Monday, June 22, 2009



If this group could be characterized as a single individual,
I’d call us “nice guy.” Innocents abroad with an aim to please.
We wanted to be proper guests, if not savvy, at least willing
to learn and wanting to be sensitive,. Holiday suggests that
Americans in Russia are inescapably viewed as winners of
“the Cold War”—circulating among losers. Dollars and Visa
cards command head-of-the-line status in a country that lines
up for dog pictures (what looked like oversize trading cards
of cocker spaniels, poodles, and hounds) cigarettes, seats in
restaurants, taxies, books, toys, and –in the stores—three
times for each purchase: the line to request, the line to pay,
the line to receive the goods.

In Moscow, McDonalds outdraws both St. Basils and the
Kremlin. This fact should not be rationalized. If a Roses or
Sky City could be sky-lifted from any strip mall in Western
North Carolina and located anywhere in Leningrad, the
community would probably not trade-off it’s Winter Palace
and Hermitage, but citizens would know what counted and
where the value lay. Air-conditioned cornu copia versus the
arts: buildings, paintings, furniture frescos, onion domes,
glorious work connected with and celebrating Catherine
the Great and “here favorites,’ or other former patrons. (The
volume of tourists moving through the Hermitage to glance
at thousands of exposed art was as dense as a Bele Cher
festival in downtown Asheville on a late-summer weekend.
Elbow to elbow.)

Any Ingles Supermarket is generally quiet most summer
afternoons. The plenty never runs out, and it’s cool. Residents
of Swannanoa and the workers at Owen Mill buy what they
need. The strip of asphalt contains a few other stores: drug,
video, tires & shocks, a new Burgher King. Ingles has enough
food and other basics, wrapped in saran, in cardboard, bottled
in plastic, canned. It has food and drugs. Also gums and candies,
film, tapes, cigarettes, and reading materials. The aisles are
roomy. Activity increases on a Friday afternoon and lines from
behind six or seven check-out counters. People wait in lines,
glancing at each other or at the magazine racks. Check-out girls
slide items over an electronic eye that tallies the goods. Sometimes
they call for a price or a check-verification. Young men bag the
groceries in paper or plastic bags. Our choice.

No market-frenzy. Though it gets hectic when snow is
predicted and “stock-piling” inspires those
responsible for households.

ON the one hand: quiet availability of all anyone needs,
the full shelves or a small supermarket in Swannanoa
(air conditioned, fly less, “sanitary.”) No more wonderful
than a Hardies or Fast Fare, a Carolina Tire, 9-pump
Exxon & Convenience stores, 7-auditoriumed movie
theatre, Revco, Eckerd’s and underwear outlets.

On the other hand: jostling crowds with little chance
to consider what it takes to make the items but
suspecting their value is sufficient to pack stairs
and halls. Guides hold up their right arms, waving
their tour-logo or pocketbook or gloves, some sight
of their presence as they sheperd their own tourists,
separate and discrete from other bunches,
the museum of art and culture.

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