Anna Pavlova statue, London

Click on photos to enlarge.

Pavlova 6 Pavlova 7

This may be one of the curioser monuments I have written about. I use Alice’s diction because this statue honoring the great Russian-born ballerina Anna Pavlova, rather like Alice, disappeared for many a year before making its return in 2006.
Why Pavlova and why the Victoria?
Well, it’s a rather long story that begins around 1832 when a hotel and tavern were built on this spot. It was turned into the Royal Standard Music Hall in 1850 which was then demolished and rebuilt a couple of times. We are interested in the year 1911 when the new owner Alfred Butt engaged the architect Frank Matcham  to build the fabulous new Victoria Palace Theatre here for the princely sum of ₤12,000. In honor of Pavlova, whose first London performances were produced by Butt, the impresario erected a gilded statue on a pedestal atop the theatre’s cupola. Pavlova, who began her career in St. Petersburg and danced a short while with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Europe, left Russia and settled in England in 1912. Thereafter she traveled the world tirelessly, bringing truly great ballet to places that had never seen it, including Australia and South America. She often performed in concert-like revues, the likes of which would have been popular at Butt’s Victoria Palace.
If several websites are to be trusted, Pavlova so hated the idea of the statue on top of the theatre that she refused ever to look at it. So did it offend her superstitious nature that she insisted on closing the curtains in her cab whenever she would pass by.
Really? Not just one little peek? One little drawback of the curtains, just once?
The original statue, created, as far as I can determine, by the architect Matcham, stood atop the theatre for 28 years. It was still there even as Pavlova, who was born in 1881, died of pleurisy while on tour in The Hague in 1931.  She was three weeks short of her 50th birthday at the time. The story is that doctors said she would not survive without an operation, but they added that she would never dance again should she agree to surgery. Famously, she told her doctor, “If I can’t dance then I’d rather be dead.” And die she did, shortly thereafter.
When World War II began in 1939, fears of what might happen to the statue during a bombing raid caused it to be removed from the top of the Victoria Palace Theatre – and it was promptly lost. Or, at least, it was by the end of the war. I rather like a comment on one web page devoted to the statue: “It is not known whether it is in someone’s garden or was turned to wartime military use, such as bullets.” The latter sounds more probable, but the former is more intriguing.
The Victoria stood forlorn, without its gilded decoration for 63 years, when, in 2006, the sculptor Hary Franchetti was commissioned to create a replica of the original. He did so based on a photo or photos of the original.

Pavlova 2 Pavlova 10 Pavlova 8

As for Anna not wanting to see the statue, in fact, she would have had a hard time catching even a passing glimpse of herself. You can see from the longer shots here that the statue is anything but readily visible. What you see first are rays of sun glinting off of it as you approach from the direction of Buckingham Palace. It’s only when you approach the building, and when you train a zoom lens on the golden object up there, that you really begin to see the statue.
This entire area, not only the space where many theatres have stood, seems to have a tradition of reconstruction, and that is surely being honored these days. Everything around Victoria Station (for the Victoria Palace stands directly across from the great railway station) is an utter and total mess at present. You can’t get anywhere without detouring four or five times. Long tunnels of construction pathways guard your head and body as you meander through mazes of cross-paths. Cranes, construction sites and scaffolding tower over your head at every step. Signs with arrows pointing every which-way make it fairly certain that you have no idea where to go to get anywhere. The theatre itself is blocked off by construction and I never did figure out how to approach it. It is up and working, however, so some people are figuring that out. It is the home to Billy Elliot the Musical, and has been since 2005.
The Pavlova statue is frustrating, though intriguing. The reality is that you really cannot see it. Not in any detail, anyway. Even if all the construction were to disappear overnight, you would still be very, very far away, no matter how close you come to the theatre. It is said that the statue is approximately twice life size. For one, like me, who wandered around peering up at the statue from various angles for at least a half an hour, that comes as astonishing news. One thinks of the statue as a tiny, toy-like thing. Sure, you understand it’s not a toy way up there, but I was not the least prepared to hear that it is twice life size.
As any source that knows its dance can tell you, the statue depicts Pavlova in a classical tutu while standing in the arabesque position.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about that:
In dance (particularly ballet), arabesque (French: [aʁabɛsk]; literally, ‘in Arabic fashion’) is a body position in which a dancer stands on one leg (the supporting leg) with the other leg (the working leg) turned out and extended behind the body, with both legs held straight. In classical ballet, an arabesque can be executed with the supporting leg en pointe or demi pointe or with foot flat on the floor.”
If you wish see the statue for yourself, the official address is: Victoria Palace, Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5EA. Or just find Victoria Station, turn around in the other direction and look up. That is assuming they haven’t erected a new skyscraper since I was there.

Pavlova 1 Pavlova 4 Pavlova 9 Pavlova 5



Rachmaninoff hill-top rental, Beverly Hills

Click on photos to enlarge.

