Monday, 20 March 2017

Toomas Karmo (Anne Garrels): A Russia Situation Appraisal, for Kmo Case Officer and Others

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo had time to do a reasonably complete and (within the framework of the version-upgrade  process) reasonably polished job.

Revision history:

  • 20170321T0327Z/vcersion 2.0.0: Kmo finished his incremental process of converting the point-form outline into coherent sentences. - He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, adjustments over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170321T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time to upload a duly polished point-form outline. He hoped over the coming 3 hours to convert this into coherent sentences, making a series of incremental uploads.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that is formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" which on many Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect "Cascading Style Sheets" problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

Tonight I write in part for the benefit of my presumed FSB or SVR case officer. This is the shadowy official - some unknown "Nikolai Petrovich" or "Ludmilla Petrovna" - for whom I composed a lighthearted communiqué here at on 2017-03-06 or 2017-03-07, under the heading "Open Letter to My FSB/SVR Case Officer, with a Query on Practical Russian". I write also in part for the benefit of a wider audience, who may be finding it helpful to consider Russian history and current Russian affairs, and for whom Russia may be more alien than  it is for me. (I write not entirely as an Anglo-Saxon, but instead as a disapora Estonian - here in Ontario slowly, painfully, learning also a little Russian.)


Yesterday being Sunday, I immersed myself in the darkly brilliant journalism of Anne Garrels's Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). Since the book runs to only 225 or so pages, I was able to read it from cover to cover. My reading was made all the easier because the writer's narrative talent sweeps her readership along, as a thrill-seeking audience might be swept along by some Clancey or Grisham or Conan Doyle.

A glance at Ms Garrels's credentials impresses: this book is not her first (she has also Naked in Baghdad); she is a former correspondent for National Public Radio in the USA; and she has received the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation, and the George Polk Award for Radio Reporting.

Impressive also is the depth of her research. Aware, perhaps more than many, that Moscow is not Russia, she years ago picked a provincial centre at random, literally flinging a pencil at her map. As it happened, her point of impact (the paper, she says, got slightly torn) was Chelyabinsk - a wartime centre of heavy industry; a former Soviet "closed city", as a centre of postwar nuclear development; nowadays a city of something over a million inhabitants, with a dozen universities; and a city in the world's headlines on 2013-02-15, when a meteor detonated overhead, delivering in its flash and bang the energy of some thirty Hiroshimas without taking a single human life.

From 1993 to the present, Ms Garrels has had Chelyabinsk under her formidable journalistic microscope. She has been visiting every few months, to the point where she now feels that city to be her "second home" (p. 5).

So, folks, jog to your bookseller or library, and start reading. (If you head for the central establishment in the multi-branch Public Library here in Richmond Hill, Ontario, then your jog must be to the history stacks, in the far west of the main reading room. Our local Dewey on-spine call number is 947.43 Gar. Although I have this book out on loan as I type tonight, I hope to be returning it on or before 2017-03-26.)


To convey flavour, I will quote quite a few extracts. I do so in the belief that my quotations pass the "Fair Use" test in copyright law. This belief is indeed somewhat bolstered by my discovery that Web extracts from Ms Garrels's book can already be downloaded through Google (as I will in in a moment explain).  

Under constraints of time, I must tonight leave many themes from Garrels untouched - Russian addiction treatment centres, for instance, and Russian environmentalist NGOs. The reader interested in the public-health problem of addiction (which seems still more severe in Russia than  in the North America and the EU) can find a bit of what Ms Garrels has to say by Googling on the string garrels rehab center roizman chelyabinsk. Similarly, the reader interested in NGOs can find a bit of what Ms Garrels has to say by Googling on the string garrels planet of hopes NGO. ("Planet of Hopes" is an NGO recently in the news, being somewhat vulnerable to possible constraining Moscow action.) 


I start on my own long smörgåsbord of quotations by choosing just three dark themes, out of the many in a brilliantly dark book. 

