Around the Heart in Eleven Years Epp Petrone
A Travel Memoir
In this frank, self-confessional travel memoir, Estonian bestselling author Epp Petrone goes looking for lost faces and memories and along the way must deal with the baggage she left behind.
At twenty-four, the aspiring writer abandons her safe domestic life and high-paying career to follow an eccentric merchant around the world. On the road she finds a mix of exotic men, nomadic philosophers, wandering minstrels, kindred souls, unusual friendships, hard times, and lost children. All of it is captured in her precious journals – journals she leaves behind with an old Spanish sea captain who promises to wait for her.
A decade later she decides to go back to retrieve her memories, but in order to get them back, she first has to reckon with her past. The stories here weave into stories, they take readers around the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, across Russia to Central Asia and the Middle East, from asylums to jails, arms factories to aquariums, and open-air markets to apocalyptic battlefields where the secrets of survival are revealed.
He’s drawn the two hemispheres on this piece of paper.
“So. Our trip would start…” – almost imperceptibly his “I” has become “we” and I’m so glad listening to him – “…see about here, in Spain. As I told you, my business is based on workshops and, well, good acquaintances in villages in different parts of the world, where the labor is cheap and the people are talented. India, Indonesia, the Philippines… And I’ve sold these things in expensive places like Japan and Korea. For the last two years, I was working on setting up the business in the US, more specifically in Hawaii, and I was doing really well there, until this bloody bike thing went down!”
“And now you want to test the European markets, in Spain?”
“Exactly. Since it’s just a test of the sales potential and local interest, I don’t exactly know where we’ll be doing this – it’s definitely going to be a tourist destination, because these places are full of people who want to spend money, and my jewellery is beautiful and unique, it sticks out among all the others! In any case, it’s pretty cheap to fly from Spain to Mexico.”
“Yes, we’ll need a visa to get there, but I’ve always gotten visas everywhere. I have my old passports too, I show them in the embassies and they understand that I’m not the guy to settle down somewhere, I’m someone who’s just going back and forth all the time.” Harri’s face dons a proud smile as he adds: “I can show you my passports later.”
“But how easy would it be for me to get visas?”
“Since you mentioned that there’s a house in Estonia in your name and since you’re married and you’ve had a steady job, then I’d say it would be really easy!”
“I don’t know anything about Mexico.”
“Well, I’ll be going to Mexico for the first time myself. I’ve gotten to know all the Asian cities and regions, and that’s quite a lot, but now it’s time for me to move on: my target for the next decade is to get to know South America.”
“By the way, I heard a rumor about you losing your kids in Siberia,” I suddenly mention, startling myself with the bluntness of the question. Harri shoots me a look.
“Telling that story takes a couple of days,” he says. “I’ll tell you someday, promise. It wasn’t my fault and they weren’t left there alone, but with their step mother. And it wasn’t Siberia, it was Tajikistan. I didn’t have money to come back and… Basically, it’s a long story.”
“Alright then, I’d love to hear that story.” The promise of a good story is something very tempting for me, even if he really did end up losing those kids. I ask on, “Where were we… what are we going to do in Mexico?”
“I’ve heard there are some very good and authentic craftsmen there and their work is not expensive. Our goal is to find them, sign contracts with them and buy their stuff cheap. Maybe in the future I’ll ask them to make something using my designs – we’ll see. You see, all decisions have to be made with intuition and rational thinking working together. Making decisions requires a certain meditative state, but there’s no point in forcing yourself into this state until you have the right context, meaning, until you have all the necessary facts.”
“That’s understandable,” I reply, feeling as I did the day before that this man has a few things to teach me.
“So. In any case, last night I was busy making my decisions and I understood how you could be useful to me. If you agree to what I’m offering.”
“The thing is, see, I have my goods in Hawaii and I can’t get there anymore, because my commercial visa to the US was revoked and I have a five year entry ban. So here’s my plan: you’d fly alone from Mexico to Hawaii and take care of things for me. I can draw all the maps for you and give you all the addresses of shops where I have things on sale. You’d go collect all the money that’s coming to me and also take all the things that haven’t been sold yet. For example, I have some really beautiful batik beach skirts, bikinis and hats. You’d send them to me using marine cargo to wherever I tell you – right now I don’t know where exactly this would be. Maybe to Spain? But maybe to Japan instead.”
“I don’t have a visa to the US.”
“You’ll get that for sure!”
“Allright, I can do that, all that is not that difficult,” I tell him, already imagining myself doing business in those shops. It’s all very interesting, refreshing, and besides that it’s useful for someone. For Harri.
“There’s one more thing,” he adds, nodding his head. “In addition to having goods on sale in different shops, I also have a small warehouse there.”
“Really? Well, I guess that’s where all the Estonians worked who lost their visas over that bike thing?”
“Precisely! When all my employees left there in a panic, they gave all the goods to Frank, a real estate agent who took care of the building. He’s a local guy there. I don’t have contact with him right now and it’s getting me worried. What’s going on there? He’s not picking up his phone. Has he put these things on sale somewhere? Could he maybe ship all those things to me.?”
I listen, sympathising. It seems that Harri’s special way of life gets him into strange situations. What could it feel like, owning a heap of goods on the other side of the world and trusting your fate to someone who, albeit, has a name like “Honest” Frank, but who won’t answer your calls after your visa is revoked?
“I don’t want to worry over nothing,” Harri continues calmly, almost intently focused, running his fingers through his beard. “It could all turn out just fine, but my alarm bells have gone off a bit. Just yesterday I still thought that Frank is my representative there and he could collect all my money for me, transfer it to me, even finish selling all the goods, or send them back to me. But when I couldn’t get a hold of him last night either, I started to suspect that he’s ignoring my phone calls and maybe he’s just planning to rip me off! I don’t really have anything at the moment to influence him with.”
“Just me, once I arrive?”
“Precisely! You’ll arrive there as my representative and sort things out with Frank.”
Ever since he ran away from the looney bin, Harri’s got some basic principles for spending the night outdoors: it has to be a remote place, outside of town, where there’s an overview of the surroundings, and it has to be off the main road, so that you wouldn’t catch the attention of random hooligans. That’s how we’ve come to sleep underneath bushes in a suburb or in the mountains, at a hike’s distance, between cacti and bushes that looked like huge horsetails. Apparently there are no snakes on this island, but there are plenty of spiders and other critters.
“And why do you think a spider would climb on a sleeping human? Do you really believe that? Are you that sheltered?” Harri ridicules my fear before it has time to bloom.
One early morning I rise to a huge spider with hairy legs climbing on my sleeping bag. Strangely enough, it doesn’t send me into a panic and I just flick the spider aside lightly. I guess that was a pretty good compromise: it got to live and I got to keep sleeping. Later on I’m bursting with pride, as I tell Harri about the incident, but he’s not as enthused, “If something is on your body, don’t move, don’t hit it! One time I was sleeping outdoors in the desert of Kara Kum in Turkmenistan when I woke up to a tickling sensation. I found the most poisonous spider of those parts walking around on me. So I calmly just waited until he walked off. Had I touched him, I’d have been dead in a few
Paperback: 314 pages
Publishing date: July 2010
ISBN 9789949479016 (epub)
9 x 6 x 0.7 inches