1931: Towards the end of a visit to the Soviet Union, George Bernard Shaw met Joseph Stalin. Shaw told Stalin that, as a Marxist, he had found nothing to criticize during his visit, but as a man in his seventies he had found the banquets too long and the church pews too short.
Tag archive: Russia
1916: The music critic Leonid Sabaneyev described the first Moscow performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite as bad, cacophonous and barbaric. Sabaneyev wrote the review off the top of his head; he didn’t bother to attend the performance. If he had, he would have known that it was cancelled at short notice.
Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (2000), p. 129
1904: Nikolai Valentinov got to know Vladimir Lenin in Geneva, where the Bolshevik leader was living with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya. Valentinov’s Encounters with Lenin gives glimpses of Lenin’s domestic life. He liked to walk in the country and enjoyed picnics. He swam well and skated well. He exercised on the trapeze and on rings. He was very good at billiards. Before starting work each morning, he dusted his books and put them in order. He cleaned his shoes until they shone. If he lost a button, he would sew on another himself, and this he did “better than Nadya”.
Source: Nikolay Valentinov, Encounters with Lenin (1968), pp. 79–80
1914: Russia and Germany were agreed on one thing: both exempted ballet dancers from military service.
Source: Julie Kavanagh, Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton (1996), p. 260
1909: Ninety years before the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Russia’s political police were sufficiently perceptive to realize that aircraft might be used as terrorist weapons, and began to monitor the activities of aviators, would-be aviators and flying clubs.
Source: Charles A. Ruud, Fontanka 16: The Tsar’s Secret Police (1999), p. 70
1977: The novelist Vladimir Nabokov died in a Swiss hospital (window carelessly left open, bronchitis) at the age of 78. Véra, his wife, and Dmitri, his son, were in the room. With his last breath, said Dmitri, his father emitted “a triple moan of descending pitch”.
Source: The Observer, 25 October 2009
1912: The Stockholm Olympics saw two epic struggles in Greco-Roman wrestling. In the light heavyweight final, officials declared a draw after Anders Ahlgren of Sweden and Ivar Böling of Finland had tussled for nine hours. In the semi-final of the middleweight division, Martin Klein of Russia triumphed over Alfred Asikainen of Finland after 11 hours, but was too weary to contest the final.
Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), pp. 673, 686
1997: No one wants it to rain on their parade. To make sure that wet weather didn’t spoil Moscow’s 850th anniversary pageant, the city’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, sent up aircraft to seed approaching clouds with silver iodide as a way of encouraging them to shed their rain before they reached the celebrations.
Source: Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide (2006), p. 270
1967: Grigori Rasputin was murdered in Petrograd on the night of 29 December 1916. Prince Felix Yusupov and his fellow conspirators poisoned Rasputin with cyanide, shot him four times, clubbed him, kicked him, tied him up and finally pushed him through a hole in the ice on the River Neva.
After the Russian Revolution, Yusupov fled abroad and lived most of the rest of his life in Paris. He died on 27 September 1967 at the age of 80 – unlike Rasputin, from natural causes.
Source: Andrew Cook, To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (2005), p. 226
1921: Famine killed an estimated 5 million people in the Volga region of Soviet Russia. Among the starving refugees at Samara, the British journalist Arthur Ransome came upon “a silently weeping little girl” with a “wizened dead face, pale green”, and on the east bank of the Volga, “an old woman cooking horsedung in a broken saucepan”.
1909: Ballerina Tamara Karsavina recounted how Vaslav Nijinsky “rose up, a few yards off the wings, described a parabola in the air, and disappeared from sight. No one of the audience could see him land; to all eyes he floated up and vanished.” Nijinsky’s leaps, defiant of gravity, caused a sensation in Paris. How did he accomplish them? Were they difficult? “No! No!” he replied, “not difficult. You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.”
Source: Tamara Karsavina, Theatre Street (1930), pp. 240, 241–2
1915: Generations of Russian tsars marrying German or Danish princesses had reduced the proportion of Russian blood in the imperial veins close to vanishing point. Maurice Paléologue, the French ambassador in Petrograd, calculated that for Nicholas II the figure was one part in 128, and for the tsarevitch, Alexis, one part in 256.
