Shelves and Things:A Collection of Memories
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From his hard knock childhood in Liverpool to his ascendance into rock infamy, George Harrison's life has been Carlos Santana: Back on Top. I brought him back some photographs and I confess this barbarity a piece of the cathedral that I chipped off of the socle. That same summer Varlam Tikhonovich wrote to me:. My meetings with old acquaintances he meant the painter V.
Sigorsky and his wife, both natives of Vologda But now, after your trip there, I feel, as it were, warm currents somewhere deep inside There were no trees there if you were looking at the facade. Nor have there ever been. Just an even open ground and a road. A hawthorn bush below the windows. The one tree, a poplar, was in the courtyard, behind the building This is how the flow of memories, The Forth Vologda , began.
During those years, V. Rather — it was an inevitable clash of two equally determined and passionate personalities. In the summer of , I once again went to Vologda. I worked in the city archives doing a bit of research into V. By pre-Revolution standards, it was a decent income, albeit not a very high one. Varlam Tikhonovich could not hold back his tears when recalling his mother and his sister Natasha. Tikhon Nikolayevich passed away on the 3rd of March, , and V. His scrupulous honesty and his proud search for independence.
His elder brother, Sergey, was acknowledged as the leader of Vologda urchins. There was this episode, when some older boy addressed him on the ice-slide:. There was in him some sort of infantile envy toward his brother, the centre of attention. Maybe, his parents had some sort of foreboding. He died at Varlam Tikhnovich seldom had heartfelt warm feelings toward men.
Respect — yes. But not warmth. But Sergey was a different matter. I saw the vivid infantile love, the admiration, which united V. He had no ear for music. Nor did he like or understand music, yet he wanted to be a singer. There was such fresh grief in his words, that I stopped laughing. Yes, he imagined a stage, decorations, ovations A real and overwhelming success — that which he was never to have. It was very funny and a little sad. We often played games. We would draw each other, write jocular verses, and design detailed maps of our imaginary country Bimini with bays, ports, palaces, and yachts.
I would tell stories about the unusual customs of that country: how, for instance, people there part without words, only sending each other a flower. And therapeutic it was. I have been taking care of Varlam Tikhonovich for ten years and in that time he was never ill. I found out recently that mother Theresa says: take a person by the hand.
I did exactly that — intuitively. I would come to him and see him nervous and high strung.
The Memory of Things: A Novel
I would just take his hand, without saying a word. And he would calm down. As if a different face would come out, different eyes: gentle and profound. Now I think that, having gone through that hell, he had preserved his strength of mind surprisingly well, well enough to play my games: miracles and sails, dolphins and Vikings. Many years have passed, but I still cannot remember having a more vivid impression from the theatre than The Good Person of Szechwan production.
Varlam Tikhonovich was sceptical about my enthusiasm. But, giving in to my wish, he started going to that theatre, more and more willingly every time. The Fallen and the Dead, Pugachev. He started writing drafts for this play Night-Time Conversations. Its plot is simple: a meeting of all Russian writers, Nobel Prize winners: Bunin, Pasternak, Sholokhov, Solzhenitsyn — in a prison cell.
They are forced to saw wood, take out the slop bucket. And then, at night, they talk Varlam Tikhonovich became a fan of the theatre. Those were the plays Varlam Tikhonovich remembered from his youth. But now he was disappointed with them, he must have then had a more vivid, more immediate impression of them, an impression enriched and embellished by his memory over long theatreless years. He did not like MKhAT, all that imitation of life on the stage: the crickets [chirping], the tea-parties, etc. Theatre is theatre.
Return Ticket: The Memories on My Bookshelf
And that's what it should remain. It does not have a fourth wall. He would always talk of Meyerhold, Vakhtangov, and Tairov with great enthusiasm. He considered Alissa Koonen the greatest actress of all. It is a pity he did not live to see the staging of his play Anna Ivanovna , nor the screen adaptation of his prose. He had, I believe, a feeling for the stage. We were together at the opening of the exhibit, there were a lot of people. The air was stuffy, and Varlam Tikhonovich felt sick: I suddenly saw that he was pale, with beads of sweat on his forehead.
And then he wrote a poem about it. He considered it a mediocre imitation of literature. Painting has its own language: the colours.
