By John E. Pfeiffer
Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I could or would go to Russia. The desire to visit the land where my forefathers had lived for a century had always been deep in my subconscious, but the possibility of ever doing so never seemed to be more than wishful thinking.
Several months ago, when Aberdak Travel Service of Aberdeen, South Dakota began to advertise a Russian Adventure Tour, which included Odessa, I immediately inquired as to the possibility of visiting the nearby area which my great-great grandfather had helped to colonize in 1808, and from which my grandfather had emigrated first to Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan, in 1898, and then to America in 1900.
On being assured that my request would be given consideration, I dazedly went through the process of obtaining a passport, making payment for the tour, applying for a Russian visa, and getting a smallpox vaccination. It all seemed unreal, and as the date of departure neared, a lifetime of negative conditioning made me apprehensive about going to the secluded land, and I could easily have been persuaded not to go except that forfeiting 25% of the payment as a cancellation penalty seemed intolerable.
And so, at 9:25 on the rainy morning of Wednesday, May 24, 1972, with remarks like “What do you want to go there fore?”, “What if they don’t let you come back?”, “What if they send you to Siberia?”, still ringing in my ears, I found myself uneasily boarding a North Central Airlines jet, along with nine other tour members from the area, at Saunders Field for the first flight of what was still an unreal venture into the unknown.
At Minneapolis, we were joined by two more tour members, and, shortly after noon, we boarded a huge Northwest Orient 747. Dinner was served immediately upon being airborne and an hour and a half later, after a spectacular view of New York City, we landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport. There, three more members joined the tour, and we were soon met by a representative of Russian Adventure Tours who presented us with our passports which now included our Russian visas. Upon examination of the visa, I suddenly found myself illiterate, for I could not even read my name which was written in Cyrillic script (p ??????? Dryon).
About 8:00 P.M. (CDT), after a tumultuous rush for seat assignments, and after filing through a metallic detector and a search of flight bags by U.S. Customs officers, we boarded a Soviet Airlines (Aeroflot) jet. We were greeted by English-speaking Russian stewardesses in brilliant uniforms, and what was to become the distinct scent of all Russian planes—something which smelled like an early morning meadowland in full bloom. After what seemed to be utter confusion resulting from rearranged seating, we were airborne at 9:15 P.M. (CDT). The stewardesses, in colorful pinafores, passed trays of hard candies and glasses of mineral water. A tasty supper was served at 11:20 P.M. (CDT), and, shortly thereafter, we were amazed to see the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean. At 3:30 A.M. (CDT) we had a magnificent view of London, England, where we landed at Heathrow Airport for an hour. It was then 9:30 A.M., Thursday, May 25, London time, and the Queen’s Building Terminal was hushed but crowded with very proper Englishmen.
At 4:45 A.M. (CDT), we were again airborne for Moscow, where we landed at Sheremetyevo Airport at 8:00 A.M. (CDT). However, we had passed through eight time zones since our departure from Aberdeen; so it was already 4:00 P.M., Moscow time. Thursday, May 25, was a short day. Inside a sterile, colorless depot, we passed through a passport check, where one copy of each visa was removed, and were then met by Alla Malvinsky, who would be our Intourist guide for our entire tour of the U.S.S.R. She arranged a quick passage through Customs, where only our written declarations of currency brought into the country was required; there was no Custom’s check of baggage.
Soon we were aboard a bus for the fifteen mile ride to Mockva (Moscow), the capital of the entire Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (CCCP) as well as the capital of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. It was raining. We passed many picturesque wooden houses along the way only to learn that they are a stereotype of old Russia that modern Russia is rapidly replacing by high rise apartment buildings. Cranes and construction were evident everywhere. We were told that nobody in Moscow, a city of more than seven million, lives in a private home.
