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Ромей Тиланус «Путешествие с Ремом и Инной» (Romee Tilanus “Travels with Rem and Inna”)

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Летом 2010 года совместную поездку на Байкал совершили две семьи: журналист Всемирной службы BBC Питер Дей с супругой Ромей Тиланус и красноярский учёный Рем Григорьевич Хлебопрос с супругой Инной Александровной Кижнер и одиннадцатилетним сыном Сашей. Во время поездки Ромей вела дневник, а Питер — фотохронику. Дневник и фотографии вместе с сопроводительным письмом они любезно предоставили для публикации на нашем сайте "Современные проблемы. Библиотека". Дневник Ромей писала по-английски. Так его и публикуем. А текст письма приводим в переводе на русский язык.

Встреча с Ремом

В июле 2010 года, по приглашению Инны и Рема, мы провели незабываемый отпуск на Байкале, на острове Ольхон. После длительной электронной переписки с Инной, которая ранее обращалась к Питеру по поводу участия в конференции, проводимой Сибирским федеральным университетом в Красноярске, мы, наконец, встретились — вначале с Инной в Москве, а затем с Ремом в Красноярске. Они были бесконечно гостеприимны.

Рем совсем не говорил по-английски, но во время нашей первой совместной прогулки вдоль берега мы попытались завести разговор о недавней поездке в Москву. Махнув рукой, Рем подытожил нашу попытку одним всеобъемлющим словом "ВАВИЛОН" — в этот момент всем стало ясно, что мы отлично понимаем друг друга.

На Ольхоне мы совершали прогулки, куда-то ездили, что-то смотрели, катались на лодке, однажды даже окунулись в ледяное озеро — но всё это в ожидании вечерней программы. Вечерами в нашем уютном деревянном домике, достав бутылку отличной водки, Рем начинал лекцию. Каждый вечер он выбирал ту тему, которая занимала его могучий интеллект в течение дня, а мы сидели, потягивая вино, и слушали, зачарованные. Он говорил обо всём на свете: об истории, философии, религии, науке, поэзии, мечтах и реальности. Благодаря дотошным переводам Инны, которые так удобно было записывать, мы наслаждались широтой и богатством этих интереснейших разговоров. К концу вечера бутылка пустела, за окном опускались сумерки, а мы испытывали душевный подъём и просветление.

Большое спасибо как Рему, так и Инне за незабываемые дни, проведённые вместе.

Питер Дэй + Ромей Тиланус

Лондон, 8.10.2018

Meeting Rem

In July 2010 Inna and Rem invited us to an unforgettable holiday on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal. After an extended electronic correspondence with Inna who had previously approached Peter to attend a conference at the Federal University of Siberia in Krasnoyarsk, we finally met first Inna in Moscow and subsequently Rem in Krasnoyarsk. They made us extremely welcome.

Rem spoke no English but during our first walk to the river we attempted a conversation about our recent visit to Moscow. With a sweep of his arm Rem summed up our experience with one universal word ’VAVILON’ — a moment of total mutual understanding.

On Olkhon Island the days were passed with walks, trips, explorations, a boat ride, even one brisk dip in the freezing cold lake — all this in anticipation of the evening programme. In the evenings, in our cosy wood-clad room and fortified by a bottle of the better vodka, Rem would launch into a lecture. Every night he would have chosen a specific topic which he had prepared in his mighty mind during the day and we would sit, sip and listen, spellbound. The topics covered almost everything under the sun, history, philosophy, religion, science, poetry, dreams and truth. Thanks to Inna’s meticulous word for word translations — ideally paced for note taking — we were enabled to relish Rem’s rich and wide ranging mental excursions. At the end of the evening the bottle was empty, the light was low but our spirits were burning high.

Many thanks to both Rem and Inna for a most memorable time together.

Peter Day + Romee Tilanus

London, 8.10.2018

Baikal 23rd-31st July 2010

Friday 23rd July

10.58 Krasnoyarsk time, 6.58 Moscow time: the train arrives. We show tickets and passports to be allowed to climb into the train. ’Not the best one’, says Inna, but we know no better. Twenty-minute stop for people to get off and on. A babouschka in cardigan and slippers embracing her buxom daughter, with tears streaming down her face; dour, strong men carrying heavy bags, a young girl flying into the arms of her young man who is holding a bunch of yellow lilies — and so on.

On the dot of 11.20am (7.20 Moscow time) we depart. First: 60 kms of Krasnoyarsk — featureless, grey blocks of flats. All is cheerless, functional, mass- produced, unloved.

The cosiest place in the whole of Russia (so far) is the Trans Siberian Express: a long caravan of snug compartments gently trundling along at perhaps 50/60 km per hour. Four beds per cabin. Peter and I first share a cabin with a stern girl who does not smile. Then we re-arrange ourselves to be in a threesome; Rem moves in with the dour girl. White tablecloths on the tables, a big and ancient tank with hot water at the end of each carriage, curtains, clean white bed linen, hooks for coats, glasses in silver coloured holders for our tea and water. And particularly this gentle, trundling speed, steady enough for writing.

