Month: May 2021
The Odessa Journal supports Oulu2026
The European Capital of Culture for 2026 will be announced on Wednesday, the 2nd of June.
The City of Oulu is bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture 2026 after the City Council’s decision in accordance with Finland’s 100th Anniversary celebratory decision.
The Finnish city has been working on preparing the bid for several years, and the application has benefited from a deep level of consultation with its citizens. People from the cultural field, those far from it and those from somewhere in between. This highlighted the significant role of culture in community character, improving quality of life and re-connecting people.
Developing the application together with residents has helped Oulu to reconnect with its shared history, identity and pride. The bidding affects everyone in Oulu as well as its neighbouring municipalities, both now and in the future.
For further details, visit the website Oulu2026
Oulu is proud to say that the Sister Cities supported Oulu2026 and cultural climate change.
Let’s make this dream come true!
Odessa hippodrome opened the racing season
The racing season 2021 started at the Odessa Hippodrome, last weekend. The event is a traditional holiday, both for horse-riding enthusiasts and for residents of Odessa, who decided to bring their children to see the horses.
The honour to open the competition fell to the famous Odessa’s poet and character actor Boris Barsky. The actor of the House of Clowns theater expressed confidence that the hippodrome will continue to work and regain its former glory, even in spite of the concrete skyscrapers surrounding it.
Before the racing programme, children’s dance groups performed, and between the races the audience was entertained by vocalists and musicians.
According to Konstantin Savchits, director of the Odessa Hippodrome branch of the State Enterprise “Horse Breeding of Ukraine”, more than 50 horses competed in speed on the first test day. The best in the races was “Luhansk” Guga, who covered 1800 meters in 2 minutes and 4 seconds.
Horse breeding has been going through hard times in Ukraine for many years. For this we hold such events to popularise equestrian sports. We are trying to involve the inhabitants of Odessa. After all, many do not even know that we have a hippodrome with a very colorful history.Konstantin Savchits, director of the Odessa Hippodrome
The next traditional prize races will be held at the Odessa hippodrome on June 12, and on June 5, when you can watch the derby of the Orlov breed horses.
Slovakia support Ukraine’s aspirations of European integration
The official visit of the Head of the Slovak Government Eduard Heger to Kyiv, on May 28, strengthened the diplomatic and commercial relations between Slovakia and Ukraine.
Slovakia has always been a staunch supporter of Ukraine and the European aspirations of Ukraine. This is one of my main messages today in Kyiv. And we are vocal on that in Brussels as well. Presidential offices of both countries are working on the declaration you mentioned.Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia
Eduard Heger said that Ukraine’s European integration aspirations had already been officially recognised many times and added that he would talk with Ukrainian interlocutors about Ukraine’s reforms, during his official visit to Kyiv.
Indeed, transformation and modernisation of the country is a prerequisite for becoming a member of the EU and NATO. The reform process in Ukraine is continuing and Slovakia believes it will be sustainable and successful. Btw, the changes are not about the EU and NATO, they need to be introduced be Ukrainians themselves to make Ukraine stronger, more resilient, to the benefit of all the Ukrainians.Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia
For now, it is important to use all the provisions the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine offers, the Slovakian Prime Minister noted.
During the visit, the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal agreed with his Slovakian colleague on the need to intensify bilateral cooperation.
Today, we have agreed on the need to intensify our bilateral cooperation. Holding the next fifth meeting of the Ukrainian-Slovak combined commission on economic, industrial, scientific and technical cooperation will be an important step in assessing the state of trade between our countries.Denys Shmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine
The parties, in particular, discussed the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister of Ukraine thanked Slovakia for providing assistance in the amount of Euro 600,000 for the purchase of the vaccine. Denys Shmyhal informed the Prime Minister of Slovakia that Ukraine is working on the creation of a digital national “Covid Certificate”.
In addition, the parties agreed to maximise the use of the transit potential of the countries. Shmyhal also noted that the introduction of joint border and customs control at the border is important for both countries.
Among other things, the two prime ministers agreed that cooperation between countries in the field of employment and labour migration requires additional attention from both governments.
5 world-famous things created by Ukrainians
We know that someone will count many more things, inventions, achievements of Ukrainians, and we will be sincerely pleased with that. And we dream that our compatriots will “invent”, create and construct another 5 thousand different useful things.
