One Thousand Words or So


I somehow managed to catch a cold. The scratchiness in my throat, accompanied by a little cough began last night. Today, it continues. I’m tired and achy, but I attribute those symptoms more to my recent ice and snow removal labor and the lack of sleep I got last night. When I awoke at 1:30 and realized that Bridget still wasn’t home from Barnes & Noble’s inventory night (she told me she was working from 6:00 to midnight), I called her phone and left a message, then tried not to worry, reminding myself that she did say something about possibly being there until 2:00 a.m. Waiting to hear from her, I pulled out A Gentleman in Moscow and continued reading from where I left off when I lay me down to sleep earlier (yes, I’m back to reading before bed). Bridget called at 2:00, telling me they were just leaving, and I continued reading until she walked in the door 15 or 20 minutes later.

Thankfully, Dennis was home to take Andi out at 8:00. He even cleared the rest of the driveway after he cleared all the snow I had managed to pack into the snowblower. It turns out the problems I experienced with it yesterday were contributable to user error. Dennis explained to me, in his Big Z voice, “You need to let the snowblower do the work. Smooth and easy. Find the joy.”

I tried to take a nap this afternoon, but no sleep came to my eyes. To make up for my inability there, I took everything else pretty easy, relying on Sam and Henry to take Andi outside, working on a new art journal/altered book for which I just found inspiration in an old issue of Art Journaling magazine, and reading.

Surprisingly, I have not yet picked up A Gentleman in Moscow, but I’m nearing the end and want to take my time to savor the story, because it is a good one. In fact, just last night, I realized something about the book’s main character, Count Alexander Ilych Rostov, who has been under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel for the last thirty years: he has little understanding of the realities of life in the Soviet Union. How could he? He is unable to leave the hotel, and the only news he receives comes from Pravda (official newspaper of the Communist Party), members of the bureaucracy, or citizens and foreigners who know how dangerous it is to discuss anything that would cast the nation or its leaders in a negative light. While he knows of people who have suffered unjustly, he can really have no idea of the specific horrors they’ve experienced.

Amor Towles, the author, has fun with his book. Each chapter, if it is not simply headed with the year, sports an alliterative title in which each word begins with the letter A. Some chapters have an “Addendum.” In one, Towles describes the experiences of Andrey, the Count’s good friend and maître d’ of the Metropol’s Boyarsky Restaurant, after leaving work, and it left me scratching my head. Why would Towles include that? I wondered. Last night, it became clear. Towles wanted to give us a glimpse of life outside the hotel for those who can leave it, thereby making us aware of how unaware the Count is.

In that Addendum, Andrey’s wife is out buying milk and he knows she won’t be home for a while, as she has started shopping at the new milk store in the decommissioned church on the other side of the neighborhood. While the old, closer milk store would be more convenient, Andrey’s wife stands in line at the new one because the small chapel featuring a mosaic of Christ and the Woman at the Well has not been dismantled by the authorities, and women hold each others’ places in line while one or another slips away to pray. Andrey has wandered into his son’s room, thinking about the time he had visited Pushkin’s apartment in St. Petersburg and thought it strange that the rooms had been preserved just as they had been when the poet died:

But when Ilya, their only child, was killed in the Battle of Berlin—just months before the end of the war—he and his wife had done the same thing: leaving every blanket, every book, every piece of clothing exactly where it had been on the day that they’d received the news.

Initially, Andrey had to admit, this had been a great comfort. When he was alone in the apartment, he would find himself visiting the room; and when he did so, he could see from the depression on the bed where his wife must have been sitting while he was at work. Now, though, he worried that this carefully preserved room had begun to sustain rather than alleviate their grief; and he knew the time had come for them to rid themselves of their son’s belongings.

Though he knew this, he didn’t raise the matter with his wife. For he also knew that soon enough, someone in the building would draw the attention of the housing authorities to their son’s death; then they would be moved to an even smaller apartment or required to take in a stranger, and life would reclaim the room as its own.

Although it’s not explicitly stated, we know that Alexander knows nothing about Andrey’s life outside the hotel, and when a friend tells Alexander that he is “the luckiest man in all of Russia,” he cannot even begin to appreciate why the man, who had recently been released from the gulag, would say such a thing.

In the past year, I’ve made an effort to not tweet about politics, but when it comes to the truth about socialism, I seldom hold back. There are far too many people in this country who seem to think that utopia is achievable here on earth, and they apparently have no idea that 100 million people killed by socialism in the twentieth century would vociferously tell them otherwise if they could.

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