Rachmaninoff ranch 2 Rachmaninoff ranch 1

I’m not quite sure why, but I have a soft spot for this particular address over all of the Russian culture-related addresses I have photographed in the Los Angeles area. It’s one of the few where I have no coherent image of the actual house itself. I was able only to shoot a series of photos of the approach to the property and the gates that keep prying eyes like mine out. Even when I did step a little over the bounds of propriety and peered over or between the large green gates, there still was nothing visible other than woodsy territory (in the photo immediately below), and two driveways leading in different directions (the last photo in the block immediately below, taken through a crack between the gate doors). Yes, there are bits of two structures visible in this shot, but, even if they are primary residence structures, they don’t give us any real idea as to what they look like. As such, this post consists mostly of environs, and I love the environs. So woodsy and isolated. You can only assume (but I think with good reason), that much of what you see would have been there when Sergei Rachmaninoff rented this property from the silent film star Eleanor Boardman in 1942. Most of the trees look like original landscaping. The bricks walls, with the local boulders used as decor, the gates and the mailbox all look like they probably were there when Rachmaninoff passed through briefly. Actually, it was the mailbox that got to me. Such a simple little object, but when you stand next to it, you can imagine Sergei Rachmaninoff reaching out to open it in order to find mail from – from whom? Walt Disney? Vladimir Horowitz? Michael Chekhov? Bruno Walter? Electric bills from Southern Edison? Whatever. If you ever make it up here, reach your hand out to that little catch on top of the mailbox and see if you don’t feel a little something shoot through your system.
The “genealogy” of this place is impressive. It was built for the director King Vidor by the architect Wallace Neft, known for creating the “California style,” in 1928. In subsequent years following Vidor’s tenancy it was owned or occupied by an astonishing number of remarkable individuals: John Barrymore, Katherine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Richard Harris, Candice Bergman, Stephen Stills, Barbra Streisand and many more. The address these days is 9941 Tower Lane. Long ago it was known as 6 Tower Road, and it is possible that it was known as 1139 Tower Road (or Lane) when Rachmaninoff was here. The very cool Movieland Directory site, from which I’ve cribbed most of my info so far, informs us that the street address was 1139 for awhile in the 1940s, but when exactly in the ’40s it doesn’t say. Regardless of the slipping and sliding numbers and names, this is the place where Rachmaninoff first set down his bags when he came to look for a permanent place to hang his hat in Los Angeles. As I have written elsewhere on this site, he shortly thereafter moved to a home that he purchased in the heart of residential Beverly Hills. If you’re interested, look to your left, find the name “Sergei Rachmaninoff” and click on it…

Rachmaninoff ranch 6 Rachmaninoff ranch 5 Rachmaninoff ranch 3 Rachmaninoff ranch 4

In a lecture delivered in Santa Monica in April 2015, Keenan Reesor, a pianist and musicologist, wrote about Rachmaninoff’s debut at the Hollywood Bowl on July 17 and 18, 1942, and about his recent relocation to Southern California: “…The Rachmaninoffs had just moved to Los Angeles. In May they rented the house at 9941 Tower Lane in Beverly Hills and, enjoying the atmosphere, decided immediately to buy a house nearby at 610 North Elm Drive.” Here is how Reesor describes Rachmaninoff’s stature at the time, including a quote from a review of the Hollywood Bowl performance in the Los Angeles Times:
“…[Rachmaninoff’s] music had been performed by an array of illustrious musicians, among them pianists Josef Hofmann, Vladimir Horowitz, and Benno Moiseiwitsch and conductors Albert Coates, Eugene Goossens, Otto Klemperer, Pierre Monteux, Artur Rodzinski, Leopold Stokowski, and Bruno Walter. He had come to be regarded in Los Angeles as one of the greatest pianists and composers of his time. The capstone of it all was Rachmaninoff’s Hollywood Bowl debut—also his last appearance in the city—in two performances of his Second Concerto on July 17 and 18. ‘It was an occasion,’ wrote Isabel Morse Jones. ‘The large audience was aware of its significance and offered . . . the revered pianist, who now makes his home here, homage and appreciation.’ The orchestra, too, ‘greeted him by rising when he came in. . . . It was resplendent music Rachmaninoff made last night.'”
Our trusty Movieland Directory site tells us that Vladimir Horowitz was a frequent guest here, and that he and Rachmaninoff would often sit down at pianos (or the same piano?) and entertain guests. Just stop and imagine that for a moment. There is an account of the first time Rachmaninoff (as conductor) and Horowitz (pianist) met and became fast friends. It was in 1928 in New York. I will let Walter Monfried, a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal in 1943, pick up the story:
Sergei Rachmaninoff was conducting his own second concerto and the pianist of the evening was Vladimir Horowitz. The performance was one of surpassing beauty and perfection. After the concerto was finished, the composer shook hands with the young pianist and said simply, ‘This is the way I have always dreamed that my concerto should be played, but I never expected to hear it that way on earth.’ […] The two pianists formed a mutual admiration society and each made it a point never to miss a recital of the other. Horowitz always instructed his manager: ‘If I am out of town when Rachmaninoff plays in New York, you must telegraph me, and you must let me come back, no matter where I am or what engagement I have.’ And whenever Horowitz performed in New York, Rachmaninoff never was absent and always was the last to leave the hall.”
Finally, a study guide for students by Mary Jane Ayers adds a bit of atmosphere and detail to Rachmaninoff’s life more or less at the time he was moving West, away from turmoil in Europe.
Rachmaninoff spent the next 20 years successfully touring Europe and North America as a piano virtuoso and conductor, working with dozens of orchestras as sort of a ‘citizen of the world.’ He continued to compose piano, vocal, and orchestral music. He never lost his desire to return to Russia, saying, ‘even the air here [in the US] is not like in Russia—it smells differently.’ As he got older, he felt most comfortable in the company of fellow Russians who had also been driven from their homeland. Unfortunately, by 1938, his world was again turned upside down by forces beyond his control. Following the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, Europe was once more on the brink of a world war. It was no longer safe for Rachmaninoff and his family to travel there. In 1939 he returned to America. His fellow Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who had also fled from Russia, called Rachmaninoff ‘a six-foot-two scowl.’
In 1942, Rachmaninoff moved to Beverly Hills, California, and in 1943 he became a US citizen. Sadly, he died of cancer just one month later. In his last few days he wrote, ‘Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is never enough for music.’ He was 70 years old.”

