Back to the Basics

Today, September 1, is the Day of Knowledge — the first day of school — in Russia and some other post-Soviet countries. As it happens, it was sometime around the Day of Knowledge thirty-one years ago that I began studying Russian. My first Russian teacher was a Hungarian woman named Zsuzsa, at Portland State University. She was only the first of many wonderful guides to the language over the next five or six years (the time it took me to achieve relative fluency), including Nora, Sergei, Zoya, and an amazing Chinese grad student who explained Russian grammar — in Russian (speaking English in class was forbidden at UDub) — better than anyone I’ve ever met; all the lovely, patient and generous lecturers and instructors at the Herzen Institute, who were selflessly dedicated to their profession at a time when working conditions for teachers in Russia couldn’t have been worse; the incomparable Katya Vidre, who introduced me to the work of Alexei Khvostenko and Sergei Dovlatov and so many other things; and countless other Russians, especially the cast of bohemians who helped me with my thesis project, a translation and line-by-line commentary of Joseph Brodsky’s long poem “Predstavlenie.”

Although you might not always guess it from this blog and its prevailingly grim subject matter, learning (and reading) Russian has been immensely liberating. Becoming a Russian reader and speaker has made me a different person, a person capable of seeing the world, however darkly or brightly, through other eyes.

I was reminded of this tremendous gift and the sheer joy of plunging into a new language by the four “Russian pedagogical moments” below. I hope they inspire some of you to learn Russian. At very least, you can read through this post and learn your first twenty-seven words and phrases in the language. ||| TRR

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“V or B? Fill in the missing letters.” This is a worksheet made by the RFL teacher extraordinaire Natalia Vvedenskaya for the immigrant children she teaches at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. The words are banan (“banana”), yabloko (“apple”), vaza (“vase”), kolbasa (“sausage”), divan (“couch,” “sofa”), sobaka (“dog”), rebyonok (“child”), and morkovka (“carrot”). This was originally posted on Ms. Vvedenskaya’s Facebook page.

The words and phrases on the second page of the worksheet are velosiped (“bicycle”), avtobus (“bus”), baton (“baguette”), volshebnaya palochka (“magic wand”), gruzovik (“truck, lorry”), banka s vareniem (“jar of jam”), rubashka (“shirt”), and baklazhan (“aubergine, eggplant”).

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Some of Bridget Barbara’s favorite Russian words are arkhiologicheskikh (“archaeological”), zharko (“hot”), delala (“[a female subject] was doing/did”), kavychki (“quotation marks”), prikol’no (“cool”), kuda (“to where”), sovremennyi (“modern,” “contemporary”), ping-pong (“ping-pong”), bifshteks (“beef steak”), and dostoprimechatel’nosti (“sights,” “landmarks”).

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Vadim F. Lurie, “Russia for the Sad.” Posted on the photographer’s Facebook page on August 13, 2021, and reproduced here with his kind permission. The textbook in the photo is open to pages headed with the word grust‘, “sadness.” As Mr. Lurie informs me, “The boy is examining a special book about emotions and discussing it with his mother.”

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Natalia Vvedenskaya playing language bingo with her pupils at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. She writes: “We discussed transport today. Bingo is still the best game for all levels of knowledge of the language and ages. Only it’s very exciting. The screaming is fearsome.”

TASS [23.08.21]

TACC [23.08.21, 11:45]
Власти США поддерживают контакты с представителями движения “Талибан” (запрещено в РФ) на ежедневной основе, сообщили в Белом доме.

Source: Telegram

TASS [23.08.21, 11:45]
The US authorities have been maintaining contacts with representatives of the Taliban movement (banned in the Russian Federation) on a daily basis, the White House reports.

Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. Translated by the Russian Reader

TASS [21.07.21]

ТАСС, [21.07.21 11:06]
Возможность физического отключения Рунета от глобальной сети была протестирована на учениях по обеспечению устойчивого, безопасного и целостного функционирования интернета, сообщает РБК.

