Large sections of the country were still waiting to be explored and mapped.
Foreign travel was still impossible for most Soviets, so idealistic youths were
drawn to geology for the thrill of adventure and exploration. Some of them really
thought they could find personal freedom, if not by going west, then in the
distant corners of the wild east....
They mapped, carried loads of samples, fished and hunted, wrote poetry,
drank vodka, and sang songs around the campfire. In fact, many Russian musicians
and poets (Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky included) started out as geologists
or worked as technicians in those parties. Few outside of Russia know that it
was geologists who started an important movement in modern poetry in St. Petersburg
in the 1960s, called the “Geological School.” Furthermore, geologist
authors dominated a genre of unofficial, often politically risqué songs
(“bard songs”). The songs were about cloud shadows in the tundra,
windy mountain passes, shamans and dervishes in time-forgotten villages, apatite [sic..... unless they mean the mineral],
camaraderie, lack of cigarettes, and nostalgia for home and love during long
Even until the late 1980s,
saying you were a geologist to girls in St. Petersburg was a great pick-up line
— often greeted with admiring smiles and questions about exotic places
and wild excesses in the field. Yet when I told my father that I was going to
become a geologist he said: “Do you want to be one of those inebriated
loudmouths with backpacks and guitars who bellow songs on night trains?”
Apparently, the composer Giya Kancheli (recommended) came out of such a background.