The views are exhilirating: shimmering birch woods, of course, the light playing on the shiny white trunks, conifers, larches; and all trees looking extremely healthy, happy even. Meadows full of summer flowers, purple (willow herb), white (spiraea), yellow (woodruff, St John’s wort, snap dragon), all familiar favourites. Peter is busy filming as no pen can describe the spaciousness and loveliness of the Siberian landscape. Joy.

Inna has brought a lunch of minced meat, rolls, very dark rye bread, cheese, juicy tomatoes and water. Desert: tea and biscuits. Rem is launching into one of his lectures about Suzdal (which we had visited with Inna the previous week), religious centre and for some time during the 12th century the capital of the Rostov-Suzdal principality, before Ivan de Terrible brought the church under the power of the state. Before the time of the Old Believers who were opposed to a prescribed, autocratic belief system and wanted to revert to a simple New Testament way of life and first Christian principles. A conversation about belief.Rem: real atheists and real believers are very close together; they have ideals. Dreams are from God, thoughts are from Rem.

From the window: pink swathes of willow herb, young and old birches. Suddenly in the middle of nowhere a small plot planted with potatoes, and then another one. Who dug this, planted this, will harvest and eat it? No tracks, no huts. Further along a chimney, some low office blocks. An old machine smoking - distillery? Small station. We slow down, but don’t stop. Some kind of industry with another chimney blowing yellow smoke. 3.40 (11.40 Moscow time) we arrive at a town with stone buildings: Ilanskaya. A slow train pulls in at the next platform. People clamber down the huge steps, across the tracks onto the next platform. Some are met, occasionally, with one matter-of-fact kiss on the cheek. A woman carrying a basket full of beetroots walks by. A young man helps an elderly woman climb unto the platform. A tourist with backpack and wide-rimmed cowboy hat steps purposefully across the tracks. He seems to know the way — is he from here? A big woman in apron, headscarf, socks and plastic shoes carrying two heavy bags walks past.Plenty to look at.

Animated supper on board the train: rye bread and cheese, half a meatball, slices of sausage and flavoursome pomidor. Finished off with a fragrant cup of tea from the samovar. Reliably and spellbindingly Rem launches into one of his riffs — this time about the relationship between the number of immigrants in a country and its internal health (they’re Kazakstani, Uzbekistani or other -stani in this country; eastern European, African in the UK).

When the Romans began to need Vandals to keep their society ticking over, that was the beginning of the end. Rem predicts that the West will implode (either in 2020 or 2040 — no explanation of these exact dates). Russia before everyone else, then probably France. Peter tells his story of the devastating influence of the Ford model T on 19th century agriculture in America. His sources — the Draves in River Falls Wisconsin— predict a similarly dramatic impact on 21st century life: the Internet. Three possibilities, says Rem picking up the theme while Inna keeps translating carefully and attentively:

1: a totalitarian use of the Internet

2:a ’wild’ market — both systems will undermine themselves

3: the ’Ghollandski’ model: compromise, give and take.

And so the evening passes into night and the train trundles along — stopping every now and then for a long and silent think. After 11pm we stretch ourselves out on the narrow but firm bench bed, soft pillows, shallow sleep. Very hot in the night, briefly woken up at 4.50am (because the lavatories close 40 minutes before arrival).

Saturday 24th July

Grey morning. 6am in Irkutsk. Driver meets us. On our way to Lake Baikal. Empty, broken roads. Much dereliction around. Dusty verges. We pass one or two handsome buildings. A school? An official building? Wooden houses too, as in Krasnoyarsk.

Drive, fast, for two and a half hours. Breakfast at roadside cafe: some kind of meat dumpling (as they have in dim sum) + weak tea. Onwards. The road stops. Only rough road from now on. Clouds of dust, we close all windows. Driver often prefers a sandy track running parallel to stony ’main’ road. Lots of swerving about.

How we entrust our lives to others when travelling: to pilots, train drivers and now to this big, burly and swarthy man behind his steering wheel. Earlier his eyes kept nearly closing and I monitored him anxiously in the mirror. But then Rem engaged him in conversation and after a bit of breakfast he seems alerter. This whole trip is actually built on trust: Rem and Inna trusted us enough to invite us on this big adventure and we trusted them enough to say ’Yes’.

Finally, at 10.15am we arrive at the small, almost makeshift harbour. (On the way some cows, including a dead one by the side of the road, horses and, noticeably, in many patches of wood birches bending over, every which way. I ask Rem whether these trees are dying. But as they are green he doesn’t think they are dying. There could be several reasons for such a ’drunken forest’: lack of water, wind, the effects of winter. I suggest they might be bowing to us, as last night we had a little jolly fantasy about me being the Queen, Sasha Ambassador to China, Inna Minister of Education, Peter Prime Minister and Rem General Advisor and Think Tank.)