Source: Telegram

TASS, [21.07.21 11:06]
The possibility of physically disconnecting the Runet from the global network was tested during exercises to ensure the stable, safe and cohesive functioning of the Internet, RBC reports.

Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Crosses

Vadim F. Lurie | Facebook | May 24, 2021. In 2000, I was gathering material about the Crosses Prison. I went there several times and took pictures with a point-and-shoot film camera. The prison was then overcrowded: it was reported that it was simultaneously housing twelve thousand inmates, although it had a maximum capacity of two thousand. The people in the photos were standing in front of the prison, trying to catch sight of their loved ones. The sidewalk and part of the roadway was strewn with “arrows” — notes and scattered scraps of notes, which the prisoners launched from their cells in the hope that they would be picked up. St. Petersburg, 2000

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

My Motherland

Yuri Korolev, My Motherland, 1972. Smalt mosaic. Photo: Vadim F. Lurie. Used with his permission

Vadim F. Lurie
Facebook
April 26, 2021

It’s a little strange to write about something positive these days, but I saw that, as part of the complete reconstruction of the Central Bus Station in Moscow, they preserved its old mosaic, which is now behind glass. Buses start from the 6th floor of the station, which is located under the same roof as the Shchelkovsky Shopping Center. On the other hand, I wasn’t able to find in my collection photos of the historic Toksovo station, which was demolished, and from which I departed for the dacha half my life.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Belarus

— Паслухай, стары,
нам учора абвешчана воля,
і сёння ад рання
народам запоўнены пляцы,
наперадзе – радасць,
якая нас век не пакіне,
і я назаўсёды з табой
развітацца хачу…
— Паслухай, мой хлопча,
учора зіма пачалася,
і белыя вопраткі
чорныя дрэвы надзелі,
і шэранем ранішнім
ледзь прыцярушаны прорвы,
і холад хавае
ўсялякі ці прыпах, ці пах –
і так будзе доўжыцца
аж да вясновае ўлады –
тады на дарогах
адкрыюцца раны старыя,
як сонца сарве перавязкі…
Крывёю і брудам
вам станецца радасць
і доўга чаканая воля.
А тут, пад зямлёй,
пад заброснелай нізкаю столлю,
на змрочнай сцяне,
будуць мілыя блікі блукаць
маленькай, як жменька,
і вечнай – і вечнай! – надзеі…
… У кніжцы без вокладкі
і без апошніх старонак,
дзе вы, адмыслоўцы шалёнага часу,
жылі,
я сёння заместа закладкі
лісток пакладу
ад пекнай герані,
падобнай на кроў і агонь.

Тацяна Сапач (1962-2010)

vadim f lurie-minsk 2019Vadim F. Lurie, Minsk, 2019. Courtesy of the photographer

— Послушай, старик,
нам свободу вчера обещали,
и нынче с утра
уже площади полны народа,
их радость ведет,
и она нас вовек не покинет,
и с этого дня я с тобою
расстаться хочу…
— Послушай, сыночек,
вчера к нам зима подступила,
и белые платья
решили примерить деревья,
и инеем ранним
чуть проруби сверху покрыты,
и холод скрывает
повсюду и запах, и вонь —
и будет держаться
все это до вешнего ветра —
тогда на дорогах
откроются старые раны,
лишь солнце сорвет с них повязки…
И кровью и грязью
окажется радость
и званая вами свобода.
А тут, под землей,
тут, где низкие своды и плесень,
на темной стене
будут милые блики играть
от зеркала крошечной
светлой и вечной надежды…
Но в книгу, где нет ни последних страниц,
ни обложки,
где вы, мастера сумасшедшего времени,
жили,
я вместо закладки сегодня
листок положу
прекрасной герани,
похожей на кровь и огонь.

