The Rural We: Anne Garrels
For more than three decades, Anne Garrels reported from some of the most dangerous places on earth — the Middle East, Nicaragua, El Salvador, both Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and Iraq. She was the Moscow bureau chief and reporter for ABC, and the NPR correspondent in Russia, and has won nearly every major broadcasting award. She is also a resident of the Rural Intelligence region, now living full time in Norfolk, Conn. Garrels will be speaking about her recent book, “Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia” for the Salisbury Forum on Friday, Oct. 21 at the Salisbury School. The book is based on years of reporting on a region in Central Russia. It describes the effect of the collapse of the Soviet Union and helps us understand Putin’s appeal to the Russian people.
I retired in 2010 — I was burned out after eight years in Iraq — and that’s why I was able to write the book. I researched it for three years, spending about three months each year in Chelyabinsk, the town I focused on.
Russia has always been my real passion. I realized that Moscow, where I lived, wasn’t the real Russia, so I chose to begin visiting Chelyabinsk, because if was sort of like being in middle America. In the mid ‘90s, you couldn’t stop people from talking. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, they were no longer afraid, and were anxious to talk about their situation in the provinces. It was important that I had made connections there, because as the years have gone on, the doors have begun to close and many of my contacts began to be afraid to talk.
Now there is so much economic and identity trauma. The country has imploded, leaving a wounded Russia. In many ways Putin has been able to successfully play on people’s feelings that the world doesn’t appreciate Russia. Trump is playing the same misery game, but I think we’re far better off than we think we are. I’m sure Trump is jealous of Putin’s power.
Because I’ve been writing and traveling so much, this is the first time I’m really here full time, and I’m here alone. Last year was an annus horribilis — my husband (J. Vinton “Vint” Lawrence) had acute leukemia and didn’t make it. He comes from a prominent family in Norfolk — the Childs. They’d been coming up here since the beginning of the 20th century. After I came back from Russia in the late ‘90s, neither of us wanted to stay in Washington, so we decided to move to Norfolk. I thought I’d be doing special projects for NPR, and this was a wonderful base to do special projects, and my husband, a political cartoonist, could work here, too.
I know I’m lucky to live here. I went down to Toby Pond this morning and it was so breathtakingly beautiful. Vint and I were both avid gardeners, and I’m wrestling with how to keep it going. I have the support of Vint’s large family here and friends, and I enjoy all Norfolk and the surrounding communities have to offer.