On capital flight and the undermining of the Russian business sector, Ms Garrels has this (on pp. 57-58):

While New York and especially European cities have long attracted Russia's superrich, the growing number of middle-class business owners who are now exiting the country is an ominous development for the Russian economy. Small and medium-sized enterprises make up only around a quarter of Russia's economy, a smaller proportion than in most economies, but they are a crucial part of the government's plan to wean the country of imports. 

(If a wider context is desired, Google can be given the search string garrels have long attracted Russia's superrich. Ms Garrels goes on discuss a related topic much drawn to my attention in private chats lately, the Russian brain drain.)

Next, I select some material on the military. To avoid making tonight's posting more strident than it has to be, I leave out some of Ms Garrels's remarks on the specials - in Russian official parlance, the "volunteers" - now serving in the Lugansk conflict zone. Instead, I concentrate on what Ms Garrels has to say (on  pp. 114-116) about some conflicts already receding into history:

Like every Russian city, Chelyabinsk has an impressive monument to those who died during World War II. Young couples in their increasingly elaborate finery go there to pay their respects and have their increasingly elaborate photographs and videos taken on their wedding day. The Great Patriotic War, as it's known, is the last uncontested victory for Russians (as it is for Americans), and Chelyabinsk's factories and workers played a huge part in that triumph. The large square with its eternal flame /.../ is a place where people can feel grateful, sentimental, and proud of their city and their country. But while veterans from the 1940s are honored, many soldiers who served afterward, in Afghanistan and Russia's more recent domestic wars, feel the price they paid was too high and that they've been ignored.

On a drizzly November day, veterans and soldiers in their twenties and thirties gathered at the war memorial, less to celebrate than to commiserate with one another. One counterintelligence sergeant who fought in both Chechnya and Dagestan said, "I don't want to talk about my service," hinting at the terrible things he had seen or done. "I love my country but hate the government and see no one, no one who can lead us. They gave us nothing to fight with. You are looking at young men who did it on their own, with no support, and we came home to nothing. I would give my life for this country, but this country would do nothing for my wife and child had I died." Those standing around him nodded in agreement and took another swig of vodka.

They had gathered for Unity Day, a new holiday that replaces the once-festive anniversary of the Soviet revolution, with its grand military marches through Red Square and food packages for veterans in times of shortage. For all Putin's efforts to promote national pride, no one quite knows what this Unity Day is all about or how to mark it. And for these young men, who fought against fellow Russian citizens in Chechnya and Dagestan, unity has a hollow ring. They were proud of fighting "enemies of the state" but traumatized by what they have gone through and bitter about how they have been treated since.

(If a wider context is desired, Google can be given the search string garrels impressive monument to those who died during World War II. Ms Garrels of course turns next to Lugansk ("And there may be a new group of alienated soldiers emerging"), but I tonight do not. - I presume, without having made extensive experiments, that all my remaining quotations can be supplied with a wider context via a Google download, like the two just presented.)

Finally, on the darker side of the stage, I select one of Ms Garrels's insights regarding the Orthodox Church (from p. 122):

Controversy over the actions of church leaders has put little dent in its standing, though Putin's efforts to use the Orthodox Church have had mixed results. According to polls, as many as two-thirds of ethnic Russians now say they are Orthodox believers, though many of these same people also say they don't actually believe in God. It is popular to be baptized and wear crosses. At the same time, it was clear at several adult baptism classes I attended that those present had little or no understanding of the tenets of the church; they were there out of tradition, patriotism, or a raw mysticism. Only a tiny fraction of the population - 5 to 10 percent - attend services or do more than light a candle. The church still feels vulnerable, especially to what it calls "unhealthy" Western influence. A professor at one of Chelyabinsk's universities asked a class how many were believers. Out of forty students, about half put up their hands, but of those almost none could name the four evangelists. Summing up, he noted, "Their knowledge was slim. Russia's belief is very peculiar."


