December 20, 2006

East Maybe Doesn't Quite Meet West

East Maybe Doesn't Quite Meet West

The morning after our Russia show last week, we received a delightful email from Georgi Derluguian, one of the guests. It had all the humor and personality of his on-air presence, as well as smart observations about America:

Would you tell your boss that he and Cohen managed to bring out a Marxist in me? A whole hour devoted to adoration of one personality, as if more common Russian let alone Ukrainians and Armenians did not exist and everything was decided by the emotional attachments and beliefs? What struck me when first came to America was the absolutely peculiar genre of presidential histories. Coming to a country with such a strong and Puritanical civic religion from the joyous and cynical Eastern Europe was quite some experience. Oh, well, since we’ve spent so much time on the phone yesterday, at least, try reading my articles some during during the vacations. Just a few pages, will you? Otherwise I’d feel I have wasted half a day to realize once again that American intelligentsia was even more hopeless than Russian.

With proletarian greetings from Chicago!


Georgi Derluguian, in an email to Open Source, 15 December 2006

We emailed back and forth a couple of times, and he then sent a little story from the Los Angeles Times that illustrates perfectly the gap between the Russian and American soul — and gives hope that it might be bridged.

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  • herbert browne

    I’m a little surprised that a search for the proper wood ashes wasn’t also called for, since that’s another part of creating “the right dirt” for potatoes… (but locating a shed where someone’s goats were wintered, in Maryland, may be asking too much). ^..^

  • Igor

    Right, I agree with Georgi 100%, that’s my experience too. While I was not so much of a marxist back in Russia, here in US I often find myself drawn back to marxist mode of analysis when confronted with what passes as official ideology here. And it’s not out of stubbornness or defensiveness, more like out of sheer desperation from the vacuousness of what is being said.

    The feelings are often paradoxical, sometimes it seems that in some respects Americans even “out-Soviet” us poor Soviets, like with this figure of “presidential historian” (and a prominent feature of many a talk show). I mean, there were no shortage of sycophants in Russia, but in was always considered a little shameful, nothing to be proud of, and here is this guy singing odes to all and every president there was and parading it all over the TV.

    Interestlingly, it may have something to do with the way our cultural filters work, like in Russia we used to filter out all this “Granddaddy Lenin”, “dear Leonid Ilyich”, etc. stuff, Americans don’t even notice similar noise coming from US media. It’s only when the pattern is broken, like Americans reading about Stalin’s “cult of personality”, we Russians here in the midst of America, or American historians talking their “American” talk about Russian history, that it becomes visible. Interestingly too, Americans tend to agree to “American” version to foreign events, it looks like it’s more important to fit the mold than to be true to facts. And ROS is addressed to American audience after all…

    BTW, Georgi, by “proletarian greetings from Chicago” are you alluding to 1864?

  • Igor

    Read the LATimes piece. Sweet and sour… My marriage is also a commuter marriage, but in reverse to that of the article, I’m working here, my wife and children come and go. We live in a rented house, actually, an apartment in two-apartment house, so we don’t plant potatoes, but we grow tomatos instead, the way house owners, who happen to be Armenians, did when they lived here. At the same time my wife is very enthusiastic about flowers, when she left last fall, she ordered me to collect all the seeds…

    As to the wood ashes, it depends upon the dirt you are trying to improve, sometimes (in acidic soils) you’ll need calcium, and that means you have to collect egg shells, crush them and put into the dirt 🙂

  • herbert browne

    Yes, Igor… I agree about the eggshells. With tomatoes, though, I’d be making friends with the local baristas, and offering to remove their old coffee grounds, as well.

    Re ..”confronted with what passes as official ideology here..” (& going back to Georgi”s “..coming to a country with such a strong and Puritanical civic religion..”)

    Yes… the very thought that a President- or presidential candidate- may have “sinned”, morally &/or civically, brings about a painful return to something like the emotional schoolyard, with an almost instantaneous formation of an Accusing Chorus- leading to eye-rolling statements that media people solemnly record for publication, eg “I didn’t inhale” etc etc. However, we also include a cultural milieu that may some day require of any Male Black candidate for office that he has spent some time in jail- just so that he can be viewed as a “genuine member of the civic culture” whom he intends to serve (& this will be even more likely to come about if/when convicted felons have their voting rights returned to them).

    The egg shells crush more easily when they’re dried a bit… when we had young children, & chickens, the eggshells were set on a rack on top of the wood stove & toasted a little… ^..^