Рефераты. Shylock on the Neva

in low-slung, futuristic buses—and we all had to sigh in appreciation

for what was lost and what remained.

Along the way, we took turns hitting the driver with birch twigs,

ostensibly to improve his circulation, but in reality because it is

impossible to end an evening in Russia without assaulting someone. "Now

I feel as if we're in an old-fashioned hansom cab," said Chartkov, "and

we're hitting the driver for going too slow. Faster, driver! Faster!"

"Please, sir," pleaded my driver, a nice Chechen fellow named Mamudov,

"it is already difficult to drive on these roads, even without being


"No one has ever called me 'sir' before." Chartkov spoke in wonderment.

"Opa, you scoundrel!" he screamed, flailing the driver once more.

I got the call from Alyosha, my well-placed source at the Interior

Ministry, and instructed Mamudov to avoid the Troitsky Bridge, where a

prospective assassin awaited my motorcade by the third of the cast-iron

lamps. Why do so many people want to kill me? I'm a good man and, it

should be clear by now, a patriot.

Back home it was the usual seraglio—my Murka in a half-open housecoat

was dancing with herself in front of the wall-length dining-room mirror;

the Canadians had fed crack cocaine to my cook, Evgeniya, and the poor

woman was now running around the house screaming about some dead peasant

Anton, crying black tears over her wasted fifty years. The North

American culprits themselves were sprawled around the parlor listening

to my collection of progressive-house records, recently airlifted out of

Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district.

As soon as they caught sight of the mother and daughter, the two

Canadian boys and the one Canadian girl understood the unique sexual

situation before them. Chartkov began to protest and cry against this

"inhumanity," reminding the Canadians that the mother played the

accordion and the daughter could quote Voltaire at will, but I quickly

took him into my study and closed the door. "Let's talk about art," I


"What will become of my girls?" the painter asked. "My poor Elizaveta

Ivanovna and Lyudmila Petrovna," Chartkov said, eying the multitude of

English and German volumes that graced my bookshelves, abstruse titles

such as "Cayman Island Banking Regulations," annotated, in three

volumes, and the ever-popular "A Hundred and One Tax Holidays."

"Enough of this whimpering," I said. "Chartkov, do you know why I hired

you to execute my painting?"

"Because you slept with my sister Grusha," Chartkov surmised correctly,

"and she recommended me to you."

"Yes, initially so. But over the weeks I've come to appreciate you as,

mmm, a Christ-like figure. And I use the term loosely, because our

language has become as impoverished as our country and it's often hard

to find the right term, even if you're willing to pay hard currency for

it. See now, you alone can paint a picture of me, Chartkov, that will

guarantee my immortality. The problem is, it has to be real. Not this

General Suvorov nonsense. I mean, what next? Will you portray me in a

tricorne hat, riding a white mare to victory? Let's be realistic. I'm a

young moneylender, aging swiftly and, like all Russian biznesmeny, not

too long for this world. Also, in case you haven't noticed, I have dark

hair and a broken nose."

"But I want to make you better than you are," Chartkov said. "I want to

restore Christian dignity to your battered soul and the only way to do

so is . . . the only way—" I could tell his attention was occupied by

the piercing Russian "Okh, okh, okh!" coming from the parlor,

accompanied by some heartless Canadian grunting.

"That's precisely what you don't want to do," I said. "I'm a sinner,

Chartkov, and I am not too proud to admit it. I am a sinner and as a

sinner you shall paint me! Look deep into my hollowed-out eyes, try on

my disposable Italian suit, smoke from my musty crack pipe, befoul my

summer kottedzh on the Gulf of Finland, stuff yourself with my deer-and-

crab pelmeni, whip my manservant, Timofey, until he begs for his life,

wake up next to my ruined provincial girlfriend. And then, Chartkov,

paint exactly what you see."

Chartkov wiped some more of his infinite tears and helped himself to a

bottle of sake that I now pressed into his hand. "Will this get me

drunk?" he asked shyly, examining the strange Asiatic lettering.

"Yes, but you mustn't stop drinking it even for a second. Here, it goes

with this marinated-squid snack. And in return for your work, of course,

I will pay you, Chartkov, pay you enough for you and your Ruth and Naomi

to live a comfortable life forever. Perhaps you can even 'save them,' if

that's indeed still possible."

"Eight thousand dollars!" Chartkov cried out, grasping at his fragile

heart. "That's what I want!"

"Well, I would think considerably more." I was, in fact, expecting to

spend at least U.S. $250,000.

"Nine thousand, then!" Chartkov cried. "And I shall paint you just as

you like! With horns and a yarmulke if you so desire!"

