When we left our hero, Baron Brambeus (alter ego of Osip Senkovsky), he was deciding against getting married as a cure for spleen (in the old sense of “melancholy”); now that I’ve read further, I can tell you that he considers hanging himself, but it’s too much trouble (and besides, hanged men look ridiculous), so he goes abroad instead. He sees pyramids and apes, kangaroos and English missionaries (пирамиды и обезьян[…], кенгуру и английских миссионеров), and returns home feeling he has studied people to the full and developed his mind and heart. But when his father is presented with the bill for these adventures, he shakes his head doubtfully and says as far as he knows, there’s nothing in people that’s worth even half that: “I think you were cheated.” His aunt calls him a fool. He goes off in a huff but decides they’re right and he was in fact cheated—he’d learned not about people but about foolishness, and he promises to tell us what he’s learned:
But the voyage is completed, the foolishness is done—which is, of course, a great joy to you all—and for our mutual pleasure I am ready to share with you three fragments of my foolishness. I say “fragments” because you yourselves are clever people and you know that we live in a fragmentary age. The time is past when a person lived a single life for eighty years straight and thought a single long thought in eighteen volumes. Now our life, mind, and heart consist of petty, motley, disconnected fragments—which is far better, more diverse, more pleasant for the eyes, and even cheaper. We think in fragments, exist in fragments, and are dispersed into fragments. For that reason I can put forth my biography in no other fashion; in our time, even foolishness goes forth into the world, as required, only in fragments, though sometimes fairly significant ones. We must walk in procession with the age!
(Russian below the cut.) Which sounds quite modern, no? At any rate, for his first adventure he heads south in search of strong sensations, which he first finds in a fearful Ukrainian storm and then when he arrives in Odessa and his coachman steps off and disappears forever into the mud. He spends some time in Odessa (mentioning the variety of languages, including the Italian I posted about here); having encountered a couple of yokels who came to town to sell wheat and lard and seemed to be having trouble getting rid of the proceeds, he wins all their money at cards and then hides in the quarantine quarter to escape their wrath. There he is informed by his Greek acquaintance Bolvanopoulo that he should go to Constantinople, which is entirely made up of strong sensations, so he takes ship for the Ottoman capital, where he indeed gets into some startling adventures among the even more varied nationalities of that great city (in the neighborhoods of Pera and Galata). And in that section (to come to the point of this divagating post) he used a word that puzzled me: тандур [tandur], described as “a large table with a large brazier underneath, surrounded by sofas and covered with a huge, thick wadded coverlet; in cold weather, women and men sit around it on the sofas, with their legs underneath and pulling the coverlet up to their necks, and, arranged like a wind rose, chat, redden from the brazier’s heat, swell up, and burst with happiness.”
Now, I knew the Persian word tandur ‘(clay) oven,’ which many of us are familiar with from tandoori chicken, but this was a different usage. The OED (in an entry from 1910) had it s.v. tandour (“A heating apparatus consisting of a square table with a brazier under it, round which persons sit for warmth in cold weather in Persia…, Turkey, and adjacent countries”), and on further investigation I found an almost identical description in Anastasius, Or, Memoirs of a Greek: Written at the Close of the 18th Century, by Thomas Hope (3rd ed., J. Murray, 1820, p. 76):
What could the company do, in the uncertain state of the sky, but collect round the tandoor? — that safe refuge against the winter’s rigours, that eastern nondescript, which in the angle of the mitred sofa holds a middle character between the table and the bed, and underneath whose gaudy coverlet all the legs of the snug party coverge round a pot of lighted charcoal, there to stew for the evening. Like the rest, I crept under the bed-clothes.
[footnote:] Tandoor: a square table, placed in the angle of the sofa with a brazier underneath and a rich counterpane over it, under which, in Greek houses, in cold weather, the company creep close to each other.
Sounds very cozy indeed.
At the end of the chapter, he finds himself in the care of a Doctor Skukolini, who converses with him on learned subjects, as a result of which “I became completely obtuse, tedious, and at the same time I felt myself quite learned. And the stupider I grew, the more learned I became! Isn’t that strange? [Я сделался совершенно тупым, скучным и в то же время почувствовал себя весьма ученым. И чем пуще я глупел, тем больше становился ученым!.. Не правда ли, что это странно?]” Reminds me of grad school.
Но путешествие совершено, глупость сделана — что, конечно, обрадует вас чрезвычайно,– и для общей нашей потехи я готов уделить вам три отрывка моей глупости. Я говорю — отрывка, потому что сами вы умные люди и знаете, что мы живем в отрывочном веке. Прошло время, когда человек жил восемьдесят лет сплошь одною жизнию и думал одною длинною мыслию сплошь восемнадцать томов. Теперь наши жизнь, ум и сердце составлены из мелких, пестрых, бессвязных отрывков — и оно гораздо лучше, разнообразнее, приятнее для глаз и даже дешевле. Мы думаем отрывками, существуем в отрывках и рассыплемся в отрывки. Потому и я не могу выпускать моего жизнеописания иначе, как в этом виде: в наше время даже и глупости выдаются свету, на его потребности, только отрывками, хотя иногда довольно значительными. Надо шествовать с веком!
большой стол, с большою под низом жаровнею, обставленный отвсюду софами и покрытый огромным, толстым одеялом на вате; в холодное время дамы и мужчины садятся кругом: на этих софах, кладут ноги под этот стол, прикрываются по шею этим одеялом и, расположенные в виде розы ветров, беседуют, краснеют от духу жаровни, пучатся, раздуваются и лопаются от счастия.