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Exercises in Loneliness – VIII (Cafe and Music)

Taking Aim
Originally uploaded by Neil101

It shall be a good lesson to me, to take a picture of the place that featured in my work in one way or another. I quite liked Caffe Uno, located in the basement of Heron House in Manchester, opposite the Town Hall and the famous fountain with gargoyles. It never occurred to me that the day may come when this cafe would no longer be. Alas, as you will know if you live in Manchester, Caffe Uno has now been changed by Brasserie, and I was lucky enough to find this picture by Neil on Flickr.

The poem below was written on a small envelope. I don’t know why it was in my bag, but it was, otherwise I’d have to deploy a paper napkin. It was my first ever visit to CaffeUno, it was in January 2005, and the story of how I ended up there is quite trivial, I suppose. I was meant to meet up with the only Russian person I know in Manchester. We were actually going to meet at Mark Addy, then known as the Russian hub in this sunny city. Not only would this be our first meeting, it was also the Orthodox Christmas, January 7th. This lady and I decided to meet at about 9pm at Mark Addy, but I first needed to actually get to Manchester, so I took a bus and reached the city at 7pm.

The evening was incredibly cold and windy. I remember wearing a long coat and a trilby hat, and all the way I had to hold on to my headwear, otherwise it would fly away, surely. I somehow decided to kill time drinking coffee at Caffe Uno. I think one of the reasons may have been that I had wanted to go there for a while, and it now seemed like a perfect occasion to finally pay a visit. I sat in the bar, at the tall table near the window, and drank Irish coffee. The weather outside was getting worse. The Christmas decorations were already taken down, except perhaps for a few garlands left randomly on trees. The wind, however, was so strong, that the bollards at the cafe’s entrance were overturned a few times. The streetlamps were glowing in the ghostly fog which was becoming denser and denser as the evening advanced. And then there was this music: a strange collection of rockabilly, soul and Italian pop songs.

I have long noticed that when you write a love poem or a poem about love, the question that inevitably rises is – was there a protagonist? My answer is always “yes” and “no”. There may be a certain person involved, not necessarily on an intimate level. They may be a good friend of yours, but something they said or you said can suddenly acquire a totally different meaning. Or the person in question may be an amalgamation of several people, and therefore thoughts, experiences. What I enjoy the most about writing is the experiment, which is why I very rarely dedicate poems to anyone because, in the end of the day, the text will not be about them, even if it might allude to them.

This poem, however, is about me. The question that I now must ask myself is – since I am the protagonist of this poem, is this me? My answer is “yes”. However, I was alone in Caffe Uno. I wasn’t looking at anybody in particular, although I probably wanted to look at somebody. The text dwells on the experience of that creative loneliness which is enhanced by the rather Gothic weather. There is no rhyme in the Russian text, but the rhythm, which I tried to replicate in the English translation, is in tune with that musical vinaigrette I described above. Having said that, the mood of the poem is closer to soul than to pop.

The poem does read like a romantic poem. But since I was looking at someone imaginary, it is rather likely than not that I was ultimately looking at myself. And little did I know, being at Caffe Uno and scribbling the lines on a tiny white envelope, that at Marc Addy I would also be on my own, and that this Russian friend wouldn’t turn up, and that, sitting in MA and gazing at the black bitter waves of the river, I would finally decide that I somehow belonged to England and wanted to stay here. The poem thus becomes Romanticist, rather than romantic, and indeed it marked yet another stage in the series of changes that started during my visit to London in April 2004.


Imagine this: the lights of night-time city
Are drawing me beguilingly to you.
I drink cognac which taste is blent in coffee,
And soul chords caress my ear fondly.
The cars are flying with the blowing wind;
The leaves, umbrellas, hats are flying after.
I’m thinking; in the rhythm of rockabilly
My recollections move; and I feel good.
You’re thinking too, but nothing do you know.
And so I gaze with a mysterious smile:
Imaginary flame ignites the lantern,
And all streetlamps are like the burning bushes.
And we don’t speak; sometimes an odd talk
Intrudes upon us from the corner table;
It’s ghostly; nightly; beautiful; and empty;
I drink cognac; I’m being drawn to you.

Manchester, Caffe Uno,
January 7, 2005

English translation © Julia Shuvalova 2007


Вообрази: огни ночного города
Меня к тебе влекут неодолимо.
Я пью коньяк, чей вкус разбавлен кофе,
И блюза гаммы слух ласкают мне.
Летят автомобили ветру вслед,
Им вслед летят листва, зонты и шляпы,
Я думаю, и в ритме рокабилли
Воспоминанья движутся; мне хорошо.
Ты тоже думаешь, но ничего не знаешь.
С улыбкою загадочной смотрю:
Воображаемый огонь зажегся в лампе,
И кущами пылают фонари.
И мы молчим; случайный разговор
Доносится от столика в углу;
Все призрачно; ночно; красиво; пусто;
Я пью коньяк; меня к тебе влечет.

© Julia Shuvalova 2005)

Can You Pass On Something Good?

