A nugget of rock salt turns Finn momentarily gimp. I kneel. Brush the crystal out from between the pads of his snowy paw. An hour’s walk involves the tugging up and down of a mask, a half dozen street crossings. A light snow doesn’t usually deliver such quiet, but today it does. Nevertheless, my earbuds deliver news.
On Chase Street, I imagine the angels hovering above Navalny’s head when he was in a coma in Berlin. Their toes on fire, wings tinged red. It’s the bold red of passion, to be clear, and not the red of blood or Communism. The specialized poison infiltrated Navalny’s veins, his tissue, and very nearly killed him. Some devious hit man had smeared the toxin on the seams of his underwear.
Trying to kill someone with novachok is the equivalent of a serial murderer leaving a business card next to the corpse. There is no confusion, only harm.
The angels hum. They hover. They transmit messages directly to our hero’s heart, bypassing the brain where caution might reasonably prevail. “Go home,” they chant. “Go home!”
He wakes, our hero. He rises. He sends videos to his followers. The multitude yearning for change, not necessarily for him, but definitely not for the thug in charge. Navalny counsels them to chant: “Putin is a thief! Putin is a thief!” I’m bowled over by the simplicity, the accuracy of the statement. For more than a generation, he, Putin, has ravaged resource-rich Russia for his own gain. A few others. A gang. A criminal operation with known links to the corrupt party in our own country (which is, as they say, another story).
(Or is it, asks Sarah Kendzior? Author, pundit, specialist on the rise of authoritarianism around the globe, she must get tired of saying, “I told you so” (though not quite tired enough for this listener, I’m afraid). The smoke steams out her ears. Being right and ignored will do that to a person.)
Navalny, recall, has already been imprisoned by Putin and now Putin has tried and very nearly succeeded at killing him. What chance does he, Navalny, have? But our hero rises. He crosses the tarmac in Berlin. He goes home.
Not a straight path, as it turns out. The 100’s of protesters gathered at the airport in Moscow, huddling together for warmth, chanting “Putin is a thief,” watch as Navalny’s plane makes a giant U-turn and disappears. A snow plow stuck on the landing strip, the laughable excuse.
But the GRU, the pilots, the boots on the ground cannot stop the protests. They throw Navalny back into prison — a probation violation, the laughable excuse. “Stand tall,” the angels now whisper. As international beings, the angels have followed him home — what does security clearance mean to them? Now their wings flutter teal with shots of yellow. There is something of a springtime butterfly about the feathered appendages. “Stand tall.”
Meanwhile, what celestial beings encourage the protestors? Many brave souls gather in northern cities where the temperature drops to 60 below. We hope the fur around their parka hoods — the Russians love their fur! — keeps the wind chill off their faces. We hope their wool socks never get wet. We hope bellowing, “Putin is a thief!” warms their lungs and the spaces between their bodies.
I wear a down parka. The hood is up, the mask on, though since no one is on the street at the moment, it rides below my nose. Turns out the cloth makes a wonderful chin warmer. The dog and I detour into small snow banks or out onto the street to avoid the strewn salt — brittle crystals the color of rotten teeth. There is nothing of hardship in this morning routine, though a certain fatigue has set in. Waiting for the vaccine, waiting to see children, waiting for good health news, waiting to launch a creation a long time in the making. The return of spring.
It’s a lot of waiting. But it’s not heroic. I’ve got the comfort of my home, the pretty snowy, tree-lined streets to walk. No, it’s a dull throb of forbearance.
Up goes a rear leg again. The dog has stepped on another large grain of salt. He immediately makes his discomfort plain. You gotta love that about dogs: how reflexive and pure their signaling of need! Finn is also the great keeper of the afternoon clock. I know when it is precisely one hour before his dinner time because there he is, sitting next to me on the couch, giving me that eager and pleading look, perhaps even going so far as to lay a paw on my arm. It never works. He never gets his dinner an hour early, and still, he tries.
Navalny goes home. He uses the internet like a Jedi master. The forbearance of a generation has turned into something else — an eager outburst demanding the end of corruption. Enough with the deprivation! Enough with the lies!
Putin walks the halls of power with that uneven almost gimpy gait, that smug expression — is it contempt or is it glee? I doubt the man knows joy. I doubt the man can even begin to calculate the damage he’s done. And yet, with a short man’s insistence that he be noticed, he keeps at it. There are records to be set — he’s a real Tom Brady of potentates.
And meanwhile, in frigid weather, the fur-lined hoods continue to gather to call for change. To decades of denial, to the absolute failure of the common weal, they say, “Enough!” The foggy condensates of their breath concur. “Enough.”
A man willing to die for them is confined to a prison cell. A man willing to die for his country left the safety of Berlin to return to his Mother Country. What is inconvenience, even pandemic-scaled inconvenience, in the face of that? And more to the point, what is despotism in the face of that?
Here’s what else you need to know today. *
* Listened to an episode of The Daily — a NY Times podcast — while walking.