A System of Absence

Late Soviet-era co-op apartment buildings on the Smolenka River in northwest Petersburg, near the Primorskaya subway station. Photo: Roman Bezjak/Hatje Cantz Verlag. Courtesy of Business Insider

* * *

Along with the heating, in every building
there is a system of absence. Concealed in the walls,
its noiseless radiators
flood the apartment with unadulterated emptiness
the year round, whatever the weather.
Connected to the main, it apparently runs
on fuel supplied by death, arrest or
simple jealousy. This temperature
rises towards evening. One turn of the key
and you find yourself in a place where there is
no one: like a thousand years ago,
or somewhat earlier—in the Ice Age,
before evolution. Usurped space
never relinquishes its
uninhabitedness, thus reminding
the upstart monkey
of emptiness’s primordial, pre-glacial right
to housing. Absence is merely
the home address of nonexistence.
Being bourgeois,
in the long run, at curtain call,
it prefers wallpaper to boulders or brown moss.
The more elaborate the wallpaper’s jungles, the unhappier the monkey.

1993

Original text. Translated by the Russian Reader

“And the old hag will sob in her hut on chicken-leg timber”

◊ ◊ ◊

I don’t hear what you’re saying to me, but a voice’s echo.
I don’t see what you’re wearing, but the snow’s even expanse.
And this isn’t a room where we sit, but the polestar’s shadow.
Plus our footsteps leading away from it, not hence.

Once I knew by heart all the spectrum’s colors.
Now I can make out only white, to my doctor’s disbelief.
But even if the little ditty is truly over,
One might still recall its leitmotif.

I would gladly lie down with you, but that’s mere idle splendor.
If I lie down, it will be with the turf, warm and snug.
And the old hag will sob in her hut on chicken-leg timber
And cook herself up a soft-boiled egg.

Once I used soda instead of other stain removers.
It always worked, like talcum powder on a mole.
Around you nowadays the riffraff crash like breakers.
You wear brightly colored dresses. And I mourn.

Source: Odnoklassniki. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

A Wave of Summer Bargains

“On a wave of summer bargains. Up to 80%”

August

Provincial towns, where you’ll never get a straight answer.
What’s it to you? It was yesterday however you cut it.
Outside the elms murmur, nodding to a landscape
Only the train ever sees. Somewhere a bee buzzes.

The knight made a career of crossroads, but these days
Is himself a stoplight. Plus there’s a river in the distance.
And between the mirror into which you gaze
And those who can’t recall you there’s also little difference.

Closed fast in the heat, the shutters are entwined in gossip,
Or merely ivy, to avoid making a blunder.
Bounding through the front door, a sunburnt stripling
Clad in only his swim trunks has come to collect your future.

So twilight’s a long time in descending. Evening’s usually cast
In the shape of a train station square, with a statue, etc.,
Where the glance in which you read “You bastard!”
Is in direct proportion to the crowd that’s not present.

1996

Source: Culture.ru. Image courtesy of Ozon. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg real estate developer and Brodsky museum founder Maxim Levchenko

43-year-old Maxim Levchenko is a managing partner at Fort Group, the developer of a large number of shopping centers in Petersburg and Moscow. His company is one of the largest proprietors of commercial real estate in the country. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, he opened A Room and a Half — a Joseph Brodsky museum located in the communal apartment where the poet lived with his parents. A Brodsky museum has long been the talk of the town in Petersburg. Friends and fans of Brodsky have been trying to open [a museum in the apartment] since the late 90s. A neighbor in the communal apartment [where the Brodskys lived], Nina Vasilyevna prevented it from happening, responding to all requests [to sell her room in the flat to make room for the museum] laconically: “Over my dead body.” That is, until a shopping center proprietor seemingly remote from literature, businessman Maxim Levchenko, showed up at the flat. Brodsky’s fans naturally wondered who he was. Anna Mongayt asked Levchenko to give her a tour of the museum for the program “Patrons” and recount how he managed to persuade Nina Vasilyevna [to make a deal], how architect Alexander Brodsky was involved in designing the museum, and why the businessman wanted to invest in such an unprofitable project.

Watch the thirty-nine-minute program (in Russian, with no subtitles) on TV Rain. Image courtesy of TV Rain. Program synopsis translated by the Russian Reader

Ilya Shakursky: “Now and Then the Flame Dies Down, but Solidarity Is a Stream of Sparks”

ILYA SHAKURSKY, an antifascist political prisoner in Russia, appeals to you in this interview to write to him, and to others imprisoned in the infamous Network case. Please see a note at the end about where to send messages.