From the diary of Dr Horace Stubbs:

“Once upon a time during my travels through Europe I stayed in a small village just outside the old lovely city of Leuven. It was a cold November evening, and the village was all covered with the ghostly fog. A dog was howling in the distance, and it was about to rain. I knocked on the door of the first inn that I noticed. The porter, a boy of about fifteen years of age, gave me a room, but told me that their cook went down with the cold and that I would have to dine in the village. I was rather unpleasantly surprised for I have never been in this village before.

‘We’ve only got one pub’, the boy told me, ‘but surely it is the best one in your life, sir’.

‘What is it that makes this pub the best one?’ I inquired, still wishing I asked the post carriage to drive me to Leuven.

‘They always pass on something good there’, the boy replied.

While travelling, I have come across many strange customs and laws, and I have heard so many puzzling proverbs and sayings that I did not even ask the boy for details of that “something good”. As long as I could have a dinner and a pint, it was fairly good already.

I truly craved a good dinner, and my legs seemed to have been carrying me to the pub by themselves. The pub was a short building with the steep roof and a few lanterns that hanged along the wall. I saw a cart driving up the street towards me. When it went past I turned back, and then I noticed a tall slim gendarme walking down the street. We smiled at each other, but his face was serious as if he was looking for somebody.

When I entered the pub, I took a table in the farthest corner. In most of my journeys I enjoy taking such table. Of course, at times it is delightful to sit in the middle of the dinner hall, especially if you are eating out in a company of your good friends, or your acquaintance is a lady who is lovely to be seen with. But if I dine alone, I take a table in the farthest corner. I ordered a grilled beef steak and, knowing I was in Belgium, asked for a chalice of Artois. The chalice arrived, and the taste and the smoothness of this beautiful drink were such that I instantly forgot about the cold November night outside the pub, about the policeman, about the long months that I spent travelling from country to country.

Furthermore, as I looked around I noticed people who were all jolly and nice, and all women who were there were fair and beautiful in this peculiarly bucolic way that you can only see in the village. I felt very good indeed, and by then my dish had arrived, and I was having another chalice, and the meat was cooked so gently that it was, by Nature, the best meat I have tasted in my life. While I was enjoying the food, I observed that the local people were most considerate, as they passed a hat of the old gentleman on to him. I did not want to leave, for somehow I felt very much at home in the place I barely knew, with people I have never seen before, and most likely will never see again…”

This extract from the imaginary diary was inspired by the new Stella Artois TV ad. As I entered La Publicite section of Artois.co.uk, there was the screening of Pass On Something Good. I was instantly taken by the warmth of the pub atmosphere. The capacity to “pass on something good”, which in the case with La Famille Artois runs in the family, makes you want to find yourself in that pub, on that exactly night. And so, being a wanderer at heart who nonetheless loves arriving and staying (and eating and drinking, of course) at a warm cosy place, I imagined myself as an English gentleman travelling abroad a century ago, and arriving by chance to this place where I was served not only with a perfect steak and beer, but also – with indelible memories.

Closing my notebook and getting to facts, this new Artois commercial is perhaps quite different from the ones we’re all used to. Read Sam’s article on Artois Blog about making this cinead (I can’t just call such ad an ad!). There are also a few interesting facts about it, of which I am going to divulge you all but one. If you ever wondered if or not animals ever audition for their parts, now there is a solid proof that they do. Two apes auditioned for the part of monkey. The one who got the part ended up passing on something very dazzling. Oh, and music was specially composed by Jim Copperthwaite.

One last thing – ArtoisAds and ArtoisBlog have both got their pages on YouTube.

La Poesie: The Kiss

I’ve sometimes written poems that were inspired by a piece of music or by a painting. One may appropriately call such poems impressions, the consequences of reflection or meditation on a subject. But sometimes a poem was written “independently” from the influence of another work of art, yet it may still be possible to find a parallel to it in cinema or painting.

In the case with this poem, I didn’t have any work of art to inspire me. And I didn’t conspire to write a poem on the subject of a kiss. It was one of those occasions (quite usual with me) when the idea, together with the interpretations, has simply descended. On such occasions I usually don’t work on a poem – it arrives in the exact form.

One thing I was consciously trying to do was to write the poem “neutrally”. The beauty of the English language to me is in the fact that it generally doesn’t distinguish grammatically between the masculine and the feminine, which is the case of other European languages, including Russian. My love for this grammatical “neutrality” is naturally connected to my regular pounding on the necessity to shrug off the “categories” and “identities”. The story of an act of a kiss is told in the first person, and I wrote it in such way that it contains no indication of a gender, so both a man and a woman can read it. In this regard neither of the authors of playcasts for this poem succeeded at following my vision: both images have a male figure as an active partner, whereas my idea was to allow women, who evidently do kiss men, to play the leading part, providing they dare read the poem aloud. I don’t mention same-sex couples, since my idea was to write a poem that could be read by everyone and for everyone.

