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Alexander Doroshenko

Valeriy Smirnov and Kroshka Tsahes Babel

Translated by Roman Mysak

Odessa Literature


Kroshka Tsahes

Kroshka Tsahes Babel

   Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann wrote «Kroshka Tsahes» (Klein Zaches). It has nothing to do with Jews. Hoffman lived among Germans and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy and Hoffman kept trying to fight to death against somebody or something. But it happens sometimes. The power without any appliance to is dieing.

   “Klein Zaches” by Hoffman that gave so much for our Russian literature, is something double-faced and repulsive and…

   «Êðîøêà Öàõåñ Áàáåëü» (Kroshka Tsahes Babel) - it is a new book by Valeriy Smirnov.

   I have two names to this text, which I wrote about Valeriy Smirnov and his book. These are, actually, two ideas.

   The first one is Samson and Philistines.

   Here we have to remember that Philistines did not touch Samson. They lived happily and peacefully in their country until Jews appeared there. It was Samson who visited Philistines. It was Samson who humiliated and offended Philistines everywhere.

   Samson needed not even some enemies, but opponents. He needed to spend his inescapable power.

   The second idea is mills-giants. They did not touch Don Quixote. They just spin their wings the way the wind blows. What didn’t Don Quixote like in it?

   It is simple. If there are no Dragons and evil magicians there are no princesses then. But, let’s leave the princesses. They always existed, but the main thing is – there is nothing then to fight for.

   And it is Valeriy who fights not against Babel, but against pagan-Philistines. He had found the reason and made opponents whom he made his enemies. Valeriy did not need Babel but his imitator. Babel was just a kind of pretext.

   The language of Babel – is the most important in the book. He made two languages – he was bilingual writer.

   Babel made up his language, the language of this horrible bloody campaign that never stopped but kept bleeding with innocent people blood and tortures of tormented.

   He created out of oblivion that intense language that rings with metaphors, language of hate and rejection, violence and tyranny, unpunished murders and horrible tortures, language of blood and dirty that absorbs blood so easily. The language where no place for other one were, the basis of our human normal life, and originally it could not be the other way…

   He knew that fact did not express anything. He knew that to express all that happened was not possible just for the reason that a man in any of its “merry times” of his merry life had not felt such a horror and that was why he did not need any method to share it.

   He searched and selected facts, but he knew even if he would find lots of facts there would be a mountain that would hide the sky and we would lose our vision. He knew that there was an account and there were death and tortures of one man, tortures and death of thousands, and they were equal. Death would not become more horrible if the death image would be multiplied.

   For describing of the Inferno, the most horrible of its deepness, where Dante traveled, Babel’s language is needed. Babel used this language in his genius book warning – «Konarmija», the only thing he wrote if considering correctly.

   Per se, “Konnaja armia” by Babel is ”The Divine Comedy” of new times Dante differing in that these nightmares are not created by weak man imagination.

   To write it in some other language and show this entire nightmare is impossible.

   He found characters and words. He showed what peoples could be if the leashes would be let off and what people will become tomorrow if let it doing again. Greediness, diseased envy and impunity for bloody crimes…

   Babel made his language of Odessa stories, and Valeriy is right here. He did not memorize what he heard in the streets, didn’t write it, and didn’t put the words and phrase which known for all of us from the very childhood into his Odessa texts, but took the main thing this language music, tonality, melodiousness…

   He was not some parrot speaking Yiddish and he was not a parrotfish intellectual using the correct Russian translations from Jewish, if such translations are possible at all…He followed the music of Odessa dialects, music of our streets and squares…

   This is a genius language of the country inhabited by Babel and his readers, and looking for its roots in the crowd talking, in our Odessa speech is senseless, as it is not in the words, but it is there in the very inmost basis…

   Our Odessa language is real. It is what is left when words are not heard.

   But nothing can appear from the Babel’s language except, probably, various, ever-present and ineradicable imitators- Philistines. Valeriy is saying that and he is right.

   And the matter with the regime that he had, but who didn’t at that time? Who did not play hiding with the regime? And everyone knew that nobody manage to escape from the regime.