Rachmaninoff ranch 9 Rachmaninoff ranch 8 Rachmaninoff ranch 10 Rachmaninoff ranch 7


1st Vladimir Nabokov flat, London

Click on photos to enlarge.

Nabokov Stanhope 2 Nabokov Stanhope 8

This home at 55 Stanhope Gardens in South Kensington, London, is where Vladimir Nabokov came to rest for a short time after the long journey of emigration from Russia by way of Crimea, Turkey, Greece and France. The Nabokov family arrived in England May 27, 1919, pulling into the port of Southampton on a ship that had departed from Le Havre. Nabokov (1899-1977)  had just turned 20. Vladimir’s father Vladimir rented the home for the whole family at Stanhope Gardens in early June, although it would appear they didn’t stay long. A fabulous webpage called Nabokov’s Whereabouts, put together by the German writer and scholar Dieter E. Zimmer, indicates that, soon enough, they moved to a place nearby at 6 Elm Park Gardens. I spent some time looking for that building, but could not find it. I don’t know if the reason was my ignorance or the fact that things have changed in 85 years. The Stanhope address, however, like several other locations around London, is still there to be tracked down, perused and photographed.
Nabokov, at this time, was already an aspiring author. He had published two volumes of poetry in Russia, Poems (1916) and Miscellany: Two Paths (1918), a collection of twelve verses by Nabokov and eight by Andrei Balashov, a young man who subsequently disappeared from the historical record. By the tradition of alphabetizing, Balashov’s name stands first on the book cover and his poems are printed up front. Some of the titles of Balashov’s poems are: “Verses about Russia,” “Two Lives,” “The Death of a Man” and “Have you Really Known Parting?” I’m not trying to read too much into titles (I have never seen a copy of the book, so I have not read the poems), but there is no denying that Nabokov’s titles, at least, differ from those of his colleague. Some of the Nabokov titles are: “Dark Blue Wallpaper,” “Rain Flew Past and Burned Up in Flight,” “Admiring Mutinous Clouds,” “Birch Trees Do Battle with Rain and Wind” and “I Absolve the Wise and the Evil of Nothing.” You can see a scan of the book’s cover at this Russian website.
The eminent American scholar Simon Karlinsky (whom I had the distinct pleasure of escorting around Moscow one day in 1989 – we talked mostly about Nikolai Gogol), brings to our attention a passage in Nabokov’s autobiography Other Shores, that reflects at least one poet’s response to these early poems. Zinaida Gippius, symbolist, mystic, poet, playwright and memoirist, reportedly told Nabokov’s father shortly after the publication of Poems, “Please tell your son that he will never be a writer.” (See Karlinsky’s “Nabokov and Some Poets of Modernism.”)

Nabokov Stanhope 7 Nabokov Stanhope 4 Nabokov Stanhope 3

That aside, Miscellany: Two Paths is of interest for several reasons. One, it is the only book in which Nabokov shared authorship (although none of the poems are co-written). Two, it was published in Petrograd by M.S. Person (whose typography office was located at 35 Kazanskaya Street) several months after Nabokov and his family had already left the city to escape the Revolution. Three, there is the case of Balashov, about whom we know virtually nothing. The total mystery of this man, who shared a flash of poet’s glory with a friend or colleague in his teenage years, then disappeared utterly, is quite Nabokovian in itself.
Balashov and Nabokov were classmates at the Tenishev School. There is some basic information extant about Balashov’s parents and siblings, but after his graduation from Tenishev and the publication of his eight poems, there is virtually nothing of importance we can say about him. Russian Wikipedia writes that he stayed in the Soviet Union, although one wonders if any real facts exist to back that claim.
I spend some time on Balashov because Miscellany: Two Paths would still have been of some importance for Nabokov at the time he arrived at Stanhope. It was published less than a year before, and it would be the last of Nabokov’s major publications until 1926 when his first novel, Mashenka, appeared in Germany under the pseudonym of Vladimir Sirin. Standing between the publication dates of Miscellany: Two Paths and Mashenka were two translations, Russian versions of Romain Rolland’s Colas Breugnon (1922) and of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1923). This translation of Alice, incidentally, is still cherished in Russia.
Nabokov’s first stay in London was short. Whatever the amount of time he spent at Stanhope and/or Elm Park Gardens, by October 1 he was already enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge.

