Notebook

IN MOSCOW, AT THE BOOK FAIR, TAKING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PATHS
As If in a Dream
The sky over Moscow matches the word infinity. Everything in Moscow is in constant movement, and yet again, as if you are treading in silence, in long-lost times, in spiritual heights. It is impossible to measure or describe Moscow. It was shining wherever we peeked into, a true beauty. Architecture and spirit of the empire. This is where the greatest world writers, their characters and readers strolled and breathed, caught in the net of eternity, which you are passing through as well. That is where I have a feeling I’m at home, great joy overcomes me. Those who know say: they’re northerners, a bit reserved, but in case of Serbs, no. With Serbs, they somehow soften, as with family

By: Vesna Kapor


Similar to a fast train rushing through a city, while you are putting your forehead on the window to catch as much reflections, as much colors and shapes as possible, pressing your entire face, you’re a smudged spot, you’re putting your hands on the side of your face, narrowing your focus, as if you will succeed in catching the heart of what is passing by. You are entering the space which the machine is rumbling through, you want to jump out and continue exploring, discovering, being silent and laughing, but it’s just a moment that cannot be extended. However, that moment will be a medallion for deep winter nights and moody springs, for burning summers when I’ll remember early September in Moscow. Being in Moscow for two and a half days reminds of a journey by a runaway train. After all, don’t details and moments linger longest in a human?
I was obsessed with skies this summer. I watched the clouds, their forms and dissolving. The skies over Moscow match the word infinity. Although they frightened us with gloomy days, clouds, rain, coldness, Moscow greeted us with calm, immeasurable skies. My traveling companion, Professor Maja Anđelković, with whom I’m traveling to the Book Fair, turned out to be an enthusiastic wanderer, with a wonderful, ruffled spirit and character. The two of us are flying and almost shouting: Moscow, here we come.
My intimate literary diary is mostly related to Russia. I believe there is no country with so many literary addresses (in every sense) and so much love for their writers. Already at Sheremetyevo, we say hello to Pushkin. He is in motion, with shabby hair and immersed in thoughts, with his hand stretched down towards us (meaning that he is on a high pedestal), as if he’s waiting. I raise my hand towards his. An unspeakable force of eternity is flowing between our palms. This time, I will just make a movement as if I wish to fly, stretch my body and my hand, I’ll be like an arrow, but I don’t dare touch the powerful young man. Not this time. I’m only aspiring.
Although everyone knows the New Babylon language – English, I think it’s not decent for us, Slavs, to communicate with it. Thus I find some words in the back of my mind, I make some sentences in Russian. Maladec, Zahar Prilepin springs out in my head, just like that, we’ll speak Russian.

UNDER LOUD LAUGHTER

We were given instructions how to reach the city by train and then by subway. There, while exiting the plane and then again in the row before passport control, there is a live discussion going on about how to leave the airport best, by ”Yandex Taxi” or ”Aeroexpress”. A nice young man is ready to provide us a taxi, he says that prices are almost fixed, no tricks, from eight hundred to a thousand and two hundred rubles. Train prices are similar, but since they were saying that you can be stuck for three hours in traffic, the two of us stick to our plan from Belgrade. Train, then subway.
This was a dream journey. I was in Russia a long time ago, at my graduate excursion, and I couldn’t even imagine that I wouldn’t visit it again. However, life is not simple and this short flight into wishes took a long time to realize.
The two of us are laughing cheerfully in the train and a beautiful Russian lady asks us where we come from. From Serbia, and she said, you can feel the Balkan spirit. She is married to a man from Croatia, they met on the internet, she says, and now she’s visiting her folks somewhere deep in Siberia. Moscow frightens her. I imagine autumn in the place she’s going to, I remember scenes from Mikhalkov’s movies, and the forests that pull you into them through the screen. Enormous, handsome, hitting the skies, yet again transparent and gentle.
Forests and thickets are passing by us, while the clock is ticking Moscow time. I am joyful and light. I remember the poem I learned by heart: byelaya beryoska pod moyim aknom, prinakrilas snyegom tochno syerebrom… Not only birch trees, the long row is made of various species. Later, during our trip back, a grandma from Ryazan told me all the species: field maple, oak, ash trees, eastern hemlock, elm trees, hornbeam, acacia, maple, chestnut and, of course, birches, birches, birches… I have never seen such forests where branches of different species of trees touch and entangle. It thrills me. I’m thinking of how everything here is so simple, deep and intertwined. We caught corner pieces of lights, managed to smell the air and stepped into the Moscow night.
”Cosmos” Hotel, while we are approaching it on the background of the night, truly looks like a starry beehive. Light bulbs are glittering from windows and, although enormous and awkward (but impressive) during the day, now it seems lavishing, as if levitating in the universe. In front of it, Gagarin, monumental, in who knows what proportion. We are approaching it like cosmonauts, in airless space, lightly. It will turn out that this hotel-giant is truly an earthly universe. Stuffed with all languages and colors. It is not for sleeping, it is awake all night. At three in the morning, you can have watermelon with beer, or eat some Uzbeki dish. The elevators are buzzing all night. One morning, a young Russian man, holding a gentle Chinese girl by the hand, saw the way I close the door and said laughingly, maladec, Ruskaya, prava. We laugh loudly, I say, not Ruskaya, Serbian. He says, I’m a soldier. Then the elevator turned into a wagon in which I was riding together with Čarnojević or Rajić, it’s all the same, since this young man knows that each moment is a holiday, you can feel it under his loud laughter.

