“Other writers made me want to write...”
A few days ago the “1ª Feria Infantil del Libro Córdoba 2008” (I Children Book Fair in Cordoba, Argentina) had a happy end after having been visited by thousands of people arriving at the “Paseo del Buen Pastor” (a cultural space created one year ago inside and around the building that was home to female prisoners up to a few years ago) day after day, from the 4th till the 20th of July. Among those visitors I found myself several evenings and was cramped not having enough room to move freely through the different stalls. On my feet, sat on my heels with my knees bent up close to my body, resting my shoulder on the rickety walls of the stalls, being elbowed in the knees when standing and kneed in the shoulders while sitting on the floor, I was able to have a look at fewer pages than I would have liked to, however, our library has more than half a dozen of new books, and authors such as Laura Devetach, Graciela Montes, Javier Villafañe and Liliana Bodoc have a place among the many other friends resting on the shelves, on the bedside table, on our desks.
Edgardo and I tried one evening to go and listen to Laura Devetach and Gustavo Roldán, who were to participate together in an informal talk with the readers. When we went to withdraw our invitations one hour in advance there was no one left, so, three days later, waiting for Liliana Bodoc’s visit I arrived in plenty of time. This time I got my invitation and could attend the presentation of her last book, “Amigos por el viento” (something like “Friends thanks to the wind”).
I found the first lines that I read from the author on the Internet a few years ago, when I still lived in Spain. On that occasion I came across the first two chapters of the work that I managed to bag for my birthday one year ago, “La Saga de los Confines” (something like, “The Far Corners Saga”, which has already been translated into German, Italian, Portuguese and French, and is going to appear in English in the near future as well), a trilogy made up of the novels “Los días del Venado”, “Los días de la Sombra” and “Los días del Fuego” (something like “The days of the Stag”, “The days of the Shadow”, and “The days of the Fire”). I enjoyed and was moved with those pages from cover to cover when my turn came. Let me tell you that the culprit of this blog, from whom my birthday present was, could not resist the temptation to read it first. That way, I followed Dulkancellin’s steps and rocked myself in Vieja Kush’s stories a few evenings after Edgardo had walked himself the paths of such a vast geography. We were amazed at how well documented those three books were written and, silently, we said thank you to the author for the great effort she had made –we supposed- to find out and read many different sources before start writing a story of this sort.
When I managed to listen to her at the Book Fair and, afterwards, approached her in order to say “congratulations” and “thank you” aloud, I felt so happy that I could hardly find the words and gave her a huge smile instead. There was so much joy inside me that, when I asked her to dedicate her last book of tales to Edgardo and me, I had first to untie my fingers before handing it to her, for I was so nervous that had ended up holding it tightly.
During the talk between Liliana Bodoc and the sixty people –adults and children- gathered round her, the little ones “called the tune” and were in charge of addressing the author with their questions most of the time. She answered them –and the grown-ups- with extraordinary generosity, giving all of us small pieces of her life, quotes from her books, colorful stanzas that her father had invented for her when she was a child, the reading of one of her tales for the little ones and a handful of answers that I wrote down in a piece of paper and would like to share with you in the following paragraphs.
When children asked her about the inspiration, Liliana told them that inspiration is something very brief, which come and visit to us for a short time and goes somewhere else quickly. So, she encouraged them to work hard in order to achieve whatever they want to. She said that when she begun to write was almost an elder 40 years old, but children did not agree (neither did I) and meant to know whether she was going to retire early or, on the contrary, she thought to become a sweet little old lady as writer. The author answered that her dream was to become a dear old and short lady as writer, shorter, even, than her pencil. Liliana told us that other writers made her want to write and added that she never thought about the book being published while she was writing, but on the story she wanted to write. She explained that what causes her to have new ideas include a lot of things, from a bus journey to one of her memories, so it is also very important to be all ears and wait with interest to hear what somebody next to us may say. The writer stated that she never feels nervous when she writes since she does so close to her “mate” (typical Argentinean, Paraguayan and Uruguayan infusion inherited from the Guarani people) and her cat.
