Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tehran 1943: The Rostov Youth Who Saved the Big Three

On this date in 1943, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt came together at the Tehran Conference to plan strategy in the war against Nazi Germany. Hitler had learned about their plans for a secret meeting and plotted to have them killed or kidnapped. His efforts were thwarted thanks in part to Gevork Vartanyan, a Russian lad born here in Rostov-on-Don, who moved to Iran with his parents.

Just happen to have a photo of The Big Three taken two years after Tehran, during their Yalta Conference in 1945. This, their final meeting together, was at Livadia Palace, the Crimean Republic of Ukraine.

Okay, back to Tehran in 1943. . .

Russia Today (RT) interviewed our hero, Gevork Vartanyan, the legendary spy, now retired. History buffs will enjoy this interview in English. He's quite loyal and diplomatic too as shown when the interviewer asked for his candid opinion about Stalin and his leadership in the war.

This interview is in Russian and conducted at a Moscow university. Here Vartanyan is shown together with his wife. As I understand it, Vartanyan says 75% of his intelligence efforts were thanks to his wife.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Russian Teens Baffled by Communist Holiday

Back in the days when the Communist Party ran things around here, November 7th was the Day of the Revolution, a major holiday. Today the party faithful still parade through town, their ranks a only remnant of earlier strength. But to the teenagers I ran on a recent afternoon, November 7th was just another day. In fact, they were clueless that it had ever been a holiday. Here's how that went.

Sure, you can take my picture, I said. Just make sure I'm the youngest, thinnest and the most beautiful one in the photo. (Whahah!)

Well, they did try. ;)

I'd been downtown an hour or so already, perusing souvenirs from sidewalk vendors in Gorky Park and hoping to target some Communists. With my camera, of course. November 7th is their big day so they were making their presence known. They were celebrating the October Revolution, when Communist forces lead by Vladimir Lenin took over the Russian government. That was shortly after Czar Nicholas II was booted out of office and summarily executed.

Well, November 7th no longer a public holiday and the Communist Party has faded considerably. But to the die-hard party loyalists, the day remains sacred. Earlier that morning, en route to church, we had spotted a few dozen celebrants gathered near the Stella statue, waving their red flags with gold hammers and sickles. Their usual routine is to march through the city on Pyshkinskaya Boulevard making considerable racket with bullhorns and a brass band and then gather at the statue of Lenin.

Later that afternoon, I managed to catch several stragglers who were lingering after the festivities. I was still watching for Communists and sure enough, there at the Lenin statue was a faithful komrad, pleased to salute for a photo.

The placard says something about 93 years since the revolution. And that is of such significance to the three-plus generations of Russian folk who lived under Communism.

See the teens on the street would have been born after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, after Russia opened up in the early 1990's and after the USSR dissolved soon thereafter. They don't remember life before McDonald's. Their parents and grandparents would remember the fanfare of November 7th, of course, up through the 1980's. Girls would remember getting new dresses for the parade and the masses were released from school and work to celebrate in the city streets.

So then, I wanted to know what these youth were thinking. And they wanted to take my picture so we got to chatting.

Me: Is today an important holiday to you?

Them: Today is a holiday? (giggle, giggle) What holiday is it? Maybe Men's Day?

Noooo, Men's Day is in February.

Is it Russian Independence Day?

Nooo, Independence Day is in June. . .

See the man over there at Lenin's Statue? The guy with the red flag? Today's the day of the October Revolution, when Communism came into power.

Ohhh. . . (giggle, giggle)

So that was the end of that. And then it was on to questions about the America, the usual questions. Another topic entirely. . .

Oh, you need to meet Komrad So-and-so. We met earlier in the park when I was looking for souvenirs. Seems that he's a local officer of The Party.

He was chatting with the coin and pin vendor there at Gorky Park, near the statue of Lenin.

He was kind enough to let me circle around as to get a better shot at him. I didn't mention that I'd been hoping to photograph folks of his ilk. . .

The statue to Lenin. It's amazing how many Lenin statues are still standing throughout Russia and Ukraine. Probably interesting to know how many have been pulled down, too.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Of Billboards, Elephants and Snickers

Advertising is so interesting. Especially when it's about eating. Especially when it's about eating nutrient-loaded candy bars.

So what's with this Snickers? Let's zoom on in a wee bit closer. Say, can you smell that yet? As for me, my nose is still processing the men's after-shave that just wafted past. . .

Have you ever eaten an elephant?

Snickers Super: The Very Biggest in History.

No connection ~ either implied or inferred (whatever that means) ~ between plowing through Snickers Supers and turning into an elephant.