Monday, October 15, 2012

Beautiful Russians - Ugly Russia

Although my previous posts talked about the horrors and abuses of the Russian government against me while under Russian house arrest, the rest of the time was full of pleasure and wonder.  I wrote my previous posts with a sense of doom, misery, and ugliness.  This was done because that is exactly how my problems with the situation felt and looked.

Yet, John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, once said that, "I cannot praise a fugitive or a cloistered virtue."  In modern English, (because Milton always wanted to sound smarter than others, but he must realize this has now gone out of fashion) it translates that virtue can only be displayed in an environment of adversity.  For instance, generosity only exists when the generous feels the pinch of giving.  Or take another example.  As my clinical law professor said, "Anyone can be honest when it's not harmful."  You see my point.

Now, I want to define that this is not my story of virtue.  My bleak situation really just set the dark stage for the Russians of St. Petersburg to perform. And on it, I saw the beauty and virtue of the Russian people shine.

I was helpless and alone, literally and figuratively.  I couldn't speak Russian.  I didn't have enough money to hire a Russian-English translator.  Yet, when my host Sasha found out what happened to me, he knew I was sad and becoming depressed.  He only said, "No worry.  Saint Petersburg good place to be."

Sasha would also take off almost two days of work to help me manage the Russian bureaucratic office.  When Sasha wasn't there, he asked another coworker to be my translator.  This coworker would also miss work.

In my depression, I told myself: "Ok, you really need to make the best of this situation.  Can't you just pretend that this whole affair was really just a visa extension."  And in some ways, my overstay was just an extended tour to Russia.  I then said, "Why don't you try to meet some locals and be happy in Saint Petersburg?"

I used social networking sites and found some locals.  The one that left the deepest impression on me was an Artemii.  When I had explained that I had caused so much stress to Sasha, I politely asked if he would take me in like a stray animal.  He phoned his girlfriend, and she agreed.  He had only met me for two hours but understood he had a role in getting me out of Russia.

At his girlfriend's house, they heard my story and apologized to me about how ugly Russia had treated me.  They bought me Vodka, and we relaxed the night away with Russian Table Water until 3-4am.  The tonics of Russia.  The laughter and company, and me laughing at my own situation, had brought comfort to us all.

I spent my remaining days in Saints Petersburg with Artemii.  I decided to teach him the mechanics of the English language and the tools of English Literature.  He was an apt pupil.  I met others from the city and enjoyed biers with them.  In some ways - I kind of didn't want to leave Saint Petersburg anymore.  

This feeling was especially true when Artemii's father sent the message that he wanted to meet me in their cabin in the country side.  His father didn't ever meet me, but the Russian hospitality I was experiencing moved my spirit.

On one of my final days in Saint Petersburg, Sasha asked me about how my day at court was.  I explained to him that it was just a show trial.  That all these Russian officials played with me like a toy, and then paraded their power against me.  I was the helpless American, and they were the big, strong ugly Russians.  I said I was the circus act.  It was like being put in a pink dress and paraded around for everyone to laugh at me.

When Sasha heard this appalling story (which it was really nothing short of), I saw Sasha's eyes become redder and watery.  He was holding back the tears.  He only said in his wisdom, "Maybe - one day you judge.  You argued in court.  You done prosecute.  You done defense.  Now you are defendant.  It's good to learn all the roles of court.  Expensive, but good."

I said, "Yes, Sasha.  Expensive, but good.  I needed to learn."  He was right.

When I finally received my transit visa, those I've been in contact with me also celebrated.  They - too - were relieved.  

On my last night at St. Petersburg, it was time to part with Artemis.  I decided to give him a hug because that's what was called for.  His last words to me were, "I hope you come back.  I hope you miss me.  I hope you miss Russia."

I said, "I've never been to a country that I loved so much and hated so much.  I never met more beautiful people and such ugly, ugly people.  But I should come back because Russia is ugly, but Russians are beautiful."

Before ending this post, I will show this point.  I was asked over and over why my consulate didn't help me.  I really don't know why.  But when I finally called, after it had ended, they were apparently appalled at how my story finally unfolded and told me this never happened to an American in St. Petersburg before.  Yes, my American Consulate was completely useless.  In the end, it was the Russian people, and not even my own embassy, who saw to it that I needed to go home.

No comments:

Post a Comment