“Мы были Сережей и Иосифом”: Call Me When You Reach New York, Seryozha (Borscht Report #7)

 

When Sergei Dovlatov, finally having run afoul of Soviet censors one too many times, was encouraged (i.e. told he was going) to leave the Soviet Union in 1979, he never doubted his destination: New York. Of course, the large Russian community there, which his wife and daughter had settled into a few years previous, played a role in his decision. But so did the presence of an old friend. Joseph Brodsky, an established poet two years his senior who shared a similarly combative relationship with Soviet authorities, had been forced into exile in 1972, and had chosen New York as his final destination.

Brodsky was something of a literary older brother to Dovlatov. The two met in the winter of 1959, when Dovlatov was a student in the faculty of Finnish language at Leningrad State University, and Brodsky, who at various times had worked in morgues, geological expeditions, and naval boiler rooms, was beginning to find a prominent place on the Leningrad literary scene. Only a year later, he would meet his mentor, the famous poetess Anna Akhmatova, who helped him reach fame all over the country. The young student, though, was already impressed: “He pushed Hemingway out of the background and became my literary idol forever.”

Dovlatov’s new idol quickly found his fortunes reversing. In 1963, Brodsky’s poetry was officially denounced, and, on charges of social parasitism and with a diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia, he was twice placed in mental institutions. Not yet twenty-four, he was put on trial, and, when he replied to one of the People’s Judges, on asking who had made him a poet, “No one. And who put me in the ranks of humanity?”, he was sentenced to five years hard labor in the Arkhangelsk Oblast of northwestern Russia. Meanwhile, his new friend had flunked out of LGU and was subsequently drafted into the Soviet Internal Troops, used a camp guard in between stints as a boxer. 

After eighteen months, Brodsky was allowed to return to Leningrad. While his time in the mental hospital had been miserable, he found the months doing simple manual labor and having free time to read English and American literature far from prying potential informer eyes in his cabin restorative. Akhmatova saw the irony in how much the KGB’s plan for forcing the young poet into submission had been a boon to him, commenting, “What a biography they’re fashioning for our red-haired friend! It’s as if he’d hired them to do it on purpose.” Transcripts of his trial had also been published in samizdat and smuggled into the West, where he gained recognition and powerful advocates in artistic and literary circles. Having such towering figures as Shostakovich and Sartre advocating and agitating for him was part of the reason he had been released quite early in his sentence. 

At the same time Dovlatov had finally been released from the MVD and bounced around Leningrad, and beyond, working as a journalist for any publication that would hire him. He had continued to write short stories, and had begun to perfect his form, during the same period, but no publisher would touch them. Despite the hardships for both men, Lena Dovlatova, Sergei’s second wife and the mother of his daughter, recalled joy as well as heartbreak permeating the years when both men had come home to Leningrad. Once, walking back to their flats in the early morning hours from a party across Дворцовый мост, Lena discovered that she had lost the belt to her only American dress, a dear and expensive illegal gift from her husband. From a few steps behind them, Brodsky called out to the couple that he knew exactly where it had gone, and that he would rescue it for her. Palace bridge is a bascule bridge, with elaborately designed railings that had managed to snag Lena’s belt. Joseph, heedless of the couple’s shouts of horror, lept across the bridge’s growing opening, grabbed the belt, and lept back again, bowing as he ran to present his lady with her prize like “a chivalrous knight.” 

Although Brodsky was being published, with growing success, in the West, his work only circulated underground in the USSR, and, as with many Jewish dissenters of the era, Soviet officials were eager to be rid of him. (As Stoppard’s Alexander Ivanov says, “‘They don’t like you to die unless you can die anonymously. If your name is known in the West, it is an embarrassment.’”) When he refused two invitations to immigrate to Israel in 1971, the bureaucracy took power into its own hands. In June of 1972, his apartment was raided, and he was taken to Shosseynaya Airport, boarded on a one way ticket to Vienna. In his suitcase, he carried a collection of John Donne poems, a typewriter, and two bottles of vodka. 

