9 Months Later

I started writing this post back in January thinking that “things are getting weird now that I’ve traversed the hump that is the midpoint of my grant.” I intended to write something about what it’s like being halfway done and how fast time flies. I started writing as the mid-term seminar was drifting farther and farther away into the distance. And then suddenly January fell away to February, which succumbed to early spring like weather and then toppled into an indecisive March, oscillating endlessly between sun and snow. April probably happened, May definitely happened and now it’s June and I’m down to my last few hours in Volgograd. I guess that along proves the point I was originally trying to make. The second half of the grant flies by.

This frees me up to funnel the post into whatever channels I want. Seeing as I just chased a pigeon out of my apartment and wandered around the city, it seems fitting that these channels are decidedly harebrained. I suppose that there’s no better time than now to finish up this blog with a few more random lists. These will include the things I’ve missed while I’ve been here,  the things I know I’ll miss when I get home, and the things I plan to do when I get back.

Things I miss about the US:

Mexican food, reliable showers with nozzles that I don’t have to lift above my head, my bed and sheets, Mexican food, potable tap water, good quality cheese, not having to shake hands whenever you say hello to someone, living in my native culture, family and pets, Mexican food.

Things I’ll miss about Russia:

The pealing bells, being called Captain America when I walk into the closest Magnit store (maybe I won’t miss that too much), the variety of cheap and available mushrooms, being told I make the clouds go away, Russian mustard, wondrously random occurrences, Russian mayonnaise, Belorussian* cheese (Groitser), being asked if I’ve found a bride, being offered brides when I enter the closest Magnit store, being pleasantly greeted by multiple people whenever I walk to the university or around the embankment, the quality and taste of vegetables, the architecture and general city planning, being able to walk everywhere I need to go, kefir and tvorog, conveniently frozen vareniki, being forced to come up with creative solutions to problems, teaching, living in a city that feels immensely historical and static while also being incredibly alive, my colleagues, friends, students, and teachers who made this year amazing.

*When the sanctions were first introduced, many banned products made their way into Russia via Belarus. Apparently Belorussian seafood was all the rage even though the country borders no seas. I may never know where my beloved Groitser actually comes from, but it has touched my life in beautiful ways.

Over the course of the year, I also took note of some of my plans for when I return home. These aren’t concrete plans, but more like a bucket list of things to do in America:

Corn maize road trip, train trip across America, build a banya, make a carved stone sink for a micro-house, build a micro-house, learn to fiddle in Appalachia, plant a garden, Alaska, learn to sew, build a balalaika, learn woodworking, head stands, bonsai trees, learn blacksmithing, hike the Pacific Crest Trail, go backpacking, make a suit of armor.

IMG_2694
I think fixing my bag with a paperclip and some pliers basically makes me a master blacksmith already.

I’ll be impressed if I do even one of these things, but it gives me a great starting place for if I ever get bored. It’s been an incredible year, and I apologize to all of those back home who will have to endure another few months of me starting every sentence with “In Russia…”

May Holidays

If you visit Volgograd, come for the May holidays. Firstly, it’s the perfect time of year from a purely aesthetic point of view. The tulips and carpets of dandelions are past their peak by the first week of May, but the lilacs and Japanese Chestnuts are just starting to bloom. If you wait until the second week, they will be joined by irises in the roadside allées. By this point, the vibrant green of the trees splayed against the dust-choked, sandstone colored buildings  evokes a desert oasis seemingly incongruous with, but not quite dispelled by the nearby Volga spilling over its banks. This year, the weather has been absolutely perfect. Temperatures have stayed well within the Goldilocks zone and the occasional spring rain arrives precisely at the right moments. I have been exceedingly lucky.

