Thursday, January 12, 2012


I watched "The Bear Man of Kamchatka" last night.  I slightly envy, but mostly admire, people like Charlie Russell who have forged themselves such admirable lives.
Once, in a Moscow restaurant, a man tried to convey, with astonishment, to his - say 11 year old - son, that I came from somewhere as exotic as Australia.  He and his son came from somewhere as banal as Kamchatka.  (Irony alert - we were both agog).  At that time I was adept at illustrating my provenance by drawing a kangaroo.
3 or 4 of us had made a group. Jules was a NZedder in his 70s, well heeled.   Jules took us to a Russian nightclub. At the hotel desk he asked for a cab. "What?" said the receptionist.  "A cab!  A cab!" said Jules.  Her face closed and turned away.  "We don't have those in Russia," she said.   "Taxi", said I.  "Oh yes, " said she.  And there it was.
The nightclub was a fairly disspiriting affair.  Rows of healthy, unsophisticated,  glum looking girls dancing  in high heels and socks, who occasionally twirled so that their skirts rose to display the awful Russian underwear.
We didn't look for a cab/taxi back to the hotel: caught a bus or a tram - I forget which - and got off when we felt it was about right.
We walked to the corner, turned it, and there before us was the splendour of the cobbled Red Square, with the excessively gorgeous St Basil's cathedral illuminated in its centre.  On our right was the  grim structure of the Kremlin.  The clock struck midnight, and we saw the mechanistic changing of the guards at Lenin's tomb.

Going to Europe later was something of an anticlimax.  Well, a disappointment, by and large, although I enjoyed myself and learned a lot, largely through the Americans I met who befriended me everywhere, talked, argued, informed and. among other things, took me to "Hair", to stay with them at a Cambridge college and to take brass rubbings. Why am I not more generous to Americans when I have enjoyed them so much?   On the other hand there were these handsome, healthy, well built young men, oozing with privilege, who would  accost one outside American Express offices,  confidently asking for handouts, as if entitled.  They are probably all bankers now.  The other side.

Taxi, police, beer... close to universal words in my experience,

My father was...yes, we have long generations in my Canadian logging camps in the 1920s.  He had photos  - my niece should have them now, but perhaps she has mislaid them - of twin grizzly cubs who used to turn up each day to be fed porridge by the men.  Their mother lurked watchfully in the trees.  So, Charlie has not been alone, or even the forerunner in knowing that grizzly does not necessarily mean "grizzly". It's about time we stopped all the killing, don't you think?


Elisabeth said...

Tales of your travels are wonderful, Frances. Filled with colour. Soul food indeed.

Frances said...

What a generous comment, Elisabeth. Thank you.

The Elephant's Child said...

It is hard not to both envy and admire people whose passion for something leads them into such admirable paths. And, for me at least, to wonder what it would take before I could 'make something of myself like that'. I strongly suspect I will never know.

And I am with Elisabeth - I enjoyed your travel tale immensely. Thank you.

Frances said...

Perhaps like me you can think of yourself as ballast, Elephant's Child. Quite an important if unsung and unglamorous function.

Some, like Charlie - or, say,a heroine of mine, Catherine Hamlin, - have starring roles. But too many of the other prominent seem fired only by ambition, "the sin by which the angels fell", (and I don't mean that in a religious context, although it obviously is.)
Thank you for your customary kind words, EC. I see you here and elsewhere: you have a generous heart.

The Elephant's Child said...

How interesting that we share a heroine in Catherine Hamlin. Such a necessary and profoundly unglamorous life.

I like the ballast metaphor. Yes, I can see myself there. And thank you for your kind words. Not at all the way I was brought up to regard myself. But appreciated.