While writing this article, my eye fell upon an announcement of a Sotheby’s auction of a Kandinsky painting worth about £6 million. The description explained how Kandinsky came to be the first painter to create abstract art, in the early twentieth century. When arriving at his studio one day in the twilight, he was struck by the impression a certain enigmatic painting gave him in which “he could see nothing but shapes and colours and the content of which was incomprehensible to him.” After a moment, he realised that he had failed to recognize one of his own paintings that stood on its side against the wall. After that he decided that “subject matter was detrimental to his paintings” and abstract art was born — Russian creativity at its best.
From Russian creativity follows another great Russian quality: resourcefulness. When, in the mid-nineties, I was driving through the Sayan Mountains, my trip was threatened by a leaking radiator in the car. I had already started to plan for disaster and a long, involuntary stay in the mountains when my driver got out of the car, took out a cigarette and, to my surprise, sprinkled the tobacco in the radiator. Now I know that tobacco leaves seek out the holes where the radiator fluid is seeping out and expand due to the moisture and effectively plug the holes. I never cease to be amazed by the creativity and resourcefulness I see around me in Russia. Whereas in the west we do our best to think “out of the box”, in Russia there seems to be no “box” at all.
This Russian resourcefulness is also a result of historical necessity through centuries of hardship. Throughout their history, Russians have had to make do with scarce resources. Especially during Soviet times there was a need to repair everything again and again because of the lack of new goods to replace broken ones. Somehow it seems that, whereas Europeans focus on doing everything possible to avoid a problem arising in the first place, Russians mainly focus on dealing with a problem once it has already arisen. The combination of European planning and Russian resourcefulness has served me well many a time. Now I know that the hollowed-out end of a cucumber can serve as a vodka glass when ordinary glasses are lacking. And this knowledge can help you as much in Portugal as it does in Russia.
Best of both worlds
One of the reasons why I love living in Russia is that it allows me to take the best of European and Russian cultures and characteristics. Russia has redefined my understanding of friendship and hospitality, has taught me to value family, has helped me squeeze more life out of each day and has shown me that there is no problem that cannot be solved. As in life, there is a shadow side to Russia as well and there is a lot that Russia can learn from Europe. For me it has always been this contrast that kept me drawn to Russia. I hope it will do the same for you.