Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Russians (were) coming

It's been a long week trying to recover from the various events and get life back in order again. An Alice James event last Sunday, which went very well and was a lot of fun, and a reading of my own on Thursday night at a place in Towson that felt more like the East Village than anywhere I've been recently. That, too, was much fun.

We saw one of the best movies I've seen in a long time tonight, "The Lives of Others," about life in the GDR in the early 1980s, not long before the Wall fell. It was incredibly moving, but to tell more is to ruin the plot for those who might read this, but haven't seen it. The moment in the movie where some of the characters hear that the Wall has fallen made me suddenly burst into tears, which I rarely do at movies, mostly because nearly all of them I see are terrible and I am laughing inappropriately and bothering other people.

But I find myself thinking, and perhaps you would understand better if you had seen the movie, that that moment was in some ways about my whole life as well. Not the same, mind you, as for the people of East Germany. But the backdrop of my entire life, right up through graduate school, was about the evils of Communism and the Cold War. I spent several of my pre-K years living in West Germany while my dad was in the Service. I visited the Berlin Wall with my terrified mother who was afraid if she let go of our hands, the boy soldiers on the Wall would shoot us. We took the train through Communist Germany to visit my aunt and uncle who were stationed in West Berlin at the time. Somewhere, I have a piece of the Wall given to me as a present for helping a friend move--her brother had been in Berlin when the Wall came down and grabbed a bunch of fragments.

We all thought the Russians would blow us up. We sat watching the Olympics dumbfounded as East Germans, all of whom might have been named Helga, stood on the swimming platforms waiting for the race to begin, all to a woman looking as thought they were genetically men. Every East German female athlete had the body of a shot-putter. I have never seen scarier looking women in my life--and although we made fun, it was undoubtedly tragic. The steroid regimens they were forced into probably ruined their bodies and their minds.

We all thought the Russians would blow us up. I had a Doonesbury strip on my dorm room door for a long time that showed a kid's drawing of Reagan's Star Wars missile protection system, describing it. The final panel said, "Oops! One got through! Bye!"

We all thought the Russians would blow us up. And now all of that stuff has moved from real, lived life, into the reflection of movies and art and such. There's time now to contemplate the oddities of that era. And many of the subtleties will be lost on people a decade or more younger than myself. Roger and I saw "The Good Shepherd" a month or so ago. The Wash Post reviewer had talked about it being such a complicated plot that he wanted to see it again from the beginning immediately. Roger and I thought it was a decent movie, but not a particularly complicated plot. We realized this was because we had grown up during the Cold War and your basic Spy/Counter-Spy plot line was not a revelation to us. You mean spies spied on each other? NO!!!

We all thought the Russians would blow us up. And they were nothing. A scary Halloween mask. All that money. All that fear. All those made for TV movies about what would happen when the Bomb went off. All the political speeches. All the political capital made and wasted. shit. And there was nothing really there, just a bunch of people spying on each other, a bunch of people more worried about who might be reading Brecht or a Western newspaper than any exterior threat. Just a bunch of people eating each other alive for nothing. For an extra pack of cigarettes. Out of fear. Of each other.

We all thought the Russians would blow us up. And we argued about it endlessly. And threatened to blow them up. And argued about that. And had embargoes and what not and wrote nasty things about each other. And it was all, really, very intellectual. Because it was all in our minds.

Is this a cautionary tale?

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