I offer this very modest post in honor of three glorious days of the Tour de France ending in London today. Pushkin in London. Pushkin, unlike the Tour de France, was never in London. But Russians in London – there is an age-old tradition. The revolutionary Alexander Herzen lived here in exile and Tom Stoppard wrote a huge three-part play about that, which some people consider good. Vladimir Lenin even lived here, for God’s sake. I didn’t know that until one day I was taking a short walk along Tavistock Place near my hotel and I ran across a plaque commemorating the fact that the Father of the Soviet Union lived in this block in 1908. Just goes to show you – any old riffraff can find its way to London, but London remains a great city anyway. I won’t touch the Russian football people with a ten-foot pole. I get a kick out of the fact that the Pushkin Club in London, the precursor to the Pushkin House, was officially founded in 1954, the year I was born. It gives me some good company; I was also born the same year that Elvis Presley cut his first record with Sam Phillips.
I spent an evening at the Pushkin House in April 2013. I gave a little talk about Russian theater. That put me in decent company, too, which you can read much more about on the Pushkin House website. But just for the record, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky had an exhibit of paintings here, as did Leonid Pasternak (Boris’s father), poshumously. The prose writer Konstantin Fedin and the poet Alexander Tvardovsky spoke here in 1960. The great, though still underrated, poet Yevgeny Rein gave two poetry readings here. Also coming through were the poet Irina Ratushinskaya, who had her first reading in the West after going into exile in 1987, and the well-known poet Andrei Voznesensky. I should point out that when I say “here” I am being inexact. Because all of these events, other than my own modest outing, took place in the Pushkin House’s former digs at 46 Ladbroke Grove. The current home pictured here is at 5A Bloomsbury Square, just down the street from the British Museum and just a short walk from Oxford Street.