Deep South v.3 n.1 (Autumn, 1997)
Chapters 7 and 8 of Eduoard Limonov's A Young Scoundrel, translated from Russian by John Dolan.
Chapters 1-4 appear in v.2 n.1 of Deep South
Chapters 5-6 appear in v.2 n.2 of Deep South
Further chapters will appear in later issues of Deep South
With one hand, Motrich took the folded-up chair , and with the other he took hold of a packet of books. The bookseller took grabbed three packets, the table and one packet, and the Zombie, happily relieved of burden, ran ahead, then stopped further up Sumskaya Street, revelling in the snow which had already been muddied and churned by thousands of walking feet.
At this point it is necessary to provide an elementary outline of the history and topography of Kharkov, so as to make it easier to follow our heroes' movements in time and space.
"A large Southern city," as Bunin called it...located in Europe, in the northernmost part of the Ukranian Soviet Republic, a few hundred kilometres from the border of the Russian Soviet Republic. It was founded either at the end of the 16th century or at the beginning of the 17th, by wild Cossacks who had been causing a great deal of trouble in the huge area between the fiftieth parallel (on which sits precisely the fat dot of the city, if you look at a map) and the shores of the warm Black Sea itself.
After the Great Revolution, and right up to the year 1928, the city served as capital of Ukraine. In those ten years Kharkov managed to build several absurd architectural monuments, which would never have been built if Kharkov had not been the capital. In November l930 a Conference of Proletarian Writers was held in the city, in which took part, among others, Romain Rolland, Barbusse, and Louis Aragon. In this city was born Tatlin, celebrated author of the tower project of the International, as well as the second-greatest poet of the OBERIYU Group, Vvedenskii--not to mention that insignificant figure, Kosygin. A further point of Kharkov pride is the multitude of factories located on its outskirts. Kharkov is a gigantic industrial center, much like Detroit, for example, in the United States...
Sumskaya Street is the main artery of the city, but not because it is the longest, widest, or most fashionable. Its popularity as an ancient road, leading to the other Ukrainian city, Suma, is founded on the fact that it's central--located in the exact center of the Old City--and also on the fact that at its exact center are located the city's best-known restaurants, theatres, and administrative centers. Sumskaya Street begins at Tevelev Square and runs, climbing upwards, to Dzerzhinskii Square. And right there at No. 19 Tevelev Square Anna Moiseyevna Rubinshtein lives quite comfortably with her mother, Celia; and there, at the beginning of l965, our hero, the "Young Rascal" Eduard Savenko, moved in. From the windows of the Rubinshtein apartment on Tevelev Square can be seen the building formerly occupied by the Assembly of Nobles, the corner of Sumskaya on which is located the "Theatrical" restaurant, and the building of the Refrigeration Technical School.
On Dzerzhinskii Square are located the many-columned and many-floored barracks-yellow headquarters of the Party Regional Committee. The square, which is still the largest in Europe, accomodates other, no less remarkable but less massive architectural landmarks: the ochre-coloured Kharkov Hotel, which recalls the step-pyramids of the Aztecs; the University, a smaller version of Moscow State University; and finally, that marvel, "GOSPROM"--the prison-like constructivist headquarters of State Industries--a grotesque heap of glass and concrete.
