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PARENTAL WARNING: Renaissance Era Leningrad Art Museum artwork of Hell, Devils, and Souls of Damned shown that is not appropriate to children and teenagers under age 17--Ed.

The Man Who Never Launched Forth

The truly great Captain Jason and his brave Argonauts gained glory and fame for launching out into the peril-strewn unknown, but long after them lived a man named Larry Prufrockski, born and raised in Tacoma, a port city on the many-isled, inland sea of the Puget Sound that had the Chamber of Commerce sponsored banner name, "City of Destiny", but who never did anything close to launching any kind of boat, much less himself in some risky enterprise. It wasn't that he couldn't launch out into the unknown and risk the perils and dangers for the sake of adventure and finding fresh, new meaning in life. He was certainly a strong fellow and quite intelligent and though wasn't much for cracking books, had a high school education with good shop instructors and an excellent coach and sports program. But he happened to be one of those early-maturing types who knew how to use a good education and shop training in the public schools and after graduation from high school immediately get a nice, not too demanding, solid union job.

From that moment on he left pioneering and adventure to others, for he noticed they didn't always end up with good retirements and hefty savings in the bank.

Before he even graduated, Larry chose the railroad as his profession, and he chose smart. He knew from his dad's experience that the railroad had good pay and plenty of benefits and was certain not to land him in the unemployment line with the next recession and would give him absolutely everything essential he wanted in life--while avoiding a talkative, expensive wife to have to look after--something he didn't figure he needed, which would just complicate things unnecessarily, according to his simplified, basic, pragmatic view of life.

Of all things, he most liked orderliness, trains that ran on time, a set schedule with 9-5 hours, and at home, square, beige-painted, tidy rooms that didn't get cluttered with tacky, over-colored furnishings and silly knicknacks like the homes he had seen belonging to other train personnel he knew, etc.--and so his whole lifestyle reflected that simple train, er, trait.

The next thing he liked, after orderliness, was trips abroad spaced at calculated intervals taking him on well-organized group tours to exotic places he wouldn't want to live but liked to visit and explore, just to vary his life a bit. To share with one or two non-intrusive-type friends he chose to cultivate, he wrote trip journals and typed them up from his notebooks, carefully, without misspellings and double-spaced, giving stapled copies out to his friends, then he went on to plan the next trip, which he would take in five or ten years time, depending on how bad he wanted to vary his orderly life a bit.

The tour was advertised as a trip of a lifetime journeying along in the footsteps of Marco Polo--it was even titled "In the Footsteps of Marco Polo"--as he beheld the wonders of the East, from Nestor's palace and the inns of the famous Silk Road to the encampments of the Mongol warlords and pleasure domes of Kublai Khan and the Emperor of China--but the trip turned out to be nothing like what the ad pictured, except that he did go to a couple spots which Marco Polo visited a long time ago on his trip from Italy to China and mentioned in his famous journal.

"Trip to Russia, Soviet Georgia, Siberia, and Mongolia and Back--1986"

"My flight was to leave Seattle on August 2, 1986 at 8:30 in the morning, but was delayed till 9:45 A.M. due to a problem with air conditioning. The plane arrived at JFK in New York one hour late and then I had to switch to Air-France. I asked four people how to get to Air-France and they must all have had problems as not one of them were helpful. My first taste of New York and four rude people!"

"The weather was hot--about 85 degrees so was dripping wet inspite of wearing my sweatless tee shirt when I arrived at the check-in counter. The lady from the travel company had alot of excuses for not meeting me when I landed and gave me tickets for the trip to Russia.

"Air-France had trouble leaving New York so we had a two hour delay. There were alot of problems on the plane such as: cups leaking, seats not working, food containers that wouldn't open. It was so freezing cold on the plane, the temperature was set too low or something, but I was lucky to bring a carry-on bag with a shirt and sweater and put that on, or I would have been shivering the whole flight."

"This was the start of a bad day!

"We arrived in Paris, France and had a two hour delay before a departing on the flight to Leningrad. Our Russian plane was smaller and sort of dirty with alot of flies on board."

"At about 6 o'clock in the evening we arrived in Leningrad and went through the passport area in about thirty minutes and then another thirty minutes to go through customs to check for money, books, etc. Custom officials took three books about Russia from one lady.

"We went by bus to our hotel on the Gulf of Finland, which is an arm of the freshwater Baltic Sea. It was a large hotel with about 2,400 rooms. We had a very good dinner with cavier on eggs, meat, potatoes, bread, beer, etc. I received a single room the first night due to the number of people on the tour. I took a shower and slept like a log until I awoke at 5 A.M. ready to go and I had only four or five hours of sleep. I got up and went for a five mile jog to look the area over around the hotel. Since it was kind of cool yet, I wore my rain coat part of the time. There were few people out at that time of the morning, but the ones I did meet were kind of surprised to see me.

"Our first breakfast in Leningrad was not much--cheese, bread, tea and coffee. I think they were trying to tell us something. After our 'large' breakfast we went by bus to tour Leningrad. Our guide sure liked to talk or listen to himself talk, he rambled on and on the exact measurements of something which got to be very boring."

"After seeing many buildings and parks and almost going crazy hearing the exact size of each park and building in Leningrad we returned to the hotel for lunch. After lunch we went to a large church where there were alot of people and very hot inside. I only stayed ten minutes and left to walk around the area. We were back at the hotel for dinner at 6 P.M. which was very good also, but everyone was still full from lunch. We then went to the ballet for two hours and returned back to the hotel to end the day. Funny thing about this far northern countryside--it stays real light out so long into the evenings--and so people just keep doing whatever they were doing the day--and so there are a lot of people in the streets and parks at night, and children playing too with their mamas or grandmas reading the paper! I guess they have to make the most of the warm weather while they have it and stay outdoors late as they can.

Seeing the Leningraders were not go ing to bed any time soon, I left the hotel, stopped in a candy store that was still doing business, bought some cheap swirl-type suckers for five kopecks apiece, and gave them out to some poor kids I happened to meet down along the river embankment. It is the least I do for all these poor kids Leningrad has (and most of them look pretty raggedy and pasty faced to me). The kid's grandmother, which you can tell by her wrinkles and her old-fashioned, peasant-like head scarf wrapped tight around her face summer and winter, was minding them, and the kids looked like they had never seen suckers before, their eyes got so big when they saw me handing out the candy to them.

"The next morning, August 5th, I was up at 6 A.M. and went on a five mile run around the area, and when I stopped to rest at one place along the Nevi River canal, down at a place where the big old-style buildings Peter the Great built suddenly quit and there's a lot of swampy pastures and trees and bushes and trash dumping (probably illegal) going on, I saw a man and a woman across from me, they were acting a little funny, so I watched to see what they might be up to. The man threw something into the water, wrapped in a black plastic bag I think. That's a suspicious item for you. They could have dropped any old garbage on the ground rather than take the trouble to throw it in the canal. The woman ran off before the bag hit the water, and the man just stayed here a little while, staring into the water where the bag sank in the muddy water. I don't think he saw me--as he never even looked up across the canal to where I was standing on the opposite embankment."

"Wrong, he had noticed me watching them pull a fast one of some kind. The couple appeared on the other end of the bridge as I was crossing, and met me! I could see the guy was kind of torqued, as his hands were clenched, and he was saying something rapid in Russian, jabbing a finger at my camera in my right hand."

"I couldn't make out a word he was saying, of course. Meanwhile, his girlfriend or little wifie was tugging at his arm, and saying something to him, and I saw him grit his teeth, look down, and storm away around me, with her flying to catch up with him. For a moment there, I thought he was planning to grab my camera or demand my film or something, but I guess he changed his mind after what she said, whatever it was.

"The breakfast was the same as before of cheese, bread, tea and coffee. Our tour went to a meeting with Russians, but I went walking around town for three hours instead. I went into alot of stores, tried some good bread, fruit drinks and ice cream and then missed the tour bus back to the hotel. They had told us if we got separated to take "bus number 7" to the hotel. It was the wrong bus and I went ten miles across town for five kopecks (about seven cents in U.S. money). At the end of the bus route the driver said to ride back and start over and take "number 10" to the hotel. Wrong bus again another ten miles back to start. The driver drew a picture of a bus with cables--an electric bus "number 10". A Russian woman and a little girl took me to the right bus this time."

"I had alot of miles for my five kopecks! I gave the little girl a pen for helping me with the buses. They seem to like the pens that "click" better than the ballpoint pen that the top just comes off.

"My group had gone somewhere so I rested till 6 P.M. and then had dinner. This hotel was the best of my trip in Russia and it had the best food. Most of the people working at the hotel were very nice and the people of Leningrad were the friendliest in Russia.

"The next day, August 6th, which was an overcast, gray sort of day, we took a hydrofoil to the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg. Despite its speed, it took almost forty five minutes to get there and there was some wind and rain that kept us from standing out on the deck."

"We had a tour of the inside of the Summer Palace, which has several large rooms that had been recreated as close as possible to the original. During WWII the Nazi Germans had destroyed and looted almost everything so they had to start from scratch to rebuild, using photographs and old plans. The rooms were very large and all had marble floors and crystal chandeliers and many of the items were gold covered--which looked like a lot of money to me was spent on this whole layout (so there has to be some of the old czars' gold still left in Russia to spend on luxuries like this). All of the rooms had an excellent view of the outside gardens and waterfalls. We took a fast trip around the grounds, but missed seeing the music and water show which was supposed to be a high light of the Summer Palace. We then had a bus trip back to the hotel for lunch. We should have had one full day there as there was much to see.

"After lunch we walked around the city for a while and see the fancy old 18th century architecture that Peter the Great built with slave labor, making them haul uncountable logs to stick into the mud and water to support the foundations of all his palaces, cathedrals, and government buildings. It must have taken a forest of trees all cut down and dragged clear to Leningrad to support all those buildings of his. What a location. It was once nothing but uninhabited swamp here for miles and miles around, but you would never know it now. This is a very large city, over two million, maybe three million I think. Thousands of Peter's slaves died working in the projects, ending up in the foundations of the buildings, which our guide wanted us to know about, he said, because people would never, never be treated like that nowadays in the Soviet Union. I knew by his exaggerating that he was lying through his teeth and giving us the official line he was taught to give. I asked him about the prison camps in Siberia. Aren't there lots of slaves there being worked to death and dying like flies from the cold, diseases, and starvation, not to mention the brutality of the guards and the beatings and torture? The shameless little rascal smiled and flatly denied it--he said the camps are not prisons but are 'centers for re-educating criminals'--murderers, rapists, and such 'anti-social vermin.' When they learn how to live in civilized Soviet society, they are returned to their homes and then live productive lives like all socialist workers. He said Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt had toured the re-education camps in Siberia to see for herself and had praised how well the men were treated, so that proved that the reports spread by enemies of Russia in the West were nothing but lies. Would I call the wife of my own president, the great Roosevelt, a fool to say what she did? He thought he had me there.

I wasn't going to let this nincompoop go so easy, so I ignored his challenge about Eleanor Roosevelt and asked again, What about the Danube to Adriatic Sea canal project? Didn't it flop after billions of rubles were spent on it? And weren't tens of thousands of lives of slave laborers sacrifriced for nothing on their leaders' insane gamble?

