Daily Life in the Gulag: “Totally Pointless Work”

Self read some horrific, extremely gruesome scenes last night.  No wonder she couldn’t get to sleep!

p. 221:

At times, stupid or sadistic guards (Self prays she never runs into one of those during her own life.  She’s pretty sure that if you looked hard enough, you’d find one in almost every police force in the country —  no, in the WORLD!) would actually set prisoners pointless tasks.  Susanna Pechora recalled being assigned to carry buckets of clay back and forth, “totally pointless work.”  One of the “bosses” in charge of her work site specifically told her, “I don’t need your work, I need your suffering . . . “

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Russia the Surreal: “And the reason for my arrest is . . . ?”

“But I repeat:  the fact that the repressive system was legal does not mean that it was logical . . .  it was no easier to predict with any certainty who would be arrested in 1947 than it had been in 1917.”

—  p. 122 of Gulag:  A History, by Anne Applebaum

Believe it or not, self thinks reading this book is making her happier.  How can one NOT be happy when one thinks:  The worst that can happen to me today is that I will get a parking or a speeding ticket.  Or that the frost kills off a few of my plants.  Or that The Man will be in a bad mood.  What are these in comparison to being in a Soviet labor camp in the far north of Russia, putting in 12-hour shifts of hard labor and surviving on one meal a day?  At least, the things that currently annoy and frustrate me will certainly not result in death!

In front of each chapter of Gulag:  A History, the Pulitzer-prizewinning book by Anne Applebaum, there is usually a quote from a Russian writer.  The quote at the beginning of Chapter 7 is from Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope. Here is the entire quote:

We never asked, on hearing about the latest arrest, “What was he arrested for?”  but we were exceptional.  Most people, crazed by fear, asked this question just to give themselves a little hope; if others were arrested for some reason, they wouldn’t be arrested, because they hadn’t done anything wrong.  They vied with each other in thinking up ingenious reasons to justify each arrest.  “Well, she really is a smuggler, you know.” “He really did go rather far,” or “It was only to be expected, he’s a terrible man,” “I always thought there was something fishy about him,” “He isn’t one of us at all . . . ”

This was why we had outlawed the question “What was he arrested for?”

“What for?” Akhmatova would cry indignantly whenever, infected by the prevailing climate, anyone of our circle asked this question.

“What do you mean what for?  It’s time you understand that people are arrested for nothing!”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Let There Be Light 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

The Photo Challenge this week is “Let there be light.”  Here’s an excerpt from the prompt on The Daily Post site:

We’re entering a truly light-filled season.  Christmas trees, Hanukkah menorahs, and Kwanzaa kinarahs are spreading their glow in homes the world over (or are just about to), while main streets and public buildings are being prepared for the winter holidays with an explosion of bright decorations.

Take a look around you.  Choose one of the light sources you see, and make it the focus of your challenge entry.

So here are the light sources in this post:

  1. The taillights of passing cars, freeway signs, billboards — all on Highway 101, heading south towards San Jose
  2. The San Francisco War Memorial Opera House chandelier.  Self and The Man were there to watch the San Francisco Ballet.
  3. Boardwalk, Santa Monica.  Son and Jennie and self had watched a Cirque du Soleil show.  Afterwards, we had dinner at one of the restaurants on the pier.
101, 10:30 p.m., Saturday Night, May 2013

Heading home after attending a concert by the San Francisco Symphony:  Highway 101, 10:30 p.m., Saturday Night, May 2013

The Chandelier:  War Memorial Opera House

The Chandelier: War Memorial Opera House, April 2013 (Attending the ballet)

Santa Monica Wharf, after the Cirque du Soleil Show

Santa Monica Wharf, After Watching a Cirque du Soleil Show with Son and Jennie, February 2011

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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