We were soon in the heart of Moscow, passing that part of the Kremlin where President Nixon was then staying. Not far away, on the granite-faced banks of the Moscow River, we surrendered our passports for registration and room assignment in the skyscraper Ukraina Hotel. Keys for the rooms had to be obtained from the “key lady” on each floor and returned to her before leaving the floor. From our sixth floor room, we could see the domes and turrets of the Kremlin, and the hustle and bustle of the big, modern city. During supper—steaks and what would become the ever-present unusually flavored carbonated beverage—in the crystal chandeliered dining room we were entertained by, of all things, an amplified combo playing American jazz. Afterwards, we shopped in the Beryoska kiosk (store) in the hotel where foreign currencies only can be used. There were many interesting and beautiful items, and I bought a few—matryoskas, which are nests of colorfully painted wooden dolls, and a black and white Uzbek cap, which represents one of the 130 nationality groups living in the Soviet Union.
I was up bright and early the next morning and went for a stroll around the block-square, 30-story hotel. Women were hosing down and scrubbing the sidewalks and streets while several men, stripped to the waist, were doing calisthenics in a park across the street. Women’s Lib has long been a reality in the Soviet Union and we eventually saw women laying bricks; driving busses, trucks, and streetcars; and working on road construction and in the fields.
After breakfast, we spent the morning sightseeing by bus. From the hotel, we proceeded along the banks of the Moscow River to Krasnaya or Red Square (krasnaya means red or beautiful). Undoubtedly, the most eye-catching structure in this beautiful, cobblestoned square is the multi-domed, multi-colored St. Basil’s Cathedral. Now a museum of history, it dates back to the 15th century. Our tour of the city took us down wide streets past many monuments, fountains, tree-studded parks, beautiful old buildings and modern new ones, and gorgeous flower beds everywhere.
Then to Lenin Hills, where the gigantic 45,000 roomed structure
of Moscow University stands; past the huge, modern Luzhniki Sports
Complex; and the 16th century Novodevichy Convent where many famous
Russians, including Khrushchev, are buried. In the afternoon, we
rode the fantastic Metro (subway), which carries four million passengers
daily. Eighty-seven miles of track with eighty-nine underground
stations, each one of which is meticulously clean and a work of
art unique from each other, are some 200 feet underground and are
reached by speedy escalators which seem to go straight down. To
ride the Metro costs five Kopeks (about seven cents), and one can
ride all day from 6:00 A.M. to 1:00 A.M. without paying another
fare. The trains of eight cars each run on absolute schedule at
speeds of around 50 M.P.H. That evening, we attended at magnificent
performance of “Gizelle” by the world-renowned Bolshoi
Ballet in the Bolshoi Theater. A German tourist, in the same box
I was in, recognizing me as an American, asked, in English, if I
had come to Russia with my President.
Early the next morning, Saturday, May 27, we were bussed to the Kremlin’s Corner Arsenal Tower, opposite the turreted, red-brick Museum of History, and in view of the eternal flame of the grave of the Unknown Soldier, where a group of Pioneers (Communist Youth Organization) were placing flowers, we were given preference in an endless line for the trek across Red Square to view the body of Lenin lying in state in his red granite mausoleum. The hushed orderliness of the crowd, which was scrutinized by intermittent policemen and soldiers, was incredible, as was the solemn precision of the changing of the guard within the tomb just as we passed through. In the well-kept and carefully guarded cemetery garden along the Kremlin wall behind the mausoleum, we viewed the burial places of such notable Communists as Josef Stalin, cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin, and John Reed, an American. From there, we walked across Red Square, opposite the Kremlin walls, to the huge State Department Store (GUM), where we mingled with the hurried crowds in a bazaar-like atmosphere. We returned to the bus, warily crossing the street since we had already quickly learned that vehicles have the right-of-way in Russia.
The afternoon was spent at the National Economic Exhibition, which
covers 550 acres, and has 300 structures and 78 pavilions with some
100,000 exhibits on the industry, agriculture, transport, science,
and culture of the U.S.S.R. After a thorough tour of the Space Pavilion,
I drifted off by myself to an outdoor stage opposite the beautiful
Stone Flower Fountain where I finally heard an excellent balalaika
orchestra play Russian fold melodies. That evening, we went to the
immense, very modern Arbat Restaurant (PECTOPAH) for a gala, evening
of food, drink, and entertainment. Our meals had always been very
good in quality and quantity, but this was a banquet fit for a king.
