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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Schism, parts 3573 - 3577

 3573. The Tsar replied, “How well Napoleon must have understood that look, for I suppose it was what inspired him to give his troops the crossed white belts over the dark blue tunic.”

 3574. But we Russians will be content with the single diagonal belt, just like the English now use. A three-inch leather belt across the chest, meeting with a three-inch band across the waste is best. It inspires respect, established authority, without frightening the simple citizen.

3575. Such was an example of the dinner conversation in the Winter Palace, but the Tsar preferred to listen, and liked to speak only to answer a direct question. He felt that if he ventured his opinion everyone else would hasten to agree and to double over in an effort to please him. 

3576. For years he knew that if he spoke on any subject his voice would come back to him like a paraphrased echo, only varied by the accent of individual voices. What he longed for in his heart was the boisterous, even angry, contradictory tumultuousness of conversation in a democracy.

3577. The Tsar set up a miniature scene of democracy at his dinner parties, where everyone was equal and anybody could say anything on any topic without fear of punishment.  In this way he was like a little boy in the bathtub playing with his toy boats. He sloshes about to make a wave, overturns his boats, and imagines he is in the boundless stormy ocean.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Schism, parts 3568 - 3572

 3568. Next came the Opera, and especially the Prima-Donna singers. Those singers were so beloved of the Tsar that you could almost have said they were on a first name basis with him, although it would have been just a figure of speech.

 3569. More that all those things the Tsar loved his big dinner parties of the finest people in the Capital, a feast with an infinite varied food, the finest wines, a table interspersed with multi-colored Sevres china, bouquets of flowers not so full as to obstruct the view of the participants. Most important of all there was brilliant and intelligent, witty conversation on every possible subject even including politics.

 3570. It the streets of the empire at that time, a person could be arrested and sent to Siberia for expressing a political opinion, but at the Tsar’s dinner parties, as the wine flowed, you might hear the most outrageous things being uttered.

 3571. “I love the Communists, especially the Bolsheviks,” says the Grand Duke, to the Duchess. “Why is that pray tell,” interposed the Tsarevich. “Because of those old black leather coats they wear, my Gardner has one and will not part with it for a hundred rubles.” Although the Tsarevich had asked the question the answer was directed to General Kutuzov.

3572. General Kutuzov responded, directing his reply not to the Tsarevich or the Grand Duke, but to Czar Nicholas himself, saying, “Soon they might have those black leather coats decorated with the crossed belts of bullets, that is the completion of the look of the rebel on the barricades don’t you think, your Highness?”

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Schism, parts 3564 - 3567

 3564. Then they began to migrate to America where they continued to work at humiliating jobs, considering their histories. Take for example General Kutuzov. He was a descendant of the famous General Kutuzov, the one who drove Napoleon out of Russia. He was a personal friend of the Czar, and confidant of the Czarina. A graduate of the Moscow Polytechnic, he took his Masters Degree and a Doctorate in Chemistry. 

3565. As a young man he was a member of the Czars personal guards and was able to ride a horse at full gallop, standing up like a circus performer and firing a rifle accurately at a moving target. And yet, that ability was not considered so unusual, seeing as all of the Czar’s guards were able to do the same thing.

 3566. He was a man of great personal charm, who always seemed to know the perfect thing to say in any conversation. One of his great skills was known only to the Czar himself, and consisted of the adroit ability to manage a dinner conversation. 

3567. This may not sound like such an accomplishment unless you knew the Czar and his tastes. First the Czar loved his army, its uniforms, guns and military equipment, along with parades and the review of the troops. After that came the Ballet in which he took a personal hand in choosing the students for his ballet school, housed near the Winter Palace.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Schism, parts 3560 - 3563

 3560. The aristocrats left Moscow and Saint Petersburg as if for a few moments, until the disorders came to an end. They thought the revolution was like a flood, and they needed to seek higher ground till the water subsided.

 3561. Many of them left their important possessions in place in their mansions, knowing full well that when order was restored everything would return to normal. Even after a year had elapsed they still did not consider that anything too drastic was happening.

