Tag Archives: Leningrad

What We Later Learn

Oblivious to the true history of the site, my Whitworth College tour mates and I clambered through preserved battle lines at Babi Yar.

Oblivious to the true history of the site, my Whitworth College tour mates and I clambered through preserved battle lines at Babi Yar.

In the Spring of 1978 the Whitworth College study tour of the Soviet Union made the last major stop on our visit, at Kiev. As usual, our group was posted to a tourist hotel, provided with buses and a suave trained tour guide, and directed to all the major tourist sites in the area. Having spent the summer before reading some chronicles of ancient Russia in which the origins of the empire of the Rus were placed at Kiev, this was one of the places I most looked forward to seeing.

From the bluffs above the river outside the walls of the medieval Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery I looked down on ragged forests that I was sure concealed the remains of the Viking camps that became Kiev’s first royal halls. But the tour guide had a schedule to keep and he herded us all inside the church hall. It was somewhat disconcerting to find Ukrainian peasants inside the church, gamely trying to worship while the guide led us from icon to icon, pointing out the hollow jars buried inside the heavy columns with their mouths exposed to provide reverberation. As I stood gape-mouthed and amazed at the intricate details of the church an old woman in a head scarf and a brown apron shifted past me, muttering the warning, “Ne smeyatsia!” She had mistaken my appreciation of the building for mockery of the worshipers. Continue reading

Studying Russian

Although the rock I sat on was in direct sunlight, a brisk upriver wind kept me cool. The papers on my lap rattled in the breeze and the pages of the black-bound reference book chattered, but I was gazing out across a tiny inlet where the river’s water formed an eddy. It was the color and texture of desert-baked glass, slipping smoothly past me, drawn by the rush of the current beyond the boulder point. Across the river a sheer cliff of basalt loomed over me, soaring upward to a rugged crest far above.

It was the summer of 1977. I was studying Russian.

I developed this habit of disappearing when I had a day off work. I would wait for the heat to build until it was well over ninety degrees. Then I would borrow my dad’s gold 1970 Ford Maverick (a color that was marketed as Freudian Gilt) and I would head out. I kept the window cranked down for the natural air conditioning–the only type the car afforded. Higher speed meant better relief from the heat, but I was drawn to the old Corfu Road where I had to slow down. The dust that filtered through the open window was another price I paid.

I don’t know what drew me to this place the first time I went there. I had driven the entire length of the Corfu Road, turned left at Beverly and headed south through Sentinel Gap. I remember stopping on side roads that led to the river bank, but there the river was impounded by Wanapum Dam. Farther on I tried again, where the reservoir behind Priest Rapids Dam kept the current in check. I was just exploring.

I purposely avoided anyplace with people. I had my books and papers on the seat beside me with a couple of bottles of soda and some sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. I was working on the complexity of the adjectival endings Russian uses, and I knew Continue reading