I am deeply grateful to the blogger at Particularly in Burma for first reposting the wonderful anecdote recounted by slawkenbergius in this contentious thread (“my uncle, who lives in Israel, sent me this great story…”) and then, in today’s post, translating it from Russian, saving me the trouble. So instead of producing and posting my own translation of a hilarious story that gave me a much-needed laugh that day, I can just send you there, adding only that getting the joke depends on awareness of the beginning of Pushkin’s Ruslan i Lyudmila: ‘By a sea-cove [stands] a green oak,/ on that oak a golden chain,/ and day and night a learned tomcat/ walks on the chain around [the oak]. If he walks to the right, he starts singing a song; if to the left, he tells a fairytale.’ These are some of the most famous lines in Russian poetry, and any Russian with more than a minimal education knows them by heart.
While I’m at it, let me highly recommend to readers who know Russian the latest post at Anatoly’s blog, in which he asked readers to describe their experiences with Soviet elections. I’ve read all three pages of the thread, and it’s a fascinating look at one aspect of Soviet life. Everyone remembers the holiday atmosphere and the spread of hard-to-find items (sausages, books, etc.) offered as inducements for voting (i.e., dropping the ballot into the urn—there was, of course, no choice of candidates); opinions differ on how widespread failure to vote was and what the consequences were (apparently none in the last years of the USSR, but older people remembered the harsher conditions of Stalin’s day). I particularly recommend this lively comment by drakosha_ru about what voting was like in a small town in 1958.