"I even put a little tremble in my voice, to indicate emotion, and it musta worked. He didn't smile this time, but still denied there was a shred of truth to it. 'Of course, the engineers were executed as saboteurs, for not telling they knew there wasn't enough water in the Danube River for both the river and the canal leading to the sea, but that was all--the workers were all well treated and didn't die like mosquitoes!' I hadn't mentioned any bugs this time, so he put that in my mouth, but I let that go. The little clown obviously wasn't going to learn anything that didn't agree with the stupid old Communist Party line. I'm glad we aren't like that in America.

"Yet I couldn't resist one last dig on the subject, even if it peeved him. What about these hundreds of canals in Leningrad here? I asked sweetly. He seemed to be a little rattled, as this hit closer to home evidently. 'Yes, what about them? Do you want the measurements? I can get them for you, just wait a moment, please.' He was riffling through his stupid guidebook that was mostly filled with the sizes of everything in the city, but I caught his hand. 'No, I was just wanting to know how many thousands of laborers, as you call them, died like wretched animals digging all these hundreds of canals out of a layer of half-frozen muck and another layer of permafrost beneath that, then facing them with brick, and next on the piled up earth constructing all these massive stone and marble buildings in the middle of a bog just for the egomania of the czar, Peter the Great.' He brightened up immediately. 'Oh, that is all true about the terrible crimes of the old regime, the awful time we Russians suffered under the decadent and corrupt czars, who were all Christian capitalists and oppressors of the people! Since that time we have been enlightened by Karl Marx and Engels, and have built a paradise of a socialist state where all workers and their rights are respected and honored by the law and our glorious Constitution. Everybody knows we have made a giant leap for mankind in founding and building our new socialist state and society.' He had this smug expression on his face as he looked around, like a cat that had just swallowed the parakeet or canary, no doubt thinking he had settled the question once and for all, and I was put in my place. Well, he was mistaken. My last cannon shot was this: 'Everybody? One more thing. What is the difference, in your humble opinion, between a czar of the old regime killing all those men and your great and wonderful Lenin and Stalin liquidating thousands, even as much as thirty million people as some estimates go, under their new and wonderful socialist regime?' He stared at me, his eyes bulging out. Flummoxed, like a pussy cat caught inside the bird cage and no bird, he didn't have a comeback. Then he thought of something at last, but lapsed into Russian, forgetting he was dealing with English speakers, then tried English, but was now so flustered and red in the face he couldn't remember his book English words and ended up stuttering! I walked off and left the stammering idiot for the others to look at.

"We also went to the Hermitage for about three hours. The Hermitage has nothing to do with hairy, little hermits living in caves or log huts in the woods. It is a world famous museum for its art collection built up by the important German-born Russian queen called Catherine the Great."

"This so-called cottage or hermitage of hers is very large and has millions of things to see, some good and some bad, but all interesting. Most of the art was described in Russian on their Russian-language signs so you didn't know what it was or by whom and our guide doesn't translate them for us. There are seven main halls containing Russian history and culture, prehistoric history and artifacts, Asian and European art, and the most popular section with paintings of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir and other world famous Western European Impressionist artists I don't care that much about, but with some interesting drawings of some real bad people and devils in hell by Sandro Botticelli--the same guy who did the goofy, world-famous painting of the Goddess Venus rising out of the water in a big Shell Oil-type seashell that everybody likes so much. Why anybody likes that dumb picture I have no idea."

"Catherine, our guide explained, wanted to build a swell showplace home for this big collection of art which her agents had acquired in Paris and Rome and also make it a rural retreat where she would go 'privately,' without a lot of fancy, time consuming court ceremony, hence the name "Hermitage," which for her, the Queen of Russia, meant a sort of low-key, rustic country cottage of only 600 or so rooms she could go to relax in with just few hundred friends, many of them handsome, dark, dashing young Hussar officers she liked alot, only she kept adding rooms for more guests and even more handsome, young dark and dashing Hussar officers and it got as big over time as any humongous palace she had in Moscow or St. Petersburg (as Leningrad was called back then). Her friends, men and women, kept moving in to the "hermitage" as permanent guests, I suppose, and she was a high society type who felt lonely if she didn't have loads of people around her, even in the country, so the Hermitage became a national institution--she didn't close it down, summer or winter, and the big parties went on year-round. Leggy actress and filmstar Marlene Dietrich, who did some films with John Wayne and danced on a barroom counter in a Yukon gold mining scene, was star of a movie about Catherine too, and the guide mentioned it, showing a picture of Marlene playing Catherine the Great, saying the original Catherine was not thin and long-legged like Marlene, but quite fat, with short, stocky legs and a big caboose, being a German lady who loved alot of sausage and rich pastries, and so she wasn't like the much slimer Marlene Dietrich--so much for Hollywood's productions! The guide laughed a lot about this with that crazy laugh he has as he was telling it, as if it didn't reflect on his own Russian culture. He kept emphasizing that Catherine was German, not really Russian though.

"There are also alot of marble statues of fat, bosomy goddesses and old weapons and armour that were used in Russian history. What they did with them was fight alot of wars that you can read about in books, but we did not have those books along, fortunately."



When the group got back to the hotel after touring the Hermitage museum, our guide called a meeting, and he said there was an optional trip just now made available, which would be on the way down to Tashkent, the next city on our itinerary after Leningrad. If we flew almost straight south, we would land in a place called Tbilisi in Soviet Georgia, and after seeing that area we would fly directly east to Tashkent in Central Asia.

He was talking on and on about the sites in Georgia, which he said had to do with somebody, an old Greek, I think, named Jason the Argonaut. Medea was his witch wife, and they killed her brother and father to get the throne--lots of gory stuff like that, which interested the women particularly. The big highlight was that a National Geographic-funded explorer had built a boat like Jason's and was taking a volunteer crew and they were repeating the entire quest of the Golden Fleece (which is some kind of woolen throw rug covered with gold), and he was going to be on the coast, in the river Jason first entered, with all sorts of celebrations and singing groups to meet him and his men. I could not believe what I was hearing--were they all crazy? I was about to leave when they took a vote. I voted against it, as I wasn't sure the food on the optional trip would be any better and didn't want to risk it. But I was overruled, 13 to 1, with the guide abstaining.

We had to hurry and pack, as the flight left that evening. I wasn't going to go anyway, but how would I meet them in Tashkent if they were delayed, and I knew nobody in Tashkent, and so I decided to go along, rather than lose the group and the tour. After all, Russia is a pretty big place, and I don't speak the language, and these guides are all we've got to get us around.

We arrived in Tbilisi 1:30 A.M., flying south/southwest. This put us in real tropics which I didn't know they have in Russian territory, as we felt the steamy warm air and saw some palm trees outside the plane windows as we taxied in to the old, not very impressive terminal.

When we went through Customs, it was pretty hot, with no air conditioning there. I could see this was the beginning of a bad experience, but I was trapped, having gone along against my best judgment. The women, though, all seemed cool as cucumbers, while I was dripping when we finally cleared and got through the rest of the rigmarole and took the bus to our hotel. I guess being from cool Washington State, without any need of air conditioning, I am not acclimated to these foreign places. Maybe if I lived on the East Coast, or down south, I would be. At our hotel, called the Medea and Jason International Hotel, I got a room by myself, fortunately, and headed straight for the shower. I couldn't go to bed all sweaty like that, tired as I was by the late flight.

This "shower" was another stupid old tub affair, with that crazy hand-held sprayer, which put more water on the floor than on me.

But I kept at it for as long as the hot water (which was lukewarm at best) lasted--which was almost an hour. The next day people complained to the management, including our tour members, that there was no hot water when they tried to wash up. Not one drop! I didn't say anything, as how could I know I was taking it all? Besides most of it went on the floor, not me! If a hotel can't provide for all its guests, then it ought to get another couple water heaters or at least get the ones it has working better! But if there isn't enough hot water, that not the only thing--there are no toilets. I couldn't find the toilet in my suite, so I called the guide, and he came and showed me a hole in the floor in the bathroom, with two spots where you set your feet and are supposed to squat and answer mother nature's call. This was the utter end! I refused, and asked for a real toilet, keeping my voice down real well--but the guide said either I use this stupid contraption, which is so humiliating, or go find a place in the bushes in the park outside the hotel! And get arrested! Nothing doing! I wasn't going to use that hole in the floor, and no toilet paper either, just running water and your hand, so I went walking, found an outhouse behind some factory buildings and shanties, and got around the problem that way!

"The next morning, the food was not much--rolls, and some local fruit--bananas, pineapples, citrus, as they can grow that all here in this climate. I was still hungry, so I went out early and found some street venders selling hot food. I bought something very spicy, but full of eggs, and it filled me up at least. Then I went back to the hotel and went with the group on the bus to the first sites of the day. We went to the Palace of Culture, they call it. Inside the big fancy marble building was a lot of stuff from the past country before the Soviet Russians took over. I took some pictures, of the Medea fresco. It was supposely intact before the communists took over, but got damaged in the war. This is the story they all tell about in this country, as if it happened yesterday--they think it is such a great thing and are so proud of it, though it is nothing more than a vulgar TV soap opera in my opinion."

"The headless lady lying down was Princess Medea the Witch--and she lost her head, the guide said, when the bombs and explosions were going on. She is the beautiful king's only daughter who refused all her suitors wanting to marry her and then cast a spell on Jason the Argonaut, the hero who sailed the Argo, a famous old Greek exploring ship, all the way from Greece to this country, bringing with him fifty champions who were seeking fame, adventure, and riches. Soviet Georgia was called Colchis in the old days, and had alot of gold and treasure, all taken from the big river, then called the Phasis, since renamed the Rioni River. This river used to be rich in gold and carnelians and diamonds, but is now polluted by factories along the banks, and the country is solidly in the Soviet Union to stay, with people looking for work and even begging in the streets, and with the Russian army stationed in the big army bases. Too bad they aren't independent--but they are too close to Russia for that, they are needed as a buffer zone in case Turkey, the U.S. ally with a big army, attacks from the south.

"Well, back to the old days. Medea got Jason under her thumb and magical wand too, and he helped her kill her brother and even her father the king so they could take the throne and rule the country. Of course, she planned on getting rid of Jason as soon as she was queen--but he didn't know that, being somewhat unsuspecting toward women! There were a lot of real gory details, which the guide loved dishing out, and the women were eating it all up."

"Our guide told how Jason strangled Medea's brother, who was supposed to rule in the king's place when he died, with his bow string taken from the famous bow of bronze only Jason was strong enough to bend, and then Medea served up her brother's flesh, boiled, to her father at a banquet, disguised as pork, and after he complimented her on the special dish, she told him what it really was. He grabbed his throat and belly, and fell dead at the terrible news--and she has him cast into the hearth fire, burnt to cinders, then the ashes scattered in the river. After that the Erinys, the Hounds of Hades, were released to get the both of them for killing a father by their boiling his son and making him eat him, and they were chased from the palace, and from then from mountain cave to cave. Medea was not one to give up easily. She tried every spell she could think of to drive them off. Finally, she was desperate enough to try the one thing she didn't want to do, as she badly wanted a child and crown prince off of Jason first, that she could use to keep the throne in her hands indefinitely (for in Colchis she couldn't rule alone as queen at that time without neighborhing kings attacking her or trying to force her to marry them).

"After she had made herself the most beautiful and alluring she could, she invited her Greek lover boy in to her chamber, and Jason loved her deeply, enjoying all her exotic Eastern charms, and when he was sleeping, with his head on her lap, she plunged her jeweled dagger into his neck to cut the life vein.