Liliana talked about her process of revising her writing with the intention of changing, correcting or improving it and commented that she reads it carefully once and again and, sometimes, she hands the text to somebody else. The little ones enquired whether she was happy after finishing a book and she answered affirmatively. The children were curious about whom she dedicated her books to and whether she had written them for the people she loved. Then, the author told them that her books were dedicated to her father, to her both mothers, to her husband, to her children, to her friends and explained that when she starts writing tales she feels that she loves many people and has a lot of friends, so, in more ways than one, it was correct to affirm that she writes for the ones she loves. The little ones also asked her whether she had ever regretted writing any book and she said “no” and observed that it takes a lot of time to write a book and what any one usually regrets is a sudden decision or the sort of things done without thinking them twice, so it is more difficult to be sorry after writing a book.
Among the grown-ups there were also some people raising their hands before asking the author what someone has to do to start writing. Liliana answered that any one wanting to write must be patient and love failures and working hard; she also recommended this person not to be too anxious about the result and develop a passion for the creative process. A female short-story teller wanted to know how an author feels when they listen to someone else telling their stories. The writer said that she experienced a particular emotion when her stories where lit by different lights and encouraged tellers to use their own words and feelings in order to improve others’ stories.
Liliana Bodoc defended a Youth and Children Literature with capital “l” for little readers, with codes that can be understood and interpreted by them; a sort of Literature that does not make children remain indifferent, but allows them to change through its pages, to be transformed to some extent. Accordingly, she declared that neither boring, stupid or weak tales, nor those filled with commonplaces and a moral at the end are of her liking, and, once and again, insisted on a Literature committed to freedom. The hour Liliana was talking went very quickly and, on my way to home, I concluded that inspiration’s visits should be that short.
In my handbag there were Liliana Bodoc’s last tales and a few words written in black –she had four different color pens for children to choose their favorite- by her own hand at the beginning of the book. This time I read it first and felt a bit different when I closed it... I believe that the cause for my change was both in Liliana’s writing and in my own reading together with the love I feel for printing letters, words swaying in the wind, murmured in a circle round the fire, quietly spoken in the kitchen, cheerfully shared while drinking “mate”... I imagine that there is also an explanation for my transformation in the paths that I have trodden while walking across the southern south, along its curved spine, through its rough skin and its wrinkled bowels; in its fields sown with new dreams, hand in hand with people striving for helping them flourishing, who take part in their growing, who support their young and tender shoots...
Step by step, letter by letter, sound by sound, bite by bite, I have been changed both by this land literature and the land itself, thanks to those many that have shown me how to walk on it.
Cloistered novices, nymphs, goddesses and Creole females
Edgardo and I have a small jewel in our library with the stamp of the “Patronato de Misiones Pedagógicas” (a team of professionals with cultural and educational interests, who traveled the length and breadth of Spain teaching and entertaining people with little or no education at all) created during the II Spanish Republic. I am talking about the play titled “Don Juan Tenorio” by Don José Zorrilla. As it is stated at the beginning of this piece of writing “this drama has been officially approved by the Kingdom theatres censorship board on the 4 of June, 1849, for being performed in a theatre”. In the next page there is a dedicatory, “To Mr. Don Francisco Luis de Vallejo as a token of good memory. His best friend, José Zorrilla. Madrid, March, 1844”. And immediately after introducing the characters the action takes place in Seville around the year 1545. The book is and looks quite old. I found it more than two years ago after walking the paved streets of Pedraza, in the province of Segovia, Spain, getting up the stairs of one its decked shops and searching through the second hand books arranged in several libraries without rhyme or reason. I touched the spine of several volumes and the title of many classics turning, from time to time, their yellowish pages. However, when I caught sight of the stamp mentioned above I could not avert my eyes from his purple letters. I blinked, smiled and felt excited with emotion. I closed and opened the book twice or three times more, showed it to my companions, went to the cash register, paid for it, wrapped it at home, put it in my backpack, took it to the plane and placed it in Edgardo’s hands two months later.
