Considerations on a Voyage to Russia – 1932 – Part 1 of 9

One can walk in the streets of Russia and not encounter the least manifestation, institution, or measure in which Russia would – or could – seduce. The people are poorly clothed, as if they have only proletarians leaving their factory and returning there. The men wear caps and the women and young girls wear scarves. It’s by the hat that they recognize the foreigner. The shoes are poor quality, the shops nearly empty. There, before the war, were piled all the delicacies of the Orient and the Occident, right now there are some boxes of preserves, little heaps of rutabagas, cucumbers, and potatoes. In the shop windows, the most shabby and superfluous object try to attract the customer: three or four flasks of perfume, an old mandolin, a red scarf to brighten it up. In the middle of sad odd and ends, the bust of Lenin or Stalin is the focus and serves as a fig leaf. The stores on Nevski Prospekt or in front of the Kremlin, once celebrated by the entire world, resemble at present little flea markets in an obscure suburb. Maybe right now that is the true character of cities like Leningrad or Moscow. Everywhere there is this dreary grayness that before we only encountered in popular quarters. The splendor of the old palaces has disappeared. The poor faces, gnawed by grief, look through the high windows. The miserable, with toothless mouths, are crammed into the rooms where once an elite lead a life full of pomp, open to the world. This Russia is effectively proletarian. At every glance, that is confirmed. It does not want to trick with Potemkin Villages. Maybe it does not even had the imagination and lightness to erect such villages. It embellishes none of the monotony of daily life and nothing prevents the foreigner from seeing the country such as it is. If we want to undertake a voyage of discovery, with its own risks and perils, we have no obstacle to hurtle.

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