"The blood gushed out all over her lap and fine gown, and Jason sprang up, realizing he had been slain by her hand most treacherously. He saw her now as a most vicious and cruel serpent that she was--a dragoness, not a human-hearted woman at all. Being a mighty warrior, he still had the strength, even in his expiring moments, to draw his sword and wound the witch mortally. She had conceived in the night, however, and did not die a mortal's death, being a witch with great powers of enchantment that wouldn't let her expire immediately from a wound that would kill a normal man. She lingered on a few days after Jason gave up his wailing spirit to the Underworld. Before she joined him, however, she birthed a horrible monster, a miscarriage of untimely birth. This was the mighty bull of Hades that grew up in the place where he was born on his mother's deathbed, the same place where Jason had lain with Medea in loving and foolish embrace.

"Three thousand years later, the orphaned bull-man is still supposed to haunt and guard the cave, and shakes the walls of the cave from time to time as he seeks his long lost parents, and people even hear the heart-broken bellowing and roaring of the bull-man, or minotaur, as he calls out to his lost parents.

"This was as much nonsense as I could take, which I think is nothing but "bull-loney," so I went looking around on my own. I went out and bought some ice cream cones at the little shops for tourists I found along the street, different flavors with long names like "King Aeetes's Delight" and "Bewitched Ambrosia, and "Aea the Paradise of Phasis" which are pretty good, despite their fancy names. By the time I did this, the bus was about to take off without me, so I ran back and hopped aboard.

"That was a big mistake. When we started out, it was sweltering hot, even in the morning, but we quickly climbed up from sea level on the single lane road into the mountains, and it got so cold on the bus we were shivering. There was snow all round on the ground by now. What luck! The heater didn't work! It was freezing temperatures inside the bus, and then we got stuck as we plowed through a drift of snow covering the road. We men had to get out, with the ladies watching, though one or two got out to help. We pushed and used the driver's one shovel, taking turns, and the guide put some rags and sticks under the wheels, and we got out somehow and continued. My feet were soaked, and even more cold as time went on. I tried everything, taking off my running shoes, massaging my feet, but nothing helped. They had turned blue and stiff. I thought they were going to be frost bitten. There was solid ice under my feet, from the snow I tracked in, and it froze there, it was that cold on the bus! I have never been more cold. We drove on and got stuck again--and the process was repeated. Out go all us men (the four of us!), and we pushed, shoved, and heaved, and put more rags down, and got enough traction, and I could see why we were making such little headway--the tires were balled smooth, and no snow chains! I tried to talk to the guide about chains, but he didn't know of any such thing in Georgia--what a country, it was like Switzerland, but as backward as anything you can find up north in the rest of Russia!

"We got over the pass somehow, and it then was a lot easier--we could slide down the other side, but it was really dangerous then, as the roads don't have guardrails, and the snow drifted and disguised the actual edges of the roads, and a number of times I thought we would go over the side and fall thousands of feet. I never saw such ravines before--they were worse, far deeper, than anything in the Cascade Mountains at home. Why they took us up into these mountains in this decrepit old bus, I have no idea. Couldn't we have taken a short local flight instead?

I was certain we would all get killed on this trip. It didn't seem possible that we would survive. Resigned, I felt a little better. Then somebody brought out--probably our Georgian guide--the local whiskey or wine or plum brandy, it tasted most like plum to me--and it was like fire in my throat. I soon warmed up, but I had to grab a mouthful of snow so I could stand the burning sensation!

"Then we arrived at the first site on the other side of the pass--the cave where Jason was supposed to have fought a bull from hell, and this was a little confusing to me, but the guide explained this was not the bull-man that was Jason's son by Medea, and that happened in another cave, not this one. Anyway, a huge bull guarded the entrance, and Jason was on some kind of adventure, trying to win Medea's hand in marriage, by this test of his strength and courage. So the old story goes, the guide told us as we started to look into the cave.

" My, what a talker!--I never heard one so air-headed and motor-mouthed as this one, and his English was the worst on the whole trip. He murdered the language. I thought he was going to spit on all of us, trying to get the words out, he pronounced them so bad.

"Fortunately, the plum brandy hadn't worn off, I didn't feel any cold in my feet by this time, and I had only my jacket, but that was enough, with no wind at all, or snow either, in the cave. It was actually warmer there, maybe healed by underground springs or vents from an old volcano, as there was mist in the air, making the place even more mysterious."

"They had done some work on the cave to make it more accessible to tourists, fortunately. Some statues that were supposed to look like Jason, Medea, and such, were set up along the route, held upright by iron supports. All we had to do was walk along the paths marked out and look at them, with concrete walks or little bridges over the worst holes and cracks in the rock. There were even some guard rails, to keep us from tumbling into some deep ravines or pools of water. The place was not well lighted, but the guides had soome Coleman-like kerosene lanterns, and we went through the cave on the route set, and could see fairly well.

"I was bringing up the rear, without a lantern, but my shoe caught on a rock and came off. I stopped to retie my shoe laces, and though I hurried to go and catch up, the others were not in sight, and must have taken turn or two around some big rocks ahead, as I couldn't see their lights anymore. It scared me right away, for I couldn't go back, not able to see the route, and I couldn't go forward. What to do? I tried to listen and see if I could tell where they had gone, and shouted a couple times to let them know I was in serious trouble. I heard a sound, and it sounded like they were shouting back to me. But the sound came louder and closer, and it wasn't human at all. My blood ran cold. Could the old stories be true about the bull guarding the cave from ancient times? Or was it the Minotaur, Jason's monstrous son by the witch? Whatever it was, I was about to meet up with it, for it was roaring loud enough to shake the rocks loose and tumbling around me. I just knew I had to vamoose outa there quick! So I did!"

"I found a rock ledge I had felt with my wildly groping hands, but the monster was on me in a flash, as if it could scent me with those huge, flaring nostrils. It didn't need a source of light--as it was glowing all over its body! I could see it clearly, and it could see in the dark and spot me, as I tried to crawl out of its reach. It was not a bull-man at all--but a hooved beast with a four-horned and tusked head that was bristling with porcupine quills and had yellow snake eyes--I never imagined anything so devilish in my worst nightmares. I was absolutely petrified."

"I wasn't going to be let go either. It wanted me, and I couldn't get away, being lost and wandering around on its own turf.

"Then a strange thing happened. Another glowing being appeared, but this one was different--it was manlike and charged at the bull thing."

"The monster, diverted by this attack, forgot all about me as it had now met its match. It roared all the louder but retreated as a spear was jabbed right into its snout and open mouth. Scrambling to keep away from the spear, it backed up several times, then turned and vanished among the big rocks with its attacker pursuing it, and that was the last I saw of both of them.

"I crawled out from under the rock ledge and felt a bit weak in the knees, wondering if they weren't just projections of subconscious fears, when I heard voices. I saw lights, then heard shouts, and the guide appeared, framed in his lantern's light, and I thought his ugly mug looked like an angel's at that moment. I rushed at him and threw my arms around him, I never was so glad to see any human being so much in my life. He couldn't believe being so appreciated, I guess, for he kissed me on both cheeks, wept, and said how much he loved us Americans, even if we were filthy rich and proud as peacocks and despised his people so much--but I didn't really mind him going on like this, I was so relieved, I just let him think I was grateful to him, and didn't tell him the real reason I gave him a Mongolian-style bear hug. Would he have believed me? He might have thought I was crazy, and I wasn't going to embarrass myself any more. Guardian angels don't exist. Monsters such as I had seen don't exist either! With his arm around my shoulder, he led me out of the cave, and the whole group was now a whole lot friendlier to me--having wondered if I would ever leave that cave alive.

"The moment I stepped out of that cave and into the open air, I felt like I could handle things again. Once back on the bus, I thought I was perfectly okay and not showing any sign of what I had experienced, but a number of the women came by, trying to be like mothers to me--as if I had been in some kind of life-threatening situation and not just getting myself lost in a dark cave--something that can happen to anybody.

I tried to smile and laugh it off--but they weren't convinced, by their expressions. "I was praying for you," one said. That shocked me. Why? I wondered. She added, "I felt an evil presence in that old cave, the moment we entered. I didn't say anything to our guide, he wouldn't have understood, but it was truly evil, like something from hell, and it was waiting for us. I didn't think you were going to be the one attacked, not us women. Were you attacked? Your face said something like that happened to you. Please don't be afraid to share your experience with me. I will keep it confidential."

"I shook my head. I had no intention of telling anyone on that tour. It was just too disturbing. Instead, I thought I'd just write about it, and maybe I might type it up later, if I decided I wanted anyone to know. We'll see--I haven't yet decided.

"So we returned to the hotel in the nearest town, and we spent the next day touring a couple dusty, hot, tourist trap towns on our way to the Black Sea and the mouth of the river where the explorer in his second Argo was scheduled to land with his men. This was, we could tell, going to be the grand event of the season, perhaps of the century, as far as this country was concerned.

"We were at the spot, waiting with what looked like ten or fifteen thousand people, when the ship's sail was sighted. The ship came in, and the sail was furled, and the Argo grounded in the shallow water and mud near the river bank. Men jumped off into the water to pull the boat closer in, and then it was chaos, as the Argo's crew and the spectators all joined in a crazy celebration. Bands began blaring away, drums and trumpets, firecrackers, people cheering, it was sheer pandemonium. It was like the crowd at a major league ballgame with a victory won in a second of declared overtime. People were falling all over each other for joy, crying and laughing at the same time. The modern Argonauts were practically drowned, they were mobbed by so many people rushing in to greet them, then pulled up the riverbank, then hauled up on the shoulders of the men, and then carried to the cars and trucks waiting to transport them and the crowd to town, where the city mayor and dignitaries had a grand party staged.

We took part in the whole crazy thing, and so we followed in our bus, and the city square was all decorated, filled with crowds of people all carrying on as if this was the greatest thing that ever happened to them. It was like Jason had returned, but where was Medea? Oh, she turned out to be the local opera star from this area, known by everybody--a dark-haired woman dressed like Medea was supposed to dress in the old days who sang a number chosen specially for the occasion. I don't know what song it was--it was one of their folk songs. And it was accompanied by that strange kind of music they like in these Eastern countries--not like Western music at all-- and they played some strange instruments like harps and pipes along with it, which wail away along with the drums in the most outlandish way--it sounded horrible to my ears, but they all loved it, and she had to sing encore after encore, each one more deafening than the one before.

"The Argonauts and their captain were heaped with garlands of local lilies and orchid flowers, head to foot, and given wine and pastries and all kind of the best dishes from the banquet set up on tables in the city square. The dancing girls, bands, and speechifying by officials--it never stopped. They went all out, as I said. It was going to go on for hours, if not days, obviously, so I cut out earlier than the other tour members and found our hotel and checked in. I needed peace and quiet more than the others, as I was still somewhat shaken by the encounter in the cave, and then that woman's remarks to me afterwards on the bus. I think her name is Clare something. What did she mean anyway? I was hoping she wouldn't mention it again--and what with all this hullabaloo about this second Jason and the Argo, she didn't seem to notice me, and I was able to keep well away from her too.

