To the "Spectacle" picture



"Spectacle". Private collection, USA
To deprive a man of bread is to doom him to death, but to deprive him of spectacle is to doom him to a pig’s life. I am now intensely digging into my memory trying to extract from it pieces of my childhood, like an archeologist extracting pieces of broken pottery.
Here is the city Opera House, where I am heading with my father,


to meet my elder brother Volodya after the matinee performance. We are in luck, the performance isn't finished yet and the ticket collector lets us in to the stalls. The "Prince Igor" opera is being performed, the auditorium is like in a gloomy cellar, but the stage .. it is lit like the sunlight from which we just emerged. The fantastic music makes the scene even more alive, festive and alluring.
Here is another shard of pottery. It is moist from my bitter tears, shed at the performance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin".
Performances requiring an


entrance fee are almost beyond my means. But street shows – these are our abode. "Katarinka" (this was the popular nickname for a street-organ) was a frequent visitor at our yard, where the respectable front of our three-story building alleged well-being and therefore the ability of our tenants to spare a donation.
A street-organ is a musical chest the size of a small suitcase. In fact, it was a mini-organ holding ten to fifteen tunes – songs, waltz and mazurka melodies – its square yellow-golden facade holding a multitude of thick and thin, long and


short tubes narrowing down to the chink in the bottom. Air was forced out from this chink by the rotation of the handle , wringing out notes from the high "Do" to the low "Do" in different octaves. Set in this contraption was a prominent frame, with Gothic letters deciphering the name of its manufacturer surrounded by flying maidens in colourful tulles, as in Botticelli paintings, holding in their slim fingers tambourines with flying ribbons.
If the organ-grinder was endowed with musical ear and voice, he sang to the accompaniment of his street-organ popular



melodies, "Marusya, she took poison..." and other heart-rending romances. Sometimes the organ-grinder was accompanied by a girl wearing a swimsuit. On the rug and to the accompaniment of the street-organ, she performed hand-stands, splits and other acrobatic feats. Her performances were beautiful and impeccable, arousing in us children amazement, admiration and envy, and in adults sorrow and sympathy.
A monkey or a parrot were almost an inseparable part of the organ grinders’ performances. The


monkey never performed to the man's orders. It was distinguished by an anarchist temperament and resisted any training. Therefore its behaviour was always unexpected. The monkey moved nimbly from one of the organist's shoulders to the other; made itself comfortable on his head, or settled on the organ; cracked seeds and nuts, and opened wrappers inside which nestled candies. All this was done with its tiny paws, assisted by its teeth, while its eyes, which seemed outlined by kohl , darted intently in front of her and to the sides.
The parrot, multi-



coloured or white, usually sat on a plank attached to a box which contained envelopes with "fortunes" for those who paid for it. In the case of a ‘paid-for fortune', the parrot leaped on the organist's forefinger and after long entreaties bent its head and took out an envelope, which sometimes contained, instead of a ‘fortune' handwritten in capital letters, a metal ring.
The number of melodies performed was determined by the generosity of donations thrown down from the surrounding balconies and windows.
We followed the organ-


grinder through another two or three yards there he ventured for yet another performance.
The yards were also visited by duets - guitar and mandolin; trios - two violins and a clarinet. For some reason one of the musicians was always blind. These chamber performances preferred the acoustics of yards, not squares. Their repertoire was very wide - from "Freilechs" to what I can now recognize as Baroque music. They contented themselves with the small number of tender hearts and modest donations.
In the market place other shows drew crowds.



These were also accompanied by the street-organ music.

"Petrushka". Private collection, London


"Petrushka" was a real puppet show, a backdrop for which could be the wall of a house or the open sky. Its live performer didn't arouse any doubts to his


professionalism. This artist arrived at the location bearing on his back a folding screen composed of eight parts connected with loops. When unfolded, the screen formed a shape of an open prism. A curtain on one side enabled the actor to enter the booth.
Around the booth formed a semi-circle of spectators, who decided for themselves what was the right distance between them and the spectacle for the best view. The dramatic performance appeared to have remained unchanged from time immemorial, and to be a purely Russian product. However for



some reason Petrushka was neither straight-haired, nor blonde or pug-nosed, but with black, curly hair and with a long Jewish nose. This pointed to his appearance on Russian soil from the shores of the Mediterranean - Italy or France.
The organ-grinder performed two ’overtures’, though not before setting down a hat before the booth, while the actor behind it prepared for his performance. The characters were a merchant and an old crone, a priest and a judge, a policeman and Anyuta. They all blamed


each other for something, were angry with each other, and drove poor Anyuta, who wore a wreath with many-coloured flying ribbons, to tears. Each character had their own peculiar voice – Anyuta's, high and virginally delicate, Petrushka's with a peculiar twang, as if passed through a cigarette paper stretched over a comb, like in "Princess Turandot"'s performance at the Vakhtangov Theatre. Petrushka was the only one allowed to sit on the edge of the screen, dangling his legs in bright blue baggy trousers and shiny black



boots, resembling those worn by the officers of the Tsar's Royal guard. When an almighty squabble erupted between the other characters, he dived behind the screen and emerged a second later with a bamboo stick. He got everyone in line by cracking his stick, with which he restored order – with loud cracks killing and piling up the offenders on the edge of the screen. Then, grappling ‘the dead' by their waists, he whirled them in the air with horse-like neighing, dropping them out of sight. And now Petrushka and Anyuta were whirling


in the final waltz to the accompaniment of the organ-grinder.
On other days, at the former location of the puppet show, a retired circus performer would demonstrate his muscles and their load-bearing capacity but this time instead of spectators in a semi-circle, he would be surrounded by them like at the circus arena.
Our performer, though far from young, lifted a bar laden with heavy barbells, adding disc after disc; and threw in the air and caught two-pood* weights, enrapturing the audience. The spectators were invited to examine and



lift the weights and even touch his rippling muscles. Then a strip of carpet was spread, and he lay down on his back, lifting up his body resting on his head, bent arms and knees to form a 'bridge'. A shield made of knocked together planks was laid on top of him. On this two or three men from the audience, usually dockers or local hoods, placed a huge rock. Then they took sledge-hammers and, spitting on their palms, started brandishing them, striking the rock, trying to split it. Fragments of the rock flew off, sparks scattered around, but the rock-bearer only shook slightly under each blow.



