I just reread my journal notes from 28 years ago and my first thought is, “I can’t share any of this!” Then the second thought was, “Why, because you all acted like human beings occasionally?” And that is exactly what I want this web journal to be- a memoir of vivid vignettes that perhaps make more sense in hindsight. This is my story, not that of US/Soviet relations or even that of my friends’ experiences on this trip. I will give away the ending now though. I have already said my traveling companions were amazing, but I must also say I loved every single person we met in Russia. We were treated with respect and love and generosity, even when the people we met had so very little to share. We were humbled at their willingness to voice hope for their government under the relatively new leadership of Gorbachev. For the elders who had lived through the Stalin years and severe deprivation, there was a sense of victory that they had never given up hope. For the children, they were confident they would become contented, hard-working citizens of the world. There were moments that broke our hearts because the love was so palpable. Keep that in mind as I slog into the daily details of this awesome adventure.
Journal Entries April 9-18 – Soviet Union
Before the trip even began we knew we would have to simplify everything. We each would need to travel for an entire month with as few personal possessions as possible in order to transport all the scenery, electronic equipment, and musical instruments for the performances. The four performers would be focused primarily on show details; Ash became the primary childcare backup for the two kids; I became the keeper of the passports and the tickets. All of them, at all times, for all eight of us.
Day 1: April 9th– Arrived at Montreal airport 5pm, Snaffus begin. 1) SwissAir said we had cancelled our reservations 2) Ash’s wallet disappeared between Montreal and Zurich. But the good news when we arrived in Zurich: “Switzerland is green!”
Day 3: Tues 11th– It’s been a fog so far – body adjustments for everyone, exhausted time zones adjustments, culture shock. We were met at the airport, treated like royalty by our official host for the entire trip, Sergei.
Day 4: Wed 12th– Cosmonaut Day— Late start because 8 people have trouble getting it together. 9:45am on our private bus to Red Square. St Basil’s Cathedral is dramatic. The tour was excellent, though long. All around the city, many churches, and then inside the Kremlin. Lunch at 2:30 at an elegant restaurant, salad on pedestal dishes [I did not realize at the time how rare fresh vegetables were, especially this time of year in the city], lots of delicious bread, — the soup smelled great, but the sausage/ liver/ meat was too rich for me. Main course “steak” and fries on toast. Vegetarians would have great trouble here. Back to the hotel, had a good meeting and excellent rehearsal in our room until 10:30pm. There was a huge fireworks display at 9:30pm, in a semicircle around the rim of Moscow as far as the eye could see. (Frightening at first because fireworks and unrest look pretty similar when you have no idea what is going on…)
Thurs 13th– Sergei (“Sair-Gay”) arrived and helped pack up the ‘Show’ (puppets, scenery, instruments, costumes, etc) to go to our first gig. [Aside: The show was called “Lost Nation Revue” after a tiny hamlet called Lost Nation in northern NH, just east of Lancaster. It is a deeply rural part of the state, where legends and folk tales can feel timeless and true. It seemed like an ideal setting for the play that was written about ecological wellness and mankind’s role in preserving it. Unfortunately the show’s creators had not anticipated that the name “Lost Nation Revue” emblazoned on our sweatshirts and posters might be read as a judgment about the country we were visiting! Whoops, lesson learned. Lots of explaining was done about that at every show!]
We arrived at School 15 in Moscow, observed 2 classes, with kids 7-15 years old. They were wonderful and surprisingly fluent in English. In the auditorium we set up our complicated stage scenery in the early afternoon for a show tomorrow. Then back to the hotel so Hannah, Will, Susan, and Andy could go to the circus, and Ash and Deb and I went to the Bolshoi at Hall of Congress, and saw Giselle which was wonderful. Sergei and his wife Helen are very nice, and it feels like Sergei is actually starting to enjoy some of his time with these crazy Americans. There was an incident with a Pakistani man who followed me down the hall alone, and then there were two phone calls to my room. A bit scary, but going out to the Bolshoi helped. The metro and trolley back were fun. I am warming up to this bunch one by one.
Fri 14th– Up and out early to Museum of Musical Instruments, then back to School 15- for LNR show (tea first!) Show went well, and then they put on shows for us! The kids put on a play for us showing a “personality cult” of three generations trying to cope & communicate in a changing Russia; a skit with Gas Masks, the story of the grim future if we do not become involved in environmental work. Satire including a Ray Bradbury story of a dinosaur and a butterfly! [A Sound of Thunder] After the show I was surrounded by eager kids, great feelings, took lots of Polaroids. Dinner and back to hotel early, by 8pm
[It is so hard to edit this down because I as I reread it, I am there again. Suffice to say that most days it was difficult to tell who were the performers and who were the audience members- we were entertained at every stop by children who had been practicing for months because “the Americans are coming to our school!” and they needed to represent their school, their village, their country in the very best light. Short version of an average day: Colorful, theatrical, humorous, musical, artistic, ending in tea and sugar cakes galore.]
Tuesday 18th– I stayed in the hotel with Hannah, Ash and Andy all day. Painted carnation with Hannah, read books, relaxed alone and with Ash and the kids. The four performers, Will, Susan, Deborah, and David, were out all day at various meetings. [Aside: When I was packing for the trip, I knew I could only bring one book to entertain myself, and of course this was years before smart phones and e-readers. The book I chose to bring was The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri. It was a good choice, I highly recommend it. In my painting session with Hannah, I wanted her to see that you didn’t really need a lot of colors to capture the spirit of a flower. The carnation I drew from was one of many flowers we were given throughout our trip.]
…alas, more to follow. So far we are only 10 days into a 30 day trip that would change my life forever. Next up: I teach a class how to see with their eyes closed.
The experiences you share are so unique and have been begging to be shared. So happy to be a reader of Aloft.