Basically, our hero's life has taken place between Tevelev and Dzerzhinskii Squares. On Sumskaya Street, between the two squares, is located not only Store No. 41, but also the Theatrical Institute, with its beauties promenading down Sumskaya at lunchtime, and the fabulous "Mirror Stream," an unremarkable little pond with a waterfall, immortalized nonetheless on dozens of postcards and in every tour-guide to Kharkov. (In the archives of our hero's Mama, Raisa Fyodorovna Savenko rests a photograph of Eduard, age ten, standing by the "Mirror Stream" in a sky-blue belted jacket and knickers.) Just behind the "Mirror Stream" and the Theatrical Institute is located, on the ground floor of a tall building, the famous "Automatic"--a snack bar which is Kharkov's "Cafe Rotunda," "Cloiserie de Lilas" or "Cafe Flore." More precisely, the Automat fulfils all the functions of all these famous cafes. (It was here that an interesting idea occurred to our author: was not the sudden flourishing of Kharkov's cultural life at this time related to the opening of the "Automatic" Snack Bar?) A few buildings on from the "Automatic," directly opposite the towering monument in memory of the "Great Kobza-Player" Taras Schevchenko, is located the central supermarket, rather important in the history of Kharkov during this period. In this very store the heroes of our book purchased their wine and vodka. Up Sumskaya, behind the grocery store, is located a two-story building housing the combined editorial offices of "Leninist Zmin" and "Socialist Kharkov."
Taras Schevchenko Park begins immediately opposite the first entrance of the "Automatic"--assuming, of course, that the pedestrian is proceeding along Sumskaya starting from Tevelev Square. The Park consists of several square kilometres of trees and shrubs, stretching right to the territory of Kharkov University, and including the Zoo (where Genka, Ed and Anna are now sitting), a summertime film-theatre, several public toilet-bunkers (with exquisite wall illustrations!) and Genka's Father's restaurant--the "Crystal." Where the Park runs into the fenced perimeters of Dzerzhinskii Square, almost from its underbrush, the Pioneer House stares askance at the grand classical building of the Party's Regional Committee.
In the ravines which have etched the surface of the park, Kharkovites play Preference and Chemin-de-fer for big money. Like any self-respecting park, Schevchyenko Park has a central fountain, where on holidays a military orchestra conducted by an Armenian plays gallant marches. This Armenian's moustache is as thick as a push-broom, and is famed throughout the city.
Rimarskaya Street, as we have already observed, runs parallel to Sumskaya. It begins almost at Anna Rubinshtein's very door. Below, right past Anna's door, the famous Bursatskii Gulch descends. On it, halfway to the sprawling Blagovyeschchenskii Market, the biggest in the city, stands the former Seminary Building, now the Library Institute. The Seminary was described by Pomyalovskii in a popular nineteenth-century book, "Seminary Sketches." From this building hordes of wild seminarians used to fall upon the peaceful vendors of Blagovyeschchenskii Market. According to legend, here on the benches of Bursatskii Gulch the great Khlebnikov wrote his poem, "Ladomir." Beyond Sumskaya, beyond the Blagovyeschchenskii Market, beyond Dzenzhinskii Square, stretch the petty-bourgeois districts of the city and its proletarian outskirts. But fortunately they are outside the boundaries of the present narrative.
"Rackles, crazies and galakhs", in Khlebnikov's words, populated the city in his time. "Rackle" is a local Kharkov word, or rather a Bursatskii word, born in the Bursatskii Gulch. It seems to the Bookseller that now, after many years, Rackles and Crazies have again appeared in Kharkov. Crazies especially. Something is happening in Kharkov. Something still not quite understood by the Bookseller, dragging around his heavy sacks of books.
"Ed, we're going to Anna Rubinshtein's. You want to go with us?" asked Motrich, as they cheerfully delivered the cargo to Store No. 41 and handed it to Liliya, who it turned out was rushing off to the cinema with her young husband, Alik. The Directress didn't even get up to help and simply slipped the money into the cashier's kiosk, after putting it into an envelope.
"Yeah, I want to." And he did want to. For the first time in the Bookseller's life, maybe, he was with the people he really wanted to be with. A strange, tranquil pleasure came over him.
"We just have to buy something to drink." Motrich stood searching the pockets of his fur coat for change. He hadn't worked anywhere at all for a long, long time, and as the Bookseller knew, he had no money. Directress Liliya always sternly warned the Bookseller not to lend Motrich any money. Either the Bookseller's own or money from the cash register. "Even if he promises to give the money back to you in a few hours, don't give him any. Volodya's a poetic genius; maybe that's why he drinks so much. Getting him to pay back a debt is impossible. It's awkward squeezing a debt out of our poetic genius. Remember: you have no money for Motrich!"
