Andrei Bely apartment, Moscow

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The internet is full of identical sentences that read, “Andrei Bely lived at 21 Plotnikov Lane in the 1900s.” It isn’t much to go on. When did he move in? When did he move out? How long was he here and what did he do while he was here? I haven’t quite pinned it down.
Andrei Bely, born Boris Bugayev in 1880, was born on the Arbat, where there is now an Andrei Bely museum. We’ll get to that someday. But he also lived for at least a while in this imposing art nouveau apartment house on Plotnikov Lane just a stone’s throw from the Arbat.  The Andrei Bely website, which has a pretty good chronology of Bely’s life and work, tells us that he moved into this building during August and September (or, at some point during those two months) in 1906. At that time the street was named Nikolsky Lane. Bely took up residence in Apt. 7. And then the trail goes cold. Mentions of Nikolsky/Plotnikov Lane after that are relatively rare. We do find Bely “moving back to Moscow” in a different apartment (11 6th Rostovsky Lane, Apt. 2, apparently as a guest of the anthroposophist Alexander Pozzo) in November of 1911.
The fact of the matter is – it would appear that Bely spent precious little time in this apartment. By September he has moved in, but he left Russia for Europe on Sept. 20 and spent a great deal of the next few years traveling. Some of the cities that figured in his itinerary were Munich, Paris, Venice, Rome and Sicily. He visited Kiev at least twice and went back and forth between St. Petersburg and Moscow as if he were commuting. Plus he often spent summers outside of Moscow, usually at a rented dacha.
It’s true, he does find himself in Moscow from time to time – he returns to Moscow in February and Nov. 1907…
One Moscow online encyclopedia adds the tidbit that Bely moved into this new apartment with his mother- and that it was here that he made the acquaintance of the well-known philosopher Mikhail Gershenzon, who also lived on the same street. Still another source notes that the move was made necessary because of the death of Bely’s father – they could no longer afford to remain in their home on the Arbat.

IMG_8982.jpg2 IMG_8980.jpg2 IMG_8979.jpg2In his essay “Arbat,” Bely described the move to Nikolsky Lane thus:
For me the the exchanging of the Arbat is associated with retreat: I withdrew from the Arbat, settling next to the Arbat – on Nikolsky, an extremely quiet lane. Yes, my former Arbat life had now become my near-Arbat, sidestreet life...”
All this time Bely was on the verge of having to fight a duel with his friend, the poet Alexander Blok, over Blok’s wife Lyubov Mendeleeva (yes, the daughter of the formulator of the Periodic Table).  Maybe that’s why Bely traveled so much – to keep Blok off guard. In any case, Blok challenged Bely to a duel by letter on Aug. 8, 1907, while we are told that the two met in Moscow on Aug. 24 in Moscow and came to terms with each other peacefully. (Almost exactly a year earlier, Bely had challenged Blok to a duel – Mendeleyeva, of course, ever the reason.)
Some of the works that Bely was working on more or less at this time include his so-called “Fourth Symphony: Cluster of Snowstorms,” a poem, and his short story “Adam.” He was also writing a lot of essays and texts for lectures, many of them on topics mixing religion and politics, although he also wrote about theater, drama and poetry as well. He wrote his novel The Silver Dove in 1909, perhaps, in part, while he was resident at Nikolsky/Plotnikov Lane. But his novel Petersburg, considered by many not only to be his greatest work, but one of the finest works of the 20th century, was written in 1913-1914 – after he definitely was gone from this place.
In order to round out this post, which contains more non-information than it does information, let me point out that the beautiful structure at 21 Plotnikov Lane was designed by the architect N.D. Begichev. I pride myself in tracking down people’s first names, so as not to fall back on that horrid Russian habit of calling everybody by their initials, but I have not yet been able to identify Mr. Begichev. There are several prominent people with this name in Russian history, but none I have found are architects working at this point in time. If anyone can fill in my lack of knowledge, I’ll be happy to give you credit here. In the meantime, let the accompanying photos speak for my inadequate words.