Translated from the Belarusian by Gennady Kanevsky

 

—Listen, granddad,
yesterday they promised us freedom,
and now, since morning,
the squares are filled with people,
led on by joy,
and it will never abandon us,
and from this day, I want
to part with you . . .
—Listen, sonny,
yesterday winter arrived,
and the trees decided
to try on white dresses,
and the ice holes are slightly covered
with early frost,
and everywhere the cold hides
both scents and stink—
and all this will hold firm
until a wind comes from outside—
then, on the roads,
old wounds will open,
if only the sun tears off the bandages . . .
And blood and dirt
will turn out to be the joy
and the freedom you called for.
And here, under the earth,
here, where there are low vaults and mold,
on the dark wall
dear flecks of light will play
from the tiny mirror
of bright and eternal hope.
But today, in this book, where there are no final pages,
no covers,
where you, masters of the crazy times,
lived,
I will place a leaf
instead of a bookmark
from a wonderful geranium
that resembles blood and fire.

Translated from Gennady Kanevsky’s Russian by Joan Brooks

* * * * *

Tatsyana Sapach (1962–2010) was a Belarusian poet, journalist, and translator, and the author of two collections of poetry. Gennady Kanevsky (b. 1965, Moscow) has published eight books of verse. Many of his poems have been translated into English, Italian, Hungarian, and Ukrainian. Video courtesy of Nexta and Andrey Rysev

Election Observers

election observerArtist, activist and teacher Darya Apahonchich found this “polling place” in the courtyard of her building in downtown Petersburg, across the street from the city’s Dostoevsky Museum. Early voting is under way in a nationwide referendum on 206 proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution. Courtesy of Darya Apahonich’s Facebook page

approvalFilmmaker Andrey Silvestrov took this selfie with his ballot paper at his polling place in Moscow. The question reads, “Do you approve [the] changes to the Russian Constitution?” Silvestrov voted no, of course. Note the fact that none of the amendments in question is listed on the ballot paper. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

prizesFortunately, Silvestrov’s “no” vote will not, one hopes, disqualify him from entering the “Million Prizes” program, as outlined on a flyer he was given by polling place officials along with his ballot paper. Voters are asked to send a “unique code” in a text message to the number 7377. Winners are promised “gift certificates” redeemable for groceries, sporting goods, and household goods, and for unspecified goods at pharmacies, cafes, museums, theaters, and cinemas. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the “gift certificates” (if any Russian voters actually receive them) will prove worthless. Photo courtesy of Silvestrov’s Facebook page

lurie precinctPhotographer Vadim F. Lurie took a snapshot of the referendum polling place in the courtyard in a town in the Moscow Region. Courtesy of his Facebook page. While the purported reason for such bizarre ad hoc polling places is ensuring health of voters during the coronavirus pandemic, still raging in many parts of Russia, they provide the added benefit of making it much harder for election observers to ascertain whether the referendum was conducted freely and fairly. Needless to say, “free and fair” is a meaningless concept to the Putin regime.

dictatorship of zerosJournalist and political activist Ivan Ovsyannikov took this snapshot outside Polling Station No. 1641, located on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg. The placard reads, “Our country, our constitution, our decision.” Someone has pasted a sticker on the placard, which reads, “The solidarity of ones will end the dictatorship of zeroes.” This is reference to the fact that one of the proposed amendments, if ratified, will “zero out” Vladimir Putin’s previous terms as Russian president, thus allowing him to run for two more consecutive terms of six years. If this scenario comes to pass, Putin would be able to rule until 2036. His current presidential term ends in 2024.

Konstantin Yankauskas and Alexander Zamyatin, popularly elected municipal councilors in the Zyuzino District of Moscow, discuss what their constituents can do to oppose the referendum under near impossible circumstances (the coronavirus pandemic, a ban on public campaigning against the amendments, evidence that thousands of state sector employees are either being forced to vote yes or hand over their passwords for electronic voting to their supervisors, etc.) They also reflect on why the Russian opposition has been unable to run a nationwide “no” campaign despite the fact that formal and informal barometers of public opinion have shown that Putin’s popularity has been falling and that many Russians are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The discussion was broadcast live on YouTube on June 24, 2020.