A long row of cars is waiting, but we’re briefly on foot for the crossing — to be met by another driver on the other side. We watch with fascination old, rickety cars and vans descend backwards from the old ferry. One bus has two goes at creeping off — logs of wood are moved up a little. Hazardous still, but the bus manages.

Rem calls it quite mediaeval; it surely is amazingly crude and primitive. We cross the deepest lake (formerly 7 kms, now 2 kms) with the purest water and reach the island.At this point, more thoughts from Rem: The crust of the planet. Thin crust of hard matter on the surface, no more than 2 kms thick in places. Under it a liquid layer, with high pressures. Solid matter becomes liquid in this layer. At the very centre a solid core, probably of some metal substance. This is all theory.

Tidal waves, caused by the influence of the moon may well happen inside the planet. If you squeeze things they produce a sound. If you squeeze crystals they emit electricity (Piezo effect). Hertz experiment > radio etc. Same effect inside the earth. A friend of Rem’s decided to research this. There are no sounds in places with oil. This is how you can locate oil, water, gas — all based on the amount of noise that is created.

This system of measuring, using increased pressure, would enable scientists to predict an earthquake three-to-four months prior to the event.

Some lecture like this will flow out of Rem (and Inna) whatever the subject: tundra grass, drunken woods, subterranean waves, the future of Russia, boring ice from Lake Baikal which shows many layers of sedimentation (more than 100 rivers flow into Lake Baikal).

In Nikita Bencharov’s homestead on Olkhon Island, a plateful of pickled fish from Lake Baikal and a new bottle of Vodka. The toasts tonight are ’to the organiser’ (wonderful, purposeful Inna) and ’to the island that brought us together’. More deep talk about ideas preceding theories (Galileo, Newton, Darwin etc). Marx and Engels based their ideas on practice. Rem thinks`z that can only be inadequate, limiting. That way ideas won’t push borders.

I interject the idea of the constrictions of communication (which I had been thinking about during the flight to Moscow), but I get almost swept off the table — what an idiotic idea! Constrictions? Communication is everything, from a look, a touch, a word, to a deep conversation, even lies. (Lies are essential, says Rem).

A lot about truth. Scientific truth will out. Nothing can stop or withstand it. Rem’s inspiration has been all his life to look for this ’truth’.

Another rich evening with Inna translating so thoughtfully and conscientiously — but then it’s time to go to bed. HET! NO! rather it’s time for a little folk concert in the cafe with balalaika, trumpet and three young men singing. Sasha is mesmerised. So here we are sitting on benches at wooden tables being delightfully entertained by these young men in hats. I toast ’young men in hats everywhere’ (and think of our dear Bennieboy).

Sunday 25th July

Radiant sunshine, friendly low clouds sailing across the hills opposite. Rem and Sasha are having a lie-in; Inna, Peter and I breakfast together. After breakfast we go for a slow walk with Rem.

Looking out over the blue lake, Rem starts another story. Look at the mountains opposite. They have their own slow timescale. None of us will be there at the eventual breaking apart of Europe and Asia (along the Baikal zip). The clouds, however, are different every day, changing all the time. When we try to solve problems we must make sure we distinguish between long term (mountain) problems and short term (cloud) problems.

That makes poetic sense. He then goes on to talk about the effect Nature has on him. Early in the morning looking out over a desert sprinkled with dew has given him feelings of intense excitement, like when a boy dances with a girl. Contemplating the wide river at home (the Yenisei River in Krasnoyarsk) also makes him feel excited. The colours and the beauty and especially the smell excite him. I’m beginning to get familiar with these story-telling cadences — Inna always keeping the stream of consciousness going most loyally.

But when I’m sitting here (Rem goes on) looking out over this beautiful lake, the feelings are more meditative. I don’t have any urge to master Nature. I reply that I never feel the urge to master Nature; Nature makes me feel small and incredibly excited to be alive.

’You were born to be religious’, says Rem. I say I’m not sure about that. Peter, meanwhile, is capturing majestic Nature on one of his three cameras.

Rem repeats that the scientist looking for the truth and the religious person looking for the truth will end up very close together. I say that I think so too. Suggest that that’s why he likes Ge’s painting in the Tretyakov Museum so much, of Jesus asking Pilate ’What is Truth?’ Inna answers sadly that Rem never saw it. It was Fet who liked it so much.

Rem then goes on to describe a painting in Kiev which moved him deeply. As a young man (before the accident happened in which he lost an eye and most of his sight in the other eye) he once wandered into an old church in Kiev. He walked down the stairs. When he got to the bottom there was a painting on which the stairs seemingly continued. At the bottom of those stairs crouched a peasant (or stood, or sat). The peasant was looking up at the rich man coming down the stairs. The look in the eyes of the peasant was immensely sad.

