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MARTHA SEZ: No fries, cheese curds, gravy in Russian Putin

December 15, 2016
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

-Winston Churchill, 1939

What do we know about the Russians?

Russia is easy to find on the globe because it takes up so much of its surface. Not as much as it used to, though, when it was the Soviet Union.

When I first became aware of Russia, it was still the Soviet Union, America's sworn enemy. In elementary School, the deafening blare of the air raid warning signal interrupted us as we chalked arithmetic problems on the blackboard and read aloud about Dick and Jane.

During air raid drills we hid under our desks, hoping that this wasn't the real thing, because we had serious doubts about the efficacy of those wooden school desks against the atomic bomb. It was the Russians we were hiding from, the Russians we feared.

Many people back then built bomb shelters in their yards and stocked them with canned goods and other supplies to tide over their families while they waited out the aftermath of a nuclear blast. Everybody knew that radiation produced by the explosion would make it unsafe to go outside for a long time.

In 1960, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev memorably banged his shoe on the table in protest during a meeting of the United Nations. What was he protesting? Don't know.

It was said that trying to understand Khrushchev was like peeling an onion layer by layer and never getting to the core.

Also memorable was Sputnik, the first satellite, launched by the Russians in 1957, and then, in 1961, the first manned spacecraft. I still remember astronaut Yuri Gagarin orbiting the earth, thereby beating us in the fiercely competitive U.S./Russian Space Race.

We learned in school about the Russian revolution against the White Russian monarchy and about the poverty and hunger in Russia after Communism was instituted. People's farms were taken away, so they couldn't work their own land. Women were forced to work, so children couldn't stay home; they were placed in government daycare facilities. No June Cleaver or Harriet Nelson in Russia. People had to wait in long lines for potatoes, and they weren't allowed to worship God. All of the illustrations in our social studies book were printed in full color except for the one in the chapter on Russia; that was stark black and white and gray.

The Russians were depicted humorously in American cartoons, films and television. Boris Badenov and Natasha, Russian spies, delighted fans of the "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show." In the 1966 movie comedy "The Russians are Coming, the Russians Are Coming," a New England village is panicked by the accidental landing of a Soviet submarine.

James Bond thrillers, including "From Russia with Love," reinforced and shaped our view of the Soviets. So, in a different way, did "Dr. Zhivago," a 1965 British/Italian epic romantic drama film.

What do we really know about Russians? These people who famously fought with pitchforks against invading Nazi troops also have their sensitive side. I love Leo Tolstoy's novel "Anna Karenina" so much that I keep rereading it, and every time I see the characters and the story itself in a different light.

My mother bought special dyes and wax and a metal stylus one spring and after that we all made Russian wax-resist Easter eggs every year. I liked the wooden nesting dolls-within-dolls that you keep opening until you come to the final, tiny babushka woman.

There is the Russian ballet, of course, represented by the highly memorable dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.

In addition to potatoes, Russians favor caviar, as well as borscht and stroganoff. Don't forget Stolichnaya-everyone knows that Russians drink a lot of vodka-unmixed, cool, from a glass, never right from the bottle.

America's Cold War with the Soviet Union lasted from 1947, the year I was born, until 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart. The air raid drills and fallout shelters of my youth may now seem naive, foolish, even laughable. Still, Russia has a long history of brutally targeting civilians.

Even now, Russian bombers are backing up Syrian government ground troops in a large-scale execution of civilians in Aleppo, Syria.

Mitt Romney said in 2012 that Russia is our "number one geopolitical foe." Today the CIA is warning that the Russians interfered in our 2016 presidential election.

What's the deal with Putin?

We have a lot to learn.

Have a good week.



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