After I’ve written it, however, I read it over and over again, and suddenly I realised that, without actually planning to do so, I wrote a verbal illustration to Roland Penrose’s painting Winged Domino. Portrait of Valentine. At once a painting that can potentially instill someone with awe or even disgust has become romantic.

I must admit that I still couldn’t translate the poem, so as to give the full idea of its meter and rhythm; I will include the English verbatim translation in the parentheses for the time being.

Поцелуй. Winged Domino. Portrait of Valentine (R. Penrose).

Как бабочка порхает над цветком,
Его бесценной красотой любуясь,
Так я касаюсь робко языком
Губ-лепестков твоих; а ты, волнуясь,

Мне отдаешь божественный нектар;
И, превозмогши головокруженье,
Я вижу сквозь пыльцу цветочных чар
В твоих глазах – мое изображенье.

© Юлия Шувалова 2006

(The Kiss. Winged Domino. Portrait of Valentine (R. Penrose)

Just like the butterfly flutters around the flower
Adoring its precious beauty,
So I hesitantly touch your lips
With my tongue; and you, excited,

Return to me a divine nectar;
And, having overcome my vertigo,
I see, through the pollen of flowery charms,
My reflection – in your eyes.

© Julia Shuvalova 2007)

Exercises in Loneliness – VII

I’ve been reading A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. It is an interesting book. It is easy to see why it was written; why it was written in such form and way; the content is much explained and restricted by the time when Woolf had been writing it. Her passionate appeal to write the history of a woman was received not only with accolade, but has brought much fruit in the form of the so-called “feminist studies”.

So many years and academic studies later, it is also clear that, had Virginia Woolf known everything we know these days about female authors of the past centuries, her take on female literature would probably have been different. Marguerite de Navarre had written Heptameron, a collection of novellas, clearly inspired by Boccaccio’s Decameron. When Marguerite died in 1549, three daughters of Edward, Duke of Somerset (the unfortunate Good Duke of Edward VI’s reign) wrote Hecatodistichon (Le Tombeau de Marguerite de Navarre), which was published in France in 1550 and was promptly translated and augmented by the poems of The Pleiade (Ronsard and Du Belle, in particular). The first English translation of Euripides, of his tragedy Iphigenie in Aulis, was produced by Lady Lumley, the daughter of Henry Fitzalan, the 12th Earl of Arundel. Elizabeth I, as we know, was not overt on an occasional verse. Even this very brief look at female writing in the 16th c. shows that, although no Shakespeare’s sister would be able to become an actress, women were not always beaten by their fathers, but instead had the abilities which were recognised.

This is not to say that Virginia Woolf was deceiving herself or the women who would be reading her book. But recently, as I was reading Counsels and Maxims by Arthur Schopenhauer, I came across a chapter on loneliness. Written in what one could call a typically masculine style, the chapter is a blazing apology of solitude. The progress of one’s mind, says Schopenhauer, causes the regress in their necessity to communicate. Solitude is the haven of an outstanding, self-sufficient mind. Ordinary people are only so keen on communication because they are afraid to face themselves. Those who crave loneliness are strong people. Etc, etc…

Naturally perhaps, Schopenhauer didn’t say a word about women in that chapter. Many a feminist would probably point a finger at his chapter and sneer. Or perhaps on the contrary, they would cheer for him, because for some strange reason Woolf is speaking of exactly the masculine kind of solitude in her book. “A woman needs money and a room of her own if she is to write” – is she not asking for women to have what had previously belonged exclusively to men?

What is quite obvious is that in order to give women money and rooms of their own it would take to break many centuries of tradition. There is no doubt that this tradition was stark and stifling, and that it still exists these days, when young teenage girls, still children themselves, decide to have children instead of seeking education and career. But the existence of this tradition may also very well suggest that there are two different kinds of solitude, a feminine and a masculine. There are also two rooms pertinent to each of these solitudes, and it may very well be that a masculine room will be a study, and a feminine room will remain a common room.

It would be lovely to think that when a woman says that she wants a room of her own she means that she wants to raise above the restrictions the society places on her gender and responsibilities entailed to it. She wants to acquire that sort of fortitude that a room of one’s own instills in the person who sits there. She wants to face herself. Her mind is strong enough not only to stand this solitude, but also to collect the fruits of such condition. And the fruit of solitude is the calmness of body and spirit, when the thought floats freely and effortlessly. The kind of calmness that gave us the works of Shakespeare.

But solitude, if we agree with Schopenhauer – and there is no reason not to agree with him – is a measure of self-sufficiency. The more self-sufficient one is, the happier they are in the room of their own. This is where Schopenhauer stumbles into a problem, at which Nietzsche had pointed in Human, All Too Human. “Lack of historical sense is the family failure of all philosophers”, he writes. Philosophers at the time of Nietzsche (from his point of view, anyway) had the common failing of starting out from man as he is now”. It is hard to disagree with him, but this lack of historical sense, this failure in logic, is the direct consequence of extreme self-sufficiency.

