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Full Circle

Day 22: Vladivostok

Vladivostok, Eastern Russia 
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Good career move? The Pacific Fleet ensemble get ready to sway.
Michael Palin - Full CircleWhat I hadn't bargained for in all my rehearsals was that they don't just sing, they also sway. And, although I may be powdered up pink as a baby, I must remember to sway proudly. I look along the line of my fellow sailors and there they are, every rouged chin at a Churchillian angle, every crimson lip set defiantly. I hear my cue and start to sing, as lustily as I dare. This is a mistake. There are another three verses of humming still to go. The Pacific Fleet Choir is big on humming. Together with the swaying it builds up into something almost hypnotic. A mood, a very Russian mood, of uncontainable soulfulness is conveyed before a word has been uttered.

When the time does come for the words I am, of course, still humming. To sing in Russian requires considerable concentration, but once I am through the first verse, the sheer passion of the piece takes over and, as surge follows surge and the volume rises gently and remorselessly, I can feel myself, just for a moment, at one with the Pacific Fleet, at one with Russia and all its powerful longing. 'Poliushko Pole' is not an aggressive anthem, it is not even a marching song. No enemy is identified and reviled. It is a song about solidarity and pride and comradeship. The words, written in 1934, may lose something in translation:

'Girls! Wipe your tears... and let the song grow louder... the heroes of the Red Army are passing through the field' - sort of thing - but, when Anatoly thrusts his baton skywards one final time and the sound of the mighty last chorus hangs in the air, I feel ready to start the Revolution all over again.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 22
  • Country/sea: Eastern Russia
  • Place: Russkiy Island
  • Book page no: 45

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