Breaking the rules in private vs protesting in public and the Soviet mentality

Last week, my mom wrote about the seeming contradiction she’s seen with her Russian friends, who’ve seen even peaceful protests as somehow innately bad, while not minding violating laws on the sly.

I definitely get where she’s coming from. Growing up in Russia, I’ve often seen grown-ups express the attitude that it’s almost virtuous to take advantage of loopholes, and there’s nothing wrong with violating the rules so long as they aren’t effectively enforced. Similarly, I’ve seen plenty of people take pride in following the letter of the law while violating the spirit. And it’s not even a solely Russian thing – as I got older, I saw the same kind of attitude in many other ex-Soviet countries.

I’ve already been thinking about this a lot during the pandemic. During the Illinois lockdown, people weren’t supposed to go outside except for essential reasons, such as buying groceries. But there were several professions that were exempt from that, including journalists. So long as it was in the service of performing journalism duties, we were allowed to go wherever wanted.

Which is where the gray area came in. There is only so much journalism one can do from behind the computer screen. Sometimes, one has to go to places, see things as they happen, take pictures, talk to people. And sometimes, you need to see conditions on the ground to figure out what’s worth writing about. And so, as those of you who followed me on social media know, I took trips to the suburbs, just to get out of the house and have a change of scenery. I took pictures and took notes that could be used for the article. A few times, I even legitimately got story ideas this way, or took pictures that were actually used in articles – but there were times that I didn’t. And there were some instances when I took pictures for fun and wound up using them in articles because it just happened to be apropos. But there were also times when I didn’t use them for anything.

My mom wasn’t amused by any of this, chiding me for doing non-essential travel, but I honestly didn’t feel bad. Who was to say that any given trip wouldn’t retroactively serve a journalistic purpose? To quote Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, it was a technicality I intended to hide firmly behind, if anybody asked (which nobody did).

Honestly, I was more confused why my mom took issue with that. She actually grew up in the Soviet Union, and i know for a fact that, back then, she did things that weren’t legal, and things that were on the gray side.

It was the same thing with my visits to the Chicago beaches during the summer. While the beaches weren’t closed, the closures weren’t enforced after 7:00 PM. I didn’t feel bad about not following the rules when they weren’t in any way enforced, especially when other people did the same thing.

Now, unlike my mom’s Russian friends, I have no issue with protests, at least not per se. Even when I don’t necessarily agree with the goals, I don’t have this common Russian reaction of “what are they doing, they’re just stirring up trouble.” Protests bring attention to issues. They make a statement that the way things are won’t be tolerated. What is so wrong with people risking arrest and injury to stand up for their beliefs?

(Now, people wanting to protest without being willing to risk anything is another story)

As I commented on my mom’s blog, I don’t think the contradiction she talked about is that much of a contradiction at all. She and her friends grew up in the Soviet Union. Protest actions get people in trouble – ergo, those who start trouble are trouble-makers. Now, exploiting the blind spots of law enforcement, exploiting the loopholes and the legal particulars, doesn’t get you in trouble (if you do it right), so that’s okay.

I think it relates to the phenomenon Suki Kim described in Without You, There’s No Us, a book about her time teaching college students from North Korean Workers’ Party elite. She was struck by how her students lied constantly, without good reason, and how lying seemed so natural to them, and speculated that it was the consequence of growing up in a society where being truthful was a liability. DPRK apparatus is basically Stalinism on steroids, and my mom’s friends weren’t old enough to experience Stalinism in its original form directly, but I do think that any society where expressing one’s opinions has severe consequences makes lying feel more natural, and makes concerns about self-preservation all the more overwhelming. And, as my own example shows, one doesn’t need to live under Soviet repression to absorb some of the lessons it taught its citizens.

And, thinking at it now, I think another factor that may play into this is that my mom’s generation came of age during Perestroika, when protests helped end the Kremlin Coup and end Soviet Union once and for all – only to experience the economic devastation, privatization creating a class of oligarchs and plunging so many people further into poverty, things like job guarantees vanishing overnight… Might put a few people off protesting,

I don’t think it’s necessarily one thing, but an interaction of all three, with perhaps some factors I haven’t considered mixed in.

I will end with one side note. As several second-generation Russian-American immigrants have observed on Facebook, it’s been kind of fascinating to watch the same people who cheered on protests in Belarus complain about BLM protesters, and the same people who’d complain about police brutality in Belarus excuse police excesses in United States.

But that goes to a whole different, albeit related, bundle of traumas.

Life In Chicago

Today, I asked Vlad to meet me for lunch because I needed to discuss several things with him. We didn’t plan very well, and I had a work emergency, so first, I ended up being late, and then he was late, although he texted me that he is already parking.

When he finally came in, he told me that he had trouble finding a parking spot and that he had to park at a very expensive place. But then he said that he feels good about it because it means that the city is getting back to normal.

I can second these feelings because yesterday, I felt similarly annoyed when I could not turn left from my subdivision to the main road. Annoyed, but also glad :).
Among the things I wanted to talk about was the future of the restaurant business. In Chicago, with our notoriously brutal winters, everybody is talking about this! Vlad thinks that people will still be heading for indoor seating when the weather will become colder regardless of the higher risk. I am not sure how he thinks our legislators will do, but even in Finland, they had to back up under the business demands. We shall see. I also hope that rapid testing will be more available. Last week, Vlad was hosting a private even with Abbott Labs, and since they developed this rapid test, they tested each and single participant and each and single server at this event. It would be cool if we could have this rapid testing everywhere!

