The American Dream -- Soviets Long For Freedom, Pizza, Schwarzenegger
MOSCOW - America, a forbidden land when President Reagan came here three years ago, is no longer as remote in the Soviet consciousness. But it is still the stuff of dreams.
Listen to the longing in the summer hit by a rock-and-roll female group known as Kombinatsia. It's a song about a female balalaika player who dreams of being swept off by an American "boy" to a Caribbean island to bathe in luxury and ride in a Mercedes.
"American boy. American joy. American boy for always time," the group sings in fractured English, adding in Russian, "I will go home with you. Moscow bye-bye."
So when President Bush is in Moscow for the superpower summit that will begin tomorrow, he might notice a Soviet Union somewhat jaded by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's high-flying diplomacy, a little more accustomed to Westerners and thoroughly saturated in a kitschy vision of the United States as a land of bodybuilding, business, wealth and fast food. An example? How about the pirated Arnold Schwarzenegger videos that have flooded the country.
Bush's arrival in these post-Cold War days doesn't carry quite the same excitement as the visit of Reagan, the man who branded the Soviet Union the "evil empire." No one in this decrepit metropolis is even attempting the last-minute pothole repair and pansy-planting that preceded Reagan's visit.
"It was a sensation. But now it's become an ordinary thing that the leaders of two superpowers meet and come to some agreement," said Aloisha Ohitrin, 17, who was waiting in a line at the Pizza Hut express window that has opened on Tverskaya Street.
The teen-ager was less blase about the United States itself.
"The American lifestyle is different. If I wanted to change my life I would probably go to America," he said. "Democracy is more developed in America and it's a free country and we must learn from it."
Misha Kirilenko, 25, one person ahead of Ohitrin in the long line, butted in, in annoyance, "We don't need what Americans have."
"Democracy? What about democracy?" shot back Ohitrin.
On the small stretch of Tverskaya, where the Pizza Hut is virtually across the street from McDonald's and a few blocks from an elegant Estee Lauder store, passers-by said they hoped disarmament would now lead to economic ties with the United States.
"We want more such places like McDonald's and Pizza Hut here," said Sergei Lalin, 18, who landed a job a week ago at McDonald's.
He described the fast-food outlet as "very civilized . . . and cultured."
"You can feel respect for yourself there," said his friend, Seriosha Valeyev, 16, still amazed that the Canadian-trained waitresses smile attentively at customers, instead of ignoring them.
The flotsam and jetsam of America carries tremendous cachet. It's not unusual to find that a fashion-conscious Soviet has paid a fortune to buy a used yellow sweatshirt from an obscure golf and country club in the Midwest.
A coal miner in the Ukraine may have as a prize possession a U.S. Marines T-shirt he bought from a Polish black marketeer trading in Western clothes at the resort beach town of Sochi. And at least one Muscovite has a "Desert Storm" T-shirt replete with American helicopters. It was sent to him by a friend who emigrated to the United States.
At a small kiosk in a Moscow subway underpass, Irina Mironova does a brisk business selling T-shirts that have the word "New Yorker" written across them or else "New York" embossed over an embroidered Statue of Liberty. They are made by a Soviet cooperative business.
"Foreign emblems, foreign words, people like them better. Such things sell better," Mironova said, explaining the New York logos.
Bastardized Americanisms creep into the Russian vocabulary. An exemplary bodybuilder is called a "Schwarzenegger." Someone hungry may seek a "gamburger," or even a "khot dog." A young man on the prowl wants to date a "gurla." Everywhere in Moscow there are now "biznesmeni and "konsooltanti." Sometimes they wear "jeansi."
Book peddlers, who spread their wares on blankets in the subway underpass at Pushkin Square, say the "Beginner's Dictionary of American English Usage" is selling twice as fast as the historical novels of Valentin Pikul, a favorite Soviet writer.
Of course, Soviets don't need to know English to watch American movies such as "Gone With the Wind," which has been in Moscow for months. The films are dubbed into Russian. At one count this spring, American films were showing at about three-quarters of Moscow's 130 movie houses, driving out Soviet films. They are not necessarily the flicks most well known to Americans, however. They tend toward titles like "The Honor and the Blood of the Ninja."
Some things American remain puzzling. Last year when packages of U.S. chicken legs showed up for sale in markets from Moscow to Siberia, people promptly named them "Bush legs" after the U.S. president. But then they occasionally asked U.S. visitors why Americans don't like the legs of chickens - assuming that they were getting discards.
The Kombinatsia rock group, with its pining for American boys and American joys, is reminiscent of Madonna - material girls in search of the material world.
But the United States that exists in the mind of 16-year-old Sergei Valeyev has never seen a recession or unemployment or poverty. "It's very rich and people are happy there," he said, "happier than here."
THE U.S.-SOVIET SUMMIT
TOMORROW (ALL PDT) 12:30 a.m. - Arrival ceremony at the Kremlin. 12:35 - Bilateral meeting with Gorbachev. 3 - Working lunch. 4:45 - Bush's speech to Institute of International Studies. 5:30 - Bush meets with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. 9 - State dinner at the Kremlin.
WEDNESDAY 10:30 p.m. (Tuesday) - Breakfast with Soviet businessmen. Midnight - Bilateral meeting with Gorbachev. 5:30 - Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signing ceremony. 6:30 - Joint news conference. 9 - State dinner hosted by U.S.
THURSDAY 1 a.m. Bush leaves Moscow. 3:30 - Meets with Supreme Soviet leaders in Kiev. 4:30 - Lunch with Ukrainian leaders. 5:30 - Addresses Ukrainian Parliament. 6:15 - Tours Church of St. Sophia. 8 - Returns to Washington. 7:20 p.m. - Arrives in Washington.
ABC, CBS and NBC will conduct their nightly newscasts from Moscow with anchors Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw on hand. Additional coverage will be provided by the network morning shows. CNN will have live updates from Moscow each day at 3 a.m., 5, 7 and 9 (PDT). Frank Sesno will anchor "International Hour" at noon and "The World Today" at 3 p.m. PDT from Moscow.
Associated Press and Los Angeles Times
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