Sorokin 1 – 7: “The Eros of Moscow”

I’ve finally finished my translation of Vladimir Sorokin’s “The Eros of Moscow” with the seventh and final installment, “Kapotniya,” which covers the oil-refinery situated outside of the city.

Moscow is an incredible sight, both the largest and the greenest city in Europe, head of an Asiatic empire, living Soviet relic and witness to the greatest socio-political shift of the 20th century.  Sorokin’s story, and the tasks he gives out, are worthy of the city’s many nooks and crannies.

The story follows in its entirety.

The gas-fed flame in Kapotniya, outside Moscow.

The gas-fed flame in Kapotniya, outside Moscow.

The Eros of Moscow – Vladimir Sorokin

Cities, like people, turn out to be sexual and frigid.  You can live your whole life with a person never having understood his eros, never having felt it.  And so any city is capable of making you tremble with orgasmic pleasure or the just the opposite – doom you to tens of years of dreary existence together.

I lived a year-and-a-half in Tokyo, but to this day I have not opened for myself the eros of this extraordinary city.  Berlin gave herself to me after half a year.  Saint-Petersburg – after a week.  Paris – after 12 hours.

Each city has its own eros.

Moscow for me is not a city.  And not a country.  And not even inland Russia.

Moscow is a sleeping giantess.  She lies on her back in the middle of Russia.  And sleeps a heavy Russian dream.

In order to enter into her, you need to know her erogenous zones.  Or else she will rudely throw you off and forever close herself off to you.

For each Muscovite there are his own tender spots on the body of the capital.  But you have to really want to find them.  Then the giantess will give herself to you.

For me these erogenous zones on the body of Moscow number seven.  I started to instinctively grope for them back in my student days.  Before those, like hundreds of thousands of Moscow inhabitants, I saw in Moscow only the “capital of our motherland,” the place where my parents and friends lived, a “comfortable city with a developed infrastructure,” a “historical monument,” the “Third Rome,” the “center of Russia, to which all paths lead” and other such banalities.

But my intuition hinted that with Moscow things weren’t as simple as they seemed.  And I wasn’t mistaken.  It took almost 12 years to find and touch Moscow’s mysterious and tender places.

Now I can truthfully say that I learned this city.  And I’m ready to share its secrets.

There are seven erogenous zones on the body of Moscow.  It’s better to touch them in the summertime.  And so:

1. Moscow State University and the overlook on the Vorobyev Hills

On a sunny and fair day, approach the Stalinist mass of Moscow State University from the side of the Moscow River, come in by way of the granite stairs and stop in front of the columns at the entrance.  Alongside them sit an iron young man and an iron young woman with iron books in their hands.  If you’re a man, go to the girl, if you’re a woman, to the boy.  Softly come closer to your object, climb the pedestal and place your hands on the iron chest.  Cry out “Moscow, let me in!”, stand there for a few minutes, then climb down and go to the overlook.  There place your elbows on the glossy granite parapet and look out over the panorama of the city sprawling out before you until your eyes begun to tear up.  As soon as they break out and the panorama flows together in a flickering kaleidoscope, try to feel Moscow in the form of a colorful orb gliding through the air.  Having felt this, wipe away the tears and proceed further …

2. VDNKh

Entering through the main entrance into the territory of the former Exhibit of the Achievements of People’s Farming, go straight until you see the first fountain, “Friendship of Nations” – 15 gilded female figures in the national costumes of the peoples of the U.S.S.R.  Climb over the side, step into the water of the fountain and walk around the fountain three times clockwise.  Then go further, until you reach the fountain “The Stone Flower.”  Here perform the same action – three times, knee deep in the water, clockwise.  And immediately proceed further to the very end of the exhibit territory, to the fountain “The Golden Ear.”  This is a large, deep fountain.  They used to sail around it in boats.  Undress and swim around the gilded ear of wheat.  Three times clockwise.  If all ends well, as it did for me and the artist Andrei Monastyrsky and his wife Sabina in that memorable year of 1986, get dressed and immediately head somewhere nearby to have a drink and eat something.  Having opened for ourselves this erogenous zone of our home city, we then headed to the restaurant “The Golden Ear.”  The enormous restaurant lay empty in light of Gorbachev’s infamous anti-alcohol campaign –they weren’t even serving beer there.  At the same time, the food was generously portioned.  After our ablution in the three waters we very much wanted to warm up.

“Address yourselves to the porter,” the waiter kindly whispered.  Andrei addressed himself, and within a few minutes a whiskered porter approached and set upon our table a bottle of Bordzhomi mineral water filled with vodka.

“Is this vodka?” asked Sabina in good Russian.  The porter silently nodded.

“But why is it in a mineral-water bottle?”

“It’s hard to explain,” the porter answered and strolled off.

It seems to me, he was speaking not just about the camouflaged vodka, but rather in a deeper, more metaphysical sense.

