Tag Archives: Tomsk

Nikolai Naumov school, Tomsk

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Anybody who skips out of school a little early earns a soft spot in my heart. I did that once, I dropped out of junior college (yes! junior college!) and it was one of the best things I ever did. It’s possible that Nikolai Naumov, the writer from Tomsk, might have said the same thing. True, he didn’t drop out of the Tomsk Men’s (or Boy’s) Gymnasium for the same reasons – orneriness – that I did. He did it because he couldn’t afford to keep his education going.
Naumov, with a full education or not, became a very popular writer of regional and Siberian tales from the 1860s to the 1880s. He never actually set foot in the building that we see in these photos. But it is one of the conventions that we use to connect our disparate times and generations to say, “Naumov studied here.” The name of the place where Naumov studied was the same, and the organization was the same, and so this building at 9 Frunze Street, erected 60 years after the Gymnasium was opened in 1838, still officially represents the school attended by Naumov and many other future prominent Siberians.
Just to keep things in perspective, it wasn’t all famous writers and leading scientists that came through this school. One of its most notorious graduates was Alexander Kvyatkovsky, later to be a member of the group plotting assassinate kill Alexander II in 1879.

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In encyclopedias Nikolai Naumov (1838-1901) is described by that wondrous epithet: Russian writer. We don’t know him today, of course. His tales of life in 19th century Siberian Russia apparently have proven to be too specific, too tied to their own time to reach us. (Although you can access several of his writings through the Lib.ru internet library.) The wonderful illustrated Tomsk guidebook that I always use when I’m in that city, says this about Naumov: “Famous Siberian writer-democrat, one of the first to describe daily life as it was in the Siberian village.” This book’s entry on Naumov continues: “In the ’70s of the 19th century he was one of the most popular writers in the country. He wrote about rural Siberia at the time following the reforms [the abolishment of serfdom], about the way the poverty-stricken local populace was exploited by kulaks [roughly: rich farmers], merchants and bureaucrats.”
A brief biography on the Lib.ru site gives a concise picture of Naumov’s background and early years: “His grandfather was a deacon, his father served in Siberia and moved in the same circles as the Decembrists. He [the father] was noted for his honesty. Losing his mother early in life, Naumov grew up alone, an abandoned child. [What’s that about the fine, upstanding father? – JF] He attended the Tomsk gymnasium, but financial need saw to it that he finished only the first classes. Joining the army as  a junker, in 1860 he audited classes at St. Petersburg University and prepared to take the gymnasium graduate exams, but he became involved in student disturbances and was arrested. Later he became a commissar for peasant affairs in Siberia.”
The same source writes the following about Naumov’s style of writing: “Naumov primarily described the daily life of the Siberian peasant. His vision significantly differed from the cliched image of the downtrodden Russian peasant. [His peasant] was relatively well off and quite able to stand up for himself. Clinging wholly to the school of writers who idealized the people, Naumov saw in the Siberian peasant only the embodiment of various virtues and lofty qualities. If he occasionally described the wild drunkenness of gold seekers, it was exclusively as proof of the Russian individual’s rich and generous nature. Naumov’s drunks never exhibit unruly, insulting behavior, but rather fling money about loosely and allow anyone who would wish to rob them blind. They generously share with every man they meet, and lavishly aid their poorer comrades.”
Naumov’s collected works were published in two volumes in 1897 and in three volumes in 1939-40.