I often feel – and this in part explains my opposition to the sometimes inevitable necessity to categorise people even by their gender, not to mention other things – that ascribing a category to oneself is retreating to the room of one’s own, to the realm of self-sufficiency, where one takes an immense pride in being different from all the others. For to be different is to be singled out; to be singled out is to be on one’s own; one can only be truly on their own in their space, which can appropriately be called a room. Of course, these days probably nobody any longer have that “family failure” of ahistorical thinking, thanks to all the academic studies. But now, probably, they have another failure of not having the knowledge of life in all its diversity, which is taking place in the common room.

Dumas had once said that he used history as a hook to hang his stories on it. A person who has a room of their own, be they a man or a woman, often has the hook, but no credible story up their sleeve. And so I think: we can earn money; we can have a study; but we, both men and women, are in far greater need for a common room – to see life, as it happens, and to better cherish the fruits of solitude.

The Public Transport in Russia

As I was writing about the British passion for queuing, I remembered about this text I wrote back in 1999, when I was still a student in Moscow and had to use public transport every day. After I read it again, I realised it was still topical, even so many years later, even in England. So, I translated it. It obviously utters things, as becomes a humourous text, but also sheds tons of light on what it was like – to use public transport in Moscow eight years ago. Enjoy!

The Ode to the Public Transport.

People like slagging off businessmen, actors and generally everyone who possess such a phenomenon of social life, as a private vehicle. One has lost the count of numerous jokes and black humour stories that feature these people and their cars. How many times did you hear, upon going out in the street: “Oh yes, of course, it’s this A* (or X*, Y*, Z*, etc), he’s driving this BMW 600 (or Cherokee, Ford, Fiat, Smart, etc)”? And how many times did you wish plague on all the houses of one unfortunate driver of a “Vauxhall” who managed to splash the entire puddle all over you?

Even so, we ought to always bear in mind that those who we consider lucky are, in fact, losers. Just think, why do they repeatedly say that they are cut off from other people? Exactly because they are hindered by their private means of transport. Of course, their public status is slightly at fault here, too. With all his love to us (people – JD) and to life, a world-known politician (who used to relish a thought of serving the Muses rather than politics) would never get on the bus and begin to read poems about the river Volga, Russia, and her enemies. He would not do it even if that provided him with a guaranteed number of votes at the forthcoming elections. To paraphrase a well-known TV ad, “image is nothing, life is everything”.

Nonetheless, the main cause of all misfortunes of the protagonists of popular legends is their personal transport. For when a man is driving his own half-rotten Fiat, he already considers himself the ruler of the Universe. When he is driving the notorious BMW 600, he considers himself the Universe without any ruler. Whereas, if he finds himself on the public transport, he’ll have to answer the Raskolnikov question: “whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the /right/ . . .”

Those of you, however, who do not possess a car, or who do but for whatever reason do not use it, should not grin gloatingly. Those of you should not do this at all, for you know the price of all trouble, so don’t put this trouble on anyone else.

Therefore, I shall allow myself to be a little more concrete because the main purpose of all that is written is to persuade those who use public transport not to sacrifice the chock-a-block for the solitude of a private car, and to inject the doubt in cars in the minds of the protagonists of popular legends.

Let us look at one day in the life of the public transport user.

Unless you are so lucky that you live in three minutes’ walk from the metro, you will first and foremost have to take a bus, a trolleybus, or a tram. The latter means of transport your humble servant, for all her love for it, uses fairly seldom, the second – more often, but both are a pure exotic in comparison to the bus.

Imagine: early morning, vernal freshness, not a raindrop, not a cloud, a sea of cars, and not a single bus in sight. “Splendid!” you think and slowly, with a bit of whistle, depart from your doorstep. If in the next five minutes you are walking the distance of 30 meters from your house to the crossroads, on the sixth minute you will get it in the neck for being so carefree. For on the sixth minute, when you are getting ready to cross the road, you will see right in front of you an elegant white, with a green stripe, rectangular on wheels, which we call a “bus”.

At such moment different people do different things. Some of them remember their P.T. classes – that is, if they are running with the minimum weight. Others in the same situation remind one of the times before our era. In those distant times there had also been the Olympic games, and a sportsman used to run in the full armour of a hoplite – a Greek soldier – that weighed around 30 kg. Although our contemporary is not a hoplite, and their bags don’t always weigh 30 kg, still, when such contemporary is running for a bus, they look fairly historic.

However, some people carry on walking as they used to. They may have their own reasons, and we shall leave them at this.

Suppose that in a record-breaking time – around 1 minute – you manage to cover three distances from your house to the crossroads. In such case it sometimes turns out that you have considerably outdone the bus (which is still standing at the traffic lights), and so you begin to get bored. This is a huge mistake! For if you reached the bus stop before the bus (especially if it happened), you should be extremely vigilant (providing you want to get onto your bus).

And so your flying carpet on six wheels arrives. Against all fears, you manage to get, or rather to wriggle, in the bus. You only get half of yourself wriggled in – the other half is helped by the closing doors. If your body is inside the bus but your bag is dangling on the outside, don’t start screaming hysterically. First of all, when you bag is in such interesting position, no-one can raid its contents. Secondly, if your bag is outside the bus, the doors will be closing and opening much easier.

Standing on the bus in one of the poses of the Indian traditional gymnastics, you may begin to meditate. The subject does not matter. Sooner or later you will be dragged out of your meditative state by the accent of a conductor. This conductor, who with effort, rale, and squeaks is pushing through the thick backs and wide chests, is chatting ceaselessly:

What do we have for a fare here? Pay for your journey, please, and show your passes. There at the doors, whom did I not ticket yet?

This procedure is happening every morning, and every morning you most probably cannot understand, how you manage to get your pass from your bag. This is the reason why all passengers should remember: if they are being touched through their clothes by someone’s hand, it does not mean they are standing next to a sexual maniac. Most probably it is a passenger, like them, who is trying to reach for his or her bag.
Let us omit further particulars of the bus ride, and get on the underground. On the station where you change trains, upon going up or down the escalator you will inevitably hear this:

Standing on the escalator, hold on to the rails by your hands only. Upon getting on or off the escalator, lift up the long ends of your upper coats in prevention of getting in the mechanical elements of the moving stairs of the escalator.

At some stations there sometimes occur such marvellous things, as the queues to the train. But we shall suppose we have got past this stage, and now you find yourself in the wagon, in the position of one of the Eastern martial arts. Your left hand with the bag got lost somewhere on the left, and your right arm is stretched straight, perpendicularly to your body. On your right you observe the tortoise-like skin of someone’s neck, wrapped in a checked mohair scarf. If you turn your head straight, your nose will get right into the hairs of artificial fur on the hood of a lady’s coat. Your appreciation of female beauty may deepen if the lady is wearing her hair loose. If you turn your head to the left, there will normally stand a slim gentleman in tiny glasses on the nose that is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus. In general, your way to work, to the uni or wherever in these morning hours is as eloquent as The Song of Songs.

After all these troubles and sufferings, you finally get to work, to the uni, or wherever. At the end of the day you take the same journey, but towards your home. And it is then that you often think: why are the metro and buses not as empty in the morning, as they are in the evening? Your question will remain without answer. For a long time this phenomenon will be a phenomenon to you. Let us console ourselves in the fact that such was the design of Nature, and this was done especially so that every morning we could feel an immense force of physical, if not spiritual, union with all others who use public transport. Do those who drive a car have so many tempestuous emotions regularly? By the way, there is no need to shower offensive names and jokes on either party. Better get on the bus!

English translation © Julia Shuvalova (JS) 2007

A few notes: 1) the politician in question is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Russian Lib-Dems, who dabbled in showbusiness and, indeed, read poems in public during the campaign; 2) the ad mentioned in the same passage is the Sprite slogan: “image is nothing, thirst is everything”; 3) the hoplite’s armour weighed, in fact, about 50-60 pounds (22-27 kg).

Marcel Marceau on Life and Art

It took me a little longer than I hoped to fulfil my promise, but here I am finally with the English translation of the interview with Marcel Marceau. I will not say anything more in this introduction, and as you read on you will probably agree with me that no words are necessary here.

This is not a mystery. How to do it? Well, the art of mime is that one needs a great concentration, one needs to have a vision of what to show; and one also needs emotion, the laughter, the comical, but not a caricature because when it is too much, it is too much. This is why one needs to learn to restrain oneself and to communicate the essential.

I was a picture, therefore I am an artist who often paints pantomimes.

When I was six years old I had a very profound look, but it wasn’t a caricature, I have always had this depth. Chaplin was very deep, and his profundity touched me when I was little.

I think it is true that an artist remains a child within himself, but when he has had a really great experience in life, he changes, too.

When it was the Second World War, I didn’t yet practise my art. I began to practise it. I started acting when Germany was occupied, and the war was over. Theatre is impossible during the war, for it is a terrible theatre. But I didn’t have yet the knowledge I have now. I was more naive, even if I had seen the unhappiness of life I was still naive, I didn’t have this experience, the experience of terror, hoping all the time that I wasn’t killed. And today when I watch the documentaries about the war that I myself lived through, I say: my God, what a courage they ever had being so young! But I don’t have this courage any longer because I want no more wars, I hate the war, and this is what I am trying to show in my manner at the theatre.

Often the young don’t like the old, it’s like “the old are nothing any longer”, it’s the youth, the future that counts. But they will grow very old one day, too, and so I am instilling the respect to their parents. The respect to a grandfather, a grandmother, the respect to the old, the respect to those who taught us.

I have even written a book on this subject: “The memoirs of a mime who let out a scream of silence”. And even now I am trying to write, in part about the painting, in part about the family. From time to time I visit my children who have grown up now, and I love playing chess. But sometimes I feel a great sadness when I say: what will happen if our world does not evolve so badly? Will one day the eternal piece really have arrived?

Translated from French © Julia Shuvalova 2007

Anton Chekhov, The Joy

The Joy is a short story by a renowned Russian author and playwright, Anton Chekhov. I have long loved it for its satirical look at the individual’s awe of the press. In those days there was no media the way we now know it, but the power that the newspapers owed to their wide-spread circulation was well recognised and appreciated. There is thus no wonder that anyone of a low social standing who’d find his name in the newspaper would be overjoyed, like the protagonist of this story.

I don’t often read English translations of Russian literary classics, mainly because I have already read those in Russian, and there is much more to do other than to compare the differences between the original and its translation. In the case with The Joy, I wanted to translate it anew anyway, and I was convinced it was necessary after I read the English translation. The differences start at the very beginning: in the Russian text, the protagonist’s parents are only getting ready to go to bed, but the English translation says they had already gone to bed.

Why is this difference important? A few short sentences of the opening passages depict the Kuldarins family through the time they go to bed and through what they do, once in bed. The youngest, the brothers, are the earliest to go, so by midnight they’re fast asleep. Next, a sister, is also in bed, but is finishing a novel, of which her parents are probably oblivious. No doubt, the novel is a romance, and the girl is in that “romance-prone” age. The parents, being the oldest, are the last to go to bed, but also perhaps because they are waiting for their eldest child, the protagonist, to return home. This young man is leading a typical young man’s lifestyle, visiting public houses, working in the day as a college registrar, which was the lowest civil officer rank in Imperial Russia.

Those first few sentences are also important because, in spite of a long list of brilliant short stories, Chekhov’s perhaps largest contribution as an author was to the world’s theatre with his poignant dramas and comedies. The Joy is exemplary in that, being written in 1883, it anticipates Chekhov’s plays by setting a stage for the story: a half-asleep house, disturbed by a “joy”. The momentum is built by getting the secondary characters out of their beds only gradually, while also, through many repetitions, pointing to the protagonist’s hunger for fame and his total disregard to the kind of fame that had befallen him.

Joy by Anton Chekhov
А. П. Чехов, Радость (original Russian text)

Anton P. Chekhov, The Joy (1883)

It was midnight.
Mitya Kuldarov, all excitement, his hair dishevelled, stormed into his parents’ house and quickly walked across all the rooms. The parents were just getting ready for bed. His sister was already in bed, reading the last page of a novel. His brothers, the schoolboys, were fast asleep.
Where have you come from? – the parents asked in amazement. – What’s the matter?
Oh, don’t ask! I didn’t expect this! Oh, I didn’t expect this at all! It’s… it’s simply unbelievable!
Mitya burst out laughing and then sank into the armchair, unable to cope with his happiness.
It’s incredible! You can’t even imagine this! Look!
His sister leaped out of the bed and, wrapping herself in the quilt, went to see her brother. The schoolboys woke up.
What’s the matter with you? You’re not yourself!
Oh, it’s a joy, Mother! For now entire Russia knows about me! Entire Russia! Before it was only you who knew about a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov, and now the whole of the country knows! Mother! Oh my God!
Mitya quickly raised on his feet, ran around the house again, and then returned to the armchair.
But what happened? Can’t you say exactly?
You live like animals in the wild, read no newspapers, pay no notice to the news, yet the papers print so many splendid things! Once something happens, it’s promptly reported, nothing is concealed! Oh, I’m so happy! Oh my God! In the papers, they only write about the celebrated people, and now they wrote about me!
What do you say? Where?
The father went pale. The mother looked at the holy image and crossed herself. The schoolboys left their bed and as they were, in their short nightgowns, came up to their brother.
Exactly! They wrote about me! Now entire Russia knows me! Mother, you put this issue away and keep as a memory! We’ll be reading it occasionally. Look!
Mitya drew a newspaper out of his pocket, gave it to the father and pointed with his finger to a passage highlighted with a blue pencil.
The father put on his glasses.
Come on, read it!
The mother looked at the holy image and crossed herself, and the father coughed and began to read:
On December 29th, at 11 o’clock at night, a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov…
You see? See? Carry on!
… a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov, upon leaving a porter-serving public house located at Kosikhin’s in Malaya Bronnaya, and being in the inebriated state…
I was with Semyon Petrovich… No detail is missed! Carry on! On! Listen!
… and being in the inebriated state, slipped and fell under the horse of a cab-driver that parked there, which driver is known as Ivan Drotov, a peasant of the Durykina village of the Yukhnovsky district. A frightened horse stepped over Kuldarov, and dragged over him the sledge in which was sitting Stepan Lukov, a 2nd rank Moscow merchant, and then galloped down the street, but was stopped by the street cleaners. Kuldarov, initially unconscious, was later taken to the police station, where he was checked by a doctor. A contusion that he received on his nape…
I was struck by a thill, father. Go on! Read on!
… received on his nape is considered light. The incident is being put on file. The victim received medical help”.
They told me to foment my nape with cold water. So, have you read it now? Yes? See! Now it’s all over Russia! Give it here!
Mitya snatched the paper, folded it and put it back in his pocket.
I’ll go round to the Makarovs, show them, too… And then to the Ivanitskys, and Natalia Ivanovna, and Anissim Vasillich… I’ll run now! Farewell!
Mitya put on his hat with a badge and, joyous and triumphant, stormed out of the house.