As Brodsky built a life in America, traveling as a poet in residence between college campuses all over the country, Dovlatov watched his wife and daughter escape through refusenik channels, and began to have his work secreted to the West for publication. Similarly to his old friend, the Communist establishment was growing tired of Sergei, and ‘strongly encouraged’ him to leave. The suitcase which he departed Petersburg with, never to return, became the basis of his most famous novel, Чемодан. 

Life in New York opened up a world of possibilities for Dovlatov. “For the first time in my life I feel at home”, he gleefully explained to a literary journalist. Though he still struggled with mainstream publication, he found upon arrival that there was already an enthusiastic Russian readership for his work, people that had read it in samizdat either in the US or the USSR and were eager for more. Brodsky had also been singing his praises to all who would listen, and assisted in getting his newspaper, Новый американец, off the ground, writing for it whenever he could find the time. He told literary critics and college students that Dovlatov “is the only Russian writer whose works will be read all the way through.”

Reassembling his family in exile, Sergei still regarded Joseph as every inch his literary big brother. While he was a large (6’6” by most accounts) intimidating ex-boxer, with a deep voice and swarthy coloring, who had described himself over the phone to a potential girlfriend by saying “I resemble a dried apricot vendor. Big, dark, you’ll be scared immediately!”, he was easily frightened by Brodsky, more than half a foot shorter and built more for poetry than pugilism. The musicologist and journalist Solomon Volkov remembered this interaction with Dovlatov: 

“Once the writer Sergei Dovlatov…inquired in all seriousness as to whether I’d ever had a nosebleed after a long tête-à-tête with Brodsky. After hearing my answer in the affirmative, he gave a sigh of relief. ‘Thank God. I thought I was the only one who was such a weakling.’”

Others recalled the extraordinary care he put into all of his meetings with the elder poet, and how hard he tried both to please and help, as Brodsky had given so much help to him, the other man: 

“Dovlatov…prepar[ed] carefully for each of their meetings. When Brodsky tried to switch to lighter cigarettes after another heart attack, Dovlatov brought him a pack of Parliaments. They contained less than a milligram of harmful resins, and it was written on the pack: “Less than one.” That was the name of one of Brodsky’s famous English essays, whose title in Russian translation did not find a worthy equivalent.”

Brodsky enjoyed sketching immensely in his free time, or even when he was chatting, and drinking, with friends. Indeed, one of his sketches of Dovlatov became the cover art to a Russian edition of Наши. When a friend pointed out to Sergei that his nose was not quite as Brodsky had portrayed, he replied, “That means I’ll have to have plastic surgery on my nose.” 

Success began to come Dovlatov’s way in the mid-1980s. His works were gaining popularity with English readers, and he was being published in The New Yorker, something Brodsky lobbied for for years. But, while Brodsky was the one who had suffered numerous heart attacks, it was 48 year old Dovlatov that died of heart failure in the back of a New York City ambulance on August 24th, 1990. 

For a year, Brodsky said nothing about his friend in print. Then, on the first anniversary of his death, he published a long essay in Russian and English called “About Sergei Dovlatov: ‘The World is Ugly and People are Sad.’” The grief which Joseph was experiencing, and the struggle which he had in squaring his friend’s absence with the continued presence of his work, bled starkly onto the page: “To imagine that he still exists, but does not call or write, for all his attractiveness and even evidence – for his books continue to come out – is unthinkable: I knew him before he became a writer.” For all of his elaborate way with words, the simple declarations “Мы были Сережей и Иосифом” (“We were (simply) Seryozha and Joseph”) and “Но для меня он всегда был Сережей” (“for me he was always Seryozha”) speak volumes. 

The essay, though, was not confined to exploring their bond. Rather, Brodsky set himself to making a final, glorious explanation of Dovlatov’s work. Comparing his short stories to bard songs, he explained that Sergei’s iconic style (tightly written works filled with humor, but that always began and ended without jokes) relies on the “rhythm of each individual sentence and cadence of his authorial utterance. They are written like verse; plot in them is secondary, used as a pretext.” In their half elucidated details and terse sentences, Dovlatov’s stories were an answer to Russia’s prosaic prose tradition, creations which readers at once found beautiful and unsettling because of how sharply they penetrated, and questioned, the essence of existence. 

