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During the last winter journey through Russia, I was haunted by this cute little bear while driving through the Kostroma and Vologda regions. He suddenly appeared at the most unexpected spots - on an abandoned and decaying bus stop in the middle of a deserted village, on old billboards, and in some small shops along the way. I didn't recognize the symbolism of the Olympic rings on the bear's belt, but later learned "Мишка" was the mascot of the 1980's Olympic Games in Moscow.

I
too am an 80's child. Being born in 1973, I experienced the 80's in full force, at the height of my teenage years. However, it's difficult to find a common thread when comparing American cultural symbols from the 80's and prior decades with the treasured symbols from the same Soviet periods. This is not surprising given that our nations were seen as political and strategic enemies at that point in history, and sadly even now to a certain extent. The bear played an integral role in the last place I visited during the journey, the "Museum of the Socialist Way of Life", located in Kazan. Let's take a look inside...Read more... )
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It was a Saturday morning tradition in my youth. My sister and I would awake early, run to the couch, and sit there for hours in our pajamas watching cartoons. What a relief for our parents! We were quiet, and they could sleep in. :) My favorite was "The Smurfs." These blue creatures were always on some spooky adventure, and I loved it. There was mystery, humor, intrigue, and even a female vixen who constantly distracted the male Smurfs. Feminists hate this imaginary blue seductress, and they created a popular theory called "The Smurfette Principle," which criticizes the way females are typically portrayed in cartoons. You can read about it here. To some extent I agree. I strongly dislike the classic Disney princess stories, where the helpless female is sitting around waiting for an imaginary prince to rescue her. Modern day Disney cartoons are much better, and the idea of a "princess" has evolved to include not only a beautiful woman, but a smart one also, with strong, charismatic personality traits.

Today, a reader sent me a Ukrainian folk cartoon, and I remember watching clips of Soviet cartoons on YouTube with [livejournal.com profile] macos during his first visit to the U.S. He introduced me to "Hedgehog in the Fog" and others. I fell in love with this adorable, fluffy character "Чебура́шка." :)

What's your favorite Soviet cartoon?


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If time travel ever becomes possible, I would transport myself back to Moscow or the province in the 1970's or 80's to better understand the realities of life in Soviet times. Looking at old photos in books or online, I can hardly envision such a system of life where everything is so structured and predestined. This is the eternal debate amongst my older Russian friends and readers - the pros and cons of life in the USSR vs. modern day Russia. Tonight I read an article written by a man who was only nine years old when the Soviet Union collapsed. However, he claims this was long enough to form a strong enough opinion about life in the USSR to know that he never wishes to return. His observations seem a bit shallow and naive on the surface. He takes a few of the most commonly expressed strengths of the Soviet system, and explains why they are misconceptions. Please remember these are not my personal views, but the opinions of a former resident in the Soviet Union. Let's begin with education...Read more... )
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At my school, there was no cafeteria. Each morning, my mom awoke early and packed lunch for my sister and me. It grew monotonous, eating the same sandwiches and fruit each day. Secretly, I dreamed of being like my friends who went to public schools, lining up each day to have some old woman with a net around her hair throw slop on my plate. In the U.S., there's constant debate over what school children are fed in the cafeteria. A lot of schools have removed snack and soda machines, and guidelines about nutritional values for school meals are always shifting. Over the weekend, I looked at the menu from my nephew's elementary school, listing the meal choices for each day in the month of May. Common choices include pizza, tacos, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets and pastas, all served with some type of vegetable and potatoes or rice. There's always one healthy option like grilled chicken or fish, and a wide-variety of fresh fruit is available for purchase. Yet only the most disciplined of children would pick such options when there are tastier and more indulgent choices placed in front of them each day. All of this creates a very sad picture on the white tray. I grew curious, and began to read about school lunches around the globe, and here's what I discovered!Read more... )
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The simplest things can leave a lasting impression on our lives. Anything from a smile, a person's beauty, their harsh or loving words and, particularly, a random act of kindness. I continue to review my photos from Kazan, and recently came across this image. I remember that my Russian travel companion in Kazan had a very emotional reaction when he encountered this note and lollipop, but two months after the journey I can't remember exactly why. I spoke to my Russian friend Alexey yesterday and he translated the note as follows: "This rabbit is 10 years old. He was brought from abroad but the child felt sorry for him and didn't eat him. And then the child grew up and brought him to the museum. Live eternally, brother!"Read more... )
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The long road trip in Russia is now over. I just returned to Moscow this afternoon from Yaroslavl, where I finally met a Russian boyfriend, who spoke almost no English! :)) He came to our table, sat down, started petting my hair, blowing me kisses and trying to have a lot of conversation over coconut beer. Each trip, it's necessary to explore the local bars for one night, and one night only. It started at a basic pub, and then onward to a Soviet style kitchen, with a unique feature!Read more... )
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I'll never know or experience life during Soviet times, but during some of my visits to Russia I feel like I'm transported back to that era, or even another century. The road trip is coming to an end, with the final stop today in Yaroslavl. Along the way, I explored many small towns and spent an entire day and night in a village, talking to the locals in their homes, eating freshly prepared meals, and sleeping alone in an old house in the forest! But that will be the topic of another post. Yesterday in Soligalich, I entered a small meat shop and discovered this woman. I don't know for certain, but this blue uniform looks very Soviet, especially the hat. However, the most interesting thing in the provincial shops was...can you guess from the photo? :)Answer )
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I don't know about you, but I love sudden bursts of nostalgia at unexpected moments. Without our past, we're nothing. Everything about it shapes us into the person we are today, for both good and bad. It happened to me recently during the Mid-West journey, when I entered a shop that sold vintage games and toys from my childhood. For a brief second, I was transported back to age 10, when I used to sit with my younger sister and play with Transformers, Lite-Brite, Speak 'n' Spell, Mr. Potato Head and other treasures from the 1980's. Some of you probably don't even recognize these toys. :)

