May 10, 2011
This from my infrequent blog on writing, dreams and immortality:
That's Russian for "hello," or "greetings!" Recently someone from Ryazan, Russia, visited my website, sparking my curiosity about the town. I investigated (Wikipedia), and found that Ryazan was situated on the Oka River southeast of Moscow, was, sadly, the first Russian city to be sacked by the Mongol horde of Batu Khan in 1237, and has a lovely belltower. There were photos of the belltower, including one from the tower looking out past a railing and columns that needed a touch of paint to a row of apartments below.
I wondered what life was like for citizens of Ryazan, and how one of them happened upon my website. Did he actually read my novel and visit my website for more info? Or was it just a fluke--was she a river engineer who clicked the link "where the lake becomes the river" expecting an article about the hydraulics of lakes flowing to rivers, only to find an eccentric website devoted to a novel about the American south, fiction writing, and "The Truth About Life After Death?"
I studied Russian in college so I could read my beloved Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in the original. I didn't achieve that grand ambition, but did spend many pleasant afternoons with the fabulous tutors of Macalester's "Russian House," where the samovar was always going and the hospitality was immense. These kind souls included a dapper snow-blinded Gulag escapee who'd fought for the defeated White Army, and an aristocrat who'd grown up in a family wealthy enough to employ English, French and Italian tutors; she escaped with the family samovar and just enough jewels to reach the U.S.--where neighbors treated her with distain as a "D.P." ("displaced person.")
The White Army officer was delighted to lead me line by line through the Russian text of Pushkin's poems, patiently elucidating the meaning of, say, a pineapple served for dessert--signifying the host's astounding wealth (since in the 1800's hundreds of pineapples were packed onto ships and sent to Russia, but only a few survived the passage.) The former aristocrat taught me wonderful Russian children's songs including one about "lots of crocodiles sauntering through the streets" --which I can, and do, still sing in Russian.
I'll never know how or why my Tovarishch (friend/ally/companion) from Ryazan got to my site, but it's yet another example of what a small world we all float around on through deepest space, and (if it was indeed my novel that brought him or her my way) the mysterious and unexpected destinations a humble little book can meander itself off to.
All the best, and Dasvedanya (farewell),