The Financial Times has a “Lunch with the FT” series, and in a recent one, John Thornhill interviews one of Russia’s most interesting contemporary writers, Boris Akunin (real name Grigory Chkhartishvili; the pen-name is a play on Bakunin, among other things). The piece has a good brief description of his writing—”he started to write the kind of novels that he and his wife would like to read: wry, fast-paced, intricately plotted detective stories that toy with the conventions of classical Russian literature, yet resonate with our own times”—and some good quotes, like “There is a place close to the Yauza river where I walk where the air is thick with culture and energy. Moscow is wonderful for energy. But when it comes to writing the text it needs discipline and order and that is awful there. St Malo is rainy and windy. It is perfect.” And of course there’s lots about Russian politics (Akunin is not fond of Putin). But towards the end it says he ordered “a gin and a tonic to complete his meal”: separately? Is that a Russian thing? (Thanks go to Bruce for the link and to Paul for a copy of the physical article, on the FT’s famous orange paper.)


  1. Pink, surely? (FT, not G&T.)

  2. Victor Sonkin says

    Not separately, I presume, but why it was put that way (unless it’s a clumsy translation from Russian — but even then it’s “джин с тоником” or “джин-тоник”) I can’t imagine.

  3. Akunin is actually Japanese 悪人 Akunin – bad guy.

  4. mollymooly says

    Wikipedia says “light salmon”. Pink-pink is for sports papers.

  5. Salmon pink“, then.

  6. In typography, salmon colors have several shades, with different CMYK readings. I think the FT color is ‘light pink’, which is indeed orangey.

  7. Akunin’s title, She Lover of Death, does it work in English? It’s “Любовница смерти” in Russian, and there is a He Lover of Death – “Любовник смерти”. Both novels published in 2000.

  8. Akunin is actually Japanese 悪人 Akunin – bad guy.
    Yes, that’s one of the “other things” I mentioned.

  9. I’ve just read the interview in full and simply can’t decide, is it about literature? politics? food? It’s certainly not ‘classic’ as it’s billed. It’s what we call ‘a bit about everything and not a bit about anything.’ Not to say that Siberian pelmeni rarely come with crabmeat.
    What, FT can’t afford good writing anymore? Or are they just flushing excess profit through expense accounts for the boys?

  10. David Derbes says

    I’ve read most of the Fandorin novels of Akunin (in English). There was some talk about not translating any more; fortunately “The Diamond Chariot” made it, and my copies of that one and “The Coronation” are coming from England as I type. (Several are available in paper in the UK but haven’t made it to the US.) The two “Lovers of Death” novels are linked interestingly. My understanding is that “Diamond Chariot”, detailing Fandorin’s stay in Japan, reveals many things only hinted at earlier. I’m really looking forward to it.
    If you like the Sherlock Holmes genre, these are a lot of fun. I have the Fandorin Статский Советник in Russian but have too little time to tackle it appropriately. Maybe this summer…

  11. When wags refer to the FT as The Racing Pink it’s because (i) it’s pink, and (ii) the Racing Pink is (or was – does it still exist?) pink, and (iii) they are comparing investing in shares to backing gee-gees.

  12. In typography, salmon colors have several shades, with different CMYK readings. I think the FT color is ‘light pink’, which is indeed orangey.
    According to Resolute Forest Products, available colors in that part of the spectrum include peach, pink, light pink and salmon. Go figure.
    Resolute is the name of the merged Abitibi and Bowater paper companies.

  13. This wikipedia article calls FT pink ‘pale salmon’, while the article on FT says it’s ‘light salmon’.
    Crayola has long had a colour called salmon, and Apple Mac’s colour palette has a preset Salmon colour with a slightly different reading from Crayola’s.

  14. about G&T, I suspect it’s simply a typo.
    Akunin’s Diamon Chariot is wonderful. His adventures in Japan are mostly flashbacks and the main action is set during the 1905 revolution and the Russo-Japanese war.
    I also recommend Altyn-Tolobas, where Akunin builds to parallel stories, but intertwined stories. One is of Fandorin’s ancestors in the late 17th Century, pre-Peter’s Russia, in the second his grandson returns to Russia of 1990s. Great fun.

