Chris Marker, Letter from Siberia (1957)
In Siberia the weather jolts you – so do the roads, but cars are insanity when you’ve got a handy conveyance that suits the terrain to perfection: the reindeer.
The entire economy of the Arctic peoples is based upon the reindeer. It serves as wheat, flax, rowboat, Christmas tree, medicine chest, and sacristan, all rolled into one. When gelded it serves as a horse, and is allowed to keep its beautiful satiny antlers, whereas the foolish males cut theirs to ribbons.
Oh reindeer, sweet and just
Friend of the birds and owls
They nest in your branches
Happy he who has ideas in his head
Happier still, he who has birds
Brown reindeer on a brown plain
Like an old spot of blood on dead leaves
White reindeer on white snow
Like the beloved’s silence in the midst of silence
You could go on praising reindeer forever. Those velvet handlebars and the way they have of kicking themselves along with their heels – they’re the closest thing to a bicycle that God ever created. If I had the money, I’d shoot a spot commercial in their honor, and I’d run it between two showings, or better still between two reels. The picture would break off suddenly, and you’d see something like this:
(United Productions of Siberia Presents)
“We interrupt this film not to sell you some new miracle product, but to remind you of an ancient irreplaceable product to end all products: reindeer. They make fine pets; they’re less of a nuisance than dogs, less intimidating than cats, less insidious than fleas. Reindeer are all these things and more. Are you dissatisfied with your car? Reindeer will transport you. Are you dissatisfied with your tailor? Reindeer will dress you. Are you dissatisfied with your doctor? Reindeer will look after your health. Are you dissatisfied with your interior? Reindeer will redecorate you. Are you dissatisfied with your destiny? Reindeer will bring you luck. And don’t forget that for young and for old alike reindeer are wholesome food, chock full of life giving chlorophyll. Housewives of the world, wherever you may be, in Moscow, Rome, New York, Peking or Paris – beware of imitations such as moose, or elk. Always ask for genuine reindeer.”
We followed the reindeer to the Evenks’ camp. Evenks, as you well know, are Tunguses. Reindeer and Tunguses have always been associated, but it’s a question whether Tunguses like reindeer because they’re useful, or whether reindeer like Tunguses because they’re light. For centuries Tunguses and reindeer were nomads together. But now all that’s changed. With a wisdom that would have done credit to King Solomon they’ve been assigned home bases. They may not show up there for years on end, but they’ve nevertheless graduated from the dubious category of ‘nomads,’ into the respectable one of ‘householders on the move.’