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Ten hits from Irkutsk

humpty-dumptyrussia-putin.jpeg5-1057x960It appears Putin is nostalgic for the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and wants to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In this case it appears all the Putin’s horses and all the Putin’s men might at least put some of Mssr Dumpty back together again.

I get a little nostalgic over the USSR myownself. The stats for this blog brought to mind a trip I took. The stats show 10 hits from Irkutsk, a city in Siberia about 16 time zones to the east of here. It lies on the shore of Lake Baikal, the biggest, deepest and probably coldest fresh water lake in the world. More than 30 years ago, I boarded the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Irkutsk and began a 36-hour trip to Novosibirsk.

We had a compartment. It smelled of dirty rags, strong tea and piss.  The dirty-rag aroma came from the linen — if you want to call it that. Babushkas were stationed at the doors at either end of car, and I think one had a samovar. The alleged toilets accounted for the pissoir-heavy air.

images-1In the bar car, we read “Zima Junction” by the fine poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko. We were on the way to Zima, northwest of Irkutsk. Yevtushenko was born there.

It is a not a political poem, but Yevtushenko became popular in the West as he danced around the Soviet iron fist. He did not even approach the Western celebrity status of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the unmercifully boring  novelist whose “The Gulag Archipeligo” attracted great notice in the West.
The luster of his heroism dulled for me when the boys in the politburo allowed him to leave mother Russia and eventually settle in New England. After spending much of his life  bitching and moaning about oppression in the Soviet Union, he bitched and moaned about rampant materialism and decadent values in a free society.

From Zima:

I’d like to see the old familiar pines,

the witnesses of the old-old  bygone times,


when great-granddad, along with other peasants,images

were banished to Siberia as rebels.


From far away

   to God forsaken place,

through mud and rain, deep in disgrace,


along with their wives and kids they were driven,


Ukrainian peasants, from Zhitomir region.


They  plodded,  trying to forget about


the things they treasured most of all, perchance…


The watchful convoy guards on the look out


would look askance at their heavy veiny hands.


The corporal would be playing cards as night would fall


while great-granddad, absorbed in thought all night,


would skilfully  pick up a piece of coal


straight from the fire, to have a light.


It is about going home again, a nostalgia piece from 1955. If Yevtushenko’s nostalgia yet lives, he’s not saying, at least publicly. He seems to be content out of the limelight with the Cold War a distant memory. He’s in his 80s and lives mostly in Tulsa. It was reported that he refuses to criticize Putin. And there is nothing about his views on Putin’s undisturbed waltz into the Ukraine, land of his grandfather.

I don’t suppose I want to see Irkutsk again. And I certainly don’t suppose the Stink Train still runs. Moreover, I’d guess Yevtushenko doesn’t want to return to Zima Station. When you get to a certain age, nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Nonetheless, thank you dear Siberian readers for sparking a memory “from far away.”

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