Igor Asheshov: 1963-2014

By Nicholas Asheshov

igorIgor was born in Lima in 1963 and within a couple of years he was living, with Consuelo and my mum and sisters, in our country house in Sussex. We went on to live in London and Brighton and he became instantly bilingual. Ig was one of those who are truly bilingual — not just easy in both languages but at home in the style both of London and of Lima. Ig was at his ease in both. Ig was instantly at his ease anywhere — a jungle village, a TV studio, a five-star kitchen, a sailing boat in the Roaring Forties or, for sure, a pub anywhere.

In 1970,back in Peru, I took him to Yarinacocha to stay with the Linguistico missionaries while I went off in a missionary plane to look for a lost explorer. But Igor, aged 7, refused to enter the dining hall as the missionary wives and daughters had, on his first entrance, tried to grab him and make him sit at their own table.

I told him, “You are off to a great start.” But he still refused and I had to find a little farm hotel on the other side of the lake; a young German couple — the Maulhardts, bless them — took him in and he had a lovely time for a couple of weeks fishing and swimming and playing with the monkeys, snakes, dogs… He and his sisters and a pack of Zileris went back year after year. I have a fine black and white photo of Igor and Marco sitting on the pavement of a busy Pucallpa street intently reading their comics, rented for 10 centavos from a market mami.

Three years later when Igor was 10, he joined me, my sister Anna and his Uncle Michel for an expedition to the Madre de Dios where we panned for gold. For many years Ig had a small glass vial with flakes of gold he had found in the jungle.

These were his first ventures into what was to be a well-travelled life. 1975 and 1976, when he was 12-13, found Igor at an English boarding school at Quilmes, Buenos Aires. Enrique Zileri, his “official tutor,” and I had both been thrown out of Lima and BA was cheap. Ig always remembered his couple of years at St George’s as one of the happiest times of his life.

With the military coup of 1976, BA got too dangerous and expensive and Ig went of to England to live with his Aunt Anna and Kitty, and their husbands and children. Today these kids, my nephews, remember Igor with enormous affection and indeed he was to spend, on and off, many years in England and the English cousins were a fixed part of his life.

Back in Peru he worked with computers and desktop publishing at the Lima Times. In 1986 he and I went off to the remote Vilcabamba and after a long walk and ride over the mountains into Sendero-held zones, brought back seven-year-old Elizabeth Berg.

On the way back he and I took it in turns to have the little girl sitting on our saddles. I would try and keep her quiet by feeding her with sweets and Igor would tell me to stop it. “You’re spoiling her teeth.” On trips like these you could always rely on Igor to be cool and practical, get the fire going, put up the tent and find fodder for the horses. Today this tiny Indian girl lives happily on a loch in Scotland.

1990, aged 27, found Ig in Tierra del Fuego with a collection of kayaks and TV cameras and with John Ridgway, the English tough-guy adventurer who had rowed across the Atlantic and got to know Igor on a couple of trips to Peru. Igor and Ridgway paddled their way through the ferocious waves and weather around Cape Horn, both of them singing loudly to keep up their spirits.

Three years later, aged 30, he joined Ridgway again to sail in Ridgway’s 55ft steel ketch down the Patagonia archipelago, across the Drake Strait to sail in Antartica, and South Georgia and Ig always wanted to return to those tough, lonely, cold waters, full of legends of lost whalers and explorers.

He stayed aboard for all the difficult South Atlantic. Ridgway, my age, always wanted Igor on his trips: “You could rely on him. Brave. Never gave up.”

Back in Lima he worked for a few years at ProPeru and, I think, got a little bogged down, not doing a lot or going anywhere. In 2002 he got another call from Ridgway who was sailing round the world to draw attention to the plight of the albatross especially in the South Pacific where Korean and Japanese fishing boats would kill them in their thousands when the birds swallowed the fish hooks. The Ridgways and Igor made a fine entrance to London through Tower Bridge, memorably recorded in Caretas.

On the way after passing Cape Horn from Australia I got a message from Ig saying he would be in Port Stanley but had no money. I organised sending him a hundred pounds through the then British ambassador here, Richard Ralph who had been governor of the Falklands. Ig got the money from Richard’s young brother-in-law and they spent it all at the Upland Goose (pub).

Back in England Igor decided to become a chef. He had always had a talent for cooking. Now he got jobs as an apprentice at fine restaurants and became an accomplished chef and pâtissier. But working in high-pressure kitchens is a well-established route to drinking and as we know, Ig needed the opposite.

I went to England in 2008 and talking with Ig himself, with friends and doctors, he did a few months in a rehab place. Then he took over a sailing boat of mine in Panama. It started well. On one occasion he was walking along a nice but dangerous beach with strong currents and waves. He spotted a couple of students being swept out. He plunged through the surf and brought back first one, then the other, rescuing them from certain drowning.

Our idea was that Ig would be able to sail anywhere he wanted and this seemed to us both an incentive to pull himself up and out. In an autobiographical piece he did with the BBC, in London he refers clear-sightedly to the “liberating effect” of being cooped up on a small boat for months where survival depends on yourself and on each other. It was this all-or-nothing that he sought, I think, to recreate, a kind of floating Tibetan monastery. But he was losing the struggle and he had to return to Lima.

That was three years ago. He tried hard at rehab, but his liver was too far gone to take any more. And here we are.

As you know, Igor was able to take extremes of toughness but fell to extremes of sadness within himself from which he was unable to emerge unharmed.

As we all know, he had the patience and good nature to stay for hours with little old ladies and with babies and children amusing them gently. He was long-distance patient and tough. He was such good company for everyone.

He was, health-oriented. He always had a tip or two about what to eat or not. A few months ago he suggested that every day first thing I should squeeze some lemon juice into a glass, add water and knock it back to start off the day. I do this and think of Ig every morning, first thing. He advised me, too, when doing my morning exercises to do a few “putting the shot” and throwing the discus, which I do. Again, I think as I do them, of Ig.

Another new tip was a hot mug of ginger tea last thing at night, which I do, and think of Igor.

Igor leaves a large, sad group of cousins and aunts in England who have known him for the best part of half a century and who love him dearly. Many friends, too, in England, the United States and of course here in Peru and in Panama. Also, eight brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, and, Lara, 15, Igor’s daughter.

ENDS

Read in Spanish at Igor’s Memorial Service in Lima Aug 18, 2014.

 

 

 

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