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I promise I’ll write a Tale From Leningrad soon, but in the meantime a link to another political rant: Fuck the South.

It’s rather impolite and politically incorrect, but I think the left is entitled to a little self-righteous indignation — god knows we’ve endured enough of it from the right.

– by Donald Kaul

On the fourth day after the recent election, I sought out a Liberal support group and went to my first meeting.

I sat there quietly at first but when it came time for me to speak, I stood up and said: “My name is Don and I’m a liberal.” “Hi Don,” the group replied, in unison.

I immediately felt better, knowing that there were people out there who felt my pain and, indeed, shared it.

Then I began to tell my story; the story of a boy from a working class family in Detroit who grew up to be a gun-hating, tree-hugging, Blame-America-First Liberal Wuss.

It started innocently enough, in college as so much liberalism does. It was there I discovered foreign films and began to prefer them to American movies, which lacked not only subtlety but subtitles. Soon I was going to cocktail parties and learning to drink beverages that tasted like radiator fluid, sitting on the floor and listening to Pete Seeger records.

I considered myself a recreational liberal. But before I knew it, I was into the hard stuff: progressive taxation, a living minimum wage, national health care, equal rights for women, separation of church and state and, ultimately, support of gay marriage.

I tried calling myself a progressive then, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. Everyone knew what I was: a pathetic knee-jerk liberal. I thought I could control it but, of course, I couldn’t. Eventually I was forced to become a pusher, selling liberal opinion to others in order to feed my own habit.

Then, while I was standing in line to vote for John Kerry at the last election, it happened. A supporter of George Bush just in front of me (You could tell he was a Bushie by the smirk he wore) said: “I like Mary Cheney but I wouldn’t want her to marry my daughter.” At that something within me snapped; I jumped him and began to throttle him.

By the time they pulled me off, I realized that I needed help, which is what brought me to the support meeting. When I had finished my story, the other group members rushed up to me and hugged me. One of them, a large man with a prophet’s beard, said: “You’re among friends now, boy. We’re all sinners here.”

I can’t tell you how wonderful that made me feel. And I think it’s already doing me some good.

The other day I awoke with a vague urge to go out and shoot something. Later that afternoon I found myself channel-surfing to see if a NASCAR race was being televised.

It’s changed my perception of the news too. When I found out that American troops had opened their assault on Fallujah by attacking a hospital, for example, I was overjoyed.

“What a powerful message that sends to the people of Iraq,” I said. “We’re bringing freedom to them, hospitals first. If that doesn’t win their hearts and minds, nothing will.”

Fortunately, our troops were able to overcome the resistance offered by the 12 orderlies, seven nurses and two doctors from non-accredited medical schools rather easily. Four suspected terrorists were arrested—one of whom, according to the CIA, was saving up to buy an atom bomb—and we found evidence that the roof was being used as an observation post by insurgents.

I’m sure Iraqis will see our side of it; should they not, the heck with them if they can’t take a joke. I now realize the truth of the statement first uttered by Charles Colson, Secretary of Dirty Tricks in the Nixon White House. “If you grab them by the crotch, their hearts and minds will follow,” ol’ Charlie used to say. Words to live by.

I’m telling you, I feel a lot better now. The scales have fallen from mine eyes and I have seen the glory that is Bush. Do you think he’s any relation to the Burning Bush you read about in the Bible?

–Donald Kaul recently retired as Washington columnist for the “Des Moines Register.” He has covered the foolishness in our nation’s capital for 29 years, winning a number of modestly coveted awards along the way.

We moved into our apartment today, but we’ll be staying in the hotel a couple more days because the apartment isn’t quite finished yet. There’s no plumbing in the kitchen sink and nothing at all in the bathroom besides the floor tile which was just installed today.

Nonetheless, the apartment is quite nice (with a few oddities). I really like my bedroom with its huge window that goes all the way to the floor. The fitness center is ridiculously extravagant. The location is perfect — on a wide street that has an esplanade down the middle, right next to a public garden, around the corner from a metro stop, and near stores, cafes, and foreign consulates.

It was great to see all my stuff that has been in transit for a month and a half, particularly my wool coat and pink scarf/hat/mittens. I unpacked as much as I could, and it instantly felt like home.

