Borden shares tales of life in Moscow
Charles Borden was one of the pioneers who helped Maharishi International University move from California to Fairfield in 1974.
After living in Fairfield off and on for a few decades, Borden has spent most of the past 22 years working or living in Russia. Borden is back in the States for a special occasion: to see the dance ensemble Kudrinka perform Tuesday at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center. His wife, Marina, is a choreographer, and his son, Yan, is one of the performers.
Prior to his move to Moscow in 1998, Borden had worked in the country intermittently since 1992. He was invited there by the director of an agricultural institute outside Moscow, who was repaying a favor to Borden for showing him around Fairfield and the rest of Iowa for several days. Borden planned to visit the country in the fall of 1991 but the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accompanying political turmoil delayed his visit to the following year.
Borden said Russia has changed dramatically since he first set foot in the country 22 years ago. When he went there the first time, he couldn’t believe how cheap everything was. In the fall of 1992, Borden and his business associates took a train into Russian wine country. He was shocked to learn the ticket cost only $1.25 for a trip that he thought would last through the night.
The train ride ended up being much longer than Borden planned or hoped. What he thought was going to be a brief trip through the Russian countryside turned into a 36-hour affair. He said he would have gladly paid $50 to take a two-hour flight to the winery. Borden recounts this trip and many interesting facts about Russian wineries in a book he recently published called “Russian Wine Country: Sleeping Beauty Awakens.”
In Moscow, Borden noticed the people had a very different demeanor than the one he was accustomed to seeing in small town Iowa. He sarcastically describes Muscovites as “not unfriendly.” He said the people rarely smile in public and are difficult to approach. He doesn’t know why this melancholic attitude is so pervasive, although he has a guess.
“People are tired because life is difficult, and one reason for that is the traffic,” he said. “It’s the worst city in the world for traffic. Drivers are terrible, and they’re very aggressive.”
Borden has held several jobs in Moscow, many of which allowed him to work from home. He works with an investment fund made up of former residents of Russia and has written and/or edited six English-language publications in Russia. A few years ago, he began working for an investment company in the city that required him to drive to work, an experience he found most unpleasant.
“I finally gave up on it,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘If my health suffers as much next year as it did this year, I’m not going to survive.’”
A friend of his had to drive 20 miles to work through the city. The trek lasted nearly three hours.
Luckily, not everything in Moscow is as depressing and stressful as the traffic. Borden said the city is very safe, and there really is no such thing as a bad part of town.
“There are districts in cities like Chicago that you can’t go to even in the daytime,” he said. “It’s not like that in Moscow. There are not guns everywhere. The only people you see with guns are the police and military. You can go to a McDonalds and see a soldier with a Kalashnikov around his neck queuing for a Big Mac.”
Though Russia is famous for its harsh winters, Borden said they were no worse than those he experienced in Fairfield.
“I don’t feel the winters are as bad in Moscow as they are here,” he said. “This past winter was fairly mild in Moscow, and in fact the past couple of winters have been mild. I’ve never felt overwhelmed by the snow there.”
Borden met his wife while on an excursion with wine makers. They went to see a Russian dance group, and among the performers was Marina. Marina is a professional dancer and has instilled that same love of dancing in the couple’s 14-year-old son. Yan has lived his entire life in Russia and, consequently, speaks fluent Russian.
Borden has taught himself Russian and can read newspapers and watch television programs in the language. However, he communicates with his wife in English and speaks only English to his son to ensure his son becomes fully bilingual. He hopes Yan will put that English to use by attending college in the United States.
Yan and Marina are making their second trip to Fairfield as participants in Kudrinka. The first time the dance troupe came to Fairfield was in 2008, which was just after Yan had begun dancing. Borden said Yan is looking forward to performing at the convention center again, this time in a more prominent role. The Kudrinka dancers told Borden the crowd at the convention center was the most enthusiastic and welcoming they’ve ever had.
Current tensions between Russia and the United States have complicated things for Borden and his family. Kudrinka was invited to participate in the Evanston Ethnic Arts Festival Sunday near Chicago, but after Russian troops moved into Crimea in the Ukraine earlier this year, the organizers of the festival wondered if Kudrinka was going to make the trip. Borden wrote to the organizers to assure them of Kudrinka’s commitment to the American tour.
“It is important for common people to meet in friendship and celebration,” Borden wrote. “This and other conflicts are the result of forces and struggles among people ‘well above our pay grade’ and, hopefully, dance, sport and cultural activities may be left out.”