PARENTHETICAL PREFACE-TYPE EXPLANATION-THING: This happened ten or so years ago, so my memory is somewhat hazy about some details. And, since it involves my work, I've had to leave a few things out....
Somewhere, there is a photo of me staring through a fence. I'm wearing a heavy blue winter coat, and am standing in snow. My hands clutch the fencing; after all, I'm in Russia and, like so many Russians of that time and before, I want to get out....
The story began on a cold winter day in the town of Kirkenes, Norway, to which I was flown in a rattly charter plane with a faulty heating system and a dark, dirty cabin. From my hotel, one could see the highway leading into Russia and, in the far distance, a checkpoint that blocked the road.
It was a normal enough trip: work, great food and strong beverages -- including a wonderful dinner of reindeer steaks in a log cabin -- and beautiful scenery.
Part of the trip involved a drive to a small village. The road ran right along the Russian border, which was marked by a sturdy, but badly maintained fence and tall guard towers here and there on the Other Side. Aside from the one route from Kirkenes, I saw no roads crossing the border.
Even so, our hosts had been adamant about Russia being off-limits to us. Insurance issues, paperwork issues and, probably, a wish to not have to bail me or one of my colleagues out of a Russian slammer made them conservative.
The "don't go there" command was, of course, like waving a red cloth -- a Soviet-red cloth, for sure -- in front of a herd of bulls. I was riding with a good friend as we drove back from the small village where we had lunch, and topic "A" was a quickie visit to the other side of the fence.
We had gotten separated from the other cars in our caravan and, on one lonely, deserted stretch of road, the temptation overpowered us. We stopped, got out, walked over to the fence. My friend started taking pictures.
At that particular point, there were holes in the barrier, large enough for one to crawl through. Though a guard tower was visible, it seemed empty. What could go wrong? The Ivans wouldn't care if we popped in for a quick visit, would they?
My friend went first. I took pictures of him Over There. He returned, and I went in while he snapped a few photos.
We spent the rest of the drive laughing about it. We'd put one over on both our hosts and the Evil Reds.
Not long after, we got back to Kirkenes and joined the rest of the group. We were last to return, save one other car carrying two colleagues who were covering the trip for a TV show. Time passed, and that car didn't show up.
Hours later, they arrived, and went into a huddle with one of our hosts. They appeared to be somewhat irritated.
As well they should have been. They were collared by the Norwegian police, acting on a complaint from the Russians about two guys in a red (name withheld) station wagon who had illegally entered Russia and, worse, had photographed a sensitive military installation (the guard tower). Their videotapes had been confiscated.
While this was being reported, two guys whose faces were as red as their own red (name withheld) station wagon were trying not to burst into hysterical laughter. This was noted, and we were asked if we happened to know anything about this.
Two voices in unison: "Who, us?"
PARENTHETICAL POST-SCRIPT THING: The videotapes were returned the next morning, and the Norwegian flatfeet were as nice as could be to them. Several years later, I confessed to my part in this to the TV guys (who laughed, thank God) and to one of the company people who was on the trip. And, surprisingly, that same company has continued to invite me to its events....
I never did get copies of the photos, though.
10 hours ago