Mary Magdalene: Everything’s Alright

( from “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber )

( from History’s Women )

Mary Magdalene
Try not to get worried
Try not to turn on to Problems that upset you
oh Don’t you know
Everything’s alright
Yes everything’s fine
And we want you to sleep well tonight Let the world turn without you tonight
If we try
We’ll get by
So forget all about us tonight

Apostles’ Women
Everything’s all right
Yes everything’s all right yes

Mary Magdalene
Sleep and I shall soothe you
Calm you and anoint you
Myrrh for your hot forehead
oh Then you’ll feel
Everything’s all right
Yes everything’s fine
And it’s cool and the ointment’s sweet
For the fire in your head and feet
Close your eyes
Close your eyes
And relax
Think of nothing tonight

Apostles’ Women

Everything’s all right
Yes everything’s all right yes

Woman your fine ointment
Brand new and expensive
Should have been saved for the poor
Why has it been wasted?
We could have raised maybe
Three hundred silver pieces or more
People who are hungry
People who are starving
Matter more
Than your feet and hair

Mary Magdalene
Try not to get worried
Try not to turn on to
Problems that upset you
oh Don’t you know
And we want you to sleep well tonight
Let the world turn without you tonight
If we try
We’ll get by
So forget all about us tonight

Everything’s all right
Yes everything’s all right yes

Surely you’re not saying
We have the resources
To save the poor from their lot?
There will be poor always
Pathetically struggling
Look at the good things you’ve got!
Think while you still have me
Move while you still see me
You’ll be lost
You’ll be so sorry
When I’m gone

Mary Magdalene
Sleep and I shall soothe you
Calm you and anoint you
Myrrh for your hot forehead
oh then you’ll feel
Everything’s alright
Yes everything’s fine
And it’s cool and the ointment’s sweet
For the fire in your head and feet
Close your eyes
Close your eyes
And relax
Think of nothing tonight

Apostles’ Women
Close your eyes
Close your eyes
And relax
Think of nothing

Everything’s all right
Yes everything’s all right yes

Jesus Christ

Judas “Heaven on their minds”
from the rock-opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyricas by Tim Rice

( from )

My mind is clearer now
At last
All too well
I can see
Where we all
Soon will be
If you strip away
The myth
From the man
You will see
Where we all
Soon will be

You’ve started to believe
The things they say of you
You really do believe
This talk of God is true

And all the good you’ve done
Will soon be swept away
You’ve begun to matter more
Than the things you say

Listen Jesus
I don’t like what I see
All I ask is that you listen to me
And remember
I’ve been your right hand man all along
You have set them all on fire
They think they’ve found the new Messiah
And they’ll hurt you when they find they’re wrong

I remember when this whole thing began
No talk of God then, we called you a man
And believe me
My admiration for you hasn’t died
But every word you say today
Gets twisted ’round some other way
And they’ll hurt you if they think you’ve lied

Nazareth’s most famous son
Should have stayed a great unknown
Like his father carving wood
He’d have made good
Tables, chairs and oaken chests
Would have suited Jesus best
He’d have caused nobody harm
No one alarm

Listen Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don’t you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied
Have you forgotten how put down we are?
I am frightened by the crowd
For we are getting much too loud
And they’ll crush us if we go too far
If we go too far

Listen Jesus to the warning I give
Please remember that I want us to live
But it’s sad to see our chances weakening with ev’ry hour
All your followers are blind
Too much heaven on their minds
It was beautiful, but now it’s sour
Yes it’s all gone sour
Ah — ah ah ah — ah
God Jesus, it’s all gone sour

Listen Jesus to the warning I give
Please remember that I want us to live


( from )

* * *

Bride of the Sun and Sister of the Moon

( from “Don Juan”  by Lord Byron, 1824)

A crowd of shivering slaves of every nation,
And age, and sex, were in the market ranged;
Each bevy with the merchant in his station:
Poor creatures! their good looks were sadly changed.
All save the blacks seem’d jaded with vexation,
From friends, and home, and freedom far estranged;
The negroes more philosophy display’d, —
Used to it, no doubt, as eels are to be flay’d…

Juan was juvenile, and thus was full,
As most at his age are, of hope and health;
Yet I must own he looked a little dull,
And now and then a tear stole down by stealth;
Perhaps his recent loss of blood might pull
His spirit down; and then the loss of wealth,
A mistress, and such comfortable quarters,
To be put up for auction amongst Tartars,

Were things to shake a stoic; ne’ertheless,
Upon the whole his carriage was serene:
His figure, and the splendour of his dress,
Of which some gilded remnants still were seen,
Drew all eyes on him, giving them to guess
He was above the vulgar by his mien;
And then, though pale, he was so very handsome;
And then — they calculated on his ransom…

Just now a black old neutral personage
Of the third sex stept up, and peering over
The captives, seem’d to mark their looks and age,
And capabilities, as to discover
If they were fitted for the purposed cage:
No lady e’er is ogled by a lover,
Horse by a blackleg, broadcloth by a tailor,
Fee by a counsel, felon by a jailor,

As is a slave by his intended bidder.
‘T is pleasant purchasing our fellow-creatures;
And all are to be sold, if you consider
Their passions, and are dext’rous; some by features
Are bought up, others by a warlike leader,
Some by a place — as tend their years or natures;
The most by ready cash — but all have prices,
From crowns to kicks, according to their vices.

The eunuch, having eyed them o’er with care,
Turn’d to the merchant, and begun to bid
First but for one, and after for the pair;
They haggled, wrangled, swore, too — so they did!
As though they were in a mere Christian fair
Cheapening an ox, an ass, a lamb, or kid;
So that their bargain sounded like a battle
For this superior yoke of human cattle…

The purchaser of Juan and acquaintance
Bore off his bargains to a gilded boat,
Embark’d himself and them, and off they went thence
As fast as oars could pull and water float;
They look’d like persons being led to sentence,
Wondering what next, till the caïque was brought
Up in a little creek below a wall
O’ertopp’d with cypresses, dark-green and tall…

Baba eyed Juan, and said, “Be so good
As dress yourself-” and pointed out a suit
In which a Princess with great pleasure would
Array her limbs; but Juan standing mute,
As not being in a masquerading mood,
Gave it a slight kick with his Christian foot;
And when the old negro told him to “Get ready,”
Replied, “Old gentleman, I’m not a lady.”

“What you may be, I neither know nor care,”
Said Baba; “but pray do as I desire:
I have no more time nor many words to spare.”
“At least,” said Juan, “sure I may enquire
The cause of this odd travesty?” — “Forbear,”
Said Baba, “to be curious; ‘t will transpire,
No doubt, in proper place, and time, and season:
I have no authority to tell the reason.” …

“I offer you a handsome suit of clothes:
A woman’s, true; but then there is a cause
Why you should wear them.” — “What, though my soul loathes
The effeminate garb?” — thus, after a short pause,
Sigh’d Juan, muttering also some slight oaths,
“What the devil shall I do with all this gauze?”
Thus he profanely term’d the finest lace
Which e’er set off a marriage-morning face…

One difficulty still remain’d — his hair
Was hardly long enough; but Baba found
So many false long tresses all to spare,
That soon his head was most completely crown’d,
After the manner then in fashion there;
And this addition with such gems was bound
As suited the ensemble of his toilet,
While Baba made him comb his head and oil it.

And now being femininely all array’d,
With some small aid from scissors, paint, and tweezers,
He look’d in almost all respects a maid,
And Baba smilingly exclaim’d, “You see, sirs,
A perfect transformation here display’d;
And now, then, you must come along with me, sirs,
That is — the Lady:” clapping his hands twice,
Four blacks were at his elbow in a trice.