Some time before, he had got a fantastic English book, illustrated by Giovanni Caelli and written by North American Thomas Bulfinch, known as “The Illustrated Bulfich’s Mythology”. The work consists of three volumes “The Age of Fable”, “The Age of Chivalry” y “Legends of Charlemagne”. The Age of Fable was first published in 1855 and gathers myths and legends of ancient Greek and Roman heroes and heroines, along with those of fierce Nordic warriors, Celtic sages and sun worshippers, and Egyptian pharaons, the Phoenix, the Unicorn and other monsters, and the divine triad of the Hindus, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Edgardo also felt elated with his finding, for it reminded him of his readings while he was a child and the photographs of Renaissance pictures and sculptures his retina felt in love with during his teens.
Just one month ago, we gave us as a gift “Mujeres en la Sociedad Argentina. Una historia de cinco siglos” (Women in Argentinean Society. A history five centuries old) by Argentinean sociologist Dora Barrancos. Through her paragraphs we have covered five centuries of women history in this country and reviewed several clichés and a number of fallacies about their place and role in this part of the world.
This is how those three books came to our hands and through the structure woven by their authors along those many pages we found the paths walked by their main male characters and knew the different walls that hid the steps of their female protagonists.
In Part I, Act III, Scene 1 of “Don Juan Tenorio” the action takes place in the cell of Dña. Inés. The abbess is telling the novice that his father, Don Gonzalo de Ulloa, Calatrava Commander, has decided to leave her in the convent forever, instead of allowing her to marry Don Juan Tenorio, whom he regards as a wretch.
(I’m so sorry, but translating a piece of Spanish poetry into English is far beyond my skills, so the next lines are intended to give you just an idea of the words said by the Abbess in order to convince Dña. Inés that she will be really very happy living together with other nuns in the convent)
The abbess explains the novice, for example, that she is young, kind and good and does not need to prove nothing else in order to remain tied with sacred votes to the cloister since she has lived in it hitherto. In addition, she tries to make Dña. Inés believe that she must be very happy for not having known the outside world she will neither have to fear nor to remember it. The abbess goes on telling her that since she is something like a little dove that has learnt to eat from God’s hands and has never come out of his protective net, she will neither wish to take wings and fly away. Dña. Inés will hear all sorts of “good” reasons for her staying in the convent. In the end the abbess says that she can conceal her envy of Dña. Inés, who has the virtue of knowing nothing thanks to her innocent life.
In “The Age of Fable”, in chapter III, the story of Apollo and Daphne tells how Cupid, answering Apollo’s challenge -who said to him “What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them”-, advises him, “Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you”. The legend goes on: “So saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite love, the other to repel it. (...) With the leaden shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart. Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she abhorred the thought of loving”. Apollo longed to obtain the maiden and followed her but she fled. He grew impatient to find his wooing thrown away, and gained upon her in the race. She called upon her father, the river god: “Help me Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!” Immediately after she has spoken stiffness seized all her limbs and was turned into a plant. Then Apollo touched the stem and embraced her branches and said: “Since you cannot be my wife, you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaves know no decay”. This way Daphne was change into a Laurel tree.
In the same volume, in chapter VII, we can read the story of Proserpine, Ceres’ daughter. “Proserpine was playing with her companions, gathering lilies and violets, and filling her basket and her apron with them when Pluto saw her; loved her; and carried her off”. Proserpine became a queen, “the queen of Erebus, the powerful bride of the monarch of the realms of the dead”. Ceres sought her daughter all the world over and hearing this from the fountain Arethusa “implored Jupiter to interfere to procure the restitution of her daughter”. Jupiter consented on the condition that Proserpine “should not during her stay in the lower world have taken any food”. Mercury was sent by Jupiter to demand Proserpine of Pluto but the maiden has taken a pomegranate which Pluto offered her. This prevented her complete release and Proserpine was to pass half the time with her mother; and the rest with her husband Pluto.
