So I enjoy trolling this one blog called English Russia. It speaks to several of my interests: Russia, Soviet Union, and crumbling ruins/abandoned stuff.
Recently they posted this entry about Aeroflot.
I studied in Moscow for four months in 1990, when it was still the Soviet Union, and in December we flew via Aeroflot to Tbilisi, Georgia.
Picture it: the wind is blowing swirling snow across the runway as we walk to the rolling-ladder-thingy to board the plane. We file on and stow our bags to the dulcet tones of the flight attendants who are snapping orders into the intercom at us. Because Russian is to the American ear a harsh language, and because Soviet ideas about hospitality were somewhat contrary to Western ideals, it feels as though we are being loaded onto a cattle car to a gulag.
Once our bags are stowed and the overhead bins latched (if they will latch at all) we take our seats.
You know how on American commercial airlines the seats “recline” a fraction of an inch? Not so much on the Aeroflot plane. In at least some instances the seat back, at the touch of a lever, flopped all the way forward or back.
And? The carpeting was frayed and coming up from the floor in several places.
After we are all in our seats the pilots finally board. They disregard us completely. Again, this is contrary to the American system in which the flight crew are all on the plane before passengers are loaded.
At last we are taxiing out and taking off. This occurs uneventfully but my dorm roommate and I are so terrified that we cling to each other in fright.
Once airborne, we are offered small brown plastic bowls of the ubiquitous mineralnaya voda (mineral water, which is ever-present), served room-temperature, and the flight attendants bring around small hand-held LCD games for rent on the flight. Many of the grim-faced Soviet “biznizmen“around us rent games and thus we spend the flight surrounded by beeping and booping.
We land in Tbilisi safely against all odds and emerge to a lush, green, rainy, hilly city that is so reminiscent of Portland that I am immediately homesick.
Then we spend a week seeing the sights and being escorted around town by male students because female students are (again, to our American standards) hostile and unfriendly and don’t go anywhere. Also, we are all probably considered to be of loose morals because we smile and laugh in public.
One evening my hotel roommate and I are taken to a cabaret-style nightclub by our student escorts. I am repeatedly asked for my hand in marriage, and we are educated as to why the Georgians hate the Russians. Why did we not study Georgian language? we are asked. Because, we tell them, there is maybe one university in the US that offers it.
At the end of the week we fly back to Moscow. We are exhausted and wise to the ways of Aeroflot now so we haven’t the energy or inclination to worry about the flight. The flight attendants are just as surly but we chatter and lollygag to our seats because Georgian women are surlier.
When I read a poem in class the next week I am told that I now sound like a Georgian.
Also, I had my first cup of coffee — ever — in the Tbilisi airport. It was thick and grainy like Turkish coffee and set the stage for my lifelong dislike of drip coffee.