MOSCOW UNPERCEIVABLE, IMMEASURABLE

There at the VDNH (Выставки достижений народного хозяйства) everything symbolizes Soviet Russia. Monumental sculptures honoring work, workers, peasants from sovkhozes and kolkhozes… all that sounds very confusing today. All in all, that place, the entire complex of monuments with the Ostankino Park, is an open-air museum, as the tourist guide states. However, entire Moscow is an open-air museum. Paradoxically, VDNH is celebrating eighty years, and the central monument – the ”Druzhba Naroda” fountain, aka ”Golden Bundle”, symbol of the Soviet era, leaves an impression of imperial luxury. Sixteen girls in folk costumes signify the same number of federal republics. Russia is in the center. The park is divided by subjects, while we’re rushing the noon before our departure, pulling our suitcases, I feel as if I wandered (again) into one of Nikita Mikhalkov’s movies. Bowers with white wooden bordures, like laces, tempt you to sit and enjoy. A white and bright day, perfect. Some kind of joy is overcoming all present people: one Russian, in such a corner, made me excellent photos. As if on a dacha, that’s how I imagine it. They are celebrating the Day of Moscow and everyone is in holiday mood.
Moscow is impossible to measure, impossible to describe. Unperceivable, immense. Wondrously mixed: all its faces and epochs – they are there, reconciled. A matter of political (state) decision or not, Moscow is shining everywhere, wherever we peeked into.
Yes, Moscow is celebrating its 872nd birthday since Prince Yuri Dolgorukin built a fortification made of wood, the Kremlin. And there were thirty-three fireworks. The central event was in VDNH this year. They say that president Putin was present as well. By the way, we had a scheduled sightseeing of Moscow by car that day. My former student, Dejan Kašanović, has been living in Moscow for fifteen years and said that it was best to visit all the kalyci (circles) by car. The drive lasts more than three hours. By the way, at the time of that war confusion, I was class teacher to a class of children refugees. At the end of a class, perhaps my lecture was Ana Karenina, after the famous sentence if anyone wants to ask or add anything, he raised his hand and said: ”Girl, sorry, would you go out with me tonight?” It was some bet, I guess. Many waters have passed since then and now I was going with him to ”Lomonosov”, to the belvedere. It turns out that we succeeded in visiting and peeking into many important landmarks. We are laughing and wondering how we managed to do all that, on our way from ”Cosmos” to the Library of Foreign Literatures. However, wherever one starts off on foot, they somehow reach the Krasnaya Ploshchad. There, by the church of Basil the Blessed, squeezing among thousands of people, we watched the fireworks. Later, while going to the subway, we noticed neatly packed waste, already collected. How and when, we wondered. By the way, Moscow is clean and washed, a true beauty.