"This party would go on indefinitely, so it was time for us to depart. After some rest that evening and as much sleep as we could grab in a town rocking with partying all night long, we were ready to go--and I was glad when we assembled in the morning in the hotel cafeteria, ate a quick but hearty breakfast of fruit, rolls, and some native dishes that reminded me of a combo of lasagna, pizza, and quiche, it was pretty heavy stuff with a lot of bread, bell peppers, eggplant, onion, eggs, pasta, and cheese in it, and headed for the bus, which took us to the airport. They weren't going to torture us again with a trip through the mountains, for some reason, so the flight was uneventful and pleasant, even if the fruits flies were bad, and the seats and the toilets none too clean.

"Tashkent, here we come!" was my one happy thought as the plane lifted off its balled tires and rose heavily into the air, as I had to wonder if we would make it over the end of the runway, as they stuffed that old Russian-built jet to the gills, cargo area too, with crates and crates of the local pomegranates and bananas and dates, tropical fruits which are highly valued in the markets of Tashkent evidently and would bring a good price. With so much fruit around, no wonder there were so many flies. I just had endure it like a good soldier and let them crawl on me. Otherwise, I would have been a wreck swatting at them the whole flight.

"The optional trip to Soviet Georgia was more than enough adventure for me! I decided that never again would I risk it by going on an optional trip--no matter how they painted it!

"We went back to the hotel for dinner and packed for our flight to Tashkent. We will fly at night and arrive in the morning about 6:30 A.M. due to a time change. August 6th, we are in Tashkent and I couldn't sleep during the flight and was tired so went to bed till noon. The weather was warm out being 75 degrees at 6:30 A.M. It must be our tour organizer in the States that orders the food because the tables of other tour groups have more and better food. Even our guides look pretty disgusted at times what they are being served-so I know they were used to better! We had about thirty three people to start and only fourteen went due to the accident in Chernobyl in the Ukraine, an area much larger than Georgia, located northwest of here above the Black Sea. Fortunately, the wind was blowing northwest from there at the time, and didn't come this direction with all that contamination! Chernobyl, you see, experienced nuclear fire and melt down which caused widespread nuclear contamination for hundreds of square miles in Russia, Finland, and parts of Sweden and Norway.

"Yes, Leningrad was in the path of it, but the dust cloud was pretty much old news when it reached that area, for the authorities assured us at the hotel that it didn't register anything on their instruments to be concerned about. Yet most people didn't believe them, I guess, as the tour might have cut back on the food due to the cancellations and the small group of people going. In any case, I wasn't going to forfeit my deposit of $250, just because some people got real scared by the idea of radiation getting in their milk and eggs and meat!

"After lunch we took a tour of Tashkent and saw many large buildings and nice parks. Being in desert country, it was hot, about 100 degrees and our bus does not have air conditioning.'

"We went to visit a song and dance group from the area in the afternoon. They were good and lasted about one hour. They dressed like Mongols, impersonating Tamerlane who came this way with his armies and wiped everybody out for hundreds of years--but I guess now he is some kind of national hero still, as the act got a huge response of applause from the audience when the dancers dressed as Mongols swung their huge, gold-painted swords to the drum beat of their Mongolian music and took out the dancers dressed as old imperial-era Russians who were cowering and pleading for mercy but got none. Cabbages with grimacing, blood spattered faces painted on them were thrown into baskets as the rather realistic beheadings took place. These dances are closer to the real thing than most Americans are used to, I think, as some of our ladies from the tour got a little green in the face and put their hands over their mouths and had to hurry out. I don't know why they took it so serious. Most of the ladies, however, had tougher stomachs, and couldn't get enough pictures for the folks back home.

"Couldn't they see plain as day it was all fake, put on for just a show?

"At dinner in the hotel as I was walking to my table a Mongolian man stopped me and shook my hand and gave me a big Mongolian-style bear hug."

"He was talking in Russian and acted like we were old friends. There was another couple there also and we shook hands. I acted like I knew them and then went on to my table. Our Russian guide and everyone in our group was very interested and curious to know if I spoke or understood Russian and if I knew the man or the people. I just said he was a friendly person and as for knowing or understanding Russian I said no I didn't speak or understand the language, but then smiled and gave a little laugh to keep them in suspense!

"I left dinner early, so everyone could see me leave, and stopped once again at the Mongolians table and talked. His wife offered me a drink and I shook hands again and looked at my watch as if we were going to meet later. I knew everyone from the tour group was interested what was going on and I enjoyed every minute of the joke. I went back to the hotel to take a shower in a washer type tub, about two feet by two feet in size, with a hand held water hose. It was crazy getting my six feet body in that tub and I ended up getting more water on the floor then on me. After the shower I went to bed, and I could swear the sheets had not been changed--they just didn't smell fresh to me. I got up, turned on all the lights, threw back the covers, and I checked and found some brunette hairs that weren't the color of my hair--so I put them in an envelope and took them down to the management to show them, but they just looked at me as if I were crazy, so I left them the hairs and went back up to bed, sleeping between the blankets instead of the used sheets!"

"About 5 A.M. on August 7th, several men were working in the hallway talking and banging something so I got up.

"I used the tea water to brush my teeth and rinse my mouth because the water is bad all over Russia and would make you sick and I knew the tea water had been boiled and was okay to use.

"We had the usual breakfast and then a bus trip to a Moslem Mosque. We were in the courtyard about fifteen minutes and a man from the Mosque walked through and saw me with shorts on. He talked to our guide and then asked me to leave the courtyard."

"Our guide did not know shorts were not allowed. He said that ten years ago they would have stoned me, but times have changed--I think he was kidding.

"We visited a large factory where about 2,400 women are employed to make scarfs and other things. They gave each of us a small scarf with Lenin's face on it that they had made as a gift. That made the scarf pretty ugly so I gave it away to someone passing in the street, and he snatched it up as if nobody had ever given him anything free before.

"After lunch at the hotel we had the afternoon free. I walked around the city for several hours and bought an ice cream cone for a little more than half a ruble, which is about $1.00 U.S. A Russian woman pushed a small cart with ten cartons of ice cream out from a warehouse type building. I counted the cartons when she finally got to me across all those cobblestones. I saw her wheeling that cart all the way, wondering if she would make it to the street, but she did. She had a tray with some change, but also carried an old-fashioned kind of coin dispenser on her side at her waist that you used to see used at baseball games by softdrink and hotdog venders working the crowds in the bleachers."

"The cones are small but the ice cream tasted good. When she sold her ice cream she would return to the building (the return trip is easier I think) and another woman would come out to sell hers.

"I went back to the hotel to pack for the flight this evening to the far east coast of Russia to the city of Khaborousk. The plane leaves at 10 P.M. and we will have a six hour flight from Tashkent to Khaborousk at 10 P.M. and also a six hour time change. We will arrive at Khaborousk at eight o'clock in the morning.

"At dinner our guide and I had a little go-around."

"They bring six bottles of mineral water and three bottles of pepsi. Everyone likes the pepsi but not the mineral water so I asked if we could trade the water for pepsi. The guide started a long winded speech about the price of pepsi, four water to one pepsi. We pay for the water and never use it so I said to forget the pepsi and I would drink water. I asked him to open one for me but he hands me one that had already been opened. I told him I wanted a new one opened as we had already paid for them. He got sort of mad because they all have little schemes to make money. They charge you again the next meal as no one drinks them.

"We arrived at eight in the morning at Khaborousk and took a bus to the hotel. Everyone will rest because of the night flight. I went for a walk and found a road race. They only ran about three miles so I ran with them. I was tired because of the plane flight but it felt good to stretch my legs.

"There were about fifty people in the race."

"This afternoon we will have a tour of the city and will see a circus tonight. This is a smaller circus and not the famous Moscow circus, but it was still pretty good."

"Several elephants circled in the big red star in the middle, while various acts took place--high wire performers, women swinging way up toward the ceiling, huge 30 foot figures of Russian peasant women turning round like dolls, and all sorts of acrobats doing their thing. Horseback stunt riders also went round the red star on a track while the band played the Russian version of Souza. After that, they brought out the lions and a tamer and they did the usual tricks, and a dog act followed with tricks, but then the circus was noticeably winding down, and we all decided we would leave and go get something to eat at a good restaurant, not what they were selling at the arena, which wasn't too good. The venders were selling some kind of hot dog, but who knows what's in it? I didn't dare try one--and then find out later it was horse meat, or maybe even dog meat.

"Our hotel is small, but okay. I have a radio but no television. There is again the hand held shower. The people here are friendly but will not meet your eye. After some hours, having gone all kinds of places on my own, I found out something, when I looked in the big mirror they have in the hotel lobby. My barn door was wide open and nobody told me. I had to find out myself. Boy, are these Russians self-centered. They just care about themselves. Otherwise they would have had the decency to tell me. Of all types, self-centered people are the worst in my book.

"I went back to my room to think about it. I could take a flight out from the airport direct to Seattle, and leave this crummy tour, but I would be wasting my money and deposit. And I remembered what my mom said after my dad passed from cancer and it was just her and my little sister and me. She said one day after going to see the doctor (which I think she did because she had cancer too, from smoking so much), sitting me down right in front of her, 'Now it's just you and me against the world, Larry. Don't ever forget that. Nobody can get the best of any Prufrockski if we pay our union dues and just keep our eyes open, and always wear clean underwear in case of an accident.' That was just before she passed, from cancer I think (though she never mentioned it, what exactly was her problem and wouldn't let anyone, even me and Barbara, see her during her two weeks in the hospital). There was plenty of money left by dad for her, so she had the best care anyway. And she had a good funeral, the best casket she had ordered herself, complete with flowers for the viewing after the Masons finished their ceremonies (for dad was 23rd degree, I heard him say once to Mother once when they were in the kitchen discussing arrangements for his passing). By that time I was on my own, with a good union job, so it was okay, but my sister had to go live with an aunt in Chicago, because she wasn't eighteen and couldn't provide for herself yet.

"Anyway after all things considered, I decided to stick it out. It's gonna take more than this to get a good Prufrockski down, I thought."

"Our local guide, as well as our national guide are a pair, both worthless as two left handed monkey wrenches. We had a one and a half hour tour of the city that was a waste of time. We got to see very little because our guide had his little book and was reading again all the exact measurements of things.

"I ate dinner and then walked around Khaborousk's streets and visited the stores. I had an ice cream which was very good. The circus was at seven o'clock and it was hot inside and alot of flies, but it was interesting, because they don't use safety nets. A lady performer fell off that high wire, and that made it more interesting. They took her out right away, so we couldn't see what condition she was in. After seeing the circus I went back to the hotel and showered and got ready for bed as I had been up over twenty four hours.

"The next morning, August 9th, I think, I was going to run but was tired so slept till eight o'clock. I ate breakfast and went to the beach which is on the Amur River, I think. There were alot of people there--mostly fat, short, older women--wives of local factory managers mostly, though the daughters were just as fat as their mothers--spread out on the river sand like a bunch of walruses taking the sun, but everyone is friendly at least at the beach, and one fat, smiling older woman handed me a paper plate heaped with her homemade cabbage salad, which was kinda like spiced up cole slaw and tasted okay along with some sliced sausage and good homemade bread she added to it. She knew a little English too and said I reminded her of her son lost in the war. She got tears in her crinkly old eyes when she said that. I didn't know how to ask her what war and how he died and not hurt her mother's feelings--so I didn't say anything, and she just reached up and gave my head a little pat, and left me to eat the food, and then I lay down and soaked in the sun like everyone else. Nobody else bothered me on the beach, and I liked that. I didn't go with them on the tour and stayed at the beach all day till almost 6 P.M. After dinner I returned to the beach to take pictures of the fake plastic palm trees and the waves and people swimming, and stayed there till around ten o'clock when I returned to the hotel and got ready for bed."