  15. “gee-gee”: How did I not know that word?

  16. Paul (other Paul) says

    Sashura: The “Lunch with the FT” interviews are an FT feature which has run for several years. I don’t like the idea much (nor does LH) but they do often have interesting people you might not see an interview with elsewhere.
    Was snowed in for three days in Seine-Maritime this week – how did you get on ?

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    A 2006 set of letters to the editor from the BBC’s magazine site includes:
    • You don’t say “I’ll have a gin and a tonic”. It’s one drink called a “ginandtonic”. And if you’re asking, mine’s a Pimm’s. No, make it 2 Pimmses…
    Anna, Northumberland
    Perhaps we can infer backwards from the “you don’t say” prescriptivism that someone must have, in fact, previously said it? (Although the context seems to be some silly prior dispute about “gins & tonic” v. “gin & tonics” as the standard plural.)
    There are certain U.S. contexts where for regulatory reasons if you want a gin & tonic you may need to buy a sealed “airline bottle” of gin (ususally 50 ml, I think — get two if you feel like it) and a separate bottle/can of tonic water and mix them together yourself because the person doing the selling isn’t allowed to sell mixed drinks. But it seems unlikely the same issue would be presented in the London restaurant this interview was being conducted in.

  18. “gee-gee”: How did I not know that word?
    Because it’s a children’s word?

  19. To me, salmon is a fish, not a color, and I don’t like fish.
    I also recommend Altyn-Tolobas
    Me too, a delightful book. (I’d love to read more fiction set in the often overlooked reign of Alexei Mikhailovich.)

  20. Because it’s a children’s word?
    Is it? I can’t tell. I get the impression that it usually, or often, refers to racehorses.

  21. other Paul: We’re on the Manche/Calvados/Orne border. The BP lorry just managed to deliver heating oil, when it started snowing on Monday. We were completely cut off for two days, snow drifts up to the roof of the car, and the internet shut down. But it’s okay now. How was it up your end?

  22. JWB:
    “Unfortunately, I’m suffering from yaws.”
    “What’s yaws?”
    “Thanks, I’ll have a beer.”

  23. My take is it was originally a children’s word. I used it as a child, along with puppy dog, pussy cat, moo cow, choo-choo train and the like. A gee-gee was a horse. I suspect it was later extended to racehorses in a jocular way.

  24. marie-lucie says

    I know someone who lives in Cherbourg, at the tip of the Cotentin peninsula (which juts out of Normandy towards England). The area was cut off from the rest of the world for several days. There was barely two feet of snow but that was so unusual that the authorities had to call on the army to bring snowplows and other emergency equipment.

  25. “Barely two feet” of snow is a hell of a lot of snow, m-l. You must mean inches or cms.
    Yes, Ø, “the gee gees” refers to racing. “I won it on the gee gees” is a pretty normal betting expression – at least, it is in England.
    “What’s yaws?”
    Dearie told a similar joke a couple of weeks ago.

  26. When I was managing editor of a publication called FinanciaL News in London we would imitate “FT pink” by using C0 M15 Y21 K0, which is #FFD9C9 in Hex and R255 G217 B201 in RGB. You can see it here. I’d call it “light pink”.

  27. Paul (other Paul) says

    Sashura: Up here, north of Dieppe and seven kms inland, we are on a plateau so are exposed to the full force of the wind. We had drifts two metres high about 50 metres each side of our gate, and the main road it leads to was out of action anyway for two days or so too. In front of the house where the car was parked there was about 50 cms. We eventually dug tracks for the wheels, and cleared the gate where the snowploughs had built up a pile clearing the road, and got out after 3-1/2 days. And thanks to Citroen, which put a snow setting for the automatic transmission (which then starts in second gear, not first, with less torque) and has a high setting on the hydraulic suspension which meant we didn’t have to clear the full width of the car. Hasn’t happened here for 35 years (when we’ve been here), when we were snowed in for five days.
    AJP: Two feet is right. There were blizzard conditions and the snow drifted. Agsinst some of our hedges it was five feet or so…