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Solovetsky Stone near Lubyanka Square, Moscow

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Two days ago in Moscow I attended a memorial to Russian politician and activist Boris Nemtsov on the six-month anniversary of his murder. I was one of what I might call a big crowd in a small space. There may have been 150 people crammed into the hall at the Sakharov Center. We were told there were that many again standing outside listening to the goings-on by way of an outdoor PA system. Three hundred people honoring one of the great men of his generation six months after he was gunned down on a bridge outside Vladimir Putin’s office in the Kremlin. Was that a lot?
My wife Oksana Mysina and I were – how shall I put this? – surprised by many of those who did not, could not, find the time or energy to attend. There were two actors there – Oksana and the divine Natalya Fateyeva, both of whom delivered heartfelt, even fiery, messages that many said afterwards were the highlights of the evening. To my knowledge, there was one writer – Dmitry Bykov. God bless him for coming. He was in a hurry though. He came late and left shortly after speaking.
What is my point, and what does it have to do with the photos I’m posting today? Well, this: It is often an uphill battle getting folks in Russia – especially those in the creative professions – to get off their duffs when the topic of conversation is one that surely concerns them more than anyone else. I’m talking about Russia’s long history with repression. There’s a legend – probably apocryphal – that the architect of the spectacular St. Basil’s cathedral on Red Square in the 16th century was summoned to the Kremlin by the Tsar and asked if he could do that again. When the proud artist said, “Yes,” the Tsar – according to the legend – had his eyes put out and said, “No you won’t.”
True or not, myths and legends come into being for a reason. The fact of the matter is that artists have run afoul of Russian authority for a very long time. We can go back to Alexander Radishchev in the 18th century to find a writer sent to Siberia for displeasing Catherine the Great. (I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about a way-station in Tomsk where he stopped during his trip into exile.) In the early 19th century the persecutions increased, affecting in different measure many of Russia’s greatest minds and talents – Alexander Pushkin, Pyotr Chadayev, Alexander Herzen, Nikolai Chernyshevsky (see my blog on this site), Fyodor Dostoevsky and many more.
By the time we reach the 20th century – particularly in the Soviet period – the topic takes on diabolical proportions. The numbers of writers, artists and performers who disappeared, or whose lives were crippled, in the labor camps or in exile, are staggering.
A few years ago – 2012, to be exact – we saw a heartening upsurge in the activity of creative people protesting increasingly oppressive government policies. There was a marvelous, so-called Writers’ Walk down Moscow’s boulevards that drew a substantial number of readers and writers – probably 12,000 or more. Shortly after that there was the so-called Artists’ Walk, which drew fewer people, but was every bit as spirited and freewheeling. But that was three years ago. Laws oppressing free and creative speech continue to pile up and artists appear to have withdrawn into themselves. The grueling war in Ukraine and the murder of Nemtsov (he was shot four times in the back by as-yet unknown – or undisclosed? – assailants while walking home after having dinner) cast a pall over Russian opposition activities and thought. Despair, fear, indifference and aloofness have taken over.
But enough of the pathos. I’m here today to share some photos of the Solovetsky Rock which – rather incredibly – stands in the shadow of the imposing NKVD/KGB/FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square. The rock, a piece of granite transported in from the notorious Solovki labor camp (which in the Soviet years replaced the Solovki Monastery, which, in its turn, was founded in the 15th century by the monk Zosima, whose name was used by Dostoevsky to designate a humble church elder in The Brothers Karamazov) is here to commemorate the victims of repression during the Soviet years. The monument was unveiled Oct. 30, 1990. At that time, curiously enough, a towering statue honoring Felix Derzhinsky, the first head of the Soviet secret police (the CheKa), still stood just a stone’s throw away. Thus, right there in that one plot of land there were monuments commending one of the great killers as well as those whom he and his successors had killed.

