However, one physical smell did distinguish our block.

The large open yard in the middle of our block, where children played hide-and-seek, footbag, gorodki, and stander-stop, where the women hung their laundry and gossiped, where every day scandals flared up and burned out, where people on the go dissected the chess matches played the previous day in Zurich or somewhere or  discussed the recent change at forward on FC Chernomorets—the yard buzzed continuously: the rattle of dominoes, the distinct sounds of adults’ and children’s voices, the bell of the garbage truck, collecting pungent waste by which, as Andersen’s story has it, one can always tell who ate fish today.

It buzzed with the hoarse voices of the junk dealers, the glass cutters, the knife grinders coming in loud bursts; cheerful and lyrical “songs by request from our listeners” played, discordant, from almost every window. The yard buzzed, powerful and carefree, singing and humming, hacking and loudly blowing its nose, beating rugs, shaking out doormats in the lobby (in spite of a menacing sign: “Have no fear!!!”). The yard buzzed and buzzed, only falling quiet for the two or three hours before sunrise, when sleep is sweet and you crave silence, but that silence can be broken by any bazlan (loudmouth) who cannot sleep and who feels the urge to chat about the weather with someone coming home late.

“Whassit look like? Rain?”

“Nah. Thunder, but it ain’t really raining.”

As I was saying, our yard reeked of melted polyethylene.

Russian Canary: Zheltukhin, Dina Rubina

I raced through the last two-thirds of this book, and even a fast (DHL) plane from Moscow can’t bring the next two volumes here fast enough. After hundreds of pages of investment in fascinating characters across two sprawling families (and their neighbors and friends), the plot of Rubina’s Russian Canary trilogy is just picking up steam at the close of the first part. Her narrator—who has a fascinating voice that is hard for me to capture in these short excerpts—does acknowledge how florid his/her(?) story and style are at one point. But thus far it has been worth it, despite requiring a lot of working memory to keep everyone straight!

The above passage gives a little taste of how quickly the narrator jumps around, with an extended non sequitur on sound in the neighborhood of the House of Etinger in Odessa wedged right in the middle of a note about burning plastic in the yard. I’m not doing Rubina’s powerful characterization any justice in quoting these past two sections on physical environment, though her talents for landscape are also prodigious. I will try to translate a couple of paragraphs soon about a young man (possibly autistic) who flits in and out of the narrative in the space of a page but stands out in perfect relief thanks to some very sharp writing.

I’m hoping to squeeze in a rereading of Sasha Sokolov’s A School for Imbeciles («Школа для дураков») while I wait for volumes two and three of Russian Canary to make their way to the States. See the comments to Lisa’s recent post for more on the title of Sokolov’s book, and hopefully a translation or two here following the last one from Zheltukhin.

Original text:

Впрочем, один материальный запах отличал-таки наш двор.

Наш большой двор, где дети играли в прятки, маялки, цурки и «штандер», где хозяйки развешивали белье и чесали языки, где каждый день вспыхивали и гасли скандалы, где на ходу разбирали вчерашнюю шахматную партию, сыгранную где-то в Цюрихе, или обсуждали недавнюю замену нападающего в «Черноморце», — этот двор звучал непрерывно: стуком костяшек домино, разновысокими голосами детей и взрослых, колокольчиком мусорной машины, забиравшей пахучие отбросы, по которым, как в сказке Андерсена, всегда можно было узнать, кто сегодня готовил рыбу.

Он звучал раскатистыми, зычными, хриплыми призывами старьевщиков, стекольщиков, точильщиков; лирическими и бодрыми вперебивку «песнями по заявкам радиослушателей» чуть не из каждого окна. Двор звучал мощно и легкомысленно, напевая и хмыкая, отхаркиваясь и громко прочищая нос, выбивая ковры, вытрушивая половики в парадном (невзирая на грозную надпись: «Не трусить!!!»). Двор звучал и звучал, умолкая лишь на два-три предрассветных часа, когда так сладко спать и так хочется тишины, но и ее может нарушить любой базлан, которому не спится, которому приспичило интересоваться за погоду у припозднившегося соседа:

— Шо? Дощь?

— Та не, гразь есть, но лично не идет…

Так вот, этот наш двор пропах плавящимся полиэтиленом.

«Русская канарейка: Желтухин», Дина Рубина