“You, sir,” said Baba, nodding to the one,
‘Will please to accompany those gentlemen
To supper; but you, worthy Christian nun,
Will follow me: no trifling, sir; for when
I say a thing, it must at once be done.
What fear you? think you this a lion’s den?
Why, ‘t is a palace; where the truly wise
Anticipate the Prophet’s paradise…

Before they enter’d, Baba paused to hint
To Juan some slight lessons as his guide:
“If you could just contrive,” he said, “to stint
That somewhat manly majesty of stride,
‘T would be as well, and (though there’s not much in ‘t)
To swing a little less from side to side,
Which has at times an aspect of the oddest; —
And also could you look a little modest,

“‘T would be convenient; for these mutes have eyes
Like needles, which may pierce those petticoats;
And if they should discover your disguise,
You know how near us the deep Bosphorus floats;
And you and I may chance, ere morning rise,
To find our way to Marmora without boats,
Stitch’d up in sacks — a mode of navigation
A good deal practised here upon occasion.”

With this encouragement, he led the way
Into a room still nobler than the last;
A rich confusion form’d a disarray
In such sort, that the eye along it cast
Could hardly carry anything away,
Object on object flash’d so bright and fast;
A dazzling mass of gems, and gold, and glitter,
Magnificently mingled in a litter…

In this imperial hall, at distance lay
Under a canopy, and there reclined
Quite in a confidential queenly way,
A lady; Baba stopp’d, and kneeling sign’d
To Juan, who though not much used to pray,
Knelt down by instinct, wondering in his mind,
What all this meant: while Baba bow’d and bended
His head, until the ceremony ended.

The lady rising up with such an air
As Venus rose with from the wave, on them
Bent like an antelope a Paphian pair
Of eyes, which put out each surrounding gem;
And raising up an arm as moonlight fair,
She sign’d to Baba, who first kiss’d the hem
Of her deep purple robe, and speaking low,
Pointed to Juan who remain’d below.

Her presence was as lofty as her state;
Her beauty of that overpowering kind,
Whose force description only would abate:
I’d rather leave it much to your own mind,
Than lessen it by what I could relate
Of forms and features; it would strike you blind
Could I do justice to the full detail;
So, luckily for both, my phrases fail…

She spake some words to her attendants, who
Composed a choir of girls, ten or a dozen,
And were all clad alike; like Juan, too,
Who wore their uniform, by Baba chosen;
They form’d a very nymph-like looking crew,
Which might have call’d Diana’s chorus “cousin,”
As far as outward show may correspond;
I won’t be bail for anything beyond…

The lady eyed him o’er and o’er, and bade
Baba retire, which he obey’d in style,
As if well used to the retreating trade;
And taking hints in good part all the while,
He whisper’d Juan not to be afraid,
And looking on him with a sort of smile,
Took leave, with such a face of satisfaction
As good men wear who have done a virtuous action.

When he was gone, there was a sudden change:
I know not what might be the lady’s thought,
But o’er her bright brow flash’d a tumult strange,
And into her dear cheek the blood was brought,
Blood-red as sunset summer clouds which range
The verge of Heaven; and in her large eyes wrought,
A mixture of sensations might be scann’d,
Of half voluptuousness and half command.

Her form had all the softness of her sex,
Her features all the sweetness of the devil,
When he put on the cherub to perplex
Eve, and paved (God knows how) the road to evil;
The sun himself was scarce more free from specks
Than she from aught at which the eye could cavil;
Yet, somehow, there was something somewhere wanting,
As if she rather order’d than was granting…

Her very smile was haughty, though so sweet;
Her very nod was not an inclination;
There was a self-will even in her small feet,
As though they were quite conscious of her station —
They trod as upon necks; and to complete
Her state (it is the custom of her nation),
A poniard deck’d her girdle, as the sign
She was a sultan’s bride (thank Heaven, not mine!)…

Whate’er she saw and coveted was brought;
Whate’er she did not see, if she supposed
It might be seen, with diligence was sought,
And when ‘t was found straightway the bargain closed;
There was no end unto the things she bought,
Nor to the trouble which her fancies caused;
Yet even her tyranny had such a grace,
The women pardon’d all except her face.

Juan, the latest of her whims, had caught
Her eye in passing on his way to sale;
She order’d him directly to be bought,
And Baba, who had ne’er been known to fail
In any kind of mischief to be wrought,
At all such auctions knew how to prevail:
She had no prudence, but he had; and this
Explains the garb which Juan took amiss…

But to the main point, where we have been tending: —
She now conceived all difficulties past,
And deem’d herself extremely condescending
When, being made her property at last,
Without more preface, in her blue eyes blending
Passion and power, a glance on him she cast,
And merely saying, “Christian, canst thou love?”
Conceived that phrase was quite enough to move.

At length, in an imperial way, she laid
Her hand on his, and bending on him eyes
Which needed not an empire to persuade,
Look’d into his for love, where none replies:
Her brow grew black, but she would not upbraid,
That being the last thing a proud woman tries;
She rose, and pausing one chaste moment, threw
Herself upon his breast, and there she grew…

This was an awkward test, as Juan found,
But he was steel’d by sorrow, wrath, and pride:
With gentle force her white arms he unwound,
And seated her all drooping by his side,
Then rising haughtily he glanced around,
And looking coldly in her face, he cried,
“The prison’d eagle will not pair, nor I
Serve a Sultana’s sensual phantasy.

“Thou ask’st if I can love? be this the proof
How much I have loved — that I love not thee!
In this vile garb, the distaff, web, and woof,
Were fitter for me: Love is for the free!
I am not dazzled by this splendid roof,
Whate’er thy power, and great it seems to be;
Heads bow, knees bend, eyes watch around a throne,
And hands obey — our hearts are still our own.” …

A tigress robb’d of young, a lioness,
Or any interesting beast of prey,
Are similes at hand for the distress
Of ladies who can not have their own way;
But though my turn will not be served with less,
These don’t express one half what I should say:
For what is stealing young ones, few or many,
To cutting short their hopes of having any? …

If I said fire flash’d from Gulbeyaz’ eyes,
‘T were nothing — for her eyes flash’d always fire;
Or said her cheeks assumed the deepest dyes,
I should but bring disgrace upon the dyer,
So supernatural was her passion’s rise;
For ne’er till now she knew a check’d desire:
Even ye who know what a check’d woman is
(Enough, God knows!) would much fall short of this.

Her rage was but a minute’s, and ‘t was well —
A moment’s more had slain her; but the while
It lasted ‘t was like a short glimpse of hell:
Nought’s more sublime than energetic bile,
Though horrible to see yet grand to tell,
Like ocean warring ‘gainst a rocky isle;
And the deep passions flashing through her form
Made her a beautiful embodied storm…

Her first thought was to cut off Juan’s head;
Her second, to cut only his — acquaintance;
Her third, to ask him where he had been bred;
Her fourth, to rally him into repentance;
Her fifth, to call her maids and go to bed;
Her sixth, to stab herself; her seventh, to sentence
The lash to Baba: — but her grand resource
Was to sit down again, and cry of course…

Juan was moved; he had made up his mind
To be impaled, or quarter’d as a dish
For dogs, or to be slain with pangs refined,
Or thrown to lions, or made baits for fish,
And thus heroically stood resign’d,
Rather than sin — except to his own wish:
But all his great preparatives for dying
Dissolved like snow before a woman crying…

So he began to stammer some excuses;
But words are not enough in such a matter,
Although you borrow’d all that e’er the muses
Have sung, or even a Dandy’s dandiest chatter,
Or all the figures Castlereagh abuses;
Just as a languid smile began to flatter
His peace was making, but before he ventured
Further, old Baba rather briskly enter’d.

