Sunday, June 15, 2008


The NYT ran two pieces this weekend that seem unrelated but are actually variations on a theme. Clifford Levy:

Yelena Kasyanova booked her trip at a local travel agency in about as much time it takes to drop by the market for a few groceries. She was soon lounging here by the Mediterranean, a working-class anybody from an anyplace deep in Russia, a child of the Soviet era who still remembers the humiliating strictures that once made it difficult to obtain a passport, let alone a plane ticket.

And all around the beach were so many just like her. ...

There is perhaps no better symbol of the growth in Russian tourism than the very resort where Ms. Kasyanova was staying, the Kremlin Palace Hotel, a kind of Las-Vegas-does-Moscow-by-the-shore extravaganza whose buildings are replicas of major sights at the Kremlin complex and nearby neighborhood. ...

"It is now so easy — buy a package tour for $800, and here we are, in paradise," said Ms. Kasyanova, who, like many Russians here, was amused by the resort’s trappings but also interested in exploring the mountains and other places nearby. "It speaks of the high standard of life in Russia, of the improvement in life in Russia." ...

"For us, it’s like a fairy tale to be here," said Lilia Valeyeva, 46, a clerk from Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains who had never before been abroad when she visited Turkey two years ago. Since then, she has returned twice. ...

Many Russians interviewed here credited Mr. Putin, the former president and current prime minister, for their ability to travel, saying that he was responsible for Russia’s new prosperity.

"It is not like before, when we were afraid of everything,” said Larisa Kazakova, 32, a real estate agent from Yekaterinburg. "We travel, and we live a good life." ...

The writer and commentator Viktor Yerofeyev said he had noticed that the more Russians traveled, the more they tended to lose some of the coarseness that at times characterized Soviet society.

"Through all this travel, we are seeing a change in mentality at home," Mr. Yerofeyev said. "People are now seeking pleasure, whether it is in the night clubs of Moscow or in restaurants. Travel is a continuation of that pleasure. Just to have pleasant lives, not to suffer, to feel positive. Their life compass changes, from ‘I don’t care about anything’ to ‘I would like to have a better life.’ ...

The biggest struggle now for the Turkish hotels is to find enough staff members who speak Russian. Those in the tourism industry who had mastered German and English are returning to language school.

"Everybody is studying Russian now," said Suat Esenli, a worker at the Kremlin Palace Hotel...

And from Bob Herbert's column:

A man who described himself as a conscientious worker who has always pinched his pennies wrote the following to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont:

"This winter, after keeping the heat just high enough to keep my pipes from bursting (the bedrooms are not heated and never got above 30 degrees) I began selling off my woodworking tools, snowblower, (pennies on the dollar) and furniture that had been handed down in my family from the early 1800s, just to keep the heat on.

"Today I am sad, broken, and very discouraged. I am thankful that the winter cold is behind us for a while, but now gas prices are rising yet again. I just can’t keep up." ...

Senator Sanders asked his constituents to write to him about their experiences in a difficult economy. He was blown away by both the volume of responses and “the depth of the pain” of many of those who wrote.

A 55-year-old man who said his economic condition was "very scary," wrote: "I don’t live from paycheck to paycheck. I live day to day." He has no savings, he said. His gas tank is never more than a quarter full, and he can’t afford to buy the "food items" he would like.

His sense of his own mortality was evident in every sentence, and he wondered how long he could continue. "I am concerned as gas prices climb daily," he said. "I am just tired. The harder that I work, the harder it gets. I work 12 to 14 hours daily, and it just doesn’t help."

A working mother with two young children wrote: "Some nights we eat cereal and toast for dinner because that’s all I have."

Another woman said she and her husband, both 65, "only eat two meals a day to conserve."

A woman who has been trying to sell her house for two years and described herself as "stretched to the breaking point," told the senator, "I don’t go to church many Sundays because the gasoline is too expensive to drive there."

Many of the letters touched on the extremely harsh winter that pounded Vermont and exacerbated the economic distress. With fuel prices sky-high, many residents turned to wood to heat their homes. A woman with a 9-year-old son wrote:

"By February, we ran out of wood and I burned my mother’s dining room furniture. ... I’d like to order one of your flags and hang it upside down at the Capitol building. ... We are certainly a country in distress."