Varlam Tikhonovich began objecting violently that, had there been only green and red paint on the canvas, without any subject-matter, it would be just as moving. Varlam Tikhonovich insisted that a life-like resemblance of the original is not necessary. I, on the other hand, said that it is our face that expresses our inner world, that the traits of real people in the Fayum portraits are, after thousands of years, more moving to us than the countenance of the sphinx which is completely unattached to time.
I think it had to do not only with the colours but with the subject-matter as well. Varlam Tikhonovich had a strong antagonism toward the Tolstoyan tradition in Russian literature. He thought that Tolstoy had led Russian prose away from the path of Pushkin and Gogol. As to poetry, he related most to the tradition of the philosophical lyric poetry of Baratynsky, Tyutchev, and Pasternak. There was something cerebral, so to speak, in his love for Pasternak.
How does he manage to drag entire new layers into poetry! On the other hand, he loved Blok in a more profound, heartfelt way.
It seemed to me sometimes that Blok made him recall his youth, some sort of echo of him before Kolyma. I never asked him about that. I only saw how his face lit up and grew younger. He had some favourite poems by other authors as well. Oh, what thunderbolts Varlam Tikhonovich hurled in his Fourth Vologda at the notorious pablisiti [love of flashy things? What a eulogy to rags! Very funny and touching were the manifestations of this pablisiti in Varlam Tikhonovich himself. Then, after a pause, firmly:. Once I came to him sometime around He opened the door, I saw him beaming in a particularly festive way and then I noticed what he was wearing — a pair of brightly-striped trousers.
This was then a fad with youngsters, but even my sons managed to escape it. In a didactic, somewhat vainglorious voice, V. But he saw that his trendy acquisition did not impress me. But the trousers were forgotten. I think I look quite well-to-do. Quite well-to-do. He always dressed as follows: a chequered shirt, a Czech or Polish coarse-wool or ratine jacket with a large plaid print. Dark trousers, bought separately. Soviet-made shoes. In summer, he would wear light-blue short-sleeved shirts untucked.
In winter, a fur-lined rain-coat which was cheap then , a rabbit-fur ear-flapped hat. I remember the pleasure with which he worked on his new home, having moved to his spacious room on the first floor of 10 Khoroshevo Road from the tiny room on the ground floor where he had lived with his second wife, Olga Sergeyevna Neklyudova. I remember how he discussed with me what to buy for the house: a table-cloth, window-blinds, furniture at a second-hand [consignment] shop , how he laid out his books, given that he now had more room When the building was condemned to be torn down in , he moved, with the same diligent bustle, to the bright, spacious room he liked so much at 6 Vasilyevskaya Street.
Further to the left, high glass-sided shelves with his papers, mounted one on top of the other, a wardrobe, a dining-table — right next to the balcony door — and a small cupboard above it. In front of the window, a pedestal desk. Further to the right, in a shallow niche, a wooden bed, then more open bookshelves.
Varlam Tikhonovich was very fond of his modest abode. A tiny territory of independence. That is what he valued money for — for the independence that it offers. He was serious about myths and fairytales, thinking that in them some eternal models of relationships between human beings have been preserved.
The grandmother? Then who is the big bad wolf? And the hunter? He kept calling me Little Red Riding-Hood.
Maybe for the light-heartedness with which I set off into the world, the forest, without heeding the big bad wolves? There was something I could relate to in this fairytale, even though I had never worn any red hoods. The careless hand I recall now that Varlam Tikhonovich often blamed me for my carelessness. I was always in a rush. I would cut my finger opening a can. Even when confronted with serious problems, I would tackle them just as light-heartedly, just as carelessly.
Varlam Tikhonovich did not like changes in life. The move from Vasilyevskaya Street to Khoroshevo Road was quite hard on him. Whenever I now pass by the place where his old building number 10 used to be, I recall Mukha who has remained here forever. Small buildings, four apartments in each one. Varlam Tikhonovich used to say that it seemed to him that it was nothing but an enclosure on the bank of a river — which was actually a highway.