“Bride of the Sun! and Sister of the Moon!”
(‘T was thus he spake) “and Empress of the Earth!
Whose frown would put the spheres all out of tune,
Whose smile makes all the planets dance with mirth,
Your slave brings tidings — he hopes not too soon —
Which your sublime attention may be worth:
The Sun himself has sent me like a ray,
To hint that he is coming up this way.”…


( Photo by NeoromantikA )

She married her handsome prince and they lived happily ever after…

I’m sure you’ve seen this meme in lots of fairy tales. A dream of so many Cinderellas. Is life with princes really so sweet and happy? With some princes it might be, but with others… let’s have a look at a few real life stories.

Praskovya (1767 – 1803)
( Photo from )

“I felt the most tender and passionate feelings for her” – Sheremetev wrote about Praskovya in 1809. … Not that it started out that way.

The young count was fond of hunting and of chasing girls: and until his father died in 1788, when he took up the running of the family estates, Nikolai Petrovich spent most of his time in these sensual pursuits. The young squire often claimed his “rights” over the serf girls. During the day, while they were at work, he would go around the rooms of the girls on the estate and drop a handkerchief through the window of his chosen one. That night he would visit her and, before he left, would ask her to return his handkerchief. …

It is not exactly clear when the count and Praskovya became de facto “man and wife”. To begin with, she was only one of several serf “divas” given special treatment by her master. He named his favourite singers and dancers after jewels – “the Emerald” (Kovaleva), “The Garnet” (Shlykova) and “The Pearl” (Praskovya)… Everything suggests that they were the count’s harem – not least the fact that just before his marriage to Praskovya he had the rest of them married off and gave them all dowries. …

By the beginning of the 1790s Praskovya had become Sheremetev’s unofficial wife. It was no longer just the pleasures of the flesh that attracted him to her but, as he said, the beauty of her mind and soul as well. For the next ten years the count would remain torn between his love for her and his own high position in society. He felt that it was morally wrong not to marry Praskovya but his aristocratic pride would not allow him to do so. Marriages to serfs were extremely rare in the status-obsessed culture of the eighteenth-century Russian aristocracy … and unthinkable for a nobleman as rich and grand as him…

In the theatre the public sympathized with the unequal lovers and applauded the basic Enlightment ideal that informed such works: that all people are equal. But it did not take the same view in real life… Praskovyas situation was extremely difficult. Resented by the serfs, she was also shunned by society. It was only through her strength of character that she managed to retain her dignity.”

( from Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes )

* * *

Jan van Leyden (1509-1536)

The Dutch Anabaptist Jan Van Leyden (John of Leiden 1509-1536) led the Anabaptist attempt to establish by force a “kingdom of God” in Münster, Germany. They terrorized the rest of the citizens, also in the name of equality but equal under John the despot, who kept a harem. The kingdom satisfied one of the recurrent dreams of the occidental mind: community of goods and of women.

The traditional story of the introduction of polygamy in Münster is that van Leyden introduced polygamy to satisfy his lust for Jan Matthijas’ wife Divara. There are also stories that tell of van Leyden being seen sneaking into the rooms of a woman other than his wife and introducing polygamy to legitimate his actions. Adding to the evidence suggesting that van Leyden’s personal desires were at play is the fact that he took more wives than any other citizen in Münster, eighteen.

One of the most important social factors leading to the introduction of polygamy was the imbalance between numbers of men and women in the city of Münster after the ejection of those who refused baptism. Estimates are that in 1534, almost three-quarters of the adult population of Münster was female. Many women who had lived in Münster prior to the expulsion of those who refused to submit to adult baptism were left when their husbands were expelled from the city. It appears that the women were not forcibly expelled with the men. Their husbands often left them in Münster with their children to maintain the household and businesses until the men were able to return. Although some of these women may have had sympathies with the Anabaptists, many of them are likely to have desired the return of exiled men. These women will have been seen as threats to the stability of the Anabaptist control of Münster.

Something was going to shift in the role women played in society. The situation could, for instance, have turned into a moment in history when women were granted additional rights and responsibilities in society. But with Jan van Leyden’s theology greater freedom for women was not in the cards.

On July 23, 1534, Jan van Leyden announced the institution of polygamy. He ordered that all marriages contracted under the previous system were no longer valid. All single women were to be married, including those whose husbands were no longer around. A man who impregnated his wife was required to take another, and a third if he impregnated the second.

John’s name still lives on in the Netherlands in the saying ‘zich met een Jan(tje) van Leiden van iets afmaken’, which means ‘getting something done with pretty but empty words’.

(from )

 * * *

Lev Tolstoy 1828 – 1910

“Tolstoy’s diaries are filled with details of his conquests of the female serfs on his estate – a diary he presented, according to the custom, to his bride Sonya on the eve of their wedding… In addition to the thirteen children Sonya bore, there were at least a dozen other children fathered by him in the villages of his estate.

Sonya was eighteen when she married Tolstoy – rather young by European standards but not by Russian ones. Eighteen was in fact the average age of marriage for women in nineteenth-century Russia – far younger than even in those pre-industrial parts of western Europe.

Later Tolstoy would confess that he had ‘acted badly and cruelly – as every husband acts towards his wife. I gave her all the hard work, the so-called “women’s work”, and went hunting or enjoyed myself.”

( from Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes )

* * *

Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria
1899 – 1953

Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was a Soviet politician and chief of the Soviet security and police apparatus. Beria is now remembered chiefly as the executor of Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s, even though he actually presided only over the closing stages of the purge. He was in charge of the Katyn executions, where over 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia were murdered.

Charges of sexual assault and sexual sadism against Beria were first made in the speech by a Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Nikolay Shatalin, at the Plenary Meeting of the committee on July 10, 1953, two weeks after Beria’s arrest. Shatalin said that Beria had had sexual relations with numerous women and that he had contracted syphilis as a result of his sex with prostitutes. Shatalin referred to a list (supposedly kept by Beria’s bodyguard) of over 25 women with whom Beria had sex. Over time, however, the charges became more dramatic. Khrushchev in his posthumously published memoirs wrote: “We were given a list of more than 100 names of women. They were dragged to Beria by his people. And he had the same trick for them all: all who got to his house for the first time, Beria would invite for a dinner and would propose to drink for the health of Stalin. And in wine, he would mix in some sleeping pills…” Afterwards he would drop off his charge and the chaffuer would give them a boquet of flowers. One pregnant victim, having refused his advances, was accidentally given the flowers. On noticing Beria shouted “it’s not a boquet, it’s a wreath. May they rot on your grave”. She was later arrested.

By the 1980s, the sexual assault stories about Beria included the rape of teenage girls. The author Anton Antonov-Ovseenko, who wrote a biography of Beria, mentions in an interview a specific sexual game Beria is said to have forced upon young girls before picking one of them to be raped. This alleged practice got the name “Beria’s Flower Game”.

Numerous stories have circulated over the years involving Beria personally beating, torturing and killing his victims.

( from Wikipedia )

* * *


Uday Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti
18 June 1964 – 22 July 2003

Uday Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti (Arabic: عُدي صدّام حُسين‎) was the eldest son of Saddam Hussein from his first wife, Sajida Talfah, and the brother of Qusay Hussein.

He was a monster even by the standards of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a sadist with a taste for cruelty so extreme that even his father was forced to acknowledge that his first-born son would not be a worthy heir.

Uday’s excesses carried over in his private life where he had a reputation for ordering any girl or woman who caught his eye to be brought to his private pleasure dome.