The musical accompaniment was again amplified American Jazz.
The next morning, Sunday, May 28, arrangements having been made the night before for a cab to take me to the American Embassy, I paid the driver seventy-six kopeks for fare—tipping is frowned upon in Russia, and more often than not is refused—and thought I could just walk in. But two Russian policemen, standing guard at the entrance, asked to see my passport. Upon producing it, they saluted and permitted me to pass through the arched entrance. Two little American girls showed me the way to the Community room, where I attended the 9:00 Mass. Father Richard, the American Chaplain for the Catholics of the Foreign Diplomatic Corps in Russia, and about twenty-four persons celebrated the Eucharistic Banquet. I had a lengthy conversation with Father afterwards and learned that there is a Roman Catholic Church—St. Louis—in operation in Moscow. I then went to call a cab for me; instead she had an Embassy car take me back to the hotel. I was very grateful for this, because it was pouring rain outside.
We left the hotel at 11:45 for the airport. On the way, we passed a couple walking down the highway in the rain; he was wearing a raincoat and holding an umbrella overhead while she walked unprotected a few feet behind him. The countryside was very greed and wooded. Inside a small depot, which reeked of the bitter smell of Russian cigarettes, we waited with ordinary Soviet citizens and a number of soldiers for the flight to Leningrad some 400 miles northward. We were airborne at 12:25 and landed at the very clean and attractive Leningrad Air Terminal at 2:00 P.M. On the short drive into the city of three and a half million, we again saw cranes and construction everywhere. Once in this beautiful city, which is built on 101 islands where the Neva River flows into the Gulf of Finland, gorgeous beds of tulips were abloom everywhere. Nina Olehova, who met us at the airport, was our special Intourist guide for our stay in Leningrad. She soon had us registered and dining in the beautiful Hotel Leningrad on the stone-faced banks of the Neva opposite the Naval Academy and the historic museum-battleship “Aurora.” For two centuries after its founding by Peter the Great, until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Leningrad, known first as St. Petersburg and then Petrograd, was the capital of Tzarist Russia, and its imperial elegance is still very evident, as we say during a late afternoon bus tour. We could have toured all night, for we were in Leningrad during the eerie “White Nights,” when the sun never quite sets and it is light all night long.
The next morning (Monday, May 29), we ascended the magnificent
Jordan Staircase of the Hermitage Museum to view its fabulous treasures.
This huge palace was the winter residence of the imperial family.
It has 300 gorgeous rooms and more than two million exhibits, including
8,000 priceless paintings. I was particularly impressed by Murillo’s
“Immaculate Conception”, because it is reproduced her
in St. Mary’s Church. An interesting episode took place upon
entering the Hermitage: it was a cool, breezy morning so I had worn
the Uzbek cap which I had bought in Moscow into the entrance; another
member of our group had on an ordinary cap; he was asked to remove
his headgear, but nothing was said to me, which demonstrates the
high regard held for this particular nationality of the U.S.S.R.
It is said that an Uzbek never removes his cap except to go to bed.
In the center of the immense Palace Square stands the Alexandrovskaya
monument, a 154 foot high solid granite column commemorating Tzar
Alexander I’s victory over Napoleon in 1812. Alexander I was
the Tzar who invited my people to establish agricultural colonies
in the Odessa region in 1804.
The afternoon was spent on the island fortress of Peter and Paul, which was planned by Peter the Great himself, and was the first structure to be erected in the city in 1703. On entering the fortress via the Ioannovsky Vorota (St. John’s Gate), two well-mannered, well-dressed teenage boys who obviously wanted to show off their knowledge of English, walked along with me. One was very intent on making a trade for my K of C button, and only relented when I told him it meant much to me. Once inside the fortress walls, we passed through the mammoth Petrovskie Vorota, which has the imperial coat-of-arms carved high above its stone archway. Then by the arsenal, the engineers building, the guardhouse, the commandment’s building, Peter the Great’s boathouse, and then into the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, where all the Tzars and Tzarinas from Peter the Great on are buried. Asked why last Tzar, Nicholas II, is not buried there, our guide said, “He did not deserve it”.
