Being With The People: Leningrad 1989 — Tuesday June 20, 1989
For The Madera Tribune
This drawing of Kirk Edwards was done by a member of the Russian band while Edwards was in Leningrad with the Coast Guard Band in 1989.
A Diary by Kirk Edwards
Chief Warrant Officer Four, (CWO4)
United States Coast Guard (Retired)
Former Director of Cadet Bands, U.S. Coast Guard Academy
THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD BAND
On the occasion of the First U.S. Military Band to Visit the Soviet Union, (USSR)
In celebration of signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
In 1989, Kirk Edwards, a 1973 MHS graduate had an experience unique to any Madera native. He traveled as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Band to the Soviet Union — the first U.S. Band to do so. Throughout his stay, he kept a diary, which is here published, in serial form, for the first time.
Nighttime tour and a party
One of the first things that I noticed during the tour of the city was how beautiful the women of Leningrad were. Many of the women held hands with one another as they walked around. Suzanne, our guide, explained that this was a strictly cultural phenomenon. Leningraders were not afraid to show their affection. They were quite demonstrative, and it was not uncommon for their men to hug or kiss the members of our group, male or female.
After the tour, Sergey Kuzmin, the Leningrad District Band Eb clarinet player picked Kevin Schempf and me up at 10 p.m. He was driving a Soviet made Lafa (Lata) automobile. Sergey had invited Kevin and me to a party at his home on that evening.
Sergey lived in a small one-room apartment that was very neat and efficient. The room was furnished with a cot, a table, and two nice chairs. He told us that he shared common bathroom and kitchen facilities with the other tenants of the apartment building.
It was evident that Sergey loved to have a good time. He expressed that he wanted us to be free to enjoy ourselves. Sergey invited his girlfriend Sveta, and a trumpet player from the Leningrad Military District Band named Sasha and his girlfriend to the party. Sergey served champagne, Cognac, stewed tomatoes, and caviar on egg whites at the party. Sveta, Sergey’s girlfriend, was very attractive. Sasha’s girlfriend was also wonderful and lots of fun. But, she was not as stunning as Sveta. Sveta was petite and shapely, with long black shiny hair. She was very smartly dressed. Sveta wore a dark skirt, a sheer light pink buttoned-down long sleeved blouse with a large bow around the neck, earrings, a pearl necklace, and pink pumps.
Our hosts inquired if we had any preconceived notions about them. I told them that my perception of the Soviet Union was based on my newly found respect for the General Secretary of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, and his willingness to cut back on nuclear weapons, the democratization of the USSR, and his taking the initiative to pursue world peace. But, Sergey and others in attendance voiced a sentiment that I would hear repeatedly throughout our visit. They said that Gorbachev had not done anything to improve the lives of the Soviet people. Sergey said that General Secretary Gorbachev tried to address the debilitating alcoholism problem in the Soviet Union by taking vodka off the market or limiting its availability. That lowered the moral of the Soviet people and was ineffective in combating the incidence of alcoholism. But, when asked about my impression of the Russian people after arriving in Leningrad I said that, “it seemed like I was dreaming and I did not want to wake up.” This was my reaction to hearing years of negative things about the Soviet Union and the reality of being overwhelmed by their warm and loving reception.
Kevin and I whispered amongst us about how misguided the stereotypes regarding Russia women were. Sergey took exception to the fact that Kevin and I were so rude as to try to talk secretly among ourselves in the company of our hosts. After much hesitation and diplomacy I simply stated that we found Russian women very beautiful.
Sergey also seemed quite offended that I would not drink alcohol with them. Sveta, Sergey’s very attractive girlfriend, had a little fun with me by trying to entice me to drink. We interlocked our arms and she peered into my eyes. At that moment I felt like “I could have drunk the whole bottle of vodka.” But, somehow found the will power to abstain.
After Sasha and his girlfriend left the party, we talked with Sergey and Sveta until almost 2 a.m. It was quite late and Kevin and I were scheduled to go on a tour with the Coast Guard Band early the next morning. So, Kevin and I tried to communicate to Sergey that we needed to get back to our hotel. But, Sergey did not seem to understand, or he was unwilling to take us back to the hotel. He suggested that we take a walk over to the Neva River to witness the famous custom of the “up down of the bridges.”
At 2 a.m. all of the brilliantly illuminated drawbridges on the Neva River in Leningrad were raised and the ships would parade down the river. The ships were illuminated with many strands of lights, as they would promenade through the raised drawbridges. This was truly an incredible sight to behold.
Depending on who was talking to Sergey, Sveta held hands with Kevin or me in route to the bridge to see the ships. If I were talking with Sergey, Sveta would hold hands with Kevin, and visa-versa. Sergey would interlock arms with us also at times. Sveta’s interest in me seemed more than just cultural at times. In some instances, she seemed to brush her body against mine. But, I did not respond because of my respect for Sergey, and for myself.
Kevin and I didn’t realize that we could not return to the hotel from the other side of the river until 4:14 a.m. We pressed Sergey to give us a ride home. He was quite intoxicated by this time. When he finally decided to take us back to the hotel, we were stopped by a police officer on the bridge. We sat in the car nervously as Sergey talked to the police officer in Russian. Sergey had been driving recklessly, exceeding the speed limit, driving on the wrong side of the street, and playing sort of a reckless game of chicken as he transported us back to the hotel. We did not know what to expect from the police officer. We were quite scared. Sergey had a long conversation with the police officer. But, the officer allowed Sergey to continue driving us back to the hotel.
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To be continued.