Tatiana Tolstaya – Remembering Leo Tolstoy

In an investigation, a Parisian newspaper asked the question: what sign makes us recognize the coming of old age ?  Someone replied: old age comes when your memories overwhelm you.


Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

 For some time I have felt this very intense. In my moments of loneliness, I see fragments from my past. I review a certain scene, think I hear voices… These memories are often related to my father, Leo Tolstoy, who was everything  I had dearest and brighter in my life.

I can not always relate them to events that preceded or followed them, nor to fix them at a certain date. But I see the episode as if it had happened yesterday. I write down these  “memory flashes” as they emerge.

Dad Gets a Baksheesh

From Moscow to Iasnaia Poliana is about 200 km and sometimes my father was walking this way. With the bag in his back, he mingled among the pilgrims he was interested in, but for whom he has been just a simple traveler. He was making this trip in five days. On the way, he stopped eating and sleeping in a wooden house or at a country inn. When he approached a train station, he went to eat in the waiting room of the third class.

In one of these stops, walking on the platform where a train was ready to leave, he heard someone call him.


“Hey, old man, old man !”, a woman yelled from the train window. “Do you want to go to the woman’s toilet and bring me the bag that I left there ? But go quickly, because the train leaves soon.”

My dad ran to the women’s toilet where he was lucky to find the bag, and then gave it to the lady.

“Thank you very much,” said the lady, and gave him a large bronze coin.

“Do you know who you gave those five kopecks ?”, asked her a traveler who recognized the dusty pilgrim as being the author of the book War and Peace. “To Leo Tolstoy !”

“God, what  have I done ! Lev Nikolayevich, Lev Nikolayevich ! Please forgive me and give me back the five kopecks I gave you out of my stupidity .”

“Why ?”, my dad answered. You didn’t do anything wrong. The five kopecks I won honestly. I keep them…”

The train moved into motion, carrying with it the lady who continued to apologize, bagging Tolstoy to give her the coin back.

Tolstoy, with a smile, was watching the train moving away.

from Tatiana Tolstaya, Avec Leon Tolstoi. Souvenirs

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The Simurgh


The Simurgh is an immortal bird nesting on the branches of the Tree of Knowledge. Burton compared it with the Scandinavian eagle which knows a lot of things and makes his nest on the branches of the Cosmic Tree, called Yaggdrasill.

Thalaba (1801) by Southey and The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Flaubert tell of Simorg Anka. Flaubert said it was just a servant of Queen Belkis and described it as having metallic orange feathers, human head, four wings, the claws were like those of the eagle, and having a huge tail like that of the peacock.

In the original writings the Simurgh has a more important role. In The King’s Book, which gathers and publishes old legends in Iran, Fird says it was Zal’s adoptive father; in the 13th century Farid al-Din Attar elevates it to the symbol of divinity in The Dialogue of Birds.

The subject of this allegory in The Dialogue of Birds, a book that includes 4,500 verses, is strange. The far-off king of birds, the Simurgh, lets a magic feather fall down in the middle of China. Birds decide to go in search of it because they were upset about the anarchy that was in the country. They know the meaning of its name was  “thirty birds” and that its palace is on the top of mountain that surrounds the Earth.

Only thirty of them, purified by the sufferings, eventually manage to reach the mountain of Simurgh. They contemplate it and understand that they themselves are the Simurgh, that each of them and all of them together are the Simurgh.

Cosmographer Al-Quazwini says in his book Wonders of Creation that Simorg Anka lives 1,700 years, and when its descendant grew up, father lit a pyre and burned it. This reminds us, says Lane, of the Phoenix bird legend.

Jorge Luis Borges, El simurgh

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