A report released on 20 March 2003, one day after the American led invasion of Iraq, by ABC news detailed several allegations against Uday, including:

  • Kidnapping young Iraqi women from the streets in order to rape them. Uday was known to intrude on parties and otherwise “discover” women whom he would later rape. Time published an article in 2003 detailing his sexual brutality.
  • Beating an army officer unconscious when the man refused to allow Uday to dance with his wife; the man later died of his injuries. Uday also shot and killed an army officer who did not salute him.

From Wikipedia and
Uday: career of rape, torture and murder

 * * *

Russian proverb from the “good old days”: “Do not promote me to Corporal, but do not touch my wife”

( Photo by blast99 )


It is good for a man…

“It is good for a man to have nothing to do with a woman. But because of the desires of the flesh, let every man have his wife, and every woman her husband. Let the husband give to the wife what is right; and let the wife do the same to the husband. The wife has not power over her body, but the husband; and in the same way the husband has not power over his body, but the wife. Do not keep back from one another what is right, but only for a short time, and by agreement, so that you may give yourselves to prayer, and come together again; so that Satan may not get the better of you through your loss of self-control…”

( Bible in Basic English )

( Photo by -seven- )


There ain’t nobody that can sing like me…

( Photo by gerrFlu )

I lived in a place called Okfuskee
and I had a little girl in a holler tree
I said, little girl, it’s plain to see,
there ain’t nobody that can sing like me

She said it’s hard for me to see
how one little boy got so ugly
Yes, my little girly, that might be,
but there ain’t nobody that can sing like me
Ain’t nobody that can sing like me,
way over yonder in the minor key
Way over yonder in the mnor key,
there ain’t nobody that can sing like me.

We walked down by the Buckeye Creek
to see the frog eat the goggle eye bee
To hear that west wind whistle to the east
there ain’t nobody that can sing like me.

Oh my little girly will you let me see,
way over yonder where the wind blows free
Nobody can see in our holler tree
and there ain’t nobody that can sing like me

Her mama cut a switch from a cherry tree
and laid it on the she and me,
It stung lots worse than a hive of bees
but there ain’t nobody that can sing like me

Now I have walked a long long ways
and I still look back to my tanglewood days,
I’ve led lots of girls since then to stray
saying, ain’t nobody that can sing like me.

( “Way over yonder in the minor key”
Words by Woody Guthrie (1946)
Music by Billy Bragg (1997) )

* * *

( Photo by sha-sha )

Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart,
‘Tis woman’s whole existence; man may range
The court, camp, church, the vessel, and the mart;
Sword, gown, gain, glory, offer in exchange
Pride, fame, ambition, to fill up his heart,
And few there are whom these cannot estrange;
Men have all these resources, we but one,
To love again, and be again undone.

( from “Don Juan” by Lord Byron, 1824)

( Photo by R E N O )


A Shameless Rascal

( by Nikolay Leskov, 1877.
Translated by Michael Shotton )

( from G. Chernetsov’s painting, 1837 )

Having returned to Petersburg after the Crimean War, I turned up one day at the house of Stepan Aleksandrovich Khrulyov (General S.A.Khrulyov (1807-1870) was one of the heroes of the Crimean War, noted above all for commanding the valiant defenders of the famous Malakhov Kurgan in Sevastopol) and encountered there a large and motley company: there were military men from all the services, amongst them a few of our lads from the Black Sea Fleet, who’d got to know Stepan Aleksandrovich in the trenches at Sebastopol. I needn’t tell you how delighted I was to meet these mates of mine, and we sailors settled ourselves down at a separate table: we were having a yearn and taking a glass of sherry or two… I can remember what started the conversation off – it was a book that had just come out calles The Dirty Side of the Crimean War. It caused quite a sensation at the time; we had all read every last word of it and were pretty hot under the collar as a result. Well, you can understand it. The book dealt with the abuses that lay at the root of most of our recent suffering – suffering that was still very fresh in the memory of all those who had taken part in the defence of Sebastopol; it all touched us on a very raw nerve. Above all else the book exposed the thieving and embezzlement by people in the commissariat and victualling service, thanks to which all of us had time and again tasted the pleasures of hunger and thirst, cold and damp.

Now as you can imagine, the exposure in print of all these dirty going-on sparked off individual memories in every one of us, and brought to the boil a good deal of simmering resentment: so, naturally enough, we started blowing off steam. It was a very companionable activity: there we sat, vying to think up ever ruder names for those good friends of ours, the commissaries. At this point, the chap sitting alongside me, another of our Black Sea lads, Captain Yevgraf Ivanovich, a graduate of the Nakhimov Naval Academy, an extraordinarily kindly fellow and a bit of a stutterer, grabs me by the knee under the table and goes suddenly all coy…

“What on earth can he want?” I think to myself.

“Excuse me, my dear chap,” I say, “but if you need something a bit private, call a waiter, will you? I’m a visitor here myself, and I don’t know where it is.”

But he just stammered something or other and started doing the same thing again. Now I’m the sort of silly fellow who gets all worked up for no reason at all; what’s more, I was already fairly steamed up by all these reminiscences, and on top of that I’m terribly ticklish, and there was this Yevgraf Ivanovich, as bold as brass, tickling my knee with his fingers, just like the soft lips of a nuzzling calf.

“Hey, Yevgraf Ivanovich, turn it in, will you?” I say. “What do you think you’re up to? I’m not a woman, you know, for you to play kneesy-kneesy with under the table. You can tell me your feelings out loud.”

At which poor old Yevgraf Ivanovich – what a priceless fellow! – gets even more flustered, and sayd in a whisper: “What a sh-sh-shameless fellow you are, Porfiry Nikitich.”

“I don’t know about me,” I say, “It’s you that looks more like the shameless one to me. The way you go on, anyone could suspect us of belonging to some pernicious sect or other.”

“How c-c-can you… I m-m-mean, really, one sh-sh-shouldn’t speak of c-c-commissaries and supply officers like that.”

“And why should you,” I ask, “why should you want to speak up for them?”

“I’m not s-s-speaking up for them,” whispers Yevgraf Ivanovich in an even more hushed voice, “but can’t you see who’s sitting two paces away behind your back?”

Thereupon I turned round and looked: at the table behind me sat this great lump of a man in the uniform jacket of the victualling service, the very image, as Gogol put it, of ‘a pig in a skull-cap’. There he sits, the swine, stacking huge amounts of money on the cards, in the sort of nonchalant manner that was guaranteed to outrage downtrodden beggards like me: it was as if he were saying: “Win or lose, I don’t care. I do this strictly for the fun of it, because my granary is full. Eat, drink and be merry, that’s my motto!” In a word, it was enough to make any poor beggar’s gorge rise!

“Well, how do you like that?” I said. “A prize specimen, and no mistake! How didn’t I notice him before?” And, do you know, seeing the enemy at close range like that, I don’t know what devil got into me, and instead of keeping my mouth shut, I started off on the same tack, even louder than before, and, what’s more, laying it on as thick as I knew how.

“Brigands!” I say, “leeches, that’s what they are, these greedy-guts of commissaries! While the blood of us poor officers and soldiers was, as you might say, dripping into the Crimean dirt like beetroot kvass through a leaky bung, what were they doing? Robbing us, they were, lining their rascally pockets, building themselves houses and buying themselves country estates!”

Yevgraf Ivanovich nearly choked as he whispered:

“G-g-give it a rest!”

But I go on:

‘Why should I? Isn’t it the truth that we were perishing of hunger: that thanks to their good offices what we got for grub was mouldy salt beef and cabbage; that we bound our wounds with straw instead of lint, while they were swigging their sherry and dry madeira?”