   As Valeriy is saying by the words of my childhood – the played «æìóðêè» (seek and hide)

   You should not charge a man only for that he extremely wants to live.

   We live in our country in two periods “after war, or before war”. And it is the way our fathers lived. God, save our children from this!

   My grandmother used to say: “You live like on a volcano”. And I wonder, where did she get this word volcano, being uneducated she could not read or write, had never seen any place but her native Odessa? How did she know how to live there?

   In our yard, in Michailovskaya Street, at the fire station, her neighbors respectively called my grandmother «madam Doroshenchicha».

   And she also used to say about horses in the Police fire station, where my grandfather Gordey served: “Tshernie oni bili kak tsatsa!» And this how Valeriy woke my memory.

   Valeriy is writing page-by-page created out of my childhood language. He actually recreates this childhood.

   «Gavno zasranoe». This was how I called Lyonchik Vaisman on a big break at school and he deserved it. We were immediately surrounded with crowd of guys on the schoolyard. We put off the ties. By rules we could not fight in ties. And Lyonchik, who lives in New-York now, won me in the fight. We have rules of fight: when blood started from my nose or mouth we were separated. By such rules I could not give up and Lyonchik could not stop the fight so that it would not look like compassion to the defeated one.

   Valera reminded me that sunny morning. I was 12 by that time.

   And if Lyona whom I lost in the long roads of our life would ever read it he has to know that it was fair fight and I have no offence or claim to him.

   Only Valeriy can explain how this fantastically strong, so accented phrase could appear, - not just «gavno» (and this one word would be enough for the fight to start), but exactly the phrase «gavno zasranoe»! Where, in what language and people could appear such solid phrase?

   You could just talk back to the word «gavno», but «gavno zasranoe» meant only immediate fight by the unwritten rules of Moldavian boys.

   «Dve bolshie raznitsi» - is also intensification built by the rules not even of Odessa language, but our soul.

   Valera is right – it is blood!

   It is dissolved in our blood.

   «Bog ne fraer». It was our table of the law. It was our highest divine truth and the faith basis. Only few knows that those words were written on the tables of the testimony that God gave to Moses and for us, Odessa inhabitants, the words were changed by our ancestors, the old regime Jewish into a more simple formula: «God not the person to say lies».

   «Pravit kaznu». We were idling at Lanzheron area, the whole form. We were thing and tall, could be said long not due to our age wearing long black panties both of us too, Valeriy, and me but frankly, in different time. Then we wrung out our panties in some bushes and ran to the tram 4 to come up and get off in Prohorovskaya Street right at the school gates. But wet black spots of still not dry panties let us down and it was seen for everybody that we have come from the sea…

   How charming we all were at those times!

   We «motalis» (dangling) on the glades of Green garden, on Michailovckaya square, behind my house. Our yard football team was against guys from other streets or even yards, from Vodoprovodnaya Street or Stepovaya Street. My dog Rex was in the goal gates and returns the ball with his head trying to bite the attacking boys team…

   We «eli pirozki bez nichego» (ate doughnuts without nothing inside) - though, we said (the ones from Michalovskaya square) that another way, - «pirozki s nichem» (doughnuts with nothing), we «malamurili ich» - it is when eating something with a great appetite). And «umalamurit» meant to eat something very fast and then lick ones lips.

   We spoke a divine language of our childhood: «Boris- pokoritel dohlih kris», - «Rizaja kolbasa, tebja koshka rodila» - «dgadina-pomadina» - «lavrik-pavlik» - «dulja s makom»…

   «Maloholny» - it has several shades of meaning. It was usually said about the one who made did some crazy things or we were called this way as clowns who amuse others and ourselves…

   «Gitsel» - it meant skinflint in Jewish. Early in the morning they were driving cars with box-cage behind. There was a cage cover on the top and a window where caught poor sack. And on the both sides of the car cabin two dogcatchers were sitting – gitselja. They had ring like nets on long sticks and loops there. They could catch any dog out of the yard and the put them into the box. It often happened that the owner of the dog being informed by us about his dog ran after the car and then bought out hid dog. Who did not manage to do that they went to the station to buy out their pets. We always watch the «gitseli» and took our dogs to home yard. Our hate to those people (they hate us too) was irreconcilable. We threw stones at these skinflints and their car and then ran away to our save-yard. And any «gitsel» knew that he should not get his nose into the yard.

