ON ACQUAINTANCES


The uncountable series of chiasmic moments, infinite instances of glances and other social and metaphysical incongruencies began on a boat, when at the mention of Nabokov my awkwardness and peculiarity were suddenly justified, though neither I nor my soon to be journalist friend (that social chain started at the door of my grand-aunt in Yerevan, whose neighbor dared Moscow, and with one telephone call which woke me up, started a domino effect of the разобщенность of близких душ - meeting two Italians at the library who knew Katherine, who knew Michael, who knew everyone else) realized just how complicated and unfathomable that chasm really was, and would naturally only begin to scratch the surface later.…


But the reason for its lightening-speed propagation and contagi-ousness of accidental relationships is far more mysterious and threatening than the American mor-tal can imagine: it does not lurk in alleyways and discotheques, tho-ugh its product can be observed there in the granular shot glass (my Armenian grandmother will still not allow me to drink liquor from a glass, as it is the custom of alcoholics); it condenses along the spi-der web lines formed between people in social spheres, and here I mean particularly in a metropolis like this. It was the cause of all the natural and unnatural socialistic and economic disasters of this coun-try, and it has been brewing for hundreds of years, since the begin-ning of time.

As anywhere else, the largest degree of associations between any two people in the world is six- that is, between them they have six acquaintances, six levels through which they can contact one another, and that is common knowledge. Through two initial sources I became acquainted with half of Moscow, and the two branches formed within days from the two sources which were not only initially connected two deg-rees back, but reconnected somewhere eight degrees ahead, through the notorious persona of some French poet who knew absolutely everyone.


Parties take place in my room and in the retro apartment of Vera, an actress we met who is fairer and more strange than a dragonfly; I have opened a salon, so to say, admitting a contrasting variety of people. Strange things have happened in this room, but this is not a diary, this is a lexicon. Geographically, Moscow resembles a spider web. Socially, the con-nections between people are not only inconceivably complex but also very strong, so that a movement of any point within the spider web causes the movement of all other points, who may not even acknowledge their being moved.


Тусоваться, тусовка, туса, тусовщик, то есть, типа находиться в компании "людей без всякого смысла, без отражения" (Гребенщиков), хотя последние формы этого слова подразумевают уже определенный стиль того общества и его занятий. The verb form of this word has only a close equivalent in English, the term "hanging out". At any rate, both terms implied this in the literal sense when they first entered into their respective national lexicons. The Russian equivalent, however, evolved to grow a much more festive connotation, to the point where in some contexts the word туса literally means "party", and тусовщик implies "party person" practically in all contexts. The former word, however, has a different meaning understood only in the Russian context: a тусовка examined singularly carries a valence space for the type of people that belong to it, and it is almost always filled up. This is one of the greatest difficulties that will ever be encountered by any westerner who is already accustomed to this country- that the boundaries between any set of society are brighter and more awkwardly blended.

When Dan tried to take me out for pizza for the sole aim of understanding why some of his students were flirting with him, he didn't take this into account. I paid for the pizza myself anyway, but felt more amicable towards the Dan that Michael and I encountered at the basement of the OGI club where drunk hippies sold marginal acid jazz and other commodities, while balding adolescent poets like Bruno read to the accompaniment of avant-garde jazz in the other room by the bar, where Vera's place was taken by another dancer. I always liked that club or bookstore, the OGI, because every time I came there I started speaking different languages. The beautiful teacher of Spanish, Anna, who seemed to be the most bohemian of all to my naive eyes, had a birthday party there when I danced the tango with an Italian friend who cried on every other night that she was alone, and who found consolation in the old beggar woman on Patriki Pond, which should have a reference on the chapter On Love, but since then the club where I had so many lonely glasses of wine, and where I took everyone I could corner, is no more. Its life span in our context lasted for me from the night in February when Vera and I were supposed to go see her colleague perform, but spent the night instead in my room listening to sad bard songs and drinking cognac, to the night that Eugenia and I danced the tango there, because afterwards it collapsed or was swept away along with the winds that swept away the rest of Moscow. Dan was different in the club, he was subordinate to his context, and that context was created by the people who were there.

It was because Lev Rubenstein and others were born there, somehow. At any rate, that was where we went to find their books and Tom Waits tapes that were so a la mode that year in my room (my Tom Waits CD was borrowed by anyone I could imagine), and where the standard of its own particular snobbism was very high. I do not allow some of my friends to meet each other for this ve-ry reason. So there are sets of alter egos that perpetually do the op-posite of each other, complement each other, but cannot socialize sin-ce their being Russian (in banal terms) exaggerates their differences. A particular type of person frequents nightclubs, still a more parti-cular туса will frequent one but never the other. Those that listen to jungle music do not listen to popsy house, those that attend Expressi-onist theaters will most likely not watch Mikhail Kazakov read Brodsky again or attend traditional productions of Ostrovsky, unless nostal-gic, and I'm not even going to mention the repeatedly mysterious metamorphosis of Philip Kirkorov's hair. Of course, the evolution of the contemporary Russian has suffered so many generational turmoils in the recent past, that he stands with an identity made of air, and that in turn is very well mirrored in the displacement of today's youth.


