White Nights

It's hard to imagine that "The Enemy" was ever anyone but a group of religious fundamentalists who destroyed Lower Manhattan and who have been committing random acts of extreme violence in this country and throughout the world for more than 15 years.

But it was. In 1987 the arch enemy was the USSR.... The Russians!

And my parents sent me with a tour group from my exchange student organization to the heart of the Iron Curtain: Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). It was an amazing leap of faith, especially considering my father didn't want me to go to Finland because it bordered Russia! My Mom heard that the Hermitage Museum was part of the trip and she sent me in order to pay homage to her master, DaVinci.

Today I opened yesterday's New York Times and the memories flooded back: "White Nights in St. Petersburg". At 16 my parents let me go. I don't usually quote my diaries in this blog. In fact, I never have. But today I will share a few entries (keeping mistakes). The first was written 24 years ago today.

2am, 05 June 1987, for Thursday

I'll never forget tonight no matter how long I live. It proved that the Russians - youth are friendly - wanting to be friends and hospitable. After an extended tour of Moscow's subways (which are incredibly beautiful - like it's own museum) we split into groups - the group I was with didn't go back to the hotel. We met this guy "Gregory" who walked us around the city. He was dressed VERY American - same Reebocks as me, green coat, pink backpack. We told him we wanted some action, so he took us to his grandmother's apartment. We were there with a few of his friends, all drinking wine. Only Gregory spoke relatively great, good or any English. Being there was an undescribable experience. We sipped wine, talked (he said so much!!) and sang. Beatles! Yesterday and others. Then he and his friend sang 2 beautiful songs in Russia. The English he knew... impressive! well, I guess he can read well so he learns long political types of words. He kept saying to make ourselves feel as if it were our home. it did. Afterwards I felt a bit guilty because we didn't trust or believe him at first about his grandmother's house. But, I guess it was understandable!

Moscow is a great city. I cant' describe how strange and unreal it feels to be here. We've seen and done so much already. It's a HUGE city! In the day we went to Red Square and ate in the biggest Restaurant in Europe 2x. 

07 June 1987, writing about 06.06

Well, we got up at about 9 and went to breakfast. By the way, the food's been relatively shitty. It's not too edible. We can't drink the water, and the food... is like eating at camp. 

Afterwards we went to Lenin's tomb. he was actually living there - air tight room and you could see his entire body - along with lot of peoples tomb-stones place in a wall - this is all in red Square, across the street from "Gum". Allison and I went to Gum - kind of something between a mall and a flee market. I bought champagne and something for Nonny. Allison and i sold something on the black market. it's a big buisness - selling on the blackmarket.

Well we took a taxi home and we spoke Finnish the whole time (so the driver didn't think we were Americans). (...)

08 June 1987

Well, yesterday we arrived in Leningrad. Our hotel and the food are better here but the water situation has worsened. The shower water is brown (REALLY!) and REALLY unsafe to drink. They call Leningrad the Venice of the North. 

We went for a long buse ride and were bored. It blows your mind that we're seeing all these things and people we learned last year (I'm talking about my 10th grade High School European History Class). I wish I'd seen it before Mrs. Newcomb's class. 

In the Afternoon we saw the Hermitage in The Winter Garden Palace. I feel like I should have seen the DeVinci's longer and I didn't like the free-style painting of Picasso. (They had a special exhibition on him). 

(...)

Immediately after a small group of us went to the city. I ended up having a pepsi with Jason and Robert. We spent the whole evening/night together. We were in Winter Palace Square enjoying the white nights while watching these people who were so oviously Americans. I made a very accurate and deep comment that they look exactly as we did at CW Post (our pre-departure orientation, at this point we had been living in Europe for about 10 months). They even played with a hacki-sack.

So finally Jason and Roberts friends showed up and we drove around in their LADA for a while looking for friends. Then we found them and did something very romantic and fun, we went for a carriage ride. Done in the "sunset" (at 12.30am). It was an undescribably feeling sitting up there in front with Robert and the guy. Then we stopped and drank champagne and ate little cakes. I was a bit tipsy.

Then they drove to the other side of the bridge because they rise at 2 am - 4am so the boats can go into the city. From there we hitchhiked home.

I hope you enjoyed "foreign correspondent" and future Soccer Mom's view of the world. Maybe I'll see if I can scan some pictures sometime.    These days my world is really Central Jersey and instead of ornate Russian subways, I travel by Japanese cars. Coming home from Finland I LOVED reading the New York Times Travel Section every Sunday and desperately wanted to be a Correspondent. Looking back now, I wouldn't give up my kids or husband or my life (insert small sigh) but I see that part of me was on the path of any good travel writer: observe and share.

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