A couple of years ago, I became aware of a new book about legendary Romanian women’s gymnastics champion, Nadia Comaneci. The book, titled Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police: A Cold War Escape, was written by Romanian author, Stejarel Olaru, and published in 2021. For a long time, it was only available in Romanian. I was very eager to read this book, because not only am I fascinated with old school women’s gymnastics, but I’m also intrigued by Cold War politics, particularly in Romania.
Although I haven’t yet visited Romania, I have read several books about the Ceaușescu era, and watched some really interesting films about Romania before the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc states. So, the prospect of reading about Nadia’s experiences in Romania after she became a national treasure was very exciting for me. I was very pleased to see that the book was going to be translated into English (and other languages).
I just finished the Kindle English translated edition of Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police: A Cold War Escape. Stejarel Olaru’s book was translated by Alistair Ian Blyth and made available in the US Amazon store this month. I had originally pre-ordered a print edition; that’s how much I wanted to read this book. I canceled that order when I realized I could get the Kindle edition sooner. As of just a little while ago, I have finished reading after a couple of weeks of effort. I’m glad to be finished with the book, which was very interesting, although less exciting than I had expected it to be.
I want to be very clear. This is NOT a book about Nadia’s life story. Elements of her life story and some information about her family are in the book, of course, as it’s not possible to deliver this story without those elements. But it’s important to note that this book is ultimately about the high price Nadia Comaneci paid when she made history at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal. Those who read this book should also come with some knowledge of who Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu were, and what their regime was like. Remember that until the former Romanian president and his wife were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989, Romania’s government was an oppressive totalitarian regime.
One month before the Ceaușescus were executed, Nadia Comaneci defected with several other Romanians. She did so out of desperation. She couldn’t take life as it existed under Ceaușescu and his Securitate (Secret Police) anymore. But Nadia was a “national treasure”, and as such, she was highly valued by the Romanian dictator’s regime. Nadia worked very hard to be able to achieve Olympic greatness, but after she reached that pinnacle, she was rewarded with constant surveillance at home… phone taps, interrogations, and constant pressure to maintain her physical prowess in a sport where it’s common to retire while still very young, especially at the elite level.
Olaru’s book begins in November 1989, when Nadia undertook her daring escape to Hungary with a group of more average citizens. The group fled across fields during a frigid night. The Romanian border guards missed them, but they were picked up by the Hungarians, who were shocked to find the famous gymnast among those who were fleeing. The Hungarians were going to let Nadia go, and send the rest of the party back to Romania. Nadia, being a team player, spoke up and said that she wouldn’t be going without the rest of the group.
Very soon after her illegal border crossing, Nadia was on her way to New York City. She lost a lot when she defected; the man she left with was a married man who abused her. A lot of Americans had a negative impression of her in the weeks after she defected. I remember reading a 1990 era Life Magazine article that really made Nadia out to be kind of lowbrow, implying that she was bulimic and a bit of a skank. The reality was, the man was basically holding her prisoner, beating her, and exploiting her for money.
Upon arrival in the United States, Nadia Comaneci requested and was granted political asylum. I remember watching Nadia in the news, as this was going on during my senior year of high school. I barely knew who she was, because I was only four years old when she won gold in Montreal, and lived in England at the time. I didn’t follow gymnastics until I was about 15 or 16 years old. Still, I remember very clearly the story in the news, and was fascinated by it, because although I wasn’t a gymnastics fan in Nadia’s day, I did grow up during the height of the Cold War.
I never dreamed, when I was a kid, that one day, that whole system would disintegrate within a couple of years. If there’s anything to learn from that era in history, it’s that things can change very quickly, forever altering or even ending people’s lives. That’s one reason why I get so worried about Trump and his admirers. History has shown us that things can change in a “New York Minute”, as Don Henley sang back in 1989.
Olaru’s book also offers a very negative and damning look at Bela and Marta Karolyi’s years as Romanian team coaches. As bad as some of the revelations have been from American gymnasts who have trained with them, they are even worse in this book, as Olaru writes about how the gymnasts were literally starved and sometimes physically beaten when they didn’t perform well. Securitate notes provided by alleged informants, such as Geza Pozsar, the choreographer who worked with the Karolyis, indicate that the gymnasts often wept because they were so hungry. As Nadia grew older, she and Bela had difficulties, because she was no longer as compliant as she had been. He could no longer “spank her bottom” when he wanted to, especially after she became famous.
I’ve watched Bela Karolyi for years when I’ve viewed women’s gymnastics on television. His public persona is that of a big bear, with lots of energy and enthusiasm. But, based on this book, and several others I’ve read by people who have trained with him and his wife, Marta, he is clearly an abusive coach on many levels. So far, I have not seen evidence that he sexually abused his gymnasts– thank God– but I have seen ample evidence that he was verbally, mentally, emotionally, and physically abusive to them. However, even the best gymnasts, like Nadia, got that treatment. At least he was somewhat “fair”, I guess.
When Bela and Marta Karolyi defected from Romania in 1981, the Securitate became even more intensive in their efforts to control Nadia Comaneci and protect their national treasure. Although she lived a relatively upscale life by Cold War Romanian standards, the reality was, she was more in a cage than her fellow Romanian citizens were. And the “lavish” privileges she enjoyed weren’t all that great. She did have a car and a seven room villa, for instance, but the villa was poorly insulated. Consequently, she slept in the kitchen so she could stay warm. And she didn’t necessarily have to stand in line to get food, like rank and file Romanians did, but the fact that she didn’t have to do that doesn’t exactly make for a luxurious lifestyle, as Romanian officials tried to indicate.
In many weird ways, reading about how Nadia and her family members were policed reminded me of reading about people trapped in cults or abusive relationships. The Securitate didn’t want Nadia to abandon Romania, so they were constantly looking and listening for indications of potential plans to leave. And they did things like tell her she couldn’t survive outside of Romania. They didn’t seem to realize that Nadia had already proven her incredible strength and resilience, not just in 1976, but in the years following that triumph, after she grew several inches and gained twenty pounds. For awhile, she was looking as washed up as John Travolta did throughout the late 80s. But, just like Travolta, Nadia Comaneci made a great comeback for the 1980 Moscow Games and came home with more medals. I don’t know why the Securitate didn’t see that she was capable of doing that again in 1989; she was only 28 years old when she left.
