Why I may never leave Russia…
Pinned down by circumstance, but now with much less resistance.
PREAMBLE: It would be unsafe for my American wife with her Russian accent to set foot in the “land of the free,” or for me to stand up “in the home of the brave” facing a reaction to my vocal opposition to our policies and actions re: Ukraine.
Let’s start small.
On a wall in Olga’s house in North Carolina I noticed hanging a small drawing of a small building set alone in a rural area.
That was drawn by Kolya, she said.
Who’s Kolya, I asked.
My first boyfriend from school, she replied.
The building? A chapel.
Romantic? Could have been.
At that moment the idea was born that I should find that chapel in Russia’s Far East and give Olga the wedding there that may have once been a dream. Ultimately we settled for a B&B in Virginia.
Always fascinated with Russia since my first visit there in the early 1990’s, I never thought I’d be living here, nor could tolerate the differences. But over the years, well before Olga, life was less tolerable for me in the US, especially because my position in academe and journalism precluded my becoming an activist opposed to all the wars the US instigated after Korea.
Making a difference
One way I tried to make a difference was through my media programs abroad for college students. These were never political, but I and my colleagues felt that in order to function in a global world one needed to be free from all the narratives. You can see what we are all about by visiting our web site (www.ieiMedia.com), reading our mission statements and our general self-description.
Leaving the US in retirement was always my goal. Getting a second citizenship seemed like a good way of cleansing myself, Pontius-Pilate style. My first love was, and still is, Italy. On the way there was a detour to Russia for a number of reasons which you all know, involving my wife and her family. In order to travel easily and frequently between Russia and Italy required that I have a more permanent status in Russia, therefor a permanent resident permit. The process required one more return trip to the US, ostensibly my last.
While in the US, Olga’s daughter died, changing the calculus of our return. The grandchildren were now Olga’s responsibility. When we got back, the Covid pandemic took hold. In fact, we think that’s what may have killed Olga’s daughter. And I was so sick with a wicked cold and loss of taste, that I think I may have had an early case.
Anyway Covid was a game changer. Locked in our apartment until Russia developed its own vaccine. We are fully vaccinated, but we can’t go to the rest of Europe because our vaccinations are not accepted there. And now sanctions are keeping us pinned down in constant fear that our retirement income will be choked off. So, de facto, we are full time residents of Russia with little hope of future travel except to China and the rest of Asia. Like America, we’ve pivoted to the Far East but with less ominous intent.
Some decisions in life are moral
It’s now becoming more apparent, given my physical disabilities, that I will not be able to leave Russia or even travel within. But increasingly I don’t want to leave Russia. I like the transparent autocracy as opposed to the sham democracy. I like the fact that various segments of the population are not at each other’s throats. If justice is uneven, there is nothing here that can compare to the uninterrupted injustice suffered by Blacks over there. Ubiquitous guns make the US an unsafe place for elderly like us who are easy targets. Not to mention an anthem that no one can sing and demands faithful attention.
But for me the most important factor is the need to take a moral stand. Russia is on the front line resisting the moral degeneracy of the West and the increasing sway of right-wingers, fascists and neo-Nazis. American products and life-style has contaminated the world, and my experiences in Ireland, France and Italy bear witness to the slow homogenization of their cultures into an ugly Anglo-American model. Soon there will be no purpose to travel, unless place interests you more than people.
A new world order is emerging, and the European colonialists, clothed like sheep, are scheming to keep their share and advantages. Strangely, the intellectual heritage of the Renaissance has been abandoned for the racism of the Enlightenment. Russia identifies more strongly with heritage nascent in Florence rather than Venice. For that reason I will stand on the Russian side of the barricade.
When I grow nostalgic about the US it is always about restaurants that I miss. The neighborhoods I once loved no longer exist intact. I miss alumni reunions at Columbia University, but even those are now ZOOMable. I miss the rare family get- togethers. And the mobile life I lived there is impossible for me now. Nathan’s hot dogs. Ballpark peanuts. Any slice, any place.
Everything I’ve referenced here could be combined in a fat book. But I’m too old to think in those terms. So I share these undeveloped snippets.