Once upon a time - 25 years ago, in fact - the first Tall Ships festival arrived in my city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The year was 1984, I was 19 years old and my sister was 16.
We were both already attracted to Russia before we strolled down with the hordes to gaze in awe at the forest of masts that transformed our port into a time warp. So it was thrilling to walk towards the star of the festival, the largest ship whose home port was Tallinn in Estonia, which in 1984 was still a part of the Soviet Union.
Thus began one of the most magical, incredible chapters of my life (and more so for my sister.)
Because the Iron Curtain was still solidly in place, public access to the Kruzenshtern was highly controlled by Soviet authorities. Whereas the crews of the other ships were free to roam all over the city according to their ships' shore leave policy, the crew of the Kruzenshtern only set foot on dry land in supervised groups, and that was mainly to take part in a walking parade, one stroll around the downtown area, and one dance at the Metro Center.
My sister and I made sure we were with them for every one of these - because on that first night we stood and talked to the incredibly charming and insanely handsome sailor standing at the foot of the gangplank for the evening.
His name was Rashid Kamalov.
L to R: Rashid, my sister Michelle and Vitaly
It may have taken more than a moment. I'm not sure. But my sister and Rashid connected immediately. Their romance was very short-lived, because political reality made it nearly impossible to pursue. But I can assure you they tried.
For today's Poetry Train Monday, as an elaborate piece of blank verse/found poetry, I have transcribed a conversation I tape recorded while we were chatting on deck with Rashid and his friend, Yuri Bondaryenko. Yuri is referred to as Yura in the same way as a Robert would be called Bobby.
This conversation took place during our second chunk of time together. After sailing out of Halifax, the Tall Ships visited ports along the St. Lawrence and into the Great Lakes, including Montreal and Toronto. Before crossing the Atlantic to France, the Tall Ships visited Sydney, Nova Scotia. Nothing would keep Michelle away from Rashid, so we drove up there with a friend of mine and stayed at her aunt's, and for the final few days, at a camp ground when my friend had to return to work.
What an impossibly joyous reunion it was. The whole ship knew about us and welcomed us with incredibly sweet hospitality. Yuri and I knew without saying anything at all that we would both do everything in our power to make sure Michelle and Rashid could spend every second possible with each other.
Here is part of that magical time we shared.
L to R: Yuri, Rashid and Michelle
We Keep Watch
Michelle - That's from the Canada Maritime (a ship in the festival.)
Yuri - Oh!
Rashid - (translating for Yuri into Russian)
Julia - We were on it.
Michelle - Listen, listen. Look at this. This says Michelle - I am now a member of their crew.
Yuri - Canada Maritime!
Rashid - (translating)
Michelle - I spoke to...
Yuri - Exchange...I...to...Kruzenshtern? Yeah?
Michelle - Tomorrow.
Yuri - (in Russian, indicating 'this?')
Michelle - Yes. I need this to walk on the dock. To see you off. But! We will exchange them.
Yuri - Mmm!
Michelle - I asked him...Pete, from Canada Maritime to take me here. He says, 'Wait!' He gave me a pass!
Yuri - (laughter)
Michelle - I said 'Thank you, thank you, thank you!' He asked me, do I want to come to Liverpool? On the Canada Maritime. I said yes. But he said 'You have to share my bunk.'
Rashid - (laughter)
Michelle - I said, 'What?!? No way, baby.'
Yuri - Give me please, ah, dictionary.
Julia - Do you have it?
Michelle - Hey, are those...?
Julia - Oh! It's in the car. Yeah. Yeah. I left it with your address.
Rashid - Michelle, Michelle. I want...give you...cigarettes. Okay?
Michelle - For Vicky. My friend Vicky.
Rashid - For Vicky (translates into Russian) Okay? Now.
Yuri - (in Russian, disapproves) Very strong. No...for girls.
Rashid - Very strong! (laughs)
Yuri - For men!
Julia - (laughs) No!
Rashid - Okay...yes?
Yuri - Very strong.
Julia - Not this girl.
Yuri - Oh. I see. I don't know. For men. For seamen, for seamen. In the ocean. (makes coughing noise)
Michelle - Yura, Julia and I think you are very funny.
Julia - Ha, ha, ha!
Michelle - Ha, ha! Funny! Yura, you are our very good friend.
Yuri - (laughs) Okay. You are, too.
Julia - We spoke with Pete, from Canada Maritime.
Yuri - Yeah?
Julia - About you going on. He said the captain of the Kruzenshtern...
(Michelle & Julia laugh at the look on Yuri's face)
(Rashid returns with two packs of Russian cigarettes)
Michelle - My God. Two. She...Vicky will be very happy.
Yuri - Ah...?
