A Cruise with Americans
A Deluxe US world travel company VANTAGE, with its headquarters in Boston, organizes many sea and river cruises around the world, including Imperial Waterways and St. Petersburg trips.
With every cruise, the company extends its sightseeing programs and activities in establishing cultural connections with Russian people of all walks of life.
In additions to numerous excursions in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Uglich, Yaroslavl, Petrozavodsk on Lake Onega, walking tours of Kizhi Island (famous for its ancient wooden architecture), passengers on board the Nikolay Chernyshevsky, charted by Vantage from Russian Vodokhod shipping company, enjoyed a 14-day cruise which included a Russian tea party, bliny with black caviar, vodka, Russian language lessons, a matryoshka doll painting workshop, Russian folk dancing lessons and many other activities.
It was for the first time during the 2006 summer and autumn cruises that Vantage invited a Russian host lecturer to organize round-table discussions on various subjects.
I was the one who was to deliver lectures and carry out round-table talks with the travellers.
There were over 200 passengers with whom I was to rub shoulders during our river voyage.
Almost all of them were of advanced ages: retired attorneys, diplomats, engineers, musicians, college professor and housewives.
First impressions are most lasting. I was pleasantly surprised that none of them smoked, except an old gentleman who used to puff his pipe on the open decks. All the men and women drank ice-cold water with their meals; many of the tourists were fond of Coca-Cola.
In spite of their age, the travellers did not miss a single sightseeing tour ashore by bus or by foot. They were full of life and wanted to know places beyond the tourist facade. They bought video films and a lot of souvenirs for their numerous grandchildren.
Eleven of the tourists were of an inquisitive bent. The first theme discussed at the round table was Russian-American relations’ past and present, from Khrushchev up to Putin’s time.
When I mentioned Mr. Khrushchev’s name the audience (more than a hundred people) all of a sudden shouted: “We will bury you!”, citing the Soviet leader’s words once said about their country.
No wonder, the audience was the generation of the Cold War and considered Khrushchev a boorish person lacking formal education who was at the centre of world attention during that period of hostility between both states.
“By saying that terrible phrase, he meant that he would dance on our grave”, exclaimed a gray haired gentleman with thick spectacles.
“Yes, you are quite right!” The audience approvingly supported him. Then I took the floor and said, “You will be astonished to learn that Nikita Khrushchev never meant to threaten or insult the American people. In fact, he was envying the great progress your country had made in all branches of industry and agriculture, and he even decided to adopt the American way of cultivating corn in Russia. He used to say: ‘We shall overtake America in standards of living,’ and he believed that the American capitalistic economy would die out without Russia’s meddling. The meaning of his saying was lost in translation. His interpreter ought to have said: ‘The time is coming and maybe we shall be present at your funeral.’ And this is not the same as ‘We’ll bury you’.”
Nikita Khrushchev was fond of using idiomatic expressions in his speeches, folk proverbs, which were headaches for his interpreters. One of his favourite maxims was: “My vam pokazhem Kuskinu mat.” Literally translated it means: “We’ll show you the mother of Kusma”. His interpreters often shot into the brown inaccurately giving a word for word translation with a meaning of an imminent threat. But what the Soviet leader meant in reality was: “Russia will show you a thing or two”, or “You will see who is the best”. It goes without saying that he was a very impulsive and easily agitated person. Everyone has heard about Khrushchev’s beating his shoe on the table during one of the UN General Assembly sessions in 1960.
By a stroke of luck I was an eye witness to that “historical” escapade.
I asked one of the gentlemen inthe first row to read aloud an extract from my essay about the event published in the Moscow Times a few years ago.
Everyone was all ears.
“...Nothing portended the storm. The chairman gave the floor to a representative from the Philipines, who approached the podium and started speaking. Khrushchev listened to the speech through headphones. After the delegate had been speaking for several minutes, Khrushchev, clearly irritated with the speech, started banging on the table with his fists. In support of their boss, Gromyko and other comrades started banging on the table, too. Then Khrushchev leaned down, dexterously took off his shoe, and started banging it on the table. A thought flashed through my mind: ‘What if all our diplomats take off their shoes and follow this example?’
Looking at Khrushchev, Gromyko seemed to be taken aback – he did not repeat Khrushchev’s action, and neither did our delegates.”
After the reading I shared more details with them.
Later Khrushchev explained his extravagant behaviour to his interpreter Victor Sukhodrev, saying that while beating with his fists he had broken his watch and had got angry. And then occured what had happened – which became infamous in the diplomatic world.
The shoe story had its continuation. After Khrushchev’s death in 1971, a group of US businessmen approached his daughter Rada asking her to sell the famous shoes. She refused.
I had again to turn our thinking back over forty years when the Soviet leader agreed to give an interview to a New York TV correspondent after closing the 15th session of the UN General Assembly.
Unfortunately, the TV journalist did not possess Lary King’s skill of coping with such a character as Mr. Khrushchev.
At first the talk show was going in a peaceful manner. But soon the interlocutors exchanged rather sharp remarks and the American said:
“Mr. Khrushchev you are barking at the moon”. The interpreter translated that phrase word for word drawing forth a burst of indignation.
“Young man, I am twice your age and you dare to compare me, the leader of the Soviet Union, with a dog barking at the moon. Shame on you!”
It took a long time to calm Nikita down, explaining that in English that phrase did not contain a negative and insulting meaning. Again it was the interpreter’s mistake, who should have softened that “rude” phraseology.
Onboard, there were other round table talks about Russian cultural roots in America and about freedom of the media in both countries.
I had a chance to observe the Americans at close quarters onmany occasions: meeting and speaking to them on the open decks, in the ship’s bars, cinema hall, during meals in the restaurants. They frankly shared their sorrows.
Mrs. Leykocich, a retired secretary from Pennsylvania, worried about the health of her third six-year-old grandchild, who all of a sudden began to lose weight, and doctors so far had not discovered the cause.
Gray-haired Robert Hill, the man smoking his pipe, lost his 33 year old son (a fireman) who perished rescuing the victims of the 9/11 2001 terrorist attack on the Trade Centre.
Mrs. Devis from Illinois, a housewife, told me about her nephew who had been killed in Iraq.
I did not meet a single person who was pleased with the war policy of their President in Iraq. They also sharply criticized US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and predicted victory for the Democrats in the mid-term elections for Congress.
At the end of the cruise all the passengers were given a form to fill out, in order to evaluate the work of the crew, give brief comments on shore excursions, entertainment on board the ship and so on. All the travellers called the Nikolay Chernyshevsky a happy ship, and thanked captain Vladimir Коtin and his crew for all their efforts to make it such an enjoyable trip.
Cruise director Lisa Yrgina, purser Ekaterina Kulikova, and hotel manager Echerd Redlich, spared no efforts to provide comfort and safety and to create a warm and friendly atmosphere during the voyage. A good many passengers welcomed the round-table talks which, as they wrote, broadened their notions about Russia’s today.