Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Master of Northern Light

It has been over 100 degrees in Dallas for over 11 days. When I first arrived here I couldn't bear it. The heat, the suburban sprawl, the miniature trees, the lack of shadow. I escaped to Northern Minnesota to Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Keith's island. To remember. To remember them and drink in the majestic pines and cool air and pure cold lakes of Northern Minnesota. And the shadow.

It was my friend Ronda Sophia who reminded me that I was closer to the equator here and the sun shining directly overhead would explain the lack of shadow. I initially found it weird and strange, the missing shadow, everything bleached out like an over-developed photograph. As with all things I've adapted. To the heat and sprawl and missing shadow.

But I haven't quite forgotten. In part because I am ruminating on Sven Nyquist, the cinematographer who was known as the master of northern light as well as Bergman's collaborator. He died two years ago shortly after working with Liv Ullman on her production of "Kristin Lavransdatter". I wish my life had been different. Rather than spending it chasing words I wish that I had been chasing the light.

I think of Sven Nykvist, that embodiment of the Scandinavian soul, of northern light and white nights, and somehow I'm simply glad that sitting in Dallas and baking I once knew another world all together.

Imperial Russia

President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's successor, also mourned the writer, saying Solzhenitsyn "worked incessantly to form moral and spiritual ideals, seeing them as an extremely important foundation supporting the state and society, and fought for their triumph" reports the Washington Post.

From early childhood I dreamed Russia, Imperial Russia, Revolutionary Russia, anything Russian. I suppose one needs to understand the white nights, limitless horizons and extraordinary cold of North Dakota to understand. A Russian acquaintance said it was much colder than St. Petersburg rather more like Siberia. As a child I found the weather and topography very romantic. That was before I was responsible for fuel bills and stalled autos and other grown up tasks. Later when I lived in London I used to attend the Russian Orthodox church where the deposed and eccentric aristocracy gathered praying for mother Russia and the return of a czar.

My good friend and Russian teacher Valentina Popel left the Ukraine when the white army warned the family of an advancing red army. Valentina grew up in feudal Russia on an estate with 500 souls. She walked out of the Ukraine with her baby Walter on her back and her mother at her side. Her husband and father went in another direction and were never seen again presumably captured or killed. She walked out of the Ukraine to Paris eventually marrying Ukranian émigré and world chess champion Steffan Popel. They lived outside Paris in a village I used to pass by train when I was a student in France. They settled in Detroit in an Ukranian community and then came to Fargo where Dr. Popel headed the Department of Romance Languages at NDSU.

Valentina and her husband are now gone as is Solzhenitsyn. An entire world has passed away and with it words that echo softly..."You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is Dead at 89 Years

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is dead. It makes me very sad, he was once a neighbor in Vermont. This civic minded Jeremiah attacked the excesses of capitalism and savagery of communism. Like Pope John Paul he had the gravitas of his own personal history as well as a moral platform (his Orthodox faith) that allowed him to discern the nuances of evil rather than engage in mere school-boy polemics. Even the fatuous NYT, who manage somehow to completely sully him with aspersions that they then casually rebut, refers to him as an "heir to the morally focused and often prophetic Russian literary tradition." The comments on the article were prolific and touching. I know he was a curmudgeon and I would disagree with him on many things. But I mourn and will always remember my neighbor, the writer, the Russian, the uncompromising believer, whose wintery spirit departs and leaves the world even more pale and absurd.
May the angels sing him to his rest.