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One Afternoon at Uncle Joe’s (Travelogue)

Posted by intellisg on April 24, 2007

stalin1.jpg Everyone knows where Josef Stalin was born, in the republic of Georgia in Gori, but I bet you didn’t know where he spent most of his time when he was puffing his pipe. The location was kept a secret till sometime in the late 1980’s for fear that it would be transformed into a post Stalinist shrine. You be glad to know in this travelogue special, we the brotherhood press managed to ferret out Uncle Joe’s hide out. It’s not easy getting there, like all sensible dictators Stalin was intensely paranoid so even the location isn’t featured in the local maps and its smack in the middle of no where.

Some 10 miles from the Black Sea in Abkhazia just next to a corn yellow Byzantium domed monastery is a heavily camouflaged double storey building surrounded by a thicket of cedar trees. Even from this distance of less than 200 meters we could have easily missed it, but our gypsy guide Anatoly insist its there. “Where is it?” I ask, “There! Cant you see it” he blares out – we stop and peered with field glasses, nothing. Suddenly a shape appears followed by another angular form, the invisible house surfaces.

This was where Stalin worked, lived and played.

Pulling up to the camouflaged Dacha it’s not quite what we expected. It looks run down. We wandered the forlorn estate and even found several rusting anti aircraft guns. Eventually clambering over the walls and peering through the bullet proof paned windows.

It was dark inside, late afternoon light poured in from tall vertical blinds, casting a long row of fingerlike shafts down cold and vacant hallways. Huge pictures of Stalin hung silently smiling supremely at us.

stalin2.jpg“No doubt about it. That’s Uncle Joe, I recognize those handlebar moustache any where?” Trajan said.

Just then a tour bus pulled into the drive way a matron like figure stepped out along with a troupe of local tourist. The guide gave me a stern look which said, “get back to the end of the line!” No such thing as customer service here. Obviously the postman who was supposed to deliver the memo from Moscow about the fall of the Soviet Union never made it to these parts.

We started in lobby where most of the exhibits are either riveted, encased in glass or roped off – they looked forlorn, pathetic even and it’s hard to imagine anyone making a mountain out of all these bric-a-brac trinkets. A pipe, a party lapel pin, a toothpick holder and of course Stalin’s beloved 35mm camera dubbed “The Evil Eye.” (Legend has it whoever he snapped just magically ended up in the gulags or disappeared in the night, it gives the word gone in flash a whole new meaning.)stalin3.jpg

The tour proceeded along quite predictably in typical soviet fashion with the guide shouting out orders border guard style.

“Here was where Comrade Stalin studied…… there was where he walked on water……over there is where he transformed water into wine………and of course just here was where he once raised the dead before he learnt how to walk on water. Yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, he was Mahatma Gandhi, Dan Brown, Albert Einstein, Kennedy the Dalai Lama and Mickey Mouse all rolled into one huge Salami.”

You get the drift, its propaganda galore in a vintage that is worth witnessing first hand just in case you ever wondered whether such people actually existed or whether historians were just confused and making it up when they said Stalin was a much revered figure. The house is very big it has its own underground bunker complete with state of the art air filtration system. A gift from the Soviet Academy of Sciences (as if they had any choice, rumor has it the scientist who developed it were forced to live there one whole month just to make sure the air was poisoned. Uncle Joe was a very insistent host.)

Our tour guide proclaims for the one hundredth and tenth time Comrade Stalin was the grand marshal of the Red Army, who single handedly saved the Soviet people by hammering the Fascist army into a pulp. There is an entertaining black and white flick that we are forced to sit through. Its dark and the seats are comfortable. I have had enough: we have been on the road for ten hours since five in the morning. I doze off only to awake later before a ferocious matronly figure standing in the center of one room berating all of us like kids.

The family photo wall, featuring Stalin the great family man, is in the dining room. The narration clanks along: “This is Premier Stalin first wife. He loved her. They were divorced. She died. This is his second wife. He loved her. She committed suicide. This is his son Yakov who fought in the great patriotic war. He loved him. He was shot in the back. Premier Stalin loved all the Russian soldiers who fought in the great war like his own sons, only 10 million died.” Thank you very much for the Mensa test, erh… you guessed it everyone he loved were either allergic to him or died a premature death.

