Death of an Ideal

book 3101151 1920 1

Контент 16+ I have recently heard through a very reliable grapevine of present students and old friends that the long-running 'SNOB Project' is about ready to go down the tubes. For those of you for whom the name does not ring a bell, the idea started about 10 years ago to create an international fraternity of Russian intellectuals (many of them now in America, it would seem) -- with the purpose, as I understood it, to connect these elite and clever people into a worldwide Russian community -- a kind of 'the best of the best' concept; hence, I gather, the name 'SNOB."

It was bankrolled by the famous entrepreneur Mikhail Prokhorov -- or so I was informed at the time -- and its proudest emblem was an impressive, encyclopedic magazine almost the size of the phone directory of a very large city. The magazine was expensive even for that short but prosperous era (I locate my own relationship with SNOB as starting in 2009), and was assembled by people of no small talent.

The editor back then was a lady name Masha Gessen, a writer of renown -- who became famous after composing a book detailing her by-personal-choice mastectomy -- and proceeding on to many more. including one about Mr. Рutin called "Man Without a Face." I met her at SNOB and ended up being her two children's English tutor. As a person, she was never my cup of tea, but there was no questioning her intelligence and talent. Now I believe she is living in the USA -- probably the best place for her.
So what was my connection to SNOB? Well, when I returned to Russia in 2009 after an unpleasant sojourn in America to confront, first my mother's impending and eventual death, then the financial collapse (2008) brought on by the greed and stupidity of the banks, then the near-impossibility of unloading my expensive house so that I could return to somewhere (anywhere) in Europe, and, finally, getting it all together to say a final forever goodbye to the country where I was born, raised, and based for most of the first fifty years of my life. By the time I came back to Moscow my coffers were almost bare and I had to start from scratch again. I accepted a job at a school run by my old friend Vita, who had procured me a working visa.

In the by-and-by, I began to acquire private students. One was the 14-year old son of a cool and sparkling woman named Milana who worked for a company called JIVI -- it was a TV program based on healthy living, yoga, and all that stuff. JIVI shared a very large office space with SNOB in a place in Kurskaya called "Marma" (or something like that) near what had apparently been an old wine factory where a slew of trendy nightclubs had popped up.
Anyway, Milana found a pair of new students for me at her company and invited me out there. It turned out to be the best experience of my life in terms of meeting gifted and vivacious people... For me this is a considerable statement in view of all the years I spent years at American universities and also in England, where I attended university and served a seven-year stint as a stalwart consumer of English beer. In short, I had stumbled across a lot interesting people in my time.

The people at SNOB, varying from the very young to mid-thirties professionals (obviously a lot of them journalists), were indeed the best of the best. Maybe some of this simply stemmed from the exultant feeling I had from being back in Moscow -- glorious Moscow to me -- and feeling part of an exciting venture. Long story short, it was not long before I had many, many students from SNOB and JIVI. I would go there in the morning and just set up camp in the big trattoria-style canteen. The students would come, one after the other, and soon I knew everybody. Because of my writing ability, I was soon drafted into some of their projects and tasks. It was heady, my heyday in Russia. I felt valuable. I felt electric. Then I started writing blogs for the online version of the magazine. I wrote in English and someone translated them into Russian. Many readers. Was I famous?
Well, maybe 'notorious' would be a better word. The SNOB audience turned out to be a bunch ultra-liberal, anti-Рutin types and in their responses to my articles, they often screamed bloody murder. How could SNOB tolerate someone who refused to be a Left Wing sycophant??? In fact, most of them did not think I even existed -- they thought that I was a fictitious character created by SNOB to stir up controversy. It was a hell of a laugh, and it only fed my growing conviction (even more pronounced today) that the so-called liberals of the West are not really 'liberal'' at all. Basically, they have changed into a pack of Nazis. Nowadays, you can't believe the shit that is going on in American universities. Sheer liberal totalitarianism. And such were a significant number of SNOB readers. Except that most of their 'witty' repartee was so incoherent that it was impossible to know what the fuck they were on about. Not that I cared.

But it was all GREAT fun, believe me.
Even now -- long after SNOB (and JIVI) l started to go downhill, and the money dried up, and both companies finally packed up and left (Jivi for offices in 1905 Goda and SNOB over a Red October) -- I remember those days with a special joy and plenty of nostalgia. A lot of those people remain my friends and we stay in touch in the usual Moscow way -- by cyberspace correspondence. Everyone is always too busy to actually meet, and many of those people -- especially the women, so young and bright and vivid then, are now married-with-children....and simply...older. A decade can make a big difference. They have disappeared into their lives, leaving me with mostly memories of an old magic. The men were brilliant, the women brilliant AND beautiful. There was no Ukraine, no sanctions, no bad economy. The oil was flowing, the dollar-euro-ruble exchange stayed at 30 and 42 (1,000,000 rubles was worth 33,000 dollars -- not it is about 15,000) -- and everyone was happy.

Eventually, the party ended and staff members began to drift away. SNOB found a new office and JIVI also fled. Actually, JIVI evaporated first. SNOB tried to leave, but their new quarters were not ready and -- like a cat you thought was long gone -- there they were AGAIN, still at Kurskaya, except that now they had no office, so they mostly sat around on the stairs and pecked away on their laptops. Occasionally, since the anti-smoking rule was now in effect, they would huddle outside and smoke amid the rains and thunders, blizzards and hurricanes. Finally, they disappeared.
But because I kept one of my students and was still writing blogs, I used to visit their offices at Red October. For a while that worked well. Then some crazy woman bought the business and fired most of the staff -- downsized from about 52 to 16, as I recall. She eliminated the housekeeping and water delivery, and then she herself pissed off on a long holiday in Japan. Now the so-called company has been re-sold to yet another idiot who has fired what remained of the best people and replaced them with nitwits. The skeletal staff is forced to work impossible hours with no increase in salary (not EVER an increase right from the start), and the whole thing has become one big joke -- except of course not so funny for the tiny knot of souls making a kind of Custer's Last Stand high up in that now lonely office -- still bravely churning out copy. Needless to say, my student, a splendid, hard-working, detail-oriented woman who wore many hats, is gone too. They're about all gone. It's a shame.

Current Russian upper management types are the world's worst. You might expect this kind of performance from a bunch of boil-'em-in-a-pot savages in Botswana, but Russia? I have seen it for years, and the luster of living in Russia wore off for me a long time ago. Russian upper management couldn't organize an ass-wiping contest in a public shit-house. SNOB was never a money-maker, but at least it had class.

That's gone. But I still have memories of those who were so full of life, literally spilling over with ideas and energy, that it is hard to imagine a better mix. You know, sometimes people just jell together, and that's why we can look back and remember the great Elizabethan poets, the Impressionists, the fabulous Russian literary giants, etc. Those kids at SNOB had some of that and, for a flickering year or two, we were all together. Such was their intelligence, beauty, wit, and energy. They were the kind of people who ought to be running the country, and maybe someday they will.

===Eric Richard Leroy===

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