What could I say? If only I had been a Jew there would have been no need

for Chartkov's services. Our Jews are steeped in familial memory and

even when they die, for instance when their Lexus S.U.V. gets blown off

a bridge by a well-armed rival, they remain locked in the dreary

memories of their progeny, circling over the Neva River for eternity,

dreaming of their herring and onions. I, on the other hand, had no

progeny, no memory, and really very little chance of surviving this

country of ours for more than a few more months.

Why deceive myself like the rest of my New Russian compatriots? My

wealth notwithstanding, Chartkov's was the only eternity I could afford.

"Well put, Chartkov," I said. "So we are in agreement. And now let us

not keep our company waiting. I shall send Timofey out to fetch an

accordion. That way the beautiful Elizaveta Ivanovna can entertain us

with her other talents."

"God bless you, Valentin Pavlovich!" cried Chartkov, pressing my hand to

his cheek.


The next afternoon I woke up with the usual tinnitus in my left ear, a

series of duck flares going off in my peripheral vision. The crack-

cocaine pipe—the "glass dick," as the Canadians had called it—stared at

me accusingly through its single eye. My pillow was covered with

alcoholic slobber and what looked like little crack mites dancing their

urban-American dance. Meanwhile, coiled up next to me, my Murka was

making tragic whistling sounds in her sleep, shielding herself from

phantom childhood punches with one upraised skinny arm.

It was a fine moment to be a St. Petersburg gentleman. I called Timofey

on the mobilnik and he came ambling in from the next room, already

dressed in his morning frock. "Did you deliver the painter Chartkov to

his digs?" I asked of him.

"Yes, batyushka," said Timofey. "And a great one he was, that painter.

Soused, like a real alkash, and easy with his fists, like my dear dead

Papa. I had to carry him up to his flat, and once I laid him out on the

divan he started hitting me with his belt. Then we had to get on our

knees and pray for a good half hour. He kept shouting 'Christ has

risen!' and I had to reply 'Verily, he has risen!' Such people I do not

understand, sir."

"The ways of artists are beyond us, Timofey," I said. "And did you give

him nine thousand dollars in ninety consecutive bills of a hundred

dollars each?"

"That I did, batyushka," said Timofey. "The painter then took off all

his clothes and touched himself in many places with the American

currency, while whispering batyushka's name most reverently. I was so

scared, sir, that I spent half the night in the alehouse."

"You're a good manservant, Timofey," I said. "Now go tend to our

Canadian friends while I spend the day frolicking about."

I meant what I said about frolicking. Being a modern moneylender is not

a difficult occupation. Armed with computers and bookkeepers and hand

grenades, I find the work pretty much takes care of itself. My most

pressing duty is showing up at the biznesmenski buffet at the T Club

every Thursday and glowering across the swank airport-lounge dйcor at my

nearest competitors, the ones that keep trying to blow me off the

Troitsky Bridge.

On this warm summer day, the Neva River playful and zippy, a panorama of

gray swells and treacherous seagulls, I walked over the bridges to the

Peter and Paul Fortress. But unless one gets very excited about third-

rate Baroque fortifications, there's really nothing to see, so instead I

followed a group of young schoolchildren. In their own way, the children

were sublime: destitute in their lousy Polish denim and Chinese high-

tops, scarred with acne and low self-esteem, members of the world's

first de-industrialized nation but still imbued with our old cultural

deference, a Petersburg child's mythical respect for Dutch pediments and

Doric porticoes. I watched them fall silent as the tour guide intoned

about an occupant of the fortress's ramshackle prison, a revolutionary

who once wiped away his tears with Dostoyevsky's handkerchief, or some

other such luminary.

Can it really be true, as the sociological surveys tell us, that only

five years hence these tender shoots will forsake their cultural

patrimony to become the next generation of bandits and streetwalkers? To

test this theory, I looked into the face of the prettiest girl, a dark

little Tatar-cheeked beauty with a pink, runny nose and flashed her my

standard Will-you-sell-your-body-for-Deutsche-marks? smile. She looked

down at the monstrous Third World clodhoppers on her feet. Not yet, her

black eyes told me.

Saddened by our children's plight, I doubled back over the Palace Bridge

and pushed through the long line of sweaty provincial tourists at the

Hermitage, shouting all the while about some obscure Moneylender's

Privilege (droit du dollar?). I wangled a self-invented Patriot's

Discount out of the babushkas at the box office by pretending I was a

veteran of the latest Chechen campaign, then ran straight up to the

fourth floor, where they keep all the early-twentieth-century French


I stood before Picasso's portrait of the "Absinthe Drinker" and

marvelled at the drunk Parisian woman staring back at me. How many

Soviet years have we wasted here on the fourth floor of the Hermitage,

looking at these portraits of Frenchmen reading Le Journal, pretending

that somehow we were still in Europe. In our musty felt boots we stood,

staring at Pissarro's impressions of the "Boulevard Montmartre on a

Sunny Afternoon" and then, out the window, at our own dirt-caked General

Staff building, its pale semi-circular sweep forming the amphitheatre of

Palace Square. If we squinted our eyes, or, better yet, took another nip

out of our hip flasks, we could well imagine that the General Staff's

delicate arch was somehow a portal onto the Place de la Concorde itself,

its statue of six Romanesque horses harnessed to Glory's chariot really

an Air France jetliner ready to sail into the sky.

