Жемчуг/Pearl

What follows is the first of a monthly photo/poem series. The Russian version was written first. English is a loose translation.

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Я живу в устрице

Во рту, на вялом языке

Где творился жемчуг

Белеющий в темноте

I’m from the oyster’s mouth

Lying on a listless tongue

A pearl gleams in the dark

Where the sea is unsung

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Как ни изящный

Он был бы на шее чистой

Вместо этого он охвачен

Раковиной морщинистой

To a faultless breast

The pearl may be suited

But instead it is swallowed

In a shell convoluted

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Устрица не вольно отдаст

Свое святое сокровище.

Ведь жемчуг лакирован

Слюной самого чудовища.

The oyster shuts its trap up tight

In protection of its treasure.

After all, oysters make pearls

Through salivation at their leisure.

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Забывает: жемчуг начался

Песком рухленной империи.

Новостройка на морском дне

(То есть, советском тротуаре)

Oyster forgets how pearl began:

Empire crumbled to a grain of sand.

From soviet sidewalks (ocean floor)

To shiny buildings (seaweed galore)

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Но, в море жемчуг

Не единственная красота.

Цветные рыбы плавают

По руслу нового моста.

However! Pearls aren’t

The only beauty in the blue

New currents open to colorful fish:

A bridge they can swim through

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Why Anna Karenina matters to me

Rereading Anna Karenina in Russian, I have decided that it is one of the most important books to me of those I have read. (Anna Karenina, Atlas Shrugged, The Golden Compass series and The Bell Jar are the four books that pretty much sum up my душа [soul].) The amazing thing about the richness of this book is that I’m pretty sure any person can read it and find themself and the people they care about somewhere, presented in startling realness, each loving different passages. I dare you to try it for yourself.

Having finished the first tome (parts 1-4), I looked through my underlining and translated the quotes that touched me the most. Quotation marks indicate dialogue, not just the fact that it is a quote.

Ответа не было, кроме того общего ответа, который дает жизнь на все самые сложные и неразрешимые вопросы. Ответ этот: надо жить подробности дня, то есть забыться. Забыться сном уже нельзя, по крайней мере до ночи, нельзя уже вернуться к той музыке, которую пели графинчики-женщины; стало быть, надо забыться сном жизни. (6)

There was no answer, other than the general answer that life gives to the all the most complicated and unsolvable issues. The answer was: live in the details of the day, that is, forget. It was impossible to forget through dream, at least until night, and impossible to return to the music that countess ladies sang; that left only forgetting in the dream of life.

Сергей Иванович встретил брата своею обычною для всех лаского-холодною улыбкою (28)

Sergei Ivanovich met his brother, like everyone, with his usual tenderly-cold smile.

Он сошел вниз, избегая подолгу смотреть на нее, как на солнце, но он видел ее, как солнце, и не глядя. (33)

He skated away, avoiding looking at her for long, like at the sun, but he saw her, like the sun, without looking.

“Я люблю свою прошедшую любовь к нему” (77)

“I love my past love for him.”

“Кака поэзия и высота была ты для него” (78)

“What poetry and height you were for him”

Кити чувствовала, что Анна была совершено проста и ничего не скрывала, но что в ней был другой какой-то высший мир недоступных для нее интересов, сложных и поэтических. (79)

Kitty felt that Anna was perfectly simple and didn’t hide anything, but that in her was some sort of higher world of unreachable for Kitty interests, complicated and poetic.

“Помню и знаю этот голубой туман, вроде того, что на горах в Швейцарии. Этот туман, который покрывает все в блаженное то время, когда вот-вот кончится детство, и из этого огромного круга, счастливого, веселого, делается путь все уже и уже, и весело и жутко входить в эту анфиладу, хотя она кажется и светлая и прекрасная… Кто не прошел через это?” (81)

“I remember and know that blue fog, sort of like on mountains in Switzerland. This fog, which covers everything in that blissful time, when childhood has almost ended, and from this enormous circle, happy and fun, is made a way narrower and narrower, and it is both fun and eerie to walk into this enfilade, although it seems light and great…who has not gone through this?”

В обнаженный плечах и руках Кити чувствовала холодную мраморность, чувство, которое она особенно любила (86)

In exposed shoulders and arms Kitty felt cold marbleness, a feeling, which she especially loved.

