Saturday, November 26, 2011

Literary Russia - Kazan

There have been many Russians living in the Tatar Capitol of Kazan. Here are a few notes about Russian authors that have lived in Kazan (and Tatarstan)

Tatarstan Republic

Boris Pasternak Memorial Room Chistopol, a river port on the River Kama, is some 600 miles east of Moscow. At Ul. Lenina (formerly Volodarskogo ul.), 81, kv.2, is the room where Boris Pasternak spent two years as an evacuee during the Second World War, now open to the public as a "memorial room". The building, a turn-of-the-century private residence which once belonged to a family by the name of Vavilov, stands on a street where the same lime and poplar trees, of which Pasternak wrote in his poetry, grow. By the nearby River Kama there is a wide alley of old trees where Pasternak used to walk.
Other writers were evacuated to Chistopol together with Pasternak, many of whom lived in considerably more luxurious circumstances than his. The playwright Alexander Gladkov left a valuable record of his Meetings with Pasternak during these years. "Chistopol," he writes, "a small, run-of-the-mill provincial town, took on a strange appearance with the arrival of evacuees from Moscow and Leningrad. An odd touch was added by the writers, of whom there must have been several dozen. In their stylish overcoats and soft felt hats they wandered through the streets - which were covered with good Russian mud - as though they were still in the corridors of their building on Vorovsky Street."
A steep wooden staircase leads to the small second-floor room where Pasternak lived with his wife and child. Before the war, it was used as a nursery, and a border of black and red swallows decorates the walls. The furniture from Pasternak's time remains - most importantly the desk where he would sit translating Shakespeare. Some copies of original pages of his translation of Romeo and Juliet decorate the work surface.

Pasternak's life here was not "a sweet bread-roll", in the words of Gladkov. The winters were particularly harsh, but nevertheless Pasternak is said to have braved the cold: "Entering the canteen where the temperature was the same as out on the street and where no one took their coats off, Pasternak always took off his coat and hung his hat up on a nail. He would bring his work with him: and Anglo-Russian dictionary, an miniature volume of Shakespeare, and the next page of the translation."
One witness of the time recalls Pasternak being jeered at in the street by children, because of his unusual and humorous surname - Pasternak in Russian means "Parsnip".
While in Chistopol Pasternak heard of the suicide of one of his friends, the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, in nearby Elabuga.

Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina was also born in Chistopol in 1931.

The town of Elabuga, near Chistopol, is where Marina Tsvetaeva lived for ten days in the summer of 1941, before committing suicide at the age of forty-nine.Align Center
Marina Tsvetaeva

In early summer of 1941, when the Soviet Union became involved in the Second World War, Tsvetaeva joined a group of writers being evacuated to the Tatar Republic, after it became clear that she would not be able to stay with Pasternak in Peredelkino, outside Moscow. Having left the capitol on 8 August, 1941 with her son Mur, she arrived almost two weeks later, on the 21st but they were unable to reside with better-placed Chistopol, as her husband and daughter, who had been arrested two years before, were "enemies of the people". Tsvetaeva was reduced to renting a house in the neighboring town of Elabuga. The house, on a quiet street (Ul. Zhdanova, 20), was clean and peaceful. Apart from the kitchen there were two rooms, separated by partitions: one taken by Tsvetaeva and Mar (which was about 30 feet square in size, and looked out on to the fields and woods at the back), and another lived in by their landlords.
Tsvetaeva found it impossible to make ends meet in Elabuga, and travelled back to Chistopol on 30 August to look for work. Despite the help and support of Lydia Chukovskaya and her friends, she went home and hanged herself the day after she came back, while her landlords and her son were out. She was buried in an unmarked grave on a spot on which now stands a small white cross place by her sister Anastasia.

In 1841, the thirteen-year-old Lee Tolstoy moved with his brothers and sister to Kazan, where they took up residence at Peperechno-Kazanskaya ul.9, following the deaths of their father and grandmother (their mother had died much earlier). The Tolstoy children had been adopted by their aunt and uncle, and Yushkovs, with whom they were to live for the next few years.