Aunt Kelly had some furniture for me, but I was lacking a chest of drawers, so this led to the most exciting event of an exciting day — the trip to IKEA. It was a long ride through the industrial Soviet outskirts, but once inside, it was as cozy and familiar as every IKEA around the world (well, except for the Cyrillic lettering). Yes, all your favorite products are there, from Benno to Lack to Magicker. We got a dresser and picked up a catalog, since we’re going to need a few cabinets — our kitchen storage is small, and Aunt Kelly seems to have a large number of dishes. Her kitchen table only seats four, so it’s not like we need dinner service for 20!

Oh, I didn’t mention that the day started out with a blackout. The second I’ve experienced since I’ve been here, the first being in a cafe my first night here. We’ll be stocking up on those cheap IKEA candles.

After a very unpleasant start to the day (our airport shuttle arrived 40 minutes early and insisted that we had to leave RIGHT THEN or we would be left behind) I had an uneventful flight to St. Petersburg yesterday. I got a little nervous at the airport, because the gates were poorly marked, and I went to the one I was told to go to, but 15 minutes after boarding was supposed to begin there were very few people in the area and none who looked or sounded Russian. But gradually, they trickled in, along with about 30 Chinese tourists. We finally started boarding at the time the plane was supposed to take off, but whatever. As I told Aunt Kelly last night, the thing about Russia is that nothing works the way it’s supposed to and it’s always a complicated pain in the ass, but it usually turns out OK in the end.

We got a meal on the flight, even though it was only 2 hours 40 minutes. When she got to my row, the stewardess said something to me, which I didn’t hear, so I leaned over, expecting to hear the meal choices or something. “Vibori net,” she said. (No choice.) I laughed to myself, as it sounded like a Russian joke. Why say anything, then, if there are no choices? Just give me the tray! The food was good, though, better than on an American airline. I’d rather have no choice if the offering is good than a thousand crappy choices, and that is why I am a shitty American rather than a Shit American.

Once we got below the clouds I could see that there was snow everywhere, and we landed on a snowy runway, which inspired me to clap right along with the Russians upon our successful landing. Apparently the first snow of the season had arrived just to greet me. There were no customs hassles, and Aunt Kelly and Miron her assistant were there to greet me. Traffic was heavy on account of it being rush hour and snowy. Since I’ve only been here in the summer, it was exciting to see the city in the snow. It covers up all the dirt and makes it rather magical.

We’re currently residing in a hotel, but supposedly we move into our apartment tomorrow. I’m looking forward to having a home, and Aunt Kelly is even more so since she’s been homeless for a month, but I’m quite OK with a nice hotel after staying in two-stars in France! Like, the shower head is attached to the wall AND there’s a shower curtain! (Terry and I stayed in 7 different hotel rooms in France and only one had a shower curtain.)

So the first order of business is to get some good boots and a warm coat. I did a little window shopping this morning, and did manage to find some Russian-made coats that were in the reasonably affordable range after nearly having a heart attack looking at the western designer boutiques. But I think I need Aunt Kelly to come shopping with me to help me pick out a coat so I don’t wind up looking like a sausage. I’m warm enough for now, anyway. It’s not twenty below yet.

Did you know that it is possible to spend two weeks in France and not go to a single museum? I didn’t either, but that’s what happened. We did a lot of walking and went to more churches than I can possibly remember, but no museums. I wouldn’t have minded going to a few, and I especially wanted to see the Pompidou Centre again, but it’s closed on Tuesdays and today is when we decided to go.

So we walked to the Sorbonne, past the Palais de Luxembourg and went to Saint-Sulpice, then took a long bus ride to La Defence, which was simultaneously hideous and compelling. Basically, they put everything modern that doesn’t belong in the historic city center there, and the result is this weird futuristic dystopia.

We had a fabulous final French dinner at La Sofa, which Terry found on and turned out to be a lesbian hangout. It had really cool decor, a nice atmosphere, and amazing food.

And that was that. I’m packed and ready to move to Russia tomorrow!

Today Terry and I went to Monmartre, which I like to call FranceLand, because it looks the way tourists expect Paris to look, and not much like the real Paris at all, with a creperie at every other door and souvenir shops in between. You have to dodge all the sketchy (pun intended) portrait artists who want to draw or paint you. There was a guy who cuts out your silhouette in a piece of paper who managed to entrap Terry and me. We said “non,” but he started cutting my profile anyway, saying “No obligation!” Then he said, “So you come to Paris, eh? Big love story, eh?” I said, “Oh yeah, big one,” while Terry said something like “I like boys” under his breath. “You drink the champagne?” “No,” I said, “he’s too cheap.” He finished my silhouette, which he offered for the low low price of 10 euros. “No,” we said. “Shit Americans!” he said.