The shocked spectators, first timidly, and then with more insistence, demanded an end to this brutality.
I don't remember the exact year when a contest was announced for the best orchestra conductor in the country. Among the winners were such outstanding conductors as Mravinsky, Ivanov, Samosud, Khaikin and Rakhlin. Nathan Rakhlin led the Kiev Symphonic Orchestra for a long time. In Kiev they decided they must have a Ukrainian conductor for the sake of prestige, and Rakhlin, the Jew, moved to Kazan. There he established a wonderful



orchestra. I am not sure I know whether he had more Tatars or Jews in his orchestra, but what I know for sure is what happened to Rakhlin when he was a young boy and lived in a small Ukrainian town.

• pood – old Russian weight measure. Equivalent to about 33 kg or 72lbs




"Strong Man". Private collection, Canada


A former heavyweight wrestler came to the small provincial town for street performances. He was wearing a stretchy wrestling suit; an enormous wide belt supported his overhanging belly, and he was shod in sandals – a copy of those depicted on antique vases. A wide blue ribbon was slung across his chest



with medals won at different competitions, which aroused a lively interest among the public.
The wrestler lay down on the spread carpet, a board was placed on his chest and belly, and heavy, plugged-up barrels were rolled on it. Supporting himself with his hands and feet, and to the audience’s ovation, he lifted this backbreaking load.
Nathan, who was searching for his own road to fame, offered the wrestler to put a piano on his board. Four strong men rolled the piano out from the Rakhlins’ apartment and mounted it on the wrestler. Nathan,


opening the piano cover, started with some waltzes, and getting carried away by the encouragment of the enraptured audience, did not hear the poor wrestler begging to stop this mad show.
In the evening the musical prodigy got a deserved earful from his parents who saw the piano standing in the square.




"Chinese Needlewomen". Private collection, USA

In the middle of the twenties several Chinese families found their way to Odessa . I could never understand, why and how they arrived to the shores of the Black Sea from the coast of the Yellow one. All the men wore blue paper-like clothes, and women, even


in those early days, wore trousers.
The women astonished us with their tiny bound feet, and the boys - by their swear words, the only ones they could pronounce in Russian.
The Chinese women sold marvelous hand-made souvenirs made from thin, gaily-coloured paper. By hand, they rolled a small, coloured cylinder stuffed with sawdust, which rotated around a container on a stick giving out scratchy, squeaky sounds by the rubbing of a rough thread.
In the marketplace, a Chinese juggler performed with three bowls and three small




balls, repeating in distorted Russian: "Ball here too, ball there too". And indeed to our amazement the ball always disappeared from under the bowl under which it was originally put. He also juggled with sharp knives and burning torches and, finally, demonstrated his skill rotating a wooden stick on his naked torso and on his neck, with sharp metallic discs moving up and down along the stick, omitting ominous, screeching sounds. This was an irreproachably neat act, stared at by the spellbound spectators.



"In The Marketplace". Collection of the artist's daughter

Íà áàçàðíîé ïëîùàäè

Another prominent market-place performer was a young gypsy with two brown bears. I don't know if they were bound by friendship or need, but heavy chains did bind the bears' collars to the performer's belt.




The bears played different roles. One of them was a ‘comedian’. He performed ‘an old crone taking buckets to the well’, and ‘a madam promenading along Deribasovsky street’, wading on his back paws around the circle of spectators, trying to strike one of them with his umbrella. He ‘drank vodka from a bottle’ and tumbled down ‘dead drunk’, then seated himself, with a headscarf and dressed in an apron, ‘selling gobies’*. The bear found it difficult to concentrate, for apples, pears, sweets, flung from the crowd, distracted him from fulfilling his artistic


duties. But the sounds of the street-organ, the tambourine claps and the smacks of the gypsy's stick assisted the bear to complete his ‘routine'. Then the bear was provided with a tambourine, and, encouraged by chain tugging, collected money, here and there trying to slap a member of the audience with its paw.
Now came the turn of the second bear, who was muzzled up to this point, and so far was only obediently following his master on all fours, every now and then treating himself to a delicacy thrown from the crowd.



The gypsy bared his ‘classical' torso, covered with scratches and bruises from the bear's claws, the bear rose to his back paws, and they began to wrestle. In the complete silence you could hear their wheezing and groaning. The gypsy tried to hide his head on the furry chest of his "rival" and to put his arms round the bear's "waist". The bear was also at work with his forepaws on the man's back. They drew apart and engaged in fight again like real wrestlers. Finally, the gypsy would lift the bear and knock it on its back.
Against all rules, in this case "the defeated" won


a prize in the form of a lump of sugar pushed through the straps of his muzzle. The crowd expressed its enthusiasm, and the bear, shaking down the dust from its fur and with a rolling gait, made a round with the tambourine in his forepaws, demanding money and compassion for its defeat.
I am thinking now what sets the level of enjoyment. If I am told that it depends "on intellectual development", I will object. The intensity of perception is determined not by means of dogmatic norms, but through childish purity, ability to be astonished,



an open heart, the ear and eye of the listener, the reader, or the spectator.
* Gobies – type of fish common in the Black Sea