"After breakfast the following morning I didn't go with the tour. They were going to a World Peace and Co-Existence Meeting and I wanted to take pictures, but it started to rain. I met two guys that wanted to trade or buy things. I traded a running book for a belt and buckle and several badges. The teenagers in Russia want to buy your jeans, shoes, shirts, hats, glasses or anything you have--even right off you! For jeans it costs fifty rubles or $75.00 in U.S. money. I had to be careful though. If you get caught selling anything you will be taken to jail as this is black marketeering and against the law.

"There are lines for almost everything. Lines for drinks, ice cream, bread, etc. We saw about two hundred people lined up to buy their daily ration of one pint per person of vodka. One pint of vodka would cost about $3.00 which is quite a bit of money, but the people still line up and pay. The people don't have much to do and they have over indulgence in drinking in the Soviet Union."

"Each person who finally got their bottle (if that was all a person could afford) looked at it like it was the most wonderful thing they had ever seen--and drinking like they do, they'll never save and get anywhere--but I guess nobody tells them that, and they don't know better."

"The meat in the markets is poor and high priced. The meat is not wrapped or covered on the counters and alot of flies around it--which makes me wonder just what condition the meat is in that our hotel serves up. All those flies have got to be carrying some kind of disease and spreading it to the meat. There seemed to be alot of vegetables and they looked okay. I bought a small jar of honey about the size of a baby food jar which cost three rubles which is $4.50 U.S. money. Food and everything is high priced. The people don't say much but are helpful if you get lost or need help.

"We left Khaborousk, by train abound two o'clock, for Irkutsk. It will take three days to get there and we will pass through Siberia. There are twelve cars and two engines on our train. In each car there is a lady that helps make beds and wil get you tea. Our lady in charge would not open the windows so I went next door to take pictures. Later I gave her some tea and candy and she opened the window for about thirty minutes.

"Siberia is a very large area of six million square miles. From Khaborousk to Irkutsk there are rolling hills with alot of water, small streams, ponds or swamps, but the further west we went it got drier. There are many birch trees and some fir and pine too but we did not see one bird or wild animal for the first two days. They must have been deep in the woods or just very few of them. There are not many people throughout Siberia as the living conditions are not the best and the work is hard. Most of the houses look small and very old looking. They have large gardens planted at each house in mostly potatoes and they also grow sunflowers. There are soldiers at the bridges and tunnels because we are close to the Chinese border.

"I have the lady in charge, name of Marishka, eating out of my hand now! I showed her pictures of my house by Meeker Park, and also Ft. Nisqually and Never-Never Land and the Union Train Station dome and Point Defiance Park and Mt. Rainier in Washington. She would raise her thumb to say "number one"--meaning good. I gave her a couple more tea bags and she brought me an apple and some tea a little later. Later, bartering again, I got an egg and a sandwich from her for a couple ballpoint pens and decals she liked."

"We had dinner what there was of it."

"Not much to eat and what there is gives you indigestion. I went to bed about eleven o'clock and tried to sleep, but the train moved about and the bed seemed the size of a two by four. The goat that gave his life for dinner also gave me a stomach ache--he died for nothing! I dreamed of being chased by a horned monster--which was the goat acting up in my system, no doubt.

"Today is August 11, I think. I slept two to four hours and ate breakfast. This trans-Siberian diet is very good. There are alot of people losing weight. I think I should market it.

"There isn't much to look at but the birch trees and a small town every fifty miles or so. There are small cabins in the woods for hunters or railroad workers. The towns are like the states in the 1900's. They have firewood for heat and a path to the outhouse."

"The lunch was the same as breakfast, very small. I took a few pictures and had a nap in the afternoon. We get off at stations that had a ten minute delay to look at the people selling items and to stretch our legs. At one in the middle of nothing but trees and more trees, a man was standing, leaning against the wall."

"This depot, which was only a bare shell of a building, had no station master and had no fares coming in from the countryside, so he was alone there. I wondered if he would get on the train, but when the whistle blew, we got on, but the man stayed leaning against the wall of the depot. What did he think he was going to do--wait for the next train? Why wait? I asked Mariska, and she said he had run out of money, couldn't pay to finish the trip to the next city to find work, and a train had dumped him there a couple days ago. I asked her if he was going to stay there like that--or would he start walking the track to the next town. She laughed. "Six hundred miles--you think he could walk that--without food? He'd never make it. Wolves would get him. He's no fool. He might as well stay there, and hope somebody on the next train will give him some money. Then she looked at me--but the train was already moving away. Then Mariska threw open the window--and flung out something tied in a handkerchief. I asked her what she had done--and she laughed. "He's a handsome one, maybe he will want to marry me, so I gave him my name on a piece of paper and a little money."

That Mariska! Who would marry her at her age? She better not hold her breath!

"Tired of this routine of stopping at depots just to get off and stretch, then get back on again just to look at the same old faces, I didn't wait around like the others this time but took off from the station on foot down a little path I saw. It took me through some mixed birch, fir, and pine trees, and then I saw above the tree tops Russian type little domes they have on churches sticking up ahead, the types that look alot like onions or corkscrews. They use all wood, of course, being it is so cheap and plentiful in Siberia and they probably can't afford anything else."

"But I can't imagine how the carpenters and builders put those things together like that--it must involve a lot of tricky ladder work, as those little domes are pretty steep sided and slick looking, without any place to stand or get a good grip!"

"I had a moment more, I guessed, so I took a peek inside the church, and it looked all wood inside, kind of dim, smelled strong like incense burning and candles, and there was someone there looking like a priest, and I didn't like the idea of paying him for my own pictures (these priests are robbers, always charging tourists for the privilege of taking pictures), so I left. He was kneeling down anyway, probably chanting a prayer, so I didn't want to interrupt the service. I never get much out of these churches anyway, except a good picture now and then."

"I was on my way back, taking my time when I heard a commotion back behind me--and went back to take a look, and there was a couple soldiers hauling the priest out of the church and down the trail, his forehead bashed and bleeding alot.

"I figured I didn't need to be involved in his problem, so I turned around and started for the train. Wondering if the train had left me behind in that awful monotonous wilderness where you can't tell one place from another, I ran as fast as I could to the train. I heard something then as I reached the depot--sounded like a shot, but maybe it was a hunter I heard or somebody doing target practice, since they don't have much opportunity for fun in places like this one. The train was moving to pull away and leave me in nowheresville, but I hopped on a train car further down from mine, and then everyone in my tour group's cabin looked a little surprised I made it back in time. I chuckled, and they all wanted to know where I had been and what I saw. They all looked excited, or wanting a little excitement on this killing stretch of track, so I told them I took a picture of a real Russian angel I came across in the woods, and they all looked as if they believed it (or wanted to believe it), especially Marishka who takes care of our cabin and barters stuff with me--she got this goofy look all of a sudden, looked up and crossed herself, then must have remembered she's in an atheist country where anyone seeing her would report her to the KGB dicks on the train for arrest and land her in some Siberian coal mine the rest of her days, and she got very red in her nose and checks and ran out--we didn't see her for quite some time, and when she came back, she looked a little distant and reserved, and she was wearing a pin set with a miniature Lenin's mug on it, and a red star to boot! So much for crossing herself--she must have repented her momentary backslide from Marxism and was now a staunch follower of Marx and Lenin!"

"Funny thing though, she came and leaned over where I was sitting and whispered in my ear, "Only a holy saint, or the damned sinner, sees real angels like that," and then she hurried away. I had to laugh at that. Marishka is so superstitious and backward. Me, a holy saint? Not on your life! I'm just an ordinary joe--middle of the road type, and I take care of myself and the rest I don't fuss about--and that's it! Holy smolly--that religious stuff is not for me.

"I slept better last night, but still didn't get enough sleep. I'm glad we are only on the train for three day as the food isn't good and not much to do but look at trees grow.

"We arrived at ten o'clock at night and took a bus to the hotel. That was the last I saw of that funny old Marishka of course. I guess she's still riding that trans-Siberian train to nowheresville, and everybody's losing weight around her too! Unless that guy stranded at the depot got really desperate and married her, just to get aboard the train and escape starving to death in the howling wilderness!

I have a radio and television in the room and hot water. I took a long shower that seemed like one hour and went to bed. The shower really felt good as we didn't have one on the train.

I got up at 8 A.M., ate breakfast and went on a tour of a church and a museum. After luncn we went to an open market. There were alot of people there selling vegetables, meat, flowers, eggs and almost everything. Most of the people look old and the prices were high on everything. They sell their produce to make extra money. I caught a bad cold and cough so had the guide buy me thirty anti-biotic pills which cost about sixty cents.

"The food is much better here and we also have ice cream at dinner. I went for a walk and the wind came up and it started to rain. It continued to pour rain for several hours. I went back to the hotel and packed to leave for Mongolia in the morning. We will leave about five o'clock and it will take thirty six hours for the train to reach Ulan Bator the capital of Mongolia."

"The train was very cold so I didn't get much sleep. This is August 15th, and we started the grand old trans-Siberian, weight watchers diet again. The customs officials from Russia checked for several hours and then the Mongolian customs for another hour. The Russians checked under the train, over the train and all over in the cabins and checked papers very close. It would be difficult to escape here by train.

"After arriving at the hotel in Ulan Bator and eating breakfast we went on a tour of the city and saw some museums. The food is better here and the hotel is fine, though there are some little beggar boys, with ragged sweaters and pants with holes and no shoes either, hanging around hoping for a handout from us rich Americans I guess. The Mongolian soldiers with the Soviet Red Stars on their uniforms, soon as they see them, give them a kick and run them off at the point of their bayonets--so they have to be careful. The people are more friendly then in Russia. I got on well with the people I met in the street--in every encounter. We went to a local temple where about fifty men and boys in orange robes were all chanting, praying and ringing bells. I think they were Buddhist monks, but we couldn't understand a word, so that's just my best guess. Mongolia too is communist and atheist, so they aren't about to promote religion. These monks are just for show to tourists, I think. I wonder if this is where we got separation of church and state--they've had it here a long time, I think. It's a pretty good idea--no churches to speak of and televangelists trying to grab your hard-earning money!"

"Our local Mongolian guide who claims to be a direct descendant of Genghis Khan the ancient king of the Mongols who conquered half the world known at that time, came and said the plane was ready several hours early so we left for the airport. One hour later we were on a plane for the Gobi Desert, which the guide says is as big as the Sahara in Africa, though I have to wonder about that, since he didn't show us any National Geographic map to compare the sizes but expected us to take his word for it. Genghis Khan has a descendant here?--that too is a stretch. These local guides can be a bit hard to swallow at times.

"On the planes in Mongolia nobody checks seat belts or anything--just fill the plane and leave. Then the hostess on plane hands out candy to eat on the flight. It was old-fashioned hard rock candy made in Russia and tasted yucky like Vicks cough drops. It made my teeth stick together when I tried to chew it. I finally had to go and spit it out, but that Vicks taste stayed for me for hours, though I drank some Pepsi to get rid of it. It will be a two hour flight to the desert camp.

