03 February 2005

Blast from the past

This evening I decided to have a look through the little Berlitz Russian for Travellers phrase book that I have had for a long time.
I bought this book when I was 13. I have always been interested in languages, ever since I can remember. When I was 13, I decided that I wanted to learn Russian. At the time, everything Soviet seemed very exotic to me. It was the end of the Cold War and even the Cyrillic alphabet appeared forbidding and foreboding... just what a 13 year old would be interested in.
I grew up in a small town in Alabama. We had one library and one bookstore as I recall. I couldn't find anything Russian at the community library, but I did find this small Berlitz phrase book at the bookstore. So I bought it with my allowance and I had every intention of learning Russian using this little book. I don't exactly remember if it came with a cassette- I imagine that it would have- but I don't have any recollection of it.
Needless to say, this little phrase book didn't help me learn Russian. But I never lost my interest in learning the language. I was interested in learning the language that Tchaikovsky knew. As a piano student, I became familiar with the works of great Russian composers. Later, I discovered Tolstoy and Dovstoyevski. When I was 15, my mom took me to Memphis to see the Catherine the Great exhibition. I was enthralled.
The same year that I bought this Russian phrase book, there was an article in our local newspaper about an organization called Peace Links. The article said that Peace Links was "campaigning" to connect American and Soviet penpals. So, as directed, I wrote a letter to Betty Bumpers in Washington, DC with a short description of myself and a request to receive a Soviet penpal. Less than a month later, a letter arrived from Washington. When I opened the envelope, there was a red-blue striped AirMail envelope inside that had already been opened. The AirMail envelope was addressed to Betty Bumpers in Washington, DC. Its letter was from a girl named Natasha. She had also written a short description of herself. She was 3 months older than me and lived in Minsk, Belarussia, USSR.
I was reminded of all these things by glancing through this Berlitz Russian phrase book. I am so glad that I kept it. It has all sorts of "helpful" tips for traveling in the USSR. For example,

Hairdresser's -- Barber's
In the Soviet Union, women often work as barbers. Men's hair styles vary greatly in the USSR, but shoulder-length hair is still considered a bit foreign.

from page 121, the yellow Shopping Guide section. This book is definitely a keeper.

Catherine the Great Exhibition in Memphis, 1991

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