Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara
Nicholas Roerich
Estate Museum
in Izvara


A Letter

What is this America? It is a far, far-away land, a land taken from a fairy tale, a land where anything is possible—where for sausages there are not enough guts from sheep of the Sarts, and where wool is wanted from all over the world; where people move and speak and write with the aid of machines; where people do not count the money on counting boards, but where machines themselves do all the counting.

Every Sart dreams of trading with America: silk, wool, sheep gut, dried fruit—all these which constitute his only riches, the Sart would like to offer to America, but again that same Yang-t’u-tu prevents him. The Sarts ask:

“Have you no pictures of America?” and struggling with each other, they snatch the pictures of New York from our hands. And it pains them that they cannot keep these pictures. It seems to them that in these gigantic skyscrapers there must live giants, which fly through the air like a flash on gigantic iron birds. The local population still recollects the old teaching that some time there will fly steel birds and that iron dragons will unite all countries. These men have also heard of the mysterious cities of saintly beings, who know everything. And again they ask:

“But can you give us a book about America?—a book that is written either in Turkish or in Arabian? Otherwise our mullah will not be able to read them. Let us keep the pictures of America!”

And not only is every photograph of the skyscrapers cherished, but even every colored label is kept and guarded as a sign from far-away America.

In the sands of Khotan, a long-bearded Moslem asks: “But tell me, could a Ford pass here, on the old Chinese road?” And in Kashgar people inquire: “Could not the area of old loess be lifted with a Ford?” And the Kal-muks question whether a Ford runs quicker than their horses. And the gray-bearded old-believer (starover) on the Altai dreams: “Oh, if we could but have a Ford here!”

Is it a man they refer to—is it a machine, is it a building, or is it an abstract concept? For Asia it is a moving power. Ford is the carrier of a new motion, of new possibilities, of a new life. His first name has long been lost. The depths of Asia have no information of the everyday life of this amazing person, but their conception of him has been blended with a conception of motive power, thus widening far beyond the scope of a definite idea. And so it has happened that in the minds of Asia, Ford can do everything.

And yet another American name has entered the minds of the peoples in the depths of Asia.

In a remote section of the Altai Mountains, in the most revered corner, where old sacred images are kept, our attention was drawn to the reproduction of a familiar face, cut from some magazine. Before we had time to draw nearer, and to recognize it as Hoover, the old-believer remarks: “This is he who feeds the people. Yes, there are such wonderful persons in the world, who feed not only their own people, but can even feed other nations.” The old man himself had not received any message from the A.R.A., but this living legend has found its way across rivers and mountains, telling of the generous Giant who kindheartedly distributes sufficient food for the starving people of all the world.

And even in far-off Mongolia where one might think this legend could not penetrate, a forsaken yurta, a Mongol, again tells you that somewhere there lives a great man, who can feed whole starving nations—and with great difficulty he pronounces a name which resembles something between Hoover and Kuvera, the revered Buddhist deity of good luck and wealth. Even into these vast deserts some interested traveler has carried the uplifting legend about the great man, who works for the “Common Good.”

The third outstanding cultural name—widely known in the spaces of Asia—is that of Senator Borah. A letter from him is considered as a good passport everywhere. Sometimes in Mongolia, or in the Altai, or in Chinese Turkestan you can hear a strange pronunciation of his name:

“Boria is a powerful man!”

In this way the people wisely value the great leaders of our times.

This is so precious to hear. So precious is it to know that human evolution by untold paths forces its way into the future.

And suddenly there arrived your letter from America, having successfully survived all the trials of the Chinese mail. Of course the letter had been opened and very clumsily closed again, but in it the Amban could see nothing terrible. The Amban did not consider it injurious that you, my friends, are beginning the construction of a new building. Of course it may have appeared rather strange to him that this building will be twenty-four stories high, whereas there is no necessity for the mighty yamen of the T’u-tu himself to be higher than one story. Of course he considers all your propositions about the school, lectures and books pretty dangerous, but he passed over them with a smile.

The people in America have a lot of money and they can occupy themselves with paintings. But the amban of to-day does not engage himself with such empty things and he does not even know a single name of any scientist or of any artist of contemporary China. And should you continue to question him more persistently, you would fall considerably in his opinion. Let him rather think that there are all sorts of queer persons in this world, busying themselves with most strange matters. “But these occupations are harmless as far as Yang-t’u-tu is concerned; why should we therefore destroy these queer fellows; let us return them their letters.” Thus thinks the Amban.

Maybe with the help of some Sart or Turkish merchant, or through a Chinese interpreter, the Amban will also read this letter. And maybe he will not like what I have said about the Kalmuks and about the cock fights arranged by Yang-t’u-tu. But seeing that every Amban considers it his duty to hate Yang-t’u-tu, he may smile as he reads the letter, and may say: “Well, let them know in America about our old man—he has a small heart.”

But now the Amban will be quite perplexed; we will speak a language entirely unknown to him.

Museum Address: 188414, Izvara Village, Volosovo District, Leningrad Region, Russia.
Phones: +7-813-73-73-273 (group tours); Phone/Fax +7-813-73-73-298 (general)
Museum Director: Cherkasova Olga Anatolievna E-mail: