We went to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn yesterday to stock up on Russian foods that have been adopted by Estonians en masse. I am not sure at what point Estonians started eating sibeeri pelmeenid, but they do, or at least my wife does. My favorite kinds are the ones from Georgia. They have a hint of the mediterranean in them. But Slavic food - to me - seems intolerably composed of three ingredients - fried dough, meat, and cheese.
I remember we ate cheap when we went to Slovenia, and the food was the same style there. In neighboring Italy you would have pasta malfalda with big yummy slices of potent garlic cloves, lightly soaked in fine olive oil. But in Slovenia it was Tseburekk - fried dough with some cheese in it. I was told by our Slovenian friend that this was really Albanian food - imported from that mystery country with the scary red flag. But I think he was lying. Because when I was in the Czech Republic I was greeted by similar fare - smazeny sir (fried cheese). This has led me to believe that the early Slavs didn't like vegetables - unless, of course, they are mashed up and stuck inside a blintz.
In Brighton Beach though I saw a gentleman wearing a sweatshirt that looked sort of like the one up there. C C C P. Those are the cyrillic letters that represent the long-dead country called the Soviet Union. Of course today we have other ways of referring to that country. They call it the "former Soviet Union," like "the artist formerly known as Prince" - the only thing is that Prince was still Prince, and the Soviet Union broke up. The Soviet Union is as much a couple as Tom and Nicole. It's over. Yesteryear's news. Benifer. Reese and Ryan. Madonna and Sean Penn. Compleat!
Still, the NATO summit in Riga is supposed to be a big deal because it's on territory in the "former Soviet Union." But I'm sorry to say that once you get there, you'll be let down. There'll be no hot Soviet spies with killer thighs waiting to strangle you. Brezhnev won't be there either because he's dead. Memorial rallies and sweatshirts aside, the "FSU" as it's called by people that call most of the eastern half of Europe the "CEE" is about as relevant as a sweatshirt. It's a living memory, but just a memory. And it's one memory that will die with my generation.
Sad to say, when I saw that guys sweatshirt, I was taken back to 1987 when I saw the Living Daylights starring Timothy Dalton as Bond. There were real nefarious Cold War Russians in that film and others of the genre with names like Kostov and Rostov and Bostov and Sostav. They were usually fat and had beards, but you still felt they had the mental will to break the arm of whomever pissed them off. And so you really wanted them to lose, just as much as you wanted Rocky Balboa to kick Dolph Kundgren's ass in Rocky IV.
That was a long time ago. In 1985, I played Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA on my record player in my room. We may have still had a rotary phone. Bill Clinton was just a young punk governor in Arkansas. Schwarzenegger was an actor. Ronald Reagan was president. Paris Hilton was playing with My Little Ponies. Corey Feldman had an acting career. Do you see what I am getting at?
But I am still reacting to symbols and people are still using terminology like the last 20 years never happened. What was it about that time that has allowed us all to continue on in this Groundhog Day-like stupor where people still talk about the Soviet Union like it means something? Where I still react to clothing bearing the insignia of a dead country? There is something strange in all this, as if we have not truly accepted the New World Order in our hearts and we cannot really believe that the old Cold War is really over.
And imagine, if I still get the 1987 shakes when I see a CCCP sweatshirt, how do our foreign policy elite, most of them deep in middle age, see the world? How do they react to goosestepping Soviet war parades in Russia or the sight of Putin standing beside a hammer and sickle? If I am this far gone in backward thinking, at what year did their minds stop registering change?