And for now we will be glad that thanks to Ukrainians and people from Ukraine there are things without which we cannot imagine our lives now. Compare – from the latest to the oldest.
Solving the sphere packing problem in 8 dimensions
Experienced mathematicians from all over the world have “fought” over this crucial task, which helps to correct errors in mobile phones, the Internet and space research. On March 14, 2016, the world of mathematics received an extraordinary Pi Day surprise when a thirty-year-old woman from Kyiv, Doctor of Natural Sciences Maryna Viazovska posted to the arXiv a solution of the sphere packing problem in eight dimensions. Her proof shows that the ?8 root lattice is the densest sphere packing in eight dimensions, via a beautiful and conceptually simple argument.
The solving took her two years, occupies 23 pages and is recognised by the scientific community as “stunningly simple” and awarded the prestigious Salem Prize. Maryna has now been invited to work at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne.
Jan Koum was born in a small Ukrainian provincial town in the late 70s. His family was the most ordinary and unremarkable: the father is the builder, the mother is the housewife. Childhood was not easy, because the family lived more than modestly. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union and the difficult years of Perestroika. Jan’s father passed away after a long illness. The side job did not bring a stable income to the young man, the mother could not get a job because of her age. Then it was decided, having sold everything that was possible and having collected all the savings, to move to America. It took two years to prepare for the move, during which the boy studied English and took private lessons to “pull up” his knowledge. The family moved to a town called Mountain View.
He was an ordinary employee of a computer company, one of several thousand. But on February 24, 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California.
Unique shootings of the Oscar-winning Titanic
It was Anatoly Kokush, a native of Kerch, who suggested that director James Cameron to “attach” the cameras to moving objects and thus enhance the visual effects. The technology of the Ukrainian was used in all known films: from “Taxi” and “Troy” to “Harry Potter” and “Twelve friends of Ocean”.
However, it is not widely known in Ukraine. With the help of equipment invented and constructed personally by Kokush and in his studio, more than 300 films, many promotional videos, the best concerts, shows and sports competitions around the world were made.
Anatoliy Kokush was born in 1951 in Kerch. He graduated in engineering from the Leningrad Institute of Film Engineers. After graduating (since 1974) he worked as a designer at the Dovzhenko film studio, then in 1990 he founded his own company – the company “Filmotechnik”, which is a unique combination of design bureau and workshop.
For his work, Anatoly Kokush twice received the world’s highest award in cinema – “Oscar”.
Dance Academy at the Grand Opera in Paris
The most famous ballet school was founded by an outstanding dancer, choreographer Serge Lifar.
Born on April 2, 1905 in Kyiv. He sang in a church choir of the St. Sophia Cathedral and dreamed of becoming a pianist. He got into ballet school by accident. At 17, Serge Lifar immigrated to Paris where he lived all his life, but until the end of his days he considered himself a Ukrainian.
Serge Lifar is a great dancer of the past century. The premier danseur of the Ballets Russes and the favourite student of Serge Diaghilev. For more than 30 years Lifar worked in the Paris Grand Opera as the premier danseur of the ballet at the beginning, and as a choreographer and ballet master later.
As the founder of the Institute of Choreography in Paris and the University of Dance, he taught the history and theory of dance at Sorbonne and was also Honorary President of the International Dance Council, which maintained relations with UNESCO. The French mint founded a medal in his honour. He created more than 200 ballets and developed his own system of preparation of ballet dancers.
One day a young Kievan boy after reading Jules Verne’s novel “Robur the Conqueror” had a dream as if he was on the board of a ship. He imagined that he was entering the luxurious cabin, and from the windows he could see far below the sea island with green trees. The boy did not know that his dream would come true in thirty years – that he would be on the board of amphibious aircraft designed by himself. His name is Igor Sikorsky.
Young Sikorsky’s most successful design was for a large, four-engine plane that he named Ilya Muromets, after a legendary Russian folk hero. He completed it in 1913. Czar Nicolas II, who personally inspected the craft, presented Sikorsky with a diamond-studded gold watch for his efforts.
Sikorsky left Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution. He arrived in New York City in 1919 with $600 to his name and the Czar’s gold watch in his pocket. Here he began a second career as an aviation designer in 1923 and founded the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation on a Long Island chicken farm owned by a fellow Russian. Here Sikorsky produced twin-engine seaplanes.