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Gleb Uspensky hotel, Tomsk

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Gleb Uspensky (1843-1902) is one of those Russian writers on whom, let’s be honest, the sun rarely shines any more. In his time, however, he was well known and well respected – Vladimir Lenin was a fan and he was hardly alone. Uspensky was a believer in literature as a means to affecting social change and was close to the progressive People’s Will movement. He wrote primarily about the poor and the disenfranchised, publishing almost exclusively from 1868 to 1884 in the popular literary journal Notes of the Fatherland, which was edited by the great civic poet Nikolai Nekrasov and the great satirical novelist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin. Uspensky traveled much throughout Russia and Europe, gathering information for his writings. After visiting Germany, France, Belgium and England, he noted the lack of “general fear” that he saw in Europe. “In France,” he wrote, “the people are their own bosses.”
He arrived in Tomsk on July 13, 1888, and stayed in the building you see here – it was then called the European Hotel. Its address is now 1 Rosa Luxemburg Street (Magistratskaya Street when Uspensky was there). On June 9, a month before his arrival, the Siberian Newspaper ran the following note: “Our famous writer Gleb Ivanovich Uspensky will travel throughout Siberia this summer and will arrive in Tomsk on one of the next steamboats. As they say, Gleb Ivanovich is traveling with the goal of acquainting himself with the migrant movement.” Indeed, Uspensky was inspired to travel to Tomsk, and to Siberia in general, by his close friend the writer Vladimir Korolenko, who had spent time in Siberian exile. Korolenko’s stories about the people who remained in Siberia, or who traveled there freely to avoid problems in “European Russia,” fired Uspensky’s imagination.

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It so happened that Uspensky arrived just as Tomsk University, the first university in Siberia, was officially to be opened. Seeing as how he was a well-known figure, he was invited to attend the ceremonies. But he chose instead to go to a party at the home of Nikolai Naumov, a local writer of democratic leanings whose tales and reports about people and life in and around Tomsk brought him national fame in the 1870s. Still, on his return journey to St. Petersburg, Uspensky felt compelled to send a note back to the Tomsk municipal government, in which he said, “I sincerely add my joy to that of all Siberians and Tomsk citizens, especially, on the occasion of the opening of the university. Social progress (however it may come about) undoubtedly must move forward.”
Just one year after having been in Tomsk Uspensky experienced his first bout with mental illness. Eventually his malady led to a diagnosis of insanity (officially called “progressive paralysis”) and he was admitted to an insane asylum in 1892 in Novgorod, where he lived out the last decade of his life. He was buried in St. Petersburg in the Volkov Cemetery.

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Pyotr Makushin House, Tomsk

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Pyotr Makushin (1844-1926) was a man after my own heart. He founded the first public library in Tomsk and he founded the first bookstore in that splendid city. The building you see in the photo above, located at 4 Solyanaya Square, is Tomsk’s House of Science and it is named after Makushin. Better than that, the great man is buried right there on the grounds – not back in the back somewhere, but right out front where you can daily take it as a reminder of the way that all things touched by humans go – bookstores included.
Makushin was born in a village near Perm and he came to Tomsk in 1868 as the overseer of the local religious seminary. But it wasn’t long before he felt the call to do other, greater, things. In 1873 he opened the Mikhailov and Makushin bookstore, the first in all of Siberia. Russian Wikipedia tells the details well: “By the end of the 19th century this company was the biggest bookseller in all of Siberia. It had a large affliate in Irkutsk, and it had small book shops in 125 villages of the Tomsk Region. It maintained a stock of approximately 250,000 books…” An online encyclopedia of Siberia adds that in 1891 Makushin opened up bookselling outlets along the Ob-Yeniseisky Canal and along the Central Siberian railroad. Not surprisingly, I would think, Makushkin was also a publisher – of books and of newspapers.

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Basically, Pyotr Makushin was a one-man system of education and enlightenment. That Siberian encyclopedia tells us that in his life he spent enough on charity (half a million rubles) that, had he chosen to, he could have purchased an entire block of Moscow real estate. I wonder if that underestimates his contributions. For example, the House of Science in Tomsk alone was built on Makushin’s money. Basically, the man was unstoppable. In addition to everything else he also had a hand in establishing Tomsk’s first free hospital, kindergarten and telephone line (!).
One more time from that encyclopedia of Sibiria: “Pyotr Makushin was the author of the statutes for, and the chairman of, the School Society which was opened in 1882. This was a volunteer organization bringing together citizens who were prepared to help public education. The yearly dues were just one ruble, so its membership numbered in the thousands (Tomsk then had a total population of 40,000). Donations were used to help poor schoolchildren and to provide awards for the best teachers. At its own cost the society maintained three beginning gymnasiums for boys, opened a free public library, offered evening courses, scheduled public readings on Sundays, and maintained a museum of applied knowledge.”
All of this, we are told – and we are not surprised – raised the ever-vigilant suspicions of the Russian government. What the hell was he doing helping all those people live better lives? In order to find out, the Tomsk police officially kept an eye on everything the man did at least from the late 1880s throughout the 1890s.

