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Here am I floating in a tin can

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The other night I was talking with a Romanian friend about life then and now in Eastern Europe. He said that his parents were used to the communist lifestyle. Life was quiet, but it wasn’t all bad. Yeah, there were queues for meat, but if you had the right connections, you could get it. They had trips to the beach every summer. Universities were challenging and intellectualism was highly valued.

These types of memories always leave me with pangs of nostalgia, as if lining up in blue and white clothes at school and singing songs about the state before competing in gymnastics to try to win the olympics were my experiences, instead of hanging out at the Lakewood Mall after school and shopping for deals at outlet stores followed by frozen yogurt or perhaps skating at the roller rink to the songs of Journey or REO Speedwagon, as the social rules of Southern California life generally dictated.

I often wonder why I long for the austerity of the communist era. It isn’t purely political, though I admire Marx’s writing. I was just drawn to that which was out of my experience. I think the need for difference is the same that caused kids in Moscow to wish for American styles and pop culture thoughout the 70’s and glasnost 80’s. Of course, all you ever hear is that Russian kids wanted American life because Americans are free and Russia is brutal and awful. But well, what if they just wanted something exotic?

Communist era Russia is plenty exotic for me. I think of films like “Goodbye Lenin”, with the austere concrete architecture of East Berlin (ok not Russia, but close enough) with the pale and sadly faded domestic interiors occupied by Alex’s mother. Pale and faded interiors remind me a lot of cold-war era eastern europe. Whenever I see films the interiors are sort of faded and nondescript, which contributes to the long-ago sadness of the cold-war era.

In fact, nondescript is a good word for my impression of communist culture. I imagine (as that is all I can do) that life was altogether very nondescript and quiet then, sort of like the faded flowered wallpaper on Kathrin Sass’s walls. Pop cultural movements and products and marketing messages weren’t being broadcasted out of Russia at high volume. But this is precisely what I like about communism – the quietness and anonymity of it, the sort of poetry of not having our every move, taste and conscious or subconsious thought turned into fodder for the advertising machine.

Will nondescriptness ever come to America? Will we ever just be boring people going about our lives without a need for the sensational, new or colorful? I don’t think that the American government will ever experiment with anything like communism. There are many who would argue that it is politically and economically flawed, and maybe it is. But I think that we could learn a lesson on how to live, amazingly enough, from the people who waited in lines for meat.

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Written by nattie

April 10, 2006 at 5:37 am

Posted in editorial

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