The Bookseller contributed a five-ruble note toward the drinks. Misha Basov didn't even pretend to look for money in his pockets. Obviously he never has any money either. The Bookseller, who still had a hundred rubles severance pay from the foundry shop, and six suits hanging in his closet in Saltovka, condescendingly pardoned the intellectual for his unworldly poverty.
Wet, greasy snow slopped clumsily onto Kharkov, blown in from time to time by gusts of wind from the streets perpendicular to Sumskaya, where the Bookseller was hurrying, barely keeping pace with the big Motrich in his fur coat and the elk-like Basov in a light woolen jacket. The snow of Blok's "Blockade," or perhaps the snow of "The Twelve," fell on the heads and shoulders of the young people. On the black, Georgian-style cap of the Bookseller--it, and the heavy ratiné overcoat, remained to the Bookseller in memory of the brave little Jew Mishka Issarov, who had wanted to outwit life and had paid dearly for trying. Before he offered Ed the chance to work with him he gave Ed three meters of ratiné for an overcoat, at a price of 57 rubles a meter...The Symbolist snow clogged the city of Vrubel and Khlebnikov, Tatlin and Vedenskii, and through it walked Motrich and Misha Basov, in their present, and, distinct from them, into the future walked the Bookseller. In the future, awaiting him, was Anna Moiseyevna Rubinshtein, "prodigal daughter of the Jewish nation," as she sometimes called herself--a woman who was destined to play a major role in the fate of Eduard Savenko. The ex-steelworker, not entirely sure what he wanted, having found Anna, unconsciously chose her for this role. Afterwards, he called his choice "Fate," "Destiny," "the Roll of the Dice." But if we turn to a romantic, yet more truthful explanation, we will see that the worker very much wanted to become an intellectual, to become a poet, to learn, to study more and more. And wanted this passionately, heedlessly, violently. Having read a few dozen pages of the Introduction to Psychoanalysis, he got a big notebook and started copying out the book word-for-word because he knew that he needed this book. Alas, there was no other way of obtaining a copy of this rarely-republished work. And he couldn't bring himself simply to commandeer Melekhov's book. Anna Moiseevna served as another study-aid, and it was necessary to commandeer her.
Anna Moiseevna herself opened the door to the damp Symbolist, his pockets full of bottles of port. Backing up against their primus stoves in their nightgowns, the women of the corridor stared in terror at this invasion of hulking Decadents. Crying, "Hey, Vovka! Misha!" Anna, in a heavy dress ...and in a complex aroma redolent of some twenty very different dinners, the four of them made their way through the doorway of her private compartment. And led the Decadents, herself among them, into the tiny inner corridor of her apartment-compartment and, heavily opening the door to her room (on the door were hanging her overcoat and dresses),herded the decadents into the room. On the little card table (At which the poet will write the whole of his first book of poems, as well as "The Cook" and "The Notebook") a candle burned, and from a low wooden bed Anna's friend, the broad-faced Vika Kuligina, rose smiling...
"Who are these guys, Anna?" From behind the panel of a folding door which divided Anna's room from the main room appeared--first the cigarette of Celia Yakovlevna, and then the aforesaid Celia Yakovlevna herself. "Ah, the poets have arrived!" At this point Celia Yakovlevna was still pleased at the appearance of the poets.
"Good evening, Celia Yakovlevna!" Basov, swooping suddenly, darted past the surprised poet and, grabbing the hand of the lady with the cigarette in his own wet hand, brought it to his lips. The bookseller did not yet know that Misha Basov, whom he knew as a symbolist, was also a surrealist; and this well-read youth was imitating the manner of Andre Breton in kissing ladies' hands. The not-so-well-read bookseller timidly mumbled, "Good evening."
