Faces from Russia | AspenTimes.com

Faces from Russia

Morgan Smith
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We returned from Moscow and St. Petersburg just before the explosions that destroyed two Russian planes and the beginnings of a wave of terrorism that killed more than 500 people, including many children. Our trip to Russia left us with much concern about the high level of alcoholism, the lack of jobs, the pitiful pensions on which many older people are trying to survive, and the gap between the super-rich and the very poor.On the other hand, we met many smart, resilient and talented people for whom there is a bright future.Here are some impressions:

1. As we returned to the Golden Ring Hotel one evening, the night clerk, Polina, stopped us. “I’m practicing my English,” she said, and then asked, “Can you tell me what is the difference between ‘I am well off’ and ‘I am wealthy’?” Like the extraordinary Russian women who seem to be taking over tennis, Polina has the talent and drive to succeed.

2. On a local train we met Camil Mingazimov, a 78-year-old military veteran. Proudly holding his identity card, he is struggling to survive on a pension of about $50 per month.

3. In the woods behind this woman and her goats were a series of enormous houses hidden by 15-foot-high security walls. “This is where the Mafia and the generals have their dachas,” we are told.

4. On the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, this bright and curious little boy, Daniel, ran his toy trucks up and down my leg. One of the brightest moments of our trip, however, was watching other young Russian children boarding the Delta Airlines flight for the United States with the ecstatic American families that had just adopted them.

5. Sasha, with his odd T-shirt, works on one of the tour boats that cruise the River Neva in St. Petersburg. As we prepared to start the midmorning tour, he lets three young friends on board. They sit up on deck, sharing a plastic bottle of vodka. By the time we return an hour later, one is so drunk that the other two have to carry him off.

6. It’s midnight on Nevsky Street and these two young dancers, probably about 13 years old, are dancing for tips.Morgan Smith is a former Aspenite and part-time Barcelona resident. He currently has a show of photographs from Spain at Emil Nelson Gallery at 1307 Bannock St. in Denver. Smith can he reached at msmith@abaforum.es.