i’ve been fascinated with russia for a long time. i don’t know when it started but i’ve had a morbid fascination with chernobyl since some time around junior high. it’s always looked so desolate in all the pictures and documentaries i’ve seen. and the people who lived nearby but were too poor to relocate, and have since died or are dying from various radiation sicknesses, get me too. it’s just such an incredibly sad, horrible thing, and i’ve always felt drawn to it.
but the first time i really became consciously aware of russia and wanted to learn more about it was roughly 10 years ago when i was flipping through a national geographic and read an article on lake baikal.
based on volume, it’s the largest lake in the world. it’s deep as all hell and is a reservoir for 20% of the world’s surface fresh water. it’s teeming with plants and creatures, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. when i read this stuff, i was like whoah, this is serious stuff. why didn’t we learn about lake baikal back in school? why’d we learn about the stupid ‘great lakes’ when there was a way greater lake?
since then, just about every russian tidbit that has crossed my path has given my a boner — watching fiddler on the roof (and i normally hate musicals). seeing russian war memorials in berlin. learning about russia’s role in the second world war and all the weird post-war stuff they did. reading russian news articles online. watching youtube videos of stoic russians calmly walking away from absolutely devastating car accidents as if nothing happened. reading about the developing country conditions of villages in siberia. whatever. if it has to do with russia, i’m curious.
so of course, i’d love to visit there sometime. i’d particularly like to see lake baikal and travel the baikal-amur mainline to see the tiny towns along it. rural russia is what i want. moscow and st. petersburg would surely be alright but it’s the countryside and its inhabitants that i want to get a feel for.
but i’m terrified to actually go there. i’ve read warnings in travel guides about violent neo-nazi groups which are still very active there. i don’t think many russians would speak english, or at least be willing to do so for the sake of an annoying north american tourist. a good friend who spent several weeks in russia said he enjoyed it but found corruption among city and state officials (like police) was commonplace. he also said in his time there, only one person smiled at him. that may have been an exaggeration but jenn and i spent several days in the czech republic (which was under russia’s iron curtain from 1948-1989) and definitely noticed most people ranged from ‘less than friendly’ to ‘downright rude’ so i wouldn’t be surprised to find a similar temperament in the motherland.
so i don’t know if i’ll ever actually get to russia. some days, i feel invigorated and full of the belief that i could do it and enjoy it, like i want to grab life by the balls and squeeze those bastards so hard i turn them into diamonds. but most days, i just think about what it would be like arguing with shitty taxi drivers and train officials who would take me for a fool and try to gouge me, getting depressed that no one smiled or was friendly, and maybe getting mugged by a gang of thugs and having little recourse about it. and then i think, maybe i’ll just stick to road trips around here.
i don’t know. but here’s a great song called siberia.