However, he quickly got used to his new place. I remember the fun we had cleaning his room after the renovation, moving the furniture using a method V. The move into the new room was accompanied by a mishap. It turned out that the Frunzensky district authorities had assigned V. Then I disgracefully burst into tears, completely beat down by all that heel-dragging. The matter got resolved right away. They accepted the certificate. Poor fellow, he felt so powerless! This feeling of powerlessness had become a part of him. They can treat a human being any way they like: they can just go straight ahead and throw him out of Moscow.
My attempts to convince him that it only had to do with reciprocal ambitions of rivalling district offices were vain. He did not believe me. In his first letter to me, in the winter of , V. But she, too Varlam Tikhonovich told me a lot about N. He would even say that N. Needless to say, I took an interest in this extraordinary woman and asked him to introduce me to her.
In November of , I finally met N. At first, I found her very uncomely, even unpleasant, but later she completely charmed me with her ability to make interesting conversation, her intelligence, her tact. Never have I met a more interesting conversationalist. She apparently knew just the way to talk to people on topics that interested them.
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From that time on, the extent of my contact with N. Now, when reading excerpts of the first draft of the Second Book Literaturnaya uchyoba , , 3 , the history of O. He told me: had Mandelshtam lived longer, he would have had a different wife. Whereas there was only one me in his life. I think she was both jealous and intolerant. Then, she rewrote the book in a completely different key. I made her a copy of what we had. In May , she insistently invited me to participate in the expropriation of the archive from Nikolai Khardzhiyev, with the promise to hand it over to the Central Literary Archive.
She did not, however, keep her word. That was my last conversation with N. Never again did she invite me over, as before, with her little hand-written notes. Soon V. I said that she did. A little later, V. I said that she is intelligent, extremely intelligent, but that she is lacking somewhat in generosity. At that point, V. I tried to soothe him, to persuade him that he needed a literary circle, acquaintances, people to talk to, that N. Break-up, break-up it was, once and for all.
He did it with G. Gudz, his first wife, with O. Neklyudova, his second wife, with B. Lesnyak, his friend in Kolyma, with many others, and so it was with N. He had profound reasons as well for the cooling off of his friendship with N. All the way back in the beginning of , he let it slip about his visits to N. Besides, he was irritated by N. Even an intelligent, enlightened, leftist team was stifling for him. He had an aversion for teams. That must have been in or so. I hoped that she had kept V. She was a nice, charming woman, small in stature, plump, with bright black eyes.
I already knew a lot about her by then. Galina Ignatyevna had come to visit her husband who was also in the Vishera camps, and there it was — as V. She left her husband for him Going back to Moscow in , he was really returning to her. White would rather be abandoned by his things than abandon them.
They have life, still. Abandoning things is easier for some of us than others. I left the fruit stickers in my room when I moved out in May. Their little screams as I chiselled them off… No. You have to think about fires in London. My husband is the E. White sort—everything has meaning. My husband lost his father terribly abruptly, so abandonment is a force for him, a deep, abiding force. Things become special because we make them special through human acts, through expended emotion.
Nothing is simple, not even simplification. Thus, throwing away the mail, I exchange the complexity of duty for the simplicity of guilt. We moved out of the dorm rooms come summer. I worked for Harvard Dorm Crew, cleaning up after other students. It was good money, usually quiet. In room after room after room, I found collections of fruit stickers. On walls, furniture, tables, even bedframes where they would have been, no doubt, covered and invisible. But there, all the same. Are all Harvard undergraduates great collectors? Do we suffer letting go?
Fear of abandonment? What do these collections say of their owners? We are in a perpetual state of retaining things, argues MIT professor of physics and humanities, Alan Lightman, because we cannot retain time. Everything must end. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. As he crosses interminable lengths of time to the start of the universe and back , he reaches for an anchor of meaning to keep him still, present…alive?
I grew up in a house where Mom fiercely decides what stays and what goes, and Dad clings to whatever he can like an octopus scrambling for leaves in a breeze. Upstairs, however, hidden and forgotten in a closet up on a shelf, is a cigar box of hotel soaps. I check it every time I go home. They will find it when they downsize. Mom, the strategist, will clean out everything, and Dad, the intellectual, will write a requiem about soap, and I, in memory to the child Dad once was and in deep love to both of my parents, will ask to take the box.
Over time, fruit stickers become adhesive. You have to remove them with a scraping and washing and more scraping.