Ей неприятно было читать, то есть, следить за отражением жизни других людей. Ей слишком самой хотелось жить. (110)

For her it was unpleasant to read, that is, to follow the reflections of the lives of other people. For her there was too strong of a desire to live.

“Но женщине должно быть неприятно без тени” (147)

“But it is unpleasant for a woman to not have a shadow”

“Нет, я думаю, без шуток, что для того, чтоб узнать любовь, надо ошибиться и потом поправиться” (150)

“No, I think, in all seriousness, that in order to know love, you have to mess up and then right yourself.”

Теперь он испытывал чувство, подобное тому, какое испытал бы человек, спокойно прошедший над пропастью по мосту и вдруг увидавший, что этот мост разобран и что там пучина. Пучина эта была–сама жизнь, мост–та искусственная жизнь, которую прожил Алексей Александрович. (155)

“Now he experienced a feeling, similar to what a person would feel, after peacefully crossing a chasm on a bridge and suddenly seeing that the bridge crumbled and that there is an abyss. The abyss was life itself, and the bridge–that artificial life that Aleksei Alexandrovich had lived.

Она долго лежала неподвижно с открытыми глазами, блеск которых, она сама в темноте видела. (161)

For a long time she lay motionless with open eyes, the shine of which she herself saw in the dark.

Вид этот говорил: все это хорошо, да как бог даст. Ничто так так огорчало Левина, как этот тон. Но такой тон был общий у всех приказчиков, сколько их у него ни перебывало. У всех было то же отношение к его предположениям, и поэтому он теперь не сердился, но огорчался и чувствовал себя еще более возбужденным для борьбы с этою стихийною силой, которую он иначе не имел назвать, как “что бог даст”, и которая постоянно противопоставлялась ему. (169)

This look said: everything is good, just as God will give. Nothing upset Levin so much as this tone. But this tone was common to all clerks, as least all the ones he’d seen. All of them had the same relationship to his hypotheses, and therefore he no longer got angry, but upset, and felt even more aroused to fight with this elemental force, which he could not call anything but “as God will give,” and which incessantly opposed him.

“Это такое не что увовольствие, а венец и признак удовольствия. Вот это жизнь! Как хорошо! Вот бы как я желал жить!” (175)

“It’s not a pleasure in and of itself, but a laurel and sign of pleasure. This is life! How wonderful! This is how I would want to live!”

“И еще больше любила бы вас, если б имела время” (234)

“I would love you more, if I had the time.”

“Поделом за то, что все это было притворство, потому что это все выдуманное, а не от сердца. Какое мне было дело до чужого человека? И вот вышло, что я причиной ссоры и что я делала то, чего меня никто не просил. Оттого что все притворство! притворство! притворство!” (255)

“The thing is, that it was all a pretense, it was all made up, and not from the heart. What do I have to do with a stranger? And it turned out, that I was the reason behind a fight, that I did what no one asked me to. From that it’s all a pretense! Pretense! Pretense!”

“Я думаю, что двигатель всех наших действий есть все-таки личное счастье”… “Наши земские учреждения и все это–похоже на березки, которые мы натыкала, как в троицын день, для того чтобы было похоже на лес, который сам вырос в Европе, и не могу я от души поливать и верить в эти березки!”…Но он не стал углубляться в эти мысли и, не возражая брату, задумался о совершенно другом, личном своем деле. (267-9)

“I think that the mover if all our actions is, in the end, personal happiness”… “Our local government and all of that is similar to birches, which we stuck in, like on Trinity day, so that it would be similar to a forest that grew by itself in Europe, and by my soul, I can’t water and believe in these birches!”…But he didn’t dig deeper into these thoughts and, not contradicting his brother, got lost in thought about an entirely different, personal matter.

“Вы этого не можете понять; вам, мужчинам, свободным и выбирающим, всегда ясно, кого вы любите. Но девушка в положении ожидания, с этим женским, девичьим стыдом…у девушки бывает и может быть такое чувство, что она не знает, что сказать.” (293)

“You can’t understand this; to you men, free and choosing, it’s always clear who you love. But a girl is in waiting, with this womanly, girlish embarrassment…it can and does happen that a girl has the feeling, that she doesn’t know what to say.

