Train travel in Russia – From Moscow to Magadan

Cheers the trail back We’re going from Vladikavkaz to Moscow, a 37-hour train ride I think the Russian train is the perfect place to find out about the Russian soul Many books have been written about it, but what is it? I’ve got a bag with grilled chicken, and some vodka, of course And I’ll ask people what they think the Russian soul is Hello – Good evening. Is this your train? Does it go to Moscow? – Yes, Vladikavkaz to Moscow You can go on – Thank you. That way? Vladikavkaz-Moscow I always plan to be on time for a train, but I have to hurry each time Every correspondent starts out in Russia wanting to negate the clichés And I had the same idea But there is one cliché you can’t escape A cliché that’s simply true That there’s a lot of boozing in Russia Even if you won’t join in, you’re faced with it every day If you don’t drink along, you’re not taken seriously, as a man anyway Is this Ossetian vodka? – Yes Why are there so many distilleries in Ossetia? Because the water is very good – Our water is very pure Will you join us? – In a minute We’ll have a drink first, and then we’ll talk Cognac or vodka? The Russian soul – Then you should have vodka I’ll wait, I’ll have cognac Zhuravli, the better Russian vodka To our meeting – To our meeting Let’s drink to that We have a lot of beautiful toasts – Speak normal Russian So, to our meeting I remember a trip from Petersburg to Moscow. A man sat down facing me Without having exchanged a word, he got vodka out of his bag and a pile of sandwiches Without asking, he poured two glasses Only then did we talk. One bottle after another appeared from his carryall This is for you. You drink beer as well? – I’ll drink anything I’ll have a vodka too Some vodka too? – Yes, they belong together Beer without vodka is throwing money away, right? You know that expression?

That’s how it goes, isn’t it? To our meeting Or to the tulips? To even more blissful happiness, and more passionate love How much is it? – 150 milliliters Is that normal? – It’s alright Do you have only one kind of vodka? No, we have Zavalinka, Putinka and Russki Standart What’s the most popular vodka? – Russki Standart, that’s crystal vodka Why do people drink so much vodka in Russia? Because of the Russian soul? – Because it’s pure The Russian soul? Exactly, that’s it Vodka? – Yes Do you know what the Russian soul is? Having nice, good people around you That’s the Russian soul. Being surrounded by good, kind people There are men who can’t stop drinking That’s very bad for them, but you can’t tell them so They’ll get mad because you’re interfering Are Russian men strong? Handling drink? – In general I don’t know I don’t see a lot of Russian men Here, on the job, I can see that drinking is a problem for them They have a weakness for it Drinking is destroying our men That looks good – I’m 61 years old. Strong, right? I may make it to my 150th birthday On average, a Russian man lives to be 59 Life can change any moment, and death is always near Maybe that’s why Russians enjoy life more than the Dutch who worry about their miserable childhood and plan ten years ahead I’ve learned to appreciate that Where are you going? To Moscow. We’ll stay there one day and take a flight on Tuesday To where? – To Melbourne Australia? – Yes Is this your daughter? – Yes, this is Masha My name is Masha, I’m going on a long journey with my dear daddy Why are you going to Australia? My fiancée lives in Australia We want to get married That’s why That’s why we’re going there We want to live together in Australia We got to know each other in 1981 We started to study medicine together I was 16 at the time, she was 17 What’s her name? – Irina Over the years, more and more memories kept coming back and the feeling things weren’t concluded I was feeling guilty about that There were problems That bothered me. Then I suddenly got a postcard from her A postcard? – Yes. From Australia What was the picture? – Some kind of seaside resort And there was a message on it, in English ‘I just want to say hello, if you still remember me.’ We started to write to each other and call each other on the phone At one point we were writing to each other every day As a result of this, we wanted to meet What do you think of your father? I love him and will always support him When it all began, we were still a family