On Tuesday morning (May 30), we boarded a Hydrofoil (a large enclosed boat, which seats about a hundred passengers, and which travels at great speed that it hardly touches the water) for a twenty-five minute cruise on the Gulf of Finland to Petrodvorets. Among the passengers was a large group of children on an end-of-school-year holiday. Petrodvorets (Peter’s Palace) was originally conceived by Peter the Great as the imperial retreat. His palace, on the Gulf, is modest in comparison to the Great Palace and the score of other palaces and pavilions which now make up one huge landscaped holiday park. The grounds were swarming with vacationers. We arrived just as the 161 fountains and three waterfalls leading to the Great Palace began their daily spouting and flowing of water. One fountain was particularly ingenious; called the “Dubok” (Oak-tree), it did indeed look like a tree, but was made of metal, leaves and all, which periodically sprayed forth a fine mist. It was a very popular place for children who squealed with delight when it happened to go off as they stood beneath it. Our guide told us that this paradise had been severely damaged by the “fascist barbarian invaders” during World War II. Leningrad itself had been under siege for 900 days, during which 600,000 of its inhabitants died of starvation. We returned to the city, eighteen miles distant, by bus in sudden downpour. In the afternoon, we visited the very interesting Museum of Ethnography of the peoples of U.S.S.R. We also went into a large department store, but like Moscow’s GUM, everything was delightful confusion. Several of us returned to the hotel by a mini-bus, which carries about ten or as many passengers as can get it, at a cost of two kopeks each; everybody but the driver seems to give out the receipt for the fare. That evening was spent at the Kirov Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet for a fine performance of the ballet “Cinderella”. A New Yorker present was wearing a “McGovern for President” button.
The next morning (Wednesday, May 31), we went twelve miles by bus to Pavlovsk to visit the horseshoe-shaped palace and ground given to Paul I by his mother, Catherine the Great. (“They hated each other,” our guide told us.) From there, we went to nearby Tzarskoye Selo (now called Pushkin Village in honor of the famed writer who attended the institute there), where the elegant Bolshoi Dvorets stands. This huge, blue palace, with its beautiful gardens, was where Catherine the Great spent her last days; it was also the permanent residence of the last Tzar, Nicholas II, and his ill-fated family. Both palaces were badly destroyed by the Germans during World War II, but have now been completely restored. Back at the hotel, another member of the group and I went on an excursion of the Leningrad Metro. It is as efficient, though not as elaborate, as the Moscow Metro. The supporting column of the Avtova station were covered with decorative glass, and one wall was covered by a huge, beautiful mosaic dedicated to world peace. The evening was spent at Sadko’s, an internationally famous restaurant, for what was probably the most enjoyable evening of the entire tour. There was champagne, vodka, Georgian wine, caviar. After several courses of delicious appetizers, came a delicious borsch, followed by the biggest and tastiest piece of meat I have ever eaten—shashlyk (each individual piece was served from the sward on which it had been roasted over hot coals). A talented group of singers, dancers, and authentic balalaika orchestra, all in folk costumes, presented a most enjoyable and memorable evening of magnificent Russian entertainment. We were all sorry to have this evening of pleasure come to an end.
On Thursday morning (June 1), we viewed one of the best collections of Russian art (some 250,000 works are on exhibit) in the whole country at the Russky Musee (formerly the Mikhailovsky Palace). I was particularly entranced by the icon section for I had hopes of being able to buy at least one in a Beryoska store, but none were ever for sale. We then went to the third largest church structure in the world—St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakievsky Sobor) which was built by some 440,000 workers between 1815-1858. Suspended from the interior of its central dome is a 98 meter Foucault pendulum which demonstrates the motion of the earth’s rotation on its axis. Though few churches in Russia are used for religious services, most of those that we saw were, nevertheless, preserved as churches. That afternoon being free, I took a mini-bus to and from a point nearby the Kazansky Sobor (Cathedral of the Holy Virgin of Kazan), now the museum of the History of Religion and Atheism. I spent several hours examining thousands of exhibits pertaining tot he history of all religions from primitive times to the present; whatever was atheistic about the displays must have been contained in the printed Russian explanations, which I unfortunately could not read. I bought some postcards at a sidewalk stand. The attendant did not have a one kopek coin for change due, so gave me a small chocolate bar instead.
