Friday, July 13, 2007

Belarus: dispatch 2

Here are some more tidbits and reflections from ADT's recent trip to Belarus, from which he returned safe and sound to Israel only a few days ago. Never one to take things easy, my buddy just got his full sailing license and is set to join the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in a month. He'll surely be the oldest member of the infantry, meaning that in addition to dealing with the physical and psychological strain of being in the military, he will have to entrust his life to 18-20 year olds. Let's wish him well.

Here are some observations I've made from other places I've visited and observed over the past week:

--I fully expected to be plagued by the local militzia. Recurrent nightmares of my experiences in Uzbekistan, Russia, and Georgia prepared me for this reality. However, after 6 days here in Minsk, I've been shocked by the opposite. There's a strong police presence, but they pretty much keep to themselves. In fact, I've only been approached by them twice. Once, on the first day as the main thoroughfare was closed off due to a presidential motorcade, I failed to use the underground pedestrian crossing, and jaywalked over the railing. The traffic cop had a fit screaming at me in Russian. The second was the following day in the colossal square in front of the Palace of the Republic. I got a 1/2 liter of Baltika beer and decided to do the local thing and just drink in the middle of the city in the middle of the day. My mistake was that I committed the indecency of sitting on the ground of the square (the only shade I could find). A cop approached me and told me in Russian (very politely) that I must move to the adjacent bench to enjoy my beer.

-- Visiting the World War II museum in Minsk (called the Museum of the Great Patriotic War). The descriptions were solely in Russian which made understanding it a visual experience. I think I got the crux of the message which was: Belarus got royally FUCKED in World War II. At the junction of the advancing German army from Berlin and the Red Army from Moscow, the city got totally razed. By some estimates, 1 out of every 3 Belarussians was killed in the war, and nearly 40% of the pre-war population was Jewish (now it's only a few thousand). For this reason, Minsk looks and feels like it's brand new. Though it's one of the oldest cities in Europe, every existing building dates back from the late 1940s and 50s.

--Tonight will be my second night at the ballet. They're putting on Swan Lake. I saw a stunning performance of Carmela (I think that's what it was) three nights ago. It was far and away superior to other shows I've seen in other CIS states. The theatre was about 2/3 full (not a bad showing relatively) and the entire presentation and ambience were delightful. Apart from these obvious trappings of culture and civilization, Minsk is an immaculate city. It seems Belarussians don't litter and don't jaywalk. A burgeoning consumer culture and Western advertising along with throngs of well dressed Belarussians create a very civilized and elegant image.
Of course, at times the neatly packaged, pretty capital city exposes another side...the side that we hear a lot more spoken about in the "West." As I was walking through the park to return to my hotel after the independence day festivities (unbeknownst to me, I had landed the day before the biggest holiday in Belarus and my hotel room overlooked the festivities), I witnessed a group of uniformed military police kicking the shit out of two teenagers. I was the only pedestrian walking by, and saw them dropkick the two, and pound them repeatedly while they were on the ground with their boots until they were bloodied and beaten. I tried not to stare and continue on my way, but it was hard. As I crossed the bridge, I realized they were following me and experienced some pangs of fear, one of the first times I can ever recall experiencing fear while traveling. Thankfully, they turned the other way soon after, and nothing more came of it.

--The girls here are stunningly gorgeous. Hands down, the hottest girls (in great abundance) that I've ever seen across 6 continents. It seems nearly all of them are engaged in 1 of three competitions at any given moment: tightest pants, shortest skirt, or highest heels. With no puritanical religion to speak of, flesh is the only religion they subscribe to. I had illusions of possibly meeting and hooking up with some, but that has proven to be quite difficult. The inability to communicate in its most basic form and share a simple word makes that nearly impossible. Unless, of course you're willing to pay for it--which is quite easy. In all 6 of the Soviet-style hotels in Minsk, all of them are swarming with prostitutes (even in the really nice, fancy one). I made the mistake of sitting in one of their chairs, and got accosted for it. But, not before, she offered to sleep with me for $150 "for once" or $300 "for the two times." Some discount. At a place where the average monthly income is less than the "one time," I wanted to slap her for her presumptuousness. Though i don't think she cared too much about my rejection. They do quite well for themselves. It seems they capitalize on the fact that non-Russian speaking foreigners are completely helpless. Though any given girl passing on the street is twice as attractive as the best looking prostitute, they are completely untouchable. And after seeing the throngs of scantily clad, stunning Slavic women, you're so horny that you're nearly trembling. In other words, it seems the prostitutes do quite well here.

--I'm fairly certain the hotels treat them (the whores) better here than they do the foreigners. The hotels and receptionists act like they're doing you a huge favor by allowing you to spend money to stay there. They're universally unfriendly, detest hearing English, and usually would prefer to just say "niet" instead of trying to help you out and finding you a room. The hotel I'm staying in now has a large strip bar that they advertise in all their publications. It's called "Texas," and shows scantily clad girls in cowboy hats, belts, and boots. Keep in mind, these are all government run, official hotels. You gotta love governments that say how much they hate American influence, and then actively capitalize on the absurdity of that very image. But that's Belarus for you.

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