Tomorrow, Tuesday 19 January, is the anniversary of the assassination of antifascists Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov, who were shot dead in broad daylight in central Moscow in 2009. People will gather – in Moscow, to lay flowers at the place where they were killed, elsewhere online – and we publish this article on several web sites simultaneously, to express solidarity.

The Network case began in Penza and St Petersburg in October 2017, when the Federal Security Service (FSB) started detaining young anarchists and antifascists, who had supposedly participated in a terrorist group. The security services claimed that the young detainees were preparing terrorist acts, aimed at the presidential elections and the football World Cup in 2018 [which was staged in Russia].

It soon became clear that this “Network” had been dreamed up by the FSB, and the confessions extracted from the alleged participants with the use of the most barbaric tortures. Details of the methods used, including electric shock batons, were published widely before the defendants were tried.

Nevertheless, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced – in January 2019 in Petersburg, Igor Shishkin, to three and a half years in prison; in February 2020, seven defendants in Penza, including Ilya Shakursky, to sentences ranging from six and 18 years in prison; and in June 2020 in Petersburg, Viktor Filinkov to seven years, and Yuli Boyarshinov to five and a half years.

In October 2020, an appeal by the Penza defendants was heard and rejected. An appeal by Viktor Filinkov is in progress.

All ten defendants are included in a list of 61 political prisoners compiled by Memorial, Russia’s largest human rights defence group.  

This interview with Ilya Shakursky, who is serving a 16-year sentence, is by Dmitry Semenov. It was published by Free Russia House, an “alternative embassy for Russian civil society” based in Kyiv, and by the Rupression collective that supports the Network case prisoners. (The questions were sent via Elena Shakurskaya, Ilya’s mother, and answers received, via Elena, in written form.)

Ilya Shakursky, speaking at Anticapitalism 2013

Question: Do you feel the support from outside the prison system, and how important is it? Could you say something briefly to our readers and to people who support you?

Ilya Shakursky: It feels good to realise, every morning when they call out my surname and hand over letters I have received, that people remember me and continue to support me. At those moments, the grey monotony of imprisonment is broken up by different colours. It doesn’t matter whether the letter is a couple of lines or goes on like a whole essay. Just getting some news gives me strength and happiness. When I see photos of solidarity actions all over the world; when I read interviews with well-known people who speak about the absurdity of the criminal case against us; when I hear the drums and voices of friends [demonstrating] on the other side of the [prison] wall; when I think of the concert, at which the whole hall sang “This Will Pass” [“Vse proidet”] (a song about the Network case by the Russian punk group Pornofilmy), or of the rap-battle, where verses were read in support of our case, or of the street artist who used graffiti to speak out about repression in Russia today – I feel like it wasn’t all in vain.

Continue reading “Ilya Shakursky: “Now and Then the Flame Dies Down, but Solidarity Is a Stream of Sparks””

Muruzi House

brodThe young woman (left) and the late Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky (right) have nothing to do with the story, told below, of a Central Asian female migrant, working as a residential building caretaker in Petersburg, and her temporarily misplaced daughter. In recent days, however, this “graffiti” portrait of the Nobel laureate, which was quickly painted over, has been the talk of Brodsky’s hometown. The brutal conditions in which Central Asian migrant workers live in Petersburg and other Russian cities are virtually never the talk of the town, although it is their poorly paid drudgery that makes it possible for the “natives” to lead such rich spiritual and intellectual lives, chockablock with fine poetry and heated debates about “street art” and aesthetics. Photograph courtesy of the Instagram page Dom Muruzi

George Losev
Facebook
May 28, 2020

While I was at work, I found a little girl outside the entrance of a residential building. She was calling for her mother, her mommy. She was lost. Although the girl could speak Russian, she was unable, of course, to say where she lived and when she had last seen her mommy. But she was enjoying playing with a broken plastic motorcycle.

I couldn’t go to the police. Who knew what problems with papers the little girl’s family had? In any case, the police would shake down the girl’s mother and father and rob them.

An old lady in the neighborhood with whom I organized an ACSC (ad-hoc committee for saving the child) agreed with my assessment. During the ten minutes of our existence as a committee, we couldn’t come up with anything. Fortunately, the mother—a local building caretaker—showed up and fetched her daughter.

How disgusting it is to live in a society where you can’t go to the police, because the police are robbers and looters with blank stares.