Source: Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador’s Memoirs (1923), vol. I, pp. 324–5
1901: Russian scientists were excited by the discovery of a mammoth, frozen into a cliff above a remote Siberian river. Otto Herz, a zoologist, and Eugen Pfizenmayer, a taxidermist, were sent to excavate the carcass and transport it to St. Petersburg. Herz noted that the mammoth’s flesh, refrigerated for thousands of years, was dark red and marbled and looked like fresh beef. “We wondered for some time whether we should not taste it.” They didn’t, but they did feed bits to their dogs, who lived to tell the tale.
Source: Richard Stone, Mammoth: The Resurrection of an Ice Age Giant (2002), pp. 29–35
1915: The marriage of Nicholas II and Alexandra was affectionate, though “Sunny” clearly dominated weak-willed “Nicky”. To stiffen the tsar’s resolve before meeting ministers, she nagged him to part his hair with Grigori Rasputin’s comb.
Source: Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra, The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra: April 1914–March 1917, ed. Joseph T. Fuhrmann (1999), pp. 237, 239
1909: Beginning at the age of 15, Nikita Khrushchev attended the local school for two winters. The education was rudimentary: reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. “After a year or two I had learnt to count up to thirty and my father decided that was enough of schooling. He said all I needed was to be able to count money and I could never have more than thirty roubles to count.”
Source: George Paloczi-Horvath, Khrushchev: The Road to Power (1960), pp. 12–13
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1962 – a politician rather than a mathematician
1997: President Boris Yeltsin’s security adviser, General Alexander Lebed, admitted that Russia was unable to account for 84 out of 132 KGB nuclear “suitcase bombs”.
Source: Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (2004), pp. 9–10
1951: Synaesthetes inhabit a world different from the rest of us; one where, for example, music or speech are not just heard, but seen in vivid colour.
The novelist and synaesthete Vladimir Nabokov described in detail the correspondence between letters and colours. The letter “n” was for him an oatmeal colour; “p”, the green of an unripe apple; “z”, like an “inky horizon”; and “a”, the “tint of weathered wood”. The yellow of “u” he could best describe as “brassy with an olive sheen”; while “m” was a “fold of pink flannel”; “h”, the brown of a “drab shoelace”; and “r” like “a sooty rag being ripped”.
Source: Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: A Memoir (1951), pp. 23–4
1929: The diplomat Bruce Lockhart heard what he described as a “priceless story of Lenin and the death of his mother-in-law”. Without naming the source, Lockhart wrote in his diary: “Krupskaya tired of watching at death-bed asked Lenin to sit by her mother while she slept. He was to call her if her mother wanted anything. Lenin took a book and began to read. Two hours later Krupskaya came back. Her mother was dead. Lenin was still reading. Krupskaya blamed him: ‘Why did you not let me know?’ Lenin replied: ‘But your mother never called me!’ ”
Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 82
1925: On 21 December, Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin was first screened at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Eisenstein had toiled for three weeks to edit the film in time, and was still putting the finishing touches to it on the opening night.
His assistant Grigori Alexandrov recalled, “I spent the evening riding on a motorcycle between the cutting room and the theatre, carrying the reels one at a time. When Eisenstein was finally happy with the last reel, he sat on the back of my motorcycle with the can of film under his arm. . . . but when we were in the middle of Red Square, and about a quarter of a mile from the Bolshoi, the motorcycle broke down. So we ran the rest of the way!”
At that time, films were shown with a break between each reel. “All went well, except that the break between the last two reels was nearly twenty minutes long!”
Source: Ronald Bergan, Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict (1997), pp. 111–12
1906: “It was so quiet there, so eventless, so perfect for intellectual work.” The contented scholar was Leon Trotsky and the idyllic location was the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, where Trotsky had been incarcerated. He joked, “I sit and work and feel perfectly sure that I can’t be arrested” – an important consideration for a career revolutionary.
When he was transferred from solitary confinement, he admitted that it was “with a tinge of regret”. In contrast, the House of Preliminary Detention was crowded and bustling, but pleasant in a different way. “The cells were not locked during the day, and we could take our walks all together. For hours at a time we would go into raptures over playing leap-frog.”
Source: Leon Trotsky, My Life: The Rise and Fall of a Dictator (1930), pp. 164–5