Years later he saw such a look in eyes again. A photograph of people being herded out of a ghetto. In front of the crowd stood a small boy. The look in his eyes was just as deeply sad as that of the peasant. A puzzled look, as if to say: why is this world so unfair? When he was in Kiev recently with Sasha and went to look for the painting to show Sasha, he couldn’t find it. Nobody knew anything about it. ’Have you told Sasha this story?’ I asked. Not yet, Rem said, but I will,I will.

Over lunch Inna and Peter and I talk about music. In Krasnoyarsk there used to be a solemn German conductor. He fell out with the orchestra and left. Then they got a young Chinese conductor (Inna’s age, late 20s). He was wonderful and made every concert a feast. ’In addition,’ (one of Inna’s pet phrases) there was a music lecturer who would give an introductory talk before a concert — which made listening to the music that much more interesting. They used to take Sasha (aged only five or six) to these concerts. Inna’s father was very good at entertaining Sasha. These were wonderful occasions. But the German conductor made up with the orchestra and returned. The Chinese conductor left. Now they don’t go to concerts any more.

Sasha ’confessed’ to liking last night’s music jolly. But Inna is very anxious to instil good taste and sound values in the boy. I said he was lovely already. She said her serious ’Thank you’.

In the afternoon Peter and I walked along the beach to the north of the homestead. Gritty sand, quite dirty. A lot of horrible rubbish just lying around: plastic bottles, tins, paper, the usual. No clear rubbish policy. We wondered whether the rubbish at the overflowing rubbish containers will ever be collected.

Lots of people camping wild. Behind their tents coy square cubicles in which they do their business: grim the one I looked down into. But despite the conditions, a lovely time is being had by all: sunbathing, paddling (not many up higher than their knees in the cold water, 16°c. One or two intrepid swimmers). Campers, their smoking fires, flapping tarpaulin; dusty cars everywhere.

We sit in the shade of a small gnarled larch tree. Two young Russians approach us. They ask if they can talk to us. The man studied law, now does business. What business? Trading — real estate, we seem to understand. The girl is in the middle of her bookkeeping studies. She works for him as a manager. They ask how far we’ve come. We trace our journey, Moscow, Krasnoyarsk, Trans Siberian Express, long car drive. But, I say, it was worth it.

It was worth it. ’Worth?’ she asks. I write the word in the sand. ’Worth?’ she repeats. ’Money?’ No, I say, very beautiful here. Oh, she suddenly understands with a happy smile ’worth is cost but no money’. A wonderful instance of communication.

Lake Baikal

It was worth it, we

said — she looked puzzled. Smiled:

’cost, but not money’.

Trying to talk without a shared language reduces you to an imbecile, says Peter. Still this was a little gem of a moment. V hot. We go home and lie about.

That evening more Rem ideas: religion can be an issue. Religion came into being with human consciousness. Fet’s book. Speech arrived in a rudimentary language, some 170.000 years ago. That was the first cultural revolution. Then came tools, including killing tools (+ 40.000 years ago — developing suddenly more rapidly). Tribes also developed their religions to understand the world around them. Another milestone in the development of the human story was when people no longer lived in small groups of 50/80, but in larger groups of 100s and more. Quite often a religion united these people.

The instinct of living in a small group is present in all human animals. The move to be able to live in large groups is — to Rem — an important development in people’s development. Fet thought a certain gene disappeared (to enable people to live in larger groups) whereas Rem thinks this is more of a cultural evolution.

In those early times there were some, if few, atheists. In the 18th century enlightenment, the French created anti-religion — received religion versus scientific knowledge. Science provided technical progress while on the other hand the Catholic Church put a brake on scientific progress. At first it looked as if religion would disappear from our societies.

Rem thought that religion would survive and was based on the fear of death. The belief that souls are eternal when bodies disappear. Or meeting eternity. A primitive atheist thinks of pleasure for the next 4/5 hours and is not afraid of prison. A Christian believer embraces eternity and that’s his advantage. He is not afraid of death.

A non-primitive atheist (Rem himself) stops immediately and simultaneously. But his intellectual work survives in culture. Pythagoras is more famous than Madonna. Rem, for his sake, would like the eternity of Pythagoras’ scale. He is all right about his soul to die.

There is still an issue why religion is still around in spite of science and engineering. Rem would have said ’the fear of death’, before meeting Fet. All atheists since the French enlightenment would have come up with this explanation. But Fet came up with another explanation. Sciences deprive people of their ideals while religions advance ideals (and have done so for thousands of years) Ideals are as important for human progress as science. Science > comfort. Ideals > ethics. The fact that science has not occupied itself with ideals is a fatal error.

Peter: What about philosophy?

Rem: Philosophy is not a science — it’s closer to religion. Science started with Galileo. Lenin and other Marxists were speaking of scientific communism. They wanted to create a kind of scientific philosophy. In the event they produced a kind of Christian ideal.

