Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Russian Affair, Part 12

Back when he was fresh out of university, Yuri was assigned to teach school in a remote Siberian village. Marooned there that winter by heavy snow, he and a couple of other teachers whiled away their time studying a book about rock'n'roll and listening to music.

Today, Yuri is just as passionate about that music, spending what free time he has fiddling with his turntable and stereo equipment and enjoying his collection of LPs, some of which he bought here in Washington when he visited in 2001, others of which I mailed to him - albums by the Turtles, Beach Boys and Atomic Rooster.
Yuri is dean of foreign languages at a state university in Novokuznetsk. He teaches English literature, and his favorite author and the subject of his doctoral studies is the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. He is, in a way, comically and typically academic. His speech is so influenced by British English that even when he's speaking his native language, Russians ask, "Is he Russian?"

He is as enthusiastic about art, good wine, whiskey and conversation as he is about music, and as ambivalent about politics as religion. As agreeable and laid-back as he is, Yuri has no tolerance for laziness or deceit.

I spent a couple of weeks sleeping on Yuri's couch in the early days of summer in 2004. I would commute back and forth across the river to the city on the street car, and for that short time lived almost the typical life of a Siberian city dweller. I bought food in the street markets and cooked dinner for Yuri, his wife and teenage daughter.

Since then, Yuri had divorced and remarried, to one of his former students, and now has another daughter, still and infant. Like their country, he and his former wife have started over. It has been rough, but life will be better, eventually. Hard times come like heavy rain, but always a few dry spots of hope remain in the corners.

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