In the mud now. It has been raining for days. There is no such thing as a dry tent. Muddy clothes, soggy shoes and the cheerful camaraderie born out of common history prevail. If anything, this group of about 400 Americans and Soviets walking and busing from Leningrad to Moscow is having fun. And countless exchanges of varying depth.
"Well, nine rallies and six concerts," Buffy Boesan, a Catholic sister of Loreto from Colorado, said of the events a week into the walk. "I'm counting. I figure if there's a mike, it's a rally. But there's got to be a mike. I wonder what today will have in store."
On Tuesday, the American-Soviet Bloc camped on a hill overlooking the tiny village of Mironushka. It was a spectacular place, overlooking wooded valleys, meadows and planted fields.
The catering team that is accompanying the walk set up an Army mess tent and plastic and plywood dining areas, complete with white damask cloth on the long plank table. They provide dinner, supper and breakfast, serving feasts such as cheese blintzes, cabbage rolls and garden vegetables, finished off with tea made in the three huge samovars that are accompanying the camp.
At the foot of the hill was a dirt lane leading to several unpainted log and clapboard cottages, or farm houses. One family was welcoming marchers and had what amounted to an open house. Twelve from camp spent the night there. The home was warm and dry, a cheerful place with a wallpapered living room filled with a bed, dining table, couch, chairs, china cupboard, three clocks and a television set.
Both American and Soviet walkers took advantage of the hospitality, petting the pregnant tortoise-shell cat, and watching the television broadcast of Gorbachev's opening address to the 2,000 delegates to the International Women's Conference on Peace in Moscow.
At the campsite, the rain canceled nothing. A women's meeting was proceeding in one bus, with Soviet and American differences surfacing on the question of birth control and sex education, most of the Soviets taking a more conservative stand than the Americans.
'New Way of Thinking'
In another bus, about 20 people were engaged in a discussion being led by two Soviets, a sociologist and a political scientist, on the "new way of thinking," or "new mentality" as they describe Gorbachev's policies of glasnost , or openness, in reconstruction.
At one point the discussion turned to Afghanistan, with Seva Marinov, from the Institute of Social Research in Moscow, saying, "I think we did it because of our revolutionary goals," adding that the "new mentality" would be inclined to withdraw from it and to have Afghanistan be a truly non-aligned country.
Outside, on a wooden platform exposed to the light rain, local people, costumed folk singers and dancers among them, were doing their best to be festive, singing and dancing, grabbing the visitors and dancing with them. A circle of small campfires notwithstanding, people were chilled and damp, but it worked. Long after the townspeople had left, some Soviet and American die-hards kept at it, strumming banjos and guitars and dancing.
For the first time, a Soviet war veteran--who has been walking in blue sweat pants, a suit coat pinned with his war medals, a fedora and raincoat--joined in, standing on the edge of the platform, clapping hesitantly, then letting one of the women swing him around. The session ended abruptly when an irate American woman unzipped her tent, called out and announced that some people were trying to get some sleep.
The day had four rallies. By now the Soviet part of the program is predictable -- a welcome by the mayor, remarks from a war veteran, a woman and a young person. The Americans, not prepared in advance for all the ceremonies and traveling without politicians, have been improvising.
At a lunch stop in the small city of Voldaya, the town square filled with people as the walkers ate lunch. By the time they had finished lunch the square was packed with a fairly impassive group of people who politely stood through the ceremony.
Later in the day, as the buses reached the border between the Novgorod and Kalinin regions, hundreds of people waited on the highway in the countryside. The sun had come out about an hour before. The skies cleared. The folk dancers danced and accordions played. And a group of American and Soviet walkers ignored the speeches in favor of a game of hacky-sack, which they played by the side of the bus. The welcoming committee had gone all-out, and in the pine woods off the highway cold drinks, tea and tables ladened with trays of sweet rolls awaited everyone.