  28. CuConnacht says

    Akunin gave the Sebald lecture on translation in London last month, and the TLS printed most of it a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was very good. Full text here:

  29. Gosh. I still find two feet in Britain or coastal France hard to believe, but I’ll have to take your word for it.

  30. marie-lucie says

    AJP, hard to believe, because unusual, but true nevertheless.
    Here in Halifax (on the Atlantic coast), a few years ago we had 90cm fall in a single night, and the city was paralyzed for over a week. This much snow would not have been such a problem in Québec City or Ottawa or Winnipeg which are used to heavy snowfalls, but the city did not have nearly as much equipment as was needed, and it took time to bring some from other cities. Even after life went back to normal, it must have taken a month to clear all the snow.

  31. AJP, hard to believe, because unusual, but true nevertheless.
    I (living in New England) didn’t find the concept of two feet of snow hard to believe, but your “barely two feet of snow” suggested you found it a trivial amount, which took me aback as it did AJP.

  32. I’m used to two feet of snow, but I thought you were talking about Brittany or Normandy. If they got two feet of snow in southern England (a similar climate) the place would shut down.

  33. marie-lucie says

    I was indeed talking about Normandy, like Paul and Sashura who actually live there. I agree that two feet of snow, or a little less, is not trivial in a place that normally gets little snow, but I have lived in Northern British Columbia where it was quite commonplace. Central Canada is of course even worse, but people there are prepared to deal with the snow.

  34. People in Britain always complain that the railways & roads are unready for snow, but there’s really no point in investing huge sums of money in snow ploughs when the commuting routes only get impassible once every few years. They’re much better off spending the money on something else: bicycles, plants, trees, libraries and schools, for example.

  35. David Marjanović says

    90cm fall in a single night

    The mind boggles.

  36. There are certain U.S. contexts where for regulatory reasons if you want a gin & tonic you may need to buy a sealed “airline bottle” of gin (ususally 50 ml, I think — get two if you feel like it) and a separate bottle/can of tonic water and mix them together yourself because the person doing the selling isn’t allowed to sell mixed drinks
    Reminds me of a conversation I once had in a pub in Devon:
    Me: I’ll have a pint of snakebite, please.
    Barman: Sorry, sir, we don’t serve snakebite.
    Me: Then I’ll have half a lager, half a cider and could you give me an empty pint glass?
    Barman: Right you are, sir.

  37. Do you know the diner scene in Five Easy Pieces, Sir J?

  38. David: there’s a reason why Canada is larger than the United States and has a mere tenth of its population. And the climate in Halifax is far more clement (whether you examine average temperature or average snowfall) than that of most Canadian cities, rest assured.
    “Barely two feet of snow” sounds quite normal to me, but since I worked in Manitoba for a few years and shovelled my landlady’s walk…well, let’s just say “Winnipeg” is nicknamed “Winterpeg” by other Canadians for a reason.
    But I agree that in this context it sounds as though such quantities of snow are normal for Normandy, which is not the case of course.
    And Marie-Lucie is correct, different parts of Canada are radically different from one another in terms of snowfall: 90 cm would be considered a serious amount anywhere in Canada, although in much of Atlantic Canada such a quantity of snow would be a freakishly rare event (and hence the existing snow-removal services would be overwhelmed). But Halifax is not Canada’s “snow-free city”: that honor goes to Vancouver or Victoria, and indeed when I was working in the latter city a snowstorm which left some 5 cm (gasp!) of snow on the ground utterly paralyzed the city, something I and other transplanted Easterners found rather funny, since in Montreal or Ottawa or the Prairie Provinces such an amount of snow would have been considered so trivial that it wouldn’t even have qualified as a “snowstorm”.