Nabokov Stanhope 6 Nabokov Stanhope 5 Nabokov Stanhope 1


Leo Tolstoy visits school, London

Click on photos to enlarge.

Tolstoy Octagon 1 Tolstoy Octagon 11

When I think of this place I think about that fabulous story about how Bob Dylan used to go into his grandkids’ kindergarten classes to sing them folk songs. It’s not exactly the same, of course, the biggest difference is that Dylan was in his 60s or more when he did that, and Leo Tolstoy was 32 when he visited this Chelsea, London, building, a school called the Octagon, in 1861. Another difference is that Dylan was going to school to teach kids a little bit about their heritage, whereas Tolstoy was on a European journey to educate himself about education. What is similar are the thoughts one can’t help but have about the unsuspecting kids involved. What did they make of their encounter with greatness? Honestly? The chances are: nothing. But these meetings did and do leave us with some fun stories that fill out the more obscure corners of biographies well combed.
There has actually been quite a bit written about Tolstoy’s trip to the Octagon. I certainly am in no position to offer up anything truly new. I first ran across the topic in Phoebe Taplin’s piece on the Russia Behind the Headlines website. She pulled a good deal from a post on a blog run by Sarah J. Young. It’s a shame that Young stopped after doing only about a half-dozen detailed posts about Russian cultural figures in London. She was very good at it. In any case, if this topic interests you, definitely check out her post. Several Russian sources have added their details to the topic, including this one about Tolstoy’s European trips, this detailed article by M.V. Boguslavsky and K.Ye. Sumnitelny about Tolstoy and eduction, and this post about Tolstoy’s ultimately aborted thoughts about emigrating to England in 1872. There are tons more; most contain variant versions of the same basic facts.
Tolstoy established his first schools in and around Yasnaya Polyana, near Tula, south of Moscow, in 1859. His interest in education was not fleeting. He wrote stories for children; he wrote ABCs, he created schools himself, and supported and lobbied for the creation of schools by others; he studied the topic seriously and in-depth. His European journey in 1861 – the second of two he made to Europe in his life – took him to (at least) Rome, Florence, Paris and London, where he arrived  March 2, 1861 (he left March 17). Matthew Arnold, poet and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools, gave Tolstoy letters of recommendation that the latter apparently took to various schools in the city, where he would sit in on classes to observe, and also to step in to engage the pupils, too. According to Young, Tolstoy visited the Octagon, a part of St. Mark’s College, on Tuesday, March 12, 1861. Young writes:
It was established in 1841 by the National Society, with the Reverend Derwent Coleridge, son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as its head – a position he still held at the time of Tolstoy’s visit (he retired in 1864). Tolstoy met class 3B, and took away with him short compositions on what the boys had done that day. These compositions, which are reproduced in Lucas’s book (Victor Lucas, Tolstoy in London [1979], pp. 54-79), resurfaced in Britain in 1976, loaned from the USSR, at the British Library’s Tolstoy Exhibition (p. 9). They are, it must be said, not the most exciting essays I’ve ever read, but perhaps one shouldn’t expect much from a group of young teenage boys forced to write something at the behest of a strange foreigner.”
Following is a comment Tolstoy made himself about the trip to the school in Chelsea:
“You should have seen the quiet self-assurance of the director, when he and the teacher posed questions about what kind of a plant cotton is. How is it processed? Where is it treated? How does it reach us and how is it manufactured in the factories? Students gave good responses, obviously memorized. I asked permission to pose some questions myself. I asked what class the cotton plant belongs to; I asked what type of soil does it require; I asked how much does a cubic foot of cotton weight when packed? I asked how is cotton packed; how much does it cost to transport it; to load and unload it; what is its chemical make-up; what do you do if it gets wet?… All these issues, it would seem, relate to the subject of cotton, but, of course, the pupils could not respond to me.”
It’s hard to say at such a historical remove, of course. Maybe Russian kids routinely knew the answers to all these questions at that time. But I can’t help but imagine a picture of a rather demanding visitor, no less “quietly self-assured” than the school director, expecting more from folks than, perhaps, he should have.

Tolstoy Octagon 9 Tolstoy Octagon 6 Tolstoy Octagon 4 Tolstoy Octagon 2

In the end it turned out not so difficult to find this place, although none of the sources provide an exact address. (Sarah J. Young, for all her great information, rarely provides actual street addresses.) It is on Fulham Road and the gate, in very small figures, bears the address of 459B. Just above the number on the left are the tiny words “The Octagon.” However, there is something weird with Google maps. When you put 459B Fulham Road into Google maps, it does not take you to the proper location. To make it a bit easier, I photographed a building across the street, the Chelsea Pensioner at 358. This does show up properly on Google maps. And if you click on the small image of the roundish building across the way, it does show 459. In any case, right next to the Octagon is St. Mark’s Chapel, which is located at 459A. It is not visible in any of my photos because it is under major reconstruction and is covered in white tarps and plywood that bleached out entirely in my shots taken on a bright, sunny, chilly day.
My understanding is that the Octagon is now a private residence, or, at least, a private building. It is surrounded by walls only someone as tall as I am can get above on tip-toe and with outstretched arm. There is a forbidding double black gate protecting the place from the Fulham Road side. It borders on the opposite side on a nice little green. (See the top photo.)
Of all the places Tolstoy frequented during his time in London, this is the one, about which the most information has come down to us. Tolstoy also spent a good deal of time at the home of Alexander Herzen (about which I will write later), and, apparently, the South Kensington Museum, now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum, which I did not get around to photographing. Next time on that.

