Colorado Springs Gazette, 7-9-09
the deal with me and President Barack Obama? First, he wouldnít be inaugurated
until Iíd left for Russia. Then he refused to come to Russia until the day I
left. Was it something I said?
landed at Denver International Airport about 20 hours before sending this to
The Gazette. Flying west across the ocean means I gained eight hours on my
deadline, which I promptly lost sleeping fitfully on the flight from Frankfurt.
So it goes.
do you sum up six months living and working in another country in 700
sleep-deprived words or less? The answer is: You donít.
said that when it comes to foreign countries, there are two kinds of experts:
Those whoíve lived there for 20 years, and those whoíve lived there for 20
was in St. Petersburg for six months, somewhere in the middle. So Iím not
really an expert on anything. I just tried to be a good teacher to my students,
an entertaining speaker to my audiences, a good friend to my friends, and
hopefully represent America well.
of you may remember my previous visit to St. Petersburg back in 2001. I wasnít
a regular writer for The Gazette then, just a few pieces here and there.
interesting to go back and compare my notes from then and now. Back then, the
Twin Towers fell the day before my first class. How the world has changed
spent much of the previous week packing and saying goodbye. There was a lot of
packing to do, and a lot of goodbyes to be said. A last
Friday night Sabbath meal with a group of friends from the synagogue. A
jazz cruise out to the Gulf of Finland, courtesy of a piano-playing colleague. Dinners, parties and toasts. Lots and lots
know itís a cliché, but language really is the key to people. Speaking
another language and using it to communicate with people changes you, in ways
that you donít always appreciate. Itís not exactly like youíre a different person, itís more like youíre a deeper person. I think
thatíll be true with me long after my Russian has faded away.
has that effect even if you donít speak another language. Seeing and
experiencing life in another part of the world both broadens and deepens you.
Americaís immigrants understand this better than anyone. From the other side, I
understand it a little better now.
the same, traveling alone for so long was in hindsight not a great idea. Iíve
missed my wife, who endured a similar absence back in 2001. No more, dear, I
missed my kids, who were in grade school back then and are in college now.
Skype makes the separation a little more bearable, but itís no substitute for
the real thing.
also increased my admiration for our men and women in uniform, who deploy for
far longer than a mere six months and under far worse conditions. To do so
while leaving a spouse and family behind has to be very, very tough. For all of
us whom you serve, thank you.
of course in addition to my family, I missed America. I missed America for the
same reasons so many of my Russian students and friends admire her, and us. Our boundless optimism, our can-do attitude, our ideals of
individual freedom and liberty in law. The alert, look-you-in-the-eye
handshake you get when you first meet someone, the contagious enthusiasm, the
passion with which we do things, all these seem much more striking to me now. More striking, and more precious.
are plenty of other things Iíll no longer take for granted. For example, I see
it gets dark here at night. What a concept! Should make
sleeping a little easier.
all those whoíve enjoyed reading about life in St. Petersburg these past few
weeks, thank you for thinking these pieces worthy of your time.
that Iím stateside, itíll be back to politics and Big Ideas for a while, so
weíre probably apt to disagree a bit more. But I hope
youíll bear with me; thatís what makes all this worthwhile.
itís do svidanya to St.
Petersburg, and privyet to, well, who knows. In any
case, itís good to be back.