Oh, and funny story. Today was the first time since early March that I was not alone in the elevator going down in our office building:)

East Riverwalk Walking Tour

As I’ve expected, being just one a half-day past deadline with the previous chapter made me fall behind with the next one. I gave myself a half-day off last Sunday because we had our family gathering, and because I just needed to do something except for writing. And then, I went on this tour with Igor, and then I did a little bit of writing on Tuesday, and I had PUG on Wednesday. Long story short, I know exactly what to write in Chapter 6, but I am falling behind again.

So, because I need to take a break from writing the book, I want to write about this tour.
The Chicago Architectural Foundation resumed some walking tours back in June, but their schedule and mine did not agree for several months.

I still wanted to attend, but I didn’t want to go for the sake of going; I wanted to go on the tour I never been before. And the one which does not start at 10-30 AM on a weekday.

Finally, I signed Igor and myself to attend the East Riverwalk Tour. The Riverwalk is a new thing, and so is to tour, and I enjoyed it immensely. I took at least fifty pictures, which I had no time to process properly. And since I still want to show them, I am dumpling several Instagram posts from last week. The good part of inserting the Instagram posts is that each of these posts contains multiple pictures, so you can scroll them using the arrows on the left and right sides.

One of under the bridge passages, on the second photo, there are reflections of Igor and me 🙂
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Walking Chicago Loop

On Thursday, I took a long and speedy walk around the Loop intending to check which of the fast and not so fast food restaurants in the Loop had survived the lockdown. I already knew that to my deepest regrets, Pret left Chicago for good. It looks like the same thing happened with Cosi, so out of my to-go places, only Panera survived.

Also, although the sign on Toni’s door says, “we will return,” it does not look like it, which is very sad.
There are several new places on Michigan Avenue, maybe I will like some of them, but I miss Toni’s.
It looks like Jewelry’s Row has the most of the damaged shop windows, and most of the places are not only plywood-ed, but actually closed.

On a bight side – the city is full of people. Yes, it is far from the usual crowds in the time of peace, but equally far from the March emptiness. And as I already mentioned, 90% of people wear masks. Both of these facts make me optimistic :).

A socailly-distant line to the Art Institute – opening of the Monet Exhibit
Jewelers Row is almost empty, but the view of the turning L-train is as breathtaking, as ever
And no Trump can spoil this view!

A Date With My City

This week, I started to go to the office again, and for the next couple of weeks, I am planning to be in the city three times a week.

I can’t even start to describe how much I love being in the city. Coming to the office gives me a lot of structure. Yes, I am a very organized person, but I still do not know why, but I always get more things done in the office. Also, for many years, I used the time on the train as “my personal time.” It was always that I had almost two hours a day when I could reply to my personal emails, ce=heck the social media, write my own blog posts. And when I work from home, it is like: when I sit down at my desk, it means work.

Walking in the city feels different, as well. I do not know why. Today, my Apple Watch shows more than fifteen thousand steps, and it feels like nothing. When I am in the city, I walk fast, and nothing hurts.

On Tuesday, I had lunch with Vlad (belated birthday lunch), and I didn’t get to walk much, because I had to carve time between meetings. But today – I walked and walked.

I went to the Art Institute. The same El Greco exhibit, which I saw on my last visit to the museum before it closed, is open again, and I felt infinitely good looking at these amazing paintings.
Afterward, when I realized that I have over an hour till the next train, I headed to the Riverwalk (actually, I half-planned it to be that way). That way my first real date with my city after months being apart, and I was breathing in this twilight, and the opaque water surface…

Birthday lunch with Vlad
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Family Time

My girls went back home today. We spent a wonderful five days together, going to places, doing things together, and talking non-stop. After they left, I told Boris that I either became too old or out of practice because I felt tired of all these non-stop activities. He replied that he thinks that I am just out of practice, and I asked whether he implies that I should do it more often. He laughed and said that probably yes.

Speaking about activities, we went to the Botanic Garden on Tuesday.

The signs say: Welcome back! We missed you!
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Reopening

Being able to come to the city and do stuff in the city is a very important part of my feeling of being “myself.” And now, some cultural attractions started to reopen. I want to mention that I have no desire to do things just because “they are allowed,” if I won’t be doing them under normal circumstances.

When the Chicago History Museum opened, I didn’t rush there because I didn’t go there for four years :). I checked all the walking tours of CAC and didn’t find any which I would be interested so again, I didn’t go. Although I think that is was a great idea to resume walking tours in small groups.
Aquarium opened on July 3, first for Members only, and now for everybody, but with advanced reservations (and will 1/4 of capacity). I love Aquarium, but I am used to going there with somebody, to whom I could show stuff for the first time. I tried to book the members’ hours for one of the future dates, but it turned out that they won’t give me an extra quest ticket in these circumstances at Aquarium. And I didn’t feel like going alone.

The Field Museum is reopening this weekend; actually, it reopened on Friday. The first five days were for Members only, but once again, I could not find the time, which would work for me, and I didn’t want to bring mom to the city during the excessive heat. So I decided – some time next time.
And today, the Art Institute announced that they are opening on July 30! And they are doing it the best way! Like all other museums, they will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They have flexible hours, so there are still days when they are open late, and each day (with no reservations required), the first hour is members- only. Can’t wait 🙂

Also, the Chicago Symphony finally sent a message about the next season. Lyric Opera and some of the theaters have already canceled the first part of the season. But the CSO said that they are going to try having some smaller concerts, and some broadcasts. They laid out all the limitations (50 people per sitting area, entrance-exit rules, etc.) I hope that this will happen