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Saturday, April 3, 2021

An Interview with Fyodor


Photo: Wikimedia

The title of his famous book is Crime and Punishment does not suggest that this book is a novel, rather it sounds like a philosophical or social political book. So, at first it did not interest me as there are already so many books written about this topic. But as I read a review about this book it looked interesting and compelling to read it, although I expected philosophical discussions about this topic in the book.  Indeed, there are some discussions like that, but it is written like ordinary discussions between students. It is not hard to digest. 

So, after reading such an exciting book, I took a train from Moscow to St. Petersburg in winter to meet this great writer. We met at the apartment in the corner of 19 Grazhdanskaya Street  where Raskolnikov used to stay. At first glance, Fyodor looked like a timid, pale, introverted writer, and he moved so clumsily and jerkily. But his sharp grey-blue eyes gave the impression of a strong character, looking at me intensely as if trying to look into my soul and judge me. 

Actually, this man is known for his bravery and strong sense of justice, criticized corruption among officers and helped poor farmers.  I would spare asking him though about a traumatic incident in his life, as many people might had asked about that already.  Many people knew about what happened on December 22, 1849, as the young Fyodor was sent to Semyonov Square to meet his fate – to face the firing squad, as a punishment for his engagement with Petrashevsky Circle a literary group considered subversive by the Tsar and the Church. When the firing squad started pointing their rifles to this group, a messenger came into the square waving a white flag at the very last minute. He declared a pardon from the Tsar Nicholas I, in a “show of mercy.” But, this was not a show of mercy, but rather a staged way of terrorizing the group, a twisted form of psychological torture. He wrote about this experience in his novel The Idiot. In fact, his whole life story by itself can be written into a novel, a great novel it would be. 

But this time I rather talk with him about the criminal in Crime and Punishment, so, wasting no time I started asking him: 

“The protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a 23-year-old man, a former law student murdered an old woman for her money, by two blows of the blunt side of an axe.  Listen: ‘He pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, brought the blunt side down on her head.’

 It was a contemplated, planned, bloody murder, yet he thought it was not a crime, listen to this: ‘When he reached these conclusions, he decided that in his own case there could not be such a morbid reaction, that his reason and will would remain unimpaired at the time of carrying out his design, for the simple reason that his design was ‘not a crime….’

 How on earth he thought his horrific murder of a helpless old woman was not a crime? “



“The old woman, Alyona Ivanovna, was a pawn broker, who sucked the blood of poor people such that she was described as ‘No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm. She is wearing out the lives of others.’

 While Raskolnikov lived in extreme poverty in a tiny rented room in Saint Petersburg. ‘It had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling off the walls, and it was so low-pitched that a man of more than average height was ill at ease in it and felt every moment that he would knock his head against the ceiling. He was crushed by poverty.”


I said:

“When Raskolnikov was a student he wrote an article titled ‘On Crime’, which in the words of his best friend Razumihin: ’There is a suggestion that there are certain persons who can … that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them. A right to crime? But not because of the influence of environment?”


Fyodor said:

“In his article all men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary.’ Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary. But, Raskolnikov did not contend that extraordinary people are always bound to commit breaches of morals, as you call it. In fact, he doubted whether such an argument could be published. He hinted that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right … that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep … certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea, sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity.”


I said:

“Despite his perceptions about crime, Raskolnikov found himself racked with confusion, paranoia, and disgust for what he had done. He struggled with guilt and horror all the time and confronts the consequences of his deed. The psychological conflicts were written very well in the book, I think it is the most interesting part of the novel, as it is very intense, full of suspense, about the murderer’s struggle with his inner thoughts.  You described how Raskolnikov struggled with the crime even from the first time he conceived the idea to murder the old woman.”


Fyodor, citing the first Chapter of Part 1:

“When he was in the street he cried out, ‘Oh, God, how loathsome it all is! and can I, can I possibly…. No, it’s nonsense, it’s rubbish!’ he added resolutely. ‘And how could such an atrocious thing come into my head? What filthy things my heart is capable of. Yes, filthy above all, disgusting, loathsome, loathsome! — and for a whole month I’ve been….’

 And in another moment he cried: ‘Good God!’ Can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open … that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood, break the lock, steal and tremble; hide, all spattered in the blood … with the axe…. Good God, can it be?”


