What Not To Write About Russia

What Not to Write about Russia and the Trans-Siberian RailwayAnyone who has the misfortune to have proximity to the daily life of a writer knows that everything is up for grabs when it comes to subject matter. Whether you’re an essayist or a novelist, a journalist or a blogger, you’re always on the hunt for material.

With this in mind, it seemed like going on the TransSiberian Railway last November, and not writing about it, would be like losing two stone and looking blank when someone complimented you on your newly invisible arse.

There were a few comments from readers about how much they looked forward to seeing me write about my travels. A few other smartie pantses commented on the fact that I had blog fodder for the foreseeable, now that I had actual adventures to bore people to death with. The fact that I’m not a travel blogger didn’t seem to make any difference to either camp.

Consequently, I sat down to write. I had so many fond memories from November I was sure it would be easy.

What Not to Write about Russia and the Trans-Siberian Railway

I dunno what it is, but it’s that way

There was that hilarious episode while trying to change 5,000 rouble banknotes with highly disgruntled shop assistants in Moscow, for starters. And the developing smell in the corridor of the train on day 5 – surely that warranted a post all by itself? Tee-hee, I thought. Perhaps I am a travel blogger after all, I grinned smugly (although if there’s another way to grin other than smugly, I would be interested in hearing about it).

Three thousand deleted words later, I was forced to admit defeat.

I had failed to answer the most important question, which is: what the hell do you write about Russia, without getting yourself or anybody else into trouble?

For starters, I considered it wise not to mention the Russian ban on EU imports (in retaliation for sanctions), which meant that I couldn’t eat a brie and prosciutto sandwich, even while walking past the emporia of Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Hermès, and Louis Vuitton in central Moscow.

What Not to Write about Russia and the Trans-Siberian Railway

Guarding the good stuff

I also couldn’t mention the high level of security in Moscow, which largely resulted in vast numbers of armed security personnel walking around in every place and at every thing, staring with deadened eyes as people blithely walked around metal detectors on their way into shopping malls.

Once that observation had been ruled out, I thought it best not to mention the incident at the Moscow concert, where the man ahead of me (my husband, but don’t tell anyone) beeped, having actually walked through a metal detector, prompting an ennui-laden armed guard to step forward and make the international Charades gesture for a man around his body without touching a single fibre of his clothing, let alone him.

I could, I thought, make the remark that Moscow was one of the best-looking cities I have ever seen: a city of hills and hollows, designer labels and diamonds, ornate plasterwork and domes, and some of the most garishly coloured buildings that I’ve ever seen outside of seaside towns, beautiful and shining even under the cold grey skies of the early Russian winter.

What Not To Write About Russia (and the Trans-Siberian Railway)

Stick your subway tiles, hipsters: Moscow’s famed metro stations

But then I wrote that if I was an American President, I’d call it a 10: and that paragraph got deleted faster than any of the others.

I had fond thoughts about eating in Russia at 1 o’clock in the morning, in restaurants with signs outside which said they closed at 11pm; but then I wondered if that might get people I’d never even met into trouble, so I scrapped that anecdote quick-smart.

Moving swiftly on, I tried to write something about the fact that our first weekend in Russia coincided with a national holiday and a major parade in Moscow, the purpose of which was a little fuzzy around the edges (the closest I could get to its official title was ‘Parade Which They Insisted Was Not A Reluctant Centenary Of The 1917 Revolution Even Though Most People Were More Or Less Certain That’s Exactly What It Was Really’).

This fuzzy holiday nonetheless resulted in lots of people being on the move that week, and consequently on the train, as we moved eastwards.

Tearful platform goodbyes and luggage of all shapes and sizes gave us some glimpse of the working life of those who work far away from their families, in a country so large that sometimes there’s 3 days between you and your kids. But the stated intent of the national holiday versus its outward appearance was so tricky, that instead of writing an emotive piece about an awe-inspiringly vast country, I got a headache, and had to go and lie down.

What Not To Write About Russia (and the Trans-Siberian Railway)

Red Square by night, Gazprom’s delight

Eventually I came to the conclusion that it might be safe to write about the practicality and sagacity of Russian people, who will never go anywhere without a warm coat, even when head-to-toe in designer gear while it’s only zero degrees, which in Russia I believe is quite balmy. This is the polar (sorry) opposite of Irish people, who will only dress for weather once it’s made the news headlines.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be sanctimonious as well as boring, so I was forced to delete that too.

The upshot of all this paranoia is that I was left with nothing to write about Russia. This is a terrible shame, because it is a very beautiful, very interesting, very large country, which is full of surprises, and people tut-tutting at you for doing really stupid things, like looking at the outside of the FSB building, or trying to change a 5,000 rouble note you just got out of a Russian bank ATM.

I have therefore no alternative but to not write about it at all, and instead return there at some point in the visa-dependent future in order to form safe opinions about it.

In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of an apolitical kitten. Thank you.

What Not To Write About Russia (and the Trans-Siberian Railway)

No, that is not shamrock. It is apolitical vegetation, and that is a non-partisan cat. So there.

  40 comments for “What Not To Write About Russia

  1. January 14, 2018 at 9:50 am

    Enjoyed this “not a travel blog”…

    Liked by 2 people

    • January 14, 2018 at 9:59 am

      Thanks, Al. Non-blog-posts which are not about anything are possibly the way to go. Perhaps I’ll start a movement.