George Losev is a housing authority electrician and revolutionary leftist activist in Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

Masyanya in Isolation

 

Oleg Kuvaev and patrons present
Masyanya, Episode 142: “Isolation”

Masyanya: That’s that. We’re not going outside. It’s a full quarantine. We’re never going outside again.
Uncle Badya: What, never again?
Masyanya: Oh, come on. There was never anything good about the outside. “Outside.” Even the word says it: “outside” is a nasty word. “Outside” is violence, disease, politics, filth, viruses, rudeness, thievery, and other shit. There’s nothing good out there. Forget it, we’ve over it. Yeah, by the way, this is Brodsky. He’s going to stay on our couch for a while.
Grundel: What? What Brodsky? What the hell! No one asked me.
Brodsky: Don’t leave the room, don’t make the mistake and run.
Grundel: You shut up, bro!
Masyanya: We don’t get asked much in this life. There’s nothing to be done about it, Grundel. You’ll have to live with him.
Brodsky: Things are silly out there . . .

Grundel: And how are we going to get the groceries from the courier?
Masyanya: You cut a little hatch on the bottom so only a box can get through.
Grundel: But I don’t want to ruin the door!
Masyanya: Well, then we’re going to order only thin-crust pizza, so it slides under the door. It’s much tastier, too.

Masyanya: We should have a regimen.
Grundel: We’re lying down, that’s our regimen.
Masyanya: We should do calisthenics every day.
Grundel: Kid now . . . but better at night.
Masyanya: And get up at eight in the morning.
Grundel: And go to bed at eighteen in the evening.
Masyanya: And learn Japanese.
Grundel: Well, kid now, go crazy. Arigato gozaimasu, sou desu ka . . .

Masyanya and Grundel: It’s you again . . .
Masyanya: Stop, bitch! I know it’s you again.

Masyanya: I’ve woken up. And the question is, what the heck for?

Masyanya: I didn’t know you were such a sprat lover, Grundel. Is your maiden name Spratman, by chance?

Grundel: Why the hell do you need so much wine, Masyanya?
Masyanya: The dumbest thing you can do when the world ends, Grundel, is be sober. Capeesh?

Masyanya: Things are going badly, my Japanese friend.

Masyanya and Grundel: It’s you again . . .

Masyanya: So listen to me, people of Cell No. 15, and hear what I say. Basically, there was writer and traveler, Thor Heyerdahl.
Grundel: Sorry, who was “high”?
Masyanya: Cover your ears, children. Heyer, Heyerdahl. That’s a last name, damn it. Open your ears, children. Wait, did you hear that? Whatever. Basically, Thor Heyerdahl . . . sailed off. Cut, cut, cut! So, basically, Thor Heyerdahl, traveler, wrote in his book about traveling on the Kon-Tiki that the crew would sometimes lower on a rope from the back of the ship this little sloop . . .
Grundel: Sloo-oop.
Masyanya: Sloo-oop.
Grundel: Sloo-oop, Sloo-oop.
Masyanya: Quiet! Sloo-oop.
Thor Heyerdahl: Sloo-oop.
Masyanya: Sloo-oop.
Grundel: Sloo-oop.
Masyanya: Basically, there would a dude in the sloop who had bugged the shit out of the whole crew, and he’d have a little break from the company of his dear loved ones. Got it? We’re in a similar situation, and so the bedroom is now a sloop.
Grundel: Sloo-oop.
Masyanya: Sloo-oop. Quiet!
Grundel: Sloo-oop.
Masyanya: Basically, if when anyone gets sick of our company, they have the right to say they have problems, and go there and sit alone. Is everyone clear? Dibs! I’m first!

Brodsky: Don’t leave the room, feign that you’ve caught a chill.
Grundel: Hey, Masyanya, is bro going to have a turn, too?
Brodsky: Don’t be a fool! Don’t be like the others.
Grundel: That’s an interesting thought.

Masyanya: What’s going on outside? Any zombies?
Grundel: No, there’s no one at all.
Masyanya: Uh, what a virus, man, it sucks.

Masyanya: Damn, they don’t have that, they don’t have that, and they don’t have that, either. What are we going to do for chow?
Grundel: I can eat beer.

Grundel: Hey, Shaggy, what are you doing?
Shaggy: I’m fine, I’m dating girls. I even like it better this way.

Grundel: Оh, you’re playing GTA! Basically, you have to shoot everyone, break in there and rob it, and then steal a car . . .
Masyanya: Uh, wait, I’m just strolling. I’m going to the beach, then stop by the store and the café. Why do I need to shoot, kill, and chop up people? That was fun before the virus.