On the side of light, I begin with something I did not know until I read Ms Garrels - namely that clumsy, untravelled Uncle Sam, immersed as he is in his own ramifying domestic problems, nevertheless has succeeded - his success, in the teeth of his limitations in diplomacy, astonishes me - in doing some good in Russia. At any rate, some young  people are still travelling to the USA, and are reaping some benefit in practical philolgy (p. 108; the "Christina" here referred to is a rather independent-minded university student):

Christina's English is fluent, buoyed by a summer she spent in the United States on a work-study program, perhaps the most successful of the U.S. State Department's outreach projects. In 2014, amid a paroxism of anti-Americanism, the Russian government ended its participation in the Future Leaders Exchange program, which brought Russian high school students to the United States to study. But as I write, the Work Travel Program for university students still exists, though a senior professor in town is launching a crusade against it, calling it a U.S. plan to brainwash the best and brightest of Russian students and lure them to stay in the United States.

Next, I note, as a partial counterweight to Ms Garrels's above-quoted report on capital flight and the consequent undercutting of entrepreneurship, her encounter with the kind of entrepreneurial individual on whom the survival of Russia might some day depend (pp.18-20):

When I ask for an example of what a new enterprise can be in Chelyabinsk, I am sent to a factory. I slip and slide on the icy pathway past security guards toward a bouquet of balloons celebrating yet another year in business for the Chelyabinsk Compressor Plant. The yard is bustling, full of bright orange units ready to be shipped.

Albert Raisovich Yalaletdinov, general manager and owner of the plant, had been a professor of agricultural technology when the economic crisis of the early 1990s hit and his salary evaporated. Like everyone, he started trading in whatever he could do to support his family. He also started looking for new opportunities. One day in 1996, he saw a notice in a newspaper. "A compressor has been stolen from a building site. If anyone has information on its whereabouts, there is a reward." For some reason, this piqued his curiosity. He didn't know anything about compressors and started to investigate. This was before Internet access, and Yalaletdinov spent hours in the local library, and then he traveled farther afield.

Compressors, he learned, use medium and highly compressed air to power pneumatic tools like jackhammers and drilling equipment. It turned out that Soviet-made compressors had been produced in what was now independent Uzbekistan and production there was in trouble. There was a need for better reasonably priced Russian-made equipment. Though there was no credit available, he and some friends set about designing and building their first compressor. It needed a lot of reworking. To support the project, they continued trading in scrap metal and tires, anything that would bring in money. They got hold of one of the many abandoned factories that had been stripped and was full of trash. Everyone pitched in to clean it and install heat and water.

In 1998, after what Yalaletdinov calls two years of trial and error, his team produced their first compressor. That was the year Russia defaulted on forty billion dollars in debt and devalued its currency, wiping out the life savings of millions of people, including those trying to create new businesses. Yalaletdinov hung in, and in 2002 he finally got access to bank credit.

He how has four hundred employees, who are well paid by local standards and who have faith in their management. Sales are growing and Yalaletdinov continues to plow profits back into the company. A taciturn man in his fifties, Yalaletdinov defies the usual description of "new Russian." Far from flashy, he refers to the success "of the collective" and hands me a book charting the hard-won achievements of his workers, the ups and downs, and the celebratory company picnics. He immediately warns me, "I don't talk much; I work." He is courteous, though not friendly. He is precise and somewhat stern. He doesn't talk politics, but he does express frustration with the country's continued reliance on oil and gas at the expense of new enterprises like his. He laments the demise of vocational schools, describing how hard it is to get young workers with even minimal skills. In the 1990s, when trade schools didn't pay faculty and factories seldom paid workers or paid them badly, talented people fled industry for professions like law, banking, trade, and construction.

I ask to what degree Yalaletdinov has to "show loyalty," a discreet phrase for the payoffs to the regional government many businesses must pay to survive. He says if you want to obtain something illegally, then you need to take part in politics to some degree, but if you work openly, you don't need it. "America had its period like this," he says. "We will work it out. Don't worry."

