Friday, September 21, 2007


At one time I immersed myself in Russian Literature, particularly Dostoyevski, as a strange means to create an imaginary dialogue between myself and an imaginary other.

I learnt Russian, or rather, I attempted to.

I dressed in a long grey dress, red tights and boots and lurched around all winter with my nose in the pages of Crime and Punishment, or Anna Karenina. This kind of set me apart in my little beach community: I have written a short story called The Dostoyevski Sandhill, which I rather like, set in that time and place. One day I will bunch a handful of those stories together.

I never really learnt to speak Russian very well, but I can still decipher Cyrillic. It has always been my dream to retrace the steps of Raskolnikov, or stand outside Nabokov’s house, or to waltz through the Hermitage.
Once a man who loved me bought me a costly book about the Hermitage. With citations in Cyrillic, and he knew I didn’t love him back, but he gave it to me anyway: I still blush when I look at it.
He is now a sculptor, somewhere near Bathurst: Roberto.

I still look at the book, and stroke the illustrations with the flat of my hand, the Cyrillic lettering makes an impression on the paper very slightly.

On a sunny afternoon, not too long ago, I strode into the travel agent in the little cluster of shops near the beach, carrying a bag of green apples and Turkish Bread.
I bought a ticket to St Petersburg.

I went to the Russian Consulate today, and collected my passport, inside of which was a wonderfully arcane and indecipherable visa.

I was reminded of an incident I had in July i Perisher Valley.
This season there were a bunch of new ski instructors from Slovenia.
I decided, as you do from time to time, to do what is called a mountain workshop. Equipped with an instructor, you are led off and taught some special trick. (once, a very old Austrian tought me to ski backwards while singing the blue danube out loud, which is very handy)
This instructor turned out to be the Slovenian National Champion. With three adolescents and myself in the group, he attempted to teach me to do jump turns down a vertical face, with the instruction: "jump to the left, then jump to the right, don’t fall down, or you’ll kill yourself."


Anyways, his name was Alyosha.
“That’s not a Slovenian name” I observed, and he explained how his parents had called him a Russian name.

“Yes, Alyosha, from Dostoyevsky” I shouted into his bewildered face, my tangled brain going haywire, I remembered something Meli had written:

“The Holy Fool!
“You know, the Idiot! Alyosha the Idiot..
oh, hang on he was one of the Brothers Karamazov”

He looked at me, horrified.

Looking back, I think I have just about figured out why he took me up a cliff face and made me jump down, though later he must have forgotten, cause we did helicopters.

And that was fun.

Alyosha and friends, Perisher 2007
illustrations: Ilya Glazunov


meli said...


I think I was a bit in love with Alyosha. When he's introduced in the novel, the narrator says he's the only person he knows who could turn up in a strange city, completely alone, and someone would instantly take him in, and feed him, and help him out, and when Alyosha left the people who helped him would think Alyosha had done them a service.

meli said...

Poor fellow! (the real one)

Shauna said...

ahhh brilliant story :)

I'm so glad your visa came through. I'm squirming with vicarious anticipation for your trip!

One time i was flying back to Edinburgh from Spain and I was the only non-Brit on the plane. When they flicked through my passport at the departure desk they saw the Russian visa and frowned then got on the phone and Called The Supervisor, as far as I could tell with my non-existent Spanish. It does look rather exotic, I guess :)

it's the little things... said...

I took a Russian Lit History class in college, and was heavily immersed in Russianism for a few months. I fell madly in love with Dr. Zhivago for a time, and wore lots of clothes because I was always freezing reading about the snow.
I read War and Peace for fun, but did skip over the boring battle parts (there, I finally admit it!).
This post brings back memories.

riseoutofme said...

When I was about 6 or 7 I used to cycle to school with a girl of my own age. To this day she refers to my russian ancestry and the dreadful life I was forced to live in the badlands so far away from home. She believed every word of my imaginings.

Lucky you going to St. Petersburg! And who could not love someone with a name like Alyosha?

meggie said...

This had me roaring with laughter!
I hope you do publish your stories!

How exciting to be going to Russia.

fifi said...

Meggie & rise,

yes, its so exciting I keep hyperventilating. I don't really believe it, and I'm so busy I keep thinking I'll look at my watch any minute and think...oop! gotta go, and I'm not ready!!

rise, were you cooking up stories about imaginary lands and lives?
I'll bet you were very convincing!!
Yes, Alyosha is a dreamy name, and very easy for australians to mispronounce.

ok, little, I didn't like those bits much either. Actually, war and peace wasn't a story I fell into like many others.
Russianism! How very "unamerican" lol :-D

fifi said...

Heh, and Shauna, they have spelt my name russianly on the visa. It is pretty Russianish, and they've added a few letters of their own, to make the total letter now to 13 !

Leann said...

my step mom is Ukranian.she taught me and my friend some swear words when I was was funny.
we went places and told people we were madosa and magarra the Gorgen sisters.we would call the guys who were creeps names and they didnt know what the heck we were saying.they thought we were from the Ukraine.
its so dumb to look back on it now.but at 17 we thought we were so cool.its sad how dumb kids can really be.
I never read any of those book,s.
I liked the movie of doctor Zhivago..
my name in Russian was pretty bad sounding.and in Ukrainian to.