"Mama, go to your room! Time for you to go to sleep!" Softly but mercilessly, Anna pushed her mother into her room. And lit a second candle, standing it on the windowsill. Beyond the window the wild, featureless snow was falling. Falling on Tevelyev Square, and on the former cathedral which faced it, on the Theatrical Restaurant at the corner of of Tevelyev and Sumskaya, on the people coming through the raised gates, on the venom-red sign reading "Keep your savings in the credit union!"--the amateurish product of a Kharkov advertising agency, low in the Kharkov sky...
Why such snow?--wondered the Bookseller, glancing out the window. Maybe something's happened? The present becoming the future?--he thought, and was afraid.
Up out of the green ravine encircling the tavern come two more members of the illustrious "SS": Paul and Viktorushka. The latter with a green sprig stuck in his straw hat. Genka greets his friends by standing and adressing a few authoritative orders to Dusya, the barmaid.
When Ed joined the "SS," Paul and Viktorushka were already SS men. Genka became acquainted with Paul/Pavel during the brief period in which he was a foreman (!) in the "Piston" Factory. Genka in a factory! It's difficult to imagine Gennadii Sergeevich against the background of machines and greasy iron. Even in blue overalls and with an office-worker's notebook in his hand. Still, the Piston Period in Genka's biography is real enough, and Genka is actually proud of this working-class episode in his biography. Even though a friend of his father's rather prosaically installed him at the factory so that he would have a Place of Work to write down on his application to the Institute. It's very possible that Genka took up his job at the factory as an exotic adventure, and that, in this light, he very much liked the metallic jungles of the Piston. Ed has had to listen many times to the stories of the legendary era in which the SS was founded, when Pavel Shemmetov was working in the foundry of the Piston, Fima was an engineer, Genka was supervising, and Vagrich Bakhchanyan was writing cliche motivational slogans. Ed still isn't entirely clear on who met whom, and how they got to know each other. It seems that the stout Frankophile, Paul, introduced Bakhchanyan to Genulik.
His whole strong face a smile, the former sailor Paul--his pants, sewn by "Monsieur Eduard" (as Paul calls our hero), falling like accordion pleats over his boots--"Monsieur Curlers" (as Viktorushka calls Paul, on account of the mop of chesnut curls which cover the ex-sailor's head) lets his un-Soviet walk carry him into the Tavern. The dry, compact Teutonophile follows him with the gait of a mechanical doll. These guys have attained perfection in the personae they've adopted. "Monsieur Curlers" has managed, without ever so much as setting foot on French soil, to learn French so well he speaks it without an accent. For four years, in the Navy, he studied French with a teach-yourself course and a dictionary, then he got rid of his accent by talking with repatriated French people. Pavel was born and raised on the outskirts of Kharkov, in Tyurenka. To Tyurenka he returned after his service in the fleet, to his parents--"The Slobs" as he scornfully calls them, obviously ashamed of the non-French-speaking quasi-peasants of Tyurenka. But it's a year since "Monsieur Curlers" married a girl from the Centre, nicknamed "Zaychik," and moved in with her and her mother, just like our main hero. Notice how provincial youths are drawn to the centre of town! Ed's known Paul/Pavel for almost two years now, but only recently did they discover that they had old friends in common. Paul, it turns out, knew the Vishnyevskii family, who were repatriated from France and whose younger daughter, Asya (or Liza) had at some point become friends with the adolescent Savenko. Not surprising; Paul, after all, was living in Tyurenka, and Asya and Ed in the adjacent district, Saltovka. Rummaging around in his memory, the patient seeker is rewarded, as always, with a new discovery--Ed remembers the scene on Zhuralyevskii Beach in 1958. Beneath the thickening clouds, the half-naked Tyurenka mob pointed out to him this healthy-looking, bearded fellow running along the beach with gigantic dumbells in his hands.
