5/9/09 – 23:30
“Write what you know” is probably one of the oldest clichés in creative circles. But in an unfamiliar city in a strange country speaking a language I can barely grasp, I don’t know a whole lot.
I know that today was Victory Day, День Победы, and that I glimpsed through the cracks in a wall of children perched on their parents’ shoulders a parade of military vehicles rumble by. I know that the children were excited to see the Katyusha rockets on their launchers pass through Dvortsovaya Square. I know that I heard hundreds—perhaps thousands, I couldn’t see very well—of soldiers in the square shout and react in unison to commands given from the podium, a martial Russian show for a day of Soviet military success.
Victory Day, I’m told, celebrates the Nazi German capitulation to Soviet forces in Berlin. Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was then called, bore a heavy burden during the conflict because the Nazis encircled it, choking it but never taking its streets. For its strangulation—the starvation and deprivation its residents endured—it is called a Hero City.
Many of Leningrad’s heroes were out today, wearing their military uniforms heavy with medals. They’re an old and dying generation, just as American veterans of the Second World War are, but I do not know their stories. I couldn’t really ask them; my language skills just aren’t there.