  39. Paul (other Paul) says

    The snow in Normandy was indeed unusually severe, largely becuse of the gale force winds drifting it. But it would have been notable anyway. The departement of the Seine Maritime – the Channel coast from the Seine to the Somme and 50 or so kms inland roughly – used one third of all its road salt provisions for the winter in the last week.
    One local paper reported today that there had been one drift six metres high, and there were plenty of pictues of cars buried up to their roofs. The authorites had 6000 kms of road to deal with, so it’s not surprising it took some days to sort out. Local farmers were ploughing their local roads to get things moving a bit.

  40. Yes, in connection with the snow, one French blogger, Elisabeth Moutet, was complaining the other day that she was struggling to explain, on French television, the English concept of ‘the spirit of the blitz’. But the farmers were wonderful. A neighbour cleared our lane before municipal snowploughs came.
    To connect the snow theme to Fandorin, may I also recommend “Внеклассное чтение” (Home-Reading or Extracurricular Reading, not sure if it’s translated into English) which has some wonderful snowy scenes, including a hermite Fandorin, the sleuth’s ancestor, fighting with a stick, Robin Hood style, in the age of Catherine the Great. Again, this novel has two intertwining plots, one in the 18th Century and another with Fandorin’s grandson in modern Russia. (Sorry for the typos above.)

  41. Sir JCass says

    Do you know the diner scene in Five Easy Pieces, Sir J?
    Heh. No, I’d never seen that before. My experience wasn’t quite so frustrating. Apparently, pubs won’t sell snakebite because of its alleged violence-inducing properties. According to Wikipedia, “In June 2001, former US President Bill Clinton was refused a Snakebite when he ordered one at the Old Bell Tavern in Harrogate, North Yorkshire”. Maybe the landlord thought Bill still had his hands on the nuclear launch codes and he didn’t want to be responsible for starting World War Three. We used to drink snakebite mixed with Pernod and black. Disgusting stuff. I was under the impression this concoction was known as a “diesel”, but Wikipedia says that’s simply snakebite and black. Apparently, snakebite plus a Pernod and black is a “red witch”.

  42. I didn’t know anything about these drinks. I’ll have to order a snakebite and see what I get (if anything).
    In Italy, lager beer mixed with Coca-Cola is called a diesel. That’s a bit much. The Italians are hopeless with beer, but apparently the Germans do it too.

  43. David Marjanović says

    It’s snowing. Winter has come back again here in Berlin.
    In the Alps you do get 90 cm of snow, but not in one night… elsewhere in Austria, to get that much in one spot, you’ll have to wait for enough wind to get dunes that size.

  44. Yes, it’s snowing here too; we’re supposed to get eight inches or so (about 20 cm).

  45. Sir JCass says

    I didn’t know anything about these drinks.
    You’re probably better off staying with second-hand experience of these potions. Seriously, nobody drinks them for the taste.

  46. Well, after all, Europe’s a peninsula. Move to Central Asia and I’m sure you’ll see such snowfalls. Still, the world record for a single storm, 240 cm in 32.5 hours, was set in the western U.S.

  47. Seriously, nobody drinks them for the taste.
    That’s easy to say, but it’s a big world. I remember a college acquaintance who maintained that he disliked the taste of all of the things that he and the rest of us drank–just did it for the intoxicating effect. And on the other hand there must have been people who drank Dunkin Donuts blueberry-flavored iced coffee (is that still on the menu?) for the taste–why else?–revolting as it was to me.

  48. Has anybody tried looking into the source for the name of the restaurant, Mari Vanna?
    Mari Vanna is a clipped phonetic rendition of Maria Ivanovna, a common Russian name-patronymic.
    But Mari Vanna is also a character from the series of anekdoty (jokes) about Vovochka (little Vladimir). Mari Vanna is the teacher constantly thumped by the fowl-mouthed Vovochka. Vovochka roughly corresponds to Little Johnny the Bad Mouth in English lore.

