Thursday, June 16, 2011

"I CAN See Russia From My House"

We're walking through the Visitor's Center in Fairbanks  (that's Otto in the picture, parked at the visitor's Center) and we see people going into an auditorium. Then coming out. Going in. Coming out.

So, we check it out, and find three men, all native people age 60-plus, scurrying about on stage, packing up fiddles, keyboards and speakers, cleaning up from an afternoon of entertainment.

One of the three sees us and does one of those arm waves. "Come on in! We just finished rehearsing, but you are welcome to come in, sit down."  So we sit, in comfy upholstered movie-house chairs.

The room doubles as a movie theater and stage-show venue. The real show, he says, begins Monday, with a week-long salute to native cultures in Alaska. He's a musician.

But his first love is storytelling.

This older native Alaskan is a storyteller, and even though his audience is just us two, he entertains as he packs up with sagas about his life in the military in South Carolina and Kentucky (he jokes about how awful the chicken is at Kentucky Fried Chicken, but how wonderful it is in South Carolina.)

And then he vindicates Sarah Palin.

Now, I'm no Palin fan, so I'm not looking for ways to clear her name.  And in fact, most of the people I talk to here in her state pepper their opinions with words like pit bull, mean and bullish. They roll their eyes. Call her an embarrassment.

So I was taken aback when this man, this native Alaskan, vindicates her. Without naming her, or even intending, he vindicates her.

He does it when he talks about growing up with Russia in his back yard. He say that during the Cold War, he and his hunting buddies used to see Russian submarines in the waters off the Alaska coast, and they'd shoot at the hulls.

I laugh, and say something about his story being a David-and-Goliath tale. 

He doesn't laugh back.

Instead, he continues to story tell, and says the shooting scared the submarines away, because who wants a hole in their submarine?

He's serious. So I get serious, and ask the big question: Can you really see Russia from your house.

With binoculars, he nods. Russia is only two miles away from his village. He can see them; they can see him. With binoculars.

The famous Sarah quote that Tina Fey parodied ("I can see Russia from my house") actually  went like this: "They're our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska." 

So according to this native Alaskan, Sarah's right. You can see Russian from Alaskan land. His land.

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