After about 12 hours on the road (including stops at the Hypermarche and in Chartres) we made it to Paris from Bordeaux. We had planned to spend the night in Chartres tonight, but we couldn’t see any good reason to, particularly since we want to get the rental car back to Charles DeGaulle Airport by 9:00 tomorrow to avoid paying for an extra day.

We had a nice evening in Bordeaux last night, including our second visit to Quick burger, which is virtually indistinguishable from McDonalds, but it’s European so that’s better, right? I got a Magic Box, which is like a Happy Meal. Why? Because I wanted to, that’s why. And at 4 euros, it’s a cheap meal. The prize was this very weird sand, which gloms together when in water, but when you scoop it out of the water is completely dry.

We went for a very long walk and then took a shiny beautiful tram back. I love public transportation, particularly trams.

We officially got a French parking ticket, which I’m not sure how to deal with. In the US, when you get a ticket on a rental car, they notify the rental company and the rental company charges your credit card. We’ll see. The ticket’s 11 euros, which is probably less than two days of parking would have been.

The cathedral in Chartres was very big, but not as beautiful as the one in Albi.

So for the next two and a half days we’re staying in a hotel with good internet access, so I should be able to communicate. Phew! I really am addicted to the internet.

At last! Reasonably-priced, speedy internet access. Unfortunately, I haven’t done anything exciting since last night — just window shopping and visiting a cathedral. But here’s something important:

EPA WILL USE POOR KIDS AS GUINEA PIGS IN NEW STUDY ON PESTICIDES The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by Bush appointees, plans to launch a new study in which participating low income families will have their children exposed to toxic pesticides over the course of two years. For taking part in these studies, each family will receive $970, a free video camera, a T-shirt, and a framed certificate of appreciation. In October, the EPA received $2 million to do the study from the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry front group that includes members such as Dow, Exxon, and Monsanto. The EPA’s Linda Sheldon says the study is vital, because so little is known about how small children’s bodies absorb harmful chemicals. As of press time, none of the EPA’s employees are offering to have their own children take part in this research project. The Organic Consumers Association is calling on the nation’s citizens to demand the EPA forgo this project before its scheduled launch in early 2005. Sign petition by clicking here and forward this email to family and friends…

For some reason, Hotmail is so slow on this machine that I would rather pull out my teeth with pliers than try to send an e-mail right now. So if I owe you one, I’m sorry, you’ll just have to wait a couple days.

Aaargh — it’s been so long since I last was able to write!

On Tuesday in Orange we toured the ancient Roman theater, which was stunning.

From Orange we went to Aix-en-Provence for a few hours, because a friend of Terry’s said it was cool, but we didn’t think it was anything special, really. We went to Marseille that night and saw as much of the city as we could in a few hours in the dark, which was quite a bit, actually. We stayed in the nicest hotel of the trip, the New Hotel Vieux Port, where we were given the Africa Room.

Wednesday morning we went to Marseille’s biggest landmark, the Cathedrale Notre Dame high atop a hill. But we had a hotel room prepaid in Moissac, northeast of Toulouse, so we had to get on the road. I definitely need to return to Marseille.

We drove and drove on Wednesday, and before reaching Moissac; stopped in an amazing little town called Albi, which was busy and artsy and beautiful. They also had probably the most impressive cathedral I’ve ever seen. Driving through the Midi-Pyrenees was breathtaking too; another place to return to.

We spent all day Thursday in Moissac. We woke up to a Remebrance Day ceremony which we could see from our hotel balcony. Since it was Remembrance Day, most everything was closed except the perfumerie. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant, which was the only option. We watched endless TV coverage of Yasser Arafat’s airplane leaving Paris and the second LOTR dubbed in French.

Today we drove to Bordeaux, stopping in St. Emilion on the way, the quintessential tourist town, with its 12th century architecture and wine caves.

So here we are, in Bordeaux. We’ll be here til Sunday morning.

The highlights so far: the cathedral in Alby and the little pink pig made of almond paste stuffed with cream that I got in Aix-en-Provence.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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November 2004