This unique style carried with it a message. The decisive thing is his tone, which every member of a democratic society can recognize: the individual who won’t let himself be cast in the role of a victim, who is not obsessed with what makes him different.” There was humor and tragedy and deliberately lived lives, all in the midst of totalitarianism and stolen freedom. 

In a way, Dovlatov is the butter to Brodsky’s bread. On their own, each of them wrote profoundly influential, stylistically unique, full oeuvres, but reading them together provides an even greater depth, an elucidation of the ideas which each sought to communicate, often common ideas. One can hear the answering call to Dovlatov’s democratic tone in Brodsky’s elaborate, rich turns of verse: “What should I say about my life?/That it’s long and abhors transparence/Broken eggs make me grieve; the omelet, though, makes me vomit/Yet until brown clay has been rammed down my larynx/only gratitude will be gushing from it.”

Dovlatov declared that he had “hope for the rebirth of Russian literature because one brilliant writer-Joseph Brodsky-…continues to labor at [his] work”, but it was, as Brodsky recognized, the two of them in tandem, prose and verse, terseness and elaborateness, who would reignite the flame of Russian literature, of literature for any people who wished to consider the blessing and problem of liberty. Together they preserved, and enriched, the language of human freedom for generations to come.

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  1. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    It’s worth quoting at length the interview that Dovlatov’s quote on feeling at home in America came from:

    “We chose the United States from among the countries that accept refugees because, at least for people of my cast of mind, there’s no better place to live. For one’s life here to be more or less tolerable, one must-as Joseph Brodsky is fond of repeating-be very much in love with something about this country. I was lucky on this score: I fell in love with America long before I set eyes on it. First, when I was still a child, I fell in love with American movies, which Soviet troops had seized in Germany as war booty. Later, in the sixties, I fell in love with American jazz. The names of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gillespie, Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, and John Coltrane had the effect of spells on me. 

    My friends were of the opinion that I bore a slight resemblance to Thelonious Monk. After that, I was in love with American prose. And I’d always liked meeting American tourists (Jane Gallagher, are you out there?). I liked their elegant easy manners, their uninhibited behavior, their contempt for accepted norms, and the fact they hadn’t our sense of living in a china shop. I even liked their rather tight fitting jackets and identical white buckskin shoes.”

    And here’s a very cute picture of him with his son, in New York, to make up for all of the reading:

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    That is all interesting. What journal or magazine is it that would have published an essay in both Russian and English?

    • #2
  3. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    That is all interesting. What journal or magazine is it that would have published an essay in both Russian and English?

    According to the citation for the reprinted text on Dovlatov’s website, it was Журнал «Звезда» (Star Journal). There’s a wiki on it here.

    • #3
  4. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Another post about old man friendships. You do seem to have a theme.

    Very much enjoyed the post.

    • #4
  5. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Another post about old man friendships. You do seem to have a theme.

    Very much enjoyed the post.

    Thanks!

    Yeah, I was in a good mood, which is probably how I ended up writing about something I like. In my defense, it started out as something on Soviet mental hospitals and dissidents, but I just couldn’t get it to work out the way I wanted.

    • #5
  6. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    Where will you submit this for publication?

    • #6
  7. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    it started out as something on Soviet mental hospitals and dissidents, but I just couldn’t get it to work out the way I wanted.

    The Soviets had the same problem with the dissidents.

    • #7
  8. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Thank you for the great article.  I studied Russian and Soviet history in college, but the courses didn’t cover contemporaneous events, so this is all new.

    • #8
  9. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Captain French (View Comment):

    Where will you submit this for publication?

    It would need a lot of cleaning up, and elaborating, probably with loads more sources. If I ever had the chance, though, I’d like to do a book of case studies like this. Significant intellectual friendships and how they influenced art, literature, etc. 

    • #9
  10. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Thank you for the great article. I studied Russian and Soviet history in college, but the courses didn’t cover contemporaneous events, so this is all new.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. 