Katya

Some characters' languor spills out from their dreams and inhabits their form. She used to sit very pensively, revealing dreams. One dream included a friend whom she regretted not being able to bring back from the dead, because instead of suddenly dying at a subway station like everyone else, he had turned into an umbrella. Another was not a dream, but the surreal surroundings the precocious child once found herself in: a forest of ice, both the sky and the ground beneath her, connected in places by translucent, amorphous pillars. It turned out that a lake had developed two layers of ice when the water was drained. Sometimes she is able to abruptly pierce the material of logic with a complete displacement of herself as an identity. There is only one person who claimed to be able to see through this half-ethereal being and pierce her languid, incredibly intelligent mysteriousness, but you will never know for certain whether he was mistaken or not in his vicious insight, because I will not reveal that about him.


Misha

Can I write this and look myself in the eyes every morning afterwards? I know I can, because I have done it many times. Michael is the collaborator of these words, the inventor of half of them, the translator of the other half, when he gets around to it. He was the first and last person I ever met. He is also, according to my father's subtle sarcasm, my tragedy, who will knowingly smirk at the baseness of that previous word but never acknowledge that unless forced to. If Kafka had a nominative case in Czech would it be Kafko?

Apart from all that nonsense, he has an incredible capacity of accidentally and against his intentions attracting a crowd of people that buzz like flies and dragonflies.


Vera

I would like to examine a few instances within instances: a girl had traveled through time and through the barriers between this and the abstracted world, finding herself before the last instant dancing to jazz in a nightclub in a round-ceilinged cellar in an Eighteenth-Century house. The charm of animal eyes having been abstracted back and forth, just like the dialogue chain, first from a one-time romanticized object pale and fleeting, then from a well-parametered character bursting into the abstracted world of that one-time suffering- hanging around a little and throwing the protagonist into the river after ice-skating with him, so the same one re-bursts again at "Poor People", 6 Ordynka Street, on the last night of the second to last year of the second millennium: stylized, mime-ish retro postal costume, absolutely huge, pale, slanted almond eyes. She danced with face as much as with body to a saxophone played by Father Frost himself. Tap shoes, black dress and movements so fluid and expressive that I fell off my chair- she was Vera, the one that happened to be at my apartment later that night along with a sorrowful French poet named Bruno and a St. Petersburg art-nouveau painter who had spent the entire evening looking for a discotheque and a lighter, and she, Vera, the one Nabokov dedicated all his books to, on top of it all invited me to go ice-skating with her. Ice skating happened on the same day as unnecessarily and with almost regretful bliss that dialogue, in the chapter On Love, was abstracted beyond repair, and that same protagonist, who in another measuring system was no less than God, was told not to miss him, as though she would have missed him anyway.


Bruno

I don't remember how many times Bruno was on television. They say that if you walk out of your apartment and proceed towards the center of Moscow, the chances that you would encounter Bruno, either heading to a museum and then changing his mind in order to follow a certain woman to a cafe, or coming back from a performance, in which case he will most definitely invite you, are at least three to one.

Bruno is a poet who reads to jazz sometimes, tries to write like Rimbaud, and is often successful. He has read his poetry, very loudly, not only in my kitchen but also on several radio stations, and practically in every club in central Moscow. He justifies himself very interestingly by saying that in France "a poet is a very strange person," but that in Moscow he enjoys the stature of a god, which is actually true, for some reason. I don't quite know how he actually makes his money, which he seems to have an unlimited supply of. It seems that he writes for a French newspaper of some sort, and otherwise gives French lessons, when he is not writing poetry, performing it, or looking for a discotheque. But he has a great time, because he is a poet, and he has chosen the right place to be a poet, where he can write and be respected, party, and live cheaply.

To my birthday party he brought two women, both named my name, one after the other. At a quarter past four he went out to get us all another bottle of vodka, and never came back. When, towards dawn, we all went out for a stroll and encountered a worn pair of shoes by the side of the Garden Ring, we collectively decided that they must have been all that was left of Bruno. Two days later someone else bumped into him and was invited to a television interview.


Tanya

All night I had been busy working on Tatyana's small white portrait, prototyped from an "art klub" flyer which the more I frequent, the fewer people there are. She has a very peculiar look in that photograph, which I believe I once saw lying on the table in Andronik Nazaretian's office (was that before or after I looked up to see that Aram, sitting on the windowsill in the main room behind the computer which the gangsters later took away, and talking heatedly on the phone, in Armenian, was staring pensively at me?).

Who had taken that picture? What had she been thinking? And who had she turned to smile at, though the simple smile and gaze into an abstract distance meant, did, and wanted nothing; but the expression of a reflection of maybe an object or series of objects that she was looking at. I say, half empty office, her friend saying good-bye with an empty bottle of champagne, the threatening fax Pushkareva sent us- she, the representative from BIN, denouncing Andronicus for seducing her and sending her order to hell... Tanya's one-time sort-of love for that man who promised to marry her on the escalator, and much more was in that glance. I guess I decided that painting her, dyed black hair, round white cheeks, slanting eyes and tiny smiling mouth, as Juliette next to her grandmother, would add a depth to that canvas that I had never anticipated nor prepared for, and even if Juliette Caruso had wandered its bluish, complicated spheres, then there was so much that she hadn't seen: the blood that is running through the pipes at the top, and many other things reflected by that.