"Our sailor, Polyushka. He just got out of the Navy," said the Tyurenka kids. "Healthy as a bull, and talks French, but he's a little..."--the Gypsy, Kolya, put his finger to his temple and turned it. Meaning that the sailor's a little strange, maybe even crazy. Fitness fanatics were respected in Tyurenka, "tetched" people were not. Thus it came about that Ed saw "Monsieur Curlers" for the first time, nine years ago.
The SS men come out onto the veranda, and Paul, wrinkling still further his gray-and-black striped pants, bows reverently. He speaks little as a rule, simply murmuring "Bonjour," and sitting at the table. Cheerful, trim, and ebullient as a young officer, Viktorushka, in a cap, khaki trousers, and sandals, and a fake-silk shirt with short sleeves, is, by contrast, very talkative. Inspecting the veranda and deciding there is a sufficient number of spectators, he assumes a pose and exclaims, "Heil!" throwing out his arm in a Hitler salute. The shocked "goat herd," snacking and drinking vodka (but passing it under the table) grumbles deeply and indistinctly. "Such an outrage!"--a woman in glasses at the next table turns to him in horror. Her unattractive face is lined with revulsion.
"Zoldaten!" Viktor begins his speech, beaming. One of Hitler's speeches. Viktor, by no small effort, managed to learn by heart around ten of Hitler's orations, getting down even the intonation and emotional style of the Fuhrer. His German is perfect. Viktorushka graduated from the Institute of Foreign Languages and even managed to get appointed director of studies at a school in Siberia, in Bratsk, from which he returned after six months. In his six months in Bratsk, however, he managed to get married--and divorced, after throwing a knife at his father-in-law, a doctor. The knife stuck in the door just above the doctor's scalp, having shaved a few of the father-in-law's hairs.
Viktorushka finishes his speech, and for a moment it seems to Ed that the entire mass of the goat herd will turn on them, so ominous is the silence on the veranda; only the roar of hungry, or perhaps annoyed tigers can be heard in the distance. Genulik waits, savoring the ominous silence, not in any hurry to leave the table; then stands, and at last speaks, addressing the diners: "Comrades! Let's have a big hand for this student from the German Democratic Republic, for perfroming so wonderfully for us one of Hitler's speeches from the play, 'The Fall of Berlin'!"
The goat herd applauds even more enthusiastically willingly than required. Their honor has been preserved. An incident has been avoided. Maybe nobody really believed in the existence of the play, "The Fall of Berlin," but the important thing is that the utterance of the few words they understood in the speech, unpleasant German words like "kommunisten," "kommisaren," "Juden," and "Partizanen," has been legitimised and explained. The hot August day is wonderful, the vodka and port good and strong, the arm-pits of the women's dresses are stained and the smell of sweat--carnal, corporeal, alive--floats among the tables, mixing with the smells of food. And across the way--maybe ten paces off--is the ravine, into which you can go to indulge your particular needs, from simple peepee and caca to the grossest summer orgies. What's there to fight about?
"I zank you, Gomradz!" Clicking his heels, the Democratic German once again gives the Hitler salute, and Genka, who adores his friends and dangerous moments, hands him a glass of vodka with a satisfied, but typically self-contained smile. The student from the Nice German Republic takes a little gulp and sits down. He drinks little. Perhaps the cause of his dislike of alcohol is that his father is an alcoholic. An alcoholic who, six years ago, became a one-eyed alcoholic. Viktor put out his eye.
