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A Soviet Peace Tour

Thursday, 20 February 2014 00:00

In 1998, as I was finishing up my schooling at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Ca, I became aware of a peace tour with Patricia Sun & Marilyn Hutchison, going to the USSR. They were heading out shortly & I raced to submit visa applications to the consulate, in order to go along. I’m still not sure why I was so determined to go. But there I was, suddenly, traveling to an unknown region with about 12 other people. It certainly turned out to be a very good decision.

We arrived through Estonia at the end of April. The trees were still bare, with a few bulbs beginning to appear. We visited many beautiful churches & a forest cemetery. There was a May Day parade with crowds of young people in heavy coats & big smiles on their faces. I imagined they were thrilled that summer and warm weather was just around the corner.

St. Petersburg, with it’s immense art museums, the summer palace, & especially the mass graves of countless fallen soldiers, left a big impression on me. Even world history classes had not prepared me for the reality of this.

In Moscow we had the fortune of being assigned to a hotel just a block from Red Square. Here, with as much freedom as was offered, I could wander through the central city, close to so many key places. Not only was there Red Square & the Kremlin, but also St. Peter’s Basilica,and  Lenin’s tomb. A large river wound gracefully past Red Square & divided the city, except for it’s many beautiful bridges. A few blocks away was the Bolshoi Theatre, where later I attended the ballet Swan Lake.

Our last stop was in Kiev, a city of stunning rivers, gardens & monuments. I loved that it was tropical and warm! We ended our tour with an overnight exit, via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The most memorable day for me was Victory Day in Moscow. Rather than join the tour of the Metro Stations, I was allowed to explore on my own. As I wandered, I instinctively followed the crowds & arrived at the park in front of the Bolshoi Theater. Here was the center of a celebration of great importance in the lives of all Soviet citizens. Those fortunate soldiers who had survived the war gathered here, every year. There were moments of joyous reunion, then endless talking, perhaps rehashing older memories, exchanging photographs, & finally dancing (music provided by the accordion player) & soulful singing. There were those, standing on the outer edges with photographs of a soldier, still looking for information regarding a loved one who had not returned home. There were children, & grandchildren of soldiers, & bystanders, all aware & grateful of the tremendous gift it was to be alive - to have made it through that gruesome time.

In every city there were visits to schools, home stays, & gatherings with city leaders. We met with average citizens like ourselves, & on a couple of occasions with Vladimir Posner, and other prominent leaders, whose names I’ve forgotten, but who all were interested in promoting peace. There was a large movement of people dedicated to bringing about peace, & healing the rift between themselves & the West. It was all very uplifting & encouraging. On many occasions - away from our peace meetings, like at a street corner as I waited to cross, people approached me & wanted to talk to me. They showed me only kindness - mingled with a curiosity at who I was. When they did speak English, they invariably and immediately made a request of me: “Please tell your president we want peace.”

That trip impacted me more than I realized. In fact it set me off on my personal mission & motivation within my work. It’s easy for me to feel kinship with the Soviet people - I look like them! But how do I embrace everyone I meet as family? That has been my joyful challenge & the focus of my photography & my personal life. To remind myself and the world that we are One Family!


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