 

The second reason to visit at this time is for the festive atmosphere. Yet again, I was exceedingly lucky in this respect because a late Orthodox Easter landed on May Day. This means that May 1 was a kind of super holiday starting with a march demanding lower taxes and lower prices and ending with midnight services in the Orthodox Churches. I didn’t personally witness either of those things, but I spent most of the day wandering around Volgograd with some lovely guests, soaking in the beautiful spring and the sense of happy anticipation. I also ate two traditional Easter cakes (kulich) and the better part of a Paskha, which is another delightful cake-like dish made from cheese, but it resembles our cheesecake about as much as a cucumber resembles a notebook. The two can be confused, but only when you are in an extremely rattled state of mind.

But even on years when Easter comes a tad sooner, the first week of May builds to the roaring crescendo of Victory Day on May 9. Victory Day in Russia has to be experienced. The Soviet Union’s experience during the Great Patriotic War is incomparable to ours and perhaps even incomprehensible to us. I won’t go into statistics, because I think very few of us, myself not included, can actually picture what the numbers represent. Even when confronted by such exhibits as the 27 million “tears” hanging from the ceiling of the Hall of Remembrance and Sorrow on Poklonnaia Hill in Moscow, the visualized quantifications rightfully seem more overwhelming than educational. And that’s the point. You can’t come close to understanding 27 million extinguished individuals, but you can sense an immense and numbing loss. I found a short tidbit on the Soviet war experience here, and I would recommend reading it especially if you are unfamiliar with the Eastern Front.

Volgograd is strewn with war memorials and monuments.

Victory Day is an odd mix of looking forward and backward at the same time. On the one hand, it is very much about remembering both the veterans and the dead. This Victory Day, I was most impressed by the Immortal Regiment. The Immortal Regiment is a march, originating in Russia but spreading throughout the world, which honors veterans and participants of the war. Relatives gather under a photograph(or photographs) of a member(s) of their family who fought in the war and then march in a people’s victory parade. Apparently this was a populist initiative, created with the intention of allowing fallen family members to participate in the victory parade. I was discovering new ways to eat a kiwi in my dorm when the first shouts of the Immortal Regiment floated through my open window. They were followed by a vanguard carrying a large sign and then a solid stream of people carrying placards, flags, banners, and photographs. Many were singing songs associated with the war and occasionally a single voice would be joined by hundreds more in an intensely martial “Ura!!” I kind of wanted to run out to take photographs, but I was transfixed. It took them 21 minutes to pass. According to the mayor’s office, 48,000 people marched to Mamaev.

On the other hand,Victory Day is about aggressive patriotism. The victory spawned a “never again” mentality. In the peace conferences, the Soviet Union gathered a network of satellite buffer states and ensured that they would be led by pro-Soviet governments to face the threat of a remilitarized Germany and a NATO that rejected a Soviet petition for admission. Over the following years, NATO itself became the major threat, and not just an ideological one. The Soviet Union was ringed by military bases. Following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moscow lost its buffer and NATO continued to grow.Military bases

nato-expansion-by-other-means

NATO membership in Europe 1990 – 2009

It’s pretty easy to understand why Russia sees this expansion as a threat. NATO is, after all, a remnant of a bipolar world. Even among the current rhetoric of promoting democracy and defending freedom, it’s hard to ignore the fact that NATO’s original purpose was, to put it bluntly, “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”[1] Now we’re caught in a spiraling whirlwind of alternating Russian and NATO aggressions and slights that only fuel even more dangerous rhetoric and posturing.

There’s an element of this in Victory Day, and it is perhaps best illustrated by the iconic parades. Moscow’s is the most famous, but other cities have them as well and Volgograd (Stalingrad for May 9) is no exception.

Some of the parade vehicles lining up for a rehearsal on May 2. I wasn’t able to find a place to watch the parade on May 9, but I did catch the vehicles driving away.