When I push him to describe the scale of corruption, he calls it enormous. When I push harder, he elaborates. He provides compressors for road building, railroads, and the oil industry, all enterprises largely controlled by the state. Government officials regularly demand fake, inflated receipts so they can skim off the difference. He says he won't play ball. Instead, he sells to a middleman. "What he does is his business. My business is to make good compressors at proper prices." After years of struggle, Yalaletdinov says that foreign companies are now increasingly interested in his compressors.

Then, as a partial counterweight to the already-quoted bleak material on the Church, I add this (from pp. 124-125):

Father Dmitri Yegorov, a young priest in the outlying town of Chebarkul, agrees that the fates of the church and Russia are inextricably intertwined. Yet while he delights in seeing the gilded domes rise again, he also believes that priests must lead by example and do much more to support and engage the community. He lives modestly with three children in a two-room apartment even as he combats accusations of high living and corruption in the church.

His new church, built on the foundations of one destroyed in 1937, overlooks the lake where a large chunk of the meteor sank. [This is the meteor of 2013-02-15, which I mentioned above.] Old women, the gatekeepers of every Orthodox church, where they typically chastise visitors for doing something wrong, welcome and instruct. There is an unusual, and unusually well-attended, Sunday school where fathers play chess with their sons, and girls and their mothers learn how to make intricate Christmas decorations. There is a library with volunteers ready to help and a teen group who watch videos and discuss them. There is a new refuge for those fleeing abuse, alcoholism, and drugs, though it has no professional support. Father Dmitri also works as the chaplain at the local military barracks, where he deals with interethnic conflict between Russian Muslims and others, as well as general despondency and despair. "We can't force someone to be Orthodox, though I believe that is the true religion. I can tell young soldiers to get an education and work for the country and fight what you don't like." He starts with baby steps: "Stop swearing, stop smoking, and before you throw trash on the street, stop and think. It's a beginning." He won't say where they should move on to from there.

I finish my quest for light by quoting Ms Garrels's pp. 124-125 account of what prove to be my favourite individuals in her entire long gallery of keyboard portraits - a husband-and-wife team whom I would respectfully deem (mindful of my own admittedly modest, and admittedly unsuccessful, Richmond Hill (Ontario) civics efforts) to be, in Estonian terms, my senior  mõttekaaslased, my senior "intellectual allies" or "companion thinkers":

On a frigid November day in 2012, inmates at a high-security prison in Chelyabinsk mounted an unprecedented peaceful protest against the constant beatings and torture sessions they claimed were being carried out by prison officials seeking payoffs. There had bene earlier, smaller protests in various detention centers, with dozens of prisoners cutting themselves to protest conditions, but the scale of this one, involving almost all the fifteen hundred inmates, was a first. This time, their strike was massive, strikingly nonviolent, and public. A commission had long documented widespread violations inside the region's prison system, but prosecutors and prison officials had repeatedly dismissed its complaints. The inmates at Prison No. 6 in the town of Kopeysk finally reached a breaking point, but they didn't break anything. They did no damage. They did not injure any guards. And this is what finally brought national attention.

It was visiting day. Family members had gathered outside, but their visits were suddenly cancelled without explanation. Prisoners waiting inside broke away from their guards. Some reached the roof of a barracks. Others climbed a water tower. They stood out in the subzero temperatures for three days, displaying sheets painted with their demands: "People help," "Stop the torture," and "End the extortion." Relatives tossed cell phones over the brick and barbed-wire fences so that prisoners could describe to the world what was going on. The only violence occurred when special forces turned up. With no warning, they started beating family members standing by the gates. Images flooded the Internet. Journalists from across the country could not ignore what was going on, even if they wanted to. Nervous officials from Moscow arrived to open negotiations.

Nikolai Schur, a human rights activist and one of the few independent members of the government's prison commission, had long been documenting the widespread corruption in the Chelyabinsk prison system. At first glance, with his blunt-cut bangs and shaggy hair, he brings to mind Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century church reformer. Amid new Russian extravagance, he looks like an ascetic. He doesn't smoke and rarely drinks. He's been married to the same woman for more than forty years. He and Tatiana, who also secured a seat on the commission, are a powerful team.

