Monday, March 17, 2014

The End of the Siberian Affair

Yesterday we sat down to one final luncheon before the Oligarch and Elena departed for Novosibirsk. The Oligarch thanked me for joining them, and reiterated Gennadiy’s statement that I am now “part of the family.” He took the sentiment one step farther, however, by offering me a Russian passport. “Just say the word, and I will call the right people.” I laughed it off, but I don’t think he was joking.

Once the Oligarch and Elena left, I discovered I was in for a boozier, more Russified version of Home Alone. There were still eight of us in the fortress, as well as a formidable quantity of vodka, and that fueled a heated debate over who won WWII. Russians think the Nazis were beat by the Soviets at Stalingrad, even if Americans are all about the Allies and D-Day. I think it’s natural that each country emphasizes their own achievements, but the Russians see our ignorance of their contributions as a personal insult. When I tried to explain that it was all a matter of perspective, Vanya started throwing figures at me, reminding me that the USSR lost 22 million people in the war. “Maybe the Americans just fought better,” I suggested. He didn’t take kindly to that one, but thankfully, that exhausted my ability to goad him in his language. And anyway, the Russians were ready to take the party upstairs for some song and dance.

Before we called it a night, there were still a few more rounds of toasts to make. This time I opted to deliver mine in Russian, saying something about how I appreciated having the chance to spend time in a place most Americans never see with such a wonderful group of people. I thought it was impressive enough that I was speaking Russian, but yet again, I was chastised for not delivering a 10-minute soliloquy. However, Nikita 2 managed to make an even shorter toast when he stood up and said, “To America!” Given how angry everyone is with Obama and the US these days, I was flattered that they were willing to raise their glasses to America. If Cold War II breaks out, at least I’ll know I did my part to prevent it.

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