 One of my doctoral candidates told me that Victory Day should not have the fancy parades, fireworks, and militaristic patriotism. It should be a day spent at home with your family or at a cemetery honoring and remembering the dead. He passionately stated that the vast sums wasted on the events only served political purposes while the money would be much better spent on providing for veterans or the elderly. He claimed that the government abandoned those it professed to honor. At this point, another lecturer chimed in stating that the annual parades were necessary because he wanted his son to see them. The parades are a point of pride and a demonstration of national strength. Everything boils down to one contentious question: should Victory Day be about the past or the future? Since 1995, when the Moscow parade became annual and the holiday was seized as an opportunity for national unity, the orientation has scaled toward the future.

[1] General Lord Ismay, First Secretary General of NATO, qtd. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/opinion/16iht-edwheatcroft16.html

Fight or Flight

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office many a year ago, staring at jungle themed wall paper as my pediatrician explained that I was an inherently nervous person prone toward the perfectly normal response of running from a tiger when presented with such an opportunity. At that point, the tigers that faced me stretched the limits of banality. I would get nervous thinking about going to school. I fainted during my first lesson with a new viola teacher. I fainted at a later lesson with the same viola teacher.* I had to leave the stage right before a 4th grade choir concert because my nerves sent me into a fit of nausea at the mere thought of standing in front of an audience. Because of my snowballing reputation for stage fright, fate thought it would be especially funny if it struck me with the first symptoms of appendicitis during the warm up for an orchestra concert two years later. Everyone thought I was just nervous. I wasn’t convinced and spent the concert curled up on a sofa in the foyer. After a miserable weekend, I found myself appendix-less in a hospital that will forever be remembered for the quality of its fried shrimp and morphine. Suffice it to say, the pediatrician was right. I am a nervous person, and I happen to think that flight (or fainting) is a highly intelligent response to danger. Unfortunately, I’m also highly idiotic, so when I was asked to lead a 90 minute lecture on the “Linguistic-Cultural Peculiarities of Modern American Society” for the regional English Olympiad hosted by my university, I didn’t run. I agreed. And then when I was told that the lecture should be in Russian, I didn’t back down. I actually got a kind of adrenaline rush.

An adrenaline rush that almost managed to drown out both the protests of my rational mind and the screams of my instinct clawing to get away.

Normally, my sanity and instinct would be able to override the adrenaline after a few hours, but then hubris stepped into the equation, forcing me to hold the course, to which I had already agreed. And then there was the nagging feeling that said it would be really cool to be able to say that I’ve lectured in a foreign language. I could print out “I survived” T-shirts and everything. The allure of an “I survived” T-shirt probably did more than anything to keep me from backing out.

I had six weeks to prepare, so I budgeted the first four for research and drafting and then the final two for refinement, practicing, and cobbling together a PowerPoint presentation. Naturally I went straight to work. I found a Chinese article on American slang, wrote a brief outline, and then rewarded myself with four weeks on YouTube as my senses of dread and denial mounted.

Two weeks prior to the Olympiad I had an optimistic outline, a drafted introduction, and an extensive theoretical knowledge of weird types of berries, violin construction, and the Easter Rising. I also had a nearly indomitable feeling of terror rivaled only by my urge to read some fantasy novels, which my brother had recommended. It was at this point that my handler sent me the material she had used for a similar lecture. It was a godsend.  I now had a foundation on which to construct my lecture and I now had a better idea of what they actually wanted. I had been focusing on linguistic peculiarities, but it turns out that I could concentrate instead on American culture. I was also told that I would have a translator on stand by and that I could budget 30 minutes of my 90-minute slot for questions. This made life much easier. For some reason, my panic dissolved.

I twisted, redacted, enhanced, and bashed my head against the material I had been given to reflect both my view of America as well as my level of Russian. My computer effectively died and was resurrected twice over this period. By the day before the lecture, I had 22 pages and 48 slides ready to rumble.