      Liked by 2 people

      • January 14, 2018 at 10:03 am

        I look forward to reading the next thing you can’t do, in a similar style. I favour the traditional “ah feck it, I can’t be arsed” approach, but it will only take a couple of more enlightened souls to fulfil your movement dream… 😀

        Liked by 3 people

        • January 14, 2018 at 11:58 am

          We’ll call it anarchic blogging. Just you wait. They’ll all start doing it, then we’ll have to form a splinter group. It’d be real anarchy but for all the committees.

          Liked by 1 person

        • January 17, 2018 at 11:30 am

          Tara, Al, where can I click to join the movement this minute? I’m worn out with the past week of mentally deleting half imagined blog posts.
          I do like your approach here Tara and I think I’ve said it before that I would read what ever you wrote in the same way I’d read CS Lewis if he was writing about his grandmother’s china dog collection. (That came across as an insult I think but the intention is only complimentary).

          Liked by 2 people

          • January 17, 2018 at 10:20 pm

            Are you kidding? I’ll take it, and any other insulting compliments you can throw at me. You can join the movement this very instant. I’d tell you where we’re going to meet, except that would be too predictable, and our motto is to leave as little information as possible in our wake. Instead we’ll be holding tri-geographic meetings in undisclosed locations. You’re going to LOVE them.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. January 14, 2018 at 10:47 am

    You seem to have escaped unscathed, but I’ve been told the Moscow police are on their way so I hope there is space under your bed to hide. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 14, 2018 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks for the heads up, Lucinda. Sadly there’s no space under my bed, but I do have a flat roof and, according to Accuweather, no precipitation for the next 120 minutes…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. January 14, 2018 at 10:57 am

    I understand some of your angst, without even leaving home. Parade-names, oy! My daughter wants them taped- VHS, mind you!- finding the cassette is like the Battle of Borodino, and then the sponsor, the name, the year- I can’t write small enough to fit the label.
    And I never even leave home for that.
    But you can’t fool me, Ms. Sparling. Misdirect all you want about Russian security and economic sanctions, but that there is without question a Green Party cat. She’s even leaning to the far left. Stage-left, of course…

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 14, 2018 at 12:21 pm

      That cat has 3 spin doctors who will prove you wrong, and imprison you in the process, Will. I’ve learned a thing or two from certain communities who shall remain faceless and nameless.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. January 14, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    Re, first photo, I believe it means, “Way out,” as the arrow might imply. Not an ICBM heading for home. Just mind your Bbi’s and B’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. January 14, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    Gazprom’s Delight! That’s the most incendiary statement in this no-post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 14, 2018 at 9:42 pm

      Shhhh, Hilary, or they’ll hear you! And with the name you bear, too. It’s a smear campaign waiting to happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. January 14, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    Great post – love your sense of humour and now feel inspired to visit Russia. I’m afraid you’re a natural-born travel-blogger 😉 now off with you into the world!

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 14, 2018 at 11:15 pm

      Unleash me on the world? Hasn’t it suffered enough?? But okay, if you insist. I’ll tell them you sent me 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. January 14, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    I’m so sorry that you found nothing to write about, Tara, other than everything you couldn’t write about. I guess you had to be there. 🙂 Hehe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 14, 2018 at 11:17 pm

      Consistently writing about nothing is my cross to bear, Diana, I know. It’s a tough path to follow but I think we can all be confident I will remain strong and consistent in my vocation. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  8. January 16, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    I feel as if I have learned something and yet that can’t possibly be right.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. January 17, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    The new style of blogging…I write all the things down I’m not going to tell you about…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. January 19, 2018 at 11:04 am

    I understand your frustration, so let me help: you could write about the fact that through all of December, Moscow enjoyed a total of 6 minutes of sunshine!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. January 21, 2018 at 9:47 am

    Good blog posts often come out of having nothing to write about. What about the Putin Calendar 2018? Did you buy one of those while you were over there?

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 21, 2018 at 11:05 am

      No, I bought several. I’m being benevolently sneered at by January, March and September even as I type. Mmmmmm…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. January 23, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    Reblogged this on SOMETIMES and commented:
    Here is a great blog I found when looking over my VCB sites… I want to make sure to drop back and hang out for awhile, so decided to Reblog it since the Reblog button beckoned. I’m especially interested in author Tara Sparling’s posts about Russia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 23, 2018 at 5:40 pm

      Thank you for the reblog and the visit! Lovely to have you stop by. I will try to write more about Russia, but as you can see, it’s a minefield I’m turning into a melodrama…


      • January 23, 2018 at 9:44 pm

        I wish I would have gone to Russia when I could have traveled that far and paid the bills 🙂 I really enjoyed my brief visit to your blog, I’ll be back soon…one of the reasons I reblogged it was because I didn’t want to have your blog slip my mind. Easy to do 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • January 24, 2018 at 8:20 pm

          It is, isn’t it? All those distractions… of which I am also one!!


          • January 24, 2018 at 10:46 pm

            lol I didn’t mean your blog would be easy to slip the mind…but that when I run into a blog that I want to return to I don’t want to lose it before I can get back to it. My mind slips easily… 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

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