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What a cool find this was yesterday! Oksana and I were driving home and she turned right off of Malaya Bronnaya Street onto Tverskoi Boulevard and, as my great grandparents probably would have described it, I fairly gasped. Staring at me with great, big brown eyes was Sasha Pushkin. As you see in this mural located on the side of the building at 25 Nikitsky Boulevard, this is Sasha, rather than Alexander, Pushkin. And, in a travesty of the truth, there is Sasha’s sweet wife Natasha – known to the world as Natalie Goncharova – staring up at her punkin’ pie, also with great, big brown eyes. Where is the ‘travesty of the truth’? In the word ‘up.’
Natalie Goncharova, whom I take the liberty of calling Natasha thanks to this wonderful cartoon image, was taller than her husband. That doesn’t stop artists from depicting a lie, however. There is a monument to the two just across the street at this very street corner, which kind of sneaks around the problem. It depicts Pushkin and Wife as being the same height, although it wriggles out of presenting an outright falsehood by showing Pushkin looking upwards at Natalie. There’s a similar sculpture of the two on the Arbat. I’ll get around to showing and telling about them some other day. But right now I’m more interested in this cartoon version of poetic love that I ran across yesterday.
Very much in the spirit of modern-day kitsch, it depicts Pushkin taking a selfie on his iPad. In the background of the “photo” is the church located across the street (not the one in the background of my photos), where the pair were married in February 1831. The internet tells me the mural was unveiled in mid-April. It would appear, according to the reliable serge-elephant blog on Live Journal that it first appeared on or around April 10. Serge is disappointed that he cannot divulge the true name of the author of this piece. Some sources have listed the artist as a group called Nezo, but Serge insists this is not true. I find another name in another post put up by the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. They say the mural was created by the Kaspersky Laboratory – the folks who bring us the Kaspersky anti-virus system – and, indeed, you can see the Kaspersky name at the bottom of the painting. The newspaper informs us that the artist is Roman Shipunov. I haven’t seen a response to that from Serge. According to Serge, this mural was completed in two nights’ work.
Pushkin, as much as any other Russian cultural icon, suits the tongue-in-cheek form of a cartoon selfie. Pushkin is funny, though not in the way that Gogol is funny. Gogol is the kind of funny that makes you hurt. He causes you pain. He makes you wince. His humor reminds you of what dolts and idiots we all can be. Pushkin is – damn! this could really slip into cliche quick! but here goes: Pushkin is joy and laughter and lightheartedness and health and all those things that turn so quickly into Hallmark cards, but which are anything but in his hands. Pushkin is of the life force. And therefore he not only can withstand parody and jokes – they suit him to a “T”.
Some of the greatest and most quoted short literary works in Russian are the “jokes” about Pushkin by the absurdist Daniil Kharms. Sure, he wrote these things about Gogol and Tolstoy, too. But some of the Pushkin ones are perfect, again, because of the way Pushkin, as an artist, as a person, as an icon, can absorb and embrace them. In addition to a hilarious short dramatic sketch called “Pushkin and Gogol,” in which the two writers keep bumping into each other and falling on the ground, Kharms wrote a whole series of jokes called “Anecdotes about Pushkin.” Here are two of them:
Pushkin loved to throw rocks. No sooner would he see a rock than he would start throwing it. Sometimes he would get so carried away he would turn all red, waving his arms and throwing rocks. It was just terrible!
Pushkin had four sons and they were all idiots. One of them didn’t even know how to sit on a chair and he would constantly fall off. Pushkin himself didn’t sit on chairs very well. Sometimes it was really hilarious. They’d be sitting at the table, Pushkin at one end all falling off his chair, and, at the other end, his son. Saints alive that was funny!
For the record, Pushkin and Natalie (Pushkin and Natalie, incidentally, was the name of a famous 1979 production in St. Petersburg by Kama Ginkas that also played on the myths and misconceptions and humorous side of Pushkin’s nature) did have four children, although they had two boys (Alexander and Grigory) and two girls (Maria and Natalya). As far as I know, none had problems sitting on chairs or standing on their own two feet.
As for Natalie, she may be shrouded in more mystery than any other woman in Russian history. Did she love Pushkin? Did he love her? Did she cheat on Pushkin? (Did he cheat on her??? Duh!) Did she have an affair with the dashing French officer Georges D’Anthes, thus leading to the duel in which D’Anthes killed Pushkin one cold, early morning in the woods outside of St. Petersburg at the age of 37?
I don’t know. All I know today is that this mural of Sasha and Natasha is a marvelous, wonderful kick. Leave it to Pushkin to lift your spirits when you need a shot of merriment.