A good friend and accomplished scientist recently sent me the link to a documentary about Moscow, year 1961. No doubt Natasha (my friend) remembers that time very well, when she herself was a young woman. I have seen films like this before — there is a media gallery in Kropotkinskaya, for example, where you can rediscover the Soviet Union. What a difference 56 years make !! Yet an uncuttable cord exists between past and present — the shared umbilical of mother and child —and I imagine that if I were at a party thrown by Muscovites back then, it wouldn't take me long to join the crowd and fit in — as much as a foreigner could expect from people who were taught to be wary of even their own shadows.
I was a university student in Bath, England from 1973-75, and that's a long time ago too. I haven't been back there since 1983, and there is no need to go rattling the closets for old skeletons: I know that those people are past it now, or dead, and the buildings we celebrated in long since demolished or changed beyond recognition. Yet in a celestial bubble in my mind, they still run free, they never get old. I visit them sometimes. The same is true of my great grandparents, grandparents, and mother, when I recall Christmas celebrations as far back as 1957 in Morgantown, West Virginia. All dead.
Russian mentality has probably been forced to accept death in more traumatic ways than in my own or other Western countries. Death 'makes sense" in 'democratic nations It comes in the autumn or winter. In Russia it comes when it wants to. When I looked at that film, therefore, I wanted to meet, fresh and new, those people I often see dying now. In hopes of knowing them.
I understand — I would be foolish not to — that those Moscow films are in many ways just doctored propaganda. They don't show the unpleasant sides of Russia's capitol. It is summer in the streets all the way. Polite crowds at football matches (just applause, nothing like the old wars on British football terraces and the wild hell-raising in American football stadiums ); graceful dancing in Sokolniki Park, but no 'Elvis'-gyrating or grinding together of crotches. There are no drunks, no KGB goons lurking; we don't see or smell the collectives where four or five families shared kitchens, toilets, and other basic facilities. There is no poverty, no signs of anger or frustration. The American photographer-commentator in the film constantly makes note of the fact that his Russian subjects never seem to smile... yet somehow everyone seems happy enough.
The young guys are the same. Full of life's joy, they nevertheless seem uncomplicated and, above all, free of Vanity and Ambition. It is remarkable — or maybe just choreographed — that the faces of both the men and women seem oblivious of that aspect of human life which is entirely unique in distancing itself from other life-forms: the unbridled and rampant onslaught of the EGO. The Soviets appear to have suppressed it.
There was "no sex in the Soviet Union?" Hohoho,hahaha. PLEEEEEZ..
Sometimes, in Moscow today, I must surely see one or another of those young people of '61 without knowing it — an old woman now dragging her cart up metro steps, a worn-out, wheezing man along the street supported by only a meager pension and dying legs — and I say to myself "Those are the Soviet people. "
In the documentary film, I catch myself searching for this girl. My choices are slim. Some girl in a modest summer dress, her fingernails unpolished (I prefer polished!), her eyes blank and factual. None jump out at me at first...but there!!! Suddenly!!! — at a bus stop...if you look closely...you can see the vivid tigers lurking there beneath her eyelids. I can see the lynxes and panthers and tigers because I understand that in the deep bedroom of her soul, she would stand out well among all women of all Times, like the young woman smiling before the mirror and combing her peerless hair in Zinaida Serebriakova's great painting, circa 1910.. Agh!! Now she is gone, the film swallows her up. And she goes home to whatever she went home to. In 1961. I lose out.... .
Thus In the pleasant, ever-industrious faces of Moscow 1961, there seems no awareness at all of things to come. Fluid in movement, they still seem locked in time. I guess that's what the Soviet government wanted to show. Complacent contentment and a focus on duty to the State.
But I interpret it otherwise.
I look at the men and women of yesterday in Moscow, and I try to locate that subtle gleam in a random eye — that half-amused, eternal glance understands all situations and glides easily across the sundials of the centuries. It goes beyond all radar, yet takes me straight back among the sunny Soviet streets of 1961. I'd have married one of those girls, drunk vodka and kvas with some of those guys. I would have learned a way to be happy, and in our stuffed, crowded rooms we would have found loose moments and chances to be free.
===Eric Richard Leroy===
[To realize...]How could you tell how much of it was lies? It might be true that the average human being was better off now than he had been before the Revolution. The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that at some other time they must have been different. (George Orwell, 1984)