As I read this book and got some insight into Nadia Comaneci’s plight after her 1976 Olympic glory, it occurred to me why Nadia was known for never smiling. Based on Olaru’s accounts, backed up with actual notes from the Securitate, phone taps, interviews, and interrogations, it sounds to me like Nadia Comaneci’s life was a living hell. When she was being trained by Bela Karolyi, who has his own version of this story famously depicted in a movie about Nadia, she was evidently enduring a nightmare that we could never fathom. No wonder Nadia was willing to risk it all and leave for the West, once she retired from gymnastics.
Today, Nadia Comaneci is married to fellow Olympic gold medalist, Bart Conner, who won his medals in Los Angeles, back in 1984. They run their own gym in Oklahoma, and share a son named Dylan Paul Conner, who was born when Nadia was 44 years old. She still physically looks amazing, but I notice she smiles a lot more these days.
Overall, I think Nadia and the Secret Police is an excellent read for students of Cold War history, especially if they are interested in the Ceaușescu era and/or Romania. I will warn that this book is translated, and sometimes the translation gets a little mucked up. There were times, for instance, that the translator wrote names as they would be written in the Eastern Bloc or Soviet Union, with the last name first. Other times, he writes them as if they were in a western country. At times, the writing is also a little dry and formal, and there are some typos. I was surprised by the abrupt ending of this book, although I appreciated the many footnotes, notations, and photos.
Again, I cannot reiterate this enough. This book isn’t really for people who idolize Nadia or gymnastics and are looking for a life story. This is a book about history and politics. Nadia Comaneci just happens to be the subject, because she’s probably still the most famous Romanian in modern times. The focus is less on gymnastics, and more on world politics and intrigue. Yes, it’s useful for diehard Comaneci fans to read, but the focus is more on the oppressive government regime and less on Nadia Comaneci’s gymnastics prowess. I’m glad I read it. And I’m glad I’ve finished it, so I can move on to the next book.
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Happy April Fools’ Day, folks. I was originally thinking maybe I’d write something in the spirit of the day… like falsely post that I’m finally pregnant, or Bill and I are divorcing. But then I realized that I generally find April Fools’ Day annoying, at best. I mean… sometimes, the jokes and stunts are relatively amusing, but I mostly think silly fake postings about major life events are kind of stupid.
I will admit that it’s funny when Ritter Sport comes up with gross sounding chocolate combinations. Below is a screenshot of what they did in 2019…
Euro Wings also had a funny April Fools’ joke today…
And some time ago, NPR had a pretty good joke about people who don’t read before they react or comment. I used that joke at another time during the year, and sure enough, I got someone… Then, I promptly blogged about the phenomenon.
But I don’t want to write about April Fools’ or the inane shit I’m going to see as my fellow Americans wake up and start posting their crap. I posted last night that I think more Americans should zip it. And I stand by that opinion. 😉 You readers might think I ought to zip it, too, but since this is space I pay for, I’m going to preach on with my bad self. 😀
So what about that title, then? What’s it about? Well, it’s about a 1979 era gymnastics video I watched on YouTube yesterday. I love to watch old school gymnastics, which were less about powerful tumbles and more about artistic expression. I also find the former Soviet Union fascinating.
I happened to catch this video that featured some of the greats of that era– Nadia Comaneci, Emilia Eberle, Kathy Johnson, and Elena Naimushina. Sadly, Ms. Naimushina died suddenly in 2017, but in 1979, she was about 14 years old. She was a great gymnast, so she was interviewed by American sportscaster, Charlie Jones. Charlie Jones was born in 1930, and died in 2008. In 1979, he was pushing 50.
At about the 2:36 mark, Jones says “Every pretty girl that I interview, always kisses me right here on the cheek.”
Elena laughs as the translator does her job. Then, after a shy giggle, she says “That is something that you can look forward to after the competition.” Then Jones and Elena share a laugh… har-dee-har-har-har!
I was actually a little shocked as I heard Mr. Jones request a kiss from the young gymnast. But then I remember the 70s, and how kids were often pressured to let adults kiss them. Eddie Murphy had a whole 80s era routine about it.
To Elena’s credit, she managed to handle that awkward moment with grace and charm. Still, it was pretty creepy and inappropriate. Of course, that shit would never fly in 2023, especially given the whole Larry Nassar scandal. I guess it’s just crazy to realize that I was seven years old in 1979, and this kind of thing was quite common. Old guys would not hesitate to ask for intimate gestures of affection from kids. It happened to me a lot when I was coming of age. It was an especially common thing to see on games shows like Family Feud, especially back when Richard Dawson was the host.
Nowadays, people wouldn’t necessarily assume that Jill prefers males. Or that Jill is, in fact, a female herself… By now, Jill is probably someone’s grandmother. And, of course, today we’d worry about spreading COVID-19.
Isn’t it interesting how times change? At what point does a person stop being considered “young”? Does it happen at a certain age? I swear, it seems like yesterday that I was a teenager. Now I’m getting old enough to live in a retirement community!
I do think it’s a good thing that requests for kisses and comments to twelve year old girls about boyfriends are best left in the past. But watching these clips, posted when I was a child myself, are a reminder that time marches on, customs change, and things that once used to be okay to say or do can eventually evolve into something very taboo. And that’s no April Fools’ joke!
Those of you who read this blog regularly, probably know that I grew up in the 1980s. As a child of that era, there are certain cultural phenomenons that are etched in my personal history. Personally, I think the 70s and 80s were great decades for coming of age. Most of us were too young to remember Richard Nixon. We got to be kids at a time before everybody was so plugged in to their electronic devices. We had a lot of freedom to come and go– I can remember running all over my neighborhoods— even when I was very young— and exploring to my heart’s content. And there was some really great– non auto-tuned— music in that era, to include an iconic band called The Cars, fronted by the late Ric Ocasek.
