Gail Howard's Travel Adventures in the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) Communist Russia 1967 Written by


He continued: his wife spoke eight languages and could teach or do housework or cook. He talked to me as if I were his last ray of hope. At his insistence we exchanged addresses. I felt very sorry for him, embezzler or not. From my heart I wished him luck.

As I walked out into the cold refreshing rain, I felt surprisingly light. I had such sympathy and empathy for the man that I felt his burden. When I was alone again, his burden lifted from me and I realized what a lucky easy life I have.

Back at the head office of Intourist, the woman I was to see had finally come in. When she said she would start that whole cable business to Samarkand again, I groaned. They had already sworn up and down that they didn't have my ticket. I stated my case again, with receipts to show that I had paid twice for the tickets. But she insisted that everything depended on the cabled reply and that she would let Intourist at my hotel know if anything came of it...don't call us we'll call you. I dismissed it as a loss and headed for my gallery tour.

I spent the afternoon in the Tretyakov Gallery with two Western educated Turks I had met at dinner the night before. We looked at a collection of paintings by old and modern Russian artists. The aesthetic Turks noted that the Impressionist style of the Russians was 50 to 100 years behind that of Europe.

We had ballet tickets for the evening, but with no time for dinner, the Turks bought chocolate eclairs and almond macaroons to alleviate our hunger pangs. We took a taxi to their hotel where we met their interpreter and an engineer, both women, who had a car waiting to take us to the theater.

The magnificent Bolshoi Theatre is the world's second largest opera house after La Scala in Milan, Italy. The very best Bolshoi dancers performed only here and did not go on tour to other countries. I was privileged to see Bolshoi's best dancers perform Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The ballet was so beautiful, I wanted it never to end.

After the ballet, I was dropped off at my hotel because I had a date with Antonio Gambino, who was waiting for me when I arrived. After dinner at the National Hotel, we stopped by the foreign currency bar. By then, everyone there was drunk, so we didn't stay.

Next morning, I was up early for a tour of the Museum of the Revolution which turned out to be no ordinary tour. A private interpreter and the director of the museum, himself, took me through. The interpreter was intelligent and the director was brilliant. They made the revolution and its heroes come alive. The director had strong feelings about it, almost as if it were his own personal Revolution.

By now I had absorbed enough historical background to soak it all in and remember everything. Four hours into the three-hour tour, we were only half way through the museum.

We had been standing in one spot talking for an hour when we decided to sit down to converse more comfortably. We talked for more than five hours. The interpreter was so rapt in the conversation, she skipped her lunch break.

The director asked me about the war in Viet Nam. Although I defended my country as well as I could, both the guide and interpreter cornered me with questions I simply could not answer convincingly, even to myself. The conversation unfolded logically, point by point. I was not brainwashed, but after I left them I viewed the Viet Nam war in a different light.

Unlike the patriotic and fanatical Cubans I had met who glossed and glowed over Cuba, these intelligent Russians were fair in their appraisal of the state of their country.

When I left, I was so famished, I headed for the nearest restaurant. Even though it was neither lunch nor dinner time, there was a long queue in the cold rain outside, waiting to get into this popular Ukrainian restaurant. After a long cold wait I was seated with two men and a woman, none of whom could speak English.

They insisted that I drink vodka with them, chased with a delicious fruit punch. They kept piling their food on my plate, Ukrainian specialties -- baked slices of cheese, chunks of meat in a thick crunchy nutty sauce, something like Indonesian sate sauce.

With my Berlitz phrase book, I learned that the woman was a Polish actress and her boyfriend was the impresario of a Moscow theater. The other man was his brother.

When my check came, I suddenly realized I had barely enough coupons or rubles to pay for it. I was short about the equivalent of a dollar and was counting out my change. The impresario gave the waiter a ruble to pay for the remainder of my bill and insisted that I not count my change. I discreetly folded a dollar and handed it to him, which he emphatically refused. I was terribly embarrassed but grateful for his kindness.

That evening, I went to a puppet show with the Turks and their interpreter. It was a clever satire on the American movie industry titled The Swish of Your Eyelashes. The show was in Russian, which the interpreter explained as the story went along.

Each life-like puppet had unique characteristics, its own posture and gestures. Puppets even uncorked bottles and poured drinks. I wondered what made them move. On stage, they looked big as life. When the puppeteers took a bow after the show, I was astonished how small the puppets were. They fit on the puppeteers hands.

Next day, I visited the USSR Economic Achievement Exhibition with a young newlywed Australian couple. The husband concentrated on sweeping his movie camera over everything in sight. His wife was beautiful, bright and curious to learn everything.

Unfortunately, we had a stupid cow for a guide, so I ended up answering all her questions about Russian history and who the people were in the paintings and what they were doing. By now, I felt I could be a fairly competent Russian guide.

In the pouring rain, we took an open train all around the 500 acre exhibition. Although we were wet and freezing, we walked great distances from one pavilion to the next. The exhibitions were not worth the physical torture we endured to see them, except for the Sputniks in the Space exhibition. We then had to walk two miles in the cold driving rain to our tour bus.

At the hotel, I warmed my bones in a hot bath, changed into dry clothes and went to the Intourist Office, where finally I was given my meal coupons for the previous three days. Surprise! I was also given a partial refund on the air tickets that had been misplaced in Uzbekistan. They found some 'miscalculations' and extra expenses to deduct. So I got back about half, which was more than I expected.

I spent a quiet evening packing, and looked forward to being in Helsinki, Finland, where I could relax. I had crammed so much into my six weeks in Russia, I needed a rest.

The End!
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