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Ilya Erenburg house, Tomsk

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If you’re the kind of person who likes to avoid the obvious, it’s rather difficult to write briefly about Ilya Erenburg (1891-1967). The fact of the matter is this: his most enduring contribution to Russian culture and literature is that his novella The Thaw (1954) gave one of the Soviet Union’s most important eras its name. The novel itself, like so many Soviet novels, is pretty close to unreadable these days. Its formulaic characters and situations are served up as literary Functions, with a capital F, and there is very little life or air to be found in the story. But whenever we discuss the post-Stalin Thaw, or the Khrushchev Thaw, we are doing so, lexically speaking, thanks to Erenburg.
In fact, the man was a fascinating figure. Being revolution-minded early in his life, he spent time in prison as a political prisoner in 1908, after which he left for Paris. There he began his literary life as a poet and a newspaper correspondent. He returned to Moscow in 1917, but, unhappy with the turn that the Revolution took, he headed back to his beloved France. He remained in Europe as a news correspondent until 1940, when he returned to the Soviet Union and became one of the country’s most beloved and respected war correspondents. While in Europe, Erenburg wrote extensively, and with understanding, about avant-garde art, doing a good job of informing Europe about the Soviet Union and keeping the Soviet Union up-to-date about European art. During the 1930s he traveled back to the U.S.S.R. on short trips that allowed him to collect material for his creative writing. One of those trips in 1932 brought him temporarily to Tomsk, where he occupied an apartment in a simple, but attractive wooden building bearing the addresses of 11 Herzen Street, and 17 Belinsky Street. The first two photos here show the building from the street, while the last two photos show it from the courtyard, which, according to my friend and Tomsk expert Pavel Rachkovsky, is probably where the writer would have entered and exited the building.

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While living in this house Erenburg gathered the material for, and partially wrote, his novel Day Two (1933). According to research done by Yury Varshaver under the pseudonym of Yury Shcheglov, Erenburg befriended a young student whose last name was Safronov and he turned the young man into the lead character of his novel, giving him the name of Vladimir Safonov. In the following paragraph from the novel one sees references to Tomsk’s history as a place occupied by political prisoners, present and former, and as a place with great energy and potential:
“Tomsk might have died, but Tomsk had a university. Tens of thousands of students came to Tomsk. They did not know the city’s history. They didn’t care about the whims of the merchant Gorokhov, the sufferings of Potanin, or the wooden carvings on the gates of old estates. They came to study physics, chemistry or medicine. […] They filled Tomsk with noise and laughter. They found their ways into the homes of unfortunate, disenfranchised people. They shared their rations of bread and sugar with the disenfranchised, and the disenfranchised let them into their holes, filled with dust, moths and mould. They could sleep on sawhorses, on flat boards or on the floor. They slept with a sleep that is called the sleep of the dead. But early in the morning they jumped up and ran to the wash basin filled with icy water. On the run they recited their chemical formulas and the names of skull bones. There were 40,000 of them. Among them were Buryats, Ostyaks, Tunguses and Yakuts. They knew that in a few years they would be running the country, that they would be healing and teaching people, building factories, running collective farms, drilling into mountains, sketching the plans for bridges and would be traveling into the deepest corners of the immense country, joyously rousing people from their slumber, bursting through blinds with their energetic rays just as a bright, sunny day roused them. Thus did Tomsk begin to live a second life.”
Erenburg’s legacy is mixed. There is a great deal of suspicion in so-called “liberal circles” about how he was able to live in and travel freely to and from Europe while the vast majority of Soviet citizens were unable to leave the country. There are questions on the side of orthodox Soviet thinkers about what he was doing abroad all that time. In sum, if you are so inclined, you can find enemies and detractors of Erenburg on all sides. In that sense he remains a rather quintessential Soviet figure, steeped in mystery and suspicion, and not lacking in talent.

