Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Imperial Russia

President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's successor, also mourned the writer, saying Solzhenitsyn "worked incessantly to form moral and spiritual ideals, seeing them as an extremely important foundation supporting the state and society, and fought for their triumph" reports the Washington Post.

From early childhood I dreamed Russia, Imperial Russia, Revolutionary Russia, anything Russian. I suppose one needs to understand the white nights, limitless horizons and extraordinary cold of North Dakota to understand. A Russian acquaintance said it was much colder than St. Petersburg rather more like Siberia. As a child I found the weather and topography very romantic. That was before I was responsible for fuel bills and stalled autos and other grown up tasks. Later when I lived in London I used to attend the Russian Orthodox church where the deposed and eccentric aristocracy gathered praying for mother Russia and the return of a czar.

My good friend and Russian teacher Valentina Popel left the Ukraine when the white army warned the family of an advancing red army. Valentina grew up in feudal Russia on an estate with 500 souls. She walked out of the Ukraine with her baby Walter on her back and her mother at her side. Her husband and father went in another direction and were never seen again presumably captured or killed. She walked out of the Ukraine to Paris eventually marrying Ukranian émigré and world chess champion Steffan Popel. They lived outside Paris in a village I used to pass by train when I was a student in France. They settled in Detroit in an Ukranian community and then came to Fargo where Dr. Popel headed the Department of Romance Languages at NDSU.

Valentina and her husband are now gone as is Solzhenitsyn. An entire world has passed away and with it words that echo softly..."You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution."

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