I didn’t understand what was happening That was three years ago I was terribly angry at my father, because he left us empty-handed But later Did you know about this woman? – Yes, of course My mother was furious with my father But I have a strong bond with my father. Ever since I was a child I love him very much. We’re friends When he wanted to leave, I knew I couldn’t do without him So I went with him Isn’t it amazing how life can turn around so suddenly? Incredible – Incredible and scary Scary? – Yes, very much As Don Juan once said: Life is wonderful and terrible at the same time A Russian poet said: You can’t understand Russia You can only believe in it See you later – See you later I like my own carriage Once you’ve cleaned everything up and chatted with people it’s nice to be here Is this a kind of home for you? – Yes, I’m in here half the time 35 hours one way, and 35 hours back What is your ideal husband like? – He has to be reliable and strong Let’s not talk about male fidelity Someone I can lead a quiet life with Are you divorced from your husband? Yes. I have a 12-year-old daughter My husband is from Ossetia Why did you divorce your husband? I will tell you why: My husband was a drug user I decided to leave, and not let my life be ruined by him He didn’t want to stop We didn’t stay in touch, so I don’t know how things are now Is he still alive? – Yes, he even got married again He’s still alive I’m glad my daughter is healthy She’s a smart girl. He had nothing to do with raising her I’m a pretty strong woman Maybe not as strong as a man, but still Can I see your ticket? Why are you so late? – Yes, I almost missed it Moscow, carriage number 5 That’s in third class, that way We haven’t even kissed – You can do that when he comes back This is so miserable. Sweetheart My legs are killing me – Well, you’re wearing heels My phone battery is dead Write to me, okay? – Okay Can I? – No, the doors are about to close Go home – Not before the train leaves It’s easier for him if you go before the train leaves

Alright, sweetheart. See you soon Go on, go home – Bye, sweetheart. Have a good trip Do you think you’ll ever find the right man? Every woman, every person hopes to find the right one Don’t you? – Absolutely Someone who makes you feel good But being alone also means more freedom Freedom, yes But what good will that do me when I’m old and lonely? No, you need a partner My grandma was married for almost 64 years My mother’s marriage failed, but my aunt was married for 40 years I want a happy family life too Every woman wants that Russian trains are an institution Normally a filthy one Especially the toilets But they know we’re filming, so there’s a man on board, supervising I’ve just been, and I’ve never seen such a clean bathroom There was hand soap, air freshener, three rolls of toilet paper Normally, there’s no toilet paper at all, of course But Russians live on the train As soon as they sit down, they turn it into their living room That’s really wonderful Has it snowed here already? – Not yet The trains from the North are covered in ice The girls will take it off again We’ve had snow already In Russia, paradoxically, women think they’re weaker than men The division is still very traditional While in reality, women call the shots, not men Women take a week off work when their men get drunk They raise the child when the man runs off There is a reason why the women on the train said the most sensible things What is it, Kutya? If you give them something, they keep begging They know exactly which carriage it was Go away, there’s nothing to eat Where do you come from now? – I got on at Rostov Did you visit someone there? – Yes, I did Did you visit friends? – No, my son Does he live in Rostov? – No, in Taganrog. Do you know it?

Where Chekhov’s house is? – That’s right, Chekhov’s house Is Taganrog a beautiful town? – Yes, but it’s always windy Because of – The sea Why do all Russians have a dacha, by the way? For some, it’s a way to make some extra money We elderly people do it because everything has become so expensive This way, we can grow our own fruit and vegetables. That’s cheaper Do you sell potatoes? – No, but I sell berries, sometimes Berries? – Yes Blackcurrants, raspberries, strawberries Sometimes a few buckets of potatoes You have to grow everything on 500 square meters Where did you use to work, Lidia? In a factory. I operated machines That was in the past That’s all over now It doesn’t exist anymore? – No, thanks to progress Many things I admire in Russians such as inventiveness, humour, hospitality, a lust for life but also things I dislike, the mistrust, the alcohol obsession are all the result of the need to survive When things often break, you become deft When you’ve been in trouble, you become hospitable When death is so close, you enjoy life more When there’s no food, you grow it And when you’re desperate, you laugh, or drown your sorrows Good day – Good day Do you have any tasty local products? Local products? We have nice beer It’s called Don I’ll show you We have bottles like this one and like this one These bottles contain unfiltered beer It’s local – The bottles keep getting bigger Want a bigger one? – How much is this? That’s 2.25 litres I’ll have a small bottle – The smallest one What’s the tastiest thing? – Russian pasties Russian pasties? Where? – In this box. They’re still hot Hot? – Certainly Are they fresh? – Yes With meat? – I’d like to taste one This was invented by Russians to keep them warm By the Russians? – Who else? Why the Russians? We had to think of something You used to have these thermos boxes What did they look like? – Round, with thermal material in them Now they’re made of Styrofoam That keeps the heat inside Because it’s often cold in Russia? – Yes How cold does it get in winter? – Sometimes minus 30 The other day, in the autumn, it was minus 12. It wasn’t even snowing Unbelievable. What do I owe you? – 80 cents Here you are – I’ll give you your change This is from my own garden I have hot potatoes too Hot potatoes? – Yes. Look at this Are you going to show people how grandmothers make money? This is your livelihood? What about your pension? – That’s nothing Is this hot? – Yes, put it away How much is it? – 80 cents How much is your pension? – I have to wait a year before I get it Where do you work? – I’m a street sweeper How much do you earn? – 75 euros A month? – Yes. That’s next to nothing That’s why I earn extra cash here Does everyone do that? – Yes, every Sunday I know everyone here. We work during the week and come here on Sunday