"We arrived at the Gobi Desert around noontime and ate some lunch. For the two days we will be here we will live in round Mongolian tents called yurts and will get to ride some camels that somebody is bringing to entertain us."

"Some of the women don't want to try the camels, but they do anyway and enjoy it, though the ride is kind of rough because of the way camels walk throwing you forward, and being thrown forward in my seat gave my dinner a lurch that felt like seasickness. Fortunately, our guide had some Dramamine tablets along for tourists, which means I wasn't the only one who ever got that reaction and felt like feeding the fish when riding camels in the desert a thousand miles from the sea.

"The yurts are about twenty five feet in diameter and are maybe ten feet high. They have wooden supports and covered with a thick white felt like cloth cover. They are warm in winter and waterproof. All the yurts have a red wooden door which stands for happiness and faces east, the door to the sun's rising, they say, because the sun also rises red-colored in the morning. On the inside there are rugs on the floor and there and there are four beds in each and a teapot and kettle so we could sit and drink tea. There is a wood burning stove in the middle of the room that gives alot of heat and cooks our food and heats the water for tea. The stove is about two feet around and two feet high with a chimney going up through the center of the yurt. The beds have several thick like comforters that felt good in the early morning cold. The yurts are pitch black at night without lights, as the Chinese lanterns are not lit at night, and are hung just for show I guess. It was warm enough to sleep, except that the Mongolian guide, who was in our yurt, snored loud the whole night."

"The showers are in a little yurt are one hundred yards away with cold water only. As for the other necessities, the Mongolian men just go out a little ways from the yurt, turn away from the prevailing wind, and pay their respects to Mother Nature. When in Rome, do as the Romans do--same as in Mongolia--so no problem! As for the ladies--it must have been a little awkward doing the Arabian squat out there in the cold and dark--but they didn't say anything to us men, of course. After all, we all knew we were camping, classic Mongolian style!

"The bus driver, who drives like a Mexican road racer, drove us to some sand dunes about an hours drive from camp. The desert has a little grass, but the sand dunes nothing. The sand is easy to walk on so we walked around and took some pictures. It was so wild and untouched it was easy to picture six hundred thousand wild, yelling Mongols carrying bows, arrows, and swords, and charging across this country on their tough little horses all following the mighty Genghis Khan--it was pretty wild looking, with no sign of civilization as far as we could see, even with the binoculars.

"After dinner there was nothing to do so I went for a walk and saw two Mongolians with a tractor and trailer out in the middle of nowhere. I gave them several Russian cigarettes each and hopped on their trailer. About eight miles out I got off the trailer and started to walk back to camp. I could see the camp lights still burning so there was no problem. The two men didn't know what to think when I got off the trailer in the middle of nowhere. I had about one hour before sundown, but misjudged the distance and lost sight of the camp when it turned dark.

"When I entered the yurt the people in it all jumped, looking as if they saw a ghost. They had been real worried, it turned out, wondering if I had got myself lost and out where I would walk forever and nobody would ever find me or my bones. It was supposed to happen sometimes to even Mongolians who are born and grow up here, so it could happen to American tourists like me. I didn't tell them that a big, tall Mongolian with a funny, stovepipe hat on his head showed up in the dark and had a lantern and led me to the camp after the yurt's lights went out and I couldn't tell where the camp was anymore."

"They might have wondered who he was--and I couldn't tell them--for he vanished just like he was made of thin air--right when I turned around at the yurt's red door to thank him for getting me back to the camp. It happened so fast I wasn't even sure I had seen him--but maybe this wide and wild desert plays little tricks on your eyes. I've heard there are wierd optical illusions like palm trees and pools of water produced in the desert because of the burning sun's rays radiating from the land, but at night too? No doubt moonlight does strange things at night, just what the sun does by day. I'm not going to bother my head about it anyway.

"If the calendar in my head is correct today should be August 18th. After breakfast we started on a tour to some mountains that were forty or fifty miles away. We saw several groups of mountain goats high up on the slopes of the mountains and several hawks flying about looking for food. There were a lot of gophers about. We hiked around the area and then had lunch in an open area. The sun was warm so just rested on the grass until it was time to return to the camp.

After dinner we played volleyball for an hour or so and then went to see some Mongolian folk dancers and singers and watched a movie about the Gobi Desert and Mongolia, also a short black and white subtitled documentary from the National Geographic about the visit of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. I never heard of him before this. He visited this area in the Sixties with six safari buses packed with Audubon bird watchers and wowed the simple natives with his talk about America and the factories and shopping malls and skyscrapers and space ports and hospitals and schools we have there, though he said the Mongolians had it much better, being in their "uncontaminated, noble, original state," which they couldn't understand at all, they told me, as they didn't think they were all that well off compared to even the Russians and Chinese, much less the Americans who could go to any of a thousand stores and buy anything they wanted, since there was plenty for everyone, even the money to buy. From the other comments they made too, I gather they felt Douglas was talking down to them--when they had a culture going here on the plains a thousand years before America had invented its first flush toilet. I have to admit I could see they had a point there. Who was he, they asked me, to suppose they were satisfied living as they did without the basic conveniences Douglas enjoyed when he got back to his home yurt camp? They had a term for this kind of person and his attitude--and it had to do with a camel's hinderparts sitting in its own productions.

They also don't have much liking for anthropologists, who seem to look at them as if they were funny little insects to be put in little bottles and later taken out dried to be studied. The Mongolians are pretty crude in a way--applying a saying to anthropologists, which has to do with smiting their male organs with a disease the camels sometimes get that makes them drop off.

"Early the next morning, around seven o'clock, we left by bus to a local camel breeding area. I guess the Mongolians think tourists like to watch them breeding. The camels are large and smell bad. The male camels somehow can't manage the breeding themselves, but have to be helped by the owners. The women on the tour, especially the older ones, were snapping pictures like mad and laughing like crazy. Ugh! After taking some pictures of riding the camels, we returned to camp and ate breakfast of rice, bread, jam and tea and got ready to return to Ulan Bator. Our plane arrived, finally, and we have six more people than seats, but no problem--they are put in the baggage area. The plane must have taxied for two miles before lifting off.

At the hotel at Ulan Bator I took a long shower and used alot of hot water to shave and shower. Seemed like it must have been 1,000 gallons, but it sure felt good to get clean and put clean clothes on. Since it can be chilly in the high elevation of Ulan Bator after dusk, I put on my raincoat and went out for a few minutes to get some fresh air.

After a so-so dinner we went to a duty free store to shop. I found nothing to buy so went back to the hotel for a good nights sleep, wrong, they started working again on a ditch with a back-hoe and trucks. They finished working at three in the morning--had to get the trucks back to the shop, I guess.

"The next morning which was August 20th, if my days are right, we ate breakfast and then took a bus ride to the mountains. It was a nice drive but not much to see or do. We stopped and rode a hired yak--which is a big, harry native wild cow of some kind, coming from Tibet, I think. The yaks are good followers, so all we had to do was ride and keep from sliding off, and the yaks followed the lead female yak which the owner rode and knew how to direct back around to where we started the little safari."

"We took some pictures and then returned back to the hotel for dinner and then in the evening we went to a variety show with singing etc. They were having a little fun too, with one act featuring the decapitation of William O. Douglas and a bunch of anthropologists and bigwigs from the National Geographic on tour with their cameras. It looked pretty realistic too, and the women in our group couldn't get enough pictures.

"One little thing happened though was enough to spoil the day. I wanted to change money, U.S. to their money to buy some little things in the gift shop at the hotel which only takes local money, and the money changer insisted on giving me heaps of the smallest denomination bills, rather than the bigger ones that don't stuff my wallet so much and make my pocket bulge (one thing I hate is a bulging pants pocket). I could not get it into the thick head of the man at the counter--to do this simple thing for me, and I must have yelled some, for our local tour guide was called in to handle the matter. I told him what I wanted, and he explained it to the man in Mongolian, but no--he still couldn't understand what I wanted--he handed me the same big wad of small denomination bills, and I could have thrown them back in his face! I don't want a bulging wallet--it is nice and slim, and I intend to keep it that way so it is comfortable in my pocket!

Finally, seeing I just could not get them to see sense, I just forgot the whole thing, and walked off. I took another shower, and it helped calm me down.

"Tomorrow at 7 A.M. we leave Ulan Bator and fly back to Irkutsk and go through Mongolian customs again.

Our flight to Irkutsk was about two hours and then Russian customs again. I had about eight dollars worth in those small denomination bills they like in Mongolia, which is a big wad in my hand to handle, and couldn't cash it in so I gave it to a woman on the plane, who reacted like I had given her a fortune!

The Russian passport area was fast but the baggage area very slow. They wanted to see my money and count it for them. Then they took my walled and looked all through it (probably for Mongolian money) and checked my suitcase. I must have had an honest face because they let me pass.

That afternoon we visited a museum that took all of ten minutes to see so I walked about town for several hours and then went back to the hotel. I bought some things in the hotel store. They wouldn't take Traveler's Checks and wanted only U.S. dollars and I wanted the items and wasn't leaving without them so I paid cash. I had a single room again so couldn't fuss about the hotel.

We had about an hours wait for our plane ride to Moscow, but other people had already been waiting four or five hours. When we left they were still waiting. The airport police had two old men, very dignified looking World Council of Churches clergymen, Anglican bishops from Britain I think, with those stiff round white collars and big crosses hanging from their necks, and made them strip down to their jockey shorts and checked their suitcases about four times, throwing all the stuff around on the floor for everyone to see, before they let them dress and get on the plane after they confiscated their crosses and the illustrated French novels."

"I heard somebody from the West, a Christian named "Brother Andrew" had gotten through with his group carrying in a huge amount of contraband Bibles, and to save face--since the boxes were in plain sight and still they got them through Customs right under their noses--the airport police were hot to catch any tourist Bible smuggling--as Bibles are considered "bombs" here, for some reason. Good thing those bishops didn't bring a Bible along (those French porn books weren't enough to get them arrested, since they sell them in hotels here)--they'd be given an indefinite stay in some Siberian resort, no doubt, if a Bible had come along in their gear. I sure was glad I never carry a Bible. We landed at Omsk for about forty minutes for fuel. It is a closed city (all military and top secret) so we had to stay in a certain area.

"On our arrival at Moscow we had a little rain to greet us. The airport is an hours drive to the city. Our hotel is the best in Moscow and everything is near by. It is a large hotel holding 5,000 people. There was nothing doing on tonight so after dinner I went to bed early as there was a five hour time change.

"I awoke at 6 A.M. but stayed in bed to rest till 8 o'clock. We had a nice breakfast of eggs and rolls. After eating we walked around Red Square, St. Basil Cathedral and the Kremlin. Everything is in one area so you can walk and see several things at once. Why is the place called the Kremlin anyway? Nobody knew--not even the guides--though that didn't surprise me much after listening to some of their statements.

"Red Square--which was red all right, because of the huge red Soviet flags with the Communist Star and Sickle on them hanging from all the flag poles and draped from on the front of the building where the leaders stand to view the parades of Army troops, missiles, tanks, and such--is a large area in front of the Kremlin. You can easily get thousands of marching troops and vehicles and missiles in that space and still not be crowded. Do the Russians have to do everything big? Seems so. Maybe they feel inferior and have to overcompensate? To the back of the Kremlin is the Macys-type department store, called Gum, where the Russian people shop--at least the ones who have money like to shop there."