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Vyacheslav Shishkov house, Tomsk

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My mother recently oohed and aahed over the wooden architecture one finds in Tomsk. I can’t say as I blame her, so I thought I’d post this series of photos today for her. This is the building that now hosts the Vyacheslav Shishkov Arts Center. It houses a small Shishkov museum and provides space for all kinds of artistic endeavors for modern-day residents of Tomsk. It’s an imposing bit of architecture, with the gorgeous laced wood decorations standing atop a nice, firm, brick first-floor foundation. It wasn’t always like this, of course. In the last photo below you can see what the building originally looked like before it was expanded and fortified. Still, the  specimen we have today is impressive. The photo above pictures the building from the courtyard, which is where you find entrances to all old wooden buildings in Tomsk. The next photo below provides a view of the structure from the street.
Shishkov (1873-1945) was one of the top Siberian writers whose works gave reading Russians an opportunity to get to know a land and a way of life that they would never have experienced otherwise. When I mention Siberia, of course, I’m not talking about the prison camps that westerners automatically associate with that place name, but rather the extraordinary and extraordinarily vast geographical location that is to Russia a bit of what the Wild West once was to Americans. For a Russian, even today (maybe especially today), the epithet “Siberian” is one that carries a great deal of respect. People who were born and grew up in Siberia are known as hearty, honest, straightforward, resourceful people with a strong relationship to land and heaven. Often, when I remark at home on someone’s admirable qualities, my wife will say, as if this explains it all, “Well, he’s a Siberian, you know. He comes from Siberia.”
Shishkov lived in this building, building No. 10, from 1911 to 1915 (he had resided in Tomsk since 1894) and here he wrote several of his well-loved works. Incidentally, when the writer lived here the street was named Krestyanskaya Ulitsa, or, Peasant Street. It was renamed as Shishkov Street in 1953.

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Shishkov was not only a writer. In fact his name attracts several epithets, including ethnographer, social activist and river navigator. He led many expeditions exploring Siberian rivers, including the Ob, the Yenisei, the Chulim, the Charysh, the Lena and the Vitim. He left Tomsk when he took a job in Petrograd (formerly Petersburg, later Leningrad) at the Ministry of Roads and Waterways in 1916. There he oversaw the building of the Chuisk Road, or highway, leading from Novosibirsk to Mongolian lands. The same basic road is still in use today.
Shishkov made his literary debut with a tale called “Cedar” in 1908. It was published in Siberian Life newspaper. His novella, Taiga, was written while he lived in Tomsk. He began to publish actively around 1913 and his literary activity increased again when he moved to Petrograd. His two most famous novels are The Horde (1923) and Ugryum River (1933). He remained in Leningrad for part of the great siege of that city during World War II, and there he worked on what was to be an unfinished, three-volume novel about the life of the Russian rebel Emelyan Pugachyov.
Immediately below is a picture of Shishkov’s desk as now displayed, with original implements, at the Shishkov Arts Center. I would like to point out that the man you see standing at the building’s entrance in the top photo is Pavel Rachkovsky, the architect, historian, photographer and great Tomsk expert. Having Rachkovsky along with you in Tomsk is far better than having the key to the city or a million dollars. He can open any door, just as he is doing here on the museum’s day off. It was enough for the woman guarding the fort to see Rachkovsky’s face to open the entire building up to us. My thanks to her and, once again, to Pavel, for the incomparable Siberian hospitality.

