August 5, 2008


Small Vt. town has fond memories of Solzhenitsyn (DAVE GRAM 08.04.08, AP)

The famed writer, who died Sunday at age 89, became something of a local curiosity and a prized resident whose movements and even the location of his home were closely guarded secrets. He also became, for a time, a source of some annoyance to local hunters and snowmobilers after he built a gated fence around his 51-acre property.

That issue was dispelled on Town Meeting Day in 1977, the annual state holiday when residents gather in school gyms and town halls to debate local budget items. At the Cavendish meeting that year, Solzhenitsyn apologized through an interpreter.

Dr. Gene Bont, a now retired physician who cared for the Solzhenitsyns - mainly the writer's three sons - said Solzhenitsyn told residents he needed privacy to accomplish his work.

Solzhenitsyn added: "'I know you have a great deal of freedom to hunt,'" the doctor recalled. "He said that one of the reasons he needed to fence off his property was that when he was living in Switzerland" - after first leaving Russia in 1974 - "he was interrupted so much he couldn't get any work done."

Cavendish, with roughly 1,500 residents, seemed to appreciate the explanation, said Town Manager Richard Svec. They became protective of Solzhenitsyn's privacy during his 18 years there.

"He'd always been a fairly enigmatic person, and him making a public appearance to the local townspeople, that went a long way with the folks in town," Svec said.

Bont added, "When the news media found out he was in Cavendish they just descended on the town to find out everything they could. People wouldn't tell them anything," and would even give reporters and television crews false directions when asked how to find the writer's house. [...]

He made rare appearances in town as well, in one instance turning up and offering brief remarks at a local parade marking the bicentennial of Vermont statehood in 1991.

Finally, in 1994, just before he and his family moved back to Russia, Solzhenitsyn spoke at the Town Meeting again, said Svec, who will play the writer giving that final address in a theatrical production devoted to local history later this month.

"Our children grew up and went to school here, alongside your children," Solzhenitsyn told his neighbors, as interpreted by his son Stepan. "Indeed, our whole family has felt at home among you. Exile is always difficult, and yet I could not imagine a better place to live, and wait, and wait for my return home, than Cavendish, Vermont."

I'd choked up by the end of reading this one to the Wife at dinner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2008 7:47 PM

Funny how this list is co-extensive with the list of things that make OJ cry...

Posted by: Benny at August 5, 2008 10:07 PM

Mark Steyn had a gloomier take on his Vermont stay:

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at August 6, 2008 4:18 AM

Mr. Steyn likely objected to the critique too.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2008 8:36 AM
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