 3562. Ten years after the revolution and still living in Paris and working as waiters and cooks, those privileged people were always confident the monarchy would be re-established. When they got together in the evening they liked to talk about the French Revolution, its terrible violence, and the inevitable restitution of the rule of a king. 

3563. They saw the restitution of monarchy as inevitable because to them it was the unfolding of a law of nature. They were fond of saying that a beehive can have only one queen bee, and the human hive also must have either a supreme commander, or the supreme disorder of democracy and mob rule.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Schism, parts 3556 - 3559

 3556. This is what The Prune said however, or what it was I think that he said, about the church. It was a large church and you would only have known it was a Russian Orthodox church by the primitive group of onion shaped domes adorning its roof, as well as the cross with the extra diagonal bar. The church was too large for its congregation, all of whom were Russian immigrants who had fled from Russia after the revolution.

 3557. The church was a part of what was then called the “Russian Orthodox Church in Exile,” and that title signified that the church organization considered itself to be still the supreme authority for all the Russian faithful, regardless of what the government or anyone else had to say about it.

 3558. But the congregation was not homogeneous. The very eldest were members of the Old Russian aristocracy, elderly men and women who could remember the Czar, the civil war and the advent of Bolshevism. The younger members were recent escapees from the east, civil servants, bus drives, coal miners and the like.

3559. This mixture was rather like the society of revolutionary Russia consisting of the haves and the have nots, although in this instance it would be more correct to say, “The hads and the had nots.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bluto, parts 3552 - 3555

 3552. I thought also that Simon could have benefitted from a big dose of Bluto, but it was hard to picture him sitting on the soda box in the old truck listening to one of Bluto’s lectures.

3553. Soon after these events The Prune at the salvage yard informed Bluto of a new project that needed his attention. There was an Russian Orthodox Church that had closed its doors, and the contents of the church were available for harvesting.

3554. The church has the usual quantity of copper piping, as well as some sort of decorative metal grill which they hoped would be made of bronze, or possibly brass. Also, it was rumored that great religious paintings lined the walls of the chapel, and there were other smaller paintings affixed to a grill they hoped was made of bronze. 
 3555. The Prune explained how it was that the church came to be abandoned to Bluto one afternoon and it is impossible for me to recount his story separate from my understanding of the tale as a remembrance. By that I mean, certain terms and certain names like ‘Stalin, Communism, or iron curtain,’ have an entirely different meaning for me when spoken of today, as when I heard them in 1957 at the age of 13.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bluto, parts 3548 - 3551

 3548. Someone must have understood what the coach’s words meant because the next day an assembly was called and Mr. Roach had to address the entire school and apologize for his obscure and inexplicable comment. When he spoke he had the tone of voice of a man who only hopes to not get fired, and nothing else. He had to apologize to all of us three times, because the first two times we could not hear him.

 3549. I understood what had happened years later, but back then I only had a vague sense that some terrible wrong had been corrected. I understood that Simon was a Jew, and our teachers were persecuting him for it and I was also persecuting him in my own way.

 3550. I took his gold Paper Mate pen, and made him suffer looking for it all day, and then finally when he wasn’t looking I replaced it on his desk, as if it had been there all along. But I was not one of Bluto’s “Saxons,” so I could see that his explanation was faulty.

3551. Even now, these many years later I can remember with shame my evil intent. I did not want him to know I had taken his pen. I wanted him to think that, in his clumsiness, he had overlooked it all day. In short, I wanted him to feel stupid.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bluto, parts 3544 - 3547

 3544. I may have been just 13, but it was pretty obvious to me why Simon had said zero. He said zero because he was embarrassed to say 100. If he said 100 – again – like always, he knew it would provoke the wrath of the other students who never got to say 100. He said it because he was modest.

 3545. But Simon’s zero was not the worst of his problems. His biggest antagonist on the faculty was the gym coach Mr. Roach. Simon was unable to climb the ropes up to the ceiling of the gym. He was not the only boy deficient in this skill. But Simon’s failure to climb the ropes provoked Mr. Roach to say a strange and inexplicable thing to him.

 3546. Mr. Roach said to Simon, “The fact that you can’t climb these ropes explains what happened to you people in Germany.”