In chapter III of Barranco’s work, in the paragraphs regarding the Argentinean Civil Law of 1869 and women’s lack of ability or skill, the authors explains “the vicissitudes of Amalia Pelliza Pueyrredón’s life caused by being holed up in her home by her husband, the renowned doctor Carlos Durand. Their marriage took place the same year the Law was approved. Durand was much older that she and probably, Amalia, according to the customs, should respect her family will and marry him, since the physician, though in his fifties while she was only 15, had the charm of his considerable fortune. He was the obstetrician of the most important families in Buenos Aires and nobody knows what led him to conceal Amalia in the big house where he lived. She brought the case to court but was not awarded separation, what, probably, made Dr. Durant more furious. He tightened her imprisonment, but, at the same time, facing her complaints, he humiliated her by renting an awful horse-drawn carriage –since having an exaggerated carriage was a distinction feature- and forcing her to travel on it for hours without stopping. Durand fell ill and Amalia took off the years of imprisonment and could go out, entertain herself with companions and take part in social gatherings (...) However, once the doctor had made a complete recovery, the imprisonment sentence became too painful and Amalia fled. Some years later the doctor died and donated an important part of his assets to build a hospital, the one named after him. The rest of his fortune –probably as a lesson- was given, following his instructions, to relatives and servants, all of them women. Happily, Amalia could get part of the joint assets and throw money away as it was expected from someone stolen so many years of joy. This case is emblematic of the circumstances of female defenselessness in the first Civil Law. Certainly, it does not mean that all husbands should imprison their wives; however, all of them were entitled by the Law to have legal authority over his wife and her possessions”.
Behind the walls of a convent or a house, under the bark of a tree or the earth’s crust, we have seen several examples of women being seized by those who thought –and human and divine Law stated it firmly- they owned them, and chained them to their realms in order to preserve their honor, their pride, their strength, their power and their reputation. Having a look at the legends of classical mythology, the theatre during Romanticism period and the first Argentinean Civil Law we can observe that both literature and the whole system of rules maintain women’s comparative incapacity and the fact that, to all intents and purposes, their legal representatives were always their father or their husband.
In the present XXI century equity laws and ministries are approved and created respectively, however, there are still innumerable barriers, extremely high walls and very thick crust limiting the rights and freedoms of many people, women and men alike, worldwide. Only by acknowledging those obstacles we will be able to overcome, to jump over and to bore through them. They are in our books and lives: let’s read the former and write the latter together
Colonial cries and chronicles...
Translated by Sara Plaza
I hear, from my collection of Latin American folklore records, a song by an Argentinean group called “Los Trovadores” (The Troubadours), renowned for their careful vocal arrangements. The title of his song is “Pregones coloniales” (Colonial cries, made by street or market vendors at that time): the first one comes from the “aceitunero” (olives male seller) –“Aceituna, una...” (One olive...)-, and the following belong to the “velero” (candles male seller) and the “aguatero” (fresh water male seller) respectively. I keep skipping from one song to another and pay attention to the “Pregones del altiplano” (cries of the Andean high plateau). Here, I can hear the cries made by a man who sells blankets, the “mazamorrero” (“mazamorra” seller) and the “platero” (a man who sells and fixes objects made of gold and silver).
One of my favorite pictures, when I was a child, was that of the already mentioned colonial cries that I painted in my mind after listening to what teachers taught us about the (distorted) colonial history of my country. Maybe those street advertisements had something to do with music, an element that always seemed to me one the most attractive universal languages. The custom of crying in the streets had come by ship from Spain, together with (newly introduced) goods the sellers cried...
Short time ago, reading the incomparable pages of “Tradiciones peruanas” (Peruvian traditions) by Ricardo Palma, I found a fragment that I consider worthy of note. The following excerpt recovers part of these Latin American colonial cries, a typical quality that has not disappeared yet: it has just become different. If you mean to travel across Argentina, Bolivia or Ecuador these days, you will easily meet many vendors hawking from one bus to the next.