Is this the most important train? – No, there are many trains here On a day like this, we make ten euros, and go home satisfied What would you like? Some nice hot potatoes? Put them away, the police are coming Is Lichaya a nice city? This used to be a rich area, because of the mining The mines are closed now Everyone’s unemployed. Life is hard Have all the mines closed? – Yes. That’s why life is so hard We can’t go anywhere, but the young people are all leaving Are those pumpkin seeds? – Yes Can you show me how to eat them? You split them open with your teeth Now it’s open. The seed is inside I’d like some. How much are they? – 30 cents 30 cents? – Go on, take them Enjoy – Thank you Have you got a bit of spare change? – Just a moment Here you are – God bless you Are you going to Moscow too? Yes, I was born and raised there What were you doing in Vladikavkaz? – I was working there There was a National Conference for teachers and educationalists from all over Russia For the best educationalists in the country and teachers at schools and orphanages They elected the best ones, who were given all sorts of awards The Ossetians were very hospitable We were given a lot of presents And Ossetian cakes as well – Those big ones? Yes. And of course we also visited the school in Beslan Did you see the school? – Of course. And two new schools We’ve spoken to teachers and students We’ve been there too What did you think? I’m a psychologist It’s a little easier for me But it was a terrible sight. One question was going through my head: Why children? Children are so innocent That’s true – We’ve seen the memorial which they call the City of Angels We watched all those children’s faces There were bottles of water The hostages didn’t get any That’s why people place bottles of water there There was a mother there, of a young teacher who died there I’m a psychologist, but I couldn’t help her You couldn’t help her? – I could only give her a handkerchief Sveta, what is the first thing you’re going to do when you arrive in Moscow? I’m going to kiss my boyfriend I missed him very much He’s going to pick me up I missed him very much He’s waiting on the platform? – Not yet, he’s still at home now There’s no place like home Why do you love him? That’s hard to explain To me, love is unconditional But still, there are certain criteria for liking someone A man has to be self-confident and strong I’m very strong myself I can’t stand weak men He has to have a sense of humour Without it, you’re nothing

