The 1997 European Trip
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What an odyssey. It began when Heiki Kongi and Tonu Maarand invited me to Estonia for PUU 97, a wood sculpture symposium. I had first met them in 1991, in Harbin, China, at an ice sculpture competition, and invited them to Ice Art in Fairbanks. Estonia was the first breakaway from the Soviet Union the following year, and it took them 3 years to make it to Ice Art. Working with Lithuanian-American Craig Cheledinas, they took first place in the Multi-block Abstract category.

A month before I left, friend Liliana, on learning that I would be in Europe, invited me to visit her and her family in her home town, Chishinau (Kishinev), Moldova. Formerly the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia, this small Black Sea country is between Romania and the Ukraine. Since Estonia is right across the border from St. Petersberg, Russia, this meant a train ride through St. Pete, down through Belarus, Poland and Czech Republic. Sounded like a lark. I agreed. I had wanted to visit the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersberg for years, and never though I'd get the chance. And since I would then be in southern Europe anyway, I might as well go visit some marble sculpture studios in Greece and Italy. It would be cheap to do if I had a EurailPass.

A week before I left, I received an e-mail from an old friend whom I had not seen for 30 years. He was in Moscow, and just thought he'd look me up. He was surprised to hear I was planning a visit to St Petersberg, and advised me to take a train to Moscow and fly to Moldova from there after lunch with him. He arranged for his friend Ludmila to serve as my guide in St. Pete. He asked what I look like now, (it'd been 30 years, remember), so I told him to look on my web site. He printed my picture and sent it to Liuda so she could meet my train from Estonia.

July 1997 found me flying to Amsterdam with a EurailPass in my pocket and two days to use up before I got on a northbound train for Estonia. I had heard of a super-accelerated language school in Innsbruck, nestled in the Austrian Alps. Might as well go check it out, I decided, so after a night's sleep on the train, I was dazzled by the mountain beauty as we approached Innsbruck. The city was interesting for its contrasts: ultramodern buildings and art in the shadow of medaieval gates.

The Folkshochschule was closed for the summer, but would reopen just about when I planned to leave Italy. Couldn't be better. After a bite to eat, I called my sculpture buddy Francis Cuny in the Alsace region of France. He was amazed to hear I was in Europe, and told me to jump on a train to Basel, Switzerland, just across the border. He met me in Basel, and over a beer we discovered that we had a new passion in common: Granite.

Francis drove me to his century-old house in Basse-sur-le-Rupt, and next day after showing me the local abandoned granite quarry where a week before had been a cultural festival, he drove me to Nancy for the train to Estonia. He invited me to return next year and carve some granite, which I said I would certainly plan on doing.

The train deposited me for an overnight stay in Copenhagen, where I rented a bicycle and went to visit my girlfriend the Little Mermaid. She was sitting on her rock staring pensively out to sea just as when I said goodby to her 30 years before.

The next train went on a ferry boat to cross over to Sweden, (wonderful smorrebrods on the ferry) and in Stockholm, I used my EurailPass to get on an overnight ferry to Helsinki. The Finnish capital is just an hour and a half by hydrofoil from the Estonian capital, Tallinn. I made my way from the dock in Tallinn to the cafe on Vabeduse Platz where the sculptors were to gather for the symposium. while having a beer there, met other sculptors, Mike from England, and Tiiu from Estonia. Mike was to work at a different location, but Tiiu planned to be at Pootsi, where I was assigned.

Tonu and Heiki turned up and it was a great reunion; then we got into the van and drove south to the Maria Motel in Pootsi, where a dozen big pine logs were laid out in the grass for us. The picture is Kosmos, my first wood sculpture, which I carved from the stoutest log."Kosmos" wood sculpture

Coming soon: The Hermitage; Moldova; Deported from Russia(!)
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