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Written by Michael LeBlanc   

One of Eric's ‘Russia Stories,’ 1954

It was seven o’clock one evening two years ago when I found myself talking to a companion in a room of the National Hotel in Moscow. My companion was Canada’s number one, two or three, painter, according to who is calling the mathematics. I am one of the fractions. He is 74 or 5; I am 46 or 7. He is a great artist. I am an artist. Both of these statements are my own, and while I believe they are true I can supply a respectable army of dissenters culled from the rancours of contemporaries. They may be right. I have no way of knowing because I am not dead yet...

...For a reasonable period we “got along famously”, partly because he realised we were both foreigners to the Russians, and partly because in those rare moments when he listened to my views he toyed with the idea that I might possibly be human. Our communication was considerably eased by the fact that I believe all artists are basically human, and I am willing to fight for this belief. Which is one reason why artists do not approve of me...

As dinner was called for 10 pm, and there were no bars in the hotel to drift into and mingle with life in another dimension in the hope of gleaning a snide observation here or there, I suggested to my patriarch that we dare to order a bottle of vodka, a bottle of mineral water, and a lemon to be served in our room.

He recognised the daring of the suggestion having already had suspicion that this fruit was not loosely exposed to the public, and he was too suffering as a result of the starch hospitality of our hosts which was not their fault as it was April and lettuce wasn’t up yet that this fruit is not loosely exposed to the general public. And as he himself was suffering from the same acidity as the result of our daily diet of generous hospitality sans alkalines, he agreed with the same emotional enthusiasm which any neophyte is inclined to accord and initiate. I believe it was at this point that he seriously considered I might be an artist...

With his immoral support I pushed the bell and in a reasonable time the steward arrived, took our order and blandly returned with all that we had asked for to augment a delightful evening of conversation on our historic predicament of two Canadian artists in Russia at the wrong time...

[EA then reports that, through several days when the room was thoroughly cleaned and beds remade, the lemons that had been delivered remained on their china plate, even through a side trip to Georgia, the two halves were not touched].

From the Archives of the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto

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The Work and Life of Eric Aldwinckle

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Macleans: What are your hobbies?


EA: In wartime my hobbies are warmongering, collecting sugar and hunting for tinned orange juice.

In between wars my hobbies are peacemongering, collecting butterflies, cross pollinating gladioli, hunting, shooting, fishing, riding, composing music, writing poetry, acting and producing theatricals, chess, tennis, yogi and hunting for butter, with an occasional game of bridge which I dislike intensely, if I have time.