"On the left is St. Basil Cathedral--as big as the other old buildings in the Kremlin, though it is a church with Christian crosses, not Soviet hammers and sickles, on its steeples. The women all went gaga over the architecture, and used up all their film taking pictures, though I shot just one picture for anybody back home who might want to see it, as it is a waste of good Kodak film in my opinion. Why anyone would build a church like that with so many odd domes on it, I have no idea. I did pretty good at draughting in school--solid B plus the whole way through. But there's no plan or design to St. Basil's I can figure out. It is all one big hodge-podge, and the colors are as crazy as can be, all mixed together--as if the architect had too much of the czar's prime vodka when he was drawing it up. Those Russian spuds can really pack a punch up north here! The czar, I forget which one the guide said, had this special architect brought from Italy to do the cathedral and then executed him when it was finished, as he said he wanted to make sure the architect didn't duplicate this 'masterpiece' for some other king. I think that was not too likely, and he might as well have saved a bullet. Or did he get beheaded? But, anyway, who would want another such monstrosity?"

"To the right is an old building that is named the Arsenal and is now a museum. Inside is alot more of the old Russian weaponry the czar's mounted Cossacks used to put down revolutions, I guess, and they were always having revolutions of one kind or another, so that explains why the weapons had a lot of variety to deal with all the different kinds of revolts, big and small, the czar was up against."

"And some were pretty knicked up, you could tell they had been used alot--especially the ones the czars used on the Moslems they fought and conquered down in Central Asia and all the way across to Mongolia and China. That corkscrew sword I saw looks like it would do quite a lot of damage and be pretty painful! The guide said it was last used to skewer a captured sultan by czar so and so because he had revolted and beheaded some of the czar's occupying troops who were raping too many of the local women."

"The square is always full of people viewing the Kremlin or watching the changing of the guard at Lenin's tomb. I didn't know before they goose-stepped in Russia. It was kind of eerie watching, as if Hitler were back, but maybe the Russians had goose-stepped before the Germans. I thought to ask the guide, but I saw he was busy giving some of the group the exact measurements of Lenin's tomb, so I didn't want to get close to him."

"The Kremlin is a large Government area with walls around the buildings, about one and a half miles in circumference and the walls are ten to twenty feet thick and sixty five feet high. It is the main Government building in Russia. A person can go inside the Kremlin and see more buildings and churches and also the Czar's Cannon, which weighs forty tons and has a calibar of thirty five inches. Hundreds of the all-iron balls for the cannon were heaped around it like at a bowling alley (though it was never fired, the guide said, being out of date the day it was finished), so it took some creaky, old wooden walkways to get close the cannon, but I didn't want them to collapse under me, so I didn't try them, though some women did. I found I could lean over the piled up balls right in front to get to it and safely get myself a look right into the monster's barrel. That was much smarter and nobody else thought of it. I always wanted to climb in one when I was a kid, but the cannons at home are too small--I'd get stuck. This one was big enough for me."

"Many government buildings in the Kremlin area are closed to tourists, for the KGB is here, the Russian secret service, and other secret agencies. You can see their super glossy, long, black Russian-made Zia limos coming and going with police escorts, the bigwigs that run the various departments of the Government and the KGB (which is the same as our FBI)--but they don't ever slow down or stop and nobody is allowed to approach and get any pictures--they'd probably smash our cameras if anybody tried!

"Lenin's Tomb is in front of the Kremlin and they change the guard every hour with many people watching as I said before. Anybody from the group who wanted to could go in and view the body of Lenin, which is about sixty years dead but looks awfully lifelike and is kept in perfect preservation, according to a secret method the Soviets only know about and won't share with the public."

"I have my own theory, why he looks so alive for a dead man. I think they use Siberian prisoners they operate on and make over to look like him. It really isn't Lenin's body at all. Once he's inside that glass coffin, he's frozen and kept looking lifelike for quite some time, until they have to get somebody fresher, and then they replace him.

"In the afternoon we had a bus tour of Moscow for three hours and got to see a larger area of the city.

"Tonight we have our big dinner at a local restaurant. I had some clothes washed at the hotel for six rubles or $9.00 U.S. money. I was really hoping they could get out a big blotch of grape juice I spilled on the back of a tee shirt I like to wear without a shirt, but the stain wouldn't come out--I guess they don't know the right methods here like they do back home to get out stubborn stains. Prices are also high here in Russia.

"We took a bus to the restaurant for dinner. It was underground and had several large rooms. Our table was all ready for us with wine, vodka, cavier, tomatoes, bread, chicken, and other things. It was a very good dinner and the best on this trip. It took us about two hours for dinner and then we rode the bus half way back to the hotel and walked the rest of the way. It was a nice night out to walk the streets of Moscow and see how the local people live. They walk and sit and visit as there isn't much for them to do.

"We were to visit a children's school and playground to see how well socialist children are taken care of academically but school was closed because of a hepatitus outbreak and there were very few children around. Our guide started a long speech so I left and found two boys and a girl and played Frisbee with the. We were playing on the grass till a policeman told the kids that they couldn't play on the grass so we had to play on the pavement instead. They all spoke English and were nice kids. I gave them each a Frisbee and some Toronto Argonaut decals, which they really liked.

"Several in our group took to the subways for several hours and had a good look at them. Several of the subways have murals and crystal chandeliers and all are very clean and fast.

"We went on a tour of the Russian Economic Museum and it was very interesting. I got good pictures of Russian missiles. One was an ICBM, supposed to carry a nuclear warhead and able to reach Washington, but it was scrapped and sent to the museum when it was found too heavy, loaded with fuel, to fly. The guide said they retrieved it, but where and how was classified information."

"There was even a huge spaceship, the size and lengths of four football fields stacked on top of each other, built back in the Sixties to take a crew of 400 men and women (all card carrying communists, of course) to Alpha Centauri to plant the red star flag and colonize it--it was a gigantic nuclear rocket, but it never got beyond this one experimental prototype, and the project was abandoned because it would take too many generations to reach those stars and planets going less than the speed of light. And they weren't all that sure communists let go free like that would be solid communists when they finally arrived there, I guess."

"We thought the museum would be a small place and not interesting, but we were so wrong. It has seventy nine buildings and is on over eight hundred acres! There were space ships and missiles, as I said, plus airplanes, ships, mining and everything that is important on the economic side of Russia. The price to see this Museum was thirty kopecks or about forty five cents in U.S. money--which is nothing to gripe about considering all they had to show us.

"After dinner we can go to the ballet or do anything we want. I didn't intend to go to the ballet again, as we leave tomorrow and I had to pack and wanted to buy some last minute items, but the tour guide insisted, as it was by famous Bolshoi Ballet company dancers and this was the biggest event on our tour, he raved on and on. Against my better judgment I went and saw some oddly dressed dancers, supposed to be wood nymphs and satyrs, which are local Russian fairies I guess, and with Russian names for the dancers no American can spell or pronounce, all printed up in that strange Russian lettering they use instead of English letters. Why they can't make their writing more understandable in plain English, I can't understand. I guess they expect everyone to learn Russian--but that isn't going to happen, since they can't even get the grape stain out of my favorite sweatless, non-cotton tee shirt I bought on sale and paid $6 for at Peoples Department Store back home."

"It was a waste of time and money, so I left early and walked to the Gum Store, the large department store in Moscow that has nothing to do with Wrigleys Spearmint. Ha, did you get it? It was raining a bit, so I was glad I had brought along my raincoat. The crowds were pretty thick, despite the weather, so I got to mix in with the Russians doing their own thing as if I were Russian myself, and not a tourist people stop and stare at because you stick out like a rare duck.

The store closed at 9 o'clock sharp whether people still wanted to shop or not, and it was close to the time and I had some rubles and alot of decals left and did not want to waste them, but was having a hard time giving the Argonauts stickers and decals away, as people were pretty suspicious, thinking I was crazy to give anything away, I guess, in a workers paradise where there's no reason for giving stuff away. Not that I spent alot on them. The sports store where I got my factory defect-reduced for sale jogging shoes had these old Toronto Argonauts decals and stickers on sale in the clearance bin by the door--200 for a buck, so I helped myself--thinking the Russians I planned to give them to wouldn't know the NFL from the the CFL. Seeing those stickers and decals I couldn't help think of my Canadian aunt living in Toronto, who took in my sister years ago--and my sister stayed on there after the aunt passed, and mentioned going to Argonauts games when she wrote me a couple times before she got married and stopped writing."

"The ones that glow in the dark, I found, were going faster--as it was kind of dark on those stairs and they showed up more to the eye than the regular colored ones.

"I had found a flat part of some heavy traffic stairs where the people were clearing out of the store and put decals out and in a minute I had hundreds of hands reaching for them. I gave nearly all of them away in about ten minutes and still had time to get out before the doors were locked, when a policeman grabbed my arm. All of the people disappeared in a hurry."

"The policeman took me about four blocks from the store to the police station. There were maybe half a dozen policemen there, and they spread my confiscated decals and stickers out on a big table as evidence. Their commanding officer took the first look at the evidence.

After seeing what the evidence was against me, they all talked to each other about me but didn't know what to do. After about an hour of asking me about the Toronto Argonauts stickers and decals, demanding what they meant and all, such as the one that featured the football set with oars and sail, asking if that wasn't a bomb, and I kept saying, no, football! football! Finally, the meaning of the word musta got through their thick skulls, for I could see it dawned on them. They repeated the word after me, clapping my shoulder each time, only pronouncing it real funny. They said foot separate from ball and then made it rhyme with suit. After a while of this nonsense, the captain or some officer said to let me go. On the way out of the police station the policeman that grabbed me in the store asked me for a decal and sticker. I gladly gave him one that glowed. Boy, did he like that."

Since it had cost me only half a cent, to show these Russians we Americans don't forget and are not cheap toward our former friends and allies, I threw in a decal sticker with it."

"He was practically in tears when I handed him the second one, as these Russians are really emotional types, if you show the least bit of kindness to them. After all, this country wasn't exactly built on kindness, when you look at types like the Czars and then Lenin as a follow-up after the Communist revolution! Forgetting he was a policeman, he reached out and shook my hand!

Overcome by his reaction, I gave him a pen too, the clicking kind the Russians prefer, and he gave me a bear hug as if I were a long lost relative. Action in Russia!!! Click click click! was the last sound I heard as I took off and left the idiot eating my dust.

"August 26th. We went to the airport, and again the checks at the desk and in Customs and Security. They had to check everything, so see that we weren't smuggling out anything and had everything written down for Customs and the duties paid.

"The lady whose Russian books--Tolstoy, boring intellectual stuff like that, etc.--were taken by Customs when we first came into the country had them given back to her. One book was blacked out, the parts dealing with a prophecy of a Kremlin prophet around the turn of the century had been marked out with a Magic Marker. I asked her about the passage, and she told me it was a very special prophecy of a holy man--a top Orthodox Church bishop who was famous in old imperial Russian society, just before Czar Nikolaus was thrown out by the Communist revolution--and he said there would be a great revival, starting in Russia and spreading from Russia to all of Western Europe. She had hoped to find out something more by going to the Kremlin on this tour, but hadn't been able to get anyone there to tell her something new about the old bishop and his prophecy--in fact, they just clammed up the moment she said his name. I knew why. This stuff was so religious it wasn't going to go over with any Soviet police, when I heard her say this--and sure enough they didn't let her get that book out of the country with that passage still in it! This is not a Christian country, and they don't want prophecies about Russia like that being circulated, I guess.