“Теперь она, может быть, нарочно не понимает,” говорила Бетси с тонкою улыбкой. “Но все-таки это ей идет. Видите ли, на одну и ту же вещь можно смотреть трагически и делать из нее мученье, и смотрит просто и даже весело.” (324)

“Now, maybe, she doesn’t understand on purpose,” said Betsy with a thin smile. “But all the same, it looks good on her. See, you can look at the same thing tragically and make toture out of it, and look at it simply and even cheerfully.

Он был ровен и неискателен с высшими, был свободен и прост в обращении с равыми и был презрительно добродушен с низшими. Вронский сам был таковым и считал это большим достойнством; но в отношении принца он был низший, и это презрительно-добродушное отношение к нему возмущало его. (385)

He was even and unsearching with higher-ups, free and simple with equals, was disdainfully kind to lessers. Vronskii himself was like this and considered it very dignified; however, in relation to the prince he was a lesser and this disdainful-kindness towards him perturbed him.

“Я мыслью своей и работой ужасно дорожу, но в сущности–ты подумай об этом: ведь весь мир наш–это маленькая плесень, которая наросла на крошечной планете.” (407)

“I value my thoughts and my work terribly much, but in reality–think about this: this whole wide world of ours is a mold that grow on a teensy planet.”

“Большею частью бывает, что споришь горячо только оттого, что никак не можешь понять, что именно хочет доказать противник.” (429)

“Most of the time it happens that you argue heatedly just because you can’t possibly understand what your opponent is trying to prove.”

В такие моменты в особенности Алексей Александрович чувствовал себя совершенно спокойным и согласным с собой…Но чем более проходило времени, тем яснее он видел, что, как не естественно теперь для него это положение, его не допустят остаться в нем. Он чувствовал, что, кроме благой духовной силы, руководившей его душой, была другая, грубая, столь же или более властная сила, руководила его жизнью, и что эта сила не даст ему того смиренного спокойствия, которого он желал. (453)

In such moments Aleksei Aleksandrovich felt perfectly at peace and in agreement with himself…But the more time passed, the clearer he saw, that however natural his situation seemed to him now, he won’t be allowed to leave things as they are. He felt that, besides the good spiritual force that directed his soul, there was another, crude, just as if not more powerful force that directed his life, and this force would not give him the meekly resigned peace that he wanted.

How I spend my time

This blog (and my conversations with you) may lead you to believe that my gap year is primarily filled with culture and new experiences, that excursions, activities, and my relationships with my friends and family come second only to deep musings about myself and the world.

This is a lie.

The vast majority of my time is spent trying discern what the hell the character in my book is doing when I’m reading on the trolleybus and don’t have a dictionary to translate the word косить (I eventually  figured it out- he was thrashing hay), correcting myself on grammar that I’ve known for about 5 years, twisting my tongue in knots trying to correctly pronounce the hardness/softness of every consonant, and trying to remember the word for electrical current. And roar. And decay. And random.

In other words, learning Russian, a fact that you, dear readers, may momentarily forget, but I do not. Therefore this blog post is dedicated to a small sample of favorite words I have learned recently.

Высокопарный- bombastic. I really enjoy the fact that I know the word bombastic. I am also fully aware that I am incapable of using it, because I am very far from the point in my Russian learning career to be able to tell when someone is jacking up their word choice. Even though I’m pretty confident I would understand what a bombastic person is saying, I would not be capable of realizing that the words they are using are words that a native speaker would have learned later in life, mostly because I learned words in the opposite order frequently. Many “complicated” words are English cognates, so I learned them first. Even if they are not a cognate, either I don’t feel a difference or the complicated word could feel easier. A good example is разрешать and позволять, both of which mean to allow, except that разрешать is the one a five year old uses and позволять is the one a diplomat uses. However, I learned позволять first, because I immediately recognized the root word “воля,” or will. Another example the opposite way around is when my 5th grade host brother said “traverse” in English. I started cracking up because I know the vast majority of American fifth graders do not know what traverse means. Yet for him it is easier than “walk across,” because it allows him to memprize one word rather than a phrase and directly translate word for word a Russian sentence, because in Russian traverse is also one word.

Обличие- Imagine a magical creature that can transform into different forms. One of their forms would be called in Russian an обличие. I really like this word for no particularly good reason.