EVERYTHING SEEMS FAMILIAR

Yesterday, under the walls of Kremlin, we made a traffic jam. We were standing and admiring, convinced that it was a pedestrian zone. People from cars, whom we didn’t even notice (that is how Moscow enchants you) were blowing their horns and waving astonished, they couldn’t believe their eyes. We later found out that there is a penalty for such things. And the policeman who was regulating the traffic just waved his hand, as if we were never there.
By the way, there is much symbolism and many stories in those fiery domes. It is difficult to enter, there are so many tourists that they stand in lines for several hours. It was built by Ivan the Terrible, while a legend says that during the Soviet era, Lazar Kaganovich had a great desire to remove the church. While preparing the plan of reconstruction for the Red Square, he presented Stalin that the church was an obstacle for parades and traffic. Watching the plan, Stalin answered with his famous sentence: ”Put it back!”
They also showed us the Ilyin Church, where our Bishop Jovan Ćulibrk has been participating in the service for the Church’s saint day for several years now. Russian parachute troops celebrate St. Elijah as their patron saint, so there is a procession on that day from the church to the Kremlin.
In the evening, in a bakery, while we were trying cabbage pie and several other handmade pastry, a caucasian Tatar (just like the one from a story I wrote a long time ago) asked us whether we were Italian. While leaving, he said something like ”you are real bambinas”, which is again an excerpt from another story written in Greece. It sometimes happens that reality dives into a story, two worlds meet: fiction and reality, so that you don’t know which road you are walking anymore.
Dejan says that they are northerners, a bit reserved, but in case of Serbs no. We are their weak spot. They somehow soften, as if with family.
I tell the woman from whom I was buying a gift, silver earrings, that I’d like to live in Russia. She says, that is what my son-in-law, from Belgrade, also says. And I’d like to live in Serbia. We laugh.
There, in Moscow, I have a feeling I’m at home. Great joy overcomes me.
In the evening and morning, from one of the rooms glittering in ”Cosmos”, I watch the impressive panorama of the city. The view is both relaxing and bewildering. They said that twenty million people stay here during the day, including tourists and those who come to work in Moscow. While I’m writing this, I feel fear, it is inconceivable, seems impossible.
This city is densely populated with the life of centuries. The fact that this is where all greatest writers of the world, their characters and readers walked and breathed, that they are woven into the net of eternity you’re passing through, keeps me in ecstatic fervor. Everything seems familiar.
There, as if Bulgakov’s citizens Mikhael Alexandrovich Berlioz and Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyrov are just about to appear at the Patriarch’s ponds.
Finally, Anna also entered her novel from the Niznyegorodskaya train station, which doesn’t exist for a long time now, but all Muscovites know that this was where Ana boarded the train that winter.

ONLY WORDS WILL STAY ALIVE

Moscow overwhelms as the maddest passion. Clouds are gentle, deep in the skies. They sail slowly, this autumn, clear, diving into the blueness. The feeling of space, infinity and eternity, which we learned about from the movie Andrei Rublev, that’s Moscow. That’s Russia.
At subway stations, when they see you’re carrying a suitcase, regardless of age, there is always a cavalier who takes the handle without a word and takes your luggage to the next level, without turning around (at least that’s what happened to me). Oh, I still remember a blond, genuine Slav, our glances that met then, at the graduate excursion in the subway, and the moment of recognizing, before each of us, each in their own track, passed each other forever.
We maniacally take photos. In Arbat, we again meet Pushkin and Natalia Gonchareva, and of course, don’t miss to take a picture, with a light bow. Then the Bolshoi at night. And the Alexandrovsky now, in alleys of flowers, under water arcs; the river in the background, domes and bell towers in the background, monument to Cyril and Methodius, Gogol… then the monument honoring the victory over the Turks under Plevna 1877–1878 (there is an inscription on the altar-bell: Grenadiers to their war comrades. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends, Gospel of John, chapter 15). There is no ending. Of all those photos, I know that only these words I’m writing will stay alive. And in them, lanterns like sleigh bells in the wonderful St. Nicholas Church, above the Kazan Cathedral. And the sweet artists-merchants who, like anywhere else in the world, trick you in a second and sell you different historical scenes (wearing costumes). Or photos with domesticated white pigeons, for example. We bargained. I say, we are writers from Serbia, maladec. Later, when I sent the photos to my friends, they replied: you’re so happy to be there. There, it was worth bargaining and being a bit tricked, for the feeling that overcomes others as well when watching the pictures.
In the ”Rudomino” Library of Foreign Literatures, where the Studenica Typicon was presented during the Fair, we take a photo with Pavić. Busts of many great writers (gifts of different countries) are in the yard and we embraced our own. That is where we met, in person, some of our friends from social networks. Wonderful Svetlana Luganska, Natasha Lukina, Anastasia Nemkova, Julia Sozina, Danijela Stojanović… we spent the rest of the day together. It’s those encounters when you have the feeling that you’ve already been with a person, that you understand each other excellently, while you are actually laughing and getting to know each other. My Russian is becoming bolder, especially as a version of Russo-Serbian. Svetlana and Natasha are telling anecdotes, about all kinds of Russian things. I’m thinking, how many people in Belgrade would be able to tell a subhistory of the city? Unfortunately, we have a strange character: each generation thinks that everything started yesterday or that it will start tomorrow.
By the way, everything is renovated and shiny in the famous CUM and GUM centers, shopping malls diving from the previous century into the new one. Again, different epochs are intertwining in the decorations, so that one has a feeling of being deep in history while staring at the shop windows of contemporary brands.
Muscovites like parks, lavishing, designed as historical places and landscape master pieces. Therefore they joke about the recently restored Zaryadiye Park. They say, our mayor is from Siberia, so he wanted to have a tundra here as well. By the way, the park was designed according to the latest trend of the urban world, especially megalopolises: city parks and completely natural habitats (I watched it on some TV show). But Muscovites are actually right. This park, on the river bank, is not as lavishing as the others.
Images are running through my head, addresses, concepts, streets, monuments, stories. People. Two days in Moscow, as if in a time capsule, when you exit it, nothing is the same any longer.
While I catch the contours of earth from the plane, I tell my traveling companion: as if this was all a dream.