I really went to town at their expense, I can tell you. The chaps I’d been talking to, seeing that I was getting up a good head of steam, let me get on with it, thugh now and again the ones who’d had a drop more to drink would laugh and start tapping their sherry glasses with their fingernails. As for dear old Yevgraf Ivanovich, poor timid chap, he was absolutely covered in confusion on my behalf: he picked up a handful of deuces from the table, spread them with both hands into a fan and hid his face behind them, whispering:

“Ooh, Porfiry Nikitich, ooh, the sh-sh-shameless fellow, what is he going on about? Have a bit of m-m-mercy…”

This coyness of his made me even more furious.

“That’s just the way it always is with us Russians,” I thought, “the man who’s right, the one with a clean conscience, sits and blushes, while the double-dyed rogue, just like Vaska, the cat who’s stolen the cream, stuffs his belly with what he’s pinched and doesn’t twitch a whisker.”

And with that I took a look behind me at the table where the commissary who had irritated me so much was sitting, and I could see that indeed he hadn’t twitched a whisker. It just wasn’t possible that he hadn’t heard all my pronouncements to the world at large about his esteemed fraternity: yet he was sitting quite unmoved, smoking a large fragrant cigar and playing a trump. And since everything about a man depends a good deal on the mood he’s in, it seemed to me that he played his trump, or, for that matter, all his cards, in a somehow similarly revolting manner. You know what I mean – it was as though he tossed them down without so much as a flick of the fingers, as if to say: “There, you scum, take that, and see if I care.” I hated him all the more because he had, you might say, scored a point off my by remaining so unruffled. There’s me, spitting my seams, hurling abuse, snapping at him like a mongrel at an elephant, and he doesn’t even bat an eyelid. So I come on even stronger.

“You’re having us on,” I thought to myself, “and may the wolves devour you! I’ll stir you into action, you see if I don’t. I, my lad, am a Russian and I shan’t stand on ceremony. Whether my host likes it or not, I’m going to hit you where it hurts.” And hit him I did. I let fly everything I knew about him personally, in light allegorical disguise.

“We decent Russian folk,” I said, “whom nobody would dare accuse of thieving, we, who were wounded and maimed in the war, still can’t get a job for ourselves anywhere; we haven’t even got enough to feed our wives. But these arch-swindlers, once they’ve made a name for themselves as first-rate locusts, they never look back; they’ve got a job in the service even in peacetime, their wives go around in silk and velvet, and their floozies are even better turned out…”

On I went, ranting and raving, till I finally gave up, exhausted… I was running out of words and my throat was getting sore, but still he didn’t turn a hair. The fact was, he was holding all the trumps: even Yevgraf Ivanovich noticed as much, and started chaffing me:

“W-W-Well,” he whispers, “well, old f-f-fellow, and where’s all your eff-ff-ffrontery got you, eh?”

“You keep your ‘old f-f-fellow’ to yourself,” I answered, “and sit quiet.”

But to be honest, you know, I really did feel crushed. What’s more, all I’d seen so far was the blossom; the berries were still to come.

Shortly before supper the card game broke up; the players started settling their accounts. Our victualler had won a fortune; he pulled from his pocket a monstrous great wallter stuffed with hundred-rouble notes and added his winnings to them – another twenty or so of the same. He then tucked the whole lot back in his pocket with the same unperturbed, but very perturbing, nonchalance.

Well, at this point everyone got to their feet and took a stroll to stretch their legs. Just then our host came up to our table and said:

“So, my good fellows, what have you been up to? Loafing about and scandal-mongering, it would appear.

“Could you hear us too?” I said.

“I should think I could,” he says. “Your worship was bawling as though he were on the deck of a ship.”

“Stepan Aleksandrovich,” I said, “I beg you, please forgive me.”

“What do I have to forgive you for? It’s God that’ll forgive you.”

“I lost my temper,” I said, “I just couldn’t restrain myself.”

“And why should you have?”

“When I saw him,” I said, “I just boiled up inside, and even though I felt that I was putting you in an awkward position…”

“What on earth did you do that affects me?”

“Well he is your guest…”

“Oh that… Listen, old man, that’s nothing to me. All sorts of types turn up here. I’ve set up the ark, and all sorts of creatures come in two by two: the riff-raff come in dozens. This Anempodist Petrovich, by the way, is a very clever type; he won’t take umbrage at trifles like that.”

“He won’t?” I asked in surprise.

“Of course he won’t.”

“You mean he’s so thick-skinned?”

“Thick-skinned? Good heavens, no. On the contraty, he’s a sensitive man; but he’s canny, and takes a broad view of things. What’s more, he’s no raw apprentice in these matters; he’s taken a beating or two in his time, I don’t doubt. As for your rude names, people call his type rude names wherever they go.”

“And yet they still do go everywhere – to people’s houses?”

“Why shouldn’t they, if people let them in, or even invite them?”

Host or no host, that angered me.

“That’s just the problem with us, your honour,” I say. “We curse worthless types like that, then welcome them into our homes.”…

“There’s no other way it can be…. You’ve got to look at all this in a sensible way, from the point of view of personal advantage, and not like you sailors do, with your silly idealism. That’s why you’re such a useless lot.”

“What do you mean by that?” I said.

“Exactly what I say: you’re about as useful as a fifth leg on a donkey. Let’s imagine, for instance, that you’re looking for a job and I put in a good word for you along the following lines: ‘This chap is an officer in the Black Sea Fleet, as honest as the day is long, never puts his hand in the till or lets anyone else do the same and will go to the wall in the cause of justice.’ Well, I won’t get you the job, and I won’t do myself any good either. They’ll call me a fool for taking your part. They’ll say: ‘He’s a fine enough fellow, that friend of yours, but we don’t need a man like that, we need someone who’s not quite do perfect.’ So the fact is, I shan’t go and put in a word for you, whereas for him, for that fine gentleman over there (our host nodded in the direction of the commissary, who was standing at the buffet table” I’d put my oar in anywhere, because in our sort of society types like that are always in demand, and guarantee success to whoever takes them on.”

“Are you trying to tell me,” I said, “that that’s how it has to be?”

“Yes, of course. You see, he’s a very smart, adaptable sort of fellow; anyone can see how best to make use of him; whereas you – what good are you to anyone? With your fine sense of truth and justice, you’ll just squabble with everybody. The only thing to do with your sort is pick them up by the tail and toss them back on a ship, because here on shore you’ll just sit and gather dust.”…

( ‘Brig “Mercury” Attacked by Two Turkish Ships’
by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1892 )



A Man of Weight or Chasing out the Devil

( by Nikolay Leskov, 1879.
Abridged. )

( by Petr Shmelkov )

The ritual of chasing out the devil can be observed nowhere else than in Moscow, and then only if you have particularly good luck and special patronage.

I witnessed it from beginning to end thanks to a fortunate concurrence of circumstances, and I wish to record it for the benefit of those who really know and love the serious and sublime aspects of our national customs.