Is that typical of Russians? – Yes, our life can be very hard If you don’t see the lighter side, you make it harder, and become stressed Humour enables you to experience life more lightly Russia is changing very fast For the better, too You have to keep adapting Humour helps you to adapt Is there a typical Russian humour? – Yes, there certainly is For example, there’s Zadornow, a well-known comedian He has a lot of jokes about trains – Tell me We just got our bedclothes, and something funny happened The bedclothes were damp Foreigners would be angry, but Russians are glad Because it means the bedclothes have been washed Where did you get on? – In Beslan Were friends of yours among the hostages? I was a hostage myself For all three days With my grandson and granddaughter, my sister and my niece My grandson and I survived, my sister and niece didn’t My 10-year-old granddaughter didn’t survive either My sister was 44, and my niece was 9 years old These are my granddaughter, my sister and my niece My granddaughter was 10 – Can you show me her picture? This is my sister What was your granddaughter’s name? – Alana What kind of child was she? She wanted to live so much, she wanted to love someone so much I once told her: Alana, you can’t imagine Her father died before she was born I raised her. I said: You can’t imagine how much I love you I love you so, so very much I know exactly how much, she said Just as much as I love you I could never think of an answer like that Her mother is living in Canada She asked her: Who’s the prettiest girl in your class? She said: After me, Mum? Such a forward little thing Yes, very forward She thought she was the best and the prettiest of them all And clever too – Yes, she was a very sweet girl She wanted to become a model I said, Alana, you can only be a model while you’re young She said: Okay, I’ll be a doctor I’ll work as a model on weekends She always said that Okay Grandma, if you want me to, I’ll be a doctor but on weekends I’ll be a model Under her pillow she had a crucifix and a wish list Dear God, please help me get to Canada I couldn’t get a visa for Canada Help me to be reunited with my mother So we’ll all be together And let Grandma come too That’s what it said as well Let Grandma come too I’d seen the girl before My life has been destroyed This is my little girl – What a sweet girl She was born in 1992, the Chinese Year of the Monkey

This is her friend Do you have a family? – Of course I have two children and two granddaughters I have great admiration for the way those girls are educated They go to high school They’re great beauties I think they have a wonderful future ahead of them They’re getting a very good education and are well raised at home I think they’ll be very successful Have you been to the conference too? – Yes Do you like to travel? – Very much. Very much Where have you been, for instance? – In Russia, I’ve been everywhere I really love to travel, in the rest of the world as well I’ve been to many countries Russia is wonderful There are very impressive areas all over Russia Ludmila, what is the Russian soul? You have to leave a Russian alone Just like a bear If you start poking around in a bear’s lair with a stick he’ll tolerate it for a while But if you touch him, you’re finished Russians have exceptional qualities In critical times, they close ranks Like during a war Then they’re unstoppable As if they have nothing to lose If they have to, they’ll walk straight into their deaths They’ll defend their country at all cost They won’t retreat an inch They have an indomitable determination When they think they’re in the right the Russians are absolutely unbending Their passion is very strong You have to keep the peace with the Russians You have to understand that mechanism, and not make them angry You have to make sure they don’t become aggressive Ludmila, do you love your country? – Very much. Very much A priest from Jerusalem gave this to me He came from Jerusalem and gave this to me What does God mean to you? – What He means to me? When I feel bad, I turn to Him When things are good, people forget Him again In times of crisis, people suddenly start to pray When things are good again, we forget to thank God To me, God is very important I’m a single mother I moved to the North by myself I got off the plane and couldn’t go anywhere It was minus 50. That first week, I stayed with strangers God didn’t abandon me Within two weeks, I had a job And it’s hard to find a job in Norilsk In the first week, I stayed with people I’d met at the airport I met them through God’s help I can recite something I really like Yesenin He’s my favourite poet I’m a romantic, and he wrote about love About love and nature blue flames are blazing over my beloved vistas

only now do I say goodbye to drink only know will I sing of love I have been nothing but wild growth loving women, heavily drinking but I won’t let boozing and partying ruin my life any longer I would rather be lost forever in the fathomless gold of your eyes if you never look at another man and forsake your past for me if you only knew, with your sweet gait, frail figure and stiff lines how a scrapper can give up the fight and is able to love and obey drinking, I don’t even long for it now I’m willing to give up my singing as long as I can softly touch your autumn-coloured hair and hands blue flames are blazing over my beloved vistas only now am I done with fighting only now will I talk about love When I’m in Russia, I miss the Dutch predictability and cheerfulness But in Holland, I miss the adventure and the drama of this land of conductors reciting poetry I once saw a documentary about a soldier About the front he said: It was terrible, but the best time of my life That’s what it’s like for me too the smoky compartment is very curious about my past and how things are now I make up things, let them be amazed it’s none of their business, none of their business none of their business who just waved goodbye to me a sailor bares his soul to me about how hard his life is, the poor man at the next station he will say goodbye again the train will leave, the train will leave the train will leave and he will stay behind