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Saturday, April 4, 2015

One blast from the past

The process of changing from one regime to another didn’t happen all at once in my native country. There was this day when The Soviet Union was suddenly gone, but in terms of economy it was more gradual, if not always subtle.

I reckon it began with the establishment of lareks, a word that brings painful nostalgia (if one can say such thing) to all those Russians who saw with their coming the end of the world where one was living his or her life not based on consumption but on something much deeper.

Here on the picture, we can see the example of such a larek. It means a small shop, a monstrosity from architecture point of view, but also in terms of what it used to sell. Bottles of Coca-Cola were standing next to blocks of Marlboro light and packets of tampons, showing to us, the mundane, what we had been missing before the arrival of capitalism.

They were implanted in all unusual places, next to the underground stations, next to schools, and next to supermarkets. The later would perhaps strike as something very stupid, but not for Moscow’s entrepreneurs at that time. Shops were almost totally empty, deprived of any edible products when the first lareks appeared, and in this respect it was a smart move. One would go to a supermarket hoping to buy something there, and without finding anything, would turn to larek, to feed on bars of snickers and mars, washing it all down with Coca-Cola.

I remember that period quite well because it was the first time that I witnessed something as I would describe as ‘mad’. One larek is especially memorable, as it was on our way from school, and together with my best friend, Masha, we would stop there and purchase our first bottles of Gin and packets of Marlboro Light. We were fourteen or fifteen at that time, not that anyone would actually ask our age.

It was standing next to that larek that I got my first realisation that something was wrong with this world. It wasn’t even the fact that I knew that I was living in a different country, with different values and gods, it was more down to rather a sad thought that no one was questioning the choice. How come, I wondered, that instead of launching a small revolution and asking for return of fresh bread and some normal products, people were tolerating and celebrating the establishment of lareks? It symbolised some kind of freedom, opening of the door to the outside world, and while I tried to join in cheering for such an outcome, subconsciously, I was more or less crying. Is having a choice in life means being able to choose between Coca-Cola and Pepsi? And how long was one supposed to stay happy on bars of Mars?

Not long as I noticed but ten years later. I was living then in a proper capitalistic world, where instead of lareks I could choose between several supermarkets chains. I knew that I wouldn’t go hungry and that I didn’t have to drink another glass of Coca-Cola for the rest of my life (as well, as eating any snickers and Mars), but I also knew that something was missing despite the overwhelming presence of ‘choice’. It was the absence of simple life with simple values, when having a choice between two brands of salami can be a good thing. It doesn’t take your time and frees you to focus on something more meaningful, like walking in a park and watching birds, or writing a novel.

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