Tag Archives: Orest Kiprensky

“Alexander Pushkin,” Keanea Peninsula, Maui, HI

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Alexander Pushkin is in the eye of the beholder. That is all I can conclude from a trip my wife and I recently took to the Keanea Peninsula on the famous road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii. Oksana refused to see Pushkin either in the lava rock formation or in my pictures of it. “Where?! Where is he?!” she kept asking me as the waves came crashing over the rocks. “I don’t see him! He’s not there!” She said the same thing again when we got home and I pointed out all the fine points I had captured in a series of photos. “You’re making that all up!” she said.
I turned to my mother for support, forgetting that Mom wouldn’t know Pushkin from Presley. My mother knows a hell of a lot, much more than I ever will. It’s a truism in our family: If you don’t know something, just ask Mom. She knows everything. Almost everything, anyway. Everything except Russian literature and rock ‘n’ roll…

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But my mom – let’s leave her alone. Oksana, my wife, now, is another thing. She’s Russian. And like any Russian she can stand on one leg and recite Pushkin’s poetry until every foreigner in the room drops from exhaustion. How could she let me down? How could she not share this great discovery with me?
Maybe I’m thinking of a cross between the famous photos of his death mask and some of the famous portraits by Orest Kiprensky or Vasily Tropinin, but he’s right there, isn’t he? The sideburns, the curly hair… Okay, I’ll admit he’s got Dostoevsky’s beard. But you know what I find remarkable? The fact that Dostoevsky’s beard actually suits Pushkin really well. Why shouldn’t it if Dostoevsky admitted that all Russian literature emerged from Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat” and Nikolai Gogol, as we all know, purportedly wrote his famous play The Inspector General based on an idea Pushkin tossed him… Hence…
Logic not sound enough? Well, I’ve never been a great fan of hard logic, but when I see Alexander Pushkin in a chunk of Hawaiian lava, I know what I see.

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Alexander Pushkin bust, Tomsk

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I rarely allow myself to be so predictable as to do anything according to someone else’s timeline, but today I’ll succumb. It is Alexander Pushkin’s birthday. He was born 215 years ago today. Anybody, or everybody – or, maybe, nobody – can tell you what that meant for Russian culture. “Pushkin is our everything.” Every individual has “my Pushkin.” Gogol called him “the unique phenomenon of the Russian spirit”; Dostoevsky upped the ante and called him “a prophetic phenomenon.” I would say that people walk up and down the streets of every Russian city and village spouting the verses of Pushkin but you wouldn’t believe me. Still, if I did make that assertion I would only exaggerate in the slightest degree. Moreover – and this may be the most incredible thing of all – Pushkin has not been sullied, has not been appropriated by ideologues (although they have tried), has not been commercialized. Pushkin is pure. He’s the real thing. He is poetry, he is wisdom, he is clarity, he is simplicity, he is the opposite of bombast, he is the best that Russia ever put forth and he continues to symbolize the best that Russia has or is.

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The bust I photographed here stands in the tiny little Pushkin square on the east side of Lenin Prospekt, between  buildings No. 77 and 83 in my beloved city of Tomsk. In the hands of sculptor Mikhail Anikushin he’s a generic Pushkin, rather an imitation, perhaps, of the image created in the famous and beloved portrait of Pushkin that was done by Orest Kiprensky in 1827. Upon seeing that completed portrait, Pushkin supposedly remarked, “The mirror flatters me.” Well, a whole nation would flatter the man for his poetry, his prose, his drama, his wisdom, his wit and the glint that, surely, sparkled in his eye.

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