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These days the Solovetsky Rock usually looks rather forlorn. For a short while, in 2011-2012, it was the site of occasional political protests. Not so any more. It is now a mostly forgotten and relatively ignored spot on the Moscow map. I rather suspect that if anyone were to dare mounting a protest here now, they would be hauled off in an instant. On any given day there may be more or less flowers laid on the pedestal supporting the rock. There are a few dusty old wreaths, left from some time in the past. There are precious few people around them, however. And with that ominous FSB/KGB/NKVD/CheKa building hovering in the near distance (read a blog about that on this site), you get the feeling that there is something quite anomalous about this whole thing. As if you know the authorities would just love to clear this crap out of here but they don’t quite know how to get away with it. (There is constant talk, for instance, of returning Iron Felix Derzhinsky to his original perch on the still-empty pedestal on Lubyanka Square. That might be a suitable pretext.)
In the meantime, this strange, virtually invisible, stand-off continues – the rock reminding anyone who wants to remember how bloodthirsty various Russian governments have been, while ground zero for the vast majority of the bloodshed looms large and proud over the territory. Russian Wikipedia informs us that Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has never visited the Solovetsky Rock. Anyway, there it stands, a symbol of our time – surely a thorn in the side of some, but essentially ignored by everybody.
The paradox of this monument and its location is echoed by a restaurant located in a modern shopping center across the street from both the FSB headquarters and the Solovetsky Rock. The name of the restaurant is quite astonishing: The Dissident. You can see that title on the right-hand side in the second photo below. This name stares directly at the FSB headquarters and can be seen by anyone standing at the rock monument. The  facade of the shopping center is visible in the photo immediately below – it is the rounded structure immediately to the left of the first of three pine trees (counting from left).
Isn’t that something? Everybody knows. Even a restaurant that is probably frequented by FSB agents on their lunch break is called The Dissident. Meanwhile, a granite boulder plucked from one of the deadliest prison camps in the Soviet Gulag, stands facing the secret police building, although nobody really pays it any attention.
The reality, however, remains. At least 60 of the 188 posts I have made on this blog involve people or places directly or indirectly affected by the forces and events represented by this monument and the building, next to which it stands. Recent texts about Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Joseph Brodsky, Lev Loseff, Mikhail Chekhov and Osip Mandelstam all involve people who either fled repression or were caught up in it.
I am intrigued by the deceptiveness of the rock itself. Viewed from one angle, it appears to be just an inert, shapeless, massive blob. See several of the photos above, for instance. But from other angles, it suddenly takes on a sense of dynamism and sleek form, and appears to be in the process of trying to stand up. See the photo immediately below for that. This feels very much like Russia today – inert and motionless, yet striving to raise itself, all at once. An enigma, indeed.

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Igor Stravinsky home, Los Angeles

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IMG_7462.jpg2Some topics I write about in this space require my digging deep to come up with a narrative thread. That will be no problem today. My only problem will be keeping the length of this text somewhere under that of the first two volumes of War and Peace (which runs four volumes in Russian).
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) lived a very public life in Los Angeles, for approximately 20 years at 1260 N. Wetherly Dr. (featured here today), and then for another nine years or so at 1218 N. Wetherly Dr. He was a star when he arrived in 1940 and his star did not wane until – well, in fact, it never has.
Thanks to Eric Walter White’s Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, we know precisely when Stravinsky arrived in L.A. and where he lived. I fully quote the first footnote on page 93: “At 124 South Swall Drive, Beverly Hills, May-November 1940; Chateau Marmont, Hollywood, March-April 1941; and North Wetherly Drive, Hollywood, after that.” Stravinsky left Los Angeles (West Hollywood) in 1969 for New York where he died two years later. I know some Angelenos who would consider that a warning to the rest of us… For the record, Stravinsky was a resident at the Essex House for his two-year New York stay.
Stravinsky arrived in the U.S. from Europe in September 1939, pushed by the early conflagration of WWII. In Dec. 1939 he traveled briefly to CA to conduct two concerts in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He returned to NY to meet the ship on which his longtime mistress Vera de Bosset (formerly the wife of the great Russian painter Sergei Sudeikin) would arrive from Europe. He married Vera on March 9, 1940, in Massachusetts. Shortly after, on April 15, 1940, the composer was arrested in Boston (“Banned in Boston”) for the horrific offense of rearranging the score of the Star-Spangled Banner. According to a book called Igor Stravinsky: The Complete Guide, compiled by the Wikipedians, he employed a major seventh chord in his arrangement, thus violating a federal law against reharmonizing the national anthem.
That tidbit was news for me and brought to my mind a similar situation that I experienced as a child – Jose Feliciano performing his beautiful Latino-tinged version of the Star-Spangled Banner in Detroit in 1968, and setting off a storm of protest and anger from uptight America…
The time of Stravinsky’s move to the Left Coast was fortuitous for him. Walt Disney’s innovative and wildly popular Fantasia was just about to be released (that happened Nov. 13, 1940), and it, of course, included a powerful scene set to Stravinsky’s ground-breaking The Rite of Spring. If anyone in the States didn’t know who Stravinsky was at that moment, they surely would know soon. (However, see page 95 of White’s book to see how Disney strong-armed Stravinsky into giving him the rights to The Rite of Spring for a relative pittance because the work was not yet copyrighted in the U.S. According to Stravinsky: “The owners of the film wished to show it abroad, however, (i.e., in the Berne copyright countries), and they, therefore, offered me a sum of $5,000, a sum I was obliged to accept.“)

