How I Ate the Dog part two

If you’ve ever been on a Russian train, you’ll know that Grishkovets gets it exactly right, from the wood-burning tea urn by the wagon conductor’s cabin to the sleepy Russian who without fail remarks on the monotonous beauty of continental Russia and its birches.  The train is still the most important form of transportation in Russia, even though it takes over a week to cross the country this way.  I’ve spent at most two-and-a-half days on a Russian train in one stretch, but I can picture what an eternity seven would be … so you really have to note how strong the dread of the unknown that pervades the author’s imminent entry into naval service is, that he would rejoice in each little stop …

How I Ate the Dog
Yevgenii Grishkovets


I remember how we traveled seven days from the “Taiga” station to the Vladivostok station on a passenger/mail train.  We traveled slowly, stood at each crossing, and I was grateful to the railroad workers for these tiny delays….  We were going…, and interestingly, you could be going anywhere, to the east, to the south, to the north, and the whole time it would be the exact same scenery, in the sense that, it changes, of course, but the feeling remains that it’s the exact same: This means not very thickly growing birch trees, those uniformly spaced white-black trees, everywhere….  Well, in general, the kind of scenery, looking at which a Russian is obligated to say: “My God… what beauty!”  It happens like this: The Russian has woken up, comes out from the sleeping compartment into the corridor of the wagon, on his shoulders hangs a towel, like so, in his hand a toothbrush with toothpaste already on it, he’s a bit blinded by the morning light (in the compartment it had been very dark), he stops at the window, like so, holding onto the handrail.  In the corridor the rattle of the train is stronger.  Someone draws water from the tea urn.  The train: tuduk-tuk-tuk, tuduk-tuk-tuk.  The person who has just woken up: “Ssssoooo, where are we by now?”  The person with hot water in his mug, swaying with concentration, slowly walking and because of this swaying even more, says: “Who knows…”

The person who has just woken up: “Yeah?! Well, all the same, what beauty…!” Tuduk-tuk-tuk, tuduk-tuk-tuk…

Two sailors took us, they wore white dress uniforms and really looked after their appearance.  Both were short, one had a moustache that he really loved and obviously was very proud of, you couldn’t make it out immediately, but if you so desired, it wasn’t hard to count all the tiny hairs he had on his upper lip, and the other was, I for some reason recall, from Tambov, he was bowlegged and right about here he wore a medal “For faraway deployment.”  They got out at every station and walked around the platform with an old cassette player, glancing to the sides, meaning – Are they looking at us or not?  Aha…they’re looking!  Very good!  I was surprised at the time by how their sailor hats stayed on the back of their heads, it was obvious that they should have fallen off, but they stayed on, all the same…. Without any sense of idiotic metaphor, they hung like haloes….  I only found out later, how they stayed on… sailor hats.  And that there’s no secret, they simply stay on, and that’s it.

The sailors were entertaining….  We came up to them with questions about how it is, and they gladly told us how…: “Well, we went through La Pérouse Strait, then we went to Cam Ranh, we stopped there…, then we went to New Zealand and they didn’t let us come ashore, but in Australia they let us come ashore, but only the officers went and…”

And I was thinking: “Geeeeee whiz… After all I studied English in school…  Why?”  Well, there were countries where they speak this language, there was Europe, well somewhere there… Paris, London, you know, Amsterdam, there were those, and leave it at all that.  What’s it to me?  They sometimes vaguely disturbed you in that they nevertheless kind of existed…, but they didn’t draw out any concrete desire.  The world was huge, like in a book….

And these sailors had been, my God, in Australia, New Zealand….  And the same awaits me, just put me in that same uniform….  And little by little, already quickly, the train takes us to Vladivostok, and there is still a little left – and some sort of sea, some sort of countries….  Reluctance!!!!  Because even though I didn’t know anything concrete, I suspected that, well, of course, it wasn’t quite that simple, Australia, New Zealand, and still some other place like that, the essential of what I didn’t want to know, of what I was afraid, of what I was very afraid  and what would very soon come up… without fail….


One Response to “How I Ate the Dog part two”

  1. I think when Janis Joplin sings “as we discovered on the train, tomorrow never happens” she must be refering to a trans-siberian railway trip, probably not her own, but some description in the literature. Wonder where she could have got this from ?

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