Monday, September 29, 2014

From ‘Through Siberia by Accident’ by Dervla Murphy

…the passport officers eventually sauntered on to the scene, tired-looking young women with closed faces, replicating their Soviet predecessors. In a perverse way it cheered me that capitalism had not yet taught them to feign friendliness for the sake of the tourist industry.

…the new Moscow’s crime-ridden image.
To the casual visitor, poverty is more evident than crime, the sort of poverty never visible in Soviet times. Next morning, as I approached a skip ….. an old man, desperately seeking food amidst the household waste of this affluent district, seemed not to notice me. When he found a small plastic bag of stale crusts, discoloured lettuce leaves and chicken bones the relief on his face was harrowing to see.

……five-and-a-half day train ride to Tynda ….. How ……would a three-year-old react to five days confinement? …..I was deeply impressed by Dima. He never once woke up anybody, always peed in his potty at convenient times, was carried out to the loo once a day for more substantial matters, ate everything put before him, contentedly gazed out of the window for hours on end, his lips moving, inventing a game in his mind. When it suited his parents and sister they played with him but he never demanded attention though lacking all those diversions we provide for long journeys. In nearby compartments four other toddlers and small children were equally well-behaved and happy. Do the Russians have something to teach us about child-rearing?

Mrs Baranskaya volunteered to make up my bed, a touching gesture of welcome – characteristic, I was soon to realize, of the incomparably hospitable Siberians….

Because the multinational breweries’ advertisements give the impression that beer is almost a soft drink, it is now openly imbibed in circumstances where vodka would not be tolerated. Frequently I saw small boys swilling from cans, sold by most pavement kiosks, while awaiting their school buses. As Russia has been notorious, over the past thousand years, for off-the-scale alcoholism, it is hard to forgive those corporations now enticing young Russians to develop a pivo addiction

I had by then realized that the Siberians’ devotion to their domestic animals does not extend to guard-dogs who must endure a loveless life, forever chained, feared by all but their owners.

It is impossible to escape from any Siberian home ….Siberian hospitality is agreeably informal, strangers being absorbed into a family circle without ceremony, and no polite protests were made when I joined …..

……..Adam Olearius in the 1630s…made four journeys among the Russians and reported, in what became an international bestseller …..
After a meal, Russians do not restrain, in the hearing of all, from releasing what nature produces, fore and aft. Since they eat a great deal of garlic and onion it is rather trying to be in their company. Perhaps against their will these good people fart and belch noisily….. So given are they to the lusts of the flesh that some are addicted to the vile depravity of sodomy not only with boys but also with men and horses. People caught in such obscene acts are not severely punished. Tavern musicians often sing of such loathsome things, while some show them to young people in puppet shows.

….Russian bees have a long-established reputation for ferocity.

Feodor was one of those standard Muscovites ….who have missed out on the varied genetic contributions that make many Russians look interesting.

…Russian proverb: ‘We meet you according to your dress and see you off according to your mind.’

…Lake Baikal ….the lake’s emanations have influenced Severobaikalsk. I cant complain of unfriendliness anywhere in Siberia but this town’s relaxed amiability and spontaneity seem exceptional.

I like the Siberians’ tendency to congregate in their kitchens, invariably small but very much the centre of the home ….

A carefully conducted inquiry found that 67 per cent of boys and 46 per cent of girls regularly drank alcohol… comes from a 1901 survey of the recreational habits of rural schoolchildren, aged seven to thirteen, in Moscow province ….Alcoholism has afflicted Russians to an alarming extent since at least the Middle Ages …..

Sadly, it is not a sobering fact that today’s Russian adolescents are less likely to celebrate their sixtieth birthdays than the 1900 generation.

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