The Putin's plane landed in Waco and President Putin descended the steps with a long-stemmed yellow rose that he handed to Mrs Bush. This might come as a surprise to Texans, but The Yellow Rose of Texas, the state's unofficial song has meaning mostly to Texans and I can assure you that it is of no particular significance to Russian folk. So somebody in the Putin camp had done careful research on the perfect gift for the First Lady. Brilliant.
Another special touch was the handful of welcome signs written in Russian. The highway from the Waco airport to Crawford was lined with well-wishers, many holding placards and 98% of them in English. But a handful said Добрго Пожаловать! (DOB-ro po-DJAL-ovat!), Welcome!- in Russian. Another brilliant stroke.
The Former Presidents Putin and Bush. The gentleman in the background is a translator. (Photographer Unknown)Later Crawford High School hosted a joint press conference, dubbed The Crawford Summit. Interestingly, only students were permitted to ask questions of the presidents. I wondered if those young people had any idea that the eyes of the world were upon them. That at least in Russia, they were being watched and their words broadcast across 11 time zones.
Stage and podium at Crawford High School during The Crawford Summit. November, 2001. (Photographer: Unknown)I wondered what the students knew about Russia. I wondered if they had any idea of the cultural richness, the complex history, the diverse peoples of Russia. I wondered if, per chance, any of the Crawford students had passports or had ever traveled overseas.
Lydmila Putina, then first lady of Russia with Laura Bush during The Crawford Summit, November 2001. (Photographer: Unknown)Where is Crawford, anyway, I wondered? I had lived in Texas quite a few years but had no idea. My trusty atlas showed to be an easy drive from Dallas. And because I'm based out of Dallas and planned to be there the following spring, I had an idea. . .
I could put together a great slide show of things Russian. I could collect lots and lots of souvenirs. I could introduce the students to the Cyrillic alphabet, write their names in Russian, and teach them a song or two. . .
And that's precisely what happened. April of 2002, at the end of a long week of standardized testing, students were ready for a change of pace. Perfect!
So I did a slide show especially from them, From Russia with Love. . .to Crawford. We sang I've Got Peace Like a River in Russian with all the motions. I introduced them to the Cyrillic alphabet and did their names in Russian.
Later that afternoon, Principal Harris showed me the school's collection of memorabilia the summit. I noticed there were no matroshka dolls in the display, you know, the wooden nesting dolls of Russia. So I solved that problem immediately. There's nothing worse than a display of things Russian with no matroshka dolls!
President and Mrs Putin had given this magnificent vase to the school. It is traditional porcelain, called Gzhel ware, and although smaller pieces are available in stores here, this is by far the largest piece I've seen. Looks like the Kremlin wall, depicted there on the vase.
The day had been so exciting that when it was time to leave the school, I was not ready to leave Crawford. First, I went driving out in the direction of the Bushes' ranch, dubbed The Western White House even though my vehicle was low on gas. I drove. . . and drove. . . and eventually turned back around before I got there. Or maybe I passed it and just didn't know. But I didn't want to gamble on Crawford's lone gas station and getting stranded in that town, nice as it was.
By then I was ravenous - similar to, but different from ravishing, you understand - and The Coffee Station sure sounded good. Plus I had read about the place and seen photos of the Bushes and their entourage eating there thanks to Yahoo! News and Photos. So I went on in. Oh, was that fun.
The Coffee Spot is the only eat-out place in town. And half of it is a gas station. Diane, above, is the manager of the place was a great source of information and trivia. I wanted to know what it was like in the kitchen, cooking the president's hamburger. Or what it was like to be there dining when the president and his group were en route and wanted the place secure. I wanted to know how Mrs Bush liked her hamburger and what she liked on the side - fries, onion rings or deep fried peppers. Fascinating stories, all.
They say that Crawford is getting back to normal these days. Now, when the Bushes are in town there are probably fewer network vans with satellite dishes lining the road through town. I'm so grateful to Crawford for their hospitality to former President and Mrs Putin. And it was my privilege to serve - even for just a day - as ambassador of Russia to the people of Crawford, Texas.