After several succesful years and several experimental models, Sikorsky discovered that a single rotor mounted vertically on the tail of the aircraft worked best, and on January 14, 1942, Sikorsky himself piloted the first successful test flight of the helicopter in America.
Bruno Monsaingeon speaks about Oistrakh, Stolyarsky and Odessa
We had a privilege to make an interview with the French violinist, writer and and filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon during the Odesa International Violin Competition. Looking ahead, it was one of the most charming and inspiring interviews ever.
Bruno Monsaingeon, probably the most outstanding music filmmaker, who has documented life and work of the greatest artists of our time. Among them there are very interesting movies about famed odessans David Oïstrakh and Sviatoslav Richter. We settled down on the terrace of Monsieur’s suite and talked about love of music, Pyotr Stolyarsky, Soviet musicians and his adventures in Odessa and Moscow.
You are a concert violinist who, in the last forty years, has devoted a large part of your time to the making of films on the music history. It is very unusual to find a musician filmmaker. How did it happen to you? Which is your purpose in this filmmaking activity? To consolidate the memory of these personalities, to promote classical music, or a personal spirit of research?
It is not unusual that instrumentalist musicians are busy with writing music organising concerts. Particularly, composers from the time of Bach and Mozart, to romantic composers, like Rachmaninov and many others, who wrote excellent music. So I do not see why a musician is not allowed to make films.
My great example is Glenn Gould, who stopped performing in public and devoted himself to making radio programmes to do a recording activity, which is the same. It is my best example in that particular field because he knew everything about recording music and he brought also some ideas on how to make a film. We had that extraordinary collaboration together.
He was a genius. When I say a genius, I mean a permanent genius. In the sense that everything was around him, the fact that he did not have any connection with anybody outside and he could really devote most of his time to the communication of the music. And that’s what I am trying to do via film, communication and I am very much interested in the fact that, a career in music if it means only repeating oneself, from year to year, is not enough.
For example, like most of the greatest interpreters of the past, Yehudi Menuhin was very active in generous events, founding the school, not only is touring all the time, but also having an activity that was in a way a social activity, very interested in what will happen in the future. So I think that in music there is all that enormous range of activities. That’s what it happened to me. Very simply.
So my trip to Odessa changed into a quite extraordinary story.
After the presentation of you film about David Oistrakh, you mentioned that you feel a special connection with Odessa. Can you describe better your ties with the City?
May I tell you about what happened to me in the past? I first came to Odessa in 1993, just by chance. I really wanted to come and to stay for a long time, but it was very problematic. In 1993, I was in Moscow when the putsch started. All of the sudden, when I was supposed to go back to Paris, I learned that there was a plane flying to Odessa and I could have a seat on it. And I knew that I could not come back easily. But I decided: “ok, I will go”. So, I took the flight, for just one day, because I had no time, than I had to go back by car hitch-hiking, then I had to find a train from Kyiv to Moscow, eighteen hours of a train, and Moscow was under the curfew, which was very exciting!
We were all staying at the Budapest Hotel Moscow with no rooms and everybody had to sleep under the tables in the restaurant. It was fantastic! Anyway, I came to Odessa for 24 hours and literally went to all the places. It was rather easy, because you could hitch-hike with anybody for few money. I remember when I arrived. I changed one hundred dollars bill and it got half an hour because the change was few millions of Karbovanets (Ukrainian currency before the current Gryvnia – ed). With that bunch of money I could survive for one single day. And was not a tourist, I was just immensely curious about that city.
Of course I wanted to know where Oistrakh had lived. The main object of the trip was to discover where Oistrakh had spent his early years. And musically and in terms of culture where all these people been brought up in Odessa, it was totally surprising and very interesting. My passion for the city started on that very day. It was a fantastic discovery for me.
Then, I returned gratefully to Moscow. And those days, they announced my death on the French press.. This is another extraordinary story. I have a very good friend, who was one the tennis champion Andrej Česnokov, he was the first great Soviet tennis player, the number 8 in the world at that time. He was in Paris when I left to Moscow and he stayed at my place. He said: “please give me a call when you will arrive to Moscow, so that we can talk”. Because in those days, in the hotels in Moscow there were not central telephones. And the phone in each room had a number different from any other room.