Ric Ocasek was 80s model Paulina Porizkova’s long time husband. When Ocasek died in September 2019, they were in the beginning stages of getting a divorce. Although they were splitting up when he died, Ric and Paulina still shared the house they purchased together when they first got married in August 1989. Paulina had envisioned them staying close and being “best friends”, maybe living in apartments near each other. But it was not to be. As Ric recovered from surgery for “stage 0 cancer”, he suddenly and unexpectedly died in the bedroom he and his third wife used to share. He’d also been suffering from heart disease and emphysema.
It was Paulina who discovered him, as she carried a cup of coffee to his sickbed at about 11:00 AM. It was made just the way he liked it, with three quarters of a teaspoon of sugar and just enough milk in it to turn it a very specific shade of beige. This part of the story resonated with me. My husband, Bill, knows how I like my “beige” coffee, too, although I prefer half and half over milk.
My sisters read fashion magazines regularly, but as an adolescent, I spent most of my time in a barn, tending to my horse. I’ve never had the figure, the bank account, or the desire to wear high fashion. I will admit that I used to like to watch America’s Next Top Model, and I did learn about models and fashion in the process of watching that show. But I really watched ANTM more for the drama, not because I care about haute couture. When Paulina Porizkova became a Top Model judge during Cycle 10, she quickly became one of my favorite people on the show. I liked that she was down-to-earth, intelligent, and basically kind… or as kind as she was allowed to be, anyway. As a music fan, I admired The Cars, and thought it was cool that Paulina was married to one of the co-founders of that band. I was pissed off when Paulina was fired from ANTM after Cycle 12. I thought it was a huge mistake. In my opinion, the show went downhill after she left. Paulina was also very briefly on Dancing With the Stars, but she was voted off very early. I didn’t watch her on that show.
As someone who grew up at a time when a lot of us were terrified of being invaded by the Soviet Union, I also find Paulina Porizkova’s personal history very interesting. Paulina was born on April 9, 1965 in Prostějov, Czechia, which was at that time, Czechoslovakia. In 1968, when she was three years old, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied her country. Her parents, Anna and Jiri, did not like the idea of censorship, being forced to work menial jobs for little pay, or standing in line for hours for a loaf of bread. So they left the country on a motorcycle and settled in Sweden, leaving Paulina behind in Czechoslovakia with her grandmother.
Life was difficult in Paulina’s homeland. The Soviets decided the house her grandfather had inherited was too large for one family. They divided it into three apartments and moved in a single lady and another family. There was one toilet for the whole house, and it was on the veranda. Meanwhile, Paulina’s parents were making a lot of noise about their daughter, who was separated from them. The sympathetic Swedish press wrote a lot of stories about Paulina, causing her to become famous. Still, Paulina didn’t mind, because she didn’t know what she was missing. She loved her grandmother, and wanted to be a good communist, as she was being taught in school. She even had aspirations of visiting Lenin in his tomb, and becoming a “Young Pioneer”, complete with a red kerchief. Below is an anecdote of something she and her cousin did in an attempt to win one of those red kerchiefs…
When Paulina was seven, her pregnant mother, Anna, came back to Czechoslovakia in disguise. She wore a wig and glasses. The police found out who she was, and she was jailed. But she was seven months pregnant, and the Swedish press continued to put pressure on the Czech government. Anna was then given house arrest with her family. The police moved into an apartment across the street, so they could watch her and make sure no one visited. Anna told everyone in the family about the good life in Sweden, which was diametrically opposed to everything the Soviets reported. Anna spoke of how clean, beautiful, and safe the country was, and how she could eat a banana or an orange anytime she wanted one. Paulina wasn’t sure if she should believe her, but she soon found out firsthand, as the Czech government deported Anna, Paulina, and her baby brother from the country. She was told she could never return to her homeland, and was forced to leave her beloved grandmother behind. Then, when she got to Sweden, her father decided to leave the family and marry his girlfriend.
Life in Sweden was also challenging for Paulina. She was bullied in school because she was different. Unlike the blonde girls whose families had plenty of money, Paulina was tall with dark hair. She wore outdated clothes from thrift stores. Some of her classmates called her a “dirty Communist”. One Swedish girl, in particular, was especially mean to fourteen year old Paulina, who one day dared to wear new clothes she’d bought with her own money after working hard all summer. I wonder how that Swedish girl felt the following year, when fifteen year old Paulina was invited to Paris by model scout, John Casablancas, and launched her career as a bonafide top model. I hope she felt like the dumbass she obviously was.
Modeling was a lucrative career for Paulina, but she didn’t particularly enjoy the job. Sexual harassment toward the models was rampant among the photographers and clients. She had to wear hot clothes when it was hot outside, or strip down to nothing when the weather was freezing. She saw a lot of beautiful young girls wash out of the business before they even got started, many times owing a lot of money to the agencies who had paid for them to get their teeth fixed or skin issues treated by dermatologists. Paulina was fortunate, as she was successful and made a lot of money. And, in 1984, when she was 19 years old, actor Timothy Hutton, who was directing The Cars’ music video for their hit song, “Drive”, cast her as the love interest. That was how she met Ric Ocasek, who was married to his second wife, Suzanne, at the time.
Paulina was struck by Ric’s turquoise eyes, which she describes in great detail, as he often wore dark shades that hid them from public view. She writes reverently about his naturally slender body and extreme height, and his shocking mop of black dyed hair against his pale skin. She immediately noticed his Czech surname, even translating it for readers. It was more poetic than her own surname, which she also sort of translates, as much as possible, anyway. She agreed to date him, even though he was married and had two young sons at the time… as well as two older sons with his first wife. She was still in her prime when they married in 1989, but she decided to mostly give up her career to be Ric’s wife and the mother of their two sons, Jonathan Raven and Oliver. She would occasionally model and take approved acting gigs, always approved by Ric, and never interfering with his schedule. Even though she made a lot of money when she was a model, she let him be the breadwinner… and they did not sign prenuptial agreements, even though their financial advisors strongly recommended it. That decision came back to bite Paulina firmly in the ass when Ric suddenly died, having disinherited her for “abandoning him”, as well as his two eldest sons. She had to go to court to get what was hers and, for a time, was left quite destitute and dependent on friends as she rebounded, now as a woman of 54.