Peter: Fet says in his book: progress has no end (= no purpose) but progress.

Rem: Art for art’s sake, progress for progress’s sake, profit for profit’s sake — always ends in disaster. And we have just faced such disaster. We’ve destroyed a culture (European); we’ve destroyed the biosphere; we’ve destroyed our souls. And we have no ideals.

When Fet died his wife found numerous texts - disconnected. They were the same thoughts considered from different viewpoints. Many themes: religion, Russian intelligentsia, Polish revolution. He concealed his work very well. It was translated into 16 languages but the KGB did not know his identity.

Fet’s book Instinct and Social Behaviour (of which Inna gave us chapter 12) was poetic. He was also a mathematician (quite a famous one). Rem and Fet wrote a book on mathematics together (published 2008 — Singapore).

Peter: Has mathematics not got some ideal? Rem: It has nothing to do with a soul.

Rem continues: Kurt Vonnegut Cat’s Cradle (moving tank from A > B; powder freezes water; tank moves over — powder turns whole world into ice). The instinct for altruism vs intraspecies competition has ruled humanity since its beginning.

Monday 26th July

The owner of the resort, Nikita, spontaneously suggested a boat ride when Rem spontaneously invited him to his conference. But in the event Sasha has a cold today so plans are shifted: boat trip postponed. Instead the three of us, Inna, Peter and I go on a daytrip to the northern tip of the island. ’There will be fish soup.’

A whole convoy of grey and white people vans sets off along sandy, bumpy tracks. The surface of the tracks is hazardous, deep holes, sudden angles, steep rises, but our Buryat driver dances across any unevenness with confidence and panache (a boat trip would have been smoother).

First stop by the lake: blue, incredibly clear. The hills on the west coast are quite close but hazy. Second stop in a wood with wonderful undergrowth — all kinds of leaf patterns, ferns, anemones, vetch-type leaves, grasses — everything growing in lusty profusion. Dead trunks attract huge anthills.

Just a strange absence, or maybe just a silence of birds. Third stop at the side of a huge flower meadow — steppe. Now I understand why Rem goes nostalgic at the mention of steppe. We wade through the most exciting mixture of flowers, herbs and grasses: bright pink carnations, some kind of creamy lambs ear, swathes of yellow bedstraw, spiky purple salvia stems, long-eared grasses, something with a white, wide carrot like flower (it does indeed taste like carrot), chives, wild garlic, and edelweiss as prolific as clover in an English meadow.

Suddenly we come upon the intense blue flowers we’d been seeing from the car. What are they? Monks hood? Gentians? Ah, they are the most wonderfully aquamarine blue larkspurs. Peter takes lots of close up pictures, Inna takes a picture of Peter and me behind these blue wonder flowers. I take a picture of Inna and Peter against the lake.

Next stop, a long one at the very end of the island. We climb up to the northern cliff, quite high above the glassy lake. People leave bits of money on odd ledges. Also there suddenly is a swaddled tree, or pole. Shamanism, apparently. Scores of people tie a strip of clothing unto a branch and the whole tree is hung with bits of rags.

When we get back to our party of 10, there are small wood fires all along the edge of the wood. Everyone is cooking: our driver has cooked a delicate fish soup: just bits of potato and chunks of fish (caught this morning), the endemic omul fish, only existing in this lake. Bread and cheese, fresh tomato, cucumber and onion. Delicious!

(Lake Baikal contains nearly 1/5 of the world’s fresh water — it used to be 7kms deep, but about 100 rivers have depositedtheir sediment into the lake some 5kms thick).

To finish off, a fragrant cup of black tea with a small, dense, round pastry tasting of aniseed. The drivers of the various vans cook these wholesome brews on an open wood fire in buckets, gone as black as the kettles next to them. A very memorable picnic indeed.

Peter remembers how his mother used to fuss about wrapping everything in greaseproof paper and how many sandwiches exactly. This was real camping: simple, efficient, not too clean and leaving a delicious aftertaste.

Inna was a scout in her school years, but by then being a scout wasn’t about camping or gaining badges, but about meetings and how to encourage one’s peers to develop their ethical values and behaviour.

At about 3 o’clock we climb on board our stalwart van again. Inna has found out that the other passengers are: a GP from Moscow and his daughter, a teacher of Russian, a physicist from Krasnoyarsk and his economist partner (they’re camping and look very fit), a nursery teacher with her daughter.

On the way home we stop at a kind of inlet with a (man-made?) pebble beach. Inland is a small wet patch, watering place for the cows. Peter takes photographs of an entire field of edelweiss. This is our last stop. From now on bumpety bump home through more endless steppe and through densely-planted woods, mainly fir trees.

