An Open Letter to Mr Thomas Bach, the Head of the International Olympic Committee


Dear Mr #Bach,On behalf of the Russian citizens who have long cherished the true #Olympic ideals, I am writing this post to let you know how pathetic you have been looking since you’ve been forced to launch the Crusade against the #RussianOlympicteam. The #IOC has already become a #disgrace to the notions of #sport, #peace, #integrity and even #politics. We are not interested in exactly what forces you to act as you do. We wonder how much more you can still do before the remains of your #conscience begin to awaken.

Forced by #WADA, you supported the “evidence” of a half-wit traitor and defector who you no doubt despise. You demonstrated a typically bureaucratic helplessness in situation with the #RussianParalympicathletes. You championed driving the country of Russia out of the competition. You instead invited the “#OlympicathletesfromRussia” to the sports bash. We, as the nation, could not expect to see a more biased, cowardly person as the head of the IOC.

And now within two days we first hear that the IOC may withdraw its sanctions against Russia, and next we learn that #Krushelnitsky’s probe may contain #meldonium that has been previously declared a #non-doping.

Dear Mr Bach, do you not realize that this upcoming doping investigation doesn’t support the Olympic ideals. It now supports the #AcademyAwards because those who bribe you need to prove that the film #Icarus isn’t a despicable lie disguised as a movie.

Dear Mr Bach, you’ve jumped into this mess with both feet, and I and all the Russian people can barely imagine what forced you to do so. However, I hope you also realise that your biggest disgrace still lies ahead. I don’t know which #scandal your peers and dons will orchestrate against you, but they certainly will do, and you know it. So, while you still can, I beseech you to do yourself a favour and stop making an idiot of yourself. We, Russians, despise cowards and traitors but we respect those who can correct their ways to stand up for integrity, against vice and corruption.

Please prove us you may still be worthy of our respect.

JS @olympics #thomasbach

Liverpool: In Search of The Beatles Story 

The first time I visited Liverpool was in November 2002. The weather was typical of the English North-West in autumn: above the nil, wind and RAIN.
It should be noted that the trip was an act of appeasement of this Russian girl who was ready to love Manchester United FC provided that no one would stop her from adoring The Beatles. You see, Mancunians are peculiar people. In their view, all best things had happened – or are happening – in Manchester. Therefore, Liverpool, or London for that matter, is a nuisance that throws its shadow on the splendour of the red-brick city. (A note: Liverpudlians secretly giggle at, yet uphold, this ‘competition’). God knows what I had to listen about Liverpool! All people there stretch “i” sound, it’s raining there, Scousers keep outplaying MUFC in the Premier League and at various championships; and on top of that, there is an incomprehensible urban planning and roads that are impossible to navigate. However, as I was eager to even take the train, and my hosts couldn’t risk letting me go on my own, we eventually went by car. 
…and for some reason it was the day of our trip that the firemen trade union had chosen for their strike! To avoid strikebreaking and any incidents, the lifts were switched off throughout the country, communications with the firemen were aborted, hence anyone using electrical goods, shaving and cooking in microwaves was doing so at his or her own risk. We nevertheless went on our trip, but you surely do understand that Liverpool was the cause of it all?!

None of my company knew the city and had barely ever visited it, so we spent a long time searching for Albert Dock where The Beatles Story Museum was located. At first, we ended up at a car park which was at the opposite end of our destination, so we had to brave the rain and wind. In search for a parking space we had to go as high up as level 6 or 7. And whilst going downstairs wasn’t much trouble for any of us, walking back up the stairs presented a challenge even to the healthier ones, who didn’t suffer from asthma and had no problems with legs. The parking was located somewhere near the university, and, as I recall, it was the first time that I saw some tropical plants, like palms, fluttering pathetically in the wind. Later I would see many an unfortunate tree, like those ones, that somehow got settled in the English North-West and in Wales and were courageously soaking wet in the intermittent, cold local rain, the icy winds tearing apart their leaves. 

The road to The Beatles Story was long, though not winding. We had no idea where the museum was, so we took the direction in which everyone wagged and waved. We had to stop regularly because the adults had difficulty walking. We got hungry and popped into a cafe; I tried scrambled eggs with salmon for the first time. This part of the journey took about an hour and a half. Mancunians kept looking for ways to pick at Liverpool, but, apart from the weather (which hardly differed from Manchester), there was nothing to discuss.