I found No Filter to be a very quick and engaging read. I managed to finish this book in less than two days, and yet I came away with a lot of fresh thoughts and new perspectives. Paulina’s story has given me a lot to think about for many reasons. I could relate to much of her story, simply because of the time I’ve spent in Europe and the former Soviet Union, and because, like her, I’m now a woman of a certain age. 😉 I realized in reading Paulina’s book that we really aren’t that different, even if no one wants to take pictures of me in the nude. 😀 Also, she displays a fine sense of humor, and provides some comic relief in the form of wry anecdotes that are very disarming and show her humility. I do not get the sense that Paulina is vapid or arrogant, at all. In fact, she seems to be quite the opposite!
Paulina Porizkova has an evocative writing style, and she uses a lot of vivid and vibrant language to bring her story to life. In fact, even though I don’t typically read a lot of novels anymore (with the recent exception of A Stopover in Venice, by James Taylor’s second ex wife, Kathryn Walker), I decided to download Paulina’s novel about modeling, A Model Summer. I actually think she might be even better at writing novels. She uses a lot of colorful imagery and descriptive devices such as similes and metaphors to figuratively “paint” a picture in readers’ minds. I suspect A Model Summer might also be revelatory, because I have a feeling it’s based on her story, just as A Stopover in Venice is obviously based on Kathryn Walker’s marriage to James Taylor.
I remember on Cycle 12 of America’s Next Top Model, a very successful contestant named Marjorie Conrad commiserated with Paulina, as Marjorie is originally from France. Other contestants would rag on Marjorie, and fellow European contestant, Elina (from Ukraine), for being too “negative”. Paulina understood why they were like that, as she’s Czech, with dual U.S. and Swedish citizenship. And, having lived in Europe/the former Soviet Union for about fifteen years of my life, I kind of understand it, too. Europeans have a different mindset than a lot of Americans do. They aren’t as “toxically positive” about everything, and take a more realistic, and often pessimistic, view of most things. I mention this, because I noticed that Paulina is often quite negative in this story about her life, in spite of all of the money, fame, and success she’s had.
Again, life was legitimately hard for Paulina as a poor little girl in Czechoslovakia. It was hard for her as a transplant in Sweden, where she stood out for being too tall, too dark haired, too poor, and coming from a “commie” country. It was hard for her as a model, who was quite successful, but didn’t really enjoy the industry that much for a lot of reasons. It was always “just a job” for her, and not a very interesting one, at that. She caught a lot of shit for frankly stating that, too. I’m sure Americans, in particular, think she should appreciate having been a model, even though she was expected to tolerate egregious and outrageous sexual harassment and very personal and often negative comments about her body. Below is a quote from early in the book:
Life was also hard for Paulina as Ric’s wife, as it turns out that he had some rather controlling behaviors that young Paulina had misconstrued as love. She was very young and inexperienced with men when they met. She’d had a tumultuous and difficult childhood that was fraught with abandonment, poverty, and abuse. She probably would have been better off going to college and finding work in which she could use her formidable brain. Instead, she fell into work that exploited the genetic jackpot she inherited by sheer chance. At one point in the book, Paulina writes about how people will usually encourage children who are smart and/or talented to develop and use their gifts. A smart child will often be encouraged to study hard and earn higher degrees, for instance. A musical or artistic child will be encouraged to improve their techniques so that their arts can be shared with the world. Beautiful women, though, are often judged harshly for using what they have, especially when they are “older”. Below is a quote Paulina got from a follower on her Instagram:
Easy for you to complain about the system now that you aren’t an “it” girl—but you had no problem making millions of dollars, enjoying your celebrity, and making millions of young girls feel ugly and unworthy for decades. NOW you are aware of how fragile self-image is???? You played a big role in creating the machine that makes people feel worthless if they aren’t “magazine beautiful,” and now you are crying because the system is making you feel like you made everyone else feel. The hypocrisy is incredible.
In her chapter, “The Responsibility of Beauty”, she writes:
People seem to understand that being beautiful is neither an accomplishment nor a fault. It is a gift. Generally, if you are given a gift or something of great value, your responsibility is to make use of it. When a person is born with an athletic or artistic ability and becomes a celebrated athlete or artist, we don’t shame them for using their gift. If a child is intelligent, we encourage them to get an education, to study hard, to develop their gift of intelligence as much as possible, and then use that gift out in the world. Developing their gift is seen as their responsibility. Wasted talent is a waste of potential. But when your gift is beauty, developing it is considered vain and narcissistic. Trying to maintain it is likewise shameful, whereas in athletics it’s practically heroic. An older athlete who strives to maintain their athleticism and compete with younger athletes is regarded as brave. An older model who strives to maintain their beauty and compete with younger models is often regarded as unnatural, embarrassing.
I think the above commentary is very astute. It’s true that Paulina Porizkova was part of an industry that causes a lot of girls and young women heartbreak and misery. When she was in that industry, Paulina was, herself, young and arrogant, and unaware of her “responsibility” as a model. She writes about a reporter who asked her what she thought her “responsibility” should be. Would she model fur, for instance? Or “blood diamonds”, just for the money? At the time the question was asked, young Paulina didn’t know how to answer. Over thirty years later, the question still haunts her, but in spite of being a “dumb” model (which she obviously never was), she manages to write some very intelligent commentary about the subject. I found it very intriguing, so I’m including a few samples below:
I had become a model at fifteen and made a great deal of money because people thought I was beautiful. I was also an arrogant asshole. Give a teenager loads of money, no rules, and lavish praise for her ability to look stunning and fit into sample-size clothing, and moral responsibility probably isn’t what she spends most of her days thinking about.