It was by no means the best lecture ever given. I stumbled my way through 16 pages before tying things off and receiving questions. I don’t know how much of what I said was understandable. I tend to zone out when I’m performing publicly. I do know that I relied far more heavily on what I had written than I had intended and basically functioned as one of those annoying lecturers who just read what they had written. But I did read with passion even if I emphasized the wrong parts of the sentences. And I survived. I managed to speak for a little over an hour in a foreign language all by my lonesome. My wonderful translator did, however, provide much needed moral support and then allowed me to answer the incoming questions in English. She deserves much praise for sitting next to me the whole time without making disgusted faces. In fact, the audience deserves much praise for the same reason. I survived and so did they.

 

*The fainting was all my fault. My viola teacher was, and is still one of the kindest people I have ever known. He is also probably partially responsible for me ending up in Russia.

Tutoring

I haven’t yet written about my tutoring, and I’ve been neglecting posting for quasi-justifiable reasons that may or may not become clear over the next few weeks, so I will seize this fortuitous, albeit, artificial suture to post a quick blip about my bi to triweekly tutoring sessions. My tutor is a sprightly and well-versed septuagenarian with a short white beard and gleaming eyes. He has one of those enviable minds that latch on to a snippet of a once-heard song or poem with an unrelenting ferocity that seems only to grow with time. This superpower is particularly useful in classes as he is able to pull literary examples seemingly from thin air to illustrate the usage of a word or a grammatical turn of phrase. Our lessons are based on a grammatical theme or a verb prefix, but often take glorious turns in unexpected anecdote-fueled directions.  I incidentally manage to map some of these ever-exciting tangential tendrils as I write down the new vocabulary words that crop up over the course of the lesson. Just to give you an idea of the unexpected turns we take, I’ll share a select smattering from the words I jotted down over the course of two lessons.

Trench

Brustwehr  (the German word for Breastwork)

The icy crust on top of snow

Keyhole/oilwell

Flesh wound

To flutter

To wade

Blackmail

A short naval dagger

Holster

Pain threshold

To harbor unpleasant feelings from sharing foods/drinks/double dipping (basically, to be afraid of cooties)

Chipmunk

A scrupulous goody two shoes

Breeches

To redeal (cards)

Catfish

Flounder

To hack to pieces

Jute (a type of plant fiber)

Coagulation

Suspenders

Bear trap

Snare

To miss the target (literally, to fall into the milk)

Mast

Mainsail/power tower

Power lines

To have a taste stuck in your mouth

To finally settle down

Laxative

Labor pains

Enema

Cargo insurance freight

Brownnoser

Our classes waltz through wondrous realms and remind me of riding in the back of my Grandfather’s Volvo on the way to the local Souplantation.  They are journeys full of songs and precious nuggets of information. By no means do I commit all of the words (or songs) to memory, but it can be very rewarding when the odd word or two sticks in my teflon-coated mind. Especially when it’s the word for “acorn.”

 

Dreams and Packing

Disclaimer: This post has very little to do with teaching, the Fulbright experience, Russia, or food. It started out as something insightful and pertinent to at least one of the afore-mentioned categories but was swiftly blown off course by the hurricane of my thought process.

For the past year and a half or so, I’ve had trouble with my dreams. Not in the sense that I am slowly realizing that my childhood machinations of becoming an alligator or a rainbow cowboy worker man seem destined to fade away unrealized and am consequently struggling to decide what to do with my life in the absence of those brilliant career paths. But in the sense that the dreams I have at night are merging with reality in astonishingly cunning ways. In other words, I am having trouble figuring out if something really happened, or if I just dreamed it late at night.

If I had normal dreams, this wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, until the beginning of my senior year my dreams were easily distinguishable from reality. In the morning after a dream, it was easy enough to recognize that my art history professor had not replaced the exam on a survey of 1000 years of world art with an exam on linear algebra. It was even easier to recognize that, in reality, I would never accept a slice of pizza from a talking trashcan while making my way to the space age residence hall where the exam was to be held. Dreams were amusing and they stuck to their designated world.