The fragment I am quoting is a bit difficult. It recollects the Peruvian colonial history. Many characters and most of the goods cried are little known in other places. However, with a number of explanations at the end, intended to clarify some terms, you will enjoy it a lot.
Palma explains how, in his neighborhood, the cries of vendors worked as a kind of non-official clock:
The milkwoman indicated six in the morning.
The “tisanera” (tisanes female seller) and the “chichera” (“chicha” female seller) of Terranova cried at seven o’clock.
The “bizcochero” (“bizcocho” male seller) and the “leche-vinagre” female seller (milk-vinegar, literally), who cried “¡a la cuajadita!” (curd), pointed eight to the minute.
“Zanguito of ñajú” and “chocholíes” female seller marked nine, canon hour.
The “tamalera” (“tamales” female seller) announced ten.
At eleven the “melonera” (melons female seller) and the mulatto woman of the convent passed selling “ranfañote”, “cocada”, “bocado de rey”, “chancaquitas de cancha y de maní” and “fréjoles colados”.
At twelve appeared the fruit seller, with its basket full, and the “empanadillas de picadillo” seller.
One was signaled by the “ante con ante” male seller, the rice female seller and the “alfajorero” (“alfajores” male seller).
At two in the afternoon, the “picaronera” (“picarones” female seller), the “humitero” (“humitas” male seller) and the delicious “causa de Trujillo” male seller shouted their cries.
At three, the “melcochero” (“melcochas” male seller), the “turronera” (“turrón” female seller), the “anticuchero” or “bisteque en palito” (steak driven into a little stick) seller were even more punctual than Mari-Angola of the cathedral (one of the big bells, which always were given female names).
At four shouted the “picantera” (“picante” female seller) and the “piñita de nuez” seller.
At five shrieked the “jazminero” (jasmine male seller), the “caramanducas” seller and the cloth-flowers seller, who shouted: “¡Garden, garden! Maiden, don’t you smell it?”
At six the “raicero” (roots male seller) and the “galletero” (biscuits male seller) singed softly to themselves.
At seven in the evening cried the “caramelero” (candies male seller), the “mazamorrera” and the “champucera” (shampoo female seller).
At eight was the turn of the ice-cream seller and the “barquillero” (wafer seller).
Even at night in the evening, at the same time that the “toque de cubrefuego” (when the cannon sounded announcing that it was time to go to bed), the “animero” or the parish sacristan went out, with a red cape and a little lantern in his hand, begging for the sacred souls in the purgatory or for the wax (candles) of “Nuestro Amo” (our Master). This guy was the terror of children that did not want to go to bed.
Afterwards, it was the turn of the neighborhood “sereno” (night watchman), who replaced the street clocks, singing blow after blow: ¡Ave María Purísima! ¡Las diez han dado! ¡Viva el Perú, y sereno! (Hail Mary, full of grace! The clock struck ten! Long live Peru and the city is calm!).
In order to clarify who were some of the characters and what sort of goods they sold, here is some additional information.
The “tisanera” sold medicinal herbs, and the “chichera”, “chicha”, a fresh drink made from corn, which is consumed in the Andean area nowadays both, non fermented and fermented (similar to beer).
The “leche-vinagre” is curd, the thick soft substance that is formed when milk turns sour, a typical Spanish product. The “zango de ñajú” is a stew prepared with the fruit of a plant similar to pepper with a viscose substance inside, but it is not used any more at this time.
The “tamalera” sold “tamales”, small cakes prepared with corn pastry stuffed with meat or vegetable and covered with the “chala” (the corncob leaf). The products sold by the “convent female mulatto” were sweets, master pieces of confectionery, typical of nuns’ cloisters.
The “ante con ante” was the popular rice pudding. The “alfajorero” sold a kind of Hispanic candies, the “alfajores”, which are still eaten in Latin America. The “picarones”, “choncholíes” and the “causa de Trujillo” are similar Peruvian desserts. The former were a sort of fritter made of pumpkin and flour covered with honey.
