Being With The People — A Diary by Kirk Edwards: Leningrad 1989 — Sunday, June 25, 1989
For The Madera Tribune
The Soviet Union pin shown here was a gift to Kirk Edwards. It was symbolic of his visit — the coming together of east and west, democracy and communism.
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.
A shocking disappointment
I took an exhilarating jog down the Nevsky Prospect on Sunday morning. Absent were the throngs of Leningraders commuting to work.
We were excited about our opportunity to see Petrovorits, Peter the Great’s Summer Palatial estates that afternoon. Ken Megan and Ralph Thorpe had told us of Petrovorit’s many beautiful fountains, its exquisite architecture, and the throngs of visitors.
We arrived at Petrovorits after a one-hour drive. Petrovorits or Peterhof is a magnificent and well-preserved Imperial estate, founded by Peter the Great in 1710 on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. Petrovorits boasts a lavish Baroque Palace and the largest array of fountains in the world. Petrovorits is also known as “The Russian Versailles.”
We marveled at the beauty of Petrovorits as we straggled to the concert site among the throngs of people. As we walked, it was intriguing to note the wide diversity of features I beheld in the people we encountered, ranging from western European to Asian features.
The ladies in particular caught my eye. Dan, Al, and I noticed a beautiful Asian girl wearing an extremely short dress. This was very remarkable in regards to our experiences in Leningrad. The women that we encountered in Leningrad had dressed more conservatively. Many of the women at Petrovorits did not wear bras, which was a novelty to us. One of the band members pointed out a beautiful, braless woman to me, as if I needed someone to point it out. Another braless woman wore a sequin blouse. She may as well have not worn a blouse at all with the bright sun shining on her. This presented a certain degree of a cultural shock to us, although this trend was prevalent in the 1970s in the U.S. People seemed to be amused by us as we passed arrayed in our U.S. Coast Guard ceremonial uniforms.
Our concert was scheduled for noon at a very picturesque outdoor venue. We had lunch in a very quaint and elegant room. It seemed to be a VIP facility where dignitaries were entertained. But, the café was too small to accommodate the large volume of people who visited the palace. Because of the size of the banquet room the band had be divided into two groups to accommodate serving the band. One group ate lunch while our counterparts toured the palace. I was a little disappointed that Raisa, the concert Mistress of Ceremonies, had chosen to go with the group that toured the palace first. I was part of the second group that ate lunch first and toured the palace as the first group dined.
After lunch we resumed our hectic pace. We arrived at the concert site at 11:20 for our noon concert. With the help of the Leningrad Band loading crew we frantically unloaded the truck. I noticed that Raisa arrived while we continued to labor in the hot and humid mid-day sun unloading the equipment. When I went over to greet Raisa, Suzanne, our guide, seemed to express her disapproval.
As we stood on the grass warming up our instruments in preparation for our performance, many of the people from the audiences asked to pose with us for pictures. I especially enjoyed posing with the young ladies that requested to be photographed with us.
As we began our second concert at Petrovorits, we were encompassed by a sizable, and enthusiastic Russian audience, which contrasted greatly from American audiences. As noted earlier, they routinely presented flowers to the soloist and other band members. They also frequently expressed their tremendous appreciation for performances with rhythmic or synchronized applause. Rhythmic applause is more prevalent in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe or the U.S. Most of the audience members were dressed in humble attire. They seemed to esteem the music and the musicians very highly.
John Banker and the Dixieland band was again a tremendous hit with the audience during the second concert as they performed Dixieland favorites like I Found a New Baby with great fervor.
I took several pictures of Raisa because I wanted to have a memento to remember her. I realized that if I did not ask her out now that I might not have another chance. My previous fears and hesitation were overcome by my strong desire to spend the evening with her.
I had envisioned Raisa and I dining at a swanky restaurant and engaging in stimulating and intellectual conversation. I fantasized about seeing the city with her, and getting to know each other better. I made certain to word my question as she had on Saturday when she asked me, “Do you have a wife?”
“Do you have a husband,” I inquired. I have rarely been as direct in my lifetime, but I felt strongly about her.
“Yes. Husband and boy,” she answered. She extended her arms and we embraced.
I was so disheartened that I couldn’t respond, as she seemed to be turning to allow me to kiss her on the cheek. “I hope that I’ll see you tomorrow evening,” Raisa said as she departed.
This is how I learned that Russian women wore their wedding rings on their right hands. Even though I now knew that she was married, I found myself hoping to see her Monday evening.