   Those were morning cars, but there was also nigh craven-cars. They took our parents.

   «Vertetsja na odnoy noge» - «Pjatki begut vperedi nog» - «esli net schastja – hot plach i pisay» - «na dve jarmarki v odnochasje ne edut» («odnoy dgopoy na dva bazara») – «ne valjay duraka» («mah seg niht mishigi») – «Mishiginer kop» - «bolnoy na golovu»(«shlof af deim kop»)- «horoshego ponemnozku» - «bolshoy purits», - all this directly translated from Yiddish, and even translated from the principle. It sounded different way and received multidimensional sense!

   «Doska s dirkoy» - is a loan translation from Yiddish and it was said about women beauty variants?

   «Idi znay», - we talk this way and understand each other without any explanations and we always wonder why it sounds so funny and mysterious.

   «A v dgizni», - meaning never, and «i voobtshe» - in other words it is so obvious that there is nothing to talk about.

   Me, the same as Valeriy when he grew up was very surprised to a strange word «lastik», we always called it «rezinka». Now I call it the same way and my granddaughter does whatever is written on it in the shops by uneducated and strange for us people.

   I have never thought about why our street is called Pushkinskaya and in Moscow it is called Pushkina Street. It sounds so natural and nice – Pushkinskaya! And “Pushkina Street” sounds like a handbook or a manual for a foreigner who studies Russian on some poor examples.

   Odessa language is not just these words, our words and their amazing combinations. The basis of its fantastic language is surely the Yiddish. But it is not just a direct translation…

   A self-irony of Jewish is dissolved in the Yiddish language. Such a life, with two thousands years of persecution and oppression can be stood by someone only selfironicaly. If you always come seriously to everything in this life there will be no life.

   It is dissolved in our language, in the blood of language, - self-irony, gesture, intonation, melody, metaphor and character. Self-irony and paradox – are the basic things in Odessa’s anecdote. And here we can see our no joinable junctions of words. The name itself Yiddish”, «mame loshn» – mother’s tongue, - aren’t we still talking our mother’s tongue?

   Every phrase written by Valeriy, is disclosed by our unrepeatable, our different from anything else life.

   Valeriy is right; the rumors of our language death are too much exaggerated.

   Babel, - Bab-Eil - God’s Gates.

   How could he get such an idea?

   I know these words in Sumerian and in ancient Semitic languages.

   God’s Gates – is a Babylon, but Babylon inhabitants called it also – «The hub of the universe»!

   It makes us closer. This is the way every one of us felt and still feels Odessa deep in heart.

   Valeriy, some others and me feel and think of it this way.

   God, having planned destroying the Babylon’s tower by which we come up to meet him face to face and refer to him, and God broke up the only common language into many and the builders left the tower unfinished.

   Valeriy used this showing how of many initiative languages, - Italian, French, Ukrainian, Jewish, Greek, - appeared a new the only one language named Odessa language!

   This book is about us, about our unforgettable childhood, our youth, about every one of us being you and beautiful. About our City, so little of which has left…

   It is a skillfully written book.

   And Babel is just a cause.

   As mills for Don Quixote or Philistines for Samson.

   Valera is writing, spinning a lacy web from the best words of the world of the main language.

   This sweet web caught our hearts. These words are made of intoxicating smell of acacia, from morning sunny silence, from varicolored voices of Novy bazaar, from the rustle of a sea wave running over the blocks of Lanzheron, from the noise of night rain on the corner of our streets Spiridonovskaya and Degtyarnaya…

   I am listening attentively.