Although on my father’s side I come of gentry stock, on the other side I am close to the ‘people’: my mother’s family were merchants. She came of a wealthy household, but fell in love with my father and eloped with him. My late father was a ladies’ man, and if he set his cap at a girl, usually got his way. So it was with mama, but her parents paid him back for his artfulness by giving her nothing, apart, that is, from a trousseau, some bed linen and the wish that God might show her mercy – all of which she received together with their forgiveness and eternal blessing. My folk lived in Oryol, poorly but proudly, asking no favours of their rich relatives on my mother’s side, indeed having nothing to do with them at all. However, when the time came for me to go to university, mama began to urge me:

“Do go and visit Uncle Ilya Fedoseyevich, and send him my greetings. Don’t think of it as an indignity; one should respect one’s elderly relatives, and he is my brother, a devout man, and a man of weight in Moscow. He is unfailingly hospitable – always goes out first to meet his guests with a dish of bread and salt or an icon, and he has been received by the Governor-General in the company of the Metropolitan… There’s all sorts of useful lessons you could learn from him.”…

I had learned as a child to respect my elders, especially those who hobnobbed both with the Metropolitan and with Governor-Generals. So I roused myself, brushed myself down, and set off to visit Uncle Ilya Fedoseyevich…

I entered the courtyeard: by the front door horses were waiting, regular lions of horses, jet-black, with flowing manes and coats shining like the finest satin; they were harnessed to a carriage.

I climbed the steps to the porch and said my piece: nephew, student, kindly announce to Ilya Fedoseyevich, etc. The servants replied: “The master will be down himself in a moment: he is going for a drive.”

There emerged a very simple, Russian figure of a man, but rather grand; his eyes were very like my mother’s, but the expression was quite different – very much that of what is known as “a man of weight”.

I introduced myself. He heard me out in silence, quietly gave me his hand and said: “Get in, let’s take a drive.”

My first instinct was to refuse, but I somehow faltered and got into the carriage.

“To the park!” he ordered.

Our ‘lions’ immediately jerked forward and set off briskly, setting the back of the carriage gently bouncing up and down: when we left the city behind, they broke into an even sharper pace.

We sat without exchanging a word, but I noticed that my uncle had tipped his top-hat forward over his forehead, and his face wore the sort of pained expression one associates with acute boredom.

He kept looking about him, then fired a glance at me, and out of the blue said:

“I’ve lost all taste of life.”

I could think of no reply to that, so kept silent.

We drove on. I thought: “Where is he taking me?” I began to get the feeling that I had perhaps chanced upon something very interesting.

My uncle meanwhile, as though he had suddenly seen a light, began firing a series of rapid orders at the coachman:

‘To the right; now left. Pull up by the Yar!”

Before my eyes, the staff of the restaurant poured out to meet us, and began bowing and scraping before my uncle. He, without stirring from his seat, sent for the proprietor. Someone ran off to fetch him. A Frenchman appeared, likewise oozing respect. My uncle, still without stirring, tapped his teeth with the ivory knob of his cane and said:

“How many outsiders?”

“Thirty or so in the dining rooms,” replied the Frenchman, “and three private rooms are in use.”

“Get rid of the lot of them!”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s now seven,” said my uncle, glancing at his watch. “I’ll be back at eight. Will you be ready?”

“No,” came the reply. “Eight will be difficult… many of them have ordered… but if you would care to come back at nine, the whole restaurant will be cleared.”


“What shall I provide?”

“Gypsies, of course.”


“An orchestra.”


“Better two.”

“Shall I send for Ryabyka?”

“Of course.”

“French ladies?”



“The lot.”

“And food?”

“Give me the menu!”

The carte du jour was handed to my uncle.

He studied it, apparently without understanding a word, or maybe he had no wish to understand. He tapped the menu with his cane and said:

“All of it – for a hundred persons.”

With that, he rolled up the menu and tucked it into his caftan.

The Frenchman, despite his delight, hesitated.

“I can’t manage everything for a hundred people. Some of the dishes are so expensive that I don’t have enough in the restaurant for more than five or six portions.”

“Well, you can’t expect me to treat some of my guests differently from others. Give all of them what they want. Understood?”


“Otherwise, my firend, even Ryabyka won’t be able to do anything about it. Drive on!”

Our carriage rolled off, leaving the propiretor and his staff standing at the door.

At this point I became finally convinced that I was completely out of my depth, and made a half-hearted effort to take my leave; but my uncle wasn’t listening. He was very preoccupied. As we drove along we kept stopping people, one after the other; to each of them my uncle said briefly: “Nine o’clock at the Yar.” And every single person he said thsi to – respectable-looking old fellows, the lot of them – doffed his hat and replied, equally laconically: “Delighted, Fedoseyich, delighted.”

I don’t recall precisely how many people we stopped in this way – about twenty, I should think – by which time it was nine o’clock and we were rolling up to the Yar once again. A whole crowd of servants tumbled out to meet us: they gave my uncle an arm on both sides, while the Frenchman waited in the porch to bruch the dust from his trousers with a napkin.

“Have they all gone?” my uncle asked.

“There’s one general,” the restaurateur replied, “Who’s a bit slow, and has specially asked to be allowed to fis\nish his meal in his private room.”

“Out with him at once!”

“He’ll finish very soon.”

“I don’t want him here; I gave him time enough, he can go and finish out on the grass.”

It’s hard to say how this might have ended: fortunately, at that moment the general emerged, accompanied by two ladies, got into a carriage and drove off, just as the guests to whom my uncle had issued invitations in the park began to arrive at the door.

The restaurant was clean, tidy, and empty of clientele. In one of the rooms, however, a giant of a man was sitting; he greeted my uncle without a word, took his cane, and put it away somewhere.

My uncle surrendered the cane without demur, and at the same time handed over to the giant his wallet and his purse.

This massive, greying figure was none other than Ryabyka, the subject of my uncle’s order to the restaurateur – an order which at the time I did not understand. By profession Ryabyka was some sort of ‘schoolteacher’, but he clearly had some particular function here too: he was every bit as necessary as the gypsies, the orchestra and the rest of the paraphernalia, which had appeared as if by magic, and complete to the last detail. I couldn’t fathom the role of this schoolteacher, but I still had a lot to learn.

The brightly lit restaurant was abuzz with activity: music blared, gypsies strolled about, picking up drinks and a bite to eatfrom the buffet. My uncle was inspecting the dining rooms, the garden, the grotto and the gallery, looking for ‘outsiders’. With him went his inseparable companion, the schoolteacher. When they returned to the main hall, however, where the guests were assembled, it was easy to detect a considerable difference between them: their tour of the premises had not affected them equally: for whereas the teacher was as sober as when they had set out, my uncle was completely drunk.

How this could have happened so quickly is a mystery: still, my uncle was in fine spirits. He sat down in the place of honour and the festivities began.

The doors were locked, and as far as the outside world was concerned the order was given: “Let no man cross thence hither, not thither hence.” Between the outside world and ourselves a chasm yawned – a chasm of abundance, of wine and food, above all of revelry; I do not mean debauch, but wild, furious revelry, such as I cannot find words to describe. It would, in any case, be pointless to ask that of me, since, seeing myself trapped here in isolation from the world, I took fright and hastened to get drunk too. I will therefore give no account of the events of that night, because it is beyon the power of my pen to describe it all; I recall only two moments of the battle and its finale – but it was these moments that largely accounted for the sense of awe I felt.

Someone came to say that a certain Ivan Stepanovich was at the door – I subsequently discovered that he was one of Moscow’s leading factory-owners and merchants.

This caused a slight interruption.

“I said, did I not, that no one was to be admitted,” was my uncle’s response.

“His honour is very insistent.”

“Tell him to clear off back to wherever he came from.”

The servant went away, but timidly returned.

“Ivan Stepanovich,” he said, “asked me to tell you that he begs you most humbly to admit him.”

“No, I don’t want him.”

One or two of the others said: “Let him pay a fine.”

“No, send him packing. I’m not interested in fines.”

The servant came back once more and even more timidly announced.

“His honour is prepared to pay any fine you like: it’s just that his honour says it’s very sad for him, at his age, not to keep pace with his fellows.”