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The fact of the matter is that Stravinsky became a true celebrity in Hollywood. Mark Swed, the Los Angeles Times music critic, chronicles that extremely well in a 2011 blog. Swed, who himself studied music with Stravinsky at the composer’s home (presumably the later address, not the one shown here), tells of how Frank Zappa once wanted to do a version of The Rite of Spring with the Mothers of Invention. Elsewhere, we find that the late, great rocker Warren Zevon, a neighbor, also studied music with Stravinsky.
Indeed, this was, and has remained a neighborhood with genuine star quality. According to The Movieland Directory, other residents on Wetherly Dr. (at the time of Stravinsky’s residence and after he left) have included: Genevieve Bujold (1990s), Conan O’Brien (1990s), Troy Donahue (1960s), Cheryl Ladd (1990s), Suzanne Pleshette (1990s), Rita Coolidge (1990s), Tony Curtis (1960s) and Janet Leigh (1950s).
Bernard Holland ran a nice piece in the New York Times about Stravinsky’s Los Angeles years in 2001. Allow me to quote at length from that:

A curious pilgrim follows a colonnade of three-story palm trees along Doheny Drive, across frenetic Sunset Boulevard and up the narrow winding street to 1260 North Wetherly Drive. The Stravinsky house is small — white stucco and wood — on rising ground and sheltered by green growth around it. The interior, we are told, was artful clutter: the furniture was worn; the books were many. North Wetherly was the site of Stravinsky’s first sustained domestic happiness after the lingering illnesses and deaths of his first wife and his older daughter, and his subsequent marriage to Vera de Bosset Sudeikina in Bedford, Mass. Two of Stravinsky’s four children eventually came to America: Soulima, teaching piano at the University of Illinois, and Milene, settling in Los Angeles.
The Stravinsky friends were polyglot, international and many. There were the Russian and German enclaves, but also a detachment of British writers, like W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Dylan Thomas (who shared the composer’s taste for hard spirits) and, especially, Aldous Huxley, with whom Stravinsky spoke in French.
Years later, Mr. Salonen considered buying the house, which had fallen on hard times. The conductor noted the carpet indentations where the great man’s pianos had stood, the hook where a goat had been tethered (Stravinsky liked the milk) and the built-in couch where Thomas had slept off more than a few over indulgences. An aspiring composer himself, Mr. [Esa-Pekka] Salonen wisely feared the presence of ghosts.
[Conductor Otto] Klemperer and others performed Stravinsky’s pieces at the Philharmonic. The composer himself appeared as pianist and conductor. Even the gaping Hollywood Bowl embraced the Stravinsky of The Firebird. The publisher Boosey & Hawkes eventually provided him a comfortable annual retainer, and there were the constant tours and travels for a man less famous than Clark Gable but not too far behind.”

Allow me to quote from still another source, this one from L.A. blogger Patrick Swanson:

In the summer of 1946, Igor Stravinsky was a freshly naturalized citizen of the United States. A fit and healthy 64 years of age, he was happily settled with his second wife (painter Vera de Bosset) in a cozy house nestled at the foot of the Hollywood Hills. Stravinsky-worshipers who make the requisite pilgrimage to 1260 North Wetherly Drive are in for a surprise when they see that the house that bore so many hallowed masterpieces of 20th century music (Symphony in Three Movements, The Rake’s Progress, Agon) is mere yards away from that mecca of flashy dross known as the Sunset Strip. Does Stravinsky’s ghost ever haunt Ryan Seacrest? He could if he wanted to. To experience one of those surreal juxtapositions of which Los Angeles excels, go to the house on a Friday night and think of Stravinsky working out the haunting medievalisms of the Mass (1947) on his muffled upright; then, walk down the hill until you are in front of the Roxy Theatre, where the spray-tanned and spiky-haired gather to watch a DJ press the ‘play’ button on his iTunes.
    The Los Angeles that Stravinsky called home for over 20 years had its own absurdities. During the war, the city’s blend of endless sunshine and endless creative (and financial) opportunity proved attractive for hosts of European intellectuals and artists seeking safe haven from Hitler’s Europe. Many flocked to  Hollywood to work for the booming film studios (Erich Korngold); Stravinsky’s great rival, Arnold Schoenberg, who had his own flirtations with Hollywood, settled nearby (about 20 minutes west on Sunset) in Brentwood, just down the street from Shirley Temple. When he wasn’t playing with permutations of the 12-tone row, Schoenberg could be found playing ping-pong and tennis with Charlie Chaplin and George Gershwin. (Schoenberg and Stravinsky, however, made sure to avoid each other.) It must have been a dizzying place. Invited to a cocktail party at the Stravinskys? Start boning up-you are going to be talking hallucinogens with Aldous Huxley, the Nuremberg Trials with Thomas Mann, nuclear bombs with Bertrand Russell. Even with all the imported brains, the Stravinskys managed to live a relatively normal LA existence. Vera Stravinsky’s diary for January 21st, 1948: “Sunbathe, and I drive Igor in the hills to air out his hangover.”

Stravinsky’s home at 1260 Wetherly Dr., at least these days, is almost entirely hidden from view. I had to fight back my sense of propriety and my own disgust at the manners of paparazzi  in order to get a decent shot of the house over the thick, tall hedges protecting the building and yard. I forged ahead, however, overcoming my reticence, in order to serve the god of history and information. The first shot in the block immediately above gives a decent view of the house. If you’re interested in other pictures of this house (and of other physical sites connected to Stravinsky around the world), you can find some nice ones on Katya Chilingiri’s photo website.  The Igor Stravinsky Foundation Facebook page publishes a nice photo of the composer playing a game of solitaire right here at his Hollywood home.
This post has already gone on unconscionably long. But if you’re interested in the topic I must also direct you to a nice tale of the relationship between Stravinsky and Aldous Huxley in Murray Pomeranoe’s Michelangelo Red Antonioni Blue: Eight Reflections on Cinema, and to a review of the film Stravinsky in Hollywood, which provides some great information on the composer’s work during his L.A. period.

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Joseph Brodsky commencement speech, Hanover, NH

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I am not an expert on Joseph Brodsky. I’m not even the greatest admirer, I must admit, although an admirer I am – my first gift to my future wife Oksana Mysina was a set of two collections of Brodsky’s poems published by Ardis – Parts of Speech and The End of a Beautiful Era. (The latter of which was not exactly the perfect gift for one wooing a future life partner, but, then, Oksana and I rarely do things by the book.) Oksana later met Brodsky; it’s a pretty good story that I’ll have to tell in its own time. Anyway, all of this means nothing, really, it’s just tidbits I bring up before admitting I may not have all the information I should have for this short entry about the place where Brodsky delivered a commencement address to the graduating class of 1989 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.
As best as I can tell, Brodsky delivered three commencement addresses – Williams College in 1984, University of Michigan in Winter 1988 and Dartmouth in 1989. The latter two came on the heels of the poet receiving the Nobel Prize in literature in 1987, thus giving Williams bragging rights for prescience.
Brodsky made an effort to be clever in his choice of topics for commencement speeches. At Williams he spoke on the qualities of evil and on the dubious nature of turning the other cheek when evil is done to you. The following year at UMI he bucked up his listeners with advice for the future, even providing a numbered list of his primary advice that included an exhortation to be precise in one’s use of language, a call to be kind to parents, and a suggestion not to put much store in politicians. At Dartmouth he spoke “In Praise of Boredom,” which we’ll get to in a moment. First, however, I want to warn readers to be careful about the various commencement texts floating around on the net. You can get wrong dates (a few places put the Dartmouth speech in 1995, I assume, because they confuse it with the date it was published in book form). You can also get wrong texts. I’ve seen two versions of the UMI speech that are quite different – not in substance, perhaps, but in wording. That’s unfortunate for the work of a poet who was as careful with words as any, to say nothing of a speaker who actually preached the necessity of being precise in one’s use of language. A presumably reliable version of the Williams address was published in the New York Review of Books. I am assuming that a text on a UMI host reliably reflects what Brodsky said at December 1988 ceremonies at that institution. One can find the Dartmouth speech, as published in the collection On Grief and Reason – Essays, on the Relambramentos blog site. It has a few typos, but otherwise appears to be a replication of the published version.

