“After all it was a great big world, with lots of places to run to.”

—Tom Petty, “American Girl” 

The summer was sizzling hot. I was tired of blinking and schvitzing in the Malibu sun. Republican anti voting measures were getting me down. Especially the new bear-proof ballot drop boxes in Montana. These can only be opened by white voters with short stubby fingers. Time to go somewhere cool and empty. See how the other side lives.

So I banished myself and two older sons to Eastern Siberia during covid. We left LAX, where big bicep-laden cops with mirrored shades and lots of guns, saw us off. Eighteen hours later, the Moscow customs officers were skinny and pale. They waved us through with a smile. At breakfast the next day, six burly guys in matching Fila track suits greeted us with a hearty “Good day, our American friends.”

At lunch I pulled a reverse Novalny, and in halting Russian asked not for ice, but for a glass of “poison.” Our guide quietly corrected my order. Stalin was more cunning than Putin or Hitler. He weaponized the land itself, marching 20 million Russians to their death under their own power. The vast Siberian landscape absorbed them all.

The country is old and dense. Everyone is a little poor, a little sad. But that’s OK, because they are all in the same boat. Your neighbor does not whiz by every morning in a pimped-out black Escalade with their “MoscowBu” vanity plates.

Maybe we had it all wrong?

“All of them constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against an enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who had never attacked that way—if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.”

John Knowles – “A Separate Peace”

Dan Bercu

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