…somewhere along the way, we pick up the message that we can’t be beautiful and intelligent. That if we want to be taken seriously for our intelligence, we have to downplay our beauty. Right before I moved to Paris, I thought of myself as ugly and smart. Once I started working as a model, I was suddenly beautiful and stupid. When I called my dad to tell him I was staying in Paris to model full-time, he said, “Oh, now you’re going to be a dumbass.” When I arrived in Paris I got a reading list from a university and decided to read all the books listed in the English literature syllabus, notbecause I necessarily liked them or would choose them on my own, but because I wanted to make sure people knew I was intelligent.
I struggled with shame across my forty-plus-year career as a model. While a woman seeing a photo of me in an ad might have felt shame for not looking like me, I had been shamed for not having the body of Elle Macpherson. And the boobs of Cindy Crawford. And the teeth of Christie Brinkley. When the standard you are being held to is physical perfection, none of us can compete. I just quietly envied those other models and decided I surely had other, more important attributes. I was smarter, I could play the piano and draw, and I was certain I read way more books. I cut other women down in my mind so I could feel, if not superior, at least equal. I turned around and shamed those women after feeling shamed myself.
In my experience, no one shames a woman as often and as effectively as other women. We are all in the same boat, wanting to go the same way, yet instead of working together to get there, we knock one another off the boat. Do we not understand that the fewer of us there are to paddle, the slower we advance?
Yeah… this is not a dumb woman, at all! I can see why Paulina is sometimes negative about her life. She’s being honest, but a lot of Americans can’t respect honesty. They’d prefer bullshit. I also loved what she wrote about fame, and how people want to project themselves onto famous people. She explains that famous people are very well known, and yet very few people actually know them at all. Reading her comments reminded of how, when I was at James Taylor’s concert last month, some guy yelled out that his father “loved” him, and James reminded the guy that his father didn’t even know him. I got the sense that, like Paulina, James might be uncomfortable with people calling him by name and acting as if they’re somehow friends. If you think about it, it really is pretty weird, because we only know about the “famous” parts of these well-known people. We don’t actually have a personal knowledge of them at all, other than how what they do makes us feel. Paulina also reminds us that people in the press often make up or embellish things to sell their wares. I was also reminded of actress Justine Bateman’s book about her experiences with fame and how strange it must actually be for famous people… at least the ones who aren’t complete narcissistic assholes. Below are a few more quotes from the book to highlight what I mean…
On the other hand, Paulina Porizkova is also a believer in palm readings, tarot cards, and psychics, and she writes a bit about her experiences with her beliefs in her book. I don’t judge her negatively for that, especially since, in her experiences, they’ve actually been correct. Or, at least that’s what she claims. I know some people will probably think that’s kind of dumb or sacrilegious, though… or too much “woo”. And I know some will also judge her for being “the other woman”, and for the fact that she dated another man while she was still technically married. But, in fairness, Ric was also seeking the company of other women.
To sum things up…
I’m sure you can tell that I really enjoyed Paulina Porizkova’s book, No Filter. I am probably a bigger Paulina fan now, than I was when she was on ANTM. I hope this book helps her make some money, since she was left in quite a legal pickle when Ric Ocasek suddenly died. I still admire him as a musician and love his music, but now I think he was a bit of a narcissistic jerk. It’s too bad Paulina didn’t use her formidable common sense to protect herself from the situation he left her in when he died in 2019, but she trusted him and, sadly, he got to her when she was very naive and inexperienced.
There’s a lot more to this book that I didn’t cover, in spite of the long length of this article. So, if I have piqued your interest, I would highly recommend reading about Paulina Porizkova’s life. She’s led a very interesting one, so far… And I do hope that she will, one day, find that true love and acceptance she thought she’d had with Ric Ocasek. There are still some very good men out there. I know, because I managed to marry one myself, even though I am definitely no model. Like Paulina knew how Ric loved his coffee, my Bill knows how I love mine. I bet he’s not the only guy out there who’s like that… I think Paulina deserves someone who will fix her some coffee the way she likes it, and appreciate her very fine mind over her still gorgeous body.
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As I mentioned in today’s first post, my husband, Bill, is gone this week on a business trip in Bavaria. I don’t have any local buddies to hang out with, so that means I have a lot of empty time on my hands. When Bill was deployed to Iraq back in 2007, I spent a lot of time watching reality TV. At that time, we lived in the States on Fort Belvoir, and we had FiOS (fiber optic cable TV and Internet– which is just becoming a “thing” here in Germany). This was before Apple TV, so I couldn’t spend my time watching relics from my childhood, the way I do today. I’m glad for Apple TV and YouTube, because now I can watch stuff I missed back in the day.
Back in February 1987, I was fifteen years old, and very busy with school and taking care of my horse. I wasn’t at all interested in politics, religion, or current events. I was kind of “dumb” then, as we didn’t have all of the news and information sources we have now. In those days, the Soviet Union was still very much a thing. People worried about nuclear war to the extent that it was a topic on sitcoms, like The Golden Girls. There were a number of Soviet themed films that were released for the big screen. I remember the movie, Red Dawn, came out in 1984, when I was 12 years old. It was the very first PG-13 rated movie, mainly because it was, and still is, a very violent film about Soviets invading the United States. I remember being very “fired up” when I saw that movie the first time. I was young and impressionable, and thought the height of patriotism would be to join the military and fight for my country. Hell, when I was 12, I might have even made the military’s weight standards. 😉 Actually, I’m kidding. As a teenager, I thought I was fat, but I really wasn’t. Like I said… I was kind of dumb in those days… dumber than I am today. But today, I am fatter than I was in the 80s.
