As some of you may have read in earlier posts on this website, thirteen months ago on a trip to Greenland I purchased a 65 inch model kayak replica entitled Qayag (which is the name of the traditional Inuit sealskin hunting boat). It had been created more than 50 years ago by an artist, Jesse Thorn, who is no longer alive.
(If you missed the first Parts of this saga, and you have time on your hands, see these two posts – A Qayaq (Kayak) Saga and Continuing the Saga of the Kayak – for the details of its disputed’ purchase: Ellen had told me, “Don’t. Even. Consider. It.” Then, it took almost seven months to get it home, unpacked, and into house.
Now, after another extended period, the Qayag has finally found its resting place.
As you will see in the picture below, it now ‘floats’ out from the wall of our living room (where we display some of the crafts gathered over the years from our many trips). It is on the wall, below one of our stained glass windows created by a friend 50 years ago.
We never thought it would take so long for the Qayag to settle on its final resting place. Actually, Ellen had warned me that we didn’t really have room for it, and it would overwhelm any place we tried to put it in our house. I had three possible places for it and several back up plans if those didn’t work.
None of my carefully considered placements made Ellen, the Qayaq, or me very happy.
So we called upon Vincent Sagart, the wonderful designer who has had such a significant influence on many rooms in our house. He immediately saw where it wanted to go and over the next month or so figured out how to get it there.
It took another two months to get it there successfully. COVID-19 caused interruptions, including time for a metal worker to fashion an 11 by 17 inch platform on which it could rest, Petr to affix it to the wall, and Vincent to be satisfied with the exact placement. He had Petr reverse the platform and then reattach it to the wall.
But as the Little Prince has taught us, “It’s the time you spend for your ‘Qayaq’ that makes your Qayaq so important.”
And I’m happy to write that Ellen and I have survived this 13-month effort and to report that Ellen readily agreed to use her photographic skills so MillersTime readers can see how happy the Qayaq is in its new home. Indeed, Ellen not only approves of its placement, she readily says she likes it.
For me, I’m beyond thrilled as every time I pass anywhere near the living room, which is easily 20 times a day, I look at it and appreciate this truly wonderful treasure.
If you’re ever in DC, and if we are allowed to be together, you are invited to come visit the Qayag.
This is a story about Beijing and Washington, the two capital cities of the two most powerful countries in the world. Actually, it’s also a tale of two countries.
First, some Background:
Almost 40 years ago we had the good fortune to meet Qin Xiaoli. It was 1982, she was finishing a graduate year at Stanford, and under the sponsorship of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association she was visiting several parts of the US before returning to Beijing where she was a journalist.
We hosted her for five days, while she attended various seminars and meetings in Washington, and we became friends. Over the next four decades we continued our friendship, visiting her and her family in Beijing sometime in the early 1980s and hosting her husband, Qian Jiang (several years later), when he came to Johns Hopkins as a Visiting Scholar. (He too was a journalist and an historian).
Xiaoli came to our elder daughter’s wedding here in Washington, some 25 years after she first met Annie as a three-year old. Then, when their son was married here in DC, we ‘stood in’ for his parents at the ceremony, and two years ago we traveled throughout China with Xiaoli and Jiang for almost three weeks. Most recently, Xiaoli and Jiang came to DC to visit and stay with their son Kun and daughter-in-law Xi, but primarily to get to know their first grandchild. Now they have been here five months as it has not been possible for them to return to Beijing.
The Tale: Yesterday, when they ‘strollered’ young Dun Dun (Alex) over to see us – they were masked and socially distanced themselves – Xiaoli told us the following stories:
Two weeks ago her sister in Beijing received a phone call from the authorities saying she needed to appear for a COVID-19 test because of a new outbreak of the virus in the largest outdoor wholesale food market in the city. Her sister said she had not been there. She was ‘reminded’ she had been at a ‘nearby’ flower market and was told to appear the next day for a test. Apparently, “Big Data’ (Big Brother?) had identified her whereabouts from her cell phone. Taken to a hospital, she was tested, found negative but had to isolate herself for fourteen days. Today she can emerge from that isolation.
