by Alec

And so it was back on the Volga, longest river in Europe, the Tigris and Euphrates of the North, the only place in Russia were flamingoes can be found.  Our course was set toward the most Eastern point of our journey, to the famed beaches of Samara.  We drank wine on the deck late into the night, played guitar and threw our voices against the river’s mute banks, only pausing when cries of “shlyoos, shlyoos!” warned us of another lock ahead.

Samara is famed for its fighter planes and chocolate, but we found something far more interesting: Stalin’s bunker.

Map of Stalin's bunker.

Map of Stalin's bunker.

I’m normally annoyed by ignorant Soviet kitsch, by tourists shooting photos with no respect for the tens of millions Stalin killed, but even I succumbed to the allures of the bunker, which Stalin built nine stories below the Academy of Culture and Art in case of a Nazi invasion of Moscow.  Replete with conference tables, maps and telephones, and even false doors to give the illusion of space, the bunker was never used and has become one of the many ghosts of the Soviet era lingering in this country …

A mosaic to the leader inside the bunker.

A mosaic to the leader inside the bunker.

What's

What's this building? "Treasure Island," of course. Looks like a fun place.

A renovation worker takes a break.

A renovation worker takes a break.

Tupac lives!

"Ain't nothin' but a gangsta party" in Samara.