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Russell Fraser


Flying Horses on the Silk Road

Autumn 2002 | Essays

The warriors of Xi'an stood in darkness for 2,000 years, watching over their dead emperor. He was Qin, pronounced Chin, whose successors built the Great Wall and gave a name to China. The warriors are ranked in battalions, archers, cavalry with their horses, charioteers, and infantry wielding lances and swords. Though unmistakably Chinese, each has different features. Their hair styles are different, close cropped or luxuriating like their mustaches and beards. The baked earth they are made of is easily broken, and thousands have gone back to dust. But thousands remain, lifesize and still at the ready.


The Next Revolution In Scotland

Winter 2002 | Essays

In the heart of downtown Aberdeen, the tea room is the Tastie Tattie Shop. Today's menu features tatties and chili, and the girl I give my order to is wearing a stud in her nose. Aberdeen, the Granite City, looks built to last, but the modern world, disposable like plastic milk cartons, squeezes between cracks in the granite. Across from the cathedral the Upperkrust Katerer has a shocking-pink valence over the store front. At "Marks & Sparks" around the corner, platform shoes and leopard-skin short shorts are on display in the window.


China Boy

That first trip to China I was into Eastern religions. I held all life sacred, not just vertebrates like me. Bugs were God's creatures, and who could say what form they took in a previous incarnation. Picking them up on a 3 × 5 card, I dropped the [...]

Peter At the Crossroads

Music comes out to meet us as we head up the Neva into St. Petersburg. Facing the river on the English Embankment, the band is playing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." A rude glissando on the trombone changes the beat, and the ragged, foot-stomp [...]

Antarctic Convergence

Most men in my family have gone into business but my great-great grandfather sailed round Cape Horn. He had skippered a merchantman in the Malay Archipelago and off the coast of China. A sense of something yet to do nagged at him, though, and in 18 [...]

France’s Two Cities

Pleasure boats ride the Yonne as it flows through Auxerre, at ease on both sides of the river. The right size for a city, it has wealth but not too much, enough to feed the body, including the part that can't live by bread alone. The train from Par [...]

The Scotsman’s Return From Abroad

I am the Scot I write about, but my title is second-hand and comes from the poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. Living much abroad, at the end of his life in romantic Samoa, he grew up in Edinburgh, near Charlotte Square. Cooly classical buildings sta [...]

Proserpine’s Island

Not knowing enough to come in out of the rain, I walk the ramparts of Enna's castle, built 700 years ago and looking its age. Rain was falling all over Sicily the first time I came to the island, en route to a borsa di studio in Rome's American Aca [...]

The Green Grass of Home

En route to Cooperstown, home of baseball's Hall of Fame, the back country road crosses rolling farmland, rising to wooded hills. Horses patrol the fields, grazed by black and white cattle, and some large white clapboard houses date from the 18th [...]

Inca Dinka Doo

Lima reminds me of Detroit, nice residential quarters on the city's outskirts, big hotels in the center, in between a vacuum waiting to be filled. Abandoning their city, well-to-do Limeños live in modern high-rises above the Pacific or in the sub [...]

Monteverdi and the Immorality of Art

In Monteverdi's time, early 17th century, forward-looking composers wanted to enlist music in the wars of truth. This was the beginning of our modern age, and Monteverdi counts among our prophets. In key with his time he shared the impulse to soul [...]

Wadi-Bashing In Arabia Deserta

For successful wadi-bashing, you need four-wheel drive and a good head of steam. Land Rovers and Cherokee jeeps are preferred. Pulling out the throttle, you race along the wadis, making a run at the dunes. Some dunes, enormous, dwarf a three-story [...]

R. P. Blackmur: America’s Best Critic

R. P. Blackmur, whom Allen Tate called our best American crritic, has been dead now for 16 years. This seems long enough to warrant a comprehensive look at his achievement, where achievement signifies the man he made himself not less than the books [...]