Translated from the Russian by Natasha Randall
“In Europe, in past centuries, a judge put on a black hat to proclaim a verdict,” I tell the next group. Why am I telling them about this? And why did he put on a black hat? I don’t know, it seems, but what if someone suddenly asks.
They listen and they understand, but it seems to me, nevertheless, that words are in no way intended for people—they report too much and lead us far away from the subject under consideration. Sometimes this disturbs me.
All cities are now identical. In each there is a Chinatown, a McDonald’s, an IKEA, an Odeon and an Imax, a Church of the Holy Trinity, a zoo and an aquapark, a Royal or Imperial Palace, a Liberty Street, a Republic Square (at the worst—a Union Square), the markets—flower, flea, and bird; the festivals of theater, cinema, music, and beer; the parades of love and military equipment.
A saucer with a bread roll from city V. lands near the hookah lounge in city A.. Coffeehouse B. is visited by writer B., who is usually in bad spirits, judging by his compositions. Street M. twitches even now from the sound of the pre-morning revolver shots delivered by the artist P., who had too much to drink. As long as its name, Boulevard K. remembers more than anyone. Our excursion continues. According to local popular belief that, those who feel a vague dissatisfaction with life, an unfairness or an offense, should lean on this old maple tree…
Now underfoot you have a little street, on which you will not walk with any kind of shoe, and above you is the so-called “window of the lunatic Inesh.” Legend connects this house with the tragic story of a Portuguese girl of notable lineage who was given to be married against her will, in the interests of the dynasty, and went crazy from melancholy. The madness manifested itself completely inoffensively—with entire days sitting at this very window (pay attention here to its finishing, which uses the mosaic technique of azulejos) and awaiting her real beloved, until she died in her deep old age. The story keeps silent about the fate of the unloved husband. Apparently, he was busy with something. The red tile of the roofs and the lime whitewashing of the walls with the yellow or blue edging.
As a rule, in order to reach those corners of the city, elevated by myths and which flicker in the reflected light of legends, it is necessary to cross through localities, where the inhabitants think the apex of romantic imagination is to fight, to get it in the eye, and for champions to spit into faces. But these fairy tales remember every single person there, including babies and weak-minded. How they are proud of them.
In decent neighborhoods you rapidly memorize the names of streets, while in the rest, sometimes, empty streetsigns appear dimly on the sides of buildings, especially in the evening hours.
There was a time when, for a while, commercial enterprises were forbidden from being given proper names. Many argued about the harm of branding. Advertising panels were substituted with street diagrams, and stores were simply called products, domestic goods, clothes, tools. Now hardly anyone remembers the reason behind it, but at the time many people fell to a different extreme, where, for example, they refused to be introduced to acquaintances—since names were also considered brandnames.
The Bridge of the 25th of April passes onto the Street of the 25th of March. On the right is the Pagoda of the Heights Above the Clouds, on the left is the university library with its balconies and stepladders.
The weather is sort of spoiling something. In the atmosphere either the celestial cats or the Defense and the Seagrams Buildings are scratching in their corners.
Habitable barges. Windmills. Cheese dairies and butteries.
There are many unkempt people around. Especially, for some reason, in the spring, as if they come out from under the snow. With unwashed hair and poor teeth. They poke about in their noses, their ears. They snort and spit onto the ground. I ran into one this morning—with the look of someone who had just yesterday been given leave from the building of the pyramid of Cheops according to the state of his health, and had already managed to drink the remainders of his weekend allowance. And all these placards saying QUIT SMOKING—WALK THE DOG are in reality aimed not at those who smoke or have the time and space for a dog, but at those who are themselves similar to a cigarette butt or an abandoned dog.
This summer the fashion was patchwork fabric. Everything everywhere was sewed from it—dresses, wide trousers, football shirts, bags. Avenues on weekends were literally color-spattered, dazzling with youthful creatures, as wonderful as Hindu temples.
In autumn it’s good to catch devils in quiet pools.
In the winter on the bus, after breathing on the glass, noticing the initials of someone’s name that have appeared.
The high and smooth section of wall—you want to write on it: “People, if you please, don’t ever think about the fact that you have neglected or lost. This only multiplies negligence and losses.” And more advice: if we think about our everyday commute on public transport as an event, which is named, let’s say Composition No. of 1/F12/m, it will pass in a more lively way. Try it for yourselves.
There is caution and trepidation in moving together: you can look at each and every person coming your way but you can only look from time to time at those who are walking at your side. It’s not an accident that the city has only one café called Tenderness. There are some things that are severely lacking.
“Hello. You have reached the Reserve of Special Raw Material and Shared Resources…” (How do they share it, and with whom?)
Prater Park, Tivoli Park, Retiro Park, Tiergarten Park, the Park of Seven Stars, Fontainebleau’s Park, the Park of Temples, Triglav Park, Nikko Park, Gülhane Park, Monserrati Park, Lazienki Park, Vondelpark, Deer Park, Algonquin Park, Central Park, Treptov Park. The Stone Garden, the Garden of Orchids, the Garden of Birds, the Garden of Butterflies, the Garden of Harmony and Virtues, the Winter Garden, the Summer Garden, the Aleksandrovsky Gardens, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Botanical Gardens. Inside the Sadovoe Koltso* are the most expensive dwellings, all government establishments and even two active monasteries.
My joys are simple. The first spoonful of cherry yogurt, the fine trickle of the soul, to thrust all my fingers into his hair and to kiss his eyes, to be buried under fur covers, to throw a slipper along the diagonal and hit the evening TV screen. My sadnesses, on the other hand, are bitter and unimaginably complicated, and my disposition is made weak and heavy under their influence, like a clumsy oaf on a gymnastic balance beam.
Lady Liberty was dragged along on her back, after throwing her right arm with its torch up and backwards and far away. Her left arm has fallen off and lies next to her, not letting go of the Declaration of Independence.
*The Russian for the Garden Ring, a circular road in Moscow that surrounds the city center.
Olga Zondberg has published two collections of poetry in Russia, including one with ARGO-RISK. Translations of her work can be found in An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Woman Poets (University of Iowa Press).
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