A View from the Wild Surf
Happy February! Last time we spoke I was on my way to meet Helen Lindsay (above), heritage consultant and daughter of the British poet Jack Lindsay (1900-1990). Well, that was back in December and today, you can listen to our podcast, fresh from the cutting room desk. Here it is. Or, I suppose, you could get the whole Conversations on Communism series directly to your myriad mobile devices by subscribing to it on iTunes, or Soundcloud.
In any case, it was a joy talking to Helen about her father. I think my favourite part was hearing about the complications of spending an excess of roubles for a British antimaterialist at the height of the Cold War. It reminded me, a little perversely, of the plot line of that hyper-capitalist classic Brewster’s Millions (1985). In case you’ve forgotten, it’s the one where Richard Pryor (as Monty Brewster, the minor league baseball pitcher) has to spend $30 million in 30 days in order to inherit $300 million. It’s got John Candy in it, and was a staple of my days skiving off school… I suspect, however, the Lindsay family’s rooms in the Soviet writers’ hotel on the Black Sea coast bore little resemblance to Brewster’s suite in the Plaza Hotel, neither do I imagine the royalties for his translated books quite stretched to $30 million — even if he was rumoured to be “the biggest selling author in Outer Mongolia”.
A couple of weeks ago I returned from my own trip to Russia. It was cold, really cold, and I fell over twice. Apart from that it was brilliant. I was in St. Petersburg again, working on my Russian and, as always, scratching around for clues. I was fortunate this time that my teacher was Vladimir Kuznetsov (‘Smith’), an expert in and lover of Russian poetry. The scene was perfectly set then for my first shaky steps up the Slavic Parnassus. I loved reading the poems I was given by Vladimir, poems by Osip Mandelstam, Arseny Tarkovsky and Joseph Brodsky. I feel a whole new world of literature opening up. But… шаг за шагом (‘step by step’).
In my free time, I spent hours in the Hermitage Museum. I don’t know many better collections of ancient sculpture than those four or five rooms in the Winter Palace. I like it mainly because it’s so mischievous, full of podgy Erotes — up to no good, shaggy Sileni and Maenads in thrall ( not to mention the baffling “Boy with Duck” ). There’s some of the more austere stuff in there too, but “glory” and “grandeur” couldn’t have been further from my mind as I wandered around.
Some friends from the language school and I took a day trip to snowy Vyborg, where Lenin prepared for the October Revolution 100 years ago. I also went to the Leningrad Blockade Museum, which really brought home the suffering and sacrifice of the Russians during WW2. I don’t think I learned anything much from my trip to Tsarskoye Selo, but it sure is shiny.
In other news, Dr Hanna Paulouskaya has kindly contributed two excellent “player profiles” for the Brave New Classics website. She introduces us to the musician, musicologist and classical scholar, Yulyan Dreyzin (1879–1942), and the Soviet theatre maker Valentin Smyshlyayev (1891–1936). I hope these will be the first of many “guest posts” on the BNC site. Please do get in touch if you think you might have something to contribute. I want this website to be a platform for international collaboration. I am delighted to announce that Dr Sergey Krikh (Omsk University), who has worked extensively on Soviet Ancient Historiography, has bravely agreed to join the haughty ranks of BNC collaborators and advisors.
OK. Right. Until next time. Oh, one more thing. If you’re wondering why this post is called “A View from the Wild Surf” — you’ll have to listen to the podcast. In it you’ll find two of Jack Lindsay’s poems read by poets, Caroline Bird and Hannah Silva. And if that wasn’t enough, about halfway through I let slip a tried and tested method on how to shake off that post-writing haze. Here’s the link again.