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.

The fragments:

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!

The tandour:

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.


  1. Here in Japan these are still quite common in winter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kotatsu
    (not saying they’re related by anything other than coincidental similarity of form & function)

  2. your translation makes the text sound all modern too i guess, while all the thoughts and emotions in it are not very different from nowadays blog posts, the wording in the russian original still feels a bit like the XiX century, “pushe, jarovneyu, schastiya, mysliyu” etc. even otryvki sound kinda like adding to the style, cz it would be perhaps fragmenty, fragmentarnyi in the modern russian or mojet kuski, kusochki, otrezki, something more like simpler sounding words or all that, foreign neologisms, well, otryvki is simple enough i guess though, Dostoevsky’s language in comparison is perfect, now classical, the difference of 30-40-50 yrs could be felt so strongly that it doesnt sound archaic at all, D’s style
    i wonder whether the style of _Baron Brambeus_ could be reproduced closely in english, not making it sound all the 21st century

  3. Aha, so in Central Asia they’re still used, and called sandal (I wonder what the origin of that word is?). Thanks very much!

  4. NotJohn says

    I remember sittting round a table like this in Granada, Spain in 1972. There was a hole cut in the centre of the table which had a heavy cloth draped it which covered everyone’s knees. The only word I recall being used for it was ‘brasero’ (just the common name for a wood or charcoal brazier).

  5. marie-lucie says

    A friend of mine went to Iran with the Peace Corps in the 60’s. He was posted in a rural area and described this as the way rural people kept themselves warm indoors in the winter, keeping a low fire or rather embers burning, which would not use up much wood.
    If this was/is done also in Southern Spain, I wonder if the custom was transmitted through the earlier Arab or Muslim presence.

  6. I wonder what the origin of that word is?
    Hard to tell, but there are a few ideas:
    Сандал — тип печи в Средней Азии. Название происходит от слова «сандал»
    — «обувь» и обозначает скамейку, на которую ставили обувь.
    definition #1
    Doesn’t seem likely, but who knows?
    More likely – to me, at least – is the anvil version:
    definition #2: anvil (Turkmen), s=θ
    Һандал (Bashkir), Сунтал (Chuvash)

  7. in mongolian sandal means just the regular chair to sit on, goes with shiree table, sandal shiree or shiree sandal will be a dining set

  8. Ковром накрыт сандал*. В сандале тлеют угли.
    Фурманов – Мятеж

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    I was halfway through reading the description when it struck me that this sounded exactly like what I recall encountering in less-urban Japan when I was a boy circa 1975, although I had totally forgotten the Japanese word for it. I’m grateful for AG for posting the relevant wikipedia link and happy (up to a point – I’d rather have central heating myself . . .) to hear they’re not obsolete. What I’m remembering is what’s described in that wiki article as the more archaic style where the table/blankets thingie covers a pit in the floor, so you sit around it with your bottom on the tatami but your legs under the covers dangling down “below grade” into the pit.

  10. Adelfons says

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor :
    The oldest examples of a tandoor were found in the settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, though earlier tandoor-type ovens have been recovered in early-Harappan contexts on the Makran coast, including the mound site of Balakot, Pakistan. In Sanskrit, the tandoor was referred to as kandu. The word tandoor comes from the Dari words tandūr and tannūr; these are derived from very similar terms, viz. Persian tanūr (تنور), Armenian t’onir (Թոնիր), Arabic tannūr (تنّور), Hebrew (תנור) eg in Leviticus 2:4[2] Turkish tandır, Uzbek tandir, Azeri təndir and Kurdish tendûr. However, according to Dehkhoda Persian Dictionary, the word originates from Akkadian tinûru, and is mentioned as early as in the Akkadian Epic of Gilgames (as reflexed by Avestan tanûra and Pahlavi tanûr). As such, tandoor may not have originated from Semitic or Iranian altogether, dating back to periods before the migration of Aryan and Semitic people to the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia.

  11. Alexander M. Kim says

    Isn’t sandali (Persian: صندلی) a common Iranic word for “chair”? Not aware of any equivalent word in Uyghur, though one may well exist (orunduq ئورۇندۇق, “seat/chair” [orun ئورۇن is “seat/place”] and kursi كۇرسى, “seat/stool”).
    Amongst Uyghurs, tonur تونۇر (in some dialects dialectics, tandir) refers to a traditional oven (of the sort called by similar names in the Iranian and Indic worlds). They do have indoor platforms of adobe or brick covered by colorful wool or felt, often heated by an oven in winter, for communal sleeping, but as far as I know these are referred to either as supa or kang (from Chinese 炕).
    While the ondol 온돌/gudeul 구들 (lit. “warm stone” and “fired stone”, respectively) underfloor heating of Korea is at first glance rather different, it’s argued that the proto-form was some kind of central hearth (elevation relative to floor level I’m not sure) that later merged with a separate peripheral furnace. Similar systems are known throughout adjoining northeast Asia, but there’s also a disjunct record of a surprisingly derived-looking “ondol” dated to 3000 ybp from the Aleutians.

  12. i thought maybe our sandal is some borrowing from either a word meaning all that, sandal wood or these convenience warn sitting sets or from “common iranian word for chair”, but there is a verb sandailah in my language, means to sit on one’s feet, ” na kortochkax” if in russian, preferrably having something, could be a stone or a piece of wood, a pillow, anything, under one’s butts, but could be when without too

  13. warming i meant

  14. For the benefit of your readers who are not Russian speakers Bolvanopulo < bolvan = dummy; Skukolini < skuka = boredom. This choice of names alone is enough to place the novel as no earlier than the beginning of XIXth century.

  15. Sorry, the posting software ate (most of) my previous comment. Bolvanopulo is from bolvan = dummy. Skukolini is from skuka = boredom. This literary device was abandoned by self-respecting Russian authors by mid-nineteenth century.

  16. I fixed your first comment (you need to write & lt ; without spaces to get <). I hope your “self-respecting” does not imply you think early-nineteenth-century writers were somehow lesser because they used different devices; also, I would draw your attention to the fact that “speaking names” continued to be used very freely in Russian literature. Or do you think the raskol in Raskolnikov is a coincidence?

  17. I am not saying that a particular literary device makes a novel better or worse by itself. It just gives it a period feel. As for later “speaking names” tradition, it became much more subtle.

  18. I am not saying that a particular literary device makes a novel better or worse by itself. It just gives it a period feel.
    Oh, OK, that’s absolutely true. Sorry, I get defensive about these writers who have been forgotten unjustly!

  19. We may perhaps compare the Squire Allworthys and Mr. Knightleys of an earlier day with Francis Urquhart, the despicable antihero of House of Cards, though his opponent Tom Makepeace is, nominatively speaking, a throwback to the old days.
    TVTropes link: beware, beware, massive time suck!

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