Tolstoy Octagon 5 Tolstoy Octagon 7 Tolstoy Octagon 3 Tolstoy Octagon 10 Tolstoy Octagon 8


Diaghilev/Ballets Russes suppliers, London

Click on photos to enlarge.

Brodie Middleton 2

There’s no telling how much longer this place will remain, at least in the form it now has. As I was walking around looking for angles from which to photograph the facade of No. 68 Drury Lane in London, a man stopped and asked if he could help me find something. I said, yes, maybe he could. I was looking for No. 68 and I had found Nos. 67 and 69, but there was no No. 68. There was just this unnumbered place between the two. The numbers on the other side of the street were well up into the 100s. So I was pretty sure this was what I wanted, but I wasn’t yet fully convinced. Had I gone up to the door and seen the notice there (see second to last photo, as well as short discussion below), I would have known, but I hadn’t done that yet. So I fell into conversation.
“There was a supplier for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes here,” I said. “I’m pretty sure it was this one here. The house number should be 68.”
“Well,” the man replied, “all the houses are numbered consecutively on this street, so let’s look… Yes,  67 and 69… Yes, so this is what you’re looking for. I live in the next building down, so I know the neighborhood pretty well. What did you say was in here?”
“It was a supplier for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.”
“My goodness,” the man said. “The Ballets Russes. Right here. And I never knew.” Then after a brief pause, he said, “These buildings are all marked for major reconstruction. They’re going to add a couple of floors on top of each. So they’re not going to look like this much anymore. The Ballets Russes! Somebody should take pictures of these places before they change them.”
“Actually, that’s what I’m doing, ” I said. “I write about buildings and places connected to Russian culture all over the world. I take pictures of these places and I put them on the internet.”
“Well, that’s what people need to do. Take pictures of these places before they are lost!”
And that’s just what I did. They aren’t the most exciting photos I’ve ever taken, but they may turn out to be the last photos taken of this spot more or less as it looked when Brodie and Middleton supplied the Ballets Russes with materials for the making and painting and decorating of sets.

Brodie Middleton 5 Brodie Middleton 4 Brodie Middleton 6

My photos, unspectacular as they are, capture this place in the first, creeping stages of oblivion. You can find other photos online that still bear the proud name of Brodie and Middleton and Russell and Chapple (late comers after B&M worked with Diaghilev under their own name) emblazoned above the window. You can see those here, if you’re so inclined. In my photos, the name is gone, just the black background left. In the doorway is a sign indicating that “Russell and Chapple” have moved to a new address. Nothing about Brodie and Middleton. At first blush B&M would seem to have fallen by the wayside on their way out of this part of the City of Westminster. So I went to the Russell and Chapple website as listed in the doorway, and, sure enough, found just a sliver of a reference left to the original suppliers, Brodie and Middleton. That moniker remains in the names of a few items that Russell and Chapple continue to provide their customers, such as cellulose varnish, French chalk, Damar crystals, Aqualac matt and gloss glaze, and, perhaps, a few others. Go here to see the name Brodie and Middleton applied to these products. But, lo and behold, Brodie and Middleton is apparently more than just merely a ghost no longer hanging onto its sheet. When I ran a check for this honored name, I came upon a website that looks suspiciously like the Russell and Chapple site, with the same telephone number, the same address, and virtually all of the same products – only without the Russell and Chapple name! So I don’t know what these guys have going, and, frankly, it has nothing anymore to do with the Ballets Russes. So I will let that little mystery remain unexplained and get back to my original topic.
I found this place, as I did numerous others connected to the history of the Ballets Russes, thanks to a very cool page on the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It narrates a long walk beginning and ending at the Covent Garden underground stop. In between it offers up 32 addresses, with brief stories, about places that were either important in the history of the Ballets Russes’ connection to London, or which were of minor importance, but fun nonetheless. I only detected a minor error or two in all the information, and most – though not all – of the locations are still there to be seen. This little place, which, under the name of just Brodie and Middleton, supplied Diaghilev’s artists with paints, brushes, pigments, drapes and other materials, will apparently soon join the few other places that have gone the way of all things made by men and women.
For the record, the final shot below is not of Brodie and Middleton or Russell and Chapple. It is merely a shot of the sign designating the street where the old building is located. Since it turned out to be more attractive than the “business” shots, I added it for beauty.

Brodie Middleton 3 Brodie Middleton 1



Tchaikovsky monument, Moscow

Click on photos to enlarge.