At some point this changed. Dreams began to infiltrate my waking life. I think this was first induced by the drastically increased levels of stress I stumbled across on my way toward graduation. I became unhealthily aware of deadlines, word counts, presentations, and a life after college. This meant that the natural whimsy of my subconscious mind was redirected from lobster chefs and fantastical art-nouveau constructions to drafting essays and plotting future contingencies. I started to dream about mundane things, and I started to have real nightmares.

My first such nightmare that I recall was intensely disturbing. I dreamt that I received a mass email from the school library stating that the inter-library loan system I had come to love and rely upon, was going to now charge a $1 subscription fee. I was offended to the point that I overcame my natural tendencies toward tortured acceptance and got out of bed to write an angry response. It was only when I was at my computer, already scouring my inbox for the email, that I realized that it did not exist.

Similar experiences haunted me. I would never be sure if I had had a conversation, or simply imagined it. I dreamt about scheduling meetings and having meetings. For someone who tends to keep mental notes of obligations, this was wreaking havoc. But the dreams did give me great insight into what I was actually obsessing about and, for the most part, they stopped with summer.

And then I went to Russia. They say that a sign of you beginning to get a feel for a language is when you start dreaming in that language. My first dream in Russian occurred during my sophomore year, but that was back when I had relatively normal dreams. This week heralded the arrival of a terrifying chimera: Russian reality-infiltrating dreams. The first one was just a blip about my weekly schedule, but the second one was a full-blown conversation about my wardrobe. I have been one of the fortunate Fulbrighters who has experienced very little commentary on my fashion choices while in Russia. I think this is mostly because I am male, but also because I dress in a manner that would nearly universally be recognized as unsalvageable.

When I was packing for 9 months of wearing a standardized wardrobe, I wasn’t all that perturbed. I’ve basically worn variations of the same thing since middle school… Come to think of it, five of the shirts I brought with me actually date from my middle school days. I didn’t start packing until the day before I left. As it turns out, this wasn’t all that effective because, as I was packing, I ended up resigning myself to the fact that I needed a wardrobe update. Most of my pants are in a sorry state of ragged bagginess, and I wasn’t quite ready to parade my fish mola shirt around southern Russia, so I decided to hurl myself toward the nearest Target. I did make it to Target, but in the process, I ended up locking my keys in my car. Thusly the valuable time I would have spent considering my fashion options was instead squandered waiting the anxious 20 minutes it took for AAA to save my life.

In an understandably frazzled state, I eventually blundered into the store to nab the first suitably brown shade of khakis and levis that would fit and then threw in a shirt that would identify me as a spec-ops lumberjack for a small, but militant Endor-like nation. I think I made it all the way home before realizing that I had set off to buy clothes because very little of what I had was suitable for standing in front of a class. But I’m a stubborn cad who hates shopping and loves alternative fashion choices, so I stuffed in my assortment of literally ragged pants (one of them even had a significant hole in the backside when I decided to bring it) into my suitcase and figured I could buy clothes in Russia should things truly get desperate.

I’m no dream interpreter, but I think the fact that I had a dream about a Russian telling me I should buy new clothes could be interpreted as a sign that things have gotten desperate. However, I can recommend, with the experience of five months as a backing, that if you aim to spend the better portion of a year in a locale far removed from home, you’d best start planning what to pack more than a day in advance lest you find yourself the target of a dream Russian bluntly giving voice to your inner-most concerns. And Russian can be a very direct language.

Pancakes at the Psychiatrist’s

At some point quite some time ago (probably in November), I went to a Psychiatrist. While both my family and I have questioned my sanity for a while now, this was actually a social visit. I met the Psychiatrist, Yura, and a doctor named Vera in one of the many classes I would drop in on in the fall. They happen to be married. They also happen to be wonderful people. As I was leaving, Yura chased me down for contact information and after some messaging back and forth, he ended up sending me this:

“Have you ever been in a Russian public sauna? I go here every weekend. But it a strange place)”

The Russian Banya.

