“Notes On a Cuff”, Chapter VIII – Weekly Reads
The journey of the heroes of Notes on a Cuff continues. Kerch, Vologda, Tiflis, Moscow … Details can be found in Chapter VIII below.
Chapter VIII. A THROUGH WIND
Yevreinov (9) arrived. In an ordinary white collar. From the Black Sea on his way to Petersburg.
There used to be such a city in the north.
Does it still exist? The writer laughs and assures us that it does. But it takes a long time to get there. Three years in a goods van. My tired eyes feasted for a whole evening on his white collar. And for a whole evening I listened to tales of adventure.
Brother writers, your vocation… (10)
He hadn’t got a penny. His luggage had been stolen…
…On another evening at Slyozkin’s, the last, Nikolai Nikolayevich sat at the piano in the smoke-filled drawing-room provided by the landlady. He endured the torment of inspection with iron stamina. Four poets, a poetess and a painter (workshop) devoured him decorously with their eyes.
Yevreinov is an ingenious fellow.
“And now ‘ Musical Grimaces’…”
Turning his face to the keys, he began to play. At first… At first he gave us a visiting elephant playing the piano, then a lovesick piano-tuner, a dialogue between steel and gold and, finally, a polka.
Within ten minutes the workshop was totally incapacitated. It no longer sat decorously, but rolled about hysterically with much waving of hands and groaning…
…The man with the lively eyes went away. No more grimaces!
A sudden gust of wind blew through, and they were swept away like leaves. One from Kerch to Vologda, another from Vologda to Kerch. A rumpled Osip appears with a suitcase, complaining angrily:
“We’ll never get there, and that’s that!” Of course you won’t get there, if you don’t know where you’re going!
Yesterday Riurik Ivnev (11) appeared. On his way from Tiflis to Moscow.
“It’s better in Moscow.”
He travelled so much that one day he just lay down in a ditch.
“I refuse to get up. Something must happen.”
And so it did. A friend chanced to see him there, took him home and gave him a meal.
Another poet went from Moscow to Tiflis.
It’s better in Tiflis.
The third was Osip Mandelstam. (12) He arrived one cloudy day, holding his head high like a prince. His laconic remarks devastated us.
“From the Crimea. Ghastly. Do they buy manuscripts here?”
“Yes, but they don’t pay…” Before I could finish he had gone. I know not where…
The novelist Pilnyak (13) went to Rostov in a flour train, wearing a woman’s cardigan.
“Is it better in Rostov?”
“No, I just want a rest!”
Eccentric — wears gold-rimmed spectacles.
Serafimovich arrived from up north. (14)
Tired eyes. Hollow voice. Gave a talk in the workshop.
“Remember Tolstoy’s kerchief on a stick. It keeps catching, then fluttering again. As if it were alive… I once wrote an anti-drink label for a vodka bottle. Jotted down a phrase. Crossed one word out and put another over it. Thought a bit, then crossed that one out too. And so on several times. But the phrase came out pat. Now they write… They write in a funny way! You pick it up. Read it through. No! Can’t understand it. You have another try — still no luck. So you put it to one side…”
The local workshop sits by the wall in cor pore. Judging from their eyes they don’t understand it. That’s their business!
Serafimovich’s left town… Entr’acte.
9. Yevreinov N. N. (1879-1953), a director and playwright.
10. “Brother writers, your vocation…” A line from Nekrasov’s poem “In the Hospital” which continues as follows: “holds the threat of doom…”
11. “Yesterday Riurik Ivnev appeared…” The pseudonym of Mikhail Alexandrovich Kovalyov (1891-1981), a poet who belonged to the group of Imagists during the period in question.
12. “The third was Osip Mandelstam.” Osip Emilievich Mandelstam (1891-1938), an Acmeist poet.
13. “The novelist Pilnyak…” The pseudonym of Boris Andreyevich Vogau (1894-1941), the author of the novels The Naked Year, The Volga Flows into the Caspian Sea and Okay, as well as several collections of short stories.
14. “Serafimovich arrived from up north.” Alexander Serafimovich Serafimovich (Popov) (1863-1949), the author of the well-known novel The Iron Flood about the Civil War.
Source: “Notes On the Cuff – And Other Stories”, Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Alison Rise, Published December 31st 1991 by Ardis Publishers, 0875010571