In the middle of rural Estonia last autumn, I stumbled upon a small village that houses old Soviet cars. A sort of refuge for abandoned cars in need of some care and company. While I'm fascinated with all things from the USSR, seeing these relics stirred no emotion within me but I could see it arising in my Russian travel companion. I don't know the feeling of boarding a bus in Soviet times, sitting on a hard chair, or being chased by a tiny police car. But today I'll show you some photos from this village, and perhaps for a brief moment your childhood memories will also be awakened...Read more... )
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Look who greeted me in the New Year! Weary eyed after traveling almost 5,000 kilometers in a week, I stopped at a local antique store in the rural Blue Ridge Mountain region to search for treasures. At first, I thought I was delusional due to lack of sleep during the journey. Was it really Boris, waving at me? Yes! :)) You can own this autographed poster for only $399 USD! My research indicates this is from the 1996 election, with the political slogan "Together We Will Win" written in Russian. Well, you all know the story of Yeltsin much better than me, but I vividly remember his close relationship with Bill Clinton. It was well-documented in the American media with legendary stories of Yeltsin being drunk, even roaming outside the White House in his underwear...Read more... )
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For the past few weeks, Ilya Varlamov has published posts incorporating photos from Moscow in the late 1980's - early 90's. I love these! Amazing to see how the country looked right before the collapse of the USSR. In today's post, I saw this photo from 1990. A massive queue to enter the first McDonald's in Moscow! I can't imagine such a scene, or how this fast food chain symbolized so much to people at that time. In 1990, I was 17. A senior in high school, getting ready to graduate and enter university, and closely following events overseas.

What other places, items and things did Soviet citizens associate with America before the collapse? My aunt visited Russia in the early 1980's, and she told me stories about locals asking her for bubble gum and wanting to buy her Levi's, straight off her body. This is no joke.

This is what makes Russia so fascinating to me - very rich and diverse history, constantly shifting and changing. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Not sure how most Russians feel about the current direction in which Russia is moving...I hope you feel for the better, because it's depressing and sad to live in a place where you feel absolutely no hope or prospect for the future. I have never once felt this way about my life in America...

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