And, let me ask you, For what all that suffering? For what all those

dreams of freedom and release? Ten years later, here we were, a hundred

and fifty million Eastern Untermenschen collectively trying to fix a

rusted Volga sedan by the side of the road.

You know, it was best not to think about it.

So I returned my gaze to Picasso's absinthe drinker and this time

discovered a previously elusive truth. The drunk Parisian had not been

staring at me all those years, as I had romantically, egotistically

supposed, but solely at the blue bottle of absinthe, her face radiating

as much slyness as despair, a careful contemplation of the heavy poison

before her. I do not know a great deal about Western art theory, but it

seemed possible to me that this woman, this absinthe drinker, had what

the American louts at the Idiot Cafй called "agency."

Cheered on by my deductions, I sneaked a mouthful of crack cocaine in

the men's room, then sailed out of the Hermitage, through the arch of

the General Staff building, and out into the hubbub of Nevsky Prospekt.

I wanted very much to buy a warm Pepsi for eight rubles, just like the

common people drink, and a piece of meat on a skewer. But, as I

approached a food stand manned by a fierce babushka wearing what

appeared to be a used sock on her head, my mobilnik vibrated with a text

message from my friend Alyosha at the Interior Ministry: "Beware the

meat skewers of Nevsky."


The next few weeks were manna. I drank, I smoked, I wrestled with warm-

bodied Canadians. I came down with an awful itch in that conclusive

place we all talk about, but what can you do? And then I got a call from

the painter Chartkov. "Patron!" he cried. "Your likeness is almost


I had not expected such haste. "But we haven't even had another

sitting," I said.

"Your physiognomy is imprinted on my brain," Chartkov said. "How can a

moment pass when I do not think of my savior? Please, let me stand you

for a drink at Club 69, and then we'll examine what I call 'Portrait of

the Raven-Haired Moneylender; or, Shylock on the Neva.' I know you'll be

pleased with me, sir."

I agreed to an immediate viewing, and summoned Timofey to fetch the

cars. Could it be? My mortality giving way to an oily doppelgдnger's

everlasting life?

Anyone who can afford the three-dollar cover charge—in other words, the

richest one per cent of our city—shows up at Club 69 at some point

during the weekend. This is without doubt the most normal place in

Russia, no low-level thugs in leather parkas, no skinheads in swastika T-

shirts and jackboots, just friendly gay guys and the rich housewives who

love them. It brings to mind that popular phrase bandied about at the

Idiot Cafй: "civil society."

Chartkov showed up, wearing a colorful sweatshirt several sizes too big

and imprinted with the logo of the Halifax Nautical Yacht Club. He'd

grown plumper in the last few weeks and shaved off his flaxen goatee to

reveal a little hard-boiled egg of a chin. "Looking good, Mr. Painter,"

I said.

"Feeling good," he said. "Hi, Zhora." He waved to a slinky boy behind

the bar filling a bucket with grenadine. "How's life, cucumber?"

"Zhora's going to Thailand with a rich Swede," Chartkov said to me.

"Let's go upstairs," he added, "and I'll buy you a hundred and fifty

grams of vodka. Oh, how we'll celebrate!"

We sat beneath a statue of Adonis and watched a submarine captain trying

to sell his young crew to a German tour group. The seventeen-year-old

boys, sporting heroic cosmonaut faces and hairless scrotums, were

awkwardly trying to cover their nakedness, while their drunken captain

barked at them to let go of their precious goods and "shake them around

like a wet dog." I suppose civil society has its limits, too.

"Look what I bought today at Stockmann," Chartkov shouted. "It's a

Finnish hair dryer. It has three settings. And look at the color!

Orange! I'm going to do a lot of work with orange now. And also lime.

These are the colors of the future. Is there an electrical outlet here?

This machine not only blow-dries your hair; it sculpts it."

"What about your lady friends?" I said. "Lyudmila the philosopher and

her mother with the accordion. Weren't you going to save them?"

"You know," Chartkov said, handing me a vodka from a passing tray, "you

can't really save somebody until they want to save themselves. In the

past few weeks I've been peeking around the English bookstore on the

Fontanka. There's this one volume on how to deal with people, 'Hand Me

My Cheese!,' or something of the sort, that has made a great impression

on me. The problem with the modern Russian is that he is not . . . Ah,

what's that word? He is not 'proactive' enough."