The “melcochas” were a sort of sweets prepared with sugar and butter. The “humitero” sold “humitas”, very similar to the already mentioned “tamales”. The “anticuchos” are similar to “pork kebab” made of slices of cow heart, which are still very appreciated in Bolivia and Peru.
The “jazminero” and other flower vendors offered their goods to the young girls, who used to get all dress up for their evening strolls, a custom that Palma explains in detail in his book. The “raicero” also addressed the maidens since he sold soft roots used at that time as our current toothbrush and toothpaste.
The “mazamorra” –in use nowadays in half South America- is a sort of casserole with white corn grains, usually sweet, which includes different substances added to give it its typical flavor and tastes delicious as a dessert.
Palma’s book recollects many other stories, and I highly recommend its reading to all of you who want to know more about customs and traditions of yesteryear. You will find the Manchaypuyto tradition; the game of chess played by Inca Atahuallpa; the story of Aguirre the traitor; the arrival of the first mouse, the first cat and the first melon in Peruvian lands; the tobacco chronicles; a lot of stories about Latin American sayings and proverbs; accounts of historical facts regarding the Conquest and the Independence of Peru; and many descriptions of different incidents and anecdotes with religious men, viceroys, noblemen and well-known citizens in the leading roles...
Just as the volumes arranged in our libraries can give us the strength that our branches need to grow and blossom, they can also be the soil for our roots to steady themselves against windy storms. Without roots, the slightest breeze can make a tree fall to the ground. And, in modern world, any breeze is changed into a strong wind and there are plenty around us...
Anyone will certainly smile at these readings –even if you are not from Latin America- and if you manage to travel by bus in southern latitudes and listen to modern cries you would notice that many traditions are still alive and bear close resemblance to the original version...
Do we know what we name?
By Sara Plaza
It happened while I was trying to understand the last conflicts between the ‘farming world’ and the government in Argentina and together with Edgardo we asked ourselves the question that gives name to this post. For more than three months, this country has been immersed in a situation that, far from directing towards its solution, seems to move it further away from as time goes by. During this period the main positions have either radicalized or become contradictory. Nobody escapes from discredit and the issue has become so complicated that its already blurred margins have almost disappeared from our sight. In spite of the news we have listened to on the radio and the many articles we have read in the national and international press we still drag a sheer ignorance. However, trying to shake it off we have learnt a few things and keep on trusting our common sense when it comes to interpret certain discourses and to give our opinion about the statements made by some and others with the aim of clear nothing and confound everything. That common sense, that critical spirit that we both have deep-rooted inside, has led us to put a couple of questions and intend several possible answers. As good nonconformist and forever curious people we have tried to understand, in first place, what it was that the whole media named ‘the field’ and, secondly, whom ‘the field’ and the government referred to when they talked of ‘the people’. In the international edition of the journal ‘Le Monde diplomatique’, May 2008, you will find a number of articles about the food crisis worldwide and the conflicts in Argentina. In the essay signed by Axel Kicillof the author says that ‘... the great diversity of situations that distinguish the different characters involved in what is generally and abusively named “the field” –from sowing pools to the neglected rural laborer-‘, and in the lines written by Hugo Sigman the author suggest the following divisions according to the characteristic of each group:
‘... in order to analyze the conflict and find solutions that be to their mutual interest it is necessary the opening of what is called rural sector by differentiating the terms agriculture and livestock in first place. The results achieved by the agricultural sector and by the livestock sector are completely different. With the cereals and their industrial derivatives –oil and biofuels- rising price the farming world has got a high return on its investment despite deductions. However the livestock sector, milk and bovine meet, has obtained a dreadful economic result.
It is also necessary to distinguish between “producers” since they can be big, average and even rural family’ economies. Things have gone better for the former and worse for the latter. Another necessary division can be established between regions of agricultural and cattle production: in central areas results have been much better than in marginalized areas, where the return is much lower and costs, transport mainly, are much higher.