It happened, according to the account of "M. Curlers," like this. Viktor's parents, like "M. Curlers's" live in Tyurenka, in a little private house. One day, after lunch, Viktoryushka, who'd just gotten married (for the first time) was lying with his young bride in the garden, on a bed under the apple-tree. Viktor was having a nap after his lunch. "But I don't know whether they were 'humping' or not..." laughed Paul, since besides French M. Curlers knows only the vulgar tongue of his native Tyurenka. "They were lying there...Dad came home from work drunk and started stumbling around the garden...up to his ass in adventure...Finding the young people on the bed, Dad started laughing and grabbed Viktor's wife by the foot...'Get the fuck out of here, you old fool!' said Viktor. The old fool not only didn't leave, he started shaking and pulling the bed with the young couple in it, maybe trying to tip them out...Viktor told his Dad to fuck off once again, and warned him not to interfere in his, Viktor's, life. Then Dad told Viktor to fuck off, and, sticking his hand under the covers, grabbed Viktor's wife by the ass..." Here, the storyteller, M. Curlers, suffered a fit of soundless laughter and slapped his palm against his thigh. Then he continued: "Viktor stood up, took a log that was lying on the ground and smashed Papa in the head with it. Smashed him so hard that 'First Aid' came for Papa"--obviously finding this story extremely amusing, the narrator again crumpled in a fit of laughter. "But it didn't aid, Ed--not even 'first.' It turned out the log had a branch on it, and this branch hit Papa in the eye...It fucked Papa's eye real good, it splattered it completely, like an egg in a frying pan..."
"They're real savages, these Tyurenka people--" reflects Ed, pressed between two strong, hot bodies--his wife, Anna Moiseyevich, and M. Curlers "--even the best of them." Viktorushka, who went on living with his parents--somehow or other his father forgave him--obviously isn't harried with remorse for having put out dear Papa's eye. One day he calmly and laughingly told Ed his own version of the story, which hardly differs from Paul's version. This happened after a French lesson. Viktor gives Ed French lessons twice a week. Yes, Viktor knows the language of the Franks; it was his second language at University.
Why does Viktor teach Ed French, and not Paul? The snobbish M. Curlers said that he will converse with Ed with pleasure, once he's learned the language with Viktor's help, but he cannot and will not teach the basics. Therefore Viktor teaches Ed French, for a little money. For half the normal price. Ed doesn't want to learn German. He already studied French in school and at the Culinary School where fate directed him in l961. (The Militia demanded that he establish a place of work, and he preferred writing out recipes for borsch and pie, plucking chickens and dismembering pigs, to being exiled 101 kilometers away from Kharkov. He was very promptly expelled for stealing chickens and non-attendance.) Why is Ed trying to revive his French, lost in the course of his vagabond life?* What the point of studying French? It's hard to say; maybe some vague future adventures on the surface of the globe. In the style of "The Adventurers": Alain Delon and Lino Venturi. Maybe he and Genka...
Nonetheless, Eduard understands quite well that his Magnificent pal Genka--his pride, his friend, in a sense his leader and guide--is a weakling...Of course, this weakness is not physical, but a weakness of character. Genka's desires, and even his fantasies, do not extend beyond sitting at the Tavern, a trip to the Monte Carlo, swimming in the river in winter, drinking bouts and petty hooliganism in all its attractive variants. It's a sweet life in Kharkov. The most dangerous of their undertakings was the attempt to get onto the transport aircraft, though it was not crowned with success. They got arrested. It's true that Genka, the haughty, sleek, elegant thoroughbred, passed himself and Eduard off as KGB--he dropped the names of some genuine bigwigs in the Kharkov KGB, and the airport security guards let them go, and even offered them cognac and a buffet. "What idiots!" laughed Genka and Ed in the taxi which was carrying them away from the gates of the Kharkov Airport.
"Hey, Ed! Ed, what, have you fallen asleep?" asks Anna Moiseyevna, waving her hand in front of his eyes. "Are you dreaming?"
"What did you see before you, dear poet?" eagerly asks the enthusiast, Viktorushka. He treats his pupil with a certain degree of irony, respecting Ed not for his poems but because Ed knows how to sew pants and can make money without leaving home. Few are those who believe in his poems. Everyone believes in pants. Pants are obvious. Ed can sew two pairs a day, or, if he works from early morning til late at night, he can even make three pair.