I said:

“And the nightmare he had about him as a young boy witnessing the graphic killing of a little mare was horrific : ‘Take an axe to her! Finish her off fast,’ shouts a third... The nag stretches out her muzzle, heaves a deep sigh, and dies... ‘Papa! What did they...kill...the poor horse for!’ In his dream he sobs, but his breath fails, and the words burst like cries from his straining chest.”



“However, it did not stop him, a trivial conversation he had overheard from a student with an officer strengthen his intention to carry out murder. The student casually said: ‘Kill her and take her money, so that afterwards with its help you can devote yourself to the service of all mankind and the common cause’... ‘Of course, she doesn’t deserve to be alive. Besides, what value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence! No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm.’

 Raskolnikov thought about how much similar they thought about this woman and related to his extraordinary man theory, he thought that this all cannot be just co-incidence, why must he listen at this particular moment to that particular talk and those particular ideas. As though there had really been in it something preordained, some guiding hint, it made Raskolnikov think he is the chosen person to kill the woman.”


I said:

“Then you wrote how he planned to murder her, the way and the timing to murder the woman. How he prepared for a noose to hide the axe inside his coat so it could not be seen from outside, how he stole the axe, how he diverted the attention of the old woman for a time, to gain a moment to swing the axe, what was in his mind when he walked from his apartment to the woman’s home, climbing the stairs to the flat. He was out of breath and his face became pale. For one instant at the door the thought floated through his mind ‘Shall I go back?’ ‘Am I not evidently agitated? She is mistrustful…. Had I better wait a little longer … till my heart leaves off thumping?”



“But he did it. He dealt her another and another blow with the blunt side and on the same spot. The blood gushed as from an overturned glass, the body fell back. He stepped back, let it fall, and at once bent over her face; she was dead. Her eyes seemed to be starting out of their sockets, the brow and the whole face were drawn and contorted convulsively.”


I said:

“Then unexpectedly her half sister came home and saw the dead body.’ She was gazing in stupefaction at her murdered sister, white as a sheet and seeming not to have the strength to cry out.”



“He rushed at her with the axe; her mouth twitched piteously, as one sees babies’ mouths, when they begin to be frightened, stare intently at what frightens them and are on the point of screaming. And this hapless Lizaveta was so simple and had been so thoroughly crushed and scared that she did not even raise a hand to guard her face, though that was the most necessary and natural action at the moment, for the axe was raised over her face. She only put up her empty left hand, but not to her face, slowly holding it out before her as though motioning him away. The axe fell with the sharp edge just on the skull and split at one blow all the top of the head. She fell heavily at once. Raskolnikov completely lost his head, snatching up her bundle, dropped it again and ran into the entry.”


I said:

“It was very tragic Fyodor….. I think Raskolnikov punishment started when he had to murder the innocent Lizaveta for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This thought appeared in his mind: ‘It’s strange though, why is it I scarcely ever think of her, as though I hadn’t killed her? Lizaveta! Poor gentle things, with gentle eyes…. Dear women! Why don’t they weep? Why don’t they moan? They give up everything … their eyes are soft and gentle….! Gentle!”  


I saw Fyodor sharp grey-blue eyes softened, he was immobile, silent … his pale, thin, earthen-colored face covered in dark red spots. Then we said “Прощай” (good bye) warmly.



This is an imaginary interview in memory of Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Source: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Paris, at Alexander Calder Exhibition


I didn’t know about Alexander Calder till I saw his exhibition at Musée Picasso in Paris, his art works were displayed together with Picasso’s works. Alexander Calder is known for inventing wire sculptures and the mobile, a type of kinetic art which relied on careful weighting to achieve balance and suspension in the air. He didn't limit his art to sculptures; he also created paintings, jewelry, theatre sets and costumes. 

An important Alexander Calder work is the monumental "Floating Clouds" (1952-1953) of the Aula Magna (Central University of Venezuela) of the University City of Caracas in Venezuela. This work is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Calder's clouds were specially designed to combine art and technology, making the auditorium one of the top 5 university auditoriums in the world by sound quality.

Photo: Wikimedia

While residing in France between 1926 and 1933, he cleverly constructed three-dimensional art works  using wires which give impression of  ‘drawings in space’, he turned out charming representations of birds, cows, elephants, horses, and other animals, including the extraordinary Romulus and Remus of 1928 that depicts the mythical founders of Rome being nursed by a she-wolf.  

 He also created intricate tableaus of circus performers, but Alexander Calder particularly recommended himself with his sensational full-body portraits of jazz-era dancer Josephine Baker and bust portraits of many in his Parisian artistic circle, such as Miró, composer Edgard Varèse, and socialite Kiki de Montparnasse. 