My uncle rose to his feet, eyes flashing. At this moment Ryabyka also stood up, towering between my uncle and the servant. With his left hand he tossed the latter to one side, as though plucking a feather from a chicken; with his right hand he eased my uncle back on to his chair.

From among the guests voices were raised in support of Ivan Stepanovich: they asked that he be admitted on payment of a hundered roubles for the musicians.

“The old fellow is one of us, he’s a pious man, how can we turn him away? He might feel rejected and cause a scene in front of the common folk. We should take pity of him.”

My uncle listened carefully and said:

“If it can’t be done my way, it won’t be done your way either. Let is be done God’s way. I’ll let Ivan Stepanovich in, but only if he plays the kettle-drum.”

A messenger was despatched and returned with the words:

“His honour asks that you should rather make him pay a fine.”

“He can go to the devil! If he won’t play the drum, it’s up to him – he can clear off wherever he pleases.”

It wasn’t long before Ivan Stepanovich gave in and sent to say that he agreed to play the kettle-drum.

“Let him in.”

The man who entered was trying hard to put on an imposing and dignified air. His appearance was austere, his eyes lacklustre, his back bent, his beard unkempt and streaked with green. He made as if to exchange greetings and pleasantries with the company, but was quickly checked.

“Later, later, we’ll have that later,” my uncle shouted at him, ” but now, beat your drum.”

“Beat your drum!” the others chorused.

“Give us some music – for the ketttle-drum!”

The orchestra struck up something noisy. Our stately old man took up the wooden drumsticks and began beating the kettledrum, half in time, half out of time with the music.

The shouting and the din were positively infernal. The whole company was yelling in delight:


Ivan Stepanovich did his best to drum harder.

“Louder, louder, still louder!”

The old man hammered for all he was worth, like the Moorish king in Freiligrath’s poem, and finally things reached their desired climax. The drum emitted a desperate rending sound, the drumskin split, everyone burst into laughter, the din reached unimaginable proportions, and Ivan Stepanovich was fined five hundred roubles to compensate the musicians for the ruined drum.

He paid up, wiped his mouth, and sat down. Only then, as everyone was drinking his health, did he notice, to his considerable dismay, that his own son-in-law was sitting among the guests.

The laughter and the din started up again and went on until I finally srifted into a stupor. I remembered in my few lucid moments seeing the gypsy girls dancing, and my uncle sitting in his chair, jerking his legs in time to the music. Then he got up to confront someone, but the figure of Ryabyka immediately rose to separate them, and someone was sent flying, and my uncle sat down, while in front of him two forks stood with their prongs driven into the table top. I now understood what Ryabyka was there for.

Then at last the freshness of a Moscow morning was wafting in through the window, and I returned vaguely to consciousness, though, it seemed, only in order to question whether I had lost my reason entirely. A battle was in progress, a forest was being felled: I heard a cracking and a crashing; trees was swaying, exotic virgin forest, while behind them swarthy faces huddled together in a corner; near me, down at the roots, there was the terrifying gleam of axe blades; my uncle was chopping, the old man Ivan Stepanovich was chopping… A scene straight from the Middle Ages.

What was happening was the the gypsy girls, who had hidden behind the trees in the grotto, were being ‘taken captive’. Their menfolk were not defending them, but had left them to their own devices. How much of this was in fun and how much in earnest, I could not tell: plates, chairs, and stones from the grotto were flying through theair, while the wood-choppers continues with the frenzied labours, with Ivan Stepanovich adn my uncle hacking away even more zealously than the rest.

At last the fortress fell: the gypsy girls were seized, embraced, smothered in kisses: each captor stuffed a hundred-rouble note into his captive’s corsage – and that was the end of the affair.

Yes, suddenly everything went quite… it was all over. There was nothing to stop it going on, but they had had enough. Just as they had felt that, without this, ‘they had no more taste for life’, so now they felt satisfied.

There had been plenty for everyone, and everyone had had his fill. The fact that the teacher announced that it was ‘time for school’ might also have had something to do with it – but then, perhaps it didn’t. Walpurgis-night had passed, and life could now begin to be lived again. The guests did not take their leave and go their separate ways, they simply vanished. The musicians and the gypsies had already gone. The restaurant was a total wreck; no drape was untorn, no mirror intact, even the central chandelier lay shattered on the floor, where its cut-glass prisms were trodden beneath the dragging feet of the exhausted servants. My uncle sat alone in the middle of a sofa, drinking kvass. Every now and then some memory of the night would come back to him and his legs would twitch. Beside him stood Ryabyka, waiting to hurry off to school.

The bill was presented: it was short and all-inclusive.

Ryabyka studied it carefully and demanded a reduction of fifteen hundred roubles. After a brief argument, they arrived at a total of seventeen thousand roubles. Ryabyka, maintaining his watching eye, pronounced it fair. My uncle said curtly: “Pay!”, put on his hat and with a nod motioned to me to follow him.

To my dismay I saw that he had forgotten nothing, and there was no hiding from him. I was absolutely in awe of him, and could not imagine how I might remain alone in the company of this man in his present state of euphoria. He had taken me along with him without a word of explanation, now he was dragging me off somewhere else and I couldn’t get away. What would become of me? Even my Dutch courage had now completely evaporated. I was, quite simply, afraid of this dreadful wild beast with his extravagant fancies and terrifying energy. In the meantime, we were about to leave. In the lobby we were besieged by a crowd of lackeys. My uncle ordered: “Five each”, and Ryabyka paid out the money. The yard-porters, watchmen, constables and members of the gendermerie who had rendered us some service were also paid, though a smaller sum. All these demands were satisfied: but it added up to a tidy sum, and out in the park, as far as the eye could see, the coachmen were waiting. There were colossal numbers of them, and they too were waiting for us, waiting for the good gentleman Ilya Fedoseyevich ‘in case his honour should require anything to be fetched’.

They were counted, and the sum of three roubles for each of them was handed over. my uncle and I then got into our carriage, and Ryabyka handed back my uncle’s wallet.

Ilya Fedoseyevich took out a hundred-rouble note and handed it to Ryabyka.

He turned the note over in his hands and said curtly: “Too little”.

My uncle added two more twenty-fives.

“It’s still not enough: remember, there wasn’t a single ugly scene.”

My uncle added another twenty-five, whereupon the teacher handed him his cane and, with a bow, took his leave.

Left to each other’s company, we dashed back towards Moscow, while behind us the rag-tag gang of coachmen whooped and rattled along at breakneck speed. I couldn’t fathom what it was they wanted, but my uncle knew well enough. It was an outrage: they hoped he would hand over another tip, just to persuade them to go away; and so, under the guise of doing Ilya Fedoseyevich special honour, they were deliberately exposing this most worshipful person to public humiliation.

Moscow lay immediately before us in full view. It lay bathed in the glorious morning light and the fine haze of chimney smoke, through which came the peaceful sound of church bells, summoning the faithful to prayer.

On both sides of the road, stretching up to the city gates, stood rows of chandlers’ shops. My uncle pulled up at the first of them, walked over to a limewood tub standing by the entrance and asked:



“How much for the tub?”

“We sell it loose, by the pound.”

“Well, sell me the lot. Work out the price.”

As I recall, it came out at about seventy or eighty roubles.

My uncle casually handed over the money.

Meanwhile our cortege had caught up with us.

“Well, my fine lads, coachmen of this city, and do you love me?”

“How can you ask, sir? We are always at your honour’s…”

“And do you have warm feelings for me?”

“We do, sir, we do.”

“Then take off your wheels.”

They stared at him in bewilderment.

