Tag: Travel

Russian Doll by Andrea Lynn Koohi

I never travelled as a kid but I did play “spin the globe”. It’s that game you play by yourself where you close your eyes and spin a globe, then use your index finger to stop it. When you open your eyes and see where your finger landed, that’s the next place you pretend to visit.

It seemed whenever I played this game, I landed on Russia. The largest country in the world, of course, but my 13-year old self took it as a sign. A sign I had some connection to this frigid, far-off place. And so began my Russian obsession. Mostly 19th century Russian stuff, since that’s all I could get my hands on, but I took what I could get. I borrowed books on Russian history, read all 800 pages of Anna Karenina. Ignored the strange looks of passers by as I sat on the beach with Crime and Punishment while other kids read Harry Potter. I imagined myself a Russian beauty with a pale, heart-shaped face and ever-blonde hair. I knew without a doubt I’d marry a Russian, study Russian in university. At night, Tchaikovsky blasted in my headphones while my mother and her boyfriend slurred daggers in the kitchen, diminuendos punctuated by crashing glass and the thud of bone on drywall. Sure, my pants had holes in the seams and I slept on the floor, but I burrowed in a dreamland, my own Nutcracker fairy tale, dancing the mazurka with a Russian beau.

The Scent of Smoke by Michelle Lawson

A heavy breath of smoke and things smoked wafts through the open doorway. It’s the scent of silver plumes spiraling from heavy stone roofs, the deep odor of smoked meats and the tang of clothing dried around the fireplace. It’s also the only sign of life in this shuttered village shadowed by the damply wooded Pyrenean foothills. Like other valleys, it’s seen a steady population decline from the end of the 19th century, although descendants of the original emigrants sometimes return to their ancestral homes during the summer months.

But the voices I hear aren’t always French. There’s a scattering of English incomers settled in this wilder western side of the Ariège département of France, following their dream of a new life across the Channel. The western Ariège, however, is a long way from sunny gourmet France, being a place of stubbornly rooted wildness. People talk about leaving England for the French way of life and an old-fashioned sense of community, then end up leaving their families to live amid the ghostly silence of abandoned and decaying houses. Some feel disquiet when they realise they share the landscape with a growing international community of pierced and dreadlocked incomers. What the French call the neo-ruraux, or marginaux, these seekers of an alternative way of life sometimes squat in empty barns, using adjacent battered vans as cupboards and wardrobes.