A YEAR HAS PASSED

Masyanya: What, just go outside like that?
Grundel: Yes, the quarantine has been lifted. Go ahead, go for a walk!
Masyanya: Outside . . . Ah, what is that? The sky? Ugh . . . what shit! Listen, Grundel, the outside is nothing but trouble. I’ll show you a forest in VR. It rocks! It’s pretty and there’s no shit. Let’s go back. Let’s nail it back up . . . It was nice.
Brodsky: Lock up and let the armoire keep chronos, cosmos, eros, race, and virus from getting in the door . . . Ouch!
Masyanya: You get the heck out of here, bro. You were to blame from the very beginning. Beat it, bro!

Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up and transcribing the Russian. Image courtesy of Masyanya website. Translated by the Russian Reader

mas_fla

 

A Room and a Half

Private Brodsky Museum Opens in Petersburg, Featuring Room Where Poet Lived.  Museum Will Host Tours, Lectures, and Performances
Bumaga
January 25, 2020

brodskyThe furnishings in Brodsky’s room have been recreated using projections. Photo by Anastasia Rozhkova for Bumaga

A private Joseph Brodsky museum opened in the Muruzi House on Liteiny Prospect on Saturday, January 25, according to Maxim Levchenko, the museum’s creator and managing partner at the development company FortGroup.

The museum plans to run closed tours for groups of fifteen people. Visitors will need to register for them in advance, and tickets will be sold on the project’s website. The price of the tour has not yet been set. According to Levchenko, the museum will charge enough to cover salaries and maintenance costs.

The memorial section of the museum occupies the room where Brodsky lived with his family. It was uncoupled from the communal apartment to which it was attached. In his works, the poet dubbed the space “a room and a half.” The furnishings have been recreated using projections.

The second part of the museum is housed in the apartment next door. According to experts, its purchase cost about 35 million rubles [approx. 510,000 euros]. The walls have been stripped, floor boards have been put down, and photographs hung on the walls. An amphitheater, where lectures and performances will be held, has also been constructed.

The museum’s creators note that they are collaborating with the Anna Akhmatova Museum, which will provide them with historical objects in the future.

In 2018, Levchenko stated that total investment in the project would amount to more than one million euros. He planned to attract partners after the exhibition was ready.

RBK wrote that the museum would be curated by the people behind Brodsky.online, a virtual memorial to Brodsky, produced in conjunction with the Anna Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House.

Attempts to open a full-fledged Brodsky museum date to 1999, when the Brodsky Museum Foundation was founded. With support from banks and sponsors, it bought almost the entire memorial communal apartment in the Muruzi House. It was not possible to complete the purchase, however, as the proprietress of one of the rooms refused to leave. Because of this, the room where Brodsky lived had to be separated from the rest of the apartment.

Thanks to Eugenia Kikodze for the heads-up. See more photos of the new museum here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Elegy
Once upon a time this southern town
was the place where a friend and I met.
Both of us were young and had agreed
to meet on the seawall,
built in ancient times: we had read
about it in books.
Many waves have crashed against it since then.
Back on dry land, my friend choked on a petty
but bitter lie of his own, while I
hit the road.
And once again I am
standing here tonight. No one
came to meet me, nor do I
anyone to whom I can say, Come
to such-and-such place at such-and-such time.
The gulls scream.
The crashing waves splash.
The lighthouse is more a sight
for the photographer’s sore eyes than the sailor’s.
I stand alone on an ancient stone,
and my sadness doesn’t defile antiquity,
but compounds it. Apparently, the earth
is truly round, since you arrive
at a place where there is nothing but
memories.

Yalta, 1968

Source

Tautology

dovlatov socks

“Dovlatov: I prefer being alonе, / but with somebody next to me.” Image courtesy of SPBsocks. This pair of socks sells for 370 rubles or approximately €5.

Petersburg fashionistas with a snobbish vibe have an additional option available to them: socks emblazoned with quotations by local writers. Socks of this sort have recently gone on sale at SPBsocks, where you will find Joseph Brodsky socks, Fyodor Dostoevsky socks, and Sergei Dovlatov socks.

One of the Dovlatov socks proclaims outright, “I prefer being alone.”

There thus won’t be any more questions to the second sock, whether it is at large under the bed or lost during the wash.