  49. It’s interesting how Akunin now shows up on my genetic genealogy radar screen too, through the quintessentially British connection with the infamous Moffat’s “Britain’s DNA” project.
    Moffat has threatened to take his detractors to court for questioning the would-be scientific basis of his XXI century ancestral legends of lost forefathers and heroes and queens and quests and travels. But Moffat’s style is essentially a historical belletristics, a bit it Akunin’s mold albeit with more flourish and less attention to minute detail IMVH. Moffat’s trumpets personalized stories of descendants of Queen of Sheba, or of Nyall of Nine Hostages; and Akunin hopes to weave similar tales into his plans History of the Russian State.
    Alas, by the time Akunin gets there, the Moffats of this genetic genealogy business will probably have it throughly discredited as a modern-days table-turning; and the advances in technology will make the uniparental marker studies so passe, too.

  50. Sir JCass says

    thumped by the fowl-mouthed Vovochka
    Was Vovochka also swift-witted, eagle-eyed, pigeon-toed, wrynecked and raven-haired?

  51. Akunin hopes to weave similar [genetic ancestry] tales into his plans History of the Russian State
    OTOH it may be a ruse to highlight the stories of people migrating to Old Russia from all ends of Earth, with their descendants growing to consider themselves Pure Russians. Akunin doesn’t ever hide his disgust with nationalism, and for him to demand that he’d only accept genetic results of “true Russians unlike himself” sounds disingenious.
    But the catch may be in Akunin’s defining “true Russians” as having two parents from Russia or its Slavic brethren lands. Like, scratch the surface, go a few generations back, and you’ll find so many things which go against the nationalist narrative of pureness?
    The only published compendium of “genetic Russian-ness data” to date may be in the governement-funded, and potentially nationalistically tainted, work of Balanovsky lab (which Asya Pereltsvaig recently highlighted on Geocurrents blog). The Balanovskys’ dataset shows close genetic links between ethnic Russians, Russia’s Finno-Ugric groups, and Russia’s European neighbors, but (to the xenophobes’ vocal delight) absolutely no genetic contribution from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
    Who knows, maybe Akunin’s “call for DNA” is a thinly veiled schema to refute the “all-European Russian-ness”?

  52. Vovochka: all of those, and a very fowl mouth.

  53. marie-lucie says

    DP: close genetic links between ethnic Russians, Russia’s Finno-Ugric groups, and Russia’s European neighbors, but (to the xenophobes’ vocal delight) absolutely no genetic contribution from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
    Did they try the DNA of Stalin’s relatives?

  54. the DNA of Stalin’s relatives?
    They would have excluded those, M-L. According to the Materials section of Oleg Balanovsky’s Thesis
    обследовались только индивиды, которые согласно родословным на
    протяжении трех поколений (пробанд, его родители и бабушки-дедушки) принадлежали
    данной популяции (в пределах административных границ данного и соседних районов) и
    данной этнической группе.

    they only collected DNA from subjects who lived, along with their parents and all grandparents, within the same administrative district (rayon) or immediately adjacent districts. So any migrations within the parents and grandparents generations were an automatic disqualifier. And all of the Russian rayon’s in the study were very rural districts of Russia’s hinterland (tables 1,2) with one exception made for the Cossacks from Northern Caucasus. This is a very stringent selection against recent and even not-too-recent admixtures, but I’m still left wondering if the authors could have yanked some of the admixed samples out of the datasets to preordain their conclusions.
    The urban, mobile set requested by Akunin is bound to be very different in composition, of course.

  55. Can I complain about the weather, too?
    Moscow has had the largest amount of snow in any winter recorded. And now we are having the snowiest, coldest March in 35 years. Tonight it’s going to be -18C. Daily temps until the end of the month — and beyond — will hover around -8C. It snows just about every day. The city is going to be a friggin’ lake when it all melts… And I’m going to burn my dog-walking fleece pants.

  56. Alexei K. says

    The air is thick with culture by the Yauza river? It’s thick with the stench of waste perpetually poisoning that foul rivulet. No, seriously, what is the guy talking about? Moscow will drain you of the last joule of energy and drown the listless cadaver in its long-entubed lightless yauzas.
    This winter has been particularly interminable – and though I doubt we’re going to have -18C any time soon, it looks like the privilege of spring has been taken away for good. Winter, then summer: из шубы в плавки as someone said to me in Astrakhan.

