Pavel Vazhov bust, Yekaterinburg

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You can’t know everything and everyone. I’d blame it on my education, but I had a lot of good teachers in way too many universities and colleges to count. So I won’t go there. Anyway, this is one of the reasons I love the Russian tradition of generously honoring its cultural past through monuments and plaques and apartment museums. Any city’s streets can serve to school you when you least expect it. In the case at hand I was walking west on Lenin Prospekt in the center of Yekaterinburg and crossing the bridge over the  spill from the Iset’ River into the City Pond.  And there was this large bust of a finely bearded man who couldn’t help but grab my attention. I’m a sucker for beards. Call it my Leo Tolstoy syndrome. This particular beard belonged to Pavel Vazhov, or, at least, to a bust of him. As I learned by doing a brief bit of research, Vazhov (1879-1950) was the author of stories, essays and fairy tales closely bound up in the lore and traditions of the Ural Mountains region where he was born and lived most of his life (although he died in Moscow). He came from a family of factory workers who traveled the region in search of work. He studied at two religious seminaries and, for awhile around the time of the Revolution, worked as a school teacher. He fought for the Red Army during the Civil War, occasionally working as an undercover spy, and his career as a writer took off in the 1920s. He joined the Communist Party in 1918, was twice kicked out of the Party in the 1930s – rather extraordinarily surviving to tell about it – and was awarded the Lenin State Prize in 1943. His Tales of the Urals is his most popular and enduring collection of writings.

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I have a particular reason for posting photos from Yekaterinburg, one of my favorite Russian cities, today. It so happens that my American friend and colleague Nicole Kontolefa is performing in Yekterinburg this week at the Kolyada Plays festival. She will do three performances of I am Me, a one-woman piece by the late local writer Alexandra Chichkanova. Sometimes Nicole performs the piece in my English translation (as she has done in New York), sometimes she performs it in the original Russian (as she did in Moscow earlier this year). In Yekterinburg she’ll do both. So this post is for Nicki. Break a leg. And if you stop by the Vazhov bust on your walks around town, give his beard a tug, if you can reach that high…

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