A place where dreams come true.

I was a bit hesitant to get naked again in an even more public banya than the last one. It’s an experience, and I would certainly do it, but laying out all of your options under the table at the first real meeting with someone is something I still have trouble getting my mind over. I replied, being sure to heap on those linguistic nuances inherent in trying to convey the opposite of what you’re saying, “I have actually been to a Russian sauna and would be willing to go if you’d like. Whatever works best for you.”

Now this is where Yura is a true credit to his craft. Not only did he sense how I was feeling about the public banya, he did so through two sentences of intentionally obfuscated English. Either that or he’s telepathic. I’m actually leaning toward the latter explanation as he followed up by backing away from the banya, while still keeping it a viable option, and proposing an alternative:

“It’s cooking pancakes in our appartment)”

Now, if ever you’ve had Russian pancakes, you will know that I was in for a treat. Russian pancakes, or blini, are basically crepes, but better. According to the internet, the technical difference lies in the batter. Blini use a yeasted batter to provide a pleasant lift, while crepes are oppressively monolithic in their non-bubbly consistency. However, crepes are also very popular in Russia, and I doubt I would be able to taste the difference in an out of context taste test. The true way to differentiate is topping. You will dip a blin in sour cream, honey, sweetened condensed milk, or something of that ilk; although, you can coat them or stuff them with anything you fancy. Caviar is also a popular topping. You also have to soak blinis in butter. That is very non-negotiable.

What ensued was a very pleasant evening spent in the company of the fantastic Vera and Yura who earnestly took it upon themselves to make me feel comfortable, teach me how to make pancakes, and to converse in English. The evening lasted a few hours, and at the end, I had a heaping stack of pancakes fried up with a recipe I now hold. And since I can’t keep secrets, I’ll share it with you.

This recipe scales nicely with one to one ratios. For the sake of authenticity, I will share the one we used. It produces many a pancake.

  1. Put three cups of flour in a bowl. If you are a professional, you will use a sifter. If you are me, you will not.
  2. Add three cups of steamed milk. If you are in Russia you can buy this. If you are in America, I have no idea. Boring ol’ regular milk will work as well, but steamed milk is cooler. If you can’t find it, steam it! That sounds fun!
  3. Add three eggs. Apparently, you can crack an egg with a knife for half the mess. I find this entertaining, but in my case, woefully untrue. The entertainment value is greater than the mess. Break the eggs with the knife.
  4. Activate a dash of baking soda over your concoction. In other words, squeeze some lemon over a quarter teaspoon or less of baking soda and watch it froth before adding it to the mix. It’s not quite yeast, but it gives us the edge over them crepes.
  5. You should have probably already stirred at this point. If not, stir it all together and hope that you haven’t made any more mistakes.
  6. Too late. You forgot to heat up your special pancake pan on the stove. Get the pan nice and toasty.
  7. Add some sugar to the mixture. Add as much as you’d like, but be reasonable. Oddly, the more sugar you add, the sweeter your pancakes will become. A tablespoon or two should do the trick, but I’m not your mother. I won’t stop you if you want to make crunchy brulee patties and call them blini. However much you add, you should probably stir it in well.
  8. You should also add some salt. I think. There was probably some salt involved at some point.
  9. Brush your hot pan lightly with vegetable oil. Be sure to use a brush, it amplifies the artistry of the moment threefold.
  10. Add enough of the batter to coat the bottom of your special curved blini pan. Wait a little bit before using your special blini flipper to flip the blin.
  11. Your first blin will be a mistake. That’s ok. There’s even a Russian expression for this: первый блин всегда комом. The first blin always has lumps. It’s great life advice. Don’t let a lumpy pancake discourage you. Eat your sacrificial blin and know that the rest will be better.
  12. As you continue through your batter, continue to brush your pan with oil. When you finish a blin, place it on a plate along with a generous dollop of butter and keep on stacking. Don’t skimp on the alternating layers of blin and butter.
  13. Add a psychiatrist to the recipe and there’s a chance you will definitively learn that you are not a sociopath.IMG_2166.JPG