Since the Soviet Union was still so threatening, the American Broadcasting Company, otherwise known as ABC, made the mother of all miniseries. It was a seven night EVENT, which even in the era of network TV, was a big production for a miniseries. Most miniseries lasted two or three nights. I was interested in very few of them, because like I said, I was BUSY then… and not interested in politics, religion, or current events. But other people were interested, so ABC made this miniseries called Amerika. It was set in 1997, in a fictional midwestern town called Milford in Nebraska. It starred, Kris Kristofferson, Mariel Hemingway, Cindy Pickett (“Ferris Beuller’s mom”), Christine Lahti, Robert Ulrich, and a very young Lara Flynn Boyle, among other people who are now either dead, or more or less famous than they were in 1987.
The premise of Amerika was that the Soviet Union’s leaders had messed with our elections and that had led to a “bloodless” coup. The United States was no longer. Instead, it was broken up into smaller areas. The flag and national anthem were changed, and the idea of communism was introduced to our capitalistic society. The miniseries was about how the country changed. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and it was obviously based on the propaganda of the time. Remember, the Soviet Union ceased to exist in December 1991, so a lot of today’s adults weren’t around when it was still in existence. But some of us old farts remember it very well.
Well, I completely missed seeing Amerika when it originally aired. It only aired once, because it caused a lot of issues with leaders in the Soviet Union, who were outraged by it. It was also a really long television event that was probably expensive and disruptive to air. In the 80s, we had our “must see TV”, and these kinds of special shows would usurp our old favorites. And then, after just a few years, Amerika seemed over the top and ridiculous, as the Soviet Union literally fell apart, and formerly closed borders started opening. Hell, the movie was set in 1997, but I was actually finishing up my Peace Corps assignment in Armenia, a former Soviet country, in 1997. So, as you can see, it didn’t make a lot of sense to air the program again. It was later released on video, but it doesn’t look like a DVD set was ever released. However… someone did upload the entire series to YouTube. I watched the whole thing in several sittings, as the program is over fourteen hours in length. Even couch potatoes like me need to get up and move sometimes.
I don’t want to get too much into the specific plot of this series, because frankly, it seems like an overwhelming task. As I mentioned up post, the series was set in a fictional town of Milford, which was named after the enterprising American family that helped build it. Some of them still lived in Milford, only to watch their town being overrun by Soviets and American politicians who figuratively “got in bed” with them in a bid to seize power. We watch as people with private businesses can no longer offer what they used to have. A woman who ran a cafe for over thirty years was forced to serve soy products instead of the comfort food she used to offer. Later, everyone is forced into a curfew and heavily armed Soviet soldiers bust the woman’s neon sign, which had been lit for decades. She cries as she’s forced into the back of a truck to be driven off to God knows where.
We see a talented young dancer (Boyle’s character, Jackie Bradford) being ignored when she auditions for a show because she’s too good and would ruin the uniformity of mediocrity of the others. By the way, while I can see where the writers were going with this point, years of watching Soviet athletes and listening to Soviet trained musicians tells me that the culture certainly embraced the talented. They were showcased! Just watch any 70s or 80s era Olympics or a Russian ballet! But the point is, communists didn’t give anyone an incentive to excel, since everyone was “treated equally”. Except they actually weren’t. There were certainly people in communist countries who had it better than others did, due to their stations in life.
We see dissidents being forced into “re-education” camps. Kristofferson’s character, a former politician and 1988 presidential candidate named Devin Milford, had been imprisoned in Texas for trying to fight against the regime and speaking out against corruption. At the beginning of the series, we see him being released and sent into exile in Milford, where he is to stay within 25 miles of his property or risk being jailed or shot. He watches as families lose their homes as Soviet squatters are not recognizing the former Americans’ rights to own land. Children in school are being propagandized with communist principles, which they spout off by rote.
Devin’s eldest son is sent to a psychiatric hospital to be “treated” for thought crimes. He and his fellow patients are shown propaganda while hooked up to electrodes, drugged, and kept in cells. His middle and youngest sons are kept from him. The middle child is bright enough to see through what is happening, but the youngest child becomes very indoctrinated, to the point at which he turns on his father, with a literal gun. Devin’s ex wife, Marion Andrews (Wendy Hughes), is becoming a government leader who wants her ex husband killed.
Fellow Milfordite, Peter Bradford (Robert Ulrich) becomes president, with his wife Amanda (Cindy Pickett) as his first lady. Amanda is very disturbed by all she sees, and tells Bradford that she can be his wife, but not his first lady. Sounds kind of like Melania Trump! Except Amanda is nowhere near as narcissistic and vacuous as Melania is. 😉
And then there’s Kimberly Ballard (Mariel Hemingway), who was very young and beautiful in 1987. She plays a musical theater actress whose work is affected because of censorship. She also gets involved with a Soviet military leader– well… she falls in love with him, and he falls in love with her. But their love can’t survive, because she’s an American through and through, and he’s a Soviet. And politics always take precedence over love.
Like I said, this is a very long series, and to be honest, it was a bit of a plod to get through it. It starts off rather slowly, but then gets more interesting. The musical score may be familiar to some people, too, as the composer of much of the music was Basil Poledouris, the same guy who did the music for the original Red Dawn. In some ways, this film reminded me a bit of Red Dawn, minus most of the violence… at least at first. As Americans start waking up to the reality of communism, a la a frog in slowly heated water, there’s more violent action. Some of it was kind of chilling to see, even by today’s bloodthirsty standards. There are a lot of “dead” people shown– eyes frozen open in shock and horror, as fake blood runs down their faces. In 1987, it was still uncommon for Americans to see mass shooting events.
In some ways, Amerika still seems far fetched and ridiculous. It’s now 2022, and 1997 was a long time ago– 25 years! But realizing that this movie was made in 1987, it’s kind of interesting to see what we had in 1997 that wasn’t yet conceived of in 1987. So, for 1997, Amerika seems pretty quaint and antiquated. However, I moved to Armenia in 1995, which was only about 3.5 years after the Soviet Union fell apart. Things were still very antiquated there in 1995, and things were still pretty much run like they were in the Soviet era. In fact, conditions were worse there at that time, because they were on their own. We had no electricity most of the time; some places had no running water; and almost no one had hot water from a tap. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia in 1995, I took bucket baths with water heated on my kerosene heaters or propane stove. I read books at night by kerosene lamp light. Anything I wanted to buy was behind a counter. And I lived in a series of ugly Soviet era cookie cutter apartments.