So I called him in Paris and I gave him my telephone number of that current room. And then he was calling me for 5 days. When I left for Odessa he called me once again and suddenly there was another voice at the telephone. Somebody who had taken my room, of course. I had no time to tell him that I was leaving. It was impossible for me call abroad. Then he left Paris for Toulouse to play the championship. He passed the first round, then he decided not to play in the second round because he thought I was dead. He heard that some French television director had died at the Moscow radio and he was sure that it was me. So he gave an interview to the sport magazine Equipe and said “you know, I am out of the tournament because my best friend have died in Moscow”. So, when I came back to Paris finally from Moscow, I went to get my car in the BMW garage and when they saw me they said: “what? Are you alive?” And they showed me the press, where on the first page of a sport magazine it was written that I was died in the putsch in Moscow. So my trip to Odessa changed into a quite extraordinary story.
After that, I did the film on David Oistrakh, I already knew the place. So I had that kind of scouting trip, which helped me to do the film quickly and easily. It was still difficult to reach Odessa even years later, especially with the crew. That was the first of two trips to Odessa and then I came again. Five or six years ago because they had a kind of retrospective on my films. And then I spent few days here, which was absolutely extraordinary.
With that feeling of freedom, which is the result of a country without a law. Not the same conception of laws that we have today in Europe, which is becoming quite Americanised. It think that it is a good to have a law, but the dictatorship of the law is something we have to fight against. On the other side, you know: Crimea, Russia and Ukraine, they need to pick a little of our conception of law, so that they will be meeting something together, one day.
Oistrakh was an exception and how he obtained the number one position in Soviet Union, I really do not know.
I think it is essential that we get rid of that horrible sense of law from the Americans, very soon we will need a law to get just a piece of bread. And it was quite different. I could feel that sense of freedom, for foreigners particularly, that one can breathe in this wonderful city.
In your film it is mentioned that David Oistrakh was born and started his music education in Odessa. But then the city is not mentioned anymore. Which role played Odessa in Oistrakh’s life?
Well, I suppose that it was very important. He was brought up here went to the very famous school of Piotr Stolyarsky. And in all his steps, as it is mentioned in the film by the very Oistrakh voice. I had the privilege to have access to many letters Oistrakh had written. And I had also his original autograph, so that I could film it as a kind of authentication.
This is what I tried to do about Stolyarsky. It was like acknowledging the fact that a big institution, which was the State, could deliver bread to the poor people. He was very grateful for that. And it was explained in his letters, with a beautiful sense of innocence, and I tried to show in the film what Oistrakh said himself. I hate films where just the people are talking about someone all the time. Of course, I did it also for Oistrakh’s film, with famous musicians.
He was an example of something, which is quite unique in the field of music. Music is plagued literally by rivalry. Each of these players are jealous. In America it was particularly widespread because of the influence of Isaac Stern. Yehudi Menuhin was much beyond that. And he thought on the contrary that Oistrakh was the greatest Russian violinist and he had a wonderful friendship with him. No sense of rivalry.
Oistrakh wrote a letter of full of gratefulness to Furtwängler for the concert they played together. They had that wonderful connection. I felt it was necessary to show it and I really wanted to emphasises it, because it was a unique fact in musical life. Two of the greatest violinist ever in the history had that extraordinary relationship, real friendship.
So Odessa is mentioned many times in the correspondence. Oistrakh remained here up until his eighteen. Anyway, Oistrakh was very grateful to Stolyarsky.
These Soviet musicians were completely indifferent toward the system.
There is a big question which was not touchable by the film: how did a man like Stolyarsky carry on with this school under the Soviet regime? It is a secret. I cannot explain it. How did he keep his private school? He probably was subsidised by the Soviet government. He had probably such a reputation that he could defend himself by being nationalised. How was that possible in a regime where everything was nationalised, there were no private ownership or initiatives, nor independent work.
This independence was very mysterious. He was the founder, he recruited his own staff with other pedagogues, and was looking over everything in the school. They also played chamber music, which was quite revolutionary at that time. This very open way of schooling helped Oistrakh to become a very cultivated musicians. Which was not so usual in the Soviet Union. Many musicians were trained in central schools in Moscow to be very specialised: you are dedicated to one page of Rachmaninov and you even do not know the rest of the piece. And the next year you have something else which is totally regimented. That makes excellent instrumentalists but rarely great musicians.