After supper, we went to the airport to fly some 500 miles southwest to Minsk. After getting up above the clouds, we witnessed the spectacular sunlight of “White Nights”. It was then 10:00 P.M. At 11:50, we arrived in Minsk, the capital of Byelorussia, one of the fifteen republics. It had just rained and was cool, but our bus ride through the city gave us a good view of a well-lighted, very tidy city, which, it was hard to believe, had been 86% destroyed during World War II. We were registered at the very new and very modern thirteen-storied Jubileinaya Hotel on the northwest edge of the city near a huge Sports Palace, and opposite a quaint village. From the picture window of our fifth-floor room, we had a fine view of the city and especially the 17th century cathedral, one of the few relics of the past to survive the destruction of war.
The next day (Friday, June 2), our local Intourist guide, Irene, who had a charming sense of humor, told us that Minsk is now larger (over a million) in population than ever before in its 900 year history, and that it is now a city of young people since a fourth of the population of Byelorussia was killed of during the war. She also described Byelorussia as a heavily wooded plain dotted with many lakes, and she proudly pointed out that it is a land of powerful industry as well. Our subsequent tour of the city took us past a computer plant, a high-powered tractor plant, a watch factory, a ball-bearing plant, and a motor plant. Nevertheless, Minsk can boast of clean air and an abundance of greenery; the wide embankments of the Svisloch River, which flows through it, are carpeted with colorful flowerbeds. A tour of the Byelorussian Museum portrayed the past and present of the Byelorussain (White Russian) people. At supper that evening, in the land noted for its distinctive music and cymbalist virtuosos, we were entertained (?) by an electrified, amplified combo, dressed in Byelorussian costumes, playing American jazz. That evening, too, a couple of our tour members were met by relatives from a nearby village. I gave the man a pouch of American tobacco, and was surprised when he later presented me with a pack of Russian cigarettes; it seems that it is customary to reciprocate a gift in Russia.
Saturday morning (June 3) was spent at what was one of the most impressive events of the entire tour. Irene, having obtained complimentary tickets for us in a reserved section of the viewing stand in the city’s Central Square, we walked about a mile and a half from the hotel (vehicular traffic had been halted for the event) to witness 15,000 youngsters—ages 7 to 17—marching smartly to a military band accompaniment in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Byelorussian Pioneers (Communist Youth Organization). Neatly and colorfully dressed, well-groomed and well-ordered, this spectacular performance evoked much admiration from our tour group. We were invited to be special guests at the afternoon festivities—gymnastics; folk dancing, singing, and music; poetic renditions; etc.—but we regretfully had to decline because of a mid-afternoon flight to Odessa.
At 4:00 P.M., we left the hotel for the airport, where we picked up much free literature (books, maps, newspapers—all in English) in a very pleasant and comfortable waiting room for tourists. We were airborne at 5:45, and, as we neared Odessa, some 600 miles south of Minsk, we flew over a checkerboard of grain fields, vineyards, and orchards, as well as several limans (the long and wide lagoons formed by the rivers which drain into the Black Sea). We landed at Odessa at 7:00 P.M.; I had “come home” to my historical origins. The neatness and cleanliness of the airport terminal, with its well-tended trees, lawns and flower-beds, was reminiscent of the early memories I had of my people who had emigrated from this area to “Little Odessa” in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
The Black Sea climate was balmy, and its effect was evident in
the dress and relaxed attitude of the people (a contrast to the
feverish activity of the Moscovites). The short drive into the city
was a complete surprise for I had never seen such tree-shaded streets
anywhere. Many of the acacia trees, of which I had heard my grandparents
speak so often, were just then in full bloom with clusters of white,
fragrant flowers. Odessa is a strikingly beautiful city with many
historic old buildings and monuments, and shady parks with gorgeous
flowerbeds everywhere. We registered at the old, elaborate Hotel
Odessa, overlooking the Black Sea. Across the street (Primorsky
Boulevard) was a long, tree-lined strip of park with flowerbeds
stretching along both sides of the center walk. The park is on the
cliff overlooking the harbor, docks, and very modern sea terminal
of the port of Odessa, which was founded as such in 1794 by decree
of Catherine the Great under the supervision of General Count Suvorov-Rimnikski.