But, in other ways, Amerika is scarily prescient. The miniseries was probably conceived of by right wing political conservatives, as it has a very anti-communism message. BUT… as we all know, in 2016, the Russians fucked with our presidential elections. We had a “Republican” leader in Donald Trump, who doesn’t really resemble an old style Republican at all and, in fact, isn’t one. Trump is a fascist, dictator wannabe, and he’s spawned a bunch of power hungry acolytes who would love to follow in his footsteps, even though he’s clearly against freedom and outwardly said the Constitution needs to be “suspended” so he can be put back in power.
Yesterday, there was news about how, on January 17, 2021, South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman sent a text message to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, calling for Trump to institute “Marshall law”. He means “martial law”, of course. But he was actually calling for Trump to use military force to overturn the legal and fair 2020 presidential election, to prevent Joe Biden from taking his rightful place as the US President. Can you fucking believe it? These are Republicans! Aren’t they supposed to be about smaller government, the Constitution, and freedom for everyone (except women of childbearing age)?
I saw a lot of comments on the Amerika videos. Many people were trashing Biden, and saying that America is headed for the scary communist dystopian reality presented in Amerika. And yet, I lived in a former Soviet country, and I learned that the people living there weren’t bad people. They really weren’t that different than I was. They just came from a poorer country in need of assistance. In the 25 years since I left Armenia, I have been really heartened to see how far the country has come. It’s truly become a cool place to be, in terms of the incredible culture and the insane talents of its citizenry. Meanwhile, the United States is starting to look more like it could go the way of the old Soviet Union, as Trump and his minions try to take over and force us to accept his “leadership”. I’m actually not that afraid of Trump anymore, because he’s old and has been revealed for what he is. BUT… I am afraid of the younger, smarter, more polished, power hungry types in his wake who claim to be patriots and fans of the Constitution, but want to do away with fundamental American principles like separation of church and state, the right to privacy, and not having the military running the government so that the overall unpopular extremist, dictatorial types like Trump can stay in charge.
This week, there was a coup stopped in Germany, which is where I live right now. The people involved in that are now in massive legal trouble. They have been arrested. In the United States, Donald Trump is still a free man, in spite of showing us who he is, and what he wants to do. For some reason, Republicans think their party is still what it was years ago, when it was about keeping government out of people’s private business and keeping taxes low. Do these folks really believe that Trump and his deplorable minions won’t be trying their best to take what’s yours? Trump just wants money and power. But there are people inspired by him who want more. They have shown us… and there are a lot of awful people in public office who care more about being re-elected than doing what is right for the citizens of the United States and running free and FAIR elections, without corruption.
One thing that I did learn, having lived in Armenia, is that abortion wasn’t really a big deal in the Soviet Union. I met many women who’d had them, mainly because birth control wasn’t freely available, and their men didn’t want to bother with condoms. And when you’re making the US equivalent of $10 a month, it’s hard to have enough money to raise children. But, it hasn’t escaped my attention that a lot of Republican business owners who don’t want to pay a living wage, nor do they want to offer birth control coverage on health insurance policies provided through work, are very much against allowing abortion. At least for now. 😉 Some of those folks might eventually realize that religion makes it harder for them to control the masses, as people have a power higher than the state. I think with time, religion and the so-called morals espoused because of “God” will become much less fashionable among Republicans, just as the Constitution apparently has.
Anyway… just like I was in 1987, a lot of Americans are concerned about other things. And they aren’t paying attention, even though we have a lot more ways to pay attention now, than we ever had in the past. I hope some people wake up before we start seeing America turn into Amerika. I don’t even want to say that all Republicans are bad, per se. It’s just that the old school ones are being replaced like MAGAts… like cancer cells, they are taking over.
So, although Amerika was a “plod” to get through, I am glad I took the time to watch it. It made me think. If I had taken more time, I probably could have written a much better blog post about it. But if I manage to inspire someone to watch it and draw their own conclusions, maybe I will have done my good deed for the day. It was eye opening for me, but not in the way that other viewers saw it, apparently. This is the type of thing conservatives would tend to watch, because of that dirty word– communism– and Soviet Union style politics. They don’t see the similarities between Soviet Union style communism and Trump style fascism that I see, like the Trump style desire to suppress the media— something very much in the Soviet playbook. As someone who has experienced life over there, and has voted on either side of the spectrum, I see other, more frightening things. We, as a nation, need to collectively wake up and do something about these deranged, fascist, violent people before it’s too late.
WHEW… I meant for this to be about two movies. Guess I’ll be writing another post, which seems fair enough, since it’s snowing outside right now.
Here’s another repost from June 2018, a post inspired by my childhood in the 1980s. This one is about the late Samantha Smith, who made history by writing to Yuri Andropov and getting invited to visit the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Samantha was nine days younger than me, but sadly, she died in a plane crash in 1985. Little did I know, when Samantha was alive, that I, too, would one day go to what was once the Soviet Union. The 80s were an interesting time to be a kid.
I was born on June 20, 1972. Nine days later, Samantha Smith was born. Samantha Smith would change the world during her 13 years of life. I’m about to turn 46 (and now I’m 49) and I’m still wondering what my purpose is.
A few weeks ago, I suddenly remembered Samantha Smith, who was ten years old when she wrote a moving letter to former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. She was concerned about the threat of nuclear war. In the early 1980s, everyone was talking about nukes and the so-called “red button”. Like so many of her peers, Samantha was scared. But she had guts and initiative. So, in November 1982, she wrote:
Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
This was not Samantha’s first letter to a world leader. In fact, she’d even written to another leader when she was five– Queen Elizabeth II– to express her admiration. Samantha’s letter was printed in the Soviet paper, Pravda, but she did not receive a reply from Andropov right away. Undaunted, Samantha wrote another letter, this time to the Soviet Union’s Ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Andropov was very moved by Samantha’s letter. He wrote back to her in April 1983, affirmed that the Soviet Union did not want to wage a nuclear war, and invited her to visit the Soviet Union at a time when Americans were not often allowed to go there.
