Our folks in Sochi

February 7, 2014

Monkey note: Jack wrote this. In the third person. Just so you know.

Jack Schnedler, this blog’s very occasional foreign correspondent, is among the few Arkansans who’ve spent time in Sochi, where the Winter Olympics are getting underway as the threat of terrorism lurks.

Jack, who retired as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s Features editor in 2011, spent four nights camping along the Black Sea in Sochi in July 1972 with his wife Marcia. She retired in 2011 as the Democrat-Gazette‘s HomeStyle editor.

Photo by Marcia Schnedler/ Jack Schnedler, age 29, poses with Volkswagen camper (tent attached) at Sochi’s Camping Adler in July 1972.

Photo by Marcia Schnedler/ Jack Schnedler, age 29, poses with Volkswagen camper (tent attached) at Sochi’s Camping Adler in July 1972.

So why were two 29-year-old Americans roaming the Soviet Union in a Volkswagen camping van back at the height of the Cold War?

They were young and intrepid (or perhaps foolish) enough to take a year off from work in Chicago for a meander the length and breadth of Europe. Jack later learned that theirs was among only 104 privately owned vehicles driven by Americans that year in the Soviet Union. At one point, he accidentally left his portable typewriter in a motel room in Novgorod. He eventually got it back, but that’s another story. (Which I want to hear. — PM)

Jack kept a journal, now yellowed, from which he has extracted the following passages about the Schnedlers’ sojourn at the host city of these Olympics:

July 21, 1972: The drive along the coast of the Black Sea [from Sukhumi] to Sochi was beautiful, with some hairpin driving. The sea is a deep shade of blue, as blue as any body of water we have seen.

At the Adler camp site, the lady at the desk told us where the shower and grocery store were. We set up shop in the crowded site behind a blackberry tree, and I put up the tent that attaches to our Volkswagen van at Marcia’s urging.

Then the beach. We spent about 75 minutes on it, enough to get me pink. The beach was rocky but not uncomfortable, and the salt water was pleasantly cool. We both took a short dip.

I bought bread, eggs and juice at the camp store, then hiked down the road to stand in line with Russian women for tomatoes. Seven small ones for 11 kopeks [15 cents], not bad. Marcia made beef stroganoff from a can with beans and tomatoes for dinner, and we ate half our expensive watermelon [a small one I’d bought for about $6 two days earlier near Tbilisi in what is now the Georgian Republic].

July 22, 1972: The sun boiled us both a bit today, with me the pinker, and a planned afternoon return to the beach had to be canceled. People were already on the beach at 7 a.m., Marcia reported, and by 9:30 we were there also.

There are jellyfish-like little transparent creatures in the water that boys were calling “medusas.” There was the usual crop of very fat ladies in two-piece swim suits, including one who definitely qualified as a beached whale.

Later we lunched in the shade of a makeshift pavilion I had made, downing the first of two bottles of wine for the day [noontime wine NOT being a regular Schnedler habit].

Three families of Czechs arrived in the afternoon as our neighbors. They pitched tents under our nearby shade tree after asking permission in sign language. Marcia was napping, and the Russian I had met yesterday came by for another chat, again mostly in my halting Russian. He is from Moscow and here on vacation.

Loafing was our main theme for the rest of the day. We had beef with gravy, rice and lima beans for dinner, and Marcia graciously let me finish off the melon, which was getting super-ripe. She sought an early slumber while I searched the radio dials in vain for news in English.

July 23, 1972: The wages of sun is toasted flesh, and I was done to a turn on this hot Sunday at Camping Adler. Marcia was baked to a lesser extent, but enough that neither of us dared the beach.

We spent the day dodging into patches of shade, drinking cooling drinks, doing a bit of laundry (Marcia), reading (I finished Carlos Baker’s book on Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein) and starting an abortive game of Scrabble.

Marcia whipped up a quite pleasant chicken, rice and pea casserole for dinner, eaten with another bottle of the Georgian Gurdzhani white wine. Altogether, a remarkably indolent day.

Photo by Jack Schnedler/ Marcia Schnedler cooks a dinner outside the Volkswagen camper somewhere in  Europe in 1972.

Photo by Jack Schnedler/ Marcia Schnedler cooks a dinner outside the Volkswagen camper somewhere in
Europe in 1972.

July 24, 1972: The toasted flesh was cool enough for a morning dip, but not for additional sunbathing. About 3 o’clock, we struck the tent after a thorough inside scrubbing by Marcia and began packing things away. We hope to get away by 8:30 tomorrow morning on our way north to Krasnodar.

In late afternoon, a Russian woman student stopped by for what became a long conversation. She is studying languages at an institute in Maikop up the road and is a Cherkassian — a member of a small minority group of about 7,000 with its own language.

Our long talk eventually involved two Frenchmen, both bearded and long-haired, and one in a wheelchair. There was talk about revolutionaries having beards, traffic tickets in New York and much else. The Cherkassian student was very interested in American slang, such words as “hot line” and different expressions for being drunk. We gave her the Carlos Baker book and Joseph Wambaugh’s The New Centurions.

After dinner, we met the Cherkassian’s boyfriend, much less charming than she’d been. Then she returned and took Marcia off to listen to some music at a dance. Marcia later reported that a young Russian asked her to dance, but before she could say “yes” or “no,” a woman slightly bigger than he was grabbed him by an ear and hauled him away. The Cherkassian lady said to Marcia, “I didn’t know he had a girlfriend.”

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