(Note: “Before the new cluster, however, Beijing – population 21.4 million – had only recorded 420 local infections and 9 deaths compared to over 80,000 confirmed cases and 4,634 deaths nationwide, thanks to its strict travel restrictions imposed at the start of the pandemic,” according to this CNN article – China’s New Cornovirus Outbreak.)
Xioali also told us that here in Washington where she and Jiang are staying in a West End apartment building with their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild, there have been three cases of COVID-19 in that building. When her daughter-in-law asked the management of the building for more information about the ‘outbreak’ (which elevators had been used, what floors the three positive cases were, and in what part of the large apartment building they lived), she was told no information could be given out. They received no instructions on how to protect themselves and their family from contagion. Xiaoli and her family here (three generations living together) rarely leave their apartment and are trying to protect themselves as best they can.
(According to the most recent statistics, Washington, DC, has a population of 705,749 and has had 10,327 positive tests of its population and 551 deaths).
Two different responses to handling COVID-19 issues. Each raises questions.
I was going to wait a couple of weeks until I posted a June 2020 list of Books Most Recently Enjoyed by MillersTime readers, but since I have some free time and want to write more than three sentences (the limit for the next list posting), I want to draw your attention to Lawrence Wright’s just published The End of October.
You may recognize the author’s name as he writes for the New Yorker magazineand in 2007 won a Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. He’s written four other books, a script for Oliver Stone’s movie Noriega: God’s Favorite, and co-wrote a screen play, among other activities. Although The End of October was released at the end April of this year, Wright finished the writing of the book well before the current COVID-19 virus appeared in China, around the world, and in the US. It is his first novel as he has been primarily known for his nonfiction works.
It is riveting, entertaining, sobering, and filled with information about the science and history of earlier pandemics wound around the fictional story of a CDC scientist/doctor and his family and a novel pandemic (not COVID-19 but eerily similar and much more dangerous) that threatens the world.
Wright has done his research, after all he’s primarily been a nonfiction writer, and that’s what makes The End of October so rich and so frightening. Plus, Wright understands much about the world in which we live, its politics – domestic and international — its religions, the hopes and fears of all of us. He mixes the strong narrative and its characters with scientific facts. It’s written like a mystery: the pace of the book is literally heart-throbbing, and it doesn’t let up. (I listened to it, all 13+ hours) while walking on the treadmill, usually extending myself at least a couple miles beyond what I intended.)
I loved and admired the main character, built on an relatively unknown, or forgotten, British epidemiologist of the late 1800s and early 1900s. And I got caught up in the numerous plots and twists and turns of Wright’s story.
It is not a flawless novel by any means, but the reader can’t help but be amazed at how Wright has so accurately been able to foresee so much of what has been occurring over the last three to four months in this country and in the world. He has insisted he did not write The End of October as a cautionary tale but that he looked at the history of pandemics (particularly, but not only, the 1918 Spanish Flu), used what scientists and doctors told him, and added stress and his imagination to a story of an initially contained outbreak of what he termed the Congoli virus.
The result is 400 pages of reading or 13 hours and 26 minutes of listening to a story that mixes fiction and nonfiction in a book you will not forget.
“It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important…You’re responsible for your rose.”
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Part I. The Purchase (Sept. 7-8, 2019):
It all started on the first Saturday in September, 2019. Over seven months ago. We were concluding one of our more memorable trips, nine days in Greenland (Greenland: In Words & Photos), with its remote, wild, and awe-inspiring landscapes, seascapes, marine life, the ‘magic’ of the Northern Lights, and where its Inuit population was hurtling from the Stone Age to the iPhone Age.
It was our final day and night there, and we were in the small town of Kulusuk (pop. 300), awaiting our flight back to Iceland and then back to DC. The foggy weather was threatening to strand us there, and it was likely our plane would not arrive, nor leave if it did arrive.
I walked by the very tiny souvenir shop in our modest hotel and saw a ‘model’ of an Inuit kayak. I was captivated. But the shop was closed, and when I pointed the kayak out to Ellen, she immediately said, “Don’t buy it. It’s too big, and we don’t have any place to put it.” Others in our group of 12 saw it too and remarked at how unusual it was. Several seemed to be quite interested in it also.