Oistrakh was an exception and how he obtained the number one position, I really do not know. He was not very diplomatic, but he was very charming. And he probably went through all the obstacles in that country, which were absolutely incredible.
And the other one who did it was also Sviatoslav Richter who was also from in Ukraine, born in Zhitomir. He came to Odessa when was a child, where his father was playing the organ in the Kirkha (Lutheran Church). But he could not stand Odessa, and he never returned to Odessa. You know why? Because his father was shot by the Soviets and he never forgot it. And his mother went away to Germany with the German army.
That was one of the reasons why he was not allowed to go to the West for many years, because of that record. And also because he was a bachelor, KGB reported this as a sign of possible homosexuality, and he was banned to go to the West. When he finally was authorised to have a long concert tour, first in Finland and America, France and Italy were the two countries were he was allowed to go.
These Soviet musicians were completely indifferent toward the system. They accepted as a condition to concentrate on their music. Richter had as well a great culture, especially in literature. He was also a good painter. Oistrakh was much a lover of food and a great lover of the arts. Many of these Soviet musicians were mostly Jewish. In Soviet times, it was written on the passport. Everything Jewish in Soviet Union was considered as potentially hostile.
But this is also extraordinary of Odessa, this is a definitely cosmopolitan port, because it is a hub. And I loved that, something which makes it a very opened city.
Odessa Bicycle Parade
Odessa Bicycle Parade is a holiday in support of the development of cycling culture, a large-scale cycling event in Ukraine and a community of people who choose an active lifestyle and alternative transport.
This time the Bicycle Parade will be held on the first summer day on June 01.
Route: Opera House -> Bolshaya Arnautskaya street -> Ekaterininskaya street -> Duke de Richelieu Monument -> Dumskaya Square.
Start at 12:00
Participation in the Bicycle Parade is free and voluntary.
It is strictly forbidden to participate in a state of alcoholic intoxication, as well as drinking alcoholic beverages. The organising committee recommends to leave stabbing and cutting objects and gas cylinders at home in order to avoid misunderstandings.
Any kind of campaigning, the use of political slogans and symbols are prohibited at the event.
Also, any flags, distribution of any products and the participation of teams in uniforms are prohibited.
The event is not a sports race. Please do not overtake each other and follow with the general speed of the convoy. The average speed of movement will not exceed 14-15 km / h, if this speed is low for you, please refrain from participating in the bike parade.
Transportation of children under 7 years old, in accordance with the current traffic rules, is allowed only in specially equipped places for them.
Please check your bike at home before leaving for Bicycle Parade. If you have a breakdown and are unable to continue driving, carefully step back onto the sidewalk.
The Bookshelf: Cain
Cain is featured in Kuprin’s collection, A Slav Soul and Other Stories (1916).
The company of soldiers commanded by Captain Markof had come to take part in a punitive expedition. Tired, irritable, weary from their long journey in an uncomfortable train, the men were sullen and morose. On their arrival at a station with a strange-sounding foreign name, beer and vodka were served out to them by men who seemed to be peasants. The soldiers cried “Hurrah!” sang songs and danced, but their faces wore a look of stony indifference.
Then the work began. The company could not be burdened with prisoners, and so all suspected persons whom they came across on the road, and all those who had no passports, were shot without delay. Captain Markof was not mistaken in his psychological analysis; he knew that the steadily increasing irritation of his soldiers would find a certain satisfaction in such bloody chastisement.
On the evening of December 31st the company stopped for the night at a half-ruined baronial farm. They were fifteen versts from the town, and the captain reckoned to get there by three o’clock the next afternoon. He felt certain that his men would have serious and prolonged work there, and he wanted them to get whatever rest was possible, to quiet and strengthen them for it. He therefore gave orders that they be lodged in the various barns and outhouses of the estate. He himself occupied a large hollow-sounding, empty room, with a Gothic fireplace, in which a bed, taken from the local clergyman, had been placed.
A dark, starless night, windy and sleety, came down upon the farm, swiftly and almost unnoticeably. Alone in his immense empty chamber, Markof sat in front of the fireplace, in which some palings from the plundered estate were burning brightly. He put his feet on the grate and spread out a military map upon his bony knees, attentively studying the neighbourhood between the farm and the town. In the red firelight his face, with its high forehead, turned-up moustaches and firm, obstinate chin, seemed more severe than ever.