Tolstoy's grandfather had once been Governor of Kazan, and the house of Count Yushkov and his wife, Pelageya (sister to Tolstoy's father), was the center of aristocratic life in the city at that time. The Tolstoy children were swept up into the round of parties, balls and trips to the theatre during their time here, and were generally well looked after by their aunt and uncle.
When Tolstoy and his three brothers became students at Kazan University in the 1840's, they began to live independently for the first time, renting a house at Bolshaya Krasnaya Ul, 68. Tolstoy joined the university in 1844, first as a student in Oriental languages, and then in law. He was not an outstanding student and never actually graduated. In retrospect, the most significant event during Tolstoy's short time as an undergraduate was perhaps his contraction of venereal disease (having been introduced to brothels by his elder brothers) - significant in that it was while he was recuperating in the clinic that he began to write his famous diary, which he would keep on and off until his death and which would become an important laboratory for his writing.
Tolstoy probably dropped out of university because in April 1847 he came into his inheritance. In his case this this meant the acquisition of Yasnaya Polyana, the estate where he had been born and had spent his early childhood. At this time Tolstoy regularly changed his mind about what he wanted to do with his life, and the prospect of becoming lord of the manor was clearly more inviting than finishing his degree.
Tolstoy is not the only famous Russian writer to have studied at Kazan University. In 1903, the poet Velamir Khlebnikov became an undergraduate there, and like his forebear, not only switched subjects - from mathematics (which included the study of non-Euclidean geometry founded there in the previous century by Lobachevsky) to natural science - but who never graduated. Unlike Tolstoy, however, Khlebnikov was sent to prison for a month for taking part in anti-tsarist demonstrations.
Klebnikov had moved with his family to Kazan in 1898, and before attending university had begun to refine the drawing skills he had developed at an early age. He was tutored by a student from Kazan Art School, then a well-established graphic artist. Khlebnikov was a keen naturalist, and liked to sketch birds and animals. In 1905 he undertook a five-month ornithological expedition to the northern Urals with his brother, during which they gathered specimens for their fathers' collection.
Baratynsky Museum This small two room museum, founded in 1975, contains personal effects and literary memorabilia pertaining to the time Baratynsky spent both here and at his father-in-law's estate at Kaimara, about fifteen miles from Kazan. Exhibits include furniture from the poet's study here, as well as books from his library, and etchings by Vasily Zhukovsky.
Baratynsky first came to Kazan in 1831, for business reasons, and settled for a few months with his family on Gruzinskaya ul., in his father-in-law's town house. He found cultural life here primitive and did not enjoy himself very much. In 1833 he was compelled to come back again to take care of the Kaimara estate, and his melancholy state of mind was dispelled only by a chance meeting with Pushkin, who was traveling around Russia collecting materials on Pugachev. Address: Ul. Korolenko, 26
-Gorky Museum Gorky lived in Kazan from 1884 to 1888 and hoped to go to university here. He held a succession of jobs while he was living in Kazan and between 1886 and 1887 he worked as an apprentice at the Derenkov bakery. It is here, on its former site on the corner of Malaya and Bolshoi Lyadsky streets, that a museum about his experiences was founded in 1940. The bakery has been recreated in the cellar of the building where Gorky used to sleep on sacks. Although he never matriculated, Gorky nevertheless referred to the four years he spent in Kazan as his "universities".
The nine rooms of the museum have been arranged chronologically to tell the story of Gorky's life and works, and contain a collection of his personal belongings, including books and clothes, as well as letters and photographs. In 1968, on the centenary of Gorky's birth, two additional floors were added to include exhibitions on the first floor about the writer's relationship with Chaliapin (who was born here and became a close friend), and the productions of his plays in Kazan. Address: Ul. Gorkogo, 10

notes on Chaliapin :
Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin (Russian: Фёдор Ива́нович Шаля́пин, Fyodor Ivanovich Shalyapin; February 13 1873 – April 12, 1938) was a Russian opera singer, born in Kazan, Tatarstan. The possessor of a large and expressive bass voice, he enjoyed an important international career at major opera houses and is often credited with establishing the tradition of naturalistic acting in his chosen art form.
During the first phase of his career, Chaliapin endured direct competition from three other great basses: the powerful Lev Sibiriakov (1869–1942), the more lyrical Vladimir Kastorsky (1871–1948), and Dmitri Buchtoyarov (1866–1918), whose voice lay between the extremes exemplified by Sibiriakov and Kastorsky. The fact that Chaliapin is far and away the best remembered of this magnificent quartet of rival basses testifies to the magnetic power of his personality, the acuteness of his musical interpretations and the vividness of his performances.

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