If we finally differentiate between agricultural and cattle producers, industrialists (cold stores, milk factories, oil and bio-fuels producers) and traders (particularly exporting companies and silos owners) it is clear that industrialists and traders have monopolized, as a direct consequence of the government policy, part of the profits from agricultural and cattle producers’.
We came across the best definition of ‘the people’ in the pages of Anna Karenina that I had been reading one month before. Leon Tolstoy outlines wonderfully an argument between Kostantin Dimitrievitch (Levin) and his brother Sergey Ivanovitch in the presence of the former’s father in law (the old prince) and a common friend (Kosnichev) regarding the Russian volunteers who, at that moment, were mobilizing to take part in the armed conflict against the Turkish in the Balkans... The whole chapter XV in part VIII is well worth reading, I’ve only copied here its last lines:
‘“Personal opinions mean nothing in such a case,” said Sergey Ivanovitch; “it’s not a matter of personal opinions when all Russia –the whole people- has expressed its will.”
“But excuse me, I don’t see that. The people don’t know anything about it, if you come to that,” said the old prince.
“Oh, papa!... how can you say that? And las Sunday in church?” said Dolly, listening to the conversation. “Please give me a cloth,” she said to the old man, who was looking at the children with a smile. “Why is not possible that all...”
“But what was it in church on Sunday? The priest had been told to read that. He read it. They didn’t understand a word of it. Then they were told that there was to be a collection for a pious object in church; well, they pulled out their halfpence and gave them, but what for they couldn’t say.”
“The people cannot help knowing; the sense of their own destinies is always in the people, and at such moments as the present that sense finds utterance,” said Sergey Ivanovitch with conviction, glancing at the old bee-keeper.
The handsome old man, with black grizzled beard and thick silvery hair, stood motionless, holding a cup of honey, looking down from the height of his tall figure with friendly serenity at the gentlefolk, obviously understanding nothing of their conversation and not caring to understand it.
“That’s so, no doubt,” he said, with a significant shake of his head at Sergey Ivanovitch’s words.
“Here, then, ask him. He knows nothing about it and thinks nothing,” said Levin. “Have you heard about the war, Mihalitch?” he said, turning to him. “What they read in the church? What do you think about it? Ought we to fight for the Christians?”
“What should we think? Alexander Nikolaevitch our Emperor has thought for us; he thinks for us indeed in all things. It’s clearer for him to see. Shall I bring a bit more bread? Give the little lad some more?” he said addressing Darya Alexandrovna and pointing to Grisha, who had finished his crust.
“I don’t need to ask,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, “we have seen and are seeing hundreds and hundreds of people who give up everything to serve a just cause, come from every part of Russia, and directly and clearly express their thought and aim. They bring their halfpence or go themselves and say directly what for. What does it mean?”’
“It means, to my thinking,” said Levin, who was beginning to get warm, “that among eighty millions of people there can always be found not hundreds, as now, but tens of thousands of people who have lost caste, ne’er-do-weels, who are always ready to go anywhere- to Pogatchev’s bands, to Khiva, to Servia...”
“I tell you that it’s not a case of hundreds or of ne’er-do-weels, but the best representatives of the people1” said Sergey Ivanovitch, with as much irritation as if he were defending the last penny of his fortune. “And what of the subscriptions? In this case it is a whole people directly expressing their will.”
“That word ‘people’ is so vague,” said Levin. “Parish clerks, teachers, and one in a thousand of the peasants, maybe, now what it’s all about. The rest of the eighty millions, like Mihalitch, far from expressing their will, haven’t the faintest idea what there is for them to express their will about. What right have we to say that this is the people’s will?”
At this point, I imagine that you will be also making some questions and maybe these lines can be of any help and give you a few clues to try a number of answers of your own. It was my intention with this post to share a couple of doubts and the explanations that we found for them among the pages we read from the press and the literature. I consider both of them good sources of information as long as we are able to add a generous dose of critic spirit to them. That way we will be learning to ‘judge things reasonably’ though we can’t yet understand them completely.