    I’m not sure how much a Soviet/modern Russian history course would cover them now, unless it was lit focused or just a straight out lit class. Dovlatov does pop up in the required reading for my comparative literature of the cold war class, but Brodsky doesn’t. If you have’t had a chance to read either, I would really recommend The Suitcase. You could probably finish it in 2 hours, maybe less, and it’s a wonderfully funny, moving, thought provoking novel. I know it’s on Archive.org, and there’s probably also a Kindle version.

    • #10
  11. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Another post about old man friendships. You do seem to have a theme.

    Very much enjoyed the post.

    Thanks!

    Yeah, I was in a good mood, which is probably how I ended up writing about something I like. In my defense, it started out as something on Soviet mental hospitals and dissidents, but I just couldn’t get it to work out the way I wanted.

    I went back through my old posts, Hank, and you’re…more right than I’d like to admit. It’s my fourth non-fiction post that could be construed as being at least partly on that theme, and eighth if you count fiction. Maybe I can get someone to endow a chair in it.

    • #11
  12. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Thank you for the great article. I studied Russian and Soviet history in college, but the courses didn’t cover contemporaneous events, so this is all new.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I’m not sure how much a Soviet/modern Russian history course would cover them now, unless it was lit focused or just a straight out lit class. Dovlatov does pop up in the required reading for my comparative literature of the cold war class, but Brodsky doesn’t. If you have’t had a chance to read either, I would really recommend The Suitcase. You could probably finish it in 2 hours, maybe less, and it’s a wonderfully funny, moving, thought provoking novel. I know it’s on Archive.org, and there’s probably also a Kindle version.

    Thanks for the recommendation.  I bought a Kindle copy figuring his heirs will appreciate the income.

    • #12
  13. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Why did the Russians choose to send so many to the Gulag, yet “punished” others with exile?  It seems as if the exiled ones got let off a little easy. 

    • #13
  14. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Captain French (View Comment):

    Where will you submit this for publication?

    It would need a lot of cleaning up, and elaborating, probably with loads more sources. If I ever had the chance, though, I’d like to do a book of case studies like this. Significant intellectual friendships and how they influenced art, literature, etc.

    Work with @arahant and get your book ready for publication. Now. It will sell like hot cakes and maybe pay for your schooling. 

    • #14
  15. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Why did the Russians choose to send so many to the Gulag, yet “punished” others with exile? It seems as if the exiled ones got let off a little easy.

    It was a different time, and as was pointed out, it made a difference if the nuisance-person had public attention from people in the West.  But most people still don’t like being exiled from their home country.  One gives up a lot to be permanently separated from home, even if home is ruled by a repressive regime.

    • #15
  16. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Why did the Russians choose to send so many to the Gulag, yet “punished” others with exile? It seems as if the exiled ones got let off a little easy.

    It was a different time, and as was pointed out, it made a difference if the nuisance-person had public attention from people in the West. But most people still don’t like being exiled from their home country. One gives up a lot to be permanently separated from home, even if home is ruled by a repressive regime.

    The Reticulator is right. The GULAG system had reached its peak in the early 50s, after which point the Soviets mostly used internal exile and forced institutionalization to punish dissidents. I wouldn’t really say the people that got later forms of punishment had an easier time. While Brodsky liked being able to read during his time in exile, Arkhangelsk Oblast is an arctic region (ie similar to the miserable climate you find in Siberian camps), and he spent most of his time doing basic manual tasks just to keep himself alive, living in a cabin that had no running water or heating, never mind electricity. Not to mention, minus some questionably legal visits from family, he was alone with nothing but his own thoughts most days for months on end. And what the people who were forced into mental hospitals experienced was just as bad, if not worse. They were put with actual mental patients, dosed on all kinds of drugs which could have long lasting effects (as well as traumatic short term ones), regularly abused and interrogated, and pushed by the ‘doctors’ into believing they were crazy. No one was having more fun than Solzhenitsyn.

    The nature of exile with Brodsky and Dovlatov is actually an interesting question. They considered themselves, in some ways, as more metaphysical than national exiles, and adapted in part to America so well because they felt it was their philosophical home, as believers in the individual. Also, as Jewish men they had a very complicated relationship with Russia, Russian history, and the nature of Russian identity vs. otherness. Solzhenitsyn, as a useful contrast, basically isolated himself from the reality of exile during the period he lived in the US, and moved back to Russia quite rapidly post-Soviet collapse. His opposition came from a somewhat different quarter than the other two, and his nationalism led him to antisemitism and staunch support of Putin.