The sergeant-major came into the room. The water trickled down on to the floor from his waterproof cloak. He stood still for a moment or two, and then, convinced that the captain had not noticed his entrance, coughed discreetly.
“Is it you?” said the captain, bending his head back. “What is it?”
“Everything is in order, your honour. The third platoon is on guard, the first division at the church wall, the second….”
“All right! What else? Is the pass-word given?”
“Yes, your honour….” The sergeant was silent, as if waiting to hear more, but as the captain said nothing, he began in a lower tone,
“What’s to be done, your honour, with the three who….”
“Shoot them at dawn,” interrupted the captain sharply, not allowing the sergeant to finish his sentence, “And afterwards”—he frowned and looked meaningly at the soldier—”don’t ask me any more questions about them. Do you understand?”
“Certainly, your honour,” answered the soldier emphatically…. And they were both silent again. The captain lay down on the bed without undressing, and the sergeant remained at the door in the shadow. For some reason or other he delayed his departure.
“Is that all?” asked the captain impatiently, without turning his head.
“Yes, that’s all, your honour.” The soldier fidgeted from one foot to another, and then said suddenly, with a determined resolution,
“Your honour … the soldiers want to know … what’s to be done with … the old man?”
“Get out!” shouted the captain with sudden anger, jumping up from the bed and making as if to strike him.
The sergeant-major turned dexterously in double-quick time, and opened the door. But on the threshold he stopped for a moment and said in an official voice,
“Ah, your honour, permit me to congratulate your honour on the New Year, and to wish….”
“Thanks, brother,” answered the captain dryly. “Don’t forget to have the rifles examined more carefully to-morrow.”
Left alone in the room, Markof, neither undressing nor taking off his sword, flung himself down upon the bed and lay with his face toward the fire. His countenance changed suddenly, taking on an appearance of age, and his closely-cropped head drooped on his shoulders; his half-closed eyes wore an expression of pain and weariness. For a whole week he had suffered tortures of fever and had only overcome his illness by force of will. No one in the company knew that at nights he tossed about in fierce paroxysms, shivering in ague, delirious, only losing consciousness for moments, and then in fantastic hideous nightmares.
He lay on his back and watched the blue flames of the dying fire, feeling every moment the stealthy approaches of dizziness and weakness, the accompaniments of his usual attack of malaria. His thoughts were connected in a strange fashion with the old man who had been taken prisoner that morning, about whom the sergeant-major had just been speaking. Markof’s better judgment divined that the sergeant-major had been right: there was, indeed, something extraordinary about the old man, a certain magnificent indifference to life, mingled with gentleness and a deep melancholy. People of his type, people resembling this old man, though only in a very slight degree, the captain had seen at Lao-Yan and Mukden, among the unmurmuring soldiers dying on the fields of battle. When the three men had been brought before Markof that morning and he had explained to them by the help of cynically-eloquent gestures that they would be dealt with as spies, the faces of the two others had at once turned pale and been distorted by a deadly terror; but the old man had only laughed with a certain strange expression of weariness, indifference, and even … even as it were of gentle condescending compassion towards the captain himself, the head of the punitive expedition.
“If he is really one of the rebels,” Markof reflected, closing his inflamed eyes, and feeling as if a soft and bottomless abyss of darkness yawned before him, “then there is no doubt that he occupies an important position among them, and I’ve acted very wisely in ordering him to be shot. But suppose the old man is quite innocent? So much the worse for him. I can’t spare two men to guard him, especially considering what we’ve got to do to-morrow. In any case, why should he escape the destiny of those fifteen whom we shot yesterday? No, it wouldn’t be fair to spare him after what we have done to others.”
The captain’s eyes opened slowly, and he started up suddenly in mortal terror.
Seated on a low stool by the bedside, with bent head, and the palms of his hands resting upon his knees, in a quiet and sadly thoughtful attitude, was the old man who had been sentenced to death.
Markof, though he believed in the supernatural and wore on his breast a little bag containing certain holy bones, was no coward in the general sense of the word. To retire in terror, even in the face of the most mysterious and immaterial phenomenon, the captain would have reckoned as much a disgrace as if he had fled before an enemy or uttered a humiliating appeal for mercy. With a quick, accustomed movement he drew his revolver from its leathern case and pointed it at the head of his unknown visitant, and he shouted like a madman,
“If you move, you’ll go to the devil!”
