Americanizing Moscow : Nancy Goes to Class, but Flunks Vocabulary

<i> Times Wire Services</i>

Nancy Reagan visited a Moscow school Monday where students greeted her with a chorus of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” peppered her with questions about life in America and praised her as “beautiful and charming.”

Children wearing red Pioneer scarfs and little Lenin pins waved American and Soviet flags as Mrs. Reagan arrived at the prestigious English-language school for children aged 7 to 17 in central Moscow.

Inside one of the classrooms, the students serenaded her with Russian folk songs as well as “Yankee Doodle,” “School Days,” and “It’s a Small World After All” in English. During the last song, Mrs. Reagan sang along.


But she came up short in the classroom. The children failed to teach the First Lady three Russian words for peace, the sun and the earth. She managed only the word mir , which means peace.

Despite that, Anna Koslovskaya, 16, a student at English-language elementary and high school No. 29, said: “She is a very popular woman here. She is very beautiful, very elegant. I think she makes a great impression. We don’t know how old she really is, but she looks like an actress.”

A Two-Piece Suit

Mrs. Reagan, who is 64, wore a navy blue and white knit two-piece suit for the occasion. She was accompanied to the school by Nanuli Shevardnadze, wife of the Soviet foreign minister.

During a light-hearted grilling by the Soviet students, Mrs. Reagan defended U.S. students and their study habits.

“Do American children learn Russian?” queried one child in Russian.

All children at the school, which caters primarily to the children of high-ranking officials and Soviet intelligentsia, begin to study English at the age of 8.

Mrs. Reagan, clearly aware most Russian-language studies in the United States are on the high school and college level and that she was among the children of Soviet privileged, responded, “No, they don’t.”

But then she parried, “Do all the Soviet children in every school here study English?”

Classroom Argument

The children immediately broke out in loud argument, many insisting that, indeed, all Soviet children do learn English.

“She really is everything I thought she might be. She is just beautiful and charming,” said Larissa Nimoyavna, a teacher at the school.

“Mrs. Gorbachev is serious. Mrs. Reagan is more experienced in behaving herself, in her manners,” another student said.

While Mrs. Reagan wowed her admirers at the school, across town at the Cosmos Hotel, Raisa Gorbachev, a doctor of Marxist philosophy, said she believes in “practical things"--and that the astrological beliefs that play a role in the American First Lady’s life mean nothing to her.

“Not me, sorry,” the wife of Kremlin chief Mikhail Gorbachev told reporters who asked if she believed in astrology. “I believe in practice and in practical things.”

(Former White House chief of staff Donald Regan says in his new book that Mrs. Reagan is a strong believer in astrology and uses it as a reference when she advises her husband on scheduling and other matters.)

Some Time Apart

Mrs. Reagan and Mrs. Gorbachev, who walked hand in hand at the Kremlin on Sunday, were not scheduled to meet again until Wednesday.

After her visit to the school, Mrs. Reagan got a glimpse of the Soviet Union’s “Slavic soul” when she visited the beloved woods of famed Russian poet Boris Pasternak on the 28th anniversary of his death.

The First Lady, a long-time admirer of the Nobel-prize winner’s “Dr. Zhivago,” said the noontime visit to the wooded Moscow suburb of Peredelkino “impressed me greatly. It was very, very touching.”

Pasternak’s Nobel prize-winning novel, which gives an unflattering view of the 1917 Russian Revolution, was published in the Soviet Union for the first time this year, almost three decades after it appeared in the West.

Clear Highway

The First Lady’s U.S. limousine was accompanied by about a dozen official Soviet cars as she was whisked down a cleared highway to Peredelkino, a favorite wooded retreat sprinkled with elegant old frame dachas provided by the state for the use of the intelligentsia and other favored citizens.

She was treated to a lunch of caviar, potatoes, borsht, coffee and fresh vegetables by the official poet Andrei Voznesensky, who invited Mrs. Reagan to his peach-colored dacha nestled among the pine and birch trees.

“I think, for the American leader’s wife to come to our country, to visit the grave of Pasternak, this is very important,” said Voznesensky, attired in a silk neck scarf, light-gray pants, white shirt, and white-and-gray striped jacket, came to the gate of his home to greet the First Lady.

Voznesensky, who is a widely published author in the Soviet Union and is a big supporter of Gorbachev’s reform efforts, told reporters it was important for Mrs. Reagan to learn the differences between the two nations.

Americans have computers and technology, he said, but the Russians have “Russian poetry and something strange--the Slavic soul. You learn about this with poetry.”

After winning the Nobel Prize in 1958, Pasternak became the object of a bitter official campaign, was forced to reject the award, and returned to his dacha, where he died of cancer.