Sunday, June 24, 2007

"You may NOT pet wild animals!"

All of the sudden the worms from Saturday ( "If we can't have a baby brother, can't we at least have a worm?" ) are looking a lot better. A lot better, say, compared to the tiger we saw yesterday at Gorky Park. Talia really wanted to pet him and I, quite understandably, shrieked, "NO!"Look how close I got to him (I do NOT have a special zoom lense on my camera). How close anyone can get to him--or even closer. And look how carefully he's restrained. Note also the high protective barriers (the dinky poles and tiny chain behind him). There's nothing to stop some kid from running right up to him and jumping on him! Given how much he surely hates being there, it wouldn't take much to set him off... Parents actually pay 50 rubles (about $2) to put their children next to the tiger--either on that white box or right next to it on the floor! I heard one mom say, "Oh, how cute! Misha, want your picture taken?" "Cute" isn't actually the reaction we have when we see the wild animals at the park... Instead we feel a mixture of fear, anger, disgust and pity.

In front of the tiger are this mouse and cat asking for donations: "For cheese" and "For sour cream." (I included them as good examples of the accusative case after the preposition "на" in this idiomatic expression). The money is desperately needed, but what an existence... Animals are routinely submitted to "photo-ops" with kids and their parents at the park, circus and dolphinarium. Here are Katya and Natalia at the Dolphinarium last August; I let them pose for this picture because the profits pay for the animals' food--or so we were told... The bears, tiger and leopard that spend the summer at Gorky Park appear to be the most miserable of them all; it can get so hot and they're cared for by individuals who don't exactly strike me as "professional animal trainers." (They look like college kids who are bored out of their minds--there was one teenage girl with the tiger). The wild animals have lost that "spark" in their eyes and seem to have given up on life when they just lay there, resigned to their situation. How different things are in the USA; animals' well-being is first and foremost when planning an exhibit--not people's desire to get as close as possible.

We were at Gorky Park to attend the Midsommer Festival with two Swedish families. The Swedish Embassy and a variety of Swedish companies in Russia organized it and the program was filled with three days' of activities. We were particularly looking forward to the cultural children's games and music. When we arrived, however, there wasn't actually that much going on... The kids were excited to simply see their favorite kids' chairs from IKEA. The photoboards with Pippi Longstocking were fun, too. Russians from a group that reenacts 10th Century Russian and Nordic life were also making these floral wreaths; the girls begged me to wear one for while. Having exhausted the Swedish offerings, we decided to just head over to the regular children's area of the park--where we walked right by that tiger. We were then provided with yet another example of the high quality of service provided at the park... When our pregnant friend tried to sit down in a chair that was outside next to enclosed carousel (that had all the panel windows open), the women who worked there made her stand and go away. She couldn't have sat there until her daughter got off the ride? And when my other friend (and some other parents) went inside to place their kids on animals for the next ride, the women went berserk and yelled at them until the kids were scared. They then forced our friends to leave because they hadn't used the right door. While a few of our kids were finishing up the ride, the women went around and shut all the windows (sure, let the kids have no ventilation while enjoying the extra heat) and locked them so no parents could open them to wave at their kids and take clearer pictures. It was unbelievable and so embarrassing. Among our group was a Spanish woman visiting Russia for the first time and we had really wanted to show off the city; she was aghast by the lack of customer service. There was no point in complaining; who would we have complained to? And no one would have cared. They would have told us to leave if we didn't like it. It's so frustrating when we run into people that give the city and Russian people a bad name; so many people here are kind and good, but it only takes a few horrid ones to reflect badly on the rest.

We then decided to just focus on having the kids enjoy the rest of our time at the park. A new canoe ride was a hit with my girls, called "WigWam, and it has to be the most pathetic representation of Native American culture I've seen in a long time... I kept reminding myself, "It's just a ride! And the kids are having fun!" while also thinking, "Good thing the kids are loving the non-fiction we're reading about tribes throughout North America!"

We tried to check out the lavish Moscow Yacht Festival, but it was definitely not an affair designed for kids... Or at least, not for kids whose parents aren't millionaires contemplating a big purchase... Traffic was uncharacteristically dense on Sunday because of all the people driving in to see the boats, but we got home quickly enough to squeeze in some more scooter riding (and ice cream-YUM!).


Tina in CT said...

Loved the pictures of you with the floral wreath and the close-up of Natalia with her friend. Oh, but that poor tiger. Animals should be left out in the wild is my feeling or housed in zoos like in San Diego where they are able to roam freely in a habitat similar to their native habitat.

Rachael said...

We have a picture of Katya sitting next to two big Chow-Chow dogs dressed up in costumes that we took at the circus. Or I should say that the man took at the circus and sold to us for 300 rubles.

So I guess there is no PETA in Russia, huh.

kate said...

What cute girls!

Do you have the individuals with bear cubs out begging? It's heartbreaking.