   Every his word, every combination of the words, which could probably do not say anything to the world, every word is pulsing another beat in the heart:

   «alef-beit» - «alfa-beta» - «alfavit»:

   «abi» - «abi da kabi» - «adijet» -

   «blat» - «bebehi» - «bonabak» - «bodjega» -

   «klift» - «ksiva» - «kichman» -

   «malina» - «marviher» - «musor» - «mansi» - «mudak» - «meliha» -

   «tuhes» - prosto krasivoe slovo, -

   «holodets» - «halabuda» - «haljava» - «hipesh» - «hana» - «hohma» – «chohmach» - «hovira» -

   «shalava» - «shara» - «shmon» - «shuher» -

   «fraer» -

   «tsugunder» - «tsuris»

   This is actually from Jewish as our alphabet too. From Jewish through Greek with a little of Latin. But the words have been changed in sounds and sense. As example, the word “haham”, - wise man in Jewish language, became a funny teller of Odessa anecdote.

   Anecdotes are divided into two groups: Odessa ones and stupid.

   Tsilya Tsugunder and Gilya Komar, Fanya Kotik and Ivan Popik, Abram Golubchik and Ester Barsuk, Fanya Lyaufer and Ida Klyuch, David Haham and Ivan Sarancha, Daria Nevdacha and Alexander Velikiy, Moses Homer and Pinya Ratiner, Marta Lvovna Rasputnaya and Sukach-Verniy Pavel Petrovich…

   Sidor Nauhamov and Abram Mogiliver, Isaac Rotstein-Zadorniy and Serna Moiseevna, Rosa Sivoglas and Suita Magasinnik, medical doctor Lidia Traktirshchik and a doctor Ada Rubel, Ivan Provokatorov and Saveliy Pogromov, Svetlana Versal and Minodora Bob, Bogdanov-Neverov and Ivan Mogyla, Afrosim Zhigalo and Ivan Mauser, Pelageya Sekundant and Anastasia Referent…

   Elizaveta Natoptannaya and Evdokia Netsvetaeva, professor Minevrin and engineer-mechanic Polina Caganovich, Serafim Orfeev and Maria Pereva-Shainoga, Tatiana Tonia Adelaida Samtsova, Dora Morduhovna Polovych and Ida Haskelevna Shechter-Tsoyref, Boruch Shaevich Schetina and Rosalia Barboy-Maiboroda…

   Naum Tsyryulnik and Semen Adolfovich Shvydkiy, Adelaida Shustraya and Nahman Srulevich German, old proletarian, member of Communist party David Barshak and dentist Fanya Abramovna Soroka, born Shapiro, Klara Kryss and “unforgettable aunt Pesya”, Srul Grinblant and Nikolay Batrakov…

   And, of course, Ivan Hryak-Gamayun.

   These are the authentic names of our citizens from the gravestones of our sacred graveyards.

   But this is, let’s hope Valera did not use much imagination, just genius: “

   “Here «divetka» of the restaurant Aristida Faconni Basia-Dvoyra Isenberg nicknamed Violina de Valet is berried. A severe temper of her father made her to choose the bad way in life road. She was beautiful in her youth. But she died neglected and in poverty. Her old friends experienced her virtue erected this monument”.

   Basia-Dvoira Isenberg, lately named Violina de Valet, it is quite a novel!

   And who can remember, except Valera, the meaning of the word «divetka»?

   Potilitse – back of the head, kropivi - nettle, borshtj - borsch, kashi – porridge, blischet – shining, kesheni - pocket, indik – turkey-cock, tsibali – onion, tsibulnik – a big, hot, filled with fried onion doughnut…

   And what about us, do we need a translation?

   Valeriy is right that it was a fantastic language. It is like a east carpet shining with different colors, because it was weaved of many languages. It was boiled in unprecedented for our country flame of freedom. It lived not in some literary salons and cafes, but in streets and squares, in our shops and coffeehouses, in bazaar rows and in the port.

   Except a lot of amazing words combinations, this language had a basis, a music, rude and tender, impudent and shy, deceitful and honest, mocking, boorish and intelligent. There was a lot of voices and music sounded like an organ over our unique City.

   Valeriy is knocking himself out to the variety of skomorokh-philistines-spongers. One against all he easily proves what the truth is.

   And a disaster just over here, very close, when you come out into the street and listen to the language of contemporaries. And the speak, Valeriy, argo new times. There is a filthy language and interjections, words – parasites for which my mother was worrying about when I had it, - this is all the language.

   And Valriy got worked up about Babel.

   Babel knew that a bullet is waiting for him.

