Friday, March 30, 2007

My friend, the Archimandrite

I just phoned my new neighbour. "Hi, Angela!" I said. "It's Alison." she replied in the gentlest voice you can imagine.


I had a colleague many years ago, a fellow school principal, who could memorise the names of all 300 students in his quarterly intake as they introduced themselves, and subsequently put the correct name to each face without hesitation every time he bumped into them.


When I first travelled by train from Zurich to Lausanne to meet him, I panicked when the Lausanne platform emptied, leaving only a man in clerical dress. It turned out that it was he: my colleague was an Archimandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church. He took me to his home, entertained me right royally, good food and wine, followed by a choice of vodkas and a choice of cigarettes, something I had never experienced before.

I asked him about his reputation for remembering names. He was very dismissive, saying that it was something he had had to learn during the war. Ah! Espionage! Skullduggery! But he was not to be drawn on the subject.

And, on top of all this - amazing memory, ecclesiastical status and gourmet taste - he had one more truc to leave me in awe of him: his surname, PeŇ∑rachon. Who else on this planet has a name containing the letter y with a circumflex over it?


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