After lunch we went on to search for The Beatles Story under the rain. The longer you live in England, the more you realise that the rain is accepted as an inseparable part of life, its absence denying life altogether. Or at least without the rain life becomes palpably incomplete. That time in Liverpool, looking for the museum, I also figured that it was under this perpetual rain the young Beatles had been gathering at each other’s houses, composing and rehearsing songs, and then going to the historical Cavern club to play a gig. They soaked to the bone and got cold but still went wherever the music was taking them. 

Finally, we almost reached our destination: we got to the other end of Albert Dock. Yet we were in Liverpool that evidently decided that those arrogant Mancunians had to get beans for their sharp tongues. On our right a wall was rising, in front of us the boats were floating, and on the left a small bridge was leading to the other bank of the dock. Unconsciously, instead of all this we expected to see some remarkable building with a running inscription, like the British Museum or the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, for shouldn’t Liverpool have been proud of its famous citizens? But alas, there was nothing of the kind. Looking around in despair, I saw two street-signs, one near the bridge, another next to us. Both had “The Beatles Story Museum” arrows pointing at each other. Where they intersected, stood a red Royal Mail post box pinned right in the middle of the little cobbled space where we stood. 
The epic journey was becoming unbearable. This magical mystery tour seemed to be endless but then we noticed a man with his young son. To our question he confidently waved towards the brick wall, and we turned around it and immediately stumbled on a green garbage bin and a sort of cabins painted in the style of the Beatles’ cartoons. And a little farther there was the museum building, with a running inscription, but the entrance led downstairs, rather than upstairs, and The Beatles Story was beginning with the very first steps…

From The City of Optimists by Julia Shuvalova 

And Once Again about Tichborne’s Elegy

I never asked English-speaking readers what or how they felt about Chidiock Tichborne’s Elegy. It is a well-known poem, written by a 28-year-old Tudor guy on the eve of his execution for taking part in the Babington conspiracy against Elizabeth I, and is a tearful meditation on the brevity and fatality of life.

I suspect that it is the poem’s melancholy and romantic feel that made it so popular among contemporary Russian translators. On the web one can find some 5 or 6 variations, all different. Nothing wrong with this, except one thing: the majority of attempts are based around external (=obvious) characteristics of the poem. Translators have found that “Elegy” consists of monosyllabic, Anglo-Saxon words. This obviously makes the poem very unique, and, because we’re reading a Renaissance poem – and Renaissance is well-known for its fascination with symbols and riddles – the monosyllabic words are (mis)taken for an authorial intent. Tichborne was contemplating the brevity of life, and so he used monosyllabic words to emphasise the point.

There are two problems with such interpretation. First, even when we translate prose, we still miss out on certain symbolic features in the destination text. However good we are as translators, losses are sometimes inevitable. In the end, even a written text is a rhetorical exercise, and therefore we still want to entertain the reader with our translation. If it closely follows the original text but is cumbersome and distasteful, then the reader will be tired, annoyed, and not at all pleased. This means that we cannot aim for a complete lexical equivalence in translation, but rather we should aim to translate (i.e. negotiate) something else.

Russian is my native language, which I know in depth, and yet even I would struggle to provide monosyllabic equivalents to all the English monosyllabic words in Tichborne’s poem. And even if I did manage to find them all, the result would hardly possess much literary merit because I wouldn’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak.

The second problem with putting too much emphasis on monosyllabic words in Tichborne’s poem is that we’re clearly trying to add to what is already contained in the poem. For some reason we are not satisfied with the fact that “Elegy” is about the fatality and shortness of one’s life, so we think we must find that which would further stress this. Let’s not think about the poem; let’s look at what I’ve just said. “We think we must find that which would further stress this“; “let’s not think about the poem“; “let’s look at what I’ve just said“. Correct me if I’m wrong but the majority of words in those phrases are monosyllabic. Because I am the living and breathing author of those phrases, I certainly declare that I didn’t plan to use monosyllabic words to stress my point. The point is very simple: there are many monosyllabic words in the English language, and a lot of them happened to be used in Tichborne’s “Elegy“. Rather than assuming that Tichborne conspired (excuse the pun) to use monosyllabic words in his final poem, one should better look at this as a kind of linguistic peculiarity. It certainly adds to the poem’s feel; but, as far as I am concerned, it cannot be viewed as the poem’s most distinct feature, let alone it cannot dictate how we should translate the poem.

