You haven't heard from me in a while as I've been busily getting ready for the new decade. I'll be back with more reviews in January. In the meantime, here's something from a piece that I wrote while in Moscow at the Hotel Ukraina a few years ago. Happy New Year!
Sometimes there are angels who simply appear, exactly when you need them. I was just chatting with an older German woman who was sitting across the table from me at breakfast. First we talked about the places she's visiting (not St. Petersburg, the mecca for most travelers, but some of the older cities). Her "thank you" in Russian to the servers came out so fluently that I suspected that she must speak the language. So I asked her, and it turned out that, indeed, she did learn Russian. At a prison camp. In Kalingrad.
She was there for 3 1/2 years after the war. We both agreed that that's a long time. And now she's here in Moscow and the language is coming back to her. She says that her prison camp life is in the past, that "It's like a picture, that I can see but it's not my life." But I could see the emotion in her eyes.
Back to the present day. Here she is in Russia, visiting the land of her captors. She had previously visited Kalingrad with her husband.
Then she went on to say, this is the angel part, that it's important to live today. Only today. And to laugh. Better to laugh than to cry. I said, "But crying is so easy!" And we both laughed about that. What an amazing woman. She learned English at 65, before a trip to the States. Her motto is "Always learn the language of the place you're going to." She told me that I should learn Russian.
She won't go back to the U.S. again, because she traveled there a lot with her husband, who's now dead. It brings up memories that she doesn't like.
We also talked about Kazakhstan. It turns out that there are a lot of Kazakhs where she lives, in the center of Germany. Their grandparents couldn't find work in Germany, so they moved to Kazakhstan. Now these young people are coming back and they can because they're German. BUT they speak a German of 100 years ago. In Russia they were considered German, in Germany they are considered Russian. They don't really belong anywhere. She says that they don't have work and that they don't want to learn the language (Modern German). And she says that they just hang out, drink vodka and drive their cars like crazies.
We left the restaurant together. I thanked her in English and then in Russian. She taught me how to say "thank you" in a way that's even stronger than "thank you very much."
How in the world could a prisoner of war learn that? Life is truly amazing.
"Remember to laugh," she said. "And to make peace, not war."