Относительность- relativity. First, because adding in the point that things are relative to whatever you are saying is an excellent exchange-student tactic to be both honest and minimize offense in discussions of culture and lifestyle. Second, because theory of. I have awesome friends who want to talk about the theory of relativity.

Колебать- to swing back and forth, to vacillate. I like this word because after learning it, I realized it describes an emotion I often have more cleanly than any expression I know in English, without the science-y feel of vacillate. In general, Russian is a better language for talking about my emotions, and actually, most things that I want to be honest and exact about. Except for the word “to be excited,” which really just does not exist. It’s one of those things I used to miss using, like brownies, until I realized that I don’t anymore. I’ve managed to restructure what I talk about to avoid it in Russian without actively trying, and when I think about it logically, I really can’t tell you how. Just like I have restructured my life to no longer crave brownies. (This simile is 50% honest, you pick which part you think is more plausible: I can live without excitement or I can live without brownies).

Хриплый- hoarse. I like this word because it is one of the very few words that I remember the exact moment I learned it–in English. I was in third grade, I believe, and I was reading a particular book that used it five or six times, and I guessed it’s meaning, and it stuck, and I was proud of myself. Remembering this moment makes me realize that I have no idea actually how/when I acquired all the rest of the words of my vast English vocabulary without trying. I have come to the conclusion that it is a lot easier to name something than to name it again. That is, if I have no name for something–for example, a corn meal glob or a window that you open for the purpose of ventilating a room, I learn the word instantly. (Mamaliga, a Romaninan dish, and форточка, respectively). These words filled a hole, and therefore my brain immediately labeled them as crucial. If I want to express myself fully (in my thoughts), I need them. Most words I learn in Russian do the opposite: they become duplicate pieces of information that I have to beat into my brain in order to convince myself of their necessity.

Напрашиваться- to invite oneself. I enjoy finally knowing this word because it expresses a reality of my life. “Can I come?” is a key to having experiences, especially when abroad. I talked last blog post about inviting myself caroling, but this also applies with group activities with my friends and going over to other people’s houses (no, here inviting yourself over is not rude).

Баран- ram. We have now spent a couple class periods learning…animals. Because everyone reaches a point in their linguistic growth when it is absolutely essential to know how to say platapus and fawn and bunny (and similar cutesy names for all the other animals) and the sound the pig makes (hru-hru, in case you were curious). While I have not yet had occasion to talk about minks and otters, a day after I learned it, the word ram actually did come up. In the context of Moldovan politics. Apparently “ram” can be used to mean something like “stupid scoundrel,” as it did when we listened to a former politician talk about a current politician. Just another example (remember the word for water well?) that you never know when or if a word will be useful.

Оспа- pox. My friend and a little cousin have both suffered from chicken pox recently. It makes me very, very grateful for shots. First world privilege.

Число- number. This might seem out of place on a list of “new” words, but I have only just come to fully understand its meaning, and it is not an exact translation of “number.” My American and Moldovan brothers were solving the same math problem, in which was written “5 чисел” or “5 numbers.” My Moldovan brother solved the problem with 5 distinct numbers. My American brother solved it with a repeated number. After getting into a fight about whether my American brother’s solution was acceptable, we realized that math was not at fault, but rather language: translating “число” to “number” in this case was incorrect, because when an English speaker sees 7, 7 he sees two numbers. A Russian speaker sees one число, repeated. I needed to translate it as “five distinct numbers” in English. This is interesting linguistically, highlighting the point that often exact translations do not exist, even for seemingly simple concepts. (Other examples- “тыква/pumpkin, синий and голубой/blue, друг/friend, Nothing really/to be excited) It is also rather interesting philosophically: Russian speakers see numbers as Platonian entities, whereas English speakers see a number of as any realization of a point on the number line.

Лакуна- lacuna (a gap, a blank, an empty space). This is the word our teacher used today to describe our knowledge of Russian. I know a lot, of course, but there are often moments when all of a sudden I come to a halt: I don’t quite know a word or construction that I thought I did. However, it is not always Russian’s fault. Sometimes it is entirely new words and ways of expressing myself that I don’t have in English, either, and all of a sudden I want. Such as the word lacuna.