MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
So we're staying in the world of sports because today marks the official opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And because we're going to be spending so much time watching events from Sochi in the next couple of weeks, we thought it would be fun to learn more about Sochi - the region, the history and to try to learn about some of the pageantry we will be witnessing. So we have called Jennifer Eremeeva.
She is a Russian historian and blogger. Jennifer and her family divide their time between Moscow and Western Massachusetts. And we actually caught up with her in Amherst, Massachusetts now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
JENNIFER EREMEEVA: Thanks for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: So, Jennifer, first, does Sochi translate into something in English?
EREMEEVA: You know, it's interesting. There are a lot of different stories behind the name of Sochi. It may be the name of a ubiquitous tribe down there called the Saatchi (ph). But more likely is the fact that it was originally a slave market. And an ancient word, chatcha (ph) means to sell a head.
MARTIN: Oh, dear.
EREMEEVA: So that's a rather...
MARTIN: Yeah. Oh, dear...
EREMEEVA: You can take your pick between those two.
MARTIN: ...That's a little ominous. OK. So you started telling us a little about the history of the place. I mean, I didn't know about that. Kind of puts a little damper on things. But it's - we know of it as a resort city, right, on the Black Sea.
EREMEEVA: That's right.
MARTIN: Who's been going there all these years?
EREMEEVA: Well, it's Russia's largest resort city, but it's really only been popular since the communist era. Joseph Stalin made it the must-go place because he had his favorite dacha there. And Sochi was developed really as a proletarian response to another Black Sea resort, which is called Yalta, which is currently in Ukraine. But during Imperial Russia, was the place where the czars and the aristocrats had their beautiful Italian marble villas. And that's a lovely - that's where the peace conference in 1945 was. So - but Sochi - Sochi is really more of a proletarian variant of that. It was for the masses. So there were a lot of sanatoria.
MARTIN: The people's resort.
MARTIN: The people's resort.
EREMEEVA: It's people's resort
MARTIN: So we're hearing that one of the reasons that President Putin was so keen on the Olympics is that he wanted to show off the culture. You know, is pomp and pageantry a big part of Russian history? And how do you think that's going to play out during the Olympics?
EREMEEVA: I think that it's central to Russian culture. Russia has a fascinating history. And symbolism is really important. And we're going to be seeing a lot of symbols of not only Russia's history but of Russia's future as well.
MARTIN: Like, give an example if you would.
EREMEEVA: Well, I think children as the future of Russia is a very important moment that we're going to see hit again and again. There are a lot of children going to be involved in the Olympics. Russia's been concerned about declining birthrate for several years now. So I think this is an opportunity to talk about a brighter future for Russia's younger people.
MARTIN: Now leading up to the Olympics, that there's been, you know, some bad press already - unfinished hotel rooms, kind of water that looks a little bit more interesting than most people kind of like their drinking water to look.
MARTIN: You know, some of the designs of the bathrooms where people are like...
MARTIN: ...What's going on here? How are people reacting to this? I know you kind of go back and forth, and you follow the news and you have a blog and so forth. How is this - is this being reported in Russia, and how are people responding to this?
EREMEEVA: It is being reported in Russia. And I - Russians have a fantastic sense of humor. They love to joke about themselves and their country and their politics. They don't love it so much when other people, like outsiders and foreigners, do. And I think that they are a little bit disappointed that the rest of the world seems to be indulging in a little healthy pre-Olympic schadenfreude that they feel is unjustified. They've put a lot of effort into getting Sochi ready for the games. And I think they're hoping that as soon as the opening ceremonies take place that the emphasis on the toilet tweeting will stop.
MARTIN: What would make it a success, you think, in the eyes of the Russians? Clearly, if there's a terrorist incident, that's going to be a terrible thing. So kind of, like, setting that to the side, but sort of apart from that.
EREMEEVA: That would dampen the...
EREMEEVA: ...The mood. But I think that that's unlikely. They've taken immense precautions to secure the city. I think for them, if there are very few technological hitches with the actual venues and if the athletes are happy and reflect that in the way that they interact with the press, that will be seen as a win.
MARTIN: Jennifer Eremeeva is a blogger and author of the new book "Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow." She joined us from New England Public Radio in Amherst, Massachusetts. Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us.
EREMEEVA: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.