3547. To my knowledge Simon had never been in Germany, so this remark meant nothing to me, and I don’t think anyone else knew what Mr. Roach was talking about. We could tell it was a sort of derogatory comment, but that was all.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bluto, parts 3540 - 3543

 3540. Needless to say, we persecuted Simon, and so did our teachers, and especially our gym coach, Mr. Roach of the black Buick convertible. On the very day after Bluto’s lecture about the Italians, I witnessed a typical persecution of Simon by Mrs. Hagner.

 3541. We were given a spelling test. When we were done we had to grade it ourselves. After we graded out test Mrs. Hagner asked each of us, one at a time, to tell her our score. My score was 70, so when my turn came I said 70. The boy in front of me said 90, and the one after him had scored a 95. When Simon’s turn came he said, “Zero.”

 3542. Then, suddenly realizing his mistake he blurted out “Zero wrong, no mistakes, my score is 100.” Then Mrs. Hagner said, “You said zero and I’m giving you a zero, I am marking it down in the book. Now, in the future pay attention to what you say.”

3543. Looked at through the lens of Bluto’s explanations I finally understood our teacher’s hatred of Simon, even though he was the best student in our class.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bluto, parts 3536 - 3539

 3536. Perhaps you might find three boys and one rebellious tomboy of a girl sitting as I have described, but all the rest of the class would not have their elbows on the table, only their hands.

 3537. Yes, the entire class would be sitting with their arms rigid and forming a straight line from their shoulders down to their palms. It was even more extreme than that, some of the more hysterically obedient children would actually be quivering and vibrating in their desire to be as rigid and as immobile as humanly possible.

 3538. If you consider the above as an act of rebellion, then I admit that I was a troublemaker in my 7th grade class. But what of Simon, the smartest child in our class, was he also a troublemaker? On all the tests we were given Simon always scored between 90 and 100. He was the sort of boy who studied all through study hall, never looking up from his book. Never in his life had he ever passed a note to anyone.

3539. Simon had the expensive gold-plated Paper Mate pen. Unlike the other obedient students, however, Simon put his elbows on his desk at the end of the day. Either in his heart he was rebellious, or he was somehow oblivious to the symbolic significance of the act.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bluto, parts 3532 - 3535

 3532. The very slightness of the nod of the master, hardly the slightest raising of an eyebrow is sufficient to release the dog from his agony, and you can be sure the slightness of the command is a thing of great satisfaction to the master.

 3533. The slightness of the command is of satisfaction to the master because it signified that the dog’s attention, indeed his entire being is focused and concentrated on the eyebrow or the master’s little finger. 

 3534. A very few of the children we unwilling to afford our teacher this gratification, and we found little ways to assert our independence. Our methods were very limited but basically consisted of sitting at our desks with our hands folded and our elbows also on the desk. To be specific, our forearms from the elbow to the clasped palms were in contact with the surface of the desk, as we waited to be dismissed.

3535. “What possible sign of rebellion could this way of sitting at one’s desk possible signify,” you ask. If you were able to see a film clip of our classroom and all the little children waiting at their desks for dismissal you would understand out rebellion in an instant.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bluto, parts 3528 - 3531

 3528. The next day in school I couldn’t help but look at my classmates and the actions of my teacher in a different light. Bluto’s explanations had the effect of a new pair of eyeglasses that suddenly show you things you never even knew existed. Just from the point of view of clothing, it was obvious that all the good and very obedient children had a peculiar way of dressing, very different from myself.

 3529. When I say there were good and obedient children different from myself I do not mean to imply that I was not a good student, but there were subtle shades of good behavior, and those subtleties were hard to describe. One description, however, will have to suffice.

 3530. When our class work was finished and all the room put in order for the close of the day we were expected to sit in our seats with our hands folded on our desks. When the final bell rang for dismissal we were not allowed to just get up and leave, but we waited patently for our teacher to dismiss us with her imperial gracious nod of her head.

3531. This sort of training looks exactly like, and indeed is no different from the training of a dog that is not allowed to eat some morsel of food on his nose, though he be starving, until the master gives the nod.