Julia - He said, ah, he asked the captain. It's too late.
Yuri - Our?
Julia - Yeah.
(Yuri tries to light a cigarette but the match goes out)
Yuri - Wind.
Michelle - (sees that the recorder is on) Hey, Jule...this is...
Julia - Yeah. I know.
(Michelle & Julia giggle)
Yuri - Record. Recorder. Yeah?
Julia - Yeah.
Michelle - Yeah.
Julia - That's okay, isn't it?
Yuri - Let's...listen...music.
Julia - Music?
Michelle - There's music down there.
Yuri - Yeah (but not caring for it)
Michelle - He doesn't like that music.
Julia - You want Michael Jackson.
Yuri - Oh! Do you have? Okay!
Rashid - (laughs)
Yuri - I keep watch...on...chart...room. Now, I. I keep watch in chart room.
Julia - Then what are you doing here?
Rashid - (laughs hard)
Michelle - Why are you here?
Rashid - (translates into Russian)
Yuri - Yeah, yeah, yeah...
Julia - I like this chart room.
Michelle - (laughs)
Rashid - (laughs) Very nice watch.
Julia - Lots of charts.
Michelle - Look at all those charts.
Yuri - Julia, where is umbrella? Is umbrella?
Michelle - Ah, we don't need it.
Julia - In the car.
Yuri - Ah...rain?
Michelle - It's not raining.
Yuri - (to Rashid, in Russian, then - ) If...rain? Go?
Julia - Then, we'll get wet.
Yuri - (amused noise) Okay.
(Yuri & Rashid speak in Russian)
Julia - When the sun was going down, all the clouds went away.
Michelle - Your officers. Watch.
Yuri - Okay. Come.
(more sailors approach - Yuri & Rashid giggle)
Julia - Wow. More apples!
Michelle - Thank you. Spasiba! (Russian for 'thank you')
Rashid - (delighted laugh)
Yuri - Without action. Spaciba. She say without action, spaciba.
Rashid and Michelle
Rashid - You say spaciba very, very well.
Yuri - Repeat, please. Spaciba. In Russian.
Michelle - Spaciba.
Yuri - Okay! (giggles)
Rashid - (admiring) Oh!
Julia - You mean I'm not supposed to say 'spaseeba'?
Yuri - Ah, ah, small, small action. 'Spaciba.'
Michelle & Julia - Spaciba.
Yuri - Ah...where is Michael Jackson?
Michelle - Ah...in California.
Yuri - I see! I see!
Michelle & Julia - (laugh)
Julia - In the United States.
Yuri - Ah! In the United States! He live...in the United States. Yeah.
Michelle - We're funny gals. Well guess what?
Julia - We asked Rashid what he watches up here. He goes, 'I don't know!'
Michelle & Julia - (giggle)
Rashid - I say, 'I look...our officers.'
Yuri - (laughs hard)
Julia - Yeah, like...do you do this when you're at sea? Do you stand up here?
Yuri - Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ah...look out...
Rashid - But not...but not we. Our officers.
Michelle - They are training you to watch when you work on fisheries vessels. So even though there's nothing here to watch...
Rashid - Ah. No, no.
Michelle - ...you have to stand here for four hours.
Rashid - Ah, ah...here stay, ah, at sea, ah, young cadets. From second course. We keep watch...We keep watch?
Yuri - We are keep watch, yeah?
Rashid - On bridge.
Julia - Oh.
Yuri - How...understand. 'We are keep watch' (Russian for 'or') 'we keep watch'.
Rashid - On chart, we work with chart.
Julia - Do you...?
Yuri - Nyet. 'We are keep watch', or...
Julia - Just 'we keep watch'.
Yuri - Ah. Okay.
Julia - Sometimes at my work for four hours (Julia's note: at that time, the candy and pastry department at Simpson's) not very many people come in. So, I eat candy...
Rashid - (laughs)
Julia - ...for four hours.
Rashid - (translates into Russian - Rashid & Yuri giggle) Oh! I see! (laughs)
(Yuri picks up a cassette tape that drops)
Michelle - Yura to the rescue.
Julia - Yura to the rescue. Yay!
Yuri - This is Michael Jackson?
Julia - We taped it from a record.
Michelle - (to the tape recorder mic) Okay. Sorry tape. Here we go.
Me and Yuri
I'll have more of our conversations on future Poetry Train Mondays.
The 2009 Tall Ships arrive in the port of Halifax starting Thursday, July 16th! The Kruzenshtern will be among them! My sister and I will be there - for old times' sake.
Ride the Poetry Train!
Stan Ski says A wonderful memory.
Michelle Johnson says Will Rashid and Yuri be on board this year you think?
Amy Ruttan says How romantic and they are very handsome.