Saturday, 10 November 2012

Meeting Tolstoy at a Pushkin Party in Moscow.

We meet Tolstoy at a Pushkin party celebrating the October Revolution.

Blimey what a troika!

It was a gathering at The State Museum of Pushkin, a very distinguished gathering of Moscow's cultural elite - Elena's good friend, Natalia Mikhailova, is the Deputy Director of the museum and a respected academic, an author, a poet and a member of the Academy of Russian Science. She was, to us on this day, a generous, gracious and informative host.

As the literati of Moscow circulated and chatted around us Natalia interrupted her flow momentarily to mention that she had been talking earlier to the knight Tolstoy. He, she said, is the great great grandson of Lev Tolstoy, and she continued explaining how Tolstoy, Pushkin and Lermentov had all experienced life in the army, serving in the endless campaign to suppress and pacify the Caucases.
It was hard to concentrate after this bombshell.
Elena turned to me and said we must talk to Tolstoy!
She looked around the crowded room, ah, she said, and pulled me towards a short, grey haired, elderly man who was sporting an orthopeadic boot in a rakish pose.
How do you do, she said to him, I have always wanted to meet a Knight.
I am sorry to disappointment you, he replied, but I am only a humble doctor, although I am a poet.
Ah, of course you are, replied Elena, literature is in your blood.
Do you think so?
Of course!
But why?
Well, because of your great, great grandfather.
But he was a peasant.
Oh, well, I've heard him called many things, but........
The kopek finally dropped. This was not Tolstoy.
He took our mistake with a huge smile and continued to entertain us as our eyes swivelled in search of someone at least two feet taller who might bear a passing resemblance to the proud physiognomy of the great man.
The assembly was called to order from a platform upon which stood a small circle of men and women, their speeches prepared.
The Director of the museum introduced the genuine article, a man who bore an astonishing similarity to his great great grandfather.
How had we missed him?
This real Tolstoy is the principle cultural advisor to President Putin - reassuring to know that the hard man of Russia takes an interest in the gentle arts of culture.
Our blunder suddenly reminded me of Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop, which features the hapless gardening correspondent mistaken for the war correspondent ( admittedly on the basis of sharing a name ).
Bring me a big name in culture!, shouts the President.
Elena and I drag into his terrifying presence the diminutive and humble doctor, who is too terrified to reject the assignment..........

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