“Come on, come one!” my uncle ordered.

The sharper once, some twenty of them or so, jumped down, fished out spanners from under the coach-box and began loosening the wheel nuts.

“Right,” said my uncle, “now smear the axles with honey.”

“But sir!”

“Get on with it!”

“To use such good stuff… it would be better to put it in our mouths.”

“Get on!”

Without further ado, my uncle got back int oour carriage and we charged off again, while the coachmen, the whole gang of them, were left with their wheels off, standing over a tub of honey – which they doubtless did not use to grease the axles, but either divided up amongst themselves, or sold back to the chandler. In any case, we were rid of them, and promptly drew up at the publicbaths. I thought my end had come; I sat immersed in a marble bathtub, more dead than alive. My uncle meantime had stretched himself out on the floor, not in the simple way men ordinarily lie, but in a pose which had something of the apocalyptic about it. The enormous bulk of his massive frame was entirely supported upon the very tips of his fingers and his toes; his pink body, propped up on these slender fulcra, quivered beneath a well-directed spray of icy water; he was making that sort of subdued bellowing noise that is made by a bear when it tries to tear out its nose-ring. This went on for half an hour or so, during which time he continued to tremble all over like a jelly on a wobbly table, until finally he leapt to his feet and demanded some kvass. We dressed and set off for the ‘Frenchman’s’ establishment on the Kuznetsky Most.

Here our hair was lightly trimmed, waved and dressed; we then continued on foot into the city, to my uncle’s store.

While all this was going on, he neither spoke to me nor let me from his side. Only once did he break silence to say: “Be patient, don’t expect everything at once. What you don’t understand now, you will, as you grow older.”

At the shop, he surveyed all present with a proprietorial eye, prayed awhile, and went to his desk. The outside of the vessel had been cleansed, but inside there still stirred some profound abomination, demanding to be purged.

I saw this, and was no longer afraid. I was intrigued. I wanted to see how he would come to terms with himself – by some act of self-denial or by an act of grace?

At about ten o’clock he became desperately fidgety, waiting and looking out forthe owner of the shop next door, so that the three of us could go and take tea together – that way it was five kopecks cheaper. The neighbour did not appear; he had, it emerged, suddenly died.

My uncle crossed himself and said: “It comes to all of us.”

He was not in the least put out, despite the fact that they had been going to the Novotroitsky tavern together to drink tea for forty years.

He invited the owner of the shop on the other side: during the day we went out several times for a bite to eat, but we did not touch strong drink. I spent the whole day with him, either at the shop or out and about the city: as evening approached, my uncle ordered a carriage to take us to the Vsepetaya icon.

There too he was immediately recognized and afforded the same respectful welcome as at the Yar.

“I wish to make obeisance before the Vsepetaya and weep for my sins. And this – allow me to introduce him – is my nephew, my sister’s boy.”

“Please be welcome,” said the nuns, “for from whom should the Madonna rather accept penance than from you, who are such a benefactor of this, her cloister? You have chosen the most appropriate time to approach her – for it is vespers.”

“Let it finish. I prefer to be alone: and please be so goos as to arrange a reverential darkness for me.”

The lighting was duly dimmed; everything was extinguished except for one or two small icon lamps and the large lamp with a deep green glass base which hung before the Vsepetaya icon itself.

My uncle not so much fell as crashed to his knees, hurled himself prostrate, uttered a single sob, and seemed to lapse into total stillness.

I sat with the two nuns in a dark nook behind the door. Time passed. My uncle lay without either raising his voice in prayer or making any act of contrition. It looked to me as though he had fallen asleep, and I even put his notion to the nuns. The elder sister thought awhile, shook her head, and lit a slender candle. Clutching it in her hand, she stole quietly up to the penitent. After tiptoeing right round him, she whispered excitedly:

“It’s working… She’s turning him.”

“How can you tell?”

She bent down low. motioning to me to do the same, and said:

“Look, just beyind the lamp – look at his legs.”

“Yes, I see.”

“See, what a struggle!”

Straining my eyes, I was indeed able to detect a slight movement. As my uncle lay in his reverential attitude of prayer, his legs resembled two squabbling cats: each in turn would pounce, causing the other to leap into the air.

“Sister,” I said, “where have those cats come from?”

“It only looks to you like cats,” she replied. “What you see is not cats, but temptations: you see, his spirit is burning to reach heaven, while his feet are treading the path to hell.”

I could see that my uncle’s feet were certainly still dancing the trepak (a Russian folk dance) of the night before: but was his spirit now burning to reach heaven?

As though in answer to my question, he suddenly heaved a sigh and yelled out:

“I’ll not rise to my feet until you forgive me! For thou alone art holy, while we are accursed devils! – and he burst into sobs.

So heartfelt was this sobbing that the three of us began sobbing too: “Oh Lord, do unto him as he beseecheth!”

We failed to notice that he was already standing next to us, saying to me in a low, devout voice: “Come on, it’s time to take our leave.”

The nuns enquired: “And were you so privileged as to see the holy radiance?”

“No,” he replied, “I was not so honoured, but it was… like this.”

He clenched his hand and raised it, as one would pull a small boy to his feet by his hair.

“You were raised?”

“I was.”

The nuns crossed themselves, as did I. My uncle explained:

“Now are my sins forgiven! Straight from above my head, from the dome of the church His open right hand reached down, took me by the hair, and lifted me straight on to my feet…”

No longer did he feel cut off from the world; he was happy. He made a generous gift to the nunnery where his prayer had wrought this miracle: once again he felt the lust for life. He sent my motehr the whole of her marriage portion, and as for me – he converted me to the good honest faith of the people.

Since that time I have come to understand the popular urge to fall and rise again… And this is that mystery which is known as chasing out the devil ‘which casteth out the demon of discontent’. I must repeat, however, that one may have the honour of witnessing it nowhere else than in Moscow, and then only if one is particularly lucky, or if one enjoys the special patronage of the city’s most dignified elders.

( by Petr Shmelkov )

* * *

Tycoon (2002 film)

The film “Oligarch”(‘Tycoon: a new Russian) is loosely based on the infamous life of Mr Berezovsky, a mathematician-turned-powerbroker who fled to London amid corruption charges in Russia.

Oligarchs were the group of powerful Russians who gained massive influence in the unseemly scramble for wealth and power during the 1990s. The film is based on a book about those times written by a businessman close to Mr Berezovsky.

The film was released in the West as New Russians, and many of the scenes reflect the opulence associated with that term. At a no-expense-spared birthday party thrown in the grounds of his country palace, screen oligarch Platon Makovsky arrives on an elephant and is given Miss Universe as a present.

Director Pavel Loungine says the film is an attempt to understand recent Russian history through the rise – and fall – of the oligarchs.

“An oligarch has the power to change not only their personal life but laws and the nature of the state,” he told BBC News Online from Paris.

“But they have also paid for their position. And we have all paid in some sense over the last 15 years. Our attitude to love, friendship, money – everything was turned upside down.”

The director claimed that the era of the oligarchs was finished.

“They became dinosaurs in front of our eyes. That epoch has passed,” said the film-maker.

“I can’t agree with that,” the businessman responded. “It has only just begun.”

( from “Billionaire’s tale is Russian hit” )



Just Smile…

(Author unknown)

( photo by Lecena )

Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu.
When someone smiled at
me today, I started smiling too.

I passed around the corner,
and someone saw my grin –
When he smiled I realized,
I’d passed it on to him.

I thought about that smile,
then I realized its worth,
A single smile, just like mine,
could travel round the earth.

So, if you feel a smile begin,
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick
and get the world infected.