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I mentioned this speech not long ago in an entry on the Russian emigre poet Lev Loseff, who taught Russian and Russian literature at Dartmouth for 30 years, and who would have been instrumental in inviting Brodsky to do the graduation honors. In the last photo below you can see Brodsky (left) and Loseff, both spiffed up for the occasion. The photo rests on a shelf in the Russian Dept. at Dartmouth and was pointed out to me by the current Dept. Chair John Kopper, who was kind enough to chat with me and walk me around the department recently.
I presume that Brodsky spoke in June, although I cannot confirm that. One source indicated it was in July – but a July graduation? I think not. In any case, all Dartmouth graduations over the last six years have taken place in mid-June. If you want to get a feel for what it might have looked like the day Brodsky spoke, you can watch this time lapse film of the 2014 ceremonies. While spending three weeks at Dartmouth this summer, I asked several people where Brodsky would have stood while speaking, and all of them – admitting they knew nothing about the 1980s – suggested it surely would have been in the niche before the clock tower at Baker Hall and between Webster Hall on our right, and Sanborn Hall on our left. You can see Baker and Webster in the two photos immediately below.
During my short stay at Dartmouth I walked past this place on the green anywhere between two to six times a day. Not once did I walk past it without looking over towards Baker and thinking about Brodsky up there speaking. His presence for me was real. Oksana wanted her photo taken before the tower, and when Russian director Boris Yukhananov came to visit, I felt compelled to point out that Brodsky had once spoken there. It seemed like something I had to tell a Russian of culture.
As for what Brodsky said that day, you can read the entire speech yourself by going to the link above. But I can’t help but insert a few nice excerpts here. Speaking specifically of “art’s saving grace,” Brodsky said:

“Not being lucrative, it [art’s saving grace] falls victim to demography rather reluctantly. For if, as we’ve said, repetition is boredom’s mother, demography (which is to play in your lives a far greater role than any discipline you’ve mastered here) is its other parent. This may sound misanthropic to you, but I am more than twice your age, and I have lived to see the population of our globe double. By the time you’re my age, it will have quadrupled, and not exactly in the fashion you expect. For instance, by the year 2000 there is going to be such cultural and ethnic rearrangement as to challenge your notion of your own humanity.”

He goes on to add:

“But even in a more monochromatic world, the other trouble with originality and inventiveness is precisely that they literally pay off. Provided that you are capable of either, you will become well off rather fast. Desirable as that may be, most of you know firsthand that nobody is as bored as the rich, for money buys time, and time is repetitive. Assuming that you are not heading for poverty – for otherwise you wouldn’t have entered college – one expects you to be hit by boredom as soon as the first tools of self-gratification become available to you.”

Later suggesting, in what is surely the gist of his entire talk:

“When hit by boredom, go for it. Let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is, the sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here, to paraphrase another great poet of the English language, is to exact full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.
In a manner of speaking, boredom is your window on time, on those properties of it one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one’s mental equilibrium. In short, it is your window on time’s infinity, which is to say, on your insignificance in it. That’s what accounts, perhaps, for one’s dread of lonely, torpid evenings, for the fascination with which one watches sometimes a fleck  of dust aswirl  in a sunbeam, and somewhere a clock tick-tocks, the day is hot, and your willpower is at zero.”

