Looks at the Soviet Union

I'm writing this in response to an article you printed about Paula Garb, an American citizen who is living in Moscow with her two sons ("American Woman Makes Her Home in Moscow" by Aubrey Wallace, Dec. 17). This article was very disturbing to me because the author's description of Paula's living conditions was not accurate according to my experience.

I visited the Soviet Union last April as part of the First U.S./Soviet Tradeswomen Exchange for Peace. I had received Paula's address as a contact to visit in Moscow. I visited her on three different occasions while in Moscow.

Maybe it's because I'm of a working-class background, but I saw nothing undesirable about her apartment. In fact I know many of my friends would love to have an apartment like hers, especially at only 3% of one's income, and fully heated at no extra charge. Sure it was small, but not as small as the author of the article suggested. The boys' room, for example, had more in it than just "a wall with bunk beds against it." It was a fairly good-sized room. A good friend of mine (in the U.S.) is living with one child in an apartment smaller than Paula's. Her apartment costs nearly $300 and does not include utilities. In big cities in the U.S. such an apartment, if not in the projects, would cost $500 or more per month. Even in government housing projects the price would be way over 3% of one's income.

Frame of Reference

The author of the article obviously has a wealthier frame of reference, and is critical of small Soviet apartments as compared to large middle-class and wealthy Americans' apartments. Well, most people here simply don't live as the author thinks they do. The elevator groaned, yes, and it was small, but so are many elevators in our city apartment buildings; even in expensive ones the elevators can be quite rickety.

Also, I walked to Paula's apartment, and unlike your article reported, there were sidewalks the entire distance. I went at night on one occasion and noticed that although this residential area was not exceptionally well lit, senior-citizen women walked freely there with bundles and purses without fear of being mugged. This was a phenomenon I noticed, to my surprise, in all five Soviet cities I visited. Mugging does not seem to exist there. Also, the cities are very clean and subways are also clean and crime-free, with no homeless or beggars anywhere.

I think in these times of nuclear war danger, we "citizen diplomats" should try harder to be fair. Sure, the Soviet system is not perfect, but neither is the U.S. system. Let's give credit where credit's due.

Planned Community

When we emerged from the Metro in suburban Moscow, I showed my two new acquaintances part of my community, explaining the careful planning that went into it and the other modern neighborhoods built since the '60s. Within an area of six square blocks, there are three secondary schools, three child-care centers, a children's polyclinic, adult polyclinic, four small grocery stores, one large, well-stocked supermarket and a giant movie theater. There are no streets within the area, only sidewalks so that small children can run free without having to worry about traffic. In summer and winter the nearby woods, just a few minutes away from the neighborhood on foot, offer a welcome retreat for the local apartment dwellers.

Inside my apartment, I introduced my guests to Andrei, my 17-year-old son who was about to graduate from secondary school and has since entered Moscow University, my alma mater. I presented my cozy home with pride, with its panoramic view, from every room, of wide open spaces and verdant gardens, not other apartment houses clumped together.

In the children's room, my guest saw Finnish-style bunk beds, two large desks covered with school books, a wardrobe, bookshelves and a toy chest. The kitchen has all modern conveniences except for a dishwasher, but my boys are good substitutes. The living room is where we entertain and where we frequently watch excellent movies from all over the world on our color television, which is hooked up to two video tape recorders for both European and American systems. Two years ago I bought all new modern furniture, which I am still paying for on an interest-free loan.

In the conversation I learned that Aubrey was a free-lance writer. She was warned by her travel agent not to declare that information in her visa application, but I insisted it would not have prevented her from gaining entry into the Soviet Union. I never cease to be amazed at the unwarranted fears Americans have of associating with the U.S.S.R. and told her so.

As we sat and chatted I answered Aubrey's questions about how I came to live in Moscow, how I had married a Russian, had two children, but divorced when the relationship went completely sour and returned to San Francisco. I also told her why I came back to Moscow 10 years ago with my boys to live as a single parent. I knew it would be easier to support my children, go to college full time paying tuition and be assured my sons would get good care and an excellent education.

Aubrey wondered what it felt like to be an American in Moscow. First I explained that there are numerous foreigners from every continent living in the Soviet Union. Some come from North America, but they are a small part of the foreign community. Generally the North Americans have adapted quite easily to Soviet life and are content with their decision to be there.

My sons and I feel fortunate to be part of both the United States and the Soviet Union. We appreciate the good in each society. Knowing two such different cultures so thoroughly has enriched us. Life is not always simple, but it is interesting and challenging because of the responsibility involved in helping to bring our two peoples closer together.

In these precarious times we need more people with comprehensive knowledge, love and respect for both countries, people who are willing to take the trouble to delve beneath the surface, refrain from quick judgments and carefully reexamine old stereotypes. Every individual, every writer or correspondent who comes to the Soviet Union, today more than ever, must be acutely aware of the grave responsibility he or she bears when reporting Soviet life to the American public. They must have their eyes and ears open, see the sidewalks they walk on, hear the positive sides of life, not focus on the negative.


Models of Luxury

Did no one working on the photographs ("Cradle to Label--Luxury Wear for the Child With the Silver Spoon," by Betty Goodwin, Jan. 11) know of the dangers of viewing children as miniature adults, particularly concerning the presentation of children as sexually desirable? Is no one in your department aware of the relationship between the rise of sexual child abuse and the decreasing age (and size!) of fashion models? Models is a significant word here, for men and women come to feel that a child's body or its essential equivalent is the model, the standard, for a sexually desirable adult. I deplore this attitude and its subtle expression and endorsement in your feature's layout.


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