Tchaikovsky2 Tchaikovsky5

Quite a story stands behind this monument honoring Pyotr Tchaikovsky in front of the Moscow Conservatory at 13 Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street. It was conceived, created and almost finished by Vera Mukhina, the great Soviet monumental sculptor. I have written a little about her elsewhere in this blog space. In fact, Mukhina’s first stab at Tchaikovsky was taken in 1929 when she was commissioned by the Tchaikovsky museum in the city of Klin to create a bust of the composer. She was not yet then the renowned artist she would become. By the time a commission came around for her to create a monument to Tchaikovsky that would stand before the main building of the Conservatory, she was at the peak of her fame. This was 1944/45. I don’t think I’m stretching it at all to say that the authorities wanted to honor a universally beloved figure in Russian culture at a time of great national distress. The sufferings that came with the war were still very much in place as this work quietly began its life.
However, the commission that asked Mukhina to create the work did not like her first version, which was intended to depict Tchaikovsky standing and conducting. It was considered that the square in front of the Conservatory was too small to accept the large work she wished to make. Thus arose the plan, more or less, for the monument we now see today. I’ve always found it rather strange, myself: the composer captured in a moment of creative ecstasy as he conducts one of his works – in a seated position. How could anyone conduct one of the great Tchaikovsky works sitting down? At some angles, it looks more like Tchaikovsky is warding off evil ghosts than leading an orchestra. But maybe that’s just me. In any case, even this version suffered plenty of criticism.
As you’ll see in one of the photos below, the ensemble is a large one, with the composer at the middle, but with harps and drapes at either end, some distance from the center. In Mukhina’s conception, there were supposed to be people here, but the commission had her exchange them for harps covered by drapes.
And, still, the commission dragged its feet, constantly delaying the moment when the work would be unveiled to the public. Mukhina tried to hurry the process a couple of times by writing to Joseph Stalin and asking him to intercede, but this did not bring results. Finally, as Mukhina lay dying, some half a year after Stalin’s death, she wrote one more letter, this time to Vyacheslav Molotov, one of the top Soviet statesmen (who was Minister of Foreign Affairs at this point). This seems to be the action which finally brought about the decision to erect the monument. It was too late for Mukhina to see it, she died in October of 1953, but her work was officially unveiled in 1954. Mukhina’s pupils Zinaida Ivanova and Nina Zelenskaya put the finishing touches on the work.
The monument itself, like the outlying harps and drapes, are bronze. The pedestal, which forms a bench where people can sit beneath the composer, is of red granite. The text on the pedestal reads: “To the great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.”

Tchaikovsky3 Tchaikovsky1 Tchaikovsky4

Come curiosities involved with a major reconstruction of the monument in 2007 are also worth mentioning. It turned out that some 50 of the musical notes which were depicted in the sheet music beneath Tchaikovsky’s right arm were missing. Also missing was a pencil from his right hand. In fact, that was only part of the serious damage that had been done to the work over time. The sheet music on the music stand had been turned at an angle, several screws, bolts and brackets were missing or broken. The reason for this, apparently, is a student legend that the notes on the monument are good luck charms which bring good grades, a successful career and success in creative work. (Please note that these latter two kinds of success are quite different.) With a legend like that, it is a wonder that any notes were left at all. The notes and the pencil (I don’t know of any legend connected to the pencil, but maybe it was the only thing left that someone could snap off) were all restored during the rebuilding of the monument. I did not climb up on Tchaikovsky’s lap to see if any of them have disappeared since.
The notes included in the monument represent the first few notes from several of Tchaikovsky’s most famous works: the opera Eugene Onegin, the ballet Swan Lake, the 6th Symphony (Pathetique), String Quartet No. 1, the Violin Concerto in D Major, and the romance “Does Day Reign?”

Tchaikovsky 7 Tchaikovsky6 Tchaikovsky8 Tchaikovsky9



Andrei Platonov monument, Voronezh

Click on photos to enlarge.

