- Deborah DeGraffenreid
First order of business, like any other day: take the dog to the park. Just after dawn on the day after the longest day of the year, and the days will keep getting shorter now. How did May and June slip away so easily?
The neighborhood birds don't seem to care. They're as insistently noisy as teenagers on the last day of school, crying "Look at me! I am alive, I am incredibly alive! Allow me to acknowledge my inexplicable excitement in this moment with full throat." The dog takes no notice, or pretends not to care about the racket as he marks the larger trees we pass, the maples sprouting pale green helicopters, the catalpas crowned with nests of white blossoms. He checks in at some of the bushes too, especially the privet he pulled a half-eaten meatball hero from last fall. The dog jams his long snout in each morning, eyeball deep, hoping the meatballs have been restocked.
At the park we meet the other dogs and their owners. The dogs jump and posture and play grabass, blissfully unaware of their brief tenure on earth, or the line from Milosz that's stuck in my head: "To win? To lose? / What for, if the world will forget us anyway." The owners comment on the weather.
It's still too early for coffee when we return home, so we take to the couch, the dog's front paws and head resting on my chest as I read The Master and Margarita. I'm reacquainting myself with Bulgakov's satire of the Soviet state and human frailty (among other things), before going to see the stage adaptation at Bard SummerScape later this month. (Read Jay Blotcher's preview of SummerScape; listen to our talk with Gideon Lester, who adapted the book for the Bard production, on our weekly podcast, Chronogram Conversations.)
I'm at the point in the book where Professor Woland and his diabolical retinue are performing at the Variety Theater in Moscow, doing impossible tricks, raining money on the greedy audience, decapitating (and then recapitating) the stupefied emcee—in general sowing the mischievous seeds of mayhem to come. Part of the central tension of the book arises from characters choosing either to resist authority or capitulate. Bulgakov, whose own work was suppressed in his lifetime, thought himself a coward for not confronting Stalin. I picture Bulgakov, wishing he had the chutzpah to unmask hypocrisy, not just in his writing, but in reality like Woland. To rush out into the street and wield the pen as a sword. All writing is wish-fulfillment of one sort or another.
Despite the brilliance of the prose, I wake up an hour later, having dreamt of walking the streets of Moscow in the `30s alongside venal bureaucrats and talking tomcats, the state-sponsored paranoia clinging to the sunflower-oil stained cobblestones as tightly as the smell of boiled cabbage. As Lester pointed out when we spoke, living in a society where anyone can be disappeared at any time, for any reason—for no reason—is unimaginable to us. I mean, I can envision it, just as I can imagine living in a pineapple under the sea. But I can't know it in my bones like Bulgakov knew it, forever waiting for the knock on the door that might whisk him away.
Later in the morning, news comes that Edward Snowden, that classified-document-leaking rascal who's wanted on espionage charges by the US government, has left Hong Kong and he's landed in Moscow. (Eric Francis Coppolino and Larry Beinhart share some thoughts on Snowden in their columns.) I read it on Facebook, where I catalog my thoughts and activities, complete with pictures. As do my friends, one of whom will occasionally post a 20-year-old photo of me, which might, for instance, picture me passing a joint while reading The Anarchist's Cookbook. Who needs Stalin when you have social media?
Department of Corrections
In our 6/13 issue, we profiled the home of Jan Harrison and Alan Baer. We misspelled Jan Harrison's name in the Table of Contents.