Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Newcastle Journal piece on Troye v Metro

Here is the article by Martin Green on Three Men. Here's the photo they used:

It's an accessible and informative intro to the book and indeed to the whole project. Now we just need to sort out the tour...

Zinovy Zinik's article, translated

Andy has now done a translation of most of ZZ's top article (he says he's missed out the paragraphs he doesn't understand). I've very lightly dusted this with the brush of what I think makes sense. (The original is available for comparison in my comments to the previous entry.)

On Three Men (Not Forgetting the Dog)

All Londoners complain that the underground is expensive and is in a condition of constant repairs because it was built in the middle of the 19th century and resembles a Victorian museum. There is an underground railway in the northern English city of Newcastle. It is also a museo-industrial construction. Three English poets from this industrial capital of the English north - Andy Croft, Bill Herbert and Paul Summers - decided to compare the underground with Moscow.

They re-read the comic travelogue by Jerome K Jerome Three Men in a Boat (Not to Mention the Dog) – which our grandfathers once became engrossed in reading - and have decided to repeat the feats of this unlucky trinity. But they have gone not up the Thames, but to the east, to Moscow and the underground of the Russian capital - they have immortalized their experience of navigating ‘the underground river’ in the form of a book of poems.

In conversation with Bill Herbert, one of the trinity of authors, I asked what seemed to me a little difficult to imagine: how three men could reach Moscow from Newcastle by boat? His reply? The logic in their collection Three Men on the Metro is absolutely poetic, based on coincidences and comic misunderstandings.

In Moscow our heroes felt as ridiculous as Jerome’s characters and as a result a poetic burlesque was born, not about the Moscow River, but about the Moscow Metro, where each station is an occasion for refined parody couplets about the history of Russia and its literature.

Notice that our English travellers quote as an epigraph not Three Men on a Boat, but another book less known to the wide reader, Three Men on the Bummel, about comic adventures of the same characters in Germany. [‘There will be no useful information in this book.’] That book’s narrator is surprised what strange mail boxes Germans seem to have, until he realises that he has mistaken bird-houses for mail boxes.

I especially didn’t envy foreigners who visited the underground several years ago. The names of stations on the underground – as well as streets in the city – were only in Russian, so Englishmen read words like ‘Moscow’ as though Latin letters and the city became ‘Mockba’, and the restaurants turned into the mysterious ‘Pectopan’.

I’ve learned a lot of entertaining facts from the book. For example, the legend that the Circle Line was built where Stalin's cup left circles on the plans given to the leader. Or that the word for the underground is derived from the Greek ‘metera’, meaning womb. So the world of Stalin’s underground for our Englishmen appears as the world of underground Freudian consciousness, in a parodic sense.

Mayakovskaya station, where mosaics represent the Soviet sky rising and then declining, becomes in this book a symbol of the turning world. Here is even Orpheus stuck on the escalator. Not without reason is one of the epigraphs to the book from Dostoevsky’s classic Notes from the Underground, ‘Long live the underground!’

Our trinity appeared in Moscow without a dog; but they, not forgetting about Jerome K Jerome's heroes, found dogs on the way as they closely examined the stations of the underground. A stone's throw away from Mayakovskaya station is the museum of Bulgakov, author of The Master and Margarita and The Heart of a Dog.

In the book there are also two poems devoted to the pig-iron sculptures at Revolution Square station, where the dogs have had their genitals removed so as not to confuse teenagers who to touch everything.

And at Taganskaya station with its cosmonauts, there is a poem about Laika. Not forgetting about Malchik, embodied by its adorers at Mendelevskaya station; both Iskander and Akmadulina, who lived in the neighbourhood, gave money for this monument.

Three Men on the Metro also includes literary parodies on classical and contemporary writers. Here is Byron (whom Pushkin translated) and TS Eliot. There are parodies not only of Akhmatova and Pasternak (who are more less familiar to the English reader), of Yesenin and Mandelstam (who also wrote about the underground), and also on the whole galaxy of authors who have appeared on literary horizon during our epoch – Elena Schvarts, and even Sergey Lukyanenko.

Let's quote (in my improvised translation) only one parody – of our friend, the legendary Moscow poet Lev Rubenstein. He was, as is known, by a trade a librarian, and wrote his poems in phrases on the numbered cards of a library card-index. Here is a typical scene on the Moscow underground – in the spirit of parodying Lev Rubenstein:

[There then follows Zinovy’s translation of ‘This is Us’. Here’s the English version:]

And This is Us

definitely not by Lev Rubenstein

1. This is us.

2. This is us again.

3. This is us outside the Metro.

4. And this is a dog, asleep.

5. Another dog, asleep.

6. And this is a drunk.

7. Sleeping like a dog outside the Metro.

8. Another drunk, also asleep.

9. This is a statue.

10. And this is another statue.

11. This is a dog and a drunk asleep by a statue.

12. This is a dog and a drunk. Asleep by a statue outside the Metro.

13. This is us with a dog and a drunk, asleep outside the Metro.

14. This is a statue of a dog.

15. This is the statue of a drunk.

16. This is us with a drunk by a statue of a dog.

17. This is us with a dog by a statue of a drunk.

18. This is us drunk with a dog by a statue, asleep outside the Metro.

19. This is us.

20. This is us.

21. This is us.