I received your letter, which is like many others that have reached me recently from your country and from other countries around the world.
It seems to me – I can tell by your letter – that you are a courageous and honest girl, resembling Becky, the friend of Tom Sawyer in the famous book of your compatriot Mark Twain. This book is well known and loved in our country by all boys and girls.
You write that you are anxious about whether there will be a nuclear war between our two countries. And you ask are we doing anything so that war will not break out.
Your question is the most important of those that every thinking man can pose. I will reply to you seriously and honestly.
Yes, Samantha, we in the Soviet Union are trying to do everything so that there will not be war on Earth. This is what every Soviet man wants. This is what the great founder of our state, Vladimir Lenin, taught us.
Soviet people well know what a terrible thing war is. Forty-two years ago, Nazi Germany, which strove for supremacy over the whole world, attacked our country, burned and destroyed many thousands of our towns and villages, killed millions of Soviet men, women and children.
In that war, which ended with our victory, we were in alliance with the United States: together we fought for the liberation of many people from the Nazi invaders. I hope that you know about this from your history lessons in school. And today we want very much to live in peace, to trade and cooperate with all our neighbors on this earth — with those far away and those near by. And certainly with such a great country as the United States of America.
In America and in our country there are nuclear weapons — terrible weapons that can kill millions of people in an instant. But we do not want them to be ever used. That’s precisely why the Soviet Union solemnly declared throughout the entire world that never — never — will it use nuclear weapons first against any country. In general we propose to discontinue further production of them and to proceed to the abolition of all the stockpiles on Earth.
It seems to me that this is a sufficient answer to your second question: ‘Why do you want to wage war against the whole world or at least the United States?’ We want nothing of the kind. No one in our country–neither workers, peasants, writers nor doctors, neither grown-ups nor children, nor members of the government–want either a big or ‘little’ war.
We want peace — there is something that we are occupied with: growing wheat, building and inventing, writing books and flying into space. We want peace for ourselves and for all peoples of the planet. For our children and for you, Samantha.
I invite you, if your parents will let you, to come to our country, the best time being this summer. You will find out about our country, meet with your contemporaries, visit an international children’s camp – Artek – on the sea. And see for yourself: in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples.
Thank you for your letter. I wish you all the best in your young life.
In the summer of 1983, Samantha visited Russia, where she caused quite a sensation. She spent two weeks in Moscow as Mr. Andropov’s guest and had the opportunity to visit Artek, which was a big Soviet pioneer camp. During the Soviet era, young children were involved in the Young Pioneers, which was a massive youth organization. She also went to Leningrad (St. Petersburg), where she was presented with many gifts. Smith and her parents were amazed by how friendly the people were.
So many years later, I was watching Samantha Smith on old YouTube videos. There are many comments from Russians who remembered and admired her. She truly was a heroine to many Russians and Americans alike, although there were some skeptics out there who felt she was being used as a Soviet propaganda pawn.
When Samantha and her parents came home to Maine, they were treated to a warm welcome involving a red carpet and limousine. Samantha was interviewed by many famous people, including Ted Koppel and Johnny Carson. In 1985, she even tried her hand at acting when she was cast as a regular in a TV show called Lime Street.
Tragically, on August 25, 1985, Samantha Smith and her father, Arthur, died in a plane crash. They were returning home on Bar Harbor Airlines Flight 1808 after having filmed a segment for Lime Street. The pilot was attempting to land the plane when it hit some trees 4007 feet shy of the runway. The airplane crashed, killing the six passengers and two crew members aboard. Although some in the Soviet Union thought she might have been a victim of foul play, an investigation revealed that the pilots were inexperienced and the rainy weather conditions contributed to the difficulty in landing the plane.
Samantha Smith’s visit inspired goodwill all over the world, especially in the United States and Russia. In fact, in 1986, a Soviet child named Katya Lycheva even spent time in the United States. A 1987 storyline on The Golden Girls was even inspired by Samantha’s story, although it was ditzy Rose Nylund who wrote the letter, not a ten year old girl.
I wonder what would have become of Samantha Smith had she been able to grow up. I wonder what she would think of our current political situation. I think of what it was like for me, 23 years ago, moving to what was once a Soviet country and finding out that the people over there are much like we are. She could have had a wonderful career, spreading world peace and goodwill. Some people are never meant to grow old, yet still manage to change the world.
When I was watching videos on YouTube last night, I also thought of Ryan White, who was another one of my contemporaries. He contracted AIDS after having been given a tainted blood infusion to treat his hemophilia. Ryan White was kicked out of school and harassed by his peers for having AIDS. In those days, a lot of small minded people thought of it as a disease God sent to punish gay people. It didn’t help that Ryan was from a small town in Indiana, where there were many ignorant people who thought he was gay simply because he had what was then considered a “gay” disease.
White went on to influence the world, even making friends with Elton John and Michael Jackson, both of whom were at his funeral when he died in April 1990. I vividly remember watching Lukas Haas play White in a TV movie about his life. White was himself in the film with a minor role. So was Sarah Jessica Parker.
While we’ve come a long way in the fight against AIDS since Ryan White’s day, we’re still really struggling with world peace. I just started reading another book about the Holocaust. It’s a story about a Jewish Dutch woman who watched as her country was overtaken by Nazis. I have to confess, reading her comments about what happened before Hitler completely took over gave me chills. So much of it is familiar today. Maybe it’s not quite as extreme now as it was in the 40s… or maybe it just doesn’t seem as extreme to me as it might to someone with brown skin, living in America’s Heartland. The one thing that gives me hope is that the world eventually came to its senses somewhat, after World War II. I hope it doesn’t come to war to make the powers that be in the United States regain their senses…
Well, those are my deep thoughts for today. The 1980s were fascinating. I’m glad I was around to see them.
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