"Then this same lady got funny looking, real greenish in color, rushed to the counter, said something, and they called a medic, as she had a terrible pain in her gut all of a sudden. Must have been something she ate! It bent her right over, and she was throwing up, only nothing came. The guide was all upset, as nobody had gotten really deathly sick like this on the tour--and now someone was in real bad shape, and would she be able to fly with us or not? This was the very worst time for this to happen!

But she didn't get any better as they tried to do what they could for her there, so the guide said she was going to have to be hospitalized, and would have to follow us on another flight when she recovered. Well, we couldn't argue with that--as it was beyond our control, and she wouldn't be anything but sick on the plane the whole flight back, and that would just expose us all to whatever she had.

With that decision made, a lady medic led her away, though they should have taken her in a stretcher, as she could hardly walk.

"So, with her gone, we were free to go. Wrong. They had a problem with my stuff. Some officers were checking at random to see we didn't take any rubles out either--as you can't take the Russian money out of the country and change it somewhere else, for some reason. Is their economy that unstable? Must be! I had missed spending and giving away all my leftover Russian money, and, wouldn't you know, they found one lousy ruble note in the pocket of one of my pants, together with a couple kopecks in the bottom of a suitcase. I would have gladly given the money to anyone, but they treated me as if I were trying to do something illegal on the black market. It held us all up, but finally the guide wanted the others to go ahead to the plane which might leave without us, and I was kept back. It was really embarrassing. They made me strip down to my shorts, as if I were some kind of criminal and was hiding rubles and contraband on me under my clothes.

Well, they soon saw I wasn't trying to smuggle out anything under my clothes, so then they went and ransacked my suitcase, tearing out the lining just to see if there wasn't maybe some photos or film of top secret spaceport installations, I guess. The contents, of course, were examined, piece by piece, held up for everybody in the airport to see, then thrown down on the floor. Our guide said he was sorry, but couldn't do anything more for me, and left to join the others boarding the plane. I was about to say, keep everything, including my luggage, just let me go--but then somebody said they didn't want American smugglers in their country and to impound the money and let me go without anything else done to me--and I was free! Boy, was I glad! I was one happy camper! I hurried and got to the plane in time to board and leave with the others. I was in a cold sweat by then. It was a real close call (I could see myself being hauled out to one of those gulags, or prison camps, in Siberia they don't dare show American tourists or the clergy), but I made it safe aboard and got to my seat, Number 13, which was, just my bad luck again, on the aisle and, on top of that, had somebody's used Kleenex on the seat and part of a cookie with a fly busy enjoying his dinner."

"Dear Barbara,

"Hope you won't mind me writing this at the end of Larry's journal, but there were alot of these leftover pages he never got to fill, poor boy, and I thought why not? I'm the type that doesn't like to see anything wasted!

"First, I am so very sorry for you and your family losing your beloved Larry so early in life and so suddenly and tragically like that. What could have made that plane turn back over the water just as it was at Long Island and there was just a few more minutes and it would have landed safely at JFK? I hear the F.B.I. investigation is still going on, as they are finding more and more pieces they think are part of the downed plane after the Coast Guard picked up a lot of floating luggage. This journal, evidently from the retrieved luggage, was sent to me by mistake, as they didn't see any reason to keep it as evidence, and thought somehow I was his relative--or maybe someone thought I would know where to send it on to the family if I wasn't his relative? I came in just a week after the flight, and the authorities that met me handed me this journal, all wrapped up carefully, and without any more explanation said I would know what to do with it. At least I thought they were the authorities--I saw nobody's badges or official ID's. I opened it and saw their mistake right away as soon as I got to a chair past the gate, but they were gone by then, and I couldn't give it back.

"But I need to explain how I was left behind!

When I got so sick in my stomach at the airport...I had stopped in at the airport cafe and eaten a cream-filled Swiss-style pastry the last thing to spend the Russian money I still had, and it didn't taste right to me, had a kind of taste of gasoline to it, but I thought some coffee with it would settle it down in my stomach, but it didn't!! The cramps started just when I got to Customs. Then worse effects developed. I had got food poisoning--ptomaine, I think it's called. That was the reason I missed the Air-France return flight, you may have heard. I feel so terribly guilty! I can't explain it, for how should I be a survivor, when all the rest were lost in that terrible accident?

"All that week in that dreary Moscow hospital I had time to think over the tour, and then the horrible news, held back by the security at the hospital and the doctors I think, and that set me back a few days, but finally I was feeling strong enough and the doctors let me go home.

"Now I want to share just a few things I thought about Larry on the tour. He was such a strong, silent, good-looking fellow, I really wanted to meet him, but I never got close enough to him, for some reason, for a chance to talk to him--except for a few words at the very end of the tour, that is. He was always leaving the group's scheduled events to do more interesting things, and I couldn't blame him for that, as our local guides were so windy, if you know what I mean. Those peace conferences too--all that talk about America being the aggressor and taking advantage of other countries who only wanted peace, which Russia has always tried to protect. Of course they always had to take our pictures as we signed their peace proclamations calling on the U.S. to give up all the bases in Europe, give up our nuclear missiles, and disarm, and then Russia will do the same. But the guides were the ones that we had to deal with the most. They were hard to listen to many times--their facts and figures made my head ache! Then they dragged us to alot of places I didn't find very appealing--and that Russian Economic Museum was the very worst--I thought it would never end--building after building, all monsters, dozens of them--all stuffed door to door with scientific equipment and gigantic space machines and the floors so poorly tiled or just rough cement, I broke the heels on both my shoes before we got out of there. It was so cold and draughty too--cold, even when it was pretty nice outdoors! I guess the ground that far north stays cold under those unheated buildings, then comes up through the floors. My feet felt like frozen most of the time touring Russia. Larry was always running in his jogging shoes, and I suppose he didn't feel it.

"As I said, would you believe it, we never got to talk to each other, except at the very end, when we were going through Customs. I told him about the book that was causing such a flutter with the Customs. They gave it back, but had marked out the passage that had to do with a special prophecy, made by a prophet in the Kremlin long ago, just before the last czar was thrown out by the communists. He said there would be a big revival spread from Russia all the way to Britain! That means a Christian awakening--and it would just change everything and how it's done in Europe--if it comes to pass. The prophet was a famous bishop--and very respected, even among the nobility, according to the book's account of him. But I couldn't go into all that, in the time we had. I had just mentioned this as briefly as I could when I started feeling awfully sick.

I really wish I could have gotten to know your brother more, Barbara. He seemed just the type I admire--who has a mind of his own, and doesn't need to depend on others, and doesn't run with the herd, if you know what I mean. The rugged individualist, they call it. I felt the moment I saw him he was a practical, no-nonsense, dependable-type guy I could have connected with--but I decided early on I wasn't going to make the first move. I wanted to see if he really was interested in me. I could have made it happen--but I could tell he didn't like being pushed or intruded on. Yet he did let down his guard once, once only, and then he said a few things to me, almost as if he was talking to himself and forgot I was standing there listening. He said, 'Oh, crap, that clickclickclicking again--it drives me wild! I can't think when it does that! And somehow I remember--where was I flying?--right at some big iron tower, inside a rocket? Then crashing into a huge statue on a barge in some river--and after that another crash, into a building that looked like the British House of Commons? And that awful clickclickclicking meanwhile! It drives me wild!'"

"I reached out my hand to him, trying to help him, but he suddenly stiffened up, stared at me as if I was crazy to do that, and he was his former self-assured self! If only...but it wasn't to be, obviously. He was definitely a man who sailed his own ship, and charted his own course in life--and he lived that way to the end, and has "gone fishing," as they say--though I overheard him say one time on the tour--I think it was in the Hermitage when we were viewing the pictures--he didn't believe in God and hell and that sort of thing...but I think I could have got him to look at things differently, if I had had the chance to tell him my life story and the miracles I've experienced--being cured of Lou Gerig's Disease when my church prayed for me, and no relapses either!

"If there is anything I can do or say, Barbara, let me know, and call me. My number is enclosed. You lost a wonderful brother, no doubt, with a super big heart, and generous to a fault (I saw him always giving out pens and things to the poor Russians everywhere we went!), and I can tell he loved children too (played Frisbee with them), and so the Russians loved him to pieces (you should have seen the bear hugs he got!). He never once complained either, about the things we had to put up with on the tour. For all the big military machine you can't help but notice everywhere, Russia is still pretty primitive in spots, you know, not like America at all, but he didn't say one word about Russia being so behind the times in many places. He always managed to find something interesting to do! Our guides were always upset about how he got around them, and didn't go to the Peace Meetings and even left the Russian ballet early, but they didn't know always what we liked or enjoyed. Larry did though--he knew what he liked. And if Larry was anything, I know he was a fellow who did things his way, just like that wonderful Frank Sinatra song Paul Anka wrote just for him, "I did it my way."

Well, must end this. My best wishes and deepest condolences to you and your family! Like Larry, I took a pictures on the tour, by the way, which are still being processed, and I will send you the one I have of poor dear Larry, wearing those cute Australian outback shorts he always wore, in a place where he was standing, trying to change some money I guess back in the hotel in Mongolia and not having much luck.--Clare Huntington"

"P.S. I forgot to add that I didn't read Larry's journal, not a word, as I thought that would be taking a liberty, as he hadn't written it for me to look at--and not having actually introduced ourselves or talked together on the tour, I wasn't exactly in his confidence. I am not sure anybody really was--as I didn't see him talking to anyone in our group all that much. I hope he wasn't disappointed in the tour, even if the itinerary wasn't everything I too had hoped. Like some others in the group, I had gone really excited because I was expecting to visit Leo Tolstoy's country estate and also some of those wonderful Moscow places he wrote about in "War and Peace" and "Anna Kerenina." Every year at Christmas I go to a performance of Tchaichovsky's Nutcracker Suite--and it is like nothing else I've ever seen--you cannot help but fall in love with Russia! I also wanted to see any place relating to Boris Pasternak and "Dr. Zhivago," since that is such a great love story and movie, but they said they hadn't read it or seen the film. Can you believe that? I heard the Russians were all such great readers and theater goers too--not like us Americans who just read Westerns and Stephen King and science fiction and littlemissnursey-gets-the-doctor series. Our guides didn't know anything about Tolstoy and Pasternak, which I thought was kinda dumb for supposedly educated Russians who are always bragging about Russian culture, and when I said Pasternak had been awarded the Nobel Prize, they looked shocked and turned gray as Grant's Tomb in the face, as if I had mentioned something that could get them in big trouble. As for Doestoevsky, Golgol, and Turgenev, I decided to save my breath. If they could wear their pants rolled at the bottom and not get them tailored--as I saw some do--they are probably not going to be interested in all those famous Russian writers whose books I read in the hospital made me want to see Russia as soon as I was well enough. They gave me a real incentive to get out of that bed--and I did!--thanks to God and alot of people praying!

"If I get a chance, I might just drop up to Toronto sometime. I always wanted to see a bit of Canada's blue Rockies and Lake Louise I've heard so much about, and if you can find the time, we will have a little chat about Larry and I can show you pictures from the tour! If you like that idea, of course!"

Unchronicle and Unchronicle Conclusion, depicting Larry's experiences on various Optional Trips available. See the Chronicles Directory II.

Retro Star Directory and Linking Page

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