Schur didn't nail his proclamations against prison abuse on any door. He did one better. He skillfully used detective work, the videotaped testimony of prisoners, the Internet, and intrepid journalists to make sure information got out and was not buried as it had been in the past. He emboldened prisoners and their families who had silently tolerated abuse and financial ruin.

He and Tatiana work together out of a tiny one-room office that is hard to find, given the glass-recycling operation in the yard below and the drunks bringing in their bottles. Up a crumbling stairway seemingly leading nowhere, they maintain a human rights organization. The first thing you see when you walk in is a portrait of Andrei Sakharov, the nuclear physicist turned human rights champion who defied Soviet power and died just as it was collapsing.

They get money wherever they can, from private Russian donors, from the Russian government's human rights commission, and still, most of all, from foreign sources such as George Soros and the U.S.-government supported National Endowment for Democracy. By virtue of punctilious accounting, they have survived efforts by the tax police to shut them down. They have yet to be declared a "foreign agent" - a dangerous and pejorative appellation often attached to human rights organizations that receive funds from abroad for vaguely defined "political activity."

Now in his sixties, Schur is a mixture of many things. He's sardonic, sarcastic, pragmatic, and patient. He is angry, but he is not bitter. A highly skilled engineer who specialized in metrology, the science of measurement, he has a searing mind for detail. Tatiana is a chemist by training, though she is also a natural diplomat with disarming charm. The mother of three grown children and faced with constant challenges and threats, she looks remarkably youthful, and this without the benefit of Russia's new passion for face-lifts. Her eyes naturally sparkle. With rare lapses, she too remains enthusiastic.


What, given such a tartan of details, in such variegated dark wools and light wools, is to be the overall verdict? What should my personal "Nikolai Petrovich" or "Ludmilla Petrovna" think? (He or she has the advantage of being - at any rate potentially - well-informed, with access to inside information.) And are we, as non-Russians largely bereft of inside information, to view this complexly troubled jurisdiction with a disdainful pessimism, or instead with a gritty hope? (T.S.Eliot writes in a different context, in "Four Quartets": "/.../wait without hope/ For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.")

All of us will have to make up our own minds.

Ms Garrels at one point (pp. 122-123) quotes a cautious local person, who in turn quotes a Romantic poet:

Nina Timofeevna, a fifty-seven-year-old accountant, is confused by her country's history as it is written, rewritten, and fought over. For her, Putin's search for roots just doesn't cut it. She is not at all sure what ideals she should learn from the past. She misses the surety of Soviet patriotism that she grew up with, but she can no longer draw on that and doesn't want to return to that past. Casting about for something positive, she finds solace not in the church but in people, their capacity for resilience, great friendship, and hospitality. She loves her country's stunning landscape. She says, "It is quite simply my motherland." She, like so many Russians, resorts to the celebrated verse of the Romantic poet Fyodor Tyutchev:

Russia cannot be known by the mind
Nor measured by the common mile:
Her status is unique, without kind -
Russia can only be believed in.

In what perhaps rank as her book's deepest passages (p.221, p. 225), Ms Garrels puts her own view in equally cautious and bleak terms:

The last time Russia was Russia was in 1917. The Soviet identity was in many ways an artificial construct, but it existed for a long while, and by the time it collapsed, who knew what Russia was or what being Russian meant?


Wnen the meteor hit Chelyabinsk, it blazed across the sky, spewed out its shards, and then sank quietly into a lake.  That's what many hoped the breakup of the Soviet Union would be like. It would end with a compliant Russia as benign as the rock that is now sitting in Cbelyabinsk's museum. That has not occurred. The shards continue to resurface, and their ripples are felt far and wide.


Music, and a few pictures, help one develop furtther the various suggestions implanted by Ms Garrels.