3. Boulevard Ring

Invite your two closest friends, buy three bottles of port wine, hide them in the pockets of your coats and head down the boulevard arm-in-arm.  You should silently walk the entire Boulevard Ring, keeping hold of each other and deliberately, surreptitiously sipping from your bottles.  I recommend you start the journey through this erogenous zone at Yauzsky Boulevard alongside Solyanka, moving counterclockwise – Chistoprudny, Sretensky and so on.  You need to walk silently, intently peering at passerby on the boulevards.  If you meet any acquaintances, preferably keep silent and turn away your eyes.  You should not drink hurriedly, but rather with feeling.  Having finished the promenade on Gogolevsky Boulevard, you should set the bottles in the middle of the boulevard, embrace each other about the shoulders and perform a slow dance around the bottles, singing and whistling.  Next it is essential to quickly, without saying good-bye and not looking at each other, head off in different directions.

All this was done by Igor Vinogradov, Sergei Kutin and me on one warm June day in 1974 after we successfully passed an engineering exam.

4.  Vagankovskoye Cemetery

Entering the cemetery grounds, steer right, to the most distant part of it, taking with you an unread book.  Finding nothing noticeable besides a tidy tomb with a small bench, sit and read the book until dusk, until the evening cool appears and the letters on the page start to run together and resemble soldiers sleeping side by side.  Close the book, carefully put it on the grave and quietly leave the cemetery.  I behaved in this exact manner in May 1980.  Having gone to the maternity clinic to visit my wife, who was preparing to cast out into our contradictory world two twins, I left to aimlessly wander Moscow, warm and reeking of gas and asphalt, with a Xeroxed copy of Nabokov’s novel King, Queen, Knave under my arm.  I don’t remember, how and why I ended up in Vagankovskoye Cemetery.  The cemetery, not yet ruined by the tasteless tomb for Vysotsky, humbly lay in the shade of the lindens and poplars, spots of sunlight dancing in unpretentious crosses, young grass pushing up on the mounds of the graves.  Having sat on a bench next to someone’s well-kept grave, I read Nabokov until dusk and, not having read to the end, all of a sudden stood and walked off between the graves, not really thinking about anything.  Why did I leave the book on the grave?  “It’s hard to explain,” as that same porter would say.  It’s still harder to convey the feeling that I left the gates of the cemetery with.

5.  Metro station “Krasniye vorota”

The Moscow metro, at first glance, seems to be one giant erogenous zone, a palpating system, each curve of which requires soft caresses.  But this is only a superficial impression.  In my 45 years of travels through this labyrinth, I’ve found only one station with erotic vibrations: “Krasniye vorota.”  Go there after midnight, undress and stand in one of the granite niches and freeze for several minutes in the pose of Apollo (if you are a man) or Aphrodite (if God created you a woman).

6.  Cheremushkinskii Market and Novodevichii Monastery

It is essential to arrive a little before the opening of the market already dressed in tatters.  Having brought a wooden box, go through the main entrance into the market and immediately sit down on the box next to the doors.  Place a scuzzy ushanka on your lap, take a deep breath and start to softly but persistently moan, “Moscow is red with buns!  Moscow is red with buns!”  You need to repeat this phrase continuously all day.  As soon as the market closes, stand and, without counting the money given to you over the course of the day, clutch the ushanka in your hand and go to Novodevichii Monastery.  Enter the grounds of the monastery, stand in the center, cross yourself, bow, and, with the cry, “To you, God, what to us is unfit!” throw the hat with the money as high as you can.

7.  Kapotniya

Having improvised a paper kite, wait for darkness and set off for Kapotniya.  Find the gas-fed flame there, stand not far away on the windward side and release the kite.  See to it that the kite flies into the flame.  As soon as the kite catches fire, draw the string in toward yourself and light a candle off the burning kite  Hold the candle to your chest and shield it from the wind, loudly pronounce: “Fire, come with me.”  Then with your burning candle set off for home on foot.  Entering your home, carefully extinguish the candle, place it beneath your pillow and immediately go to bed.

I promise you, upon waking tomorrow, you will know Moscow.

“It’s that simple?” you ask.  Yes, it’s that simple, since everything is obvious.  In order to feel the eros of Moscow, it’s not entirely necessary to conduct sinister ceremonies and ritual sacrifices.  There is decidedly no need to sprinkle the yellow bile of a bear on the Kremlin wall, take a squat off the Krymsky Bridge at midnight, fling darts at prostitutes or masturbate on the monument to Timiryazevu.  Moscow, like a dear woman, needs earnest tenderness that flows from the heart.

Many Muscovites are ready to place the main erogenous zone on Red Square.

In the 45 years I, however hard I tried, haven’t been able to feel the eros of Red Square.  Meanwhile, I have felt it in the abovementioned places.  About this I can earnestly testify.

As Prigov wrote, “Each has his own heavenly Moscow, and each has his own worldly Moscow.”


2 Responses to “Sorokin 1 – 7: “The Eros of Moscow””

  1. I really enjoyed the translation of Sorokin’s work. Although I don’t know Russian, the words flow easily and fluently, and I read with ease–the sign of a good translation.

    I’d love to read some Russian poetry translated by you. Any chance of that?

  2. Not even sure how I stumbled upon this, but I enjoyed it very much. Read the original in Russian years ago, and I think you did a good job capturing Sorokin’s flavour. Bravo.

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