    • #16
  17. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Why did the Russians choose to send so many to the Gulag, yet “punished” others with exile? It seems as if the exiled ones got let off a little easy.

    The gulag was for dissidents who were either unknown or little known in the West. I was in a church group that wrote Christmas cards to prisoners, both to give them hope and courage, and to let the jailers know that someone somewhere knew and cared.

    • #17
  18. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Another post about old man friendships. You do seem to have a theme.

    Very much enjoyed the post.

    Thanks!

    Yeah, I was in a good mood, which is probably how I ended up writing about something I like. In my defense, it started out as something on Soviet mental hospitals and dissidents, but I just couldn’t get it to work out the way I wanted.

    Neither could the patients…

    ( Partially Rhody’d😫)

    • #18
  19. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Captain French (View Comment):

    Where will you submit this for publication?

    It would need a lot of cleaning up, and elaborating, probably with loads more sources. If I ever had the chance, though, I’d like to do a book of case studies like this. Significant intellectual friendships and how they influenced art, literature, etc.

    “Wanderer’s Lives of Illustrious Men”?

    • #19
  20. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    The nature of exile with Brodsky and Dovlatov is actually an interesting question. They considered themselves, in some ways, as more metaphysical than national exiles, and adapted in part to America so well because they felt it was their philosophical home, as believers in the individual.

    This is a part of why I take the line that I do on immigration. I would feel wrong about excluding people who are spiritually American from the country. (Before I derail things entirely I’ll just acknowledge there are a lot of practical problems with that view.)

    • #20
  21. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    KW – this is on a tangent, but where do you get your news about Russia?

    • #21
  22. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Zafar (View Comment):

    KW – this is on a tangent, but where do you get your news about Russia?

    Because I speak Russian, I tend to use mostly Russian language sources. So Радио Свобода (especially the program Лицом к событию with Mikhail Sokolov) and телеканал дождь for podcasts/radio and video, and Новая газета, Независимая газета, and Коммерсантъ for print media. They’re all opposition or independent sources, although Коммерсантъ varies a bit in how independent its reporting and editing really is.

    If you’re looking for good news coverage of Russia in English, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is the English language version of Радио Свобода is solid, just with less content than the Russian arm. I don’t use it as much as the others, but Meduza, which both creates its own content and aggregates from other sources, has a decent range of topics covered and is generally pretty independent. (Which is why their headquarters are in Latvia). Alexei Navalny and his anti-corruption team do very amusing, informative long form documentaries about different issues in Russian politics, which are often, but not always, posted with English subtitles, so that might be worth a look as well.

    • #22
  23. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    KW – this is on a tangent, but where do you get your news about Russia?

    Because I speak Russian, I tend to use mostly Russian language sources. So Радио Свобода (especially the program Лицом к событию with Mikhail Sokolov) and телеканал дождь for podcasts/radio and video, and Новая газета, Независимая газета, and Коммерсантъ for print media. They’re all opposition or independent sources, although Коммерсантъ varies a bit in how independent its reporting and editing really is.

    If you’re looking for good news coverage of Russia in English, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is the English language version of Радио Свобода is solid, just with less content than the Russian arm. I don’t use it as much as the others, but Meduza, which both creates its own content and aggregates from other sources, has a decent range of topics covered and is generally pretty independent. (Which is why their headquarters are in Latvia). Alexei Navalny and his anti-corruption team do very amusing, informative long form documentaries about different issues in Russian politics, which are often, but not always, posted with English subtitles, so that might be worth a look as well.

    (Apart from anything else, I have to watch a lot of Russian news for school, so it’s less of a slog if it’s made as painless a process as possible. Mikhail Sokolov is a very talented, brave journalist, but a good 75% of the reason I watch Лицом к событию is just because he always looks, and sounds, incredibly done with whatever he’s reporting on or discussing. Russian news is almost always depressing and horrible, so it helps to be getting it from someone who recognizes that fact, doesn’t try to hide it, and occasionally starts making jokes about it. I’m also eagerly awaiting the day his glasses finally fall off his nose).

