Russia and the CIS
PAINFUL PROSPERITY—REINVENTING A SOCIETY
I knew that I would be in for a wild ride when I boarded my first Aeroflot flight. The plane was decrepit to put it kindly, with seatbelts that were torn. The pilots, former military flyers, taxied down the runway, and before I knew it I was looking straight up as the jet went vertical until we reach cruising altitude. Flight attendants dressed in what looked like nurse uniforms walked down the aisles handing out apple juice from rickety carts. It was 1982.
Russian language was one of my minors in college and I was fortunate to have been taught by two dedicated professors: Edward Danowitz, who taught the Apollo astronauts basic Russian for their meeting in space with their Soyuz counterparts; and Sasha Boguslavski, who led my first trip to the former Soviet Union. In retrospect, as enjoyable as Russian was, I should have studied Chinese!
I was fortunate to first visit Russia when it was still in the throes of communist rule. Yuri Andropov, the premier, had just died. I knew that, it was all over the news. But, the majority of Russians and Soviets had no idea. They were told he was ill. And, like a nation spoon-fed everything else, they believed it.
By the time I returned home after more than a month, I had lost 15 pounds. The only other country where I can lose weight so fast is China. My diet consisted of Tuc crackers and Fanta or Pepsi Cola. There was little to eat that was appetizing unless borscht is up ...