English translation © Julie Delvaux (JS) 2007.

Vladimir Solovyov: A Parody on Russian Symbolists

Vladimir Solovyov A Parody on Russian Symbolists mocks an affected, indulgent style of young Symbolist poets and their love for opulent imagery

Russian Symbolism was a branch of European artistic movement under the same name. I first discovered Russian Symbolist poets more than 10 years ago, when I was still at school (Alexander Blok and Konstantine Balmont were my favourite). I suspect, however, that outside Russia Russian symbolism may be primarily associated with theatre, especially the names of Diaghilev and Meyerhold.


Russian Symbolism was occasionally criticised for its superfluous imagery, and the poem that I translated highlights just this sort of criticism. It was composed by Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian philosopher, who was close enough to the Russian literary circles to be able to smile at these sarcastically. The Parodies on Russian Symbolists were printed in 1895 and consist of three parodies, but my favourite has always been the one I have just translated from Russian. It is very much an impromptu, completed chiefly on the bus on my way home. As you may see, Solovyov’s poem is more of a parody on symbolism per se: he generously fills every line with a “symbol”, to create a hilarious image of a jealous lover. So, please welcome, Vladimir Solovyov A Parody on Russian Symbolists, in Russian and English.

Vladimir Solovyov – A Parody on Russian Symbolists

The skies are burning with the lanterns’ fire –
Dark is the Earth!
So, have you been with him, oh woeful liar?
Let truth shine forth!

But tease not the hyena of misgiving
And mice of gloom!
Or else the leopards of revenge come bringing
In teeth your doom!

And call you not the owl of discretion
This fateful night!
The mokes of poise and elephants of question
Have taken flight!

You bore yourself the monstrous crocodile,
Which is your fate!
Oh let the skies burn with the lanterns’ fire –
Dark is the grave!

© Julie Delvaux 2007

Владимир Соловьев, Пародии на русских символистов (1895)

На небесах горят паникадила,
А снизу – тьма!
Ходила ты к нему иль не ходила?
Скажи сама!

Но не дразни гиену подозренья,
Мышей тоски!
Не то смотри, как леопарды мщенья
Острят клыки!

И не зови сову благоразумья
Ты в эту ночь!
Ослы терпенья и слоны раздумья
Бежали прочь!

Своей судьбы родила крокодила
Ты здесь сама!
Пусть в небесах горят паникадила,
В могиле – тьма!

More posts on Vladimir Solovyov, Alexander Blok, Translation.

A Short History of the Evolution of the Email

My favourite seminar at the Moscow State University was in Modern History, not exactly because I enjoy the time period, but because we had a fantastic tutor who made us read Rousseau, and Montesquieu, and Toynbee, and Febvre, and Jaspers, and engaged us in sometimes high-flown philisophical discussions.

He also had a great sense of humour. Once we were comparing the gone and present civilisations. The question was, whether or not those medieval people, forever stinking and superstitious, were less happy than modern people, who have got things that medieval people wouldn’t even think of. The answer was, of course, that medieval people simply didn’t know about the things that we’ve got, so they were neither less, nor more happy. Had they been transported into our time, tried out different things, and then went back to their time, then they would probably be very unhappy.

Today, however, I saw this video on YouTube, and it made me contemplate on how far the world would have gone, had the 15th c. folks really had Macs in their sacks. In the 15th c. they’d retype their emails many times before entrusting a Mac to a messenger. In the 16th c. they’d discover the spell-checker and possibly some drawing programs. The latter would become extremely useful in the 17th c., during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), as it would allow to draw the schemes of the enemy’s headquarters and positions on the battlefields, as well as the enemy’s portraits. They still wouldn’t know how to save these things, which is exactly the reason why this early electronic history of mankind is not available, not even in cache.

However, because of war, people would realise how costly it may be to send a Mac with a messenger, so they’d create logins. (I anticipate some archaeological discoveries or the mentions in the 17th c. manuscripts of the destroyed white metallic boxes that didn’t seem to contain any information and had been broken in parts in the hope of uncovering the information). The logins and passwords would be sent, as previously, with pigeons.

In the 18th c., inspired by the great surge in development of natural and social sciences, as well as by the new literary genres, people would further experiment with their Macs. They’d learn to use Word, to write their novels and dramas; they’d use Excel to manipulate the complex economic figures (as you might know, Adam Smith was undoubtedly familiar with Excel functions); and the antiquarians would master the use of Access, to catalogue their stupendous collections.

Moreover, in the 18th c. they’d not be content with using just a Mac (which, some people say, is rubbish at RSS applications), so they’d invent a PC. At this time, because of the all-pervasive influence of computers, they’d briefly get back to writing letters on paper. But soon the Revolution would strike, and they’d realise that sending a paper letter may cost one their life. A messenger was now much more dangerous a mercenary than ever before, and it was vital to find the means to avoid using him to send the information. So people would go back to emails, and this time they’d finally discover the “send” button. The 19th c. would thus have started.

