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PINE NUTS – Mark Twain in Ukraine

July 14, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

Just prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine there was a movement afoot to erect a statue of Mark Twain in Odessa. But why, you might want to ask as I did. Well, the short answer is, “To promote goodwill and tourism.” Isn’t it a twist of fate that what we are sending them today is cluster munitions to protect themselves.

In 1867 Samuel Clemens booked himself aboard the Quaker City pleasure excursion from America to Europe and the Holy Land. It was billed as, “A picnic at Sea.” In truth it was more like a funeral procession without a corps, so Sam had to embroider his letters to the Alta California, that would later go into his first full-length book, The Innocents Abroad.” By the way, The Innocents Abroad served to sever America’s literary umbilical cord to the petrified opinions of Europe and the Holy Land, to become America’s literary Declaration of Independence.

In that epic book, Mark Twain envisions a glorious future for Odessa…

“Odessa is about twenty hours’ run from Sebastopol and is the most northerly port in the Black Sea. We came here to get coal, principally. The city has a population of one hundred and thirty-three thousand and is growing faster than any other small city out of America. It is a free port; and is the great grain mart of this particular part of the world. Its roadstead is full of ships. Engineers are at work, now, turning the open roadstead into a spacious artificial harbor. It is to be almost enclosed by massive stone piers, one of which will extend into the sea over three thousand feet in a straight line.” Samuel must be spinning like a lathe today…

According to the Odessa Review: “At the time of Twain’s visit, Odessa was young, vibrant and in the midst of construction. It was the same exact age as the United States, and in a similar position as an industrious, dynamic, cultural melting pot. It was these qualities which reminded Twain of America – and endeared the city of Odessa to him greatly.”

And the Eurasia Review wrote, “Uplifting the cultural cooperation between the United States and Ukraine has historically been a rather timid component; however, Mark Twain’s legacy is always vivid and will serve as the niche of brotherhood for centuries to come. A Statue of Mark Twain in Odessa will eternally be considered as the symbol of brotherly ties between the United States and Ukraine; it will serve as an exceptional platform that will promote rural tourism in the Black Sea Region.”

In an earlier turn of events, Russia issued a Mark Twain domestic postage stamp back in 1960, to commemorate Mark Twain’s 125th birthday, and too, Russia gave me the warmest welcome I’ve had outside of Missouri, as an impressionist of Mark Twain. If only we could do that today, Sam Clemens, over there on the other side, would surely be smiling… 

Audio: https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

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