Platonov Statue 4 Platonov Statue 1

I have had to work my way up to this post. The photos have been ready in my computer for over half a year. But I keep passing them over because I haven’t been sure what I thought about this monument to Andrei Platonov. It was created by local Voronezh sculptors Ivan Dikunov and Elza Pak and was unveiled in this small square at 24 Revolution Prospect on the 100th anniversary of Platonov’s birth on Sept. 1, 1999. (The Russian Wikipedia article about the monument says it was unveiled Sept. 11, but I’m sticking with Platonov’s birthday of Sept. 1.) The monument is big and it fits the city space well.
My doubts about the work are grounded in two basic thoughts: 1) the black marble or tile that serves as the base looks more suited to a grave site than a proper monument, and 2) there is something faceless about the whole thing, despite the fact that it is also unusual. The coat, in which Platonov is bundled against a chill, is rather formless, his face seems lacking in expression, and the simple cement tiles on which he “walks” down off the pedestal (and which also make up the pedestal’s lower platform) are almost irritatingly common. There is also something rather crude about the two lower tails of Platonov’s overcoat as they fly out to either side. There are moments when I think they look terribly contrived. On the other hand, take a look at the third photo immediately below: From an angle slightly behind Platonov’s figure the flying coat tail looks quite natural indeed.
This is the crux of my ambivalence about this monument. Details that I easily criticize sometimes strike me as being quite good. To wit, I direct your attention to a rather nonsensical sentence that I wrote in the previous paragraph; that the monument is simultaneously unusual and faceless. That is not a direct contradiction in terms, but it should raise questions about what I think.
And so, I have pondered and pondered and pondered until today. I didn’t make my mind up today, but I have decided it’s time to get these photos up, regardless of whether I am ready to have my say or not.
I will say this: The monument begs to be photographed. You walk around it and you keep seeing interesting new angles. I am particularly partial to the shots from behind and from a good distance. But even what I call the “facelessness,” the rather boring front facade and face given to the writer by the sculptors can be said to have meaning. Platonov, after all – whose real name was Klimentov; he took his pseudonym from his patronymic of Platonovich – basically remained anonymous throughout his life. He was not allowed to publish much once the Soviet machine got underway (his first story was printed in 1919). Large numbers of his works remained unpublished until after his death. He was able to publish certain war tales during World War II, but not a single edition of note came out between 1946 and 1965. It really wasn’t until the 1980s and then the post-Soviet period that Platonov’s works began to receive their proper attention. Thus, there is a certain justice in this monument’s facelessness – how many hundreds of thousands, if not, millions of Soviet citizens walked past Platonov between the 1930s and his death in 1951, having no idea they were in the presence of one of the Russian language’s greatest stylists ever? Whether I buy entirely into the execution of this monument’s “faceless” aspect, that surely is one of the moving thoughts behind it.
And then there is that chin. There’s nothing greatly expressive about it; it is all about subtlety. It looks rather as if Platonov may be gritting his teeth. He is not grinning, but he is bearing it. He is withstanding all the blows of fate, the hurt, the injustices, the crimes against him (his 15 year-old son was tossed in the labor camps and came out with tuberculosis, which he passed on to his father) and others. Platonov is bearing it, and moving on ahead.

Platonov Statue 8 Platonov Statue 3 Platonov Statue 7 Platonov Statue 2

Of course, the other nice aspect of this ensemble is the fact that Platonov has up and decided to leave his place on a pedestal. He is in the process of walking down the sloped front half to join the average folks walking on the lowly earth. This, too, is very much Platonov. He was very much a writer of and about common men and women. Although his rough-hewn language and writing style was unlike anyone who had come before or will ever come again, he was very much tied into the fate of the “faceless masses,” if you will allow such a bathetic phrase. His heroes were lonely and often limited. They struggled to make sense of the world around them, usually failing, although they would reveal dignity, individuality and independence in the process. Platonov’s language is chunky and clunky, as if words in it were made of chipped and broken bricks. He wrote about a country and a people trying to build itself from scratch, and his words and sentences and paragraphs sounded like what they were describing. There’s a nice Platonov website (in Russian) and it starts with a shot of this monument and with a few comments about Platonov by other writers. Since I’m partial to Andrei Bitov anyway, and since I think his comment is particularly apt, let me offer his blurb here in English:
Platonov somehow wrote his texts in an almost pre-Christian language of a primeval, newly-born consciousness. The depth of these epiphanies is equal precisely to the genesis, the first birth, to that moment of consciousness when nothing has yet been expressed. Perhaps we should read Platonov to children. They will understand this more easily, and it would be timely for them.”
For the record, the lettering on the pedestal behind the figure of Platonov says: “Andrei Platonov” (on the left), and “without me the nation would be incomplete” (on the right). That phrase is not, as it often is assumed, a matter of Platonov speaking about himself. In fact it is uttered by a character in Platonov’s story, “The Innermost Man.” We are, however, within our rights to apply that phrase to Platonov, as long as we recognize the origin. Indeed, it is true. Platonov’s contribution to Russian literature, drama and culture in general, is difficult to overestimate. He is an entire style and voice unto himself. I have seen very good writers just shake their heads when talking about Platonov. Nobody knows “how he did that,” and, of course, they cannot know. It was his unique gift.
So let’s toss off my rather tedious reservations about this monument. It’s lovely to be walking down the street in Voronezh and to look up and see Platonov walking toward you. There is something calming and pleasurable in sitting down on one of the benches around him and sharing a bit of a city square with him. Whatever I may think, this monument to Platonov, who was born in Voronezh in 1899, does just what monuments should do – it puts the city folk and visitors, too, in direct, living contact with someone who shaped the world we live in, and the language we speak.