But the email users still had to discover many things. By coming across the “send” button, they would be able to avoid the use of messengers, but they still couldn’t protect themselves from being framed. That’s until they’d discover the way to archive private information and to delete sent and received messages. But this would only happen under the influence of the world wars.

In the 20th c., during the wars, it would become clear that it was impossible to spend time typing every word at full, so the electronic shorthand would have been developed. The wars having been finished, shorthand wouldn’t disappear but instead would become an inherent part of email writing. The email users would appreciate the enormous possibilities of punctuation at communicating moods and emotions: 0), ^_^, :-(((, ;-). As there was no longer any real danger in keeping hold of one’s correspondence, people would be deleting sent and received emails less and less often, and already in the new millenium many email applications would offer their users the unlimited mailboxes, and even an option of searching their growing email archives.

But as technology doesn’t stop, neither does email. We’d enter the 21st c. with a huge array of means to deploy emails, which would include sending them via a mobile phone. And if you’d ever had any reservations about the human ability to progress, this short story of the evolution of the email (had it been true) would have proved you wrong once and for all.

Exercises in Loneliness – VI

Let’s imagine you live in a flat. It’s nice, warm and cosy, you’ve got a toilet and a refrigerator, a warm bed (even a hot-water bottle, perhaps), and, as it should be, thy home is thy castle. You should be very happy, but deep inside you feel a strange unease. Then one day, under some inexplicable urge, you decide to cross the Atlantic on your own. It’s inexplicable, but it’s not unusual: people have been crisscrossing the Atlantic for ages.

Your urge to leave your flat is so strong that you cannot care to save some money to build yourself a decent ship and to take your domestic paradise on board. Therefore, you’ll only have one small boat. There’ll be no fridge. Definitely, no toilet. You will battered by the weather, and your boat will never be as cosy as your flat. At times you’ll be cold (or, adversely, very hot), and, most importantly, you will be all alone. There’ll be no beloved, no parents, no best friend who lives next door. Who knows, maybe your network will not support the signal? Or, if worst comes to worst, you’ll drop your phone into the water? No pets. Your radio signal will be interrupted, there’ll be no TV, and a book or two you take with you will not entertain you. Your boat will turn into a deserted island.

But you will see. Before, your world has always had its boundaries. How often do you look up to the sky? On your journey, there will be nowhere to hide from this enormous space that seems to originate directly from the ocean’s depths. And what about the water, indeed? Unless you take frequent vacations, the only water that you use regularly is for washing hands and taking a bath. And on your boat you will be surrounded by the vast territory of water, underneath which there is a totally different, unknown world.

This journey will make you re-evaluate things. For once, you will have but one thing in your possession: your life. Your boat may be crushed by storm, you may drop your tangible possessions in the water, or they may be blown by the wind. The only thing that remains truly yours will be your life, and for this possession you will fight till the end. But what is it – your life?

It is often believed there are two most important things that deserve thinking about – the meaning of life and the meaning of death, and no doubt you will have thought about these before you leave your homeland. Now, sailing between two enormities, celestial and oceanic, you will constantly have these thoughts on your mind. You will understand that finding a definition to a word comes through experiencing it. On this journey you-in-the-flat will die for good, but you-at-sea will be born. The two exist in one person, and this person is you, and, as far as your physical existence goes, you’re still alive. Can you be alive, if one part of you has died? Have the new you entered the next plain of being? Is this what life and death are about – going from one level of existence to another? Or are they not?

See, how many big questions you’ll have to ask yourself on that journey, before you get to the other side of the ocean and stand on the shore. This ground may not be native, or stable, or the one you expected to land upon. But under your soils there will be some solid ground, and to know where we stand is something we always seek to establish. You’ll hide your boat from the view, so nobody recognises you as a foreigner, and will start a new life in a new place, until you begin to feel it’s time to leave your hut and to set your sail again.
Jan 19 – Aug 23, 2007

There are certain thoughts that get written or even jotted down and are then forgotten, which is what happened to this text, as I literally forgot about it and have only just found. This is but an allegory. The flat represents both “the idols of the cave” and “the idols of the market place”, to use Baconian terminology. It is a set of beliefs imposed on us by the environment in which we were born, brought up and educated, where we continue to live and work, and which language we use. The journey on a boat is a metaphor for extreme and ultimate break of ties with the “flat”, but this is obviously a metaphysical journey. The contemplative nature of “being-at-sea” may suggest one can jump on the “boat” while still living in the “flat”. One thing I am wholeheartedly for is learning about foreign cultures by interacting with people of those cultures in their native language. But one doesn’t have to cross the Atlantic, and there is no “right” direction, in which to cross it. Gauguin went to Madagascar from France; H. Miller left America for Europe. The Atlantic Ocean is only there to highlight the difficulty and length of the journey, which continues even after one has reached the destination.

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