This WWII survivor was the last man standing of his comrades.
He marched alone in Russiaʹs Victory Day parade [in 2007].
Oh, world wherein nor death, nor sin,
Nor weary warfare dwells:
Their blessed home we parted from
With sobs and sad farewells…
Oh, there at last, life's trials past,
We'll meet our loved once more,
Whose feet have trod the path to God —
"Not lost, but gone before."
Caroline Elizabeth Norton
By Oleg Tolstoy
We Russians love and hate cleanup at the same time.
During the Soviet period of our history, there were a lot of communal public activities. Some of them were fully ideological, but some were beneficial and useful. A lot of those activities still exist, even without their original meaning. One of those traditions is called “Subbotnik” (from “Subbota” — Saturday — when they mostly took place). “Subbotnik” were held on a day off every spring. All citizens were supposed to work all day tidying up public spaces after the long winter: collecting garbage, fixing broken stuff, painting houses, benches, fences and so on.
On the one hand, people hated “Subbotnik” because it was mandatory — If you shirked, you would have problems at work. Not everyone wanted to spend the whole day off on public work instead of resting or doing their own business.
On the other hand, we adored “Subbotnik”. First of all, it was actually an effective activity, and it was nice to see the city clean and shiny. Secondly, working together outdoors is a real pleasure (Burners know this feeling well). Thirdly, it was a good occasion to celebrate and to have good fun after work (Burners know that feeling best).
So, when we were thinking about a new activity we could create for the Russian Burner community, this concept jumped to mind. We decided to take the tradition of “Subbotnik” from our past and breathe new life into it.
We chose a park far from the city center and not spoiled with attention. We worked with the park administration to create the event. They were happy about our idea and helped us with our needs. Because it was a public event, we needed approval from the City Department of Nature Management. That wasn’t too hard, though, and eventually we had a formal permit for holding a public event.
It was simple to write rules for this event by listing basic Burning Man principles — hey, they weren’t that different from Communism:
- No branding, advertising or commerce is allowed. (Decommodification)
- We’re contributing our work to a public space; participants grant their work for free; no one gets any rewards; gifts to each other are welcomed. (Gifting)
- The goal is to clean up the city. (Leaving No Trace)
- Everyone should take part in activities, not just be a spectator. (Participation)
- If we work together, we achieve more. (Communal Effort)
- The event is open, and anyone can be part of it. (Radical Inclusion)
- We assume responsibility for public welfare and conduct the event in accordance with local and federal laws (Civic Responsibility)
- Participants should bring everything they need to do the work (Radical Self Relience)
The plan was simple: to work and to have fun.
We brought sound equipment, a tent in a case of a rain, and extra porta-potties (this was the only budget item for our event). The music was playing the whole day — DJs maintained a good mood for everyone who came to the park that day. The weather was brilliant — it was one of the first warm and sunny days of spring, and we really missed warm weather. So everyone was glad to spend a whole day in a beautiful park surrounded by friends and listening for a good music.
Beforehand, we listened to the park administration and agreed with them what kind of work should be done. These were the big tasks: collecting last autumn’s leaves, packing them into packages together with any garbage we would find, and installing bird houses built earlier by children from an eco-school located in the park. The whole work took us only a few hours, but all those who came later and wanted to participate were able to clean up some other spaces.
While preparing for the event, we welcomed people to propose whatever other activities they wanted. One team that played with children and their parents that visited the park. We also had several master classes: One famous designer showed how to create elements of clothing and ornaments from stuff that is usually thrown away as a garbage. In another corner, kids and adults could build a house or a feeder for birds. People who visited park that day took part in the activities with great pleasure.
Food was an obvious question. People who worked all day would want to eat. In the spirit of Gifting, we decided to invite people to bring and prepare the food and beverages themselves and offer them as gifts to everyone. We didn’t regulate or coordinate this part of event. There was a risk that no one would bring anything, and all of us would be hungry and angry. And there was a risk that random passers-by would take all the free food. But it went amazingly well, of course. Each one brought something tasty to treat others. The tables were full of delicious food for the whole day, and everyone was happy about it. We had nothing to worry about.
So we made a super fun and helpful public event for participants and for all the people who came to the park that day. We all enjoyed cleaning up together, and we definitely intend to do this again.
It's been an eventful week. I'm thankful that it's over. That's probably enough.
- We sold our house in West Seattle. Done. It required a marathon cleanup session the day of the closing (Tuesday!) after the buyers' walkthrough Monday night. Why the *bleep* couldn't they have done it Friday evening? But they didn't, and our agent and I spent all day Tuesday cleaning out the stuff that I'd been too tired to deal with last Thursday, and the stuff that the movers dumped on the side path after they ghosted on us Friday. And G and I rented a UHaul and hauled his two motorcycles -- that the aforesaid mover had said he wanted to buy on Monday but never showed up -- over to our housekeeper's house in Auburn. But we did it.
- In the end, after dropping off the truck, I went back to the old place to collect the paint cans the buyers had complained about, drove around to the front, and picked a bud and a flower off the Royal Amethyst rose. Thank you, Ame.
- ... and sang "The Mary Ellen Carter" as loud as I could on the way back over the West Seattle Bridge. Thanks, Stan -- I needed that.
- Our purchase of our new house on Whidbey Island went through without a hitch. That was a long search, and a lot of anxiety and research, but that too is done. Special thanks to our agents, Rob and (especially) Leif.
- Also somewhere in there my final payment from Amazon came through. Less than I'd been expecting because I hadn't allowed for Social Security and Medicare taking their cuts, but welcome just the same. I note in passing that they have not come through with my promised health care, so no thanks are due in that direction.
- Thanks to my family, too, the whole crazy lot of us. Special thanks to the Younger Daughter, whose new phone plan and health coverage through her employer have taken several additional worries off of my mind.
- Thanks, too, to you, my readers. Your occasional comments and encouraging words have meant a great deal during this, um..., adventure? Something like that.