As far as the Anglo-Saxon origin of the words goes, again I personally believe we’re walking a useless extra mile in trying to establish the uniqueness of the poem. I think so purely because I am careful of not infusing the poem with my knowledge. This is the biggest disservice I can do to myself as translator and to my readers. The question on these occasions must not be “do I know these words are Anglo-Saxon?” but “did Tichborne know these words were Anglo-Saxon?” I bet the historic origin or the etymology of the words didn’t matter to him in the hours before the execution. Someone may think differently but the question to ask is: would the origin of the words matter to you in Tichborne’s circumstances?

I argued in a short essay in Russian about the complications of translating “Elegy” that it is actually a very easy poem to translate, thanks to the Russian lyrical tradition. Mysticism, melancholy, romantic troubles, forlorn love is what often distinguishes Russian poetry. Tichborne’s “Elegy” could easily be written by a Romanticist poet like Lermontov, should he have found himself in prison awaiting execution. Given Lermontov’s caliber as a poet, his contemplation would well exceed Tichborne’s in literary merit, but in tone and mood it could be very similar.

Last but not least, the misfortunes of translators who tried to translate “Elegy” have entirely to do with the problem of identifying the context and the intent of the poem. I have already pointed out to the problem of context: we’re placing the poem in the context of the language, whereas we must place it in the context of its own time. The themes of Tichborne’s poem are the brevity of life, fatality, death, and the inevitability of punishment, however unjust and cruel. These very themes were widely discussed not only in contemporary literature, but were explored by painters. In my Russian text I compared the colours of “Elegy” to the palette of Tintoretto’s “Marriage at Cana”: the colours are rich but dim, as if covered by the ‘frost of cares‘. There is a similar kind of melancholy and sadness in Michelangelo’s sonnets, and the whole topic of brevity of life was labeled vanitas in both painting and literature. Seen in this context, “Elegy” is a bridge between Renaissance exuberance and lust for life and Baroque melancholy, presented in a rather beautiful and peculiar lyrical form.

Tichborne’s intent is quite easy to comprehend. It is known that he was practising poetry, so, in addition to writing a letter to his darling wife, what could be a better way to bid farewell to this earthy life? And the poem’s intent has to do with the context in which we should read it. Again, this is not the context of the language, but of the time. Tichborne wasn’t teaching us a lesson in the English language; he wasn’t trying to tell us how many monosyllabic words there were in the English language, let alone how many of them were Anglo-Saxon. Instead, he suddenly found himself in a prison cell, and, given that he travelled to the Continent and obviously had the chance to view the works of Italian painters, all the images of vanitas, hour-clocks, and hovering deathly shadows rushed into his mind. If, like Dostoevsky in the 19th c, Tichborne had been suddenly pardoned in 1586, “Elegy” could become a stepping stone for a poetic talent. Instead, it became the last and only manifestation of any literary promise. If Tichborne was indeed practising poetry during his life, then this poem also contains his understanding that he could no longer develop his gift, and this should have been distressing also. Therefore, when we translate “Elegy“, we must strive to convey this emotional component of the original text. And, in case you wonder, this is exactly what I did.

 

 

William Butler Yeats – Mediations in Time of Civil War. My House

An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower,
A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall,
An acre of stony ground,
Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,
Old ragged elms, old thorns innumerable,
The sound of the rain or sound
Of every wind that blows;
The stilted water-hen
Crossing Stream again
Scared by the splashing of a dozen cows;
A winding stair, a chamber arched with stone,
A grey stone fireplace with an open hearth,
A candle and written page.
Il Penseroso’s Platonist toiled on
In some like chamber, shadowing forth
How the daemonic rage
Imagined everything.
Benighted travellers
From markets and from fairs
Have seen his midnight candle glimmering.
Two men have founded here. A man-at-arms
Gathered a score of horse and spent his days
In this tumultuous spot,
Where through long wars and sudden night alarms
His dwinding score and he seemed castaways
Forgetting and forgot;
And I, that after me
My bodily heirs may find,
To exalt a lonely mind,
Befitting emblems of adversity.

