Vladivostok, the Russian Riviera
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Vladivostok, Russia is a former Soviet naval port — in fact, it was the head of their Pacific Fleet. From here, they were able to cover all of Asia, which is a large piece of Earth. It is also the city which is the terminus for the Trans-Siberian Railway. Within the past year, excavation teams unearthed hundreds of human skulls with bullet holes in the foreheads. Nobody — absolutely nobody wants to speak about this, reminding me of Ohringen, Germany, where the Sachsenhausen death camp is located. Just 30 miles outside of Berlin, nobody “seems to know about it”. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles had only a vague map with location and after my visit several years ago, I was able to give them train and bus routes.
The skulls are not actually remains of Soviet-era Gulag mischief by the Japanese skulls from the Russo-Japanese wars. Believe it or not, to this day, Japan and Russia have not signed an armistice and are still technically at war.
My experience Vladivostok was considerably better than that of St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg was, in a word, boorish and grunty. Bejowled hunchbacks hauling plastic grocery bags full of 15 Rouble toilet paper and potatoes. My description, admittedly indelicate, is not so far from the mark. The humans are no different anywhere on Earth, but cultures tend to radically transform people. Witness L. A.: Botox-injected, cellulose-swollen, and creatively scalpel-friendly. This is the culture, not some form of different human — although, it takes a different human to subject himself to the Frankensteinian excesses of the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon.
The Vladivostoker is perceptively perkier. This is not to suggest that there is ever any eye contact or hint of smile, but the potential for moments of stoic-free interaction is certainly there. In fact, I asked two quite gorgeous young Russian girls for directions to the now-beached Soviet submarine that Comrade Stalin had encircle the globe. She beamed with excitement at being able to direct an Americanski and vibrantly posed for the attached photo (in a decidedly cozy manner). Her impeccable directions of multiple finger pointings at the end of highly-painted nails were better than any Technicolor guide map. I ventured off to see the grounded U-boat.
Since Vladivostok was born and raised as a military port — Czar Nicholas himself having planted the Keystone brick in the trans-Siberian train station,
killer submarines make for a nice afternoon experience for the average Russian. Only twice a year does a cruise ship pass through, so submarine walkabouts are clearly not intended for Mildred of Munsing, Michigan. The sheer look of horror from Mildred, by the way, was worth the hundred Rouble price of admission. Though she could not get through any of the hatchways, she still gasped at the distant pipes, valves, and torpedo tubes clearly intended to devastate Cleveland at a moment’s notice.
An attractive photograph of Joe Stalin still hangs in the officer’s briefing room, unsullied by graffiti or neglect.