Stalingrad

Yesterday I woke up in a different city. I went to sleep in my bed in Volgograd, and I woke up in the very same bed in Stalingrad. 73 years ago, at 4:00 A.M. February 2, 1943, the last sizeable pocket of resistance in the city of Stalingrad surrendered. 91,000 men, the last remnants of the 6th Army that had once spear-headed Army Group South, joined thousands more of their comrades in captivity, and the Stalingrad kessel definitively vanished.

stalingrad-german-pow
Only 6,000 of the 91,000 would live to be repatriated after the war.

If El Alamein was Churchill’s end of the beginning, then Stalingrad was, perhaps, the beginning of the end. Goebbels himself was forced to publically admit: “Here for the first time our eyes have been opened to the true nature of the war. We want no more false hopes and illusions.”[1] The Battle of Stalingrad claimed 1.7 to 2 million military casualties on both sides and killed 30,000 to 50,000 civilians living in the city.[2] It destroyed a city. It destroyed a German Field Army. And it destroyed the illusion of an invincible Third Reich.

Historians argue as to whether or not Stalingrad was the most important strategic development in the war (other contenders are Moscow and Kursk), but it was psychologically, at the very least, the turning point in the war. Stalingrad was supposed to prove the end of the Soviet Union’s military reserves. It was supposed to break the country while opening the way to new resources that were so essential. When the battle began on August 23, many thought that the USSR would be unable to resist.[3] But it did resist, and it never abandoned the west bank of the Volga.

In the simplest sense, the victory shifted the initiative away from the weakened Wehrmacht to the ever-hardening Red Army. Stalingrad enabled the Red Army to begin retaking territory in a costly, but constant surge westward. It also greatly enhanced the Soviet Union’s prestige, granting Stalin much more diplomatic clout in deciding the shape of post-war Europe. King George V gave the citizens of Stalingrad a sword, Roosevelt presented the city with a presidential order, and people from all over the world sent their thanks.[4]

131_21
Stalin accepting the sword from Churchill at Tehran.

Volgograd, in many ways, was cheated out of Stalingrad’s inheritance. Destalinization and the eventual renaming of the city seemed both to sever it from its heroic past and its glorious future. Volgograd sits in a limbo. When I tell people that everyone has heard of Volgograd, I’m corrected. No-one’s heard of Volgograd, everyone’s heard of Stalingrad. And to some extent this is true. Volgograd is a provincial city, awkwardly detached from its hundreds of memorials and plaques. Stalingrad is a myth. But on 6 days every year, each connected with the Battle of Stalingrad or the Great Patriotic War, the city reverts to Stalingrad.[5] It’s just a name, but this name has already changed the world.

[1] Joseph Goebbels, “Nation, Rise Up, and Let the Storm Break Loose,” February 18, 1943, http://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/goeb36.htm

[2] The city was not evacuated as it was assumed that soldiers would be encouraged to fight for a living city.

[3] The British in particular were concerned that a collapse in Southern Russia would be devastating. “I felt Russia could never hold, Caucasus was bound to be penetrated, and Abadan (our Achilles heel) would be captured with the consequent collapse of Middle East, India, etc. After Russia’s defeat how were we to handle the German land and air forces liberated? England would be again bombarded, threat of invasion revived… “ Alan Brooke, qtd. David Fraser, Alanbrooke, 1982.

[4] The panorama museum has a wall display of some of these gifts.

[5]This was an actual decision made by the city council. The name of the city changes on February 2, May 9, June 22, August 23, September 2, and November 19. https://lenta.ru/news/2013/01/31/stalingrad/