  57. New York is bloody sick of winter too. Temperatures aren’t as bad, only -5 to 5 C, but it’s the interminable wind off the harbor that’s killing us. My grandson (age 4) hasn’t been able to play in a park but twice this whole year; it’s just too miserable for anyone sitting on a park bench watching him, and who can keep up with him?

  58. marie-lucie says

    Here in Halifax the equinox has been marked by 25 cm of (wet) snow and later a harsh wind. Spring is typically very long in coming here. It will take another month and a half or so before we see definite signs of spring (such as buds on the trees and a few early flowers peeking out of the ground). But spring is short: after a couple of weeks the city goes into summer mode, transformed by all its trees in full leaf.

  59. Citing the old fav about – among the other things – the month of March not giving way to spring –
    Что значит в мартовские стужи,
    Когда отчаянье берёт,
    Все ждать и ждать, как неуклюже
    Зашевелится грузный лёд
    We are all white with fresh snow here too, at last, just after the disappearance of the oversize drifts of the previous storms, and the first modest starlet flowers of redstem stork’s-bill, a Siberian transplant to the Mountain West (called журавельник in Russian). And you know what, we need some more snow. It’s a long dry summer ahead. Every flake counts.

  60. Here‘s the Ehrenburg poem Dmitry (aka MOCKBA) was quoting; it’s very enjoyable, and I might try my hand at translating it. (It’s about how people in the warm South don’t understand what it is to wait impatiently for spring.)

  61. how people in the warm South don’t understand what it is to wait impatiently for spring
    or perhaps how people who never experienced totalitarism can’t grasp the intensity of yearning for freedom.
    Yes, seeitmemories there. I haven’t seen these lines in print on paper, ever – at first it was a guitar ballad, and now, online. Heard it for the first time from the fellow summer break travellers in a “500-funny” Derbent-Leningrad (пятсот-веселый, as the slowest and most anarchic passenger trains numbered in the 500s range were known in those days), along with another Ehrenburg color-green classic, “Зеленое на голубом”.
    I’ve seen good translations of the “Chidren of the South” before; AFAICT it wasn’t either of the following two, but they are all I could find at the moment:
    Can ever children of the tropics,
    Where in December roses bloom,
    Where in thesauruses the topic
    Of blizzard isn’t granted room,
    Can, in the lands, where skies are azure
    And forecasts cannot go awry,
    Where summer never stops to pleasure
    The body and amuse the eye,
    Can ever they, let for an instant,
    In dreams, if even indistinct,
    Let inadvertently, by instinct,
    Grasp what it means to think of spring,
    What means, in March, when almost freezes
    The air, and terror holds its grip,
    To hope, for almost no reason,
    For river ice to start its trip.
    And we’ve such vintage winters known,
    Such sorts of cold had to abide,
    That there remained nor grief nor groan,
    But only poverty and pride.
    And bitter little human beings
    Blindfolded by the snow sting,
    We could foresee, while hardly seeing,
    That overwhelming green of spring.
    Is there a way for sons of South ? —
    Where roses glow in Christmas time,
    Where no way to search for “snow”
    Both in the dictionary, and in the mind.
    Is the way a for sons of South ? —
    Where heaven never fades, and high,
    Where from antiquity till now
    Eternal summer treats the eye.
    Is there a way for them ? — Unawares,
    Just for the moment, just as dream,
    Just accidentally realize
    What does it mean: “To think of spring”.
    What’s that: in snowstorms, in April,
    When the frustration takes advance,
    Still be awaiting and awaiting
    Until first move of heavy ice.
    But we were merged with such winters,
    But we were merged with such cools,
    We did not even feel the mourning,
    But just the courage and the woe.
    And being hurt with freezing touching,
    Got blinded with the dried wind,
    We didn’t see, but we were watching
    Another eyes: green eyes of spring.

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