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.

velho-tolstoi

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.

Tolstoy-Basinsky-big

“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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Lapis Lazuli

01 lapis lazuli

I have heard that hysterical women say

They are sick of palette and fiddle-bow,

Of poets that are always gay,

For everybody knows or else should know

That if nothing drastic is done

Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out,

Pitch like King Billy bombs-falls in

Until the town lie beaten flat.

 

All perform their tragic play,

There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,

That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia;

Yet they, should the last scene be there,

The great scene curtain about to drop,

If worthy their prominent part in the play,

Do not break up their lines to weep.

They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;

Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.

All man have aimed at, found and lost;

Black-out; Heaven blazing into the head;

Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.

Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,

And all the drop-scenes drop at once

Uppon a hundred thousand stages,

It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.

*

 

Two Chinamen, behind them a third,

Are carved in lapis lazuli,

Over them flies a long-legged bird,

A symbol of longevity;

The third, doubtless a serving man

Carries a musical instrument.

 

*

 

One asks for mournful melodies;

Accomplished fingers begin to play.

Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,

Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

William  Butler  Yeats, Lapis Lazuli

NOTES:

King Billy – William II, the German emperor who had started World War I

palette and fiddle-bow  – the artists (painters and musicians)

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