                                                                                Photo: Wikimedia

With seemingly inexhaustible energy, Alexander Calder expanded the repertoire of forms in his mobiles from spheres to discs to organic shapes adapted from plants and animals. The World War II years saw shortages of sheet metal, and Calder turned toward bits of wood, shards of glass and ceramics, tin cans, and other refuse he found on his Roxbury property, creating a series dubbed Constellations and some of his most-beloved works, including Finny Fish, 1948.



 Source:  Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Paris, at Picasso Museum


During the walkaround in Le Marais in noticed a street direction to Musée Picasso….., wow the Picasso Museum of Paris is here ?! Certainly not something to be missed. Hurriedly I followed the direction to the museum thorough the cobblestone streets lined with chic cafés and galleries to reach rue de Thorigny where the Hôtel Salé wherein the Picasso museum is located. 

Set in the great 17th century Hôtel Salé, Picasso’s masterpieces hang on the walls of bright, spacious exhibition rooms. It contains many of Picasso’s paintings, drawings and sculptures. On the day I visited the exhibitions were mixed with the works of Alexander Calder, which was also very interesting. 

Pablo Picasso was famous a Spanish painter, sculptor, regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.  He is known for co-founding the Cubism, a revolutionary style of modern art in response to the changing modern world. Some people say that Cubism is like looking in a cracked mirror everything becomes disorientated. The artists used multiple points of view to fracture images into geometric forms. Figures were depicted as dynamic arrangements of volumes and planes where background and foreground merged. Picasso did not feel that art should copy nature and did not like the more traditional artistic techniques of perspective, he said: “If the subjects I have wanted to express have suggested different ways of expression I have never hesitated to adopt them.”

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon - Wikimedia

Women play an essential role in Picasso’s paintings expressing emotion, psychological insight and the drama of human existence. Known for being a playboy, he had two wives, six misstresses and hundreds of lovers throughout his marriages. His romantic relationships provided inspiration for countless paintings,  drawings and sculptures. Each lover he painted can be seen to correlate with a different moment portraying a fascinating individual stories – sometimes joyful, defiant, or tragic in their endings.

The most famous of his women included those of Fernande Olivier, Olga Khoklova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque. 

While his lovers were such a valuable inspiration to his art, they seldom emerged from their relationships happily. Jacqueline Roque, his second wife, and Marie-Thérese Walter, mother of one of his daughter, committed suicide, and Olga Koklova, his first wife, and Dora Maar, his private muse,  became somewhat insane. 





Saturday, January 23, 2021

Paris, at Place de la Bastille


On the second day of our free time from office, I and my colleagues went to Bastille and other parts of Le Marais. We thought we would see the historical Bastille prison raided during the French revolution on July 14, 1789, but there is such prison there. The prison has been demolished and in place instead a column symbolizing peace was erected on the site and still stands there today.  The name of the Column is Colonne de Juillet, the July Column. It measures 47 meters in height and comprises 21 cast bronze drums that sits on a white marble base with ornamented bas reliefs, designed by the architect Jean-Antoine Alavoine under the orders of King Louis Philippe.

The square is now known as the Place de la Bastille and is an official historical monument of France. On the south side of the place there is a large curved and reflective building, it is the Opéra Bastille. It was built by the architect Carlo Ott, and was unveiled by President Mitterrand for the 200th Anniversary of the French Revolution on the eve of July 14th 1989, The Bastille Day.

Over the years this district became one of the most famous places in Paris. The night-life here is well-known, there are many bars and nightclubs laid between the Rue de Lappe, the Rue de la Roquette and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

Walking on the left side of Boulevard Beaumarchias, going away from the Place de la Bastille, at the second street we came to Rue du Pas de la Mule.  After a left turn, in a few steps we noticed the red-bricked buildings that make up the Place des Vosges. This mansion, built in the early 1600s, is a square composed of 36 houses with an arcade that runs the perimeter of the square. The park in the center of the Place des Vosges is called Square Louis XIII. Often, the grassy areas are available for use here.

Walking down an arcade with columns and a vaulted ceiling of the Place des Vosges, it felt as if we had just entered the 17th century. Directly ahead, past the fine cafés and art galleries, at the corner of this arcade, is the house addressed 6 Place des Vosges, Maison de Victor Hugo, the house once lived in by Victor Hugo. It is now a museum, opens every day, except Mondays and holidays.