During my first ever visit to England I didn’t even go to London, to the great subsequent surprise of my Russian friends. It must indeed be surprising, but in truth it simply manifests this unconscious arrogance of capital citizens for whom no life exists outside the central city of a country. I also noted that some Mancunians were not particularly eager to go “down south”. I suppose with some of them it was the arrogance of somebody who lives well outside the country’s central city and thus wants to downplay the capital’s importance. So I joked: ‘when you’ve got Pall Mall and Albert Sq in your own city, what’s the point of visiting them elsewhere?’
In spring 2004 I went to London to research in the British Library and the National Archives. Since September 2003 I’d been living in Manchester, and by April 2004 the differences in lifestyles and perceptions (that would inevitably come to surface eventually) began to take the best out of me. Most frustratingly, I felt like I couldn’t write. It wasn’t quite true. I’ve always been writing wherever I had an idea or a line to build upon. During the day, this could happen at the lecture, on the bus, on the tube, in the cafe, in the park. At night I usually worked in the kitchen.
What happened when I arrived to England is hard to boil down in one or two sentences, however long. After all these years I realise that the main difference wasn’t so much between England and Russia, but between the “contexts” in which I lived here and there. The context in which I lived for the first seven months since my arrival to England was stiffening for me as a writer.
The context into which I migrated for two weeks in April 2004 was liberating. In every sense of the word (except strictly geographical), it was my homecoming. I no longer felt unfitting or dreamy. I understood that I was losing time and strength trying to adopt values and habits I didn’t want to have, or trying to persuade others to make changes.
Understanding this didn’t make my life easier, but the burden of feeling oneself strangely different was left behind for good. Spending a fortnight in London made me crave for space, motion and freedom in Manchester, which I was able to find.
I lived in LSE’s Carr-Saunders Hall, in a small room on the 4th floor. I took a bus to the British Library, or a tube to Kew. In the weekends I did a lot of walking. On my first Sunday in London I took a wrong turn from Fitzroy St and ended up in Soho instead of the British Museum. During Easter, I walked in the early morning from my hotel through Holborn to the Tower.
And at night I wrote. In those two weeks I perhaps wrote more than in the previous seven months. One of the poems has already appeared in Notebooks; because there is no actual rhyme, it was easy to translate. The very first one I wrote in London is called ‘Looking for You’. Despite the title and content, it is not actually dedicated to anybody, even obliquely. I interpret it as a poem about the search for somebody who shares your views, ideas; somebody inspiring; yet somebody who is very difficult to recognise.
Я ищу тебя в городе этом,
Не надеясь когда-то найти.
Ты, как Муза, бросаешь Поэта,
И расходятся наши пути.
Я ищу тебя в книгах старинных,
Где виньетка – разгадка судьбы.
В переулках, на улицах длинных
Чутко слушаю чьи-то шаги.
Я ищу… я ищу тебя всюду,
Даже там, где не стоит искать,
Но я верю, я верю и буду,
Не надеясь, но все-таки ждать,
Чтобы в день, когда ты будешь рядом,
Не заметив, пройти. И тогда
Снова ждать и искать тебя взглядом…
Я искать тебя буду всегда.
04-05 апреля 2004 г.
© Julia Shuvalova, 2004
(I am looking for you in this town
With no hope to ever find you.
Like a Muse, you abandon the Poet,
And our roads part.
I am looking for you in the old books,
Where a vignette unveils the fate.
In the lanes and in the long streets
I am heeding somebody’s pace.
I am looking… I look everywhere,
In the places you’re never to be.
A believer, I’m waiting forever,
Without hope, to find you here,
So that once when you’re only near,
I would then pass you by. And again
I’ll start looking for you everywhere…
I will always be looking for you
© Julia Shuvalova, 4-5 April 2004).
[The English text is an almost verbatim translation; however, the second and third stanzas give a very good idea of the poem’s original foot and rhythm].