The Russian athletes who appeared at the dual track meet in Philadelphia gave mighty few indications of how they felt about what they saw in the United States, but there was one occasion of significant exception. On a hot and hazy afternoon before their return to Moscow they took a sightseeing cruise around Manhattan and watched the Statue of Liberty suddenly loom up off the starboard rail. By some rare combination of light and color the old familiar symbol looked remarkably beautiful. The faint sunlight through the haze flecked the green metal; the figure seemed suspended above the water, towering as majestically as the skyscrapers in the distance. The Russians looked startled; they identified it quickly, called loudly to each other to come look. A collective impulse seized them: to get a photograph of the best-looking Russian woman athlete present (Taisia Chenchik) with the Statue of Liberty in the background. However, the Knickerbocker VII (around Manhattan in three hours for $2.50) was circling the Statue, and picture-taking ended in a confusion of tall athletes tumbling over each other, laughing as they scrambled for more attempted shots.
The engines resumed full speed, the announcer began pointing out other American wonders, and the Russians relapsed into taciturn silence. It obviously would not do to attach too much importance to this brief flurry of Russky high spirits, but it may be worthwhile to point out that nothing of the sort was reported of the Russian visitors elsewhere. For the question of what impresses the average Russian (or, in Russia, of what impresses the average American) has become lopsidedly important. The impressive Soviet Exhibition of Science, Technology and Culture in New York (attendance 25,000 daily) is artfully aimed at the ordinary man. America's exhibition, which opened in Moscow last week, is likewise directed at the average Russian. The goal of these" ventures is plainly to demonstrate to the average citizen of the other country the greater virtue of one's own land and social system.
When Nixon, arriving in Moscow, said to Khrushchev, "I would like to meet with ordinary people," he aroused Khrushchev to some of his most argumentative bellowings. The Russian Premier said that Nixon's idea of an ordinary Russian was one who would accept capitalism as soon as he heard Nixon speak. Without wishing to get into an ill-natured cultural exchange of this kind, we should like to submit our own idea of what impresses an ordinary Russian—or at least what impressed the Russian athletes about America:
It wasn't so much the signs of material strength. Skyscrapers left them apathetic. Taken to a gigantic Levittown, they were unimpressed. Two of them, pondering a sign on a ranch house—For Sale, $12,900—converted the amount to rubles, and were taken aback to find it was less than they had expected. "Don't be misled," one of them explained wisely. "That $12,900 is just for the material. You have to build it yourself." The 22,000 crowd at the double-header between the Phillies and the Giants made no great impression. Told of Willie Mays's greatness as a player, the Russians exchanged knowing glances and asked why he was out in center field. "If this so-clever Mays is so good," one said acidly, "why is he kept way out there? Why isn't he up here with the others?"
August 2, 1959
In other words, America's national game failed to break through the skepticism of the visitors, just as overwhelming evidence of American material strength failed to do so. But for some reason the Russians seemed to enjoy themselves around the Statue of Liberty. They looked less self-conscious. They seemed less concerned about an audience watching them. They didn't seem to care, for the moment at least, if they did something wrong. They looked more themselves—more like Russians, or even more like ordinary Russians. Or, for that matter, just more like ordinary human beings.