I would recommend that my readers now open a fresh browser tab and view the 2007-11-21 upload, to a duration of 4:32, of YouTube user "StorytellerMedia", under the (admittedly kitsch) title "The Most Beautiful Song on the Internet". In my corner of the Web, the URL is Here we have a rendition of a "romanss" by the young Mongolic (Buryat) tenor Vladimir Albataev, with backing choir, and with a set of timless visuals - children in snow; the Church, as seen in snow; the villager trudging in snow, carrying empty buckets to a pump or spigot.

Lyrics are given in this YouTube upload in English, as follows:

Oh, how lonely the coach bell is ringing,
And the dust from the road fills the air.
And the coachman’s sorrowful singing
Floats across the wild fields in despair.
That sad song overflows with such feeling,
So much grief can be heard in that strain,
That my cold heart, long hardened and weary
In my bosom was kindled again.
I recalled other nights, other wand’rings,
And the fields and the forests so dear,
And my eyes, which so long have been arid,
Became moistened like jewels with a tear.
Oh, how lonely the coach bell is ringing,
As it swings in the night to and fro.
And my coachman has now fallen silent,
And I still have a long way to go.

Viewer reaction to the YouTube upload, which I find has as of UTC=20170320T223245Z garnered 1,789,563 views, runs strong and deep.

Two years ago, a "Nick Ramensky" offered his own poetic translation (and was complimented by another YouTube user - evidently conversant with the original, in a way that I as a mere beginner in the language cannot hope to be): 

In the distance a bell, faintly sounding
Through the dust rising up from the road
And a coachman is heard singing sadly,
That I ask, what that song might forebode.

So much sadness there is in that sound;
So much grief in that lonely refrain
That my heart which was hardened and weary
In my breast was re-kindled again

I recalled nights long gone, other places
And the fields and the forests so dear
That my eyes which so long have been arid
Became moist with a glistening tear

In the distance the bell, faintly sounding
Is an echo from times so remote;
And my coachman, now silent and weary
And the road fades away with that note.

Three years ago, a "salim ahmed" added historical context: 

The story of this song is tragic: In Siberia in 1852 they found a dead body of coachman who got frozen during a long road. There was a notebook with handwriting poems in his bag. Name of the author of the poems Иван Макаров (Ivan Makarov) was not known during his life time. After a year since they were published the poems composer Александр Львович Гурилев (Alexander Gurilev) (1803 – 1858) wrote music for a poem what he liked the most. That was a start for the famous Russian romance “The Lonely Coach-Bell”. In three years another Russian composer К. Сидорович (K. Sidorovich) wrote his version of music for the poem and this romance has got a long life and all people love!

A viewer writing under the name "FirstLight" commented some months ago as follows (the "..." are from FirstLight, rather than the result of some elision on my part): 

I was utterly shattered by the tenor soloist's sublime  voice... in uncontrollable tears...never have I heard such a voice!!  It is the eternal soul of Russia[.]

Two months ago, I added my own YouTube comment, with reference to Estonia, and to the Narva River which marks the currently asserted (as distinct from the 1920-02-02 Treaty of Tartu) Estonia-Russia frontier - writing, in part: 

Gee whiz. Just on the other side of the Narva River from our blue-shirt, dark-necktie nation of accountants and software coders - immediately to our east across a modest river - sits that ageless country, where  roads are long. Have a look, folks, at what Walter Taljaard wrote about this in his comment (below, from about three months ago).

Walter Taljaard, to whom I refer, for his part had this to say, at some point in 2016: 

You see an endless wide land with long roads covering enormous distances through fields, acres, forests and villages of sturdy wooden houses and ancient churches with onion domes and big cities with thick walled houses build for eternity and crumbling flats build like stables. 

Scorching hot summers and polar winters. 

A land with people you will find nowhere else in the entire world.

As uncompromising as the land they inhabit.

Capable of the worst and the best humanity has to offer.

In my own comment, I continued:

Or  think about the song itself:  поля и леса,/И на очи, давно уж сухие,/Набежала, как искра, слеза.  - "fields and forests/And to my eyes, which had been dry for a long time/A tear rose like a spark."