We entered the Victorian-styled dining room of the hotel for supper,
where a wedding party was in progress and a band was playing “Yes
sir, she’s my baby”. Afterwards we went for a stroll
down Primorsky Boulevard to the “Sea Gateway”, in the
center of which is a bronze statue of the Duke of Richelieu, the
French émigré’ nobleman, who, as Governor General
of Novorossia (New or South Russia) from 1803 to 1814, had done
so much for the welfare of my people who had been invited to establish
agricultural colonies in the area at that time. On the seaside of
the monument was the famed Potyomkin Stairway which was constructed
in 1841. This broad stairway, which was well known to my grandparents,
goes down 191 steps to the seaport. From above, it appears to be
a series of platforms; from below, all one sees are steps. There
were many ships docked in the spectacularly lighted harbor, and
the sounds of loading and unloading could be heard all night. Ships
from more than 70 countries call at Odessa.
Breakfast next morning (Sunday, June 4) was served at 8:30, with an American flag on our table. Since I had asked Alla Tashchenko, our Odessa Intourist guide about going to Mass that morning, she had obtained the time and directions to the Roman Catholic Church for me. On my way, one of several young fellows standing on a street corner asked me if I were from the United States. He couldn’t quite understand that I should be walking the street of a Russian city without being able to speak Russian, and then commented: “If I visited your country, I would speak English”. When he noted the American Legion button in my lapel, he regarded me as some kind of a hero, and had to explain to his companions that I was an Amerikansky Legionaire. His hint that he collected such items met with my “But, it means much too much to me to give it away”. The church was only several blocks from the hotel, and the beautiful mosaic above its entrance was inscribed with “Sanctus Petrus”. The interior was not large and there were no pews, but it was, nevertheless, crowded, mostly with women. It seemed very cluttered with holy pictures, statues, candlesticks, flowers, and three high altars. The priest, vested in a gold, Roman-style chasuble, said Mass according to the old Latin ritual, and was assisted by four men wearing long surplices and yellow capes. After Mass, he preached in Russian, followed by benediction with a ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament. I sang “O Salutaris” with the people.
On the way back to the hotel, as I was walking in front of the circular landmark—the Odessa Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, I heard a chorus of voices calling my name. It was my fellow tourists who had just begun a bus tour of the city. I was very grateful that they had spotted me, for I would otherwise have missed seeing some of the sights of the city, such as the beautiful park and monument to the Unknown Sailor, where the Pioneer honor guard changes every quarter hour; as well as the excursion to “Arkadia”, one of the many sanatoria-resorts in the area for which Odessa has become famous as a medical, health, and holiday center.
It may be of interest to note here that Soviet citizens receive fully paid vacations to these facilities. It is also interesting to note that 80% of the doctors in the Soviet Union are women, and the medical attention and hospitalization is free to all Soviet citizens. This also applies to tourists, a fact which was realized by an Englishman sitting next to me on the flight home from Moscow to London. He had been on a cruise of the Black Sea and had contracted pneumonia aboard ship. Put ashore at Sotchi in the Crimea, where he was hospitalized for four weeks until cured, he was sent to Moscow by jet and then put aboard the same flight that we were on. He was as amazed as I was that he was not charged on kopek for medical treatment, hospitalization, or even the plane fare home.
That afternoon, we visited the Picture Gallery (the former Pototsky Palace, built in 1803). I was surprised to learn that Taras Schevchenko was not only the great national poet of the Ukraine, but an artist as well. In the evening, we enjoyed an outstanding performance of orchestral, vocal, fold song and dance, and the ever popular American jazz so dear to Russian hearts, at the Palace of Pioneers, a few steps from the hotel. This magnificent structure was formerly the palace of the Governors-General of Novorossia, and until the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-91, had been the site of the Turkish Fortress of Khadzhibei.
