Patrick Findler in Siberia.

I imagine there are few LH readers who remember the posts from the early days in which I linked to the wonderful travel blog the mysterious pf kept during his wanderings in Russia (a blog, alas, which has long disappeared from human ken — I mourn it frequently). Well, pf has come out into the open as Patrick Findler, an academic editor specializing in the work of non-native English speakers, and he’s published a fine piece in Catapult drawing on the experiences he wrote about all those years ago (in fact, one section is based on the mugging recounted in this dramatic LH post from February 2004). In case anyone’s concerned about topic relevance, I’ll quote a couple of language-related bits:

Next, the wide man from the North Caucasus, with a thick moustache like a sausage who, sitting behind me, had explained over my shoulder to the other passengers about his home, where a language was spoken that he shared with only six thousand others.
[. . .]
There was a book of the Yukaghir language, which has only a few hundred speakers.

I hope he publishes much more; he has a fine style and knows how to keep the reader interested.


  1. SFReader says

    He must have had very sheltered life in the US.

    It is definitely not a good idea to join a group of young men drinking beer on the street with nothing else to do, especially if you are an obvious foreigner, drinking beer on the street yourself and it’s getting dark and you’re lost and don’t know where you are.

    You don’t do this in Chicago, you don’t do this in Khabarovsk.

  2. I’m sure your own life has been one of consistently sensible decisions with no ill consequences. Congratulations!

  3. Touché!

    There is something in Russia though which makes foreigners to drop guard after a while and start feeling (erroneously) that the country is safe and people are nice.

    Russians themselves know better.

  4. SFReader, I’ve been a fan of your comments. Thank you for reading.

    You may have a fair point about my being sheltered. But what I think may be more relevant, and which I am astonished by now, is the lack of a clear sense of reality in me. Even after being beaten, with blood in my eyes, my first destination was an internet cafe, to blog about it. (My editor asked for that piece to be cut from the final version of the essay, as it appeared too unrealistic.)

    At the hospital, I was far more interested in the shape of my pupils and the testicles of my neighbor than any lessons I could learn from my experience; I was working on shaping it into something I could write about even as I was living it, without realizing how serious my predicament was or could have been. I even managed, my first evening at the hospital, to find a computer connected to the internet and blog, only lying down once that had been accomplished.

  5. I started to suspect the worst when he had been away from the net for a decade. Too gifted for his own good, I thought. So glad he’s back.

  6. David Marjanović says

    I’m sure your own life has been one of consistently sensible decisions with no ill consequences. Congratulations!

    Oh, it doesn’t have to rise to the level of a sensible decision. Obviously I can’t speak for SFReader. Myself, I’ve indeed been having a very sheltered life, on top of which I’m autistically naïve to begin with; and yet, I wouldn’t dare “join a group of young men drinking beer on the street” if I don’t already know them very well, because that’s a social situation where many people start looking for someone to bully.

  7. Considering myself, I would say that I have led a sheltered life to a large degree because I’m not the sort to join a group of young men drinking beer on the street in a foreign country. pf’s willingness to do so strikes me more as a manifestation of the same outgoing and adventurous spirit that led him to be wandering through Siberia in the first place. I too remember his blog and am glad to hear that he is doing well.

  8. pf’s willingness to do so strikes me more as a manifestation of the same outgoing and adventurous spirit that led him to be wandering through Siberia in the first place.


  9. When I was in the Soviet Union at the ripe age of 20, I not only took a picture of KGB headquarters in Lubyanka Square (which I still have), I was only stopped from trying to take a train south from Leningrad to visit Nabokov’s old home in Vyra by coming down with some sort of infection that confined me to my hotel room (I was cured by the miracle of Soviet medicine). We’re all idiots at that age.

  10. SFReader says

    Back in 1980s, there was a strange custom among Russian schoolchildren. Gangs of teenage boys would patrol the streets, stop any unfamiliar schoolboy and ask if he knows anyone from their raion (neighborhood). If the unfortunate boy couldn’t produce any names, he would be beaten and often mugged. (Girls were exempted from this treatment, as I recall).

    As a result, every boy quickly learned which parts of the town he can’t visit alone. If there was a very serious reason to go into different raion on your own, the trip would become something like a raid into enemy territory – hiding, running quickly to cross the street, taking cover behind cars or trees, following closely adults passing by, scanning surroundings for any trace of the enemy (ie, other schoolboys).

    Pretty useful life skills on retrospection. And they kick in immediately every time when a Russian male (no matter what his age or how drunk he is) gets out of the pub into a dark street.

  11. I have heard stories like this from the NYC-born of my age and both sexes, but my daughter (now 29) seems always to have been fearless about neighborhoods: the danger, such as it is, seems to be independent of location.

  12. pf’s plan has been to make Russians do illegal things for him at each step, as I see. But waving a $100 bill at folks, without any need to bribe, … oh well

  13. The $100 bill, I concede, seems like tempting fate.

  14. I lived in the Russian Far East during the Yeltsin years, and what struck me about the Khabarovsk story was not how ill-advised it was to wave money around (in Russia, or anywhere else, as I’m sure the author would concede) but how naive he had to have been to imagine that by the new millennium there were any urban Russians who had never seen dollars. In the 90’s, most Russians I knew would immediately covert any savings at all into “baksy” or another hard currency.

    More resonant for me was the “no room at the inn” tale from Yakutsk. It brought to the surface a buried memory of virtually the same thing happening to me in Samara once upon a time. Not having been for many years, I wonder if Russia, these days, is any kinder to walk-ins, or if it’s still (tediously) advisable to book everything in advance.

  15. The same thing happened to Goncharov in Yakutsk in the 1850s!

  16. (The “no room at the inn” thing, not the mugging thing.)

  17. Sir JCass says

    I have fond memories of pf and his blog from way back.

    One of the things I remember (unless I’m hallucinating) was his collection of really lame book covers for classic works of literature. This for example.

  18. Speaking of book covers, Schubert looks pretty good as Pierre Bezukhov. Van Gogh as Pierre is obviously a fake based on the approximate meaning of Bezukhov, “earless” – but Schubert looks like the real thing. There’s more at the link.

  19. Thanks, that gave me a good laugh!

  20. Sir JCass says

    That’s excellent.

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