"Also, he is frequently drunk," I added, raising my glass. "That's

another problem. Well, here's to us modern Russians. May God save us


"God won't save us until we save ourselves," cautioned the former

monarchist. "We've got a lot of work to do in this country. We've got to

start by looking seriously at our 'core competencies'—"

I grabbed Chartkov by the shoulders. "Enough," I said. "Let's go to your


Chartkov blanched. "Please, sir," he said. "I am not a pederast. I

merely come to Club 69 for the atmosphere."

"The painting!" I said. "I must see it at once."

"Very well," Chartkov said. "But I paid three dollars a head for the

entrance fee, so together it is six—"

"Look here, painter," I said. "If your rendering is as good as I think

it is, I'll give you another nine thousand U.S. dollars on the spot!"

"We must hurry then!" Chartkov cried.


The hallway of Chartkov's communal flat was littered with paint cans,

and spent bottles of Crimean port wine. "I bought the whole floor of the

building for seven thousand U.S. dollars from that awful Armenian,"

Chartkov explained, "and the first thing I did was throw the dying

soldier and his whole invalid family out on the street. That'll teach

them to blacken the name of the Russian painter, may the Devil take them

all! When this place is finished, I want to create a multimedia studio.

I met this French guy at Club 69, and together we're going to offer

painting seminars and a hatha-yoga clinic—"

"Just please hurry!" I cried as we raced through the long communal


The painter opened the door to his old room.

The first thing I saw was my own jutting lower lip, the one that had

given me the nickname Flounder in Pioneer camp; then my eagle nose bent

at several junctures from years of schoolyard beatings and domestic

scrapes; then my hazy dark eyes, two dim ovals set way back into my

skull; then my arms thick and corded, bulging with implied violence, one

raised to strike my manservant, another hovering over my lap to protect

myself from life's intimate dangers.

My skin was yellow and black in places, my forehead crossed by a

monumental green vein. I was caught off center, staring joylessly into

an empty corner of the canvas, where the painter had added his own


He had me, Chartkov. He had done well, the poor idiot. There were some

excesses, to be sure: I was sporting a pair of Hasidic side curls, while

a copy of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" floated incongruously in

the background, a ten-ruble note sticking out in the form of a bookmark.

There was no point in telling Chartkov that I was, in fact, not a

Judaist; rather, a mixture of Greek and some kind of Siberian mega-

Mongol. If he was inspired to paint me in this manner, so be it.

"Here's what you must do, Chartkov," I said.

"What is it?" said the painter. "Should I put on some Pearl Jam? Fetch

my patron some tea?"

"Just add a little detail," I said. "Paint a mobilnik pressed to my


"Of course," the painter said. "It will be done first thing in the

morning! Oh, but now my mind is filled with questions of an embarrassing


"Timofey will bring you another nine thousand U.S. dollars," I said.

Chartkov threw his arms around me and wept convulsively. His body felt

thin and reedy compared with my own. I smelled American herbal shampoo

on him, along with the stench of stale Parliaments. "If you wish," he

whispered in my ear, "you may also take me from the back."


I woke up the next morning to the familiar cellular vibrations in my

pocket. Alyosha, at the Interior Ministry, was warning me of a

prospective assassination on Leninsky Prospekt. The day had come. I

kissed sleeping Murka goodbye, leaving her the number of a colleague who

would treat her no worse than I had. I climbed past the Canadians in the

parlor and ordered my driver to set off for the southern suburbs.

I had spent my entire adolescence on Leninsky Prospekt. A wide Soviet

boulevard filled with nineteen-seventies apartment blocks that might as

well have landed from the Andromeda galaxy—long, cumbersome rows of

flats, a grayish, intergalactic color, flanked by ten-story towers on

which the words "Glory to socialist labor!" and "Life wins out over

death!" used to lord over us in fantastic block letters.

As soon I got out of the car, my phone rang once more. A strangled sound

emerged from the earpiece. On the far edge of the Kolomna district, in

the studio of the painter Chartkov, my immortal double was calling out

to me. He was singing a childhood song in a boy's sweet voice,

breathless with Leningrad asthma:

Let it always be sunny,

Let there always be Mommy,

Let there always be blue skies,

Let there always be me.

I breathed in the real and imagined smells of Leninsky Prospekt, the

factory coal fumes, the Arctic frost, the black exhaust of my mother's

cardboard cigarettes. Two figures emerged from behind a burned-out milk

stand and approached me. I stood there waiting for them, my hands

protectively cupping myself but my jacket open and my tie askew. I did

not say a word to them. What was there to say? I heard them clicking

their rounds into place, but my gaze fell elsewhere. I was mesmerized,

as always, by the orange-yellow aurora of pollution hanging over the

horizon of the contrived city, that juncture where snow banks and

apartment towers meet to form nothing. [pic]

) лит. Шейлок 2) бессердечный, жадный ростовщик

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