“Dovlatov is the most popular. The recent anniversary, the unveiling of the monument to him in Petersburg, and the 1980 fads have all benefited the writer. We have chosen ironic, edgy quotations. You don’t get anywhere nowadays without a little controversy. Breaking the mold increases sales,” acknowledges Svetlana Suetova, founder of SPBsocks, an online designer sock store, which also runs a showroom in the Golytsin Loft at Fontanka Embankment, 20.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg

____________________

Regardless of whether one is a writer or a reader, one’s task consists first of all in mastering a life that is one’s own, not imposed or prescribed from without, no matter how noble its appearance may be. For each of us is issued but one life, and we know full well how it all ends. It would be regrettable to squander this one chance on someone else’s appearance, someone else’s experience, on a tautology—regrettable all the more because the heralds of historical necessity, at whose urging a man may be prepared to agree to this tautology, will not go to the grave with him or give him so much as a thank-you.

[…]

The philosophy of the state, its ethics—not to mention its aesthetics—are always “yesterday.” Language and literature are always “today,” and often—particularly in the case where a political system is orthodox—they may even constitute “tomorrow.” One of literature’s merits is precisely that it helps a person to make the time of his existence more specific, to distinguish himself from the crowd of his predecessors as well as his like numbers, to avoid tautology—that is, the fate otherwise known by the honorific term “victim of history.” What makes art in general, and literature in particular, remarkable, what distinguishes them from life, is precisely that they abhor repetition. In everyday life you can tell the same joke thrice and, thrice getting a laugh, become the life of the party. In art, though, this sort of conduct is called “cliché.”

Excerpted from Joseph Brodsky, “Nobel Lecture,” December 8, 1987, trans. Barry Rubin. Source: Nobelprize.org

Another End of an Era: Pinta Shot Bar to Close in Central Petersburg

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Pinta Shot Bar on Stremyannaya Street in Central Petersburg

In the last ten or fifteen some years, signs of the city’s extinction have been coming hot and heavy, tumbling into view one after another. A few more years, and there will be nothing left of the late-Soviet and perestroika-era Leningrad/post-perestroika Petersburg where we misspent so many years of our youth and felt perfectly at home, despite the fact the ex-capital of All the Russias could never be described as homely. TRR

* * * * *

One of Petersburg’s Oldest Shot Bars to Close on Stremyannaya Street
Bumaga
June 27, 2017

One of Petersburg’s oldest shot bars [ryumochnaya], located at 22 Stremyannaya Street, is closing. [Known officially as Pinta or “The Pint,”] it has been in operation for over thirty years.

Sources at the bar confirmed the bar’s impending closure to us, but refrained from revealing the rationale behind the decision. According to unconfirmed reports, the establishment has been purchased by a third party. It will close on Sunday.

Urban legend has it the shot bar on Stremyannaya was frequented during different periods by writers Sergei Dovlatov and Joseph Brodsky, and rock musician Mike Naumenko, since it was near the popular so-called Saigon Café. Historian Lev Lurye told Bumaga that Brodsky and Dovlatov were unlikely to have visited the bar. It opened in the mid 1980s, after both had emigrated from the Soviet Union.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ksenia Astafieva for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Foursquare and Ksenia N.

No Poet Is Illegal, No Poem Is Extremist

Poet Alexander Byvshev. Photo courtesy of OVD Info
Poet Alexander Byvshev. Photo courtesy of OVD Info

New Criminal Charges Filed against Ex-Schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev
OVD Info
January 17, 2017

On January 17, 2017, police searched the house of ex-schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev in the village of Kromy, Oryol Region. During the search, law enforcement officers confiscated a computer and other information storage devices. After the search, the suspect was interrogated at the local office of the Russian Investigative Committee.

As Alexander Podrabinek wrote on his Facebook page, Byvshev has again been charged under Criminal Code Article 282 (inciting enmity or hostility, as well as humiliation of human dignity). The charges were filed in connection with Byvshev’s poem “On the Independence of Ukraine,” which was published in February 2015 in several Ukrainian periodicals. As Byvshev himself noted, the poem is a “polemical response” to Joseph Brodsky’s eponymous poem.

On July 13, 2015, the Kromy District Court found Byvshev guilty of inciting ethnic hatred (Criminal Code Article 282.1) and sentenced him to 300 hours of compulsory labor for writing poems supporting Ukraine. He was also forbidden to work as a schoolteacher for two years. In autumn 2014, after one of Byvshev’s poems was declared extremist, Rosfinmonitoring placed Byvshev on its list of terrorists and extremists, and his bank accounts were blocked.

Translated by the Russian Reader