The poisoned fizzy water

(Something like a childhood ballade)

This very old story from my childhood came to my mind because of, to the contrary, a very recent Facebook post. In this well shared post, the alert author lady has identified Victoria Nuland, the Assistant US Secretary of State, to be no one else but the American girl Vicky whom she met in 1982 in "Molodaya Gvardia" pioneer camp near Odessa. Vicky was apparently throwing roasted sunflower seeds bought in a kiosk nearby into mud and laughing at how the Soviet pioneers were picking them. I can almost see the vicious grin on Vicky's face (not too attractive as it is, one has to admit) - the type of a grin which the fat capitalists potrayed by the Soviet cartoonists Kukryniksy always had.

The author of this internet hit, despite her apparently aristocratic surname "Metelskaya-Shermetyeva", goes on to say that she has battered the wicked Vicky heavily for this and suffered a martyr banishment from the camp. It is obvious, however, that she has beaten her up not sufficiently: Vicky did not stop doing her tricks, and all this culminated in the distribution of the "Department of State's cookies" at the Maidan...  So, it is now quite clear how Ms Nuland has ended up like this.

And, as it happens, this reminded me of a very different story - but also about the relationship with the misterious West during the socialist years. At the end of the 70s my best school friend Dima and I loved to spend summer days on the so called "Third Beach" of Serebryaniy Bor. In those days there were no such crowds and no such conveniences and amusements there as now, but lots of the sun, the river, the wet sand with its unforgettable smell and much else: for example,  "devil's fingers" - fossils shaped as round sticks with a notch in the middle. By the way, I have been unable to find any of those recently while walking along the Moskva river - and there used to be lots of them! Either people have picked them all, or they stayed in the childhood... 

Also, there were relatively many foreigners on the Third Beach, including those from capitalist countries.  No surprise there: Serebryaniy Bor was the place for Embassy dachas. Observing these strange creatures was another favourite passtime for us, ten year olds.

Once such a foreign group resting on the beach near us has packed up and walked through the forest to their fenced capitalist reserve. And at that very moment we saw that the guys have left behind a bottle of some unknown fizzy water, dug into the sand at the river edge for cooling purposes. Naturally, we rushed like falcons and got it. We were sitting by the water, suntanned and wet, all in sand and in trunks with anchor patterns, and were gazing at and rubbing this bottle with its elegant curves, coloured sticker and cap and transparent liquid inside.

I should clarify here. If aliens had come and left behind some shining device from their flying saucer, I do not think this would have made a much stronger impression on us. UFOs have been visiting us those days at a surprising frequency, and many have seen them - even our Biology teacher above the same Serebryaniy Bor. By contrast, any foreign fizzy water was totally unknown - we had only our very own brands Buratino, Duchess and such like. We have tried our first Coca-Cola and Fanta during the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games (as people were jokng, communism by 1980 is substituted by the Olympics). And Pepsi bottled at a plant in Novorossiysk and praised by Pelevin in Generation P appeared even later.

And generally, two axioms have strangely cohabited in our young brains at that time: that we had an enormous luck to be born in the very best country on Earth and not in this capitalist hell, but, on the other hand, that all the best things in the world (like jeans, plastic Indians, chewing gum, music etc) is somehow produced exactly in this hell. By the way, Dima's parents sometimes went there on business trips and brought back various amazing things - for example, tea bags each of which (as Dima assured) was good to make eleven cups of tea (don't ask me why eleven).

So, having obtained the magic bottle, we decided that we better leave before the strangers come back to grab it. We jumped on a trolleybus and headed off to where Dima lived for consuming our treasure in a quiet environment.

It must be said that we have spent a lot of time in his old green yard, albeit not very safe as it belonged to the catchment area of a hooligan school. In winter we played hockey there (Moroccan orange boxes for the goals; those who remember - welcome to the club), and in the summer... In the summer there were lots of activities. We played Indians (or native Americans, as they would say in our crazy days): shields and totems were made of lids stolen from buckets for food leftovers that were placed in all stairwells. (That was, by the way, another failed attempt to "put Russia in order", as Solzhenitsyn called it. These leftovers were planned to be used in agriculture for animal food, but were never removed on time; so the stairwells were filled with a revolting rotting smell and the initiative was soon wrapped up.)  We also broke thermometers and rubbed three kopeck coins with quicksilver, after which they looked exactly like twenty kopeck ones good for buying ice-cream (no one thought about damage to health, naturally). We even picked mushrooms. And once I have found - I swear - a real truffle, despite everything said about them in specialised literature.

And there were many other things we did in this magic yard.

But I got distracted. The bottle stood in front of us on a bench, promising heavenly pleasures. But moments of happiness are short.  The terrible truth came to us. Or  it has of course first visited the blondy head of one of us, but, as it happens, the idea was probably in the air, so the reality quckly became clear to both. The drink was poisoned. 

I have to make another clarification. In those days, stories were passed through grapevine on how evil foreigners injured the Soviet children. Putting, for example, razor blades inside chewing gum, infecting foreign-made pants with syphilis and doing many other tricks that I no longer remember as too many years have passed.  Nowadays, when I start telling this, my younger listeners laugh like mad. But then we truly believed it.

I remember reading later, during perestroyka years, that there apparently had been a whole department within KGB charged with making and disseminating such stories (what a job!). I don't know whether this was true or not - actually, would love to find out. But there was an opposite rumour in our childhood: that the then famous so called "sadistic verses" ( "Kids in a basement, playing Gestapo, brutally tortured plumber Potapov" etc etc) were devised by the CIA in order not only to harm the Soviet pioneers physically, but also to corrupt them mentally. 

So, it became clear as a day that these decently looking expats did not leave the bottle by chance. There was surely a deadly poison in it. And having hidden in the woods they were spying from behind the pine trees and rubbing their hands when we took this simple bait.

We were desperate to drink this heavenly fizzy water, especially since the day was hot.  But this would almost certainly have resulted in a terrible death. After all, the bottle had a lovely cap - and we collected those then.  Foreign bottle caps were nothing like ours. Not only were they beautifully painted externally, but often had some picture inside. Let us at least have this cap.

... And the bottle was broken against a stone with a big explosion. Your plan has failed, miserable enemies. The Soviet pioneers were not born yesterday.

Almost forty years have passed since that time, but I can still see the sparkling pool with small fountains jumping out of it here and there, being soaked into the ground slowly together with the dream on the wonderful foreign drink. We picked glass crumbs out of the cap (not to forget to wash hands!) and each wandered to our "Khrushevka" flats in silence.

It is frightening even to think how much soda and other drinks - refreshing and not very - have been drunk since those times. But it still seems that the soda from that bottle had a very special unrepeatable taste. How to explain it? You eat, say, a banana these days without thinking. But in the old days we queued for three hours to get those bananas and wrapped them in newspaper and put on the top shelf to ripe for a week and then you take one, having made sure that it is already yellow, or even better - with those small black spots, and peel and first gnaw this soft stuff from the inside of the peels - it is also tasty, of course if you eat it before the banana itself  and only after that start biting by little piece... And then your elder sister, who has already eaten her banana, comes and demands to share yours... It goes without saying that the taste was totally different then...

That's the story. I have told it many times to various people. Most of the listeners laugh - how was it possible to wash the kids' brains to this extent! Others (the liberal types) sigh: this will all become possible again soon as a result of Putin's propaganda... As to me, I just recall the childhood, the sunny day and the forever lost ability to have burning desires and emotions for simple things. And I have no idea what you will think. May be that you just wasted a few minutes of your time for this small trifle. But then - you have already read it anyway.