Literary Yard

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Toast to International Friendship

By: Valery Petrovskiy

Snow picWhen he came, a book lay on my desk, just children’s book, no suspense. Mere travel notes of a man who spent a vacation in Siberia rafting with his friends: fishing around and hunting whenever possible, they even met a bearonce. On their way they called on professional hunters and fishermen while staying the night, and even had a chance to visit some reindeer breeders there. At last they were stuck for a few days at a neglected airfield, whether because of weather or just waiting for a regular plane there.

A very simple book, light and cheerful, it had been written by a young Soviet journalist with an Estonian name, all about folks he had met once in Siberian taiga. And they helped him much there, nice folks on the river banks, whom he made friends after rafting downstream over the rapids. A fine book with a happy end: his squad of four finished safe still more friends having found. It was published when I first went to school, maybe folks then were different, naïve and pure.

The guys lived in Tallinn then, went to work daily, and awaited wages monthly. Once in spring they packed up their things and flew away to Siberia, leaving their wives, debts and summer cottages behind. They could be easily missing, though nobody made them to run risks going down the river.

So when I had the book on my writing table, my friend dropped in. He was of Mari nation and of the same roots as Estonians. I told him the travelling story and let him keep the book for some time, a hardback with a green cover, by Lennart Meri. And I was interested whether the author was alive yet, and what he was busy with after so many years passed. Then I suggested writing a letter to him, “Dear Author, We have read your book and we are interested what happened to the heroes in the sequel …” Or at least a life story of the author, if possible in so much time.

My friend had his doubts: where to send a letter if any, to what address in new Estonia, and who would look there for an old writer. “It’s of no importance nowadays that someone wrote a book in 1964, he is not Dumas to search after him in so many years”, he said.

It didn’t hurt my feelings; we were just discussing the matter after he had dropped in to me and saw the book. We could easily do without a letter; furthermore, I didn’t know Mr. Lennart and never was to Estonia. Nothing to discuss, the book turned out near at hand quite by chance, I could be sitting there reading any other book when he came. Nevertheless, I like disputing with my friends: to discuss things or even argue sometimes, or just to recall various episodes from the past. Better to do it at table: to talk politics, speak of women, drink cognac; he prefers Georgian, one named after Saradgashvilli, it’s so special.

Such a pity we mix rarely, we should communicate more. My friend is a journalist too; he travels to some places in Siberia as that Lennart did once. Oh, I should get rid of his name! One time my friend reached a mountain at Altai, where a well-known Russian writer Schukshin used to climb when young. It all because he thought Schukshin had Mari origin “…due to his piercing look,” he explained to me. I would never tell that, but my friend ever delved into every detail. It’s so good to discuss things with him.

…His wife didn’t believe that after midnight we started playing chess in his office while drinking Georgian cognac, and then kicked a ball on a bet aiming spacing between two legs of a stool early in the morning. Then we had been discussing something, I don’t know what. It didn’t matter much; in any case we had a nice time.

And in the morning he confided to me that he was to Tallinn, some years after he had called on me and saw the book on my desk. Then he was invited to visit Estonian parliament because Mari people were close to Estonian, he said, and there he toasted to international friendship. When he was back, he had a lot of business cards with him, and among them one of Lennart Meri. Well, he occurred to be the first Estonian president, already retired. But my friend failed to recall him, “ Just an ordinary old man, a tall one, lean and grey, perhaps…” He could tell me nothing more about him.

And I don’t know where the book is now, a hardback with a green cover. By Lennart Meri.

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