The woods that have been burned (trunks still ruddy) are looking better, clearer than the un-burnt woods, with a fuzz of dead side branches and too closely planted trunks. But both types of wood have a carpet of variegated undergrowth. And both are full of light. Is it because we are further south (than say Holland/England) and the sun is more directly above the wood that the light can penetrate it more effectively? I doubt it.

But the lightness of the woods we drive past (as it was from the train) is remarkable. Finally home at 5.30pm. Inna’s caught the sun. It has been the most wonderful and happy day (a small, smooth grey stone will, I hope, remind us of today from time to time).

In the evening our toast: the wonders of creation.

Rem again: Anthill: ideal state. Each ant thinks of the common good. China tried to be a big anthill. At times it approached this closely. Stalin and Hitler also aspired to this — they tried to achieve it by cruelty. The Chinese do it by culture. No other nation could live in such a way. Confucius laid the foundation.

History showed them that they prosper as a united state. In military terms the Chinese were inferior to Indians and Persians. But economically they were stronger. First the Dutch, then the English tried to rob the country. As soon as China united, all incomers were expelled.

China is on an improvement programme. Later it will be an expansion programme. For two reasons:

1: The Chinese have no resources

2: There are few women in China, fewer than men

(Russia has more women thanmen). The Czech republic also has fewer women than men. That’s why it’s profitable for Chinese to come to Russia and find wives > Moscow. Every large nation is created by assimilation. Every small nation is defined by staying apart (eg Tibet from China).

At the time of Ivan the Terrible there were three times more Lithuanians than Russians. Now the Lithuanians are reduced to a very small number. They refused to assimilate. Now they are a very small nation. Democracy is the worst system for minorities.

Peter: You have a legal system which respects the rights of minorities. You don’t swamp minorities with the vote. You have this wise and reasonable system which allows room to minorities.

Rem: Is there such a country with a moveable weekend?

Peter: There are countries where weekends don’t matter very much. It’s just a convention, not a law.

Rem: During the Tsar there were 50% Christians, fewer Muslims, 7/8% Jewish people. They were all allowed to honour their own religion. Lenin solved the problem of multi-religion. He created a 6-day week. So the 6th day was a moveable rest day.

Peter: What has this got to do with a modern state? Nobody tells you when to keep a holiday.

Rem: Russians adapted to previous systems. But there is another problem — different rules for different religions. The Caucasus is mainly Muslim. Their policies often appeal to Russian presidents (especially multiple wives). Russian parliament cannot accept the bill, because there’s only 5% Muslim in parliament.

Peter: Democracy means that you can sign up for the least worst system. Muslims have come to Britain knowing that they cannot have more than one wife. Very different in a federation of small nations.

Rem: Don’t think I’m against democracy. Quite happy to kneel for four hours in front of English, Dutch or even American democracy. Not blind to the faults: Hitler is an example of democracy falling short.

Peter: Every system has its faults.

Rem: Of course. Out of all known systems, democracy deserves the most respect.

Peter: Do a bit of forecasting. What’s going to happen in China when the great modernisation wheel runs out of steam?

Rem: They will start dominating in the technical domain. They have no Jews, so they’ll be a little slow. But they have clever people. Nobel prize winners will move to China. European civilisation won’t be able to cope with Muslim civilisation. Muslims win by terrorism. Also they will have children. The number of Muslims assimilated by Europe will decrease.

But when China instead of America will dominate the world the Muslim problem will disappear by itself. Chinese culture accepts no laziness — there are no free rides. It will be frightening for Europeans and deathly for Muslims. China is quite aggressive about its own thing. You need to work as hard as the Chinese do. That will mean a new stage in world history.

First the Romans ploughed their fields. They fought when it was necessary. They had children. Then they stopped ploughing but continued fighting and having children. Then they stopped having children but kept fighting. Then they were invaded and came to a sticky end.

If you want to have slaves you need to capture them. Each nation has strength when its people work, its people rule and its people fight.

Peter: But fighting is foolish.

Rem: Rome was big because of warfare > slaves. The Romans invented a single legal and economic space. The British invented the Industrial Revolution. The Turks (wider area) invented a certain type of steel. The Russians invented their governing system from Genghis Khan’s grandson Batu.A Steppe story (’This might make you cry’).

There is a steppe. It happened two or three thousand years ago. There was a people living there. They had a Khan. It had always been like that. At the time of the story the people had a poet. He was light-minded, happy. He never slept in the same bed twice. He never sang his song to the same people twice. People received him, welcomed him, and he moved on. This would have lasted until his death. His songs would have outlasted him.

But the Khan had a minister who said: Let’s assemble all the people on a large field and invite the poet. Let the poet look at the women and choose one. Let him sing about her beauty and his love. And the song will be so beautiful that it’ll live for thousands of years. And the people will herald you, oh Khan, for ever.

The Khan was flattered and agreed. And so it happened. Early in the morning from all corners of the country many thousands of people arrived, men, women and children. They arranged themselves around the place where the poet was reclining. Everyone was silent. Waiting for quite some time.

