Warring Nations

For us, it was cheaper to take a bus with a group VISA in your country.

I thought it was strange, we had been mortal enemies for decades, and now, here I am, on a bus. You try to show me your splendor, as I look through my rectangular window in this mass transport.

I watched the streets out the bus window. Thin black cords were randomly thrown, scattered along the edges of the grayed sky. When you looked to the sky here, upwards of fifteen cables for all of the power-generated trains crisscrossed the hanging light cables down every street, and cables multiplied at every intersection.

I wondered if the Marine I came with would have heightened defenses in this Cold War country. But I think he was more interested in buying a bottle of potato vodka.

The bus would stop. I would snap photos like some tacky American tourist, trying to photograph any low building I could. Here buildings could not be built tall. That is what protected them from air attacks during World War II. This bus drove me through the town highlights. After we'd turn a corner from the Government buildings or colorful churches I tried to catch photographic glimpses of paint-peeled, brick-exposed, dilapidated buildings, what this country was really about, where door steps cracked and separated from the sidewalks.

The bus wouldn't stop at Nevsky Prospekt to see Alice Rosenbaum's childhood home, so before we left, I wanted to ask the woman in charge questions. Her English was good. She even described the weather that day to me as "capricious," which impressed me.

Capricious. Impulsive, unpredictable. That's how she described the day.

After photographing stop signs in foreign languages from around the world, I wanted to photograph a stop sign here. I asked her where there was a stop sign. She said they did not have stop signs here. Everyone just slows down for oncoming traffic. She also said that they also do not have parking meters in the city. People just park where they need to and go about their business.

She told me that in this part of her country, rent for one-bedroom apartments was about one hundred dollars a month. Factory workers, or mechanical employees, only made about three hundred dollars a month. This is why there are no at-home housewives -- everyone has to work to afford keeping the children fed and clothed in their one-bedroom flats. She also said that people in service industries in this country, teachers, doctors, make only two hundred dollars, even less than factory workers.

I continued observing on this bus ride. They painted their buildings such pretty colors, yellow, pink. They painted columns on buildings, which had none. Anything to make things look more elegant, or more cheerful, I suppose.

I saw your weaponry on display, reminding me of when we were enemies. If you couldn't kill us in war, you were pleased with injuring us. It took more of our soldiers to help save our sick than bury our dead, leaving us weaker and more vulnerable to our enemies.

You still keep your war relics, I see.

Then again, so do I.

You show off your best features today. Your idolatry for your Motherland shows through in the way you prettied your exterior for us. But your country takes over half of your money and you can barely afford to live. They indoctrinate you by saying this is what's best for you. You have no other options. I suppose under these conditions you can become so dependent on them that you have no choice but to idolize them.

I saw a statue as we were leaving town on the bus, of a man helping another fallen man. It made me think of how all people in your country with next to nothing seem to have no choice but to help their fellow man, because they, like them, are falling.

I looked for happiness in these painted exteriors of your buildings. I believe that because of where you are from, because of what you believe, you only have happiness because you are so used to nothing. When you have nothing, anything is a gift. We Americans want too much, and always expect to be happy.

I suppose that means you're let down less often than we.

The marine bought his Imperia vodka. I bought a miniature Balalaika.

At a half hour before midnight here, it was still light out. After seeing how you lived for a day, I felt like reveling in capitalism. So at eleven thirty at night, in daylight, I sat in a hot tub while still docked at these communist shores.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - 19:02

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