Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shayman, Lindall, Bulgakov, Griboyedov, and I . . .

The Naif Encounters Koroviev
The Bottomless Bottle of Beer
Illustration by Terrance Lindall

Meanwhile, a serendipitous encounter in the New York Times:
I speak three foreign languages and have friends and acquaintances from close to 100 countries, many of which I have visited. My education is exclusively American. And ethnically I am only half Russian. Why, then, is this sense of identity, engrained in civic nationalism, so deep and defining?

Is it because I can enjoy Bulgakov or Griboyedov at any one of a dozen theaters, each of them globally competitive?
A question that Vladislav Shayman asks himself in "Moscow My Home" (New York Times, July 23, 2013). I cannot ask myself such a question, for my city is not Moscow, but Seoul. Nonetheless, I love Bulgakov, and have encountered Griboyedov, as you can see below in the scene where Fagotto-Koroviev bum-rushes the Naif in my story, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer:
"The name's Fagotto," he suddenly announced, again grasping my hand and pumping it vigorously. "I'm meeting a friend at Café Griboyedov!"

That rattled me. "Griboyedov's?" I stared.

"Of course not!" he exclaimed, as though offended. "I wouldn’t be caught dead at Café Griboyedov's. Not at all. I've an appointment at Café Griboyedov." He gave me a peculiar look. "You're not headed to Café Griboyedov's, are you?"

Flustered, and unsure precisely where I was going, I stammered, "No, yes . . . no . . . I mean yes!"

Koroviev, or Fagotto, looked at me suspiciously, then smiled and broke into unexpected laughter. "I get it!" he exclaimed. "You're playing that childhood game, 'Yes-Means-No, No-Means-Yes.' Very amusing! I take it you're headed for Griboyedov's Café."

I thought for a tentative moment. "Is that where you're going?" I finally asked.

"Approximately!" he cried, still amused.

"I'm going to the same place . . . as you," I said carefully.

"Wonderful!" he exclaimed. "You can join me."

"I don't want to disturb your meeting," I objected.

"Nonsense! Hella will be damned happy to see you!"

"Mr. Fagotto . . ."

"Koroviev," he corrected. "Let's say it's Koroviev."

"Uh, Mr. Koroviev . . ."

"Just 'Koroviev,'" he insisted.

"Okay . . . Koroviev, are you sure this woman 'Hella' will really be glad to see me?"

"Why?" he replied, perplexed. "Have the two of you had an argument?"

"No, of course not!" I exclaimed.

"Why the worry, then?" he asked.

"I've never met Hella," I protested.

"All the better!" he exclaimed. "You've never met a woman like Hella. You'll just love her to death!" He then lapsed into an unexpected, brooding silence, as though reminded of a gloomy thought, and sat hunched over, staring at his feet for ten or fifteen minutes until we had reached some downtown stop or other, whereupon he abruptly unfolded himself, grabbed my arm, and practically dragged me from the bus. "Our stop!" he cried, joyful once more, and dashed up the sidewalk in a devil-may-care manner. I hurried to keep up with my arm, fearing I might otherwise lose it, his grip was so powerful. "Do you often go to Café Griboyedov?" he cried out as we rushed alongside the street, keeping pace with the bus, from which passengers stared out open-mouthed, like fish in an aquarium.

"Never," I confessed.

Koroviev stopped instantly. Every face on the bus twisted its neck to watch as the bus moved on. "You don't like Café Griboyedov?" His expression was of shock, his tone of offense. "But I thought I’d seen you there yesterday! Or was it tomorrow . . ." His voice trailed off as he grew pensive.

Again thoroughly confused by the odd fellow's rapid non-sequiturs, I barely managed to protest, "No! I have nothing against the place. I meant I'd never been there before." Hoping to placate him, I added, "I am going tomorrow."

"Ah, tomorrow," he concluded, as if that clarified everything. "And also today. Two consecutive days! You must really like the place! Let's hurry!" He again started off at a brisk walk on those long legs. We soon overtook the bus, which had paused at a stop. Its passengers now stared at us as if we were madmen. I thought them at least half right.

"Do you go often?" I inquired.

"Go where?"

"To Café Griboyedov," I said, wondering why I had to specify the very place we were currently discussing.

"Of course!" he exclaimed. "Every day!"

"Can you tell me about Griboyedov?" I asked, taking care to drop the "apostrophe s" to forestall misunderstanding.

"Certainly," he agreed, never breaking stride. "Griboyedov was an early nineteenth-century Russian writer and diplomat who wrote one great literary work, Woe from Wit, before his murder at the hands of an angry mob in Tehran during the winter of 1829 shortly after arriving in Persia, and though he suffered the misfortune of being clever, for it is folly to be wise, no record survives of his having made any witticism at the Persians' expense."

Momentarily taken aback, I collected my own wits. "I meant," I explained, "could you tell me about Café Griboyedov?"

"No need!" he cried, pointing with his left hand. "We're here!" I caught a brief glimpse of a large red sign with golden Cyrillic script that must have read "Café Griboyedov," as Koroviev dragged me inside.
To get the context to this passage, you'll need to read the book, available at Amazon, on Kindle. Perhaps I should contact Mr. Shayman and gauge his interest . . .

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At 3:27 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

What kinds of responses have you gotten to the story?

Did people respond to the text as it appeared in Emanations: Second Sight?

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The responses all been highly positive.

Some people read it in manuscript and were enthusiastic, but they were family and friends, so they weren't likely to express dislike.

Some read it in Emanations, and they have been quite positive, but I only know of their responses from a few blog entries that I've been alerted to.

A number of people have read the hard-copy version designed by Terrance Lindall, and those who have contacted me have liked it very much.

I think that many more people are reading via Amazon, but there are no reviews yet to gauge their response, though some friends have already read this latest version and praised it to me.

We can only wait and see . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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