Then the poet sat up, took his instrument and looked around. He met a girl’s eyes. She wasn’t extremely beautiful, but she wasn’t ugly. He started looking at her. She stood up and went to him. Then a miracle happened: she became the most beautiful of all the girls there.

What happened to her was similar to what can happen to a drop of dew when the sun catches it. Everybody was looking at her. Everyone was silent and the poet was singing about love — not generally, but about his love. And about her love, not generally but towards him.

And she came walking towards him with a lighter and lighter step. When she came up to him he took her by the hand and without stopping singing they walked across the people towards the steppe. He was singing throughout his journey. People were listening in silence. This lasted for a long time. It was evening. Suddenly his voice stopped.

Then everyone stood up. All these thousands of people, men women and children, all started to follow the poet and the girl. And they saw the poet lying dead on the grass and the girl sitting next to him. Not very beautiful and not very ugly. They didn’t recognise her at first. She was crying. They buried him in silence. And each of them took some earth and threw it into his grave. There appeared a hill. It is still there.

Rem was born not far from it. Everyone left the place. No one was looking for the girl. They didn’t want to punish her because no one is angry with a drop of dew when it doesn’t sparkle when a sun ray touches it.

Tuesday 27th July

Wind and even the little bit of rain have now stopped. Peter saw a big full moon through clouds at 6 am. I slept through the spectacle. Now a bright shiny morning. Time for breakfast.

The name Rem is an acrostic for Revolution, Electricity and Mir meaning peace and world. It was a popular name in the early thirties.

At supper: What do you like about Holland? Skies, water, bicycles. Veluwe paintings (Van Gogh in the Kroller-Muller). Three great men, Rembrandt, Erasmus, Spinoza. Spinoza’s house is guarded by an idiot. Da Costa. The Sermon on the Mount is still the most potent text on relational living. We adjourn to the bar.

New Chapter

Peter: I want to know about the quest to create an ideal society. Isn’t it fatally doomed and dangerous?

Rem: Achieving an ideal society or any ideal is impossible. But ideals are important in science, in life, in everything. People are constructed in such a way that they learn and learn from each other through ideals. We need heroes and idealised heroes.We also have evil. A caricature tells more about a person than a portrait.

Peter: Ideals are different from an ideal society.

Rem: When people interact and when peoples interact there is something in each interaction which is about gain/profit. Also something connected with fairness. The moral law inside us demands that we have ideals.

When we interact in a specific situation there are other motives at play besides fairness. Each interaction needs a certain measure of love. Someone’s ideals define him/her more than any other given, eg education, status. It is obvious that nobody can live like the Sermon on the Mount. A multidimensional system instead of a one- or two-dimensional system.

Peter: A plea for diversity. Not the pursuit of single ends. It is the pursuit of absolutes which corrupts man. What about a society where people can live peaceably together, where they can believe what they want to believe, where there’s a reasonable law applying to everyone? What about modest ideals?

Rem: Whenever ideals appear on the stage they overwhelm the world. First there are people who admire them, but don’t want to apply them. The next lot of people want to use them for their gain. Each time there is this circle: ideal > abuse > new ideals. And so humanity finds itself again and again at a higher place in the spiral. Nazis were terrible in many ways, but they didn’t eat people. More examples of things that were done earlier and are done no longer. Human progress in terms of the internal world is directed forwards, not backwards. Etc, etc.

Look for the variants of love, and that will be your creativity.

Shakespeare wrote Othello not to stop us believing in love or faithfulness but to make us more intelligent (discerning?)

Many, many more observations, opinions, big ideas came swirling round in the course of the evening. Inna translating all of it most diligently and impartially, but my head is spinning, so I’ve stopped reporting for now — reeling a bit.

I realise that I never think like this, haven’t got the resources to begin with — not the vast grasp of history and philosophy that Rem has, and Peter in a different, quirky and anecdotal way. But it does give me pleasure that here we are listening to an atheist holding up the Sermon on the Mount as a shining light.

Wednesday 28th July, overcast

I keep dreaming of home. Not very peaceful dreams: parties have to be organised, people coming to stay, a borrowed car has gone missing, I knew I had prepared a little book to show to my guests but can’t find it anywhere, etc etc.

About Rem’s personal life. From his first marriage he had two daughters. Tatjana (who died of cancer) and Irena. Tatjana had a child with a psychoanalyst, a daughter Tatjana who is living in Krasnoyarsk. Rem’s granddaughter Tatjana met up with her father when she was 18 — not a great success. Irena married a man who left after a few years or so. He is now dead. They had one son, Denis. He married and divorced. His wife and eight-year old daughter Victoria are living in Krasnoyarsk. They keep a twice-a-year birthday contact.