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Sergei Rachmaninoff house, Beverly Hills

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The headline in the Pittsburgh Press says, “Rachmaninoff Dies at 69 in Home at Beverly Hills: Wife and Princess at his Bedside.” I don’t know what that sounded like on March 29, 1943, but it certainly sounds silly now. The princess was his daughter Irene Wolkonsky. Surely it could have read “daughter” in place of “princess.” But it’s a little late to argue this point now. And, anyway, were it not for this notice, it is possible we would never have known that the great pianist and composer loved to read detective stories in between performances and that he had a specially-made pair of electric gloves to keep his valuable fingers warm when they were cold. More generally known, I assume (although I did not know this myself), is that Rachmaninoff travelled with his own pianos when on tour. He did not use whatever the given venue had to offer.
But why so much about an obscure obituary of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)? Because in this small photo gallery you are looking at the location at 610 Elm Drive in Beverly Hills where he lived and died. This is precisely where his wife Natalie, his daughter, the Princess Wolkonsky, and his sister-in-law Sophie Satin sat by to attend him as he expired.
This building actually has a good presence on the internet already. Six years ago a Rachmaninoff blogger posted a wonderful series of photos that he took when he toured the empty home in 1987. At that time it was up for sale and so our intrepid researcher went through the house taking photos, even grabbing an angular shot of the very room where Rachmaninoff died on March 28, 1943. Those photos, as well as the detailed real estate information on the house make for fun reading. You can peruse them on the Rachmaninoff Network website.
The IMDb film website has a nice graph attaching the composer to this address, too, so let me offer that here:

At his home on Elm Drive in Beverly Hills Rachmaninov had two Steinway pianos which he played together with Vladimir Horowitz and other entertainers. His love of fast cars was second to music, and led him to occasional fines for exceeding the speed limit. Since he bought his first car in 1914, Rachmaninov acquired a taste for fast cars, buying himself a new car every year. His generosity was legendary. He gave away 5000 dollars to Igor Sikorsky to start an American helicopter industry. He paid for Vladimir Nabokov and his family’s relocation from Paris to New York. He sponsored Michael Chekhov and introduced him to Hollywood.”

I can’t help but add that my friend Vladimir Ferkelman, who drove me around Los Angeles one fine summer day this year to photograph Russian addresses in Hollywood, also once had an encounter with Rachmaninoff’s beneficiary Igor Sikorsky. Volodya happened to have reason to call Sikorsky’s offices in the 1980s, and the man who answered the phone recognized his Russian accent. They got to talking and it turned out that it was Sikorsky himself who had picked up the phone. He explained to Volodya that he had turned over most of the business to others by this time, but “it’s still my company, so I still come in to see how things are running.” I find it far-fetched, but satisfying that Volodya would have told me that story on the day he drove me to photograph the home of, among others, Rachmaninoff, whose investment made the Sikorsky helicopter a possibility…




Rachmaninoff first visited the U.S. in 1909 but was not enamored of it. But he was less thrilled by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and, when he received an offer to tour Scandinavia, he jumped at it. Officially he was merely heading out on a concert tour with his family in tow, so he left behind all of his belongings. Each member of the family took 500 rubles and some clothes. He spent much of the next 20 years touring and composing in Europe. But when the Second World War loomed large on the horizon in 1939, he again made his way to the United States. He settled in Beverly Hills in 1942 and he took U.S. citizenship in 1943 just one month before he died of cancer.
Rachmaninoff performed his last concert a little over a month before his death. This was in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee, as an article by Jack Neely tells us. The claim there that a statue commemorating Rachmaninoff’s concert is the only one in the world is erroneous – you can see a fine Moscow monument to the composer elsewhere on this blogsite – but more interesting is the circumstance of that last performance. Rachmaninoff expected to complete a tour that would take him to Knoxville, Atlanta, New Orleans and then on to the West Coast. He had already been in Chicago, where he came down with a cold. Not realizing just how ill he was, he courageously performed in Knoxville even though an eye-witness expressed the fear that his frail body would slip off the pianist’s bench.