   But if Babel could have heard that he is the beginner of Odessa language he would hardly believe that and would be much surprised such an amazing foolishness. And he would be much upset how stupid the Odessa citizens had become.

   And in this case, Valeriy Smirnov, an Odessa-south-Russian writer is absolutely right.

   By the way, A.S. Pushkin was an Odessa-South-Russian writer in his best years.

   Puhkin had Derzhavin.

   By Valeriy, the part of Derzhavin is played by Ivan Bunin. They lived both in the same yard and the same side wing in Barano-Knyazheskaya Street. Unlike Derzhavin, Bunin had become a Noble prizewinner.

   I don’t think that Valeriy is so deeply interested in beautifulness of Bunin’s texts. He is jus his fellow. Almost a buddy? In different times they were at the New Bazaar where you can still hear some now. They were running along the same streets, which remains almost the same. They hold their girl friends under the same trees…

   Valera is writing his biography:”I was born in one of the most famous houses of Odessa “described” not only by the local cats, but described by Bunin, Kuprin, Kataev, Fedorov, Lazurskiy…” Much “described” by local cats and Bunin, - how charming!

   I used to be in this yard walking through the entrance, sensing the “described” (play of words in Russian where describe and piss sound almost the same) walls and this tradition still remains. Them I crossed the yard walking up the stairs to the second floor of the side wing to my friend Edik Shvedskiy, the surname of whom as a neighbor was noted by Valeriy. May be I was blessed by Bunin describing this walls? But those years I was not aware either of Bunin or Valeriy.

   Valera is right, it is such a yard and the gates… walking out of them on a sunny day you turn to the left, wait a little at the corner of Konnaya street choosing the way to go, and then move towards Noviy bazaar or Pastera street to the circus and there Sadovaya street is…And, further, our life. What a good luck to be born there in the best city in the world, the best of its houses the best-determined time…

   That is why Valera is writing his books. It is a faith and nothing else given.

   As for Valera, I know her beautiful wife and I do not worry about him. As for Bunin he was unlucky womanizer. This is Bunin from whom his wife left for a woman lesbian, and I could hardly find more miserable fact in Russian literature.

   He is very lonely man, Valera. It is written in his every book and it becomes more obvious with every new book of his.

   Actually, it concerns every one of us who left.

   Loneliness makes us closer to God. It is the only way to him.

   You can take out of this talented written book Babel, «Kroshka Tsahes» (Klein Zaches), Odessa and not only Odessa Philistines-imitators and jury of humor of every color.

   There is such a method in boxing – called fight with shadow. The fight is with oneself. This is the way you train before the fight. With whom?

   And there is also an east true story about a man who managed to learn a skill of fighting dragons, but for the whole of his life he did not meet any real dragon. And he met only some shrimps. How cannot one fly into a rage?

   What are these countless and tenacious Philistines for Valera?! And he fight for the City with them…

   The main thin is left for what Valeriy Smirnov wrote his book, - About Ernest Theodore Amadeus Hoffman, the name of whom if you read correctly would show that you are quite an educated person!

   About our sunny City…

   About our streets and squares…

   About our wonderful ancestors, roughnecks and professors…

   About our absorbed with mother’s milk language…

   About our South-Russian air, - blessed the one ever breathed this air!

   As they say in the City, - “for our air” the one we breathed and are still breathing. It is only here, in the city with wonderful name Odessa, unforgettable anywhere City.

   And to sacred question, what air do you breathe? – the question of hard past and not easy present. We know for sure that the question is illegal for these severe home Palestine, our south-russian air, there was a deceitful answer: - «Èñïðàâëþñü» (I will be better)

   Our Motherland, petting over our unsubdued heads with her horny hands, whispered us: “Be industrious, son, be as you have to be!”

   “Such mother-land as mine should be deprived of her mother’s rights.”

   We never get better, no improves.

   When we going to change we will never be what we are.

   This Valera’s book is for each of us.

   It is a reminder of what we are.

   It is about every one of us.

Valeriy Smirnov. «Kroshka Tsahes (Klein Zaches) Babel», Odessa, “Polygraph” 2009.

About the author: Alexander Viktorovich Doroshenko, Doctor of Science, professor, Academician, writer.