Platonov Statue 5 Platonov Statue 6 Platonov Statue 9 Platonov Statue 10



Russian Literature on Crete, Greece

Crete Bookstore2 Crete Bookstore6Yes, I just happened to be wandering the tiny streets and alleyways of Chania, Crete, Greece, last week, and there he was in all his glory: Ivan Turgenev, or, as the Greeks – Nikos Kazantzakis and Alexandros Papadiamandis among them – would know him: Ιβάν Τουργκένιεφ.
I must admit, I did not recognize the name first, although anyone knowing Russian might be expected to do so relatively quickly, seeing as how written Russian, thanks to efforts of the monks Cyril (Kirill) and Methodius in the 9th century, is built on the basis of the Greek alphabet. But, no, it wasn’t the name that caught my eye: It was the photo of Turgenev, a fairly well-known image, that leaped at me through the window of the Mikro Karavi  (Μικρό Καράβι) bookstore at 59 Daskalogianni Street in the Old City of Chania (that’s pronounced khan-YA). Was this a moment of penance for my having slighted Turgenev a month or so ago in this space? Perhaps. But it is a fact that I reacted to Turgenev’s handsome, cultured and rather melancholy visage as if I had just run across an old friend. I can’t imagine seeing a book by Turgenev displayed prominently in the window of an American bookstore. Let’s not even talk about how long you might have to hunt to find this proverbial American bookstore… It was a jolt of joy.
In any case, Turgenev provided the magnet that made me put the day’s walk on hold for 15 minutes. My wife Oksana and I were headed for the seashore, located about two minutes ahead of us, but I simply could not pass Turgenev by that easily. And when I started to look around I was thrilled to see how prominent the Russians were at this lovely, clean, well-lighted place of a bookshop. Two literary maps on the windows put Leon Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabakov, Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol right there in the midst of Haruki Murakami, Jack Kerouac, Ismail Kadare, Amos Oz and many others. But this little ship of books (for that is what mikro karavi means) had more pleasures waiting for me inside, not the least of which was the huge board of writers’ names that hangs behind the cash register. On it, Dostoevsky’s name is matched in size only by those of Euripides, Jorge Luis Borges, Miguel de Cervantes and Omiros (whom you may know better as Homer). A quick search of the shelves – because I’ll admit, the call of the sea was growing stronger – led me to the letter ‘T’ where I found two volumes by Tolstoy (War and Peace and Resurrection) and another by Turgenev (Fathers and Sons). You can see those in the second-to-last photo below.

Crete Bookstore 10 Crete Bookstore1 Crete Bookstore3 Crete Bookstore4

There is a good reason why Russian literature would occupy a place of honor not only in Greece, but on Crete specifically, and his name is Nikos Kazantzakis. He was born in the city of Heraklion on Crete, a two hours’ drive to the east of Chania. This was before Crete was part of Greece proper, but that is beyond the pale of my thoughts today. The fact remains that Kazantzakis, one of the great Greek writers, the author of Zorba the Greek, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, and The Last Temptation of Christ, was deeply affected by Russian culture and literature. One nice little detail that connects Kazantzakis to Chania is that his grave lies near the Chania Gate of the wall surrounding Heraklion. The church refused to allow him to be buried in the city cemetery. Like Leo Tolstoy, who was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church, Kazantzakis had been too much a free-thinker to suit the rigid requirements of the Greek Orthodox Church. According to a wonderful chronology of Kazantzakis’s life, published in The Selected Letters of Nikos Kazantzakis, in October of 1915, Kazantzakis, very much under the influence of Tolstoy’s writings, “decides that religion is more important than literature and vows to begin where Tolstoy left off.”
Kazantzakis had a serious flirtation with Russian culture, and Soviet politics, throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. He traveled to the Soviet Union at least four times between 1925 and 1929 (living and traveling there for a solid 18 months from 1927 to 1929), and he left behind many writings about his experiences. Some were for lectures that he delivered around the world, others were for an Athenian newspaper paying him to send reports, and still others were far more in-depth. Perhaps the peak of Kazantzakis’s involvement with Russian literature came in 1930 when he wrote a two-volume history of the topic.
At one point Kazantzakis had thoughts of settling in the Soviet Union for good. He was witness to a time of turmoil and difficulty. A convinced Communist, he could not have known about the deadly fire that would engulf the next decade and a half in the Soviet Union, but it’s quite clear he was a perceptive observer. On November 4, 1927, he wrote to his future wife Eleni Samiou, “The tempo of Russian life has changed – it’s different from 1925. The official rhythm of life is quieter now; there is a certain embourgeoisement. The arrivistes have arrived and do not budge; the women have begun to descend again to their lowest cravings; the men are tired. Fortunately, the great internal struggle between Trotsky and Stalin lends new life and fire to the Russian soul. This is a critical moment for Russia; everyone expects the Europeans to start a war against them, and every day a horde of women and men queue up at the stores to get an extra supply of flour.”
Thus it is that we now smile as we read Kazantzakis’s references to Moscow as “the red Bethlehem” (as he wrote to Elli Lambridi on the morning of the 10th anniversary of the Revolution). By the end of World War II he had abandoned Communism, though not his leftist beliefs.
Not surprisingly, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky probably had the biggest influence on Kazantzakis of all the Russian writers. He wrote a chapter called “Tolstoy and Dostoevsky” in his book What I Saw in Russia. But he was also moved by the writings of Lev Shestov, the incisive Russian-Jewish philosopher and religious thinker, and Lewis Owens, in his book Creative Destruction: Nikos Kazantzakis and the Literature of Responsibility, devotes an entire chapter to Kazantzakis’s ties to the work of the prominent philosopher Nikolai Berdyayev (usually known as Nicholas Berdyaev in the West). This chapter also notes that Kazantzakis became a close friend of the unique emigre Russian writer Alexei Remizov. In fact, the two were so in synch, that, as we are told, “they never quarreled.” It is interesting to consider and ponder these affinities and friendships, as Shestov, Berdyaev and Remizov were among those who “escaped” the Soviet experiment for the safety of Europe, while their friend Kazantzakis was still very much enthralled with the possibilities of the nation they had given up on and abandoned.

Crete Bookstore5 Crete Bookstore7 Crete Bookstore8 Crete Bookstore11