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 Post subject: From Russia With Lies
Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 26 Apr 2012 14:57 
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From Russia With Lies

Published by Elena Gorokhova on 21 October 2011

We hear so much about Vladimir Putin these days.

When he isn’t driving race cars and snowmobiles, he dives to the bottom of the Black Sea.

But something was off in that picture of the Russian prime minister wading out of the water with two ancient amphorae…

In the summer of 1973, when I was 18, I camped on a Black Sea beach with a Ukrainian boy named Boris, whose blue eyes and sun-bleached hair made my knees wobble every time I looked in his direction. Had my mother discovered this transgression (I was supposed to be vacationing at my girlfriend’s family’s dacha), I would have felt a shame greater than what befell me six years later, when I betrayed my country by marrying an American and leaving Russia. But that summer, the Crimean sun, the turquoise sea and Boris’s cinnamon tan led me astray into the adult world of vranyo.

Vranyo. is a Russian word for lying — a special form of lying. I learned of it in a Leningrad nursery school from Aunt Polya, who was in charge of the kitchen and who wasn’t really my aunt. She loomed over us with a pitcher of warm milk and a tray with slices of buttered bread that had absorbed all the rancid smells of the kitchen, watching closely to make sure we ate and drank everything. We all knew she was watching us, she knew that we knew and we knew she knew that we knew. She gave us surprise glances, and we chewed diligently, pretending we didn’t expect her to look. We all played the game: my sister played it at school, and my parents played it at work. All of us pretended, the watchers and the watched.

When I recently opened The New York Times and saw Vladimir Putin — soon to become, once again, Russia’s president — walking out of the Black Sea with two nearly intact ancient amphorae in his hands, the vranyo alarm went off. I immediately thought of Boris, who 38 years earlier dove to 75 feet, only to emerge with small amphora shards — broken pieces of necks and handles — that archaeologists working nearby offered to buy for a gallon of local wine. At the time we both wanted the wine, but somehow our respect for history prevailed, and the amphora shards sat on a shelf in my apartment in Leningrad for many years.

So how was Putin able to find these artifacts? In the picture he wears a wet suit and an oxygen mask as if he had gone to great depths. But why did the amphorae, which had presumably been sitting under water for 2,600 years, look so clean?

The smell of vranyo was so strong I had to put down the paper. I was sure that thousands of Russians were smirking in recognition of the old pretending game: Putin was lying to us, we knew he was lying, he knew we knew he was lying, but he kept lying anyway, and we pretended to believe him. It was clear he couldn’t have found the ceramic jugs on his Black Sea dive. Numerous archaeological expeditions had been searching for these artifacts for decades. Even if there were still a few left to be discovered, what were the chances of the 59-year-old prime minister diving to the murky depths of millennial history?

But then it occurred to me that a great number of Putin’s constituents were born during or after Perestroika. They were never forced to march in an October Revolution Day parade. They didn’t grow up with only two major newspapers, The Truth and The News, or know the standard joke that there is no news in The Truth and no truth in The News. They never had an Aunt Polya to teach them about vranyo. While I envy this uncommunist generation, I do see one deficiency: They have lost the ability to detect a lie.

A week later, The Times reported that the Putin Black Sea dive was a setup. The ancient amphorae had been found during an archaeological dig and placed in six feet of water. Putin didn’t need a wet suit. All he needed to do was bend down, wrap his fingers around the handles and look into the camera.

Did those young Russians who never learned about vranyo believe in the Putin who waded out of the sea, clutching history? Did they see him as a hero? The picture had everything to make our hearts flutter with patriotic pride: a strongman defying time and human limitations. My own heart warmed not to Putin but to the photograph’s Black Sea backdrop. It made me pine for my youth, for the Crimea and for blue-eyed Boris. I never told my mother about that summer, having tucked away the month of salty wind and sleeping on the beach into the dark attic of vranyo. And my mother has never asked me, pretending to believe my story about a girlfriend’s dacha.

Elena Gorokhova is the author of “A Mountain of Crumbs,” a memoir about growing up in Soviet Russia, published by Simon & Schuster in 2010.

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 Post subject: Re: From Russia With Lies
Post Number:#2  PostPosted: 26 Apr 2012 16:00 
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Joined: 28 Oct 2008
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Times_to_FSU: Too many to remember
Elena Gorokhova

Elena Gorokhova grew up in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, in a courtyard that became a more accurate emblem for the Soviet life than the ubiquitous hammer and sickle: a crumbling façade with locked doors and stinking garbage bins behind them. Like everyone else, when she was nine, Elena joined the Young Pioneers and had a red kerchief tied around her neck. A tiny cell in the body of a Leningrad school collective, she promised to live, study, and work as the great Lenin bequeathed every citizen to do.

But she harbored a passion that grew into an un-Soviet failing: at age ten she was seduced by the beauty of the English language and spent the next eight years deciphering its secrets at Leningrad English school # 238, to her mother’s bewilderment. Her mother – born three years before the Soviet state – became a mirror image of her Motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. A front-line surgeon during WWII, she wanted her daughter to be a doctor and a builder of communism, but Elena, in her mother’s words, was “stubborn as a goat.” What followed was the English Department of Leningrad University, a marriage to a visiting American student, and a scandal, both public and private. After six months of official hurdles and family turmoil, Elena left for America, a ravaged suitcase on the KGB inspector’s table with twenty kilograms of what used to be her life. What followed was unknown, and frightening, and filled with mystery.

In the United States, Elena received a Doctorate in Language Education and has taught English as a Second Language, Linguistics, and Russian at various New Jersey colleges and universities. She is married (again) and has a daughter. After taking Frank McCourt’s memoir workshop in 2004, she recalibrated everything she’d written about her Soviet life and turned it into A Mountain of Crumbs.






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