If there is one thing nearly every Soviet child grew up watching, it is a cartoon by the name Nu Pogodi!/Ну, погоди! The title translates, roughly, to “Well, Just You Wait!” and the plot of the individual episodes is, for all intents and purposes, a prolonged chase scene. In fact if you ask anyone who grew up watching this show to describe it in a phrase, “the Russian Tom and Jerry” is what you'll hear most frequently.
Image co. Wikipedia.
There are two main characters: Wolf (Volk/Волк) and Hare (Zajats/Заяц). As the show falls along the lines of a funny animal cartoon, the animals walk upright, speak and have distinct personalities. Wolf is a social undesirable: he's a smoker, a vandal, a minor criminal, an awful guitar player, &c &c. A friend of has made the case that Wolf is a unflattering caricature of an urban Soviet gypsy/Roma; personally, I don't really see it – he seems more of a slacker/bohemian type to me – but it is something to keep in mind. The Hare, on the other hand, is a model Soviet. Socially conscious and morally upright, he participates positively in society and causes harm to no one. Well, no one except Wolf, who is constantly and unsuccessfully trying to capture and eat him.
Image co. English Russia.
Some of my most fond memories involve watching show. I was practically weaned on it. My paternal grandfather had a reel-to-reel and he would set it up in his bedroom and project the show onto a sheet, while a record of the sound effects played in the background. My maternal grandmother had a smuggled black-and-white VCR on which I would watch bootlegged Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry cartoons, but somehow I always appreciated the projector more.
Here are two of my favorite episodes. Pretty much every single episode may be found on YouTube by searching for "Nu Pogodi". You don't actually have to know Russian to enjoy watching; like the old Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons, almost everything can be gleaned from context. Wolf usually shouts a single phrase per episode, which is a variation on the title. Oh, and don't bother with the 1990s episodes.
Episode 4: Stadium (1971)
Episode 7: Sea Voyage (1973)
...and so, another Christmas Eve descends upon us. For those of you unaware, being Jewish, I don't actually celebrate Christmas. Coming from a secular Jewish family, I don't actually celebrate Hanukkah, either. Growing up, we occasionally paid lip service to any number of Jewish traditions, but I don't think we ever made it past the third or fourth candle. What we celebrate is New Year's Eve.
Christmas, in the Soviet Union, was replaced by the New Year's Eve (Новый Год, lit.: “New Year”) celebration. The (secular) tradition is almost identical: we decorate a tree (Yolka/Ёлка,) eat a hearty meal, gifts are exchanged, and so on. After coming of age, we also get really wrecked. New Year's Eve is not just a holiday, but also the biggest party of the year. I remember digging through old family pictures and finding a few from a NYE party wherein my mother was roughly my age. She, my father, and some of their friends are sitting on a floor, my father playing his guitar. Everyone is absolutely shitfaced. My friends and I are the inheritors of this tradition and, well, let's just say that making plans for January 1st is practically unheard of.
Okay, I mentioned presents. Well, we Soviets did not have Saint Nicholas. Communism did not look fondly upon the opium of the masses (although not even Stalin himself could neither put down the Church, nor Judaism) but considering the depressive qualities of the Soviet winter, something had to be done. So instead of Saint Nick, we have Ded Moroz (Дед Мороз) - “Grandfather Frost.” Tagging along is his beautiful young daughter Snegurochka (Снегурочка) - “The Snow Maiden.” What surprises a lot of my American-born friends is Grandfather Frost's color palette; unlike in the states he comes in both red and blue varieties, both equally acceptable.
Image co. Voices from Russia.
So, that's how we do. I did mention gifts, though, and here is one for you all. It is David Sedaris' classic story of Christmas-based openmindedness, Six To Eight Black Men. (NB: The video portion isn't particularly relevant, so I'm leaving the windows tiny for ease of browsing.)
I am an immigrant. A naturalized citizen of these United States. I consider myself an American (unless I have to tell someone abroad where I'm from, in which case the answer is a quick-shot “New York.”) My family came, escaped here from the Soviet Union. My fascination with that fallen empire exists only through the visors/blinders of nostalgia. I can't deny where I came from, where I had my formative experiences, where my love for art and culture sprouted. However, I also can't deny that it was a quagmire of a country, started on genuinely valiant terms and eventually run into the ground by a psychotic despot. I don't love the USSR (or Russia, for that matter,) but it is my homeland, just as America is my home. I cannot claim my grasp of history is anything but cursory, so everything I write from hereon may very well be inaccurate, but it is the way things went down in my head. I invite, welcome and cherish corrections.
I am an unabashed member of the left, and a radical one at that. My politics did not come from an even-handed observations of the two sides and a conscious choice, but rather my personal convictions thrusting me into the lefthand wall at 88 miles per hour. You could say I started climbing the damn thing just as I hit it, to see what was on the other side. I can honestly say that every individual within the legislature can agree on some bill, the ends of which result in my imprisonment. I'm being a bit hyperbolic, but you can see my point.
Twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall fell, and a good part of that fall revolved around Ronald Reagan. Between heated proxy fighting (my old tennis coach used to fly planes for the Soviet forces in Afghanistan) and increased worry over the “assured” part of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (not to mention the USSR's inability to feed their populace) the great symbol of superpower division was toppled. The fall wasn't nearly as spontaneous as history makes it out to be, but there is precious little truly spontaneous history. I'll admit to this being a facile treatment of the issue, but I'm no historian.
Ronald Reagan, whether you think of him as figurehead or mastermind, is partially responsible for who I am. Without the Gipper's nominal efforts, without his administration taking a step back from the brink of nuclear annihilation, my family may have never been able to emigrate to the United States. This leaves me conflicted.
One the one hand, Reagan holds a lion's share of responsibility for the mess our country is in right now. The co-opting of the GOP by hardline conservatism is inextricably linked to his bringing Nixon's “Silent Majority” campaign tactic to a fever pitch, molding it into a veritable religion of intolerant Christian extremism, anti-intellectualism and the very denouncement of reason itself. The 43rd presidential administration, riding Reagan's coattails and stealing an election, dropped us to a nadir as a culture. I never thought I'd see the day where issues settled by the Scopes trial in 1925 would be brought up for questioning. Also: Iran-Contra? The president committed treason. Plain and simple. Our fightin' boys in the Middle East are getting blown to shit with the veritable armory he sold them. How did it all end, you ask? Ollie North, the grand co-conspirator, has a show on Fox. And Reagan himself received a sending-off I can only compare to this Russian joke I found on Wikipedia:
Seeing a pompous and lavish burial of a member of the Politburo, Rabinovich sadly shakes his head: "What a waste! I could have buried the whole Politburo with this kind of money!"
...oh did that felt good to get out. Now here's the other side: I can say all that I just said without fear. I can say that President Ronald Reagan was a treasonous blight upon the citizens of the United States of America. I can say that instead of a funeral procession, they should have dumped him in a potter's field. And you know what? I'm not going to get “disappeared.” I was rescued from a life of poverty and anti-Semitism in the shithole that became of Russia after its turnover to “democracy.” I live in a country where the only reason I am waiting on line for a loaf of bread is because I decided to shop at Trader Joe's. My voice, no matter how insignificant in the grand scheme of things, can be heard by anyone willing to listen, and all the while my teapot remain unsullied by Polonium-210.
Ronald Reagan helped me live the life I do today -- and I love this life because I'm free to spit on his grave regardless.