Being With The People - A Diary by Kirk Edwards: Leningrad 1989 — Saturday, June 24, 1989
For The Madera Tribune
This homemade shadow box features many souvenirs from CWO Kirk Edwards’ trip to Leningrad. It features shoulder boards from a Soviet Army uniform, a shoulder patch, plus hat devices.
In 1989, Kirk Edwards, a 1973 MHS graduate, had an experience unique to Madera natives. 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, an abridged copy of which is here published, in serial form, for the first time.
Mistress of ceremonies takes center stage
As I woke up around 7 a.m., my stomach problems were still with me. The dollar store at the hotel was closed and the likelihood of dehydration seemed to be very real to many of us. There were concerts scheduled for Pushkin and Pavlovsk today.
I couldn’t bear the thought of missing the opportunity to jog down Nevsky Prospect this morning. I anxiously dressed in my jogging attire and hit the streets. Beholding the beautiful ladies on the Nevsky Prospect was just one small dividend from these most rewarding ventures.
I loved to see the people sweeping the sidewalks with intriguing brooms that seemed to be constructed of weeds, the long lines at the grocery stores, and the varied forms of mass transportation. One could also see the Kazan Cathedral, the Hermitage Museum, the Neva River, and the many monuments along the Prospect. Running on the Nevsky Prospect was always an adventure.
I followed a man that seemed to know where he was going. I said, “Dobre Outra” or good morning, and fell in behind him. As we jogged along the backside of the fortress, the towering walls were protected by a moat that was filled with water. The fortress wall was about ten feet high. Suzanne had explained that the spit where the Peter Paul Fortress was located was the most popular sunbathing beach in Leningrad. Some people were already lying on the beach. Two girls shouted something to me in Russian as I jogged past and seemed to be beckoning me to stop and visit them. They were beautiful. But, I couldn’t understand them and didn’t want to lose my guide on the running trail. So, I waved to them and kept following the runner. When we finished the circle around the island, I said, Spasiba and Dahs Vadania.” Then I ran back to the hotel.
Carroll and I were weary of eating the provided breakfasts. So, we feasted again on the food that we had brought from the U.S. in our hotel room. We thought that perhaps the different bacteria in the food in Leningrad had made us sick. We were afraid that we would be stricken with dysentery during the course of our concerts and tours this morning. So, we made the necessary precautions and boarded the bus. We were a little nervous. But, our anticipation of seeing the palaces prevailed over our fear of illness.
As we reached the rural areas outside of Leningrad, the fields and vegetation were lush and green. As we continued along the road we saw some farm workers harvesting a crop that we could not identify. Our first concert site was called Pavlosk. It was the palace of Catherine the Great.
Raisa, the Leningrad television personality, once again served as the moderator for this afternoon’s concert. She joined us for lunch. She was quite tall, always exquisitely dressed, and very attractive with a radiant smile. Raisa was charming and gave the impression that she was very sincere.
I felt indebted to Raisa for enabling us to communicate. She patiently interpreted all of our questions and responses. I was very impressed with her charismatic personality and professionalism on stage and her willingness to translate our conversation. As I talked with Raisa she sat so close to me that it seemed unusual to me. “Unusually nice, that is!” As we talked she continued to translate our conversation.
I was very attracted to this beautiful and talented television personality. She did not appear to be wearing a wedding ring on her left hand, although I noticed several impressive rings on the fingers of her right hand. So, I conveniently assumed that Raisa was single. She seemed very secure and confident, but at the same time very humble and unassuming. I told Raisa and the members of the Leningrad Band that I enjoy running for exercise. Raja immediately replied, “I can see that,” as her eyes surveyed my frame.
Raisa inquired about my age. I told her that I was 33 years old. “The age of Cristo,” Raisa replied. My facial expression betrayed the fact that I did not understand her statement. Then, I remembered that Jesus, Cristo in Russian (similar to Spanish), died at that age. What a revelation! I was pleasantly surprised that the age of 33 was associated with the age of Christ, at the culmination of his earthly ministry, in a country noted for religious persecution or repression.
Raisa appeared to be perhaps seven to ten years older than me. I said jokingly that I would like to find a Russian wife. This was received with laughter. I told Raisa that, “You are attractive, charming, and elegant.” She translated everything that I told her to the young Leningrad band members.
I was very grateful for Raja translating for us and giving me the privilege of making their acquaintance. After lunch we had to hurry to our next concert site.
We drove through a wooded countryside as we approached Pushkin, the site of our second concert.
My spirits were buoyed after the concert when Raisa presented me a small gift. She gave me a small brochure with her autograph inscribed on it and a package of post cards. Of course, I was overwhelmed by her generous gesture. I also remembered her invaluable help translating our conversations for us during lunchtime earlier that afternoon. I put my arm around her shoulder as we walked into our warm up room. I told her thank you and added that I had been thinking about asking for her autograph. At that moment I really wanted to ask her to join me for dinner. But I did not think that it would be appropriate to ask her out because I had just met her that afternoon. At that point I was on what I refer to as “cloud ten.”
Upon returning to our room I was eager to tell my roommates about the autographed message and gift that Raisa had given me. I proudly presented the brochure and the post cards for them to see. But, my roommates laughed mightily when they discovered that Raisa’s inscription read, “To my friend Lewis.” We all understood that her message was addressed to our conductor, LCDR Lewis Buckley. So they repeated that phrase in their best Raisa imitation and teased me repeatedly. I kept a strong countenance, but I was embarrassed and a bit confused by her message.
Then I retired amid the early morning twilight skies.