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Edison Denisov home, Tomsk

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Back to the unbelievable wooden architecture, and not only that, of my beloved Tomsk. This is the house, at 30 Kuznetsov Street, where the great composer Edison Denisov was born in 1929. As the plaque around the right hand-side corner of the building proclaims, he lived here until 1951, at which time he left for Moscow to study composition at the Moscow Conservatory. There’s a pretty good story behind that little biographical blip. Denisov at that time had been studying for several years in the physics and mathematics department at Tomsk University when he won a student contest for one of his compositions (he also studied in a local musical college). That victory gave him the nerve to send several of his compositions to none other than Dmitry Shostakovich, who wrote back something to the effect of, “You need to be doing this seriously, kid.” According to Russian Wikipedia, from whom I am taking a good deal of info here, Denisov graduated from the conservatory in 1956 but his work was not received well in the Soviet Union for it was rather too “avant-garde.” The West, meanwhile, apparently received him as the “Mozart of the 20th Century.” In 1979 Denisov’s work came under serious attack from official circles, led by the head of the Composer’s Union Tikhon Khrennikov. I mention this specifically because Khrennikov is often held high as a symbol of late Soviet-era music these days. I don’t know his music, I can’t say. What I can say is that this would appear to be another example of contemporary Russia forgetting many important things – the kinds of things that just might help that great nation make a few useful changes were it to remember them. But now I’ve gone very far afield. To finish the sprint bio: Denisov was seriously injured in a car accident in 1994 and he went to Paris, where he was a major star, to recuperate. He died in Paris two years later.

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The Denisov family did not own or occupy all of this gorgeous building. His father was a prominent scholar at Tomsk University and his mother was a phthisiologist at the local tuberculosis clinic. As such they were given rooms in this building occupied by many other equally learned individuals. My friend, the Tomsk expert, Pavel Rachkovsky told me, as we walked around the Edison house, that there could easily be many more plaques on this home – such was the quality of those inhabiting it. That’s important for the world of music, for when you think of little Edison running up and down corridors and brushing shoulders, glances and an occasional word with all kinds of talented people in various disciplines, you get a feel for the atmosphere of accomplishment and precision in which he grew up. Denisov’s father, whose field of interest was radiophysics, was instrumental in setting up radio and telecommunications in Tomsk.

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Lydia Delektorskaya Home, Tomsk

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Here is one of those moments when you want to strike up singing the old Beatles’ song “With a Little Help from my Friends.” As I walked through Tomsk past this colorful structure bearing the addresses of 11 Kartashov Street on one corner and 20 Kuznetsov Street on the other, I would never have known it was worth stopping and thinking about had it not been for a friend. I was, at the moment, in the hands of my great friend Pavel Rachkovsky, an architect and an expert and activist in the movement to save Tomsk’s spectacular, but dwindling wooden buildings. We were heading towards the childhood home of the great composer Edison Denisov, who grew up just one block from here, but Pavel stopped me here and said, “Now this is one of those places that nobody knows anything about and that’s a real shame. This is where Matisse’s last muse and assistant Lydia Delektorskaya was born and grew up.” Just like that, an attractive but anonymous building suddenly acquired for me a story and a place in history. I must admit I had no idea that someone so important to the great French painter had come from the Siberian city of Tomsk. For all the reading I have done, nothing had brought me to all that has been written about Delektorskaya, including this blog or this blog with some nice photos, artwork and details about her relationship with Matisse and his wife. By all accounts she was a fascinating, independent, resourceful and wise woman.

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Rachkovsky, who is an employee of the Tomsk Ministry of Culture and is a fine photographer as well as historian, kept on talking as we walked back and forth around the building. “I have tried to get people interested in putting a memorial plaque or some other form of remembrance on this building, but so far no good,” he said. “But I think it’s pretty extraordinary that a young woman, who grew up right here in this house, made her way in the world after losing both her parents at an early age and got herself to Europe while Russia was going through some difficult years. That says a lot about her character and I think Tomsk should be proud that she began her journey here.” For the record, Delektorskaya was born in 1910 and she died not all that long ago, in 1998. According to a picture in the second blog I mention above, she is buried in the town of Pavlovsk outside of St. Petersburg. As for the home of her birth, I’m with Rachkovsky – this striking wooden home would be all the more beautiful if passersby knew who once lived here. P.S. My wife Oksana Mysina reminded me hours after this post was made that she recorded the voice of Delektorskaya in Olesya Fokina’s documentary film Lydia D., which can be watched in full (in Russian) here.

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