Samovars, Bears, and Chaikas

Posted: October 19, 2016 in Uncategorized
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The last few days have been pretty excellent. On Friday I looked at files from Ulyanovsk Camp 215 in the military archive. Then, Friday evening, I met ASEEES crew for a great meal at a Cuban restaurant called Aruba Bar. The food was fairly authentic. There were also pretty decent $5 mojitos, so I was quite happy with that. The place got pretty packed later in the evening, seemingly with lots of Cuban or Latin ex-pats. It seemed the owner of the café was also Cuban. There was even live music. img_1803

Saturday was an awesome day. I woke up at went to the giant souvenir/flea market at the Partizanskaya metro stop, out by the hotels built for the 1980 Olympics, with some Canadian neighbors and a Russian friend. It was a fun moment for me, as our Russian friend had never been there, so I was showing something new to a born and bred Muscovite. The market was its usual collection of funny and cool stuff. There were the obligatory souvenirs like matryoshki (nesting dolls), ushanki (fur hats), and Putin themed coffee mugs. The back half of the market is more of a real flea market filled with tons of Soviet things like banners, military uniforms, and samovars (the traditional Russian tea making vessel). I saw quite a few paintings of Lenin for sale, as well as a couple of Stalins and Brezhnevs. Sadly, there didn’t seem to be any portraits of Khrushchev, Andropov, Chernenko, or Gorbachev for sale. So much for any attempt to collect paintings of all of the Soviet leaders.

If only I had the money and space for these kinds of things.

If only I had the money and space for these kinds of things.

The market also had some cool stuff like entire bear and wolf skins, complete with the heads.

Who doesn't want a whole bear skin?

Who doesn’t want a whole bear skin?

The market has two strange trends involving military paraphernalia. The first is that it seems it was possible to buy actual guns such as Kalashnikovs (AK-47s), MP-40s (the famous Wehrmacht gun from WWII), and Moisin Nagants (the Russian rifle that saw service in both World Wars and the Civil War). I’m not sure if they were deactivated show pieces or if they were firing weapons. The other somewhat troubling thing for sale was Second World War items such as helmets, bullets, ammo lines, and mess kits. Many of the items were damaged and badly rusted, which implies that they were dug from former battle sites. This is an increasingly popular activity in the battle fields of the Eastern Front. There are some legitimate groups that do this in order to find, attempt to identify, and properly bury German and Soviet soldiers. However, there are also a series of scavengers, known as black diggers, who plunder what are essentially grave sites and sell the memorabilia.

Looted military goods and guns. What could go wrong?

Looted military goods and guns. What could go wrong?

While heading out of the market and towards the metro, I got excited because I saw a Chaika limousine off in the distance. The Chaika was an ultra-elite Soviet limo that was made from 1959 to 1981. In order to catch a photo of it, I sprinted a bit of a distance. To my surprise, there wasn’t just one Chaika but three Chaiki! I got a few good photos, and a video of one driving off into the distance. This particular limo was so well known and exclusive, that the elite lanes of travel on some major Moscow roads were called Chaika lanes. These lanes existed on some of the major thoroughfares, and only official vehicles with occupants of high status were allowed to travel in them. This basically set the precedent for the modern Russian practice of official cars with blue lights on them, megalki, driving however they please through the cities of Russia. By the time I was done taking the photos, the others had caught up and were laughing at me running after the cars and my glee at photographing them. It’s occasions such as these when I’m really crushed that I’m not doing Soviet automobiles for my dissertation.

Chaika limos were made from 1959 to 1981.

Chaika limos were made from 1959 to 1981.

After wandering around the market for a few hours, we headed off to a great and cheap Uzbek restaurant for a filling and much needed lunch before we headed back to the dormitory. Saturday was a special day for us, or rather me. Technically my birthday was on Sunday, but Sunday is not a good night to party. Thus, my wonderful dorm neighbors decided to help me celebrate starting around 9:00 PM on Saturday and into Sunday. I had to make a brief escape during the festivities for about an hour to have plov with Ali, the security guard from Uzbekistan. He promised to make some in honor of my birthday, and indeed he did. It was probably the best plov I have ever had. We had a nice conversation and had a few toasts in the hallway of the guard’s corridor.

Yummy Uzbek plov goodness.

Yummy Uzbek plov goodness.

I was pleasantly surprised on Monday when I was able to get my passport back a few days early. I now have a multi-entry visa that’s good until the end of July. Armed with my passport, I went to the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) yesterday and got my ID without any problems. I went up to the reading room and spoke with Nina Ivanovna, the archivist who can be very intimidating at times. I said that I had ordered documents over a month ago, but that they had probably been returned while I was waiting to get my passport back from the migration service. She said that was probably the case but checked quickly for me. She said that they had indeed been returned, but that I could order them again. I went to the computer and ordered a series of files electronically and then headed back to the reading room window to sign that request and ask for a paper form for the few folders that don’t appear in the electronic catalog. Upon returning with the paper form, Nina Ivanovna told me wait. She said she would check to see if she had some of the folders on microfilm or microfiche in her backroom. A few minutes later, she came out with one folder on microfiche. I thanked her profusely before heading off to find a microfiche reader along the back wall of the reading room. Then, right after I sat down and began to get settled with my computer, Nina Ivanovna appeared with two more folders on microfiche for me. I don’t know what miracle has transpired, but somehow Nina Ivanovna no longer hates me and I managed to get three folders instantly in a Russian archive. I feel a gift of chocolate will be soon due for Nina Ivanovna.

GARF was also good because it has a nice cafeteria in it with good food, cheap prices, and the nicest lady ever working behind the counter. I managed to get a large bowl of shchi (Russian cabbage soup), a pork chop in an apple and cream sauce, a side of potatoes, and a cup of tea all for under $4.00. Armed with caffeine and lunch, I was able to head back to my folders and microfiche reader without feeling the wish to die. Now that I can work in three archives (the State Archive of the Russian Federation and the Russian State Economic Archive share a reading room and ID), I’ll be spending pretty much every week day at the archives for the near future.

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