(The author stayed in Moscow as guest at
the International Book Fair, at the Serbian stand)

***

Serbia at the Moscow Book Fair
The thirty-second International Book Fair in Moscow took place from September 4 to 8, 2019. Serbia had its presentation at the national stand, as well as with a series of accompanying programs held on several locations of the Russian capital city. The main subject of the Serbian presentation was the 810th anniversary of Saint Sava’s Studenica Typicon as well as the 800th anniversary of the Serbian church independence. Professor Maja Anđelković, PhD, from the University in Kragujevac, one of the editors, was speaking about the new representative edition of the famous manuscript, published in the Monastery of Studenica in four languages. Besides the Fair, the Studenica Typicon was also presented in the ”M. I. Rudomino” Library of Foreign Literatures, Center of Slavic Cultures. Actress Danijela Stojanović, very popular in Russia, read parts from the Studenica Typicon.
The presentation of Serbia also emphasized several important anniversaries of Serbian writers: 90 years since the birth and 10 years since the death of Milorad Pavić (1929–2009), 90 years since the birth of Aleksandar Popović (1929–1996), 30 years since the death of Danilo Kiš (1935–1989), 70 years since the death of Rastko Petrović (1898–1949), 120 years since the birth of Rade Drainac (1899–1943)...
Publishing houses ”Skitija” and ”Aleteja” presented the ”Serbika” edition – translations of contemporary Serbian prose and poetry into Russian, published with the support of the Serbian Ministry of Culture and Information. The Belgrade Book Fair, together with its guests, had a special presentation. Writer Vesna Kapor was a guest at the Serbian stand. The ”Sergei Soloviev: Horseman and Comic Book Man” exhibition, organized by professor Irina Antanasijević, PhD was set in the ”Solzhenitsyn” Home of the Russian Diaspora. A round table ”Contemporary Russian Literature about Serbia and Serbian about Russia” was held on the final day in the ”Falanster” bookstore-club, with writers and critics Boris Kuprianov, Vladimir Shurugin, Maxim Surkov, Evgeny Baranov, Ivan Naumov, Mikhail Polikarpov.
The entire presentation was accompanied with special editions of ”Serbia” National Review in Russian (Сербия на Выставке книги в Москве 2019) and English language (Serbia at the 2019 Moscow International Book Fair).

***

Where Do Classics Sprout From
Everything is in constant movement in Moscow, and yet as if you are treading in silence, in ancient times, in spiritual heights. When you say Moscow, it means: libraries, museums, theaters, churches, parks, magical subway stations…. Architecture and spirit of the empire. And on that basis Russian writers measure the world. That is why today great authors appear among younger writers as well. One cannot be groundless in such history. Thus contemporary classics – Prilepin, Vodolazkin and many others – encompass past epochs in terms of style and appear fresh, new, contemporary.

***

Without Sinking
Russians are people who, even today, at the time of the global plague of sinking educational and cultural standards through reality programs, managed to preserve high aspirations. This is illustrated by our conversation in the check-in row at the airport. Several of us were exchanging impressions about literature in our already flowing Russian. We raised the question whether a writer should only write or also be socially active. Mentioning Prilepin, a young girl said: ”Maladec, he represents his nation.” Another woman said that all people are the same, that we shouldn’t divide and that she’s going to visit her daughter in London. Both are correct?

 


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