Cody Boutilier: My debt to Russia

I’m witnessing the gradual close of a brief but crucial chapter in my young life, namely those several years when all things Russia loomed large in my thoughts. Exiled by economic necessity to Utah for the past year, I’ve interacted with Russians mostly through the Internet. It’s hard to imagine that little more than a year ago I was an officer in a UC Berkeley Russian cultural organization, and spoke Russian almost daily. It’s even harder to imagine that nearly a year ago I spent three weeks in Snowden’s new homeland.

For those three weeks, Russia was a sensual, tangible place of train schedules and hotel registrations, desperate attempts to nab proper verb prefixes, bowls of borsht and bottles of Baltika beer, countless trips to the bank to replenish my rainbow of rubles, and tens of thousands of breathing, 3D men and women. My Russian experiences are no less stark and prominent in my memory, but Putin’s mischief in Ukraine has come to dominate the Russia of my psyche. This is an unfortunate development, and for once I don’t blame Vladimir.

Three and a half years ago, when I returned from a semester in Moscow, I intended to go into academia. A few months later I decided to become a lawyer, but my obsession with Russia continued unabated. I returned to Russia twice, and became well-acquainted with the Bay Area Russian community. Since the beginning of my interim year in Utah, my cultural communion with Russia has attenuated. Texas, my soon-to-be home, is the new mystical land to capture my imagination, and the study of the law, a far more intensive endeavor than study of history, will soon consume my waking thoughts. I’d be foolish to expect Russia to keep its privileged role.

I’ll continue to chat regularly in Russian with friends on VK, and I expect that most of the books I read will still be about Russia. With luck, I’ll finish work on my Russian-themed novel, and will try never to lose my internal map of the Moscow Metro.

Watching the Olympics’ opening ceremony, I was overcome with nostalgia for the days when I was reading Tolstoy, hardly knew Russian, and couldn’t wait to journey there. The rediscovered sense of wonderment was invigorating, with Russia as with all things. I’m proud of the cultural enrichment I’ve secured myself for years to come.

The Hustings