One might argue, perhaps correctly, that these are just momentary, newsprint-ready snapshots of a much larger landscape. Or that after centuries of insularity and suffering, Russia's upward mobility is both natural and long overdue. But the oil-related reversal in fortunes for the U.S. and Russia in just a few years is stunning. While Russians' "life compasses" change (check out the photo at the top of Levy's article here) Americans pawn family heirlooms, use dining room furniture for firewood, stay home from church because they can't afford to go, and fill up their cars a quarter-tank at a time. "Everybody is studying Russian now" sums up this administration's legacy pretty well. Instead of crediting Putin, Russians might want to send their thank-you notes to the White House, care of the Federal Reserve.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, at what cost has Russia prospered?-
Putin has destroyed many of the threads of democracy that had taken hold in Russia, used the power of his office to embolden and enrich his friends local and international, and trodden over civil liberties.

Oh... wait a minute....

6/15/2008 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If "everyone was studying Russian" after eight years of a Gore presidency, what would that loyal 25% be saying right now?

6/15/2008 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well well well.... these are people who lived their entire working lives in some of the most prosperous times mankind has ever seen.
There is no helping the stupid.


6/15/2008 10:38 PM  
Anonymous JackofAllTirades said...


I don't know every story or every detail of some of the senator's constiuents, but there is such a thing as compassion.

Many people really are one major illness or one job loss away from suffering a catastrophe.

It doesn't sound to me like these are necessarily people who spent all the equity in their homes or decided to get a new car every year.

I've done well over the past 6 years in the stock market, but I also consider myself lucky; not necessarily smarter than everyone else.

6/15/2008 11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But.... But..... Tim Russert died! It's the most important thing to happen EVER! And Russert LOVED the common folk! Why, Jack Welch couldn't get enough sentimental tales of his plainspun Buffalo childhood!
-- sglover

6/16/2008 12:24 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

A little perspective though please. Russia still has to go a long way up and the US a long, long way down before most Russians can dream of living like your average American. There are pockets of prosperity in Russia but rural and small town Russia is still desperately poor, the roads are a disaster, most of the capital is still going overseas, almost nothing is being invested in a systematic way to improve Russia's education, transport or healthcare systems. I'm more bitter about the way that Germany and France have brand spanking new infrastructure and actually look like 21st century countries while we spend our capital on imperial overseas ventures. The US just looks shabby these days, it's embarassing. In fact the real beneficiaries of Russia's oil wealth are Western European nations, that attract most of the capital the Russians generate.

6/16/2008 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The chick in the red bikini is smokin' hot...

6/16/2008 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sglover --

You and John Cole are two peas in a pod. Not that I disagree, mind you. Russert seemed like an agreeable enough sort, but it is unseemly how the media gets so worked up over talking about itself.

6/16/2008 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You can travel a great distance down in freefall. I'm not saying you don't make some good points. I am saying that the US standard of living is in freefall.

6/17/2008 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Green Eagle said...

Anonymous said...

If "everyone was studying Russian" after eight years of a Gore presidency, what would that loyal 25% be saying right now?

What if everyone was studying the language of the Easter Bunny? Whatever we might have been doing after eight years of Gore, we are now facing crushing debt, a society torn apart, destruction of the middle class, an army devastated by a criminal invasion of another country, a dollar worth half of what it was, torture, imprisonment without trial, corruption from top to bottom in government agencies, political persecution of the administration's enemies, vast increases in the pool of people who might commit terrorist acts against us.... that's what Bush did. And you are trying to tell us that Gore would have done worse?

6/17/2008 7:10 PM  
Anonymous viagra online said...

I have never been to Russia, but I would like to go someday because I have heard that it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world

1/18/2011 4:36 PM  
Anonymous escort roma said...

I fully match with whatever thing you have presented us.

6/28/2011 3:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

buy xanax online xanax joint pain - xanax drug interactions prozac

11/18/2012 10:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home