Although my Russian is still (I stress) nearly nonexistent, I take the presumptuous liberty of quoting the entire original now, as it may be obtained through a Google search on the Latin-alphabet string Odnozvuchno gremit kolokolychik lyrics. (For this input, Google helpfullly retrieves a page with Latin-alphabet URL

Однозвучно гремит колокольчик,
И дорога пылится слегка,
И уныло по ровному полю
Разливается песнь ямщика.

Столько чувства в той песне унылой.
Столько грусти в напеве родном,
Что в груди моей, хладной, остылой,
Разгорелося сердце огнём.

И припомнил я ночи другие,
И родные поля и леса,
И на очи, давно уж сухие,
Набежала, как искра, слеза.

Однозвучно гремит колокольчик,
Издали отдаваясь слегка…
И замолк мой ямщик, а дорога
Предо мной далека, далека.


Last night, upon finishing Garrels, I sat with headphones, the tears for a few moments flowing freely, as I listened to other music in the same vein. That download-of-choice presented one of the past century's principal male voices - a Caruso in the bass - Boris Shtokolov, in a solo rendering of a Lermontov "romanss" variously translated as "I go out on the road alone..." and "Alone I pass a lonely road" (uploaded to YouTube, to a duration of 7:16, by YouTube user "MusashiTzu", under the latter title, on 2008-09-19; in my corner of the Web, the URL is 

Here are the lyrics, in English and Russian, as presented at I do remark that the English translation of пустыня as "desert", in the third line of the first stanza, might be wrong: perhaps "wilderness" is closer to Lermontov's thought: 

Выхожу один я на дорогу;
Сквозь туман кремнистый путь блестит;
Ночь тиха. Пустыня внемлет богу,
И звезда с звездою говорит.

В небесах торжественно и чудно!
Спит земля в сиянье голубом...
Что же мне так больно и так трудно?
Жду ль чего? жалею ли о чём?

Уж не жду от жизни ничего я,
И не жаль мне прошлого ничуть;
Я ищу свободы и покоя!
Я б хотел забыться и заснуть!

Но не тем холодным сном могилы...
Я б желал навеки так заснуть,
Чтоб в груди дремали жизни силы,
Чтоб дыша вздымалась тихо грудь;

Чтоб всю ночь, весь день мой слух лелея,
Про любовь мне сладкий голос пел,
Надо мной чтоб вечно зеленея
Тёмный дуб склонялся и шумел.


Alone I set out on the road;
The flinty path is sparkling in the mist;
The night is still. The desert harks to God,
And star with star converses.

The vault is overwhelmed with solemn wonder
The earth in cobalt aura sleeps...
Why do I feel so pained and troubled?
What do I harbor: hope, regrets?

I see no hope in years to come,
Have no regrets for things gone by.
All that I seek is peace and freedom!
To lose myself and sleep!

But not the frozen slumber of the grave...
I'd like eternal sleep to leave
My life force dozing in my breast
Gently with my breath to rise and fall;

By night and day, my hearing would be soothed
By voices sweet, singing to me of love.
And over me, forever green,
A dark oak tree would bend and rustle.


I have been told, on good unofficial authority, that if I were to become so reckless as to attempt a solo exploration of (now crime-ridden) Russia, I would not emerge alive. The advice is: Wait for the next big economic collapse, and then go in with a guide, making due use of the long-distance trains. Last night, however, upon listening to Shtokolov, I imagined something I have not imagined before. I am indeed safely home (so I imagined it), far from Ontario, in our own prim little country of accountants and software coders. But I am not (so I imagined it) in Tartu County, and not even in cybercafé, or küberkohvik, Tallinn. I am instead on the ramparts of the Narva castle, on the river's west bank. I face east. What I think, as I look out across that stream onto terrain as ancient as, and since 1917 still more emotionally strained than, primly keep-it-all-bottled-up Estonia, I either choose to leave unsaid or am incapable of saying. 

[This is the end of the current blog posting.] 


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