Ireland-4-Cahir-Castle-e1492141701688

Image courtesy of EveryIrishGifts.com

On Becoming a Teacher

Autumn in Moscow

The school year is about to start. In Moscow, several schools located near the Grand Mosque will be closed this Friday, September 1st, because of a Muslim festival. As for me, I can’t wait to see my English and French students again. There’s so much to do this year!

I qualified as an historian and a History teacher 15 years ago, upon graduating from the MSU. Some of my unimates immediately went on to teach, and a few have shown spectacular results as tutors. My English friend Ian who I worked with at the BBC in Manchester asked me once if I thought about teaching. He was sure I would make a great teacher. I disagreed. At the time I was all about Journalism and Literature, but that wasn’t the reason why I refuted the idea then. I was convinced that my task as a teacher had to go beyond explaining the theory and giving a bit of practice. I didn’t feel I was ready to share the lessons of life or profession.

When I started teaching in 2013 (and at first I did teach History – in English!) it was a completely different thing. I work privately, both with small groups and individual students, which allows to provide attention to every single person. You see, it was never enough for me to just share my erudition. I have always thought of a teacher as a role model, and by 2013 I had felt ready to serve as one. Today it’s hugely pleasing to hear the students want to be like me, to know the languages like me, etc. However, this also increases my responsibility, and we thus depend on each other. We grow together. I suppose, if anyone manages to forge this kind of relationship with their students, he or she creates endless opportunities for both professional and personal growth.

With each passing year, though, the students become older, and eventually they leave. I have got a few school graduates this year, so I really hope I will be able to teach them something valuable (that is, apart from English!). It will be sad to see them go, but this is life. We have to let go of something to have the new doors open.

Ralph W. Emerson said that a teacher is someone who is capable of making difficult things easy. While I entirely agree with him, this isn’t about an actual subject of teaching. Students, both young and old, will always ask questions about life; or perhaps a question about learning will be, in fact, a life question. Today I know that I wasn’t ready to teach in 2006 because I hadn’t yet figured out how to make complex things in life easy. Now I do; that’s why I teach.

Things We Miss The Most

I visited Britain for the first time 15 years ago, spending a month there, from early July till early August. In November I visited again, and in September 2003 I flew into what had become my seven-year period of life in England.

When I was returning home in 2010, my mother wondered if I missed any food. I craved some very special dairy products, but that was that.

I missed sunsets and some Moscow districts most.

Sunsets have always been spellbinding where I live. My grandma and I used to sit on our balcony on the 5th floor, enjoying the dramatic changes of colour and its intensity. Watching the horizont melting in subliminal gold or erupting in passionate union of red and purple couldn’t possibly have left my imagination untouched by the divine revelation. It took me years to admit that I was a believer, and sunsets were a reference point for my nascent faith in the 2000s.

What about you? What do you miss when you are away or alone?

To give you an idea of what I’m waxing lyrical about, here are some sunset photos from my neighbourhood.



Image credit: Julia Shuvalova

The Revolutionary Smolny Telephone

In Russia, when you cannot get through a certain number, you say that the number is engaged ‘like at the Smolny’. The Smolny Palace was built by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1806-08 to house the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, Russia’s first institution for women’s education. However, in 1917 the Smolny Institute was moved out of Petersburg, and between October 1917 and March 1918 the building served as the headquarters for the Bolshevik Government. Vladimir Lenin resided here, and several revolutionary decrees got passed here in November 1917, including the Decree on Peace and Decree on Land. Naturally, the phone line must have been engaged most of the time, due to a high activity of the Bolshevik government, and so the abovementioned expression originated.

The Museum of Contemporary History in Moscow’s Tverskaya St. has tweeted a picture of the phone that was used by the Military Revolutionary Committee in Vassilevsky Island to keep in touch with the Bolshevik headquarters at the Smolny.

 

11th Blogiversary

Eleven years ago today I started this blog because I needed space to share my knowledge, passion, interests, worldviews. This has developed into a habit, which has since acquired many outlets (e.g. VK, Facebook, Instagram), but the blog hasn’t lost its attraction. It’s great to show to my English and Journalism students and even to keep it up as a way to brush up my languages and general knowledge. Since I resumed it earlier this year, I’ve been most successful at blogging in Russian, perhaps because it has become my lingua operandi in the last two years. But I’ve got ideas and plans for further developing LCJ for the English-speaking audience. So, seeing the blog into its 12th year, I hope it will be the most successful.

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