Like too many Americans of a certain age, when I was growing up most of what I thought I knew about the Soviet Union and Russia came from a mishmash of media.
My mom's favorite movie was Doctor Zhivago and she played the album soundtrack over and over, usually on snowy winter afternoons, and in my mind Russia became a place where the government didn't allow people in love to be together. "Forbidden love," I believe my mother called it.
I cried when Robin Williams as Russian defector Vladimir passed out in the grocery store because he was overwhelmed by the abundance of choices. Russian lives were so sad, so tragic, so romantic.
Soviets made great film enemies during America's cinematic Cold War, likely because they were so mysterious to a kid taught to be terrified of the bomb (which was about to drop at ANY SECOND). I was certain that I'd be the first kid to get caught when a surprise invasion occurred a la Red Dawn and I cheered when Goose took a Polaroid of Maverick giving the MiG the bird.
And who can forget the 1980 Olympic boycott? Even their athletes were our enemies.
Then I heard a Russian man talking about what it felt like to be consistently portrayed as the bad guys in American movies. "They always show us with angry, closed faces. Russian people are known for their open faces and warm smiles." His perspective lent me some reality.
If you live in the Twin Cities and have a few free hours weekend, head over the the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis for their last weekend of the Women in Soviet Art exhibit. I'd been itching to view the exhibit since I first read about it this summer. The paintings depict Soviet-era women from the start of the Revolutions through a more modern 1980s in various roles of inequality and State-enforced "equality." The paintings are a beautiful glimpse into the reality of Russian women, where expectations of the State play out, often in irony.
In honor of our first snow, you will also want to take a tour of the freshly installed Holiday Traditions in Russia. In addition to the paintings of Russians celebrating winter, you'll find stunning antique ornaments, clips from Russian holiday cartoons, and inspiration for decorating your New Year Tree.