    • #23
  24. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    KW – this is on a tangent, but where do you get your news about Russia?

    Because I speak Russian, I tend to use mostly Russian language sources. So Радио Свобода (especially the program Лицом к событию with Mikhail Sokolov) and телеканал дождь for podcasts/radio and video, and Новая газета, Независимая газета, and Коммерсантъ for print media. They’re all opposition or independent sources, although Коммерсантъ varies a bit in how independent its reporting and editing really is.

    If you’re looking for good news coverage of Russia in English, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is the English language version of Радио Свобода is solid, just with less content than the Russian arm. I don’t use it as much as the others, but Meduza, which both creates its own content and aggregates from other sources, has a decent range of topics covered and is generally pretty independent. (Which is why their headquarters are in Latvia). Alexei Navalny and his anti-corruption team do very amusing, informative long form documentaries about different issues in Russian politics, which are often, but not always, posted with English subtitles, so that might be worth a look as well.

    I’ve noticed that Телеканал Дождь has been putting out a steady stream of YouTube videos about Alexei Navalny ever since his latest imprisonment. I don’t know much about the place of Дождь in the political spectrum, but I can’ t imagine that Putin is happy to see him getting so much coverage.

    • #24
  25. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    KirkianWanderer: In his suitcase, he carried a collection of John Donne poems, a typewriter, and two bottles of vodka.

    Talk about a Russian poet!

    • #25
  26. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    Russian news is almost always depressing and horrible, so it helps to be getting it from someone who recognizes that fact, doesn’t try to hide it, and occasionally starts making jokes about it. I’m also eagerly awaiting the day his glasses finally fall off his nose).

    Vaya con Dios

    • #26
  27. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer: In his suitcase, he carried a collection of John Donne poems, a typewriter, and two bottles of vodka.

    Talk about a Russian poet!

    He was confident he would get freedom in America, but he was hedging his bets about being able to find Stolichnaya. 

     

    • #27
  28. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    If you’re looking for good news coverage of Russia in English, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is the English language version of Радио Свобода is solid, just with less content than the Russian arm. I don’t use it as much as the others, but Meduza, which both creates its own content and aggregates from other sources, has a decent range of topics covered and is generally pretty independent. (Which is why their headquarters are in Latvia).

    Thank you.

    Do you know how Medusa is funded? Is it ads?

    I don’t mean to be ungracious (Lordy no), but quite often who pays says, amirite?

    • #28
  29. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Zafar (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    If you’re looking for good news coverage of Russia in English, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is the English language version of Радио Свобода is solid, just with less content than the Russian arm. I don’t use it as much as the others, but Meduza, which both creates its own content and aggregates from other sources, has a decent range of topics covered and is generally pretty independent. (Which is why their headquarters are in Latvia).

    Thank you.

    Do you know how Medusa is funded? Is it ads?

    I don’t mean to be ungracious (Lordy no), but quite often who pays says, amirite?

    The best I can figure out (I don’t know much about Latvian tax law, despite looking at their public documents) it’s ads and donations that form their main funding source. It’s held by Medusa Project SIA and the CEO is Galina Timchenko, a well known independent Russian journalist. The original core team was 20 journalists who resigned from Lenta because of Alexander Mamut’s decision to fire Timchenko and censor anti-Putin news. That makes me think they’re unlikely to be in bed with any oligarchs, unless they’re of the Khodorkovsky stripe. 

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  30. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Thanks as always for your posts @kirkianwanderer. I had, of course, heard of Brodsky but not Dovlatov so wonderful to read about him and their friendship. Speaking of the Russian men you write about, I kept meaning to tell my little Rostropovich story. I went to a National Symphony rehearsal with a class when Rostropovich was the conductor. A female relative was holding his little dog during the rehearsal. He or she would rest during the music but as soon as Rostropovich would speak to the orchestra the dog was up and alert and wagging its tail. I found it amusing that the great musician’s dog was uninterested in music!

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