Thursday, November 06, 2003

Mark Halperin - Ellensburg, WA

Mark Halperin is a delightful guy who greets me in his snowy front yard. He and Dasha, his sweet half-Husky, half Malamute - who understands commands in English, Russian, and "dog" - escort me to the warmest room in the long and lovely house, Mark's study.

Dasha makes herself scarce and Mark and I talk on a sunny but chilly morning.

We talk about the standard items from this project, but also get around to Mark's love of fishing. He's a serious fisherman, a fly fisherman, who can see the edge of his beloved Yakima River from any of a number of windows on the south side of the house. When fishing doesn't take up his time - and he fishes in lieu of writing all summer - he can reach over and pick up one of his treasured banjos or acoustic guitars. He has a Gibson acoustic, an L series from 1913. He picks it up at one point and finger picks a sort of Leadbelly-style country-blues.

Mark has taught and worked in Russia a number of times, and we talk a bit about how those experiences have been crucial to his own translations of contemporary Russian literature. But he spends more time telling me about life in Russia, how the elevators work, about a theater he frequents.

He's a great interview. He listens to a questions, recognizes the answer I'm probably looking for (much to my chagrin), then spins his answer a couple of ways. He says he doesn't mean to be contrary, but it lights him up to do it. He is animated and fun to listen to. We fill one side of a tape and I pop another in and keep going.

After a while, we go out into the back yard to see another of his writing areas, this one in 1/2 of a finished shed in the back yard. I meet his wife, Bobbie Halperin, a painter. Bobbie has spotted my wife sitting in our rented car in the driveway - putting stamps on envelopes and other mindless chores - and has brought her in to see her studio. So the four of us, and Dasha - she of the serious language skills - stand around a bit and chat like we're all pals. Which is what we've become.