Tuesday, February 25, 2014

To Russia with Love

The Olympics are officially over and they have left me with an unexpected side effect. (No, not my injury. Or my other injury. Those were pretty much expected.) As the closing ceremonies ended, I realized that much to my surprise, I had fallen in love with Russia.

It hasn't always been like this between me and Russia. Far from it. In my life goal to visit every country on earth, Russia didn't even make it to the top ten. Though that's not Russia's fault. With countries like France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland to contend with, Russia just didn't stand a chance. It was like Jason Brown -- wonderful in his own right, but never seriously in medal contention.

Russia isn't a popular surfing or yoga destination like Costa Rica or Bali. Russia isn't known for its rollicking parties like Brazil. On line travel agencies don't send me emails enticing me to climb Mt. Elbrus. (But oh, Kilimanjaro, someday you will be mine!) And on my one and only trip to a Russian restaurant left me thinking "Clearly the growing season in Russia is very short."

In my formative years, Russia wasn't even Russia. It was the very scary and very dangerous Soviet Union! The Red Empire. The dark side of the force. The cauldron of bubbling scorn that hid behind the iron curtain. Or so I was told by the media and since I hadn't yet been forced to read George Orwell is school, I believed every bit of it. Russia was scary. I wouldn't go there if you forced me.

Yet even if I didn't go there, I still wasn't safe. Russians were always pretty good at Biathlon. So all they had to do was strap on some skis and a backpack full of weapons. Then it would just be a short jaunt from Siberia across the frozen Bering Straight, past Sarah Palin's house, and south through British Columbia. Those evil Ruskies could invade at any time!

Fortunately, it would only take a high school football team lead by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen to defeat a legion of Russian spies, but still! That's scary stuff. (Plus, Boris and Natasha were virtually uncatchable)  Even by a championship team like the Wolverines!

Of course, since the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, "the crazies who hate us because of our freedom" sort of leapfrogged for a while….Japan, China, France, India….before settling down on the Arabs. Or the Muslims. Or Arabs who are Muslim. And also people who are neither Arab nor Muslim, but live in countries that end in -istan.

Whatever. The point is, Russia was pretty much forgotten.

And then came Sochi. And suddenly, thanks to an exquisite opening ceremony and a moving closing ceremony, I no longer think "Russia: cold, gray, drab." I think "Russia: ballet, literature, art. Tolstoy, Chekov, Tchaikovsky, Chagall. Classic, beautiful, graceful, understated." 

Russia now has me feeling those romantic stirrings in my heart  feet. I have that familiar desire to walk along foreign streets, amongst the achingly beautiful architecture: St. Isaac's Cathedral, the State Historical Museum, Kremlin Palace, Smolny Convent. I want to experience the wonderful art and and culture that was hidden for so long behind a veil of sameness. I want to know the history of this country and these people once so grand, and then subdued, and once again -- with such great potential. And such pride. I now think "Russian: such a proud country." 

So congratulations Russia! You hosted a successful Olympics. You topped the medal count. And you made my list. I look forward to knowing you more.


Carolina John said...

Yea Sochi was a really cool spot for the games. crazy! I didn't expect to like it that much either.

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