The old man slowly turned his head. Across his lips there passed that same smile which had engraved itself upon the captain’s memory in the morning.
“Don’t be alarmed, Captain. I have come to you without evil intention,” said he. “Try to abstain from murder till the morning.”
The voice of the strange visitant was as enigmatical as his smile, even monotonous, and as it were without timbre. Long, long ago, in his earliest childhood, Markof had occasionally heard voices like this when he had been left alone in a room, he had heard such voices behind him, voices without colour or expression, calling him by his own name. Obedient to the incomprehensible influence of this smile and this voice, the captain put his revolver under his pillow and lay down again, leaning his head on his elbow, and never taking his eyes from the dark figure of the unknown person. For some minutes the room was filled with a deep and painful silence; there was only heard the ticking of Markof’s watch, hurriedly beating out the seconds, and the burnt-out fuel in the grate falling with a weak, yet resounding and metallic, crackle.
“Tell me, Markof,” began the old man at length, “what would you answer, not to a judge or to the authorities, or even to the emperor, but to your own conscience, should it ask you, ‘Why did you enter upon this terrible, unjust slaughter?'”
Markof shrugged his shoulders as if in mockery.
“You speak rather freely, old man,” said he, “for one who is going to be shot in four hours’ time. However, we’ll have a little conversation, if you like. It’s a better occupation for me than to toss about sleeplessly in fever. How shall I answer my conscience? I shall say first that I am a soldier, and that it is my duty to obey orders implicitly; and secondly, I am a Russian by birth, and I would make it clear to the whole world that he who dares to rise up against the might of the great power of Russia shall be crushed as a worm under the heel, and his very tomb shall be made level with the dust….”
“O Markof, Markof, what a wild and bloodthirsty pride speaks in your words!” replied the old man. “And what untruth! If you look at an object and put your eyes quite close to it you see only the smallest of its details, but go further away, and you see it in its true form. Do you really think that your great country is immortal? Did not the Persians think so once, and the Macedonians, and proud Rome, who seized the whole world in her iron claws, and the wild hordes of Huns who overran Europe, and mighty Spain, lord over three-fourths of the globe? Yet ask history what has become of their immeasurable power. And I can tell you that thousands of centuries before these there were great kingdoms, stronger, prouder, and more cultured than yours. But life, which is stronger than nations and more ancient than memorials, has swept them aside in her mysterious path, leaving neither trace nor memory of them.”
“That’s foolishness,” objected the captain, in a feeble voice, lying down again upon his back. “History follows out its own course, and we can neither guide it nor show it the way.”
The old man laughed noiselessly.
“You’re like that African bird which hides its head in the sand when it is pursued by the hunter. Believe me, a hundred years hence your children’s children will be ashamed of their ancestor, Alexander Vassilitch Markof, murderer and executioner.”
“You speak strongly, old man! Yes, I’ve heard of the ravings of those enthusiastic dreamers who want to change swords into ploughshares…. Ha-ha-ha! I picture to myself the sort of state these scrofulous neurasthenists and rickety idiots of pacifists would make. No, it is only wax that can forge out an athletic body and an iron character. However …”—Markof pressed his hand to his forehead, striving to remember something—”however, this is all unimportant. … But what was it I wanted to ask you? … Ah, yes! Somehow I don’t think you will tell me untruths. Do you belong to these parts?”
“No.” The old man shook his head.
“But surely you were born in the district?”
“But you are a—European? What are you, French? English? Russian? German?”
Markof, in exasperation, struck the side of the bed with his fist.
“Well, who are you, then? And why the devil do I know your face so well? Have we ever met anywhere?”
The old man bent his head still lower and sat for a long time saying no word. At last he began to speak, as if hesitating:
“Yes, we have met, Markof, but you have never seen me. Probably you don’t remember, or you’ve forgotten, how once, during an epidemic of plague, your uncle hanged in one morning fifty-nine persons. I was within two paces of him that day, but he didn’t see me.”
“Yes … that’s true … fifty-nine …” muttered Markof, feeling himself overwhelmed by an intolerable heat. “But they … were … rioters….”