In the second half of the tour, we are allowed to wander the grounds of the large estate. It’s gone to ruins as surely as Stalin’s Soviet Union. This was where the generalissimo would have taken his evening stroll and looked out across the Black Sea puffing on his pipe as he figured out who he was going to bump off next.

As I wandered around the grounds, I wondered what the ghost of Stalin would make of it now? Not only has his superpower fallen apart, but even tiny Abkhazia, his favorite holiday spot, is a destitute basket case today detached from Georgia and outside international jurisdiction. Abkhazia has become one of those twilight territories that exist on the map where nothing works, it’s a metaphor what is wrong with Georgia and the rest of Russia today, and it has a lot to do with Stalin. It’s wreckage, hopelessness and alcoholism is driven by the same misguided reverence of their fallen hero that once drove Stalin to become the monster he was: a despot who commanded one of the most heinous reigns of terror in the history of mankind. To those who feel small, infamy will do just as well as fame. They need to be venerated to even believe they are indispensable and without them the world will simply stop turning.

Today what’s disturbing about youths in Russia is they are just as willing to accept the likes of Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler as their premier – Shamil Bazahyev an intellectual who drives a taxi to subsidize his meager salary as a lecturer sums up the situation succinctly,

“That’s what happens when people no longer feel the need to think…people without hope don’t feel the need to read about who they are….or even where they should be going. Life really just goes on. They don’t take long looks at anything, because if they do it just means more heartache….so they look down. That’s what Stalin took away from us all. He took away our right to believe in ourselves – everything came out from the party – the party was why we are here – it is why we have three meals a day. The party is this, the party is that and now that its all gone to the dogs…we have nothing I tell you.

stalin41.jpgYou know why because we left it all to the party. That’s why we don’t read any more, that’s why Putin is in power. When a man no longer has the courage to look ahead, it’s a way of refusing to have any kind of experience, and reading, is a way to have experience. That’s why we don’t read any more.”

“Don’t worry Stalin is dead,” I told him, “you don’t have to be afraid any longer.” The scholar taxi driver took the crumpled American bills and bummed off a few more of my delightful American cigarettes with a wry smile. He seemed to be asking me why do you want to come here to this graveyard, the whole country is one, if you look hard enough. I was standing in the middle of the road next to an aircraft spares junkyard as he waved good bye wondering to myself, how am I going to get back to the rest of the boys who were camped along the hill next to Uncle Joe’s hide out.

At that point, it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t have told him not to worry. I may have been a tad too hasty with my advice.

As it turned out, it was a very long walk back, that’s how it is when one gets lost.

(By Nacramanga – A Travelogue Special – EP 9983832 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)


6 Responses to “One Afternoon at Uncle Joe’s (Travelogue)”

  1. Another Joe said

    Wow, brilliant post, there’s a lesson in there for Singaporeans to reflect on.

  2. observer said

    This is hilarious and yet serious – I dunno whether to laugh or cry – it actually reminds me of someone.

    Pls dont take my photo! arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggghhhh!

  3. Prima said

    “Its dark and the seats are comfortable. I have had enough: we have been on the road for ten hours since five in the morning. I doze off only to awake later before a ferocious matronly figure standing in the center of one room berating all of us like kids.”

    I can imagine nacra, atomic, Trajan etc all splayed out, legs wide opened snoring away in their tight leather biking gear. While she gives you all a good bollocking.

    Hilarious boys. Really I can just see it all in full technicolor! LOL

  4. Nacramanga said

    Dear valued readers,

    We end our Russian tour on this note.

    This travelogue has been brought to you by.

    World leader in sat communication.


    One is always glad to be of service. By your command.

    Yours Sincerely


  5. Chinky said

    hopefully the change will come before we lose our senses and follow in Russia’s path

  6. anongal said

    lol. I wananananananananana nana go! dun care, I wananana nana go

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