We awoke 15 minutes earlier than usual to have our checked luggage out the door at 6:45 for departure to Shanghai. We managed to get breakfast in by opening the dining room 5 minutes early and choking down some food before being in the cab at 7:15. Despite my concerns about traffic we walked into the terminal at 8:15 two hours before scheduled departure, whew. But wait what are these extra passes we have been handed? Complimentary meals? Uh oh. The flight is delayed 3 hours and 40 minutes. We were not planning on using the business class lounge here, but now we will have plenty of time to enjoy the luxury of waiting in relative comfort. Of course we will arrive in Shanghai at something like 2:40 AM if we actually take off at 2 PM. More news on that as we experience the joys of travel.
Thinking about 5 countries and 7 cities over the 22 days so far. This area like so many others has been fought over, conquered and freed from conquerors so often in the last century it is hard to grasp what the people have lived through. In the USA we have had one bloody internecine war in our history since independence and that was 150 years ago. The most recent change in governance in this region was 1991! That was when the Baltic nations became independent from USSR for the first time since 1941 (and the USSR ceased to exist). These are people for whom the only choice was rule by Nazis or Soviet Union who ever was in control at the moment. Hobson’s choice which is to say no choice at all, both sides slaughtered or deported those they saw as dissidents. Russia is finding itself too as a much smaller country, missing Ukraine which is comparable in size to Texas and is the second biggest country in Europe after European Russia. Each of the Baltic States are best compared to our small states, NJ, Connecticut, etc. Their population of about 1,000,000 each consists of one third pensioners and about one third employed. This is not a good population base on which to build an economy especially as there is significant “brain drain” from each of them as the young graduate from very good inexpensive universities and head out to find satisfactory employment elsewhere. For many of us the Baltic States did not exist at all as we read about world politics through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
As we prepare to head to China which has yet to really break the bonds of totalitarian rule, I wonder what the future will be as Russia continues to squeeze the Baltic nations to prevent their deepening involvement with the EU and NATO. This is playing out today. Our course will continue to take us to killing fields. We may be less emotionally pained as these are not our close family, but nonetheless they are family of man. As we sat as a group over the last several days I wondered where we might go in our travels to not find a place of pain. Carol and I concluded that the nature of humans is such that there is no such place. The US may not have recent history, but certainly our ancestor’s treatment of the natives has not been without death and deportation, nor has our northern neighbor Canada’s history been clean on that regard.
I will continue to revel in the joy of travel and accept that amid the beauty and grandeur that we see there will be reminders of pain and savagery.
We sat and talked with Yechiel this morning (for us) and we were able to see each other as we spoke across 11 time zones using Google hangouts on my tablet. This was a dream at the 1964 World’s Fair when we were newlyweds and today it is essentially cost free.
The grand spaces in Moscow, Red Square and the Victory Park are so huge as to be daunting and yet we look forward to seeing Tianimen Square which is said to dwarf them. The beauty of the gold onion domes of Moscow (candles to G-d) make it truly look like a fairy tale invention and the ancient places we visited all along the way are with me in mind’s eye and in digital images which are too many to share or even sort through as we add new ones each day.
I ramble because I am trying to record impressions not necessarily a coherent story. Please forgive my wandering from subject to subject, maybe someday I’ll edit this blog, somehow I doubt it.