Rachmaninoff played some Bach, some Wagner, some Schumann, some Liszt and two of his own etudes tableaux. He also played Chopin’s somber ‘March Funebre’ –  the funeral march.  Despite his apparent pain, Rachmaninoff played three encores, closing with one of his greatest hits, his grave, stern Prelude in C Sharp Minor. [Eye-witness Harold] Clark told me Rachmaninoff knew an American audience wouldn’t leave until he played it. The composer confessed backstage that he was tired of playing it, but it’s an effective coda for a serious life. Then he went back to the Andrew Johnson [Hotel] and, the next day, caught the train for Atlanta. Over the next few days he would come to understand how ill he was. A fast-growing cancer had advanced to his spine. He cancelled the rest of his tour. He died in Los Angeles 39 days after his Knoxville show.”


Lev Loseff home, Hanover, New Hampshire

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Lev Loseff, known in Russia, of course, as Lev Losev, is one of those people who found himself, and created himself, in a chosen country (the U.S.), not the country where he was born (the U.S.S.R., Russia). Losev, who was actually Lev Livshits, took the pseudonym of Losev when he became a young adult in order to distance himself from his father Vladimir Lifshits, a well-known writer, poet and playwright.  Born in Leningrad in 1937, Lev was educated to be a journalist and began by working as an editor for the Kostyor (Campfire) children’s magazine in Leningrad. He wrote some plays for puppet theaters and he wrote some children’s verse. He abandoned “serious” poetry early in his life, considering that his work wasn’t good enough. However, he began writing poetry again in the mid-to-late 1970s and, over the course of the rest of his life, he published some dozen collections of verse. (The numbers vary according to the source, but the maximum number I have seen is twelve.) Losev emigrated to the United States in 1976, surely with the aid of Carl Proffer at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he took the name Loseff for his legal name in English (his books and poetry in Russia were published under the name of Losev). He was employed as a copy editor at the great Ardis Russian literature publishing house, and he eventually graduated from UMI Ann Arbor with a PhD around 1978, to the best of my ability to ascertain. He was hired to teach Russian literature in the Russian Department at Dartmouth College in 1979, and he remained there until his death in 2009, spending many of those years as the Department Chair. In addition to his poetry, he wrote numerous books of a scholarly, historical and personal nature. They include On the Beneficence of Censorship: Aesopian Language in Modern Russian Literature (his PhD dissertation), Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life (2006 in Russian, 2011 in English), Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky as Neighbors (in Russian 2010), Brodsky’s Poetics (in Russian 1986), Meander (a memoir in Russian 2010), and others. If you’re interested in his books, visit his page on IMG_8028.jpg2 IMG_8024.jpg2 IMG_8022.jpg2

At least in his later years, Loseff lived in a modest house just south of Hanover, New Hampshire, in which city Dartmouth is located. I walked from the Russian Department to his house in about 30 to 40 minutes. It is a straight jaunt down Main Street, Hanover, into the woods that take over Hanover almost instantly at the end of the tiny downton commercial district. You pass by several homes hiding behind trees, cross over a gorgeous pond, and go past the Pine Knoll Cemetery to Mourlyn Road on your left. It is a short cul-de-sac that climbs up a fairly steep, but short hill, and Loseff lived in the second house on the left, house number 4. There are only five residences on the small street altogether. You can see the view back down Mourlyn Road from in front of the Loseff house in the photo immediately below. The last photo below shows Mink Brook, part of which, at least, would have been visible from Loseff’s back yard. I happened to run into John Kopper, the current Russian Chair while I was snooping around the Russian Dept. last week. I explained what I was up to and he told me he had once published an article in the Russian Znamya thick journal, in which he related a brief story of Joseph Brodsky delivering the commencement address at Dartmouth in 1989. (We’ll come back to that at a later date.) According to Kopper, Brodsky, apparently feeling a bit frisky after finishing his speech, whipped his mitre cap off his head and sent it sailing through the air as if it were a frisbee. It made its way directly toward Loseff, hitting him smack in the bridge of the nose, breaking his glasses in two as it did. There are a couple of volumes available for those interested in Loseff’s poetry in English translation. Henry W. Pickford translated and edited Selected Early Poems of Lev Loseff, while Gerald Smith put together a Russian-English version of his work called As I Said/Как я сказал in 2012. Tomas Venclova, himself an emigre Soviet (Lithuanian) poet and scholar of note, who has taught most his adult life at Yale University, called Loseff “one of the chief representatives of Russian exilic poetry, a great master of ironic postmodern verse.” IMG_8030.jpg2 IMG_8036.jpg2