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Things I Have Learned

Hazel Winter Of The Blue Aeroplanes On Finding Shamen In Siberia
The Quietus , January 13th, 2009 00:55

Hazel Winter from Quietus favourites Blue Aeroplanes recalls the stunning views in Siberia and the fact that shamen don't fly.

It is possible to exit your comfort zone without needing a brown paper bag if it’s the Right Thing To Do

It takes nothing to have me hysterically hyperventilating into a brown paper bag; a medium- sized spider will do it. I went to Siberia to find a Shaman because my cousin needed to write her dissertation on Shamanism but she didn’t want to go on her own. I felt like I was looking down a telescope at the pair of us sat spot-lit a long way away, and my mouth was mouthing ,”…I’ll go with you…”

Dealing with authority figures is the same wherever you go

Organizing the visit involved being tediously barracked, humiliated and made to jump through ludicrous hoops. I had the advantage of having signed on the dole in the early 80s so I had some useful background preparation; particularly handy when going through customs in Moscow.

Flying Aeroflot can be entertaining

We flew from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk via Aeroflot in an aeroplane constructed entirely out of old tin cans. I was reliably informed by a mate who had survived resuscitation from near-death after a car crash, that should I suffer a fall from the sky in a tangle of burning metal, it would actually be quite relaxing and peaceful and not at all stressful. Somewhere over The Urals, I unfurled myself from the crash position and went to the lav. Apparently I accidently availed myself of the first class facilities, a fact which would definitely have been forever lost to me had I not subsequently been pursued the length of the aircraft by a furious stewardess with several heavily powdered chins, clucking and squawking like an outraged hen and shaking her wobbly warty wattle at me.

Death feels acceptable if the view is stunning

Driving across the Steppes towards Mongolia was blindingly lovely… miles of expanse… bleached standing stones. Occasionally a Gulag would loom up, incongruously brutal with its barbed wire fences. We over-nighted at the driver’s uncle’s house downing cognac shots…into oblivion. Next day we ran out of petrol on a mountain pass. It was minus 20 degrees and totally deserted. It was an estimated 5 minutes before we froze to death. I took a photo thinking it was going to be the last thing I would see. It wasn’t. The photo ended up on the back cover of the album.

There are always reasons

God the musicians in Tuva were fantastic. Unearthly. Their sounds recreate their environment … waterfalls … wind across the Steppes … horses’ hooves. Some Russians in Krasnoyarsk made jokes about "the fucking Tuvans", telling us that they got drunk all the time. Lonely Planet guide warned travellers not to go to certain areas and that it could be dangerous. But what we found were lovely traumatized people who, when the Soviets invaded, had had all their traditional musical instruments made illegal. We heard stories that up until relatively recently some of their Shamans being thrown out of helicopters "to see if they could fly".

Hazel Winter's album Situation Normal Then _is out this month. Visit Hazel Winter's website for more details.

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