I woke up very early on Monday morning (June 5) in anticipation of the trip. I had been given permission to make to Tiraspol, some 70 miles northwest of Odessa. I had requested to go to the villages along the Kutschurgan Liman in particular, for I especially wanted to pay my respects to the graves of several generations of my ancestors who lie buried in the cemetery at Blagodatnoje (Baden). However, “for reasons”, which were not specified, this request was not granted. But, from information I had of the area, I was under the impression that the highway to Tiraspol would take me through two of the villages (Mannheim and Strasburg), which are located about half-way between Odessa and Tiraspol, so I was content just to be able to see the area of my origins. Others in the group wanted to go also, but, for whatever reason, I was the only one allowed to do so.
Before going to Tiraspol, however, we spent the morning in what was probably the most impressive event of our Russian adventure. We visited a neighborhood kindergarten, where four and five year old children, boys and girls, entertained us with an impressive program of song, dance, and poetic recitations. The poise, confidence and mannerliness of these youngsters was incredible, and the presentation of a freshly-picked flower to each of the ladies in our group, evoked a warm emotional response. We learned that since most women in Russia work 9 the male population of Russia suffered a great loss during World War II), pre-school age children spend much of their time in nurseries and kindergartens, where for a few rubles (100 kopeks in a ruble amounts to $1.22 in American money) a month, they are well-cared for. A tour of the building and grounds revealed very clean bright, cheerful dormitories, dining rooms, play rooms, and class rooms; as well as pleasant, tree-shaded play grounds with an abundance of grass and flower-beds. As we left, these lovable children gathered around us to shake our hands and bid us “dosveedenya” (good-bye).
At noon, I met my driver at the hotel for the afternoon trip to Tiraspol. The car (a Volga) looked and smelled brand new. There was quite a bit of traffic, especially trucks and busses, on the black-topped highway, which was lined almost all the way with trees. The countryside was lush with thick fields of headed grain and well-tended orchards and vineyards as far as the eye could see. Water was spouting from irrigation pipes everywhere, and in one place a helicopter flew overhead spraying the orchards and vineyards. Modern farm machinery was in operation along side of horses and many people (mostly gaily clad women and girls) working in the fields. The highway took us through Vasilievka, where the church in excellent condition, appeared to be operational; then through Kamenka, where the church, its spire removed, seemed abandoned.
Next came Kutschurgan, with its trim bus station on the highway and the railroad station not far behind. The villages I had hoped to visit were just a few miles south of here; but since we had gone by a different route that I had anticipated, we had not gone through Mannheim. The Kutschurgan Liman at this point is wide, reed-covered valley; looking southward, I could see a high bridge over the liman (probably the highway through Mannheim and Strasburg) and three tall smokestacks (probably at Selz). The afternoon was warm and breezy, and the lay of the steppeland was slightly rolling and with more trees than I had expected to see—I could very well have been in my native Brown County, South Dakota. I was soon returned to reality, however, by the striking monument signifying entrance into the Tiraspol city limits. Instead of the shabby, remote village which I had expected to see, I saw instead a very clean and rather large modern city with much construction going on. Since my driver could not speak English, and I could speak even less Russian, and since I had not eaten since breakfast (it was now about 2:00 P.M.), I had eating motions. He asked a policeman where there was a restaurant, and we were soon in an immaculate hotel dining room. He did the ordering for both of us since the Cyrillic-typed menu was meaningless to me. We soon had a bottle of mineral water, bread and butter, and slices of cold ham with horse-radish. This was followed by a bowl of homemade chicken-noodle soup, and then a plate of chicken, French fries, and peas. Then came a dish of ice cream and coffee-espresso. I paid the bill for both of us; it amounted to 2 rubles 46 kopeks (less than $3.00), a contrast to the $2.15 I had paid for a plat of spaghetti (no meat balls) and a cup of coffee at JFK in New York.