“I saw your father’s cruel exploits at Sevastopol, and your work after the capture of Ismaila,” the old man went on in his hollow voice. “Before my eyes has been shed enough blood to drown the whole world. I was with Napoleon on the fields of Austerlitz, Friedland, Jena, and Borodina. I saw the mob applauding the executioner when he held up before them on the platform of the guillotine the bloody head of Louis XVI. I was present on the eve of St. Bartholomew, when the Catholics, with prayers on their lips, murdered the wives and children of the Huguenots. In the midst of a crowd of enraged fanatics I gazed whilst the holy fathers of the Inquisition burned heretics at the stake, flayed people alive for the glory of God, and poured white-hot lead into their mouths. I followed the hordes of Attila, Genghis Khan, and Solyman the Magnificent, whose paths were marked by mountains of human skulls. I was with the noisy Roman crowd in the circus when they sewed Christians up in the skins of wild animals and hunted them with dogs, when they fed the beasts with the bodies of captive slaves … I have seen the wild and bloody orgies of Nero, and heard the wailing of the Jews at the ruined walls of Jerusalem….”
“You’re—only my dream … go away … you’re—only a figure in my delirium. Go away from me!” Markof’s parched lips uttered the words with difficulty.
The old man got up from the stool. His bent figure became in a moment immensely tall, so that his hair seemed to touch the ceiling. He began to speak again, slowly, monotonously, terribly:
“I saw how the blood of man was first shed upon the earth. There were two brothers. One was gentle, tender, industrious, compassionate; the other, the elder, was proud, cruel, and envious. One day they both brought offerings to the Lord according to the custom of their fathers: the younger brought of the fruits of the earth, the elder of the flesh of animals killed by him in the chase. But the elder cherished in his heart a feeling of ill-will towards his brother, and the smoke of his sacrifice spread itself out over the earth, while that of his brother ascended as an upright column to the heavens. Then the hate and envy which oppressed the soul of the elder overflowed, and there was committed the first murder on the earth….”
“Go away, leave me … for God’s sake,” Markof muttered to himself, and tossed about in his crumpled sheets.
“Yes, I saw his eyes grow wide with the terror of death, and his clenched fingers clutch convulsively at the sand, wet with his blood. And when after his last shudder his pale cold body lay still upon the ground, then the murderer was overwhelmed by an unbearable terror. He hid his face in his hands and ran into the depths of the forest, and lay trembling there, until at eventide he heard the voice of his offended God—’Cain, where is thy brother Abel?'”
“Go away; don’t torture me!” Markof’s lips could scarcely move. Yet he seemed to hear the voice continue,
“In fear and trembling I answered the Lord, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ And then the Lord pronounced on me an eternal curse:
“‘Thou shalt remain among the number of the living as long as the earth shall endure. Thou shalt roam as a homeless wanderer through all centuries, among all nations and in all lands, and thine eyes shall behold nought but the blood shed by thee upon the earth, thine ears shall hear only the moans of the dying—eternal reminders of the brother thou hast slain.'”
There was silence for a moment, and when the old man spoke again each word fell into Markof’s soul with pain:
“O Lord, how just and inexorable is Thy judgment! Already many centuries and tens of centuries have I wandered upon the earth, vainly expecting to die. A mighty and merciless power ever calls me to appear where on the battlefields the soldiers lie dead in their blood, where mothers weep, and curses are heaped upon me, the first murderer. There is no end to my sufferings, for every time I see the blood of man flowing from his body I see again my brother, stretched out upon the ground clutching handfuls of sand with his dying fingers … And in vain do I desire to cry out, ‘Awake! Awake! Awake!'”
“Wake up, your honour, wake!” The insistent voice of the sergeant-major sounded in Markof’s ears. “A telegram!…”
The captain was awake and on his feet in a moment. His strong will asserted itself at once, as usual. The fire had long since died out, and the pale light of dawn gleamed through the window.
“What about … those …” asked Markof, in a trembling voice.
“As you ordered, your honour, just this moment.”
“But the old man? The old man?”
The captain sank down upon the bed as if his strength had suddenly left him. The sergeant-major stood at attention beside him, awaiting orders.
“That’s it, brother,” said the captain in a feeble voice. “You must take the command in my place. I will send in my papers to-day, for I … I … ‘m absolutely tormented by this cursed fever…. And —perhaps”—he tried to smile, but only distorted his features by the effort—”perhaps I may soon be entirely at rest.”
The sergeant-major saluted and answered calmly, as if nothing could surprise him,
“Yes, your honour.”