THE GORBACHEVS IN CALIFORNIA : Soviet First Lady Leads Fans, Police on a Merry S.F. Chase : Sightseeing: After a reunion with Nancy Reagan, Raisa Gorbachev tours the city by the bay.
“The Hunt for Red Raisa” was playing all over town here Monday.
Like the submarine captain in the movie, Raisa Gorbachev jettisoned many of her mapped-out plans and dodged her pursuers--mostly the press, but a lot of fans, some local police and even the Soviets’ local public relations team, which finally gave up trying to track the elusive First Lady.
“A Soviet security woman said she does that all the time,” sighed one of the public relations men.
After dutifully breakfasting with Nancy Reagan and accompanying Mikhail S. Gorbachev to Stanford University, Raisa Gorbachev made the afternoon her own.
She leaped aboard a motorized-tour cable car at Fisherman’s Wharf, waving and shaking hands with one hand as she held onto a brass pole with the other, as if to keep herself from being pulled into the clamoring crowd.
“Want a free ride?” offered tour guide Misty Grey.
Sitting on an oak bench next to Grey, Raisa Gorbachev tugged at her auburn hair as she turned down Grey’s offer of dinner and a haircut from Grey’s hairdresser roommate.
“She liked the dinner part, but (said) her hair was already OK,” said Grey, whose locks are a trendy, short white-blonde. She judged her “a beautiful lady.”
Raisa Gorbachev pointed to the blocks of souvenir shops; purist San Franciscans had moaned when they heard she would visit what one called ‘that ticky-tacky wharf.’
“Tell me,” she asked, “are those stores down there?”
“All the way down,” said Grey proudly.
From her black Zil limousine, the First Lady--wearing the same black-checked suit and fuchsia blouse she wore Friday at Wellesley College--gestured to sweatshirt vendor Doris Pedemonte, who wanted to give her a free $10 aqua zip-neck sweatshirt that said “San Francisco” in pink. “The cops wouldn’t let me give it to her--they shoved me back.”
Raisa Gorbachev had dumped the Bank of America and the opera from her hour-late itinerary, preferring to stop in at a little grocery, where she was happy to hear how well Soviet vodka Stolichnaya was selling. Then she was driven through Chinatown and Russian Hill. She was, she said later, “overwhelmed at this beautiful city.”
“It seems while I was busy in session, she was doing sightseeing,” her husband said genially, calling hers “people diplomacy.”
In fact it was more drive-by diplomacy, part tour of duty, part plain tour. Plans were made and plans were dumped; it made Raisa-watching quite iffy.
“This is the silliest thing I’ve ever done,” moaned a preteen boy, following his mother as she dodged parked cars to run toward the sirens, where Raisa Gorbachev might be heading, or might not.
“Raisa Gorbachev is NOT coming down here--so sorry,” droned a San Francisco cop over his loudspeaker, rolling through hundreds of tourists waiting with open lenses near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Naturally, moments later, she was there. “We saw her head--she looked lovely,” gushed New Jersey tourist Rosalie McKeon. “I got about eight pictures of her head,” said her husband, Bob.
Maybe she was going to the Oakland children’s hospital, once on her itinerary. So some people headed there. Maybe she was going to the Safeway, where a carful of U.S. agents wheeled in, and where bakery worker Rick Wood was laying out cookies, just in case.
“Everyone’s on his own. Everyone’s playing their own hunches,” said a hapless public relations person.
But Raisa Gorbachev drove right by. She had already gone to a mom-and-pop grocery store in the Twin Peaks area instead.
For 10 minutes, she had prowled the shelves of the New Terrace market, asking about the prices--more expensive than home, she noted--and why there was more U.S.-made vodka than Russian-made Stolichnaya on the shelves.
“I told her it was because Stolichnaya is the best-selling vodka we have,” said the owner, Hea Kim, no slouch at diplomacy herself. “She smiled.”
Twin Peaks, where she also shook hands with construction workers and locals, was an apt choice, for her itinerary Monday was about as quirky as the TV show that goes by the same name. But there was method in all this.
The first Russian to come to San Francisco showed up in 1806, and that visit too was seeking business. Count Nikolai Rezanov came looking for supplies for the starving Russian colony at Sitka. The answer was “no,” but he scored points on romance, wooing the 15-year-old daughter of the Presidio commandant.
Likewise, all Monday’s meetings and flesh-pressing with proletarians and power brokers may pay off for trade-hungry Soviets.
At Stanford, Raisa Gorbachev, who has been a university lecturer, talked to art students. Richard Payne gave her his painting of a Christ figure that bears the phrase in Spanish, “Lord Have Mercy.”
Mrs. Gorbachev pointed to it and said, “That’s a warning about the apocalypse.” Payne replied, “No, that’s a blessing. Then she told me ‘it’s a bit of both.’ She was the only person who’s been able to understand my artwork. It’s the best critique I’ve ever had,” Payne marveled.
Raisa Gorbachev started the day with another kind of critic, Nancy Reagan. The fabled Nancy-Raisa hostilities, the “power glower” frost once pitched as the last and most trivial battle of the Cold War, was not in evidence as the two women talked while their husbands met separately. They even held hands briefly on the balcony of the consul general’s red brick mansion.
“We get along fine,” said Nancy Reagan after the 45-minute visit. “I think there’s been a great misunderstanding about our relationship.” This breakfast, on the heels of Raisa Gorbachev’s public lovefest with Barbara Bush, came on the day that astrology believer Nancy Reagan’s horoscope said, “Be willing to make changes.” Raisa Gorbachev’s--who has said ‘Not me, sorry’ when it comes to astrology--advised, “Financial gain results from career, business activity,” a hopeful omen for this investment-seeking trip.
She had tea with a trio from Friends of Raisa Gorbachev, high-powered business and academic admirers who got autographed photos but not yet the promise they had wanted for a return trip.
“A lot of her thinking and philosophy have contributed to some of the changes in the Soviet Union,” said Ingrid Hills.
Raisa Gorbachev did tell them that “she really could relate” to the grocery she visited, “coming from a very poor family herself.”
As for the society, Raisa Gorbachev teased them, she “used to get a lot of letters requesting permission to name their kids with my first name"--and “here I have a whole society named after me.”