Most of the group went off to ‘explore’ Kulusuk, and I stayed behind trying to find someone to open the shop. I eventually found Jakob Ibsen, the gruff, no nonsense Danish (Norweigan ?) manager of the hotel who opened the shop and began to tell me about the Qayaq (the Inuit spelling for the word kayak, pronounced “kayak”). He told me it was a 50+ year old, hand-crafted, one of a kind, replica of an Inuit kayak with its ropes, harpoons, and various other adorning artifacts. He said the craftsman, Jess Thorin, had recently died, and somehow he, Jakob, had come into possession of it.
The price was more than I had ever paid for a ‘souvenir’ throughout all of our travels, including my prized Masai shield purchased in 1963 in Tanganyika. But I didn’t think the price of this hand-made artifact was exorbitant for what it was. Plus, when one is truly captivated (can one be ‘truly captivated’?), cost can more easily be justified. It was art, after all.
There were some hurdles, however. Ellen was quite clear that I was not to pursue it. When she left with our other travelers to explore Kulusuk, she gave me ‘that look’ that was quite clear: “Don’t. Even. Consider. It. ” Those of you who know her, understand she is not one to be easily disregarded. Those of you who know me, understand my quiet determination.
Then there was the size, approximately 65 inches in length, and Ellen had a point about where we could display it in our home, already ladened with crafts gathered (over the course of 50 years) from around the world.
And besides all that, how would we get this somewhat fragile piece of art out of Greenland and to the US? I certainly couldn’t take it with me.
All of these hurdles proved to have some validity. But when one is captivated…
When Ellen returned from her photo journey around the town, she took one look at me and said, “You bought it, didn’t you?” (Plus a few other choice, and now repressed, remarks.)
I told her Jakob had assured me he would send it to Washington (after he had one small part of the kayak repaired as he thought he knew an artist who could do the work). He promised to build a crate to house the kayak and keep it safe during transport.
Ellen remained skeptical, largely because she didn’t see a place for us to house this ‘treasure’ nor how it could possibly be sent. My view was that it would become obvious where we could display it once it was in the house. Somehow, it would ‘tell us’ where it belonged.
You can guess how well that went over with Ellen.
Part II. The Wait (Sept. 9, 2019 – Apr. 21, 2020):
Jakob had told me as soon as he had that one portion of the Qayaq repaired, it would be on its way to me, probably sometime in October, 2019.
I will spare the reader all the frustrating emails, phone calls, swearing, doubts, etc., but suffice it to say I never lost hope that it would arrive. Ellen, on the other hand, seemed quite satisfied with what became a seven and a half month saga, secretly, I think, hoping that it might never arrive.
Briefly, there seemed to be a ‘hold up’ every month. Once, it was finding the right artist to do the repair. Then it was getting the right materials to do the repair. Then it was building a box, crate actually, to house the kayak. then there was a long silence from Jakob, and he neither answered my emails nor could I reach him by phone. 2019 turned into 2020, and all I had was a picture of the empty crate.
Finally, in mid January (four months after the purchase), Jakob answered his phone and told me everything was ready, but there were no flights leaving Kulusuk because of the weather! I’m not sure what happened over the next month and a half, but it was not until Mar. 11 that he wrote to say, “The kayak left Kulusuk today on Air Iceland, slowed by Icelandic Customs and concern if anyone handling the kayak and crate had come in contact with COVID-19.”
Ah, my faith in Jakob was restored, but of course the wait for the arrival did not end there. Somehow, it was held up in Reykjavik before it finally arrived in the US, three weeks later on April 2nd.
Then the US Customs got involved. They needed proof of sale, a description of all the contents, including the materials used to build it, my social security number, and my mother’s maiden name. Following a week of document exchanges, it was held in Baltimore until the Fish & Wildlife people would release it. (This is not a joke. Perhaps that was because there were parts of the kayak made with reindeer antler?). Then it was the USDA folks who had to approve it, which they did after several exchanges between Chicago, Iceland, Greenland, Baltimore and Washington (Don’t ask.)
And what then? Just a small hurdle (a week) to get it trucked from BWI to DC and my house (32.8 miles). Something about commercial vs residential delivery. And behold, today, Tuesday, April 21st at 2:01 PM, the crate was delivered to our house and placed in the garage, exactly seven months and 14 days after its purchase.
Saint-Exupery and The Little Prince would be so proud of me.