Yesterday was a great day in my brief history in Cleveland. I woke up on a lumpy mattress in Cleveland Heights with a terrible back-ache, looked at the clock, realized I'd messed up when setting my cell-phone alarm clock again, and went to wake up my friend so we could head over to Lakewood.
We both got ready and then headed off to the Latvian Lutheran Church Hall, where an acclaimed documentary about the Soviet evils of WWII and after, titled The Soviet Story. As the documentary itself points out, history has spared the Soviets from much of the criticism they deserve for their several instances of unbelievable war crimes and genocide, mostly because (a) they ended the war on the side of the victors and (b) as bad as they were, it is pretty hard to top the evil that Hitler and the rest of the Nazis perpetuated. After viewing the documentary, one cannot argue with the notion that "Koba the Dread" Stalin and company in the Kremlin did their best to try.
On the way, we stopped off at some gas station on Carnegie for petrol and, it turns out, gyros. They weren't nearly as bad as you'd expect from a gas station. Though still not exactly what we think of when we say or in any other way use the word "good." Naturally, I managed to drip about 40% of the tzatziki sauce on my nice button-up shirt, which resulted in me entering the church in a purple Dinosaur Jr t-shirt and awesome breath.
The folks at the church could not be nicer, including the lady who offered to let us in for free (the cost was a suggested $7 for each person) when I couldn't find cash at first and another lady who saw us sitting on the side of the room and drug us over to a table where we could sit and eat the lovely Latvian desserts. On the way over, I complimented them on hosting such a cool event and she laughed and smiled, saying "We may work hard, but we party hard, too."
As my eye caught the beverage table, I saw she was right, with rows of options, including a nice Latvian lager, Minhauzen Piebalga. One taste took me back to my first trip to Russia, in 2000, when we crashed in dodgy "tourist apartments" in towns like Vladimir, buying lukewarm bottles of Baltica 3 (and 4 and 7 and 9 and even 0 when supplies got scarce) from fierce matrons controlling the key desks on each floor and enforcing mandatory curfews (which mostly amounted to operating as pimps for the local "businesswomen").
The documentary was excellent, clearly made with the intention of selling eventually to the History Channel or something like it. It got a little ham-fisted at the end, but despite that made the point it was striving for in a way that no one in the room will soon forget. I'm still floored that it is the first cinematic endeavor for the director, Edvins Snore, a Latvian scholar and human rights activist. Hopefully, for those of you interested in fine documentaries, human rights, or Eastern European history, we'll see it on an upcoming slate at the Cinematheque or Film Festival.
Also of note was the presence and brief lecture by Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis. Kristovskis is an impressive figure, particularly given his courage following the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s. Kristovskis and his compatriots led the first wave of national defection from the USSR and folks from the Baltic states have been agitating for truth and justice since. It was cool to hear a former Defense minister, current member of the EU parliament, and all-around radical talk about the global political and economic difficulties involved in getting any other European nation to pressure the Russian government to acknowledge, much less make reparation for the excessive evil of their war-time and post-war administrations, a task all the more difficult in the current Putin era.
But enough about the dark side of world affairs. This is supposed to be a blog about bachelorhood in the Forest City, right?
3 weeks ago