Later in life (late forties) Irena met a man from Wyoming. They fell in love and were married. The man got stung or bitten by an insect. It completely disabled him. He stayed in Wyoming to be looked after by his relatives. (He had three children from an earlier marriage). Irena came back to Russia and is more or less caring for her elderly mother, Rem’s first wife.

Day out on the lake - WONDERFUL. A yacht (made by the boatman’s father) waits for us and takes us chuff-chuff for two hours across the lake to an island. Full of flowers, butterflies, light and beautiful stones in all shades of grey along the shore. I braved the water at 15°c. It was very cold but after a bit it became tinglingly invigorating. The water tasted incredibly clean and was incredibly clear.

A walk up the steep to a Buddhist sanctuary. Path full of coins, sweets, even a tangerine (from where?) and an apple. Small miniature stone structures flank the way. Views across the lake are beautiful every which way. The sun is warm, the sky is full of all manner of clouds. After an overcast start, now the sun is hot. Peter tries to photograph butterflies — they keep flying away.

Back in the boat the sailor and his sister have prepared delicious fish soup, bread, cucumber and the tasty tomatoes we’re getting accustomed to. Tea and biscuits. Clean and simple and very tasty.

Then back under dramatic skies. Sudden rain, fierce shafts of sunlight, layers of clouds. A gust of wind grabs Peter’s lovely hat. It floats away into the sunlight.

Evening meeting in our room for a change. The sun is glorious. Inna, Rem and Sasha come upstairs with their supply of roast fish, chips (Sasha), sweet bread, vodka, and water for Inna. Sasha leaves to talk to some friendly girls about China.

We toast ’travel’ and ’widening our horizons’. Lermonsky hated humanity. He would have been unhappy even in Paradise.

Rem wants to interview Peter.

Q1: What do you think of the future of China in human history?

Q2: What do you think about the crisis of European culture?

Peter: What crisis of European culture?

Rem: The present crisis.

Peter: The EU is being torn apart by an economic crisis. It’s a political crisis (to come). What is the cultural crisis?

Rem: Russia is a 7th part of the world, but three times richer in resources than the average country. And now there is access to all this resource rich land through the Northern Passage.Across the Baikal ’zip’ the gap increases by 1 cm per year. It’ll take 1.5 billion years for the continents to drift apart.

Alas: I’m feeling too rosy to report anymore. The two gentlemen are engaged in a lively conversation, thanks to Inna’s hard work. She is so serious and attentive, discussing the financial crisis in Europe (Peter explains). The role of Russia as a tipping force, either towards China or towards Europe — or staying on its own. Baikal a symbol of the futures: fresh water, modest living.

Fantasy about the next world summit right here: Nikita’s scoop.

Peter talks about Baikalisation. I object that these sweeping movements destroy the integrity of a place. The better way might be just to plant small seeds of the idea, small whispers of Baikal, and see how it takes root. A merry end to a very happy day.Rem suggests that Peter should write a new economic Sermon on the Mount. It is time to go to bed.

Thursday 29th July, rain, all day, almost

We buy souvenirs. Eat ice-cream in the afternoon, hang about. No shooting for Sasha. In the evening the rain stops and a last streak of sunlight flares across the hill and lake. Assembled for our last session with a bottle of St Petersburg Gold we wait for things to come. Inna toasts our wedding anniversary.

The subject is: Global Warming. Rem’s solutions:

1 Reduce emission

2 Create a chemical cloud (not controllable)

3 Particles in the stratosphere would be safer — and control the weather as well as being positively charged.

For breakfast we had: Sumeria and lost civilisations.

Friday 30th July, sun is back

We wake up earlier and earlier — but don’t get up. A haiku:

15 — 31 July 2010

With the waxing moon

tentative cyber friendship

grows from new to full

I love this airy, honey-coloured room; our hard bed by the window, just in view of the lake. Last night in the fading light (about 10.30 or so) a group of people were jumping up in the air on top of the hill. Small black silhouettes against the pale sky. Quite mesmerising.

After breakfast we walk down the road, now muddy after yesterday’s rain. Sasha has accumulated 18 goes on the crossbow (the rule is 6 per day, but he missed Wednesday because if the boat trip and yesterday because of the rain). He is pleased and scores 17. Earlier Sasha and I had a game of table tennis. He is keen and holds his bat like a Chinese champion (three fingers at the back, thumb and index finger round the front).

After lunch (stuffed omul) we are driven all the way back to Irkutsk where our ways will part. Leave at 1.30pm, arrive at 8.30pm, including waiting for the ferry and fixing a puncture.

Wonderful skies again. The clouds this week have been an endless source of delight. Peter has taken hundreds of pictures and still won’t have captured the utter thrill of these slow-moving, many-layered white shining miracle shapes in the sky. They come rising over the hills in the west, thin out at the lake and now along the road they are thick and blousy and towering over the steppe.

As we wait for the puncture to be mended, Rem takes Sasha on a brief wander across the steppe, continuing the conversation.


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