Sexual Fables

This article accompanies the fable
From Russia with Love

In the Russian heart

chessboard (play)

"In the heart of a Russian, it's always winter," writes Yuri Kozyrev in TIME. As a courageous photojournalist Kozyrev has seen the ugly and the violent many times over, from Chechnya to Baghdad. But he's channeling Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Gorky, maybe Tolstoy... Writers are generally pessimists. They die unhappy.

Many Russians would disagree with them. One could just as easily say it's always summer in the Russian heart and the Russian soul -- velikaya russkaya dusha. In 1996 Tat'yana Bulanova titled her dance album My Russian Heart, saying "I am inclined to sentimentality, which is inherent in Russians." Valeriya speaks of the "Russian soul and passion in (her) music." U neyo dusha naraspashku. It was back in 1790 that historian Nikolai Karamzin wrote, "My Russian heart loves to bubble in a sincere, lively conversation, loves the play of the eyes..." and he slammed the English and their "cold natures." Winter, of course, could be found in the Western heart.

It's still a lively debate today as relations between Russia and the West have taken a turn for the worse. So if we must have climate metaphors, why not autumn? The greatest Russian painter of autumn was Isaak Levitan...


The Vladimirka (1892) - the famous road into exile in Siberia. Going east instead of west. It is one of Levitan's most evocative paintings, for exile meant shackles and life in the penal colonies... The Czarist gulag. This section of the road is just east of Moscow, on the way to Vladimir (hence the name) and then Nizhny Novgorod and over the endless horizon. Nowadays it's a motorway, the M7. If you do not feel a tug at your own heart as you look at this painting, God help you, for it only got worse in the Soviet era. Some say the gulags (torture colonies) are back...

Below is another favorite Levitan painting: Over Eternal Rest (1894).


Back in 2001, President Bush said of President Putin: "I was able to get a sense of his soul." Bush was ridiculed at the time but the line was sophisticated and no doubt began life in the State Department when they cared what Russians thought.

Really none of this is about the Russian heart and soul; this is about tribalism - above all Russian resentment at the British for sheltering dissidents and for acting as if they have a superior political system and for being proxies of the Americans and their patronizing foreign policies. Whether it's true or not is beside the point. This is a chess game.

It's easier to see in earlier chess games...

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