So as June presses into July and the Moscow summer that never was continues along its murky, dismal, way, hammered by the gray rains, I was told a story by one of my students that depressed me even further.
It was about a man who used to work in this particular company who had wife, child and dog. The dog was 11 years old and had come a long way before the child. You would think that after 11 years, the man would love his dog and consider it part of the family Anyway, for some reason – when Mom and Babushka were obviously not paying attention – the kid hit or kicked the dog. Not surprising the old dog, who may have even been sleeping, snapped at the kid. Maybe even nipped the little bastard, who knows?. The response to this was that the good Christian gentleman took his 11-year dog friend to the vet and had it euthanized.
I am sure that this guy – given the way that Russian people tend to glorify children – had no second thoughts. The animal (only an animal !) f----ed up, and so it ("it" !) had to be destroyed. This, after all, was surely what God required.
All I can say is that it was a good thing the guy was not still working at the company; otherwise, I would have located him, dragged him away from his computer and slapped the piss out of him.
Have you ever noticed that whenever there is such a problem among humans and animals, it is always the animal which pays the ultimate price (loss of life) and most of the time it was the stupid human being to create the problem? This is why I just love it when occasionally I see on the internet – caught on camera – a crocodile devouring some fool who had no business jumping into the lake, or maybe a bull goring the hell out of one of those idiots who runs the streets in Spain during whatever festival they call it in Pamplona, or some such wherever. For me, it's a treat to see the animal come out on top once in a while.
I have been doing a lot of reading lately. Especially of Gogol, one of my all-time favorites. (My advice to any foreigner – if you want to understand "the mysterious Russian soul" – read Gogol, because in my estimation people here haven't changed a bit since then – and probably for centuries before Gogol himself – or Pushkin, his idol– was alive.) But during this reading period (it's a fun pastime during endless downpours of rain), I got to thinking about Turgenev's story "Mumu." Everybody in Russia who is literate knows this story; mostly, I guess, it is force-fed to pupils at school.
I am sure you can guess what's coming next from me, right? Dog-lover that I am, I cannot understand why Gerasim kills Mumu. There is clearly no need for him to do so. He has left his work and is now going back to his village. Mumu is his only friend, quite likely the only thing in his life that Gerasim has loved that reciprocated love, that is, gave love back to him (the girl he wanted in the town told him to piss off). So there he is, and what does he do? He drowns the innocent dog.
For the past week, I have been asking my students the question: why did Gerasim kill his dog? Of course, and sadly this is typical of my experience with Russians, no one seems to have ANY idea why. 'It was a long time ago that I read it" they will say. Or 'It's just Russian mentality." Which, translated, apparently either means that since Gerasim was essentially a slave – and thus had a slave's mentality – he felt duty-bound to carry out the order which the rich old hag had given him. Or maybe he just wanted to break all ties – and this included Mumu – which linked him to the life he was then abandoning.
Neither answer is satisfactory to me. Some of the sparse literary criticism I have been able to find on this blasted, inadequate Google, invites a comparison (somehow) between Gerasim and the pathetic retarded character in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." I don't know. Maybe some sort of 'poetic' answer is needed, or maybe it was just a device that Turgenev used to make the story interesting and unsentimental. Likewise, If Gerasim can be dismissed as an idiot, then the story loses power and relevance. So we must assume that Turgenev presents us with a Gerasim who does what he does for a reason. Maybe my readers can help me here?...........
.......because otherwise, I must say that I hate this story and its stupid "hero." I would never kill my dog-friend because some weather-beaten old douchebag told me to. But then again I don't have a slave's mentality.
Once a week I go to Uzhnaya because I have a class there. During the rest of the year, when it is not 'summer' (haha,heehee, yuck, yuck !) I go twice a week. After the metro, I have a long walk to the business where I teach. As I enter the grounds, there is a young dog which is kept in a pen. He is a shepherd of some sort and still very young – maybe five or six months. He looks healthy enough but he is always alone in the pen. He has water, but I don't often see any trace of food. Maybe someone walks him in the evening, otherwise, he is just left in his cage. Hour after hour, all day, every day. So what I do, I prepare this dog a nice, juicy meal. Usually pork chops and chicken. (Not the bones, though). I feed the dog once before the lesson and again afterwards. Needless to say, the dog is glad to see me. Maybe it is the highlight of his week. (Maybe it is the highlight of mine!) When I start to pet him, he literary jumps up and down and begins to squeak with joy.
It is no fun making the long trip to Uzhnaya, especially when the weather is bad, but since I made friends with this dog, it is a pleasure and I look forward to it. My students know about it and maybe think I am a little bit crazy, but all I know is this: for a few minutes once a week, an old American man and a young Russian dog make each other happy. I wish I could take him home with me.
But I have two dogs in Bulgaria that I will see later this week (and I will see my wife of course.) I can already picture myself Thursday night (late, because the plane arrives late) sitting out on the patio with Liuba, Cass, and Poppy, drinking my Zagorka beer and listening to the forest dogs howl and bay in the distance. It will be great.
Yet even there one has to be careful. In the Bulgarian summer (there IS one in Bulgaria; it is even possible to see the sun, can you imagine?), many tourists and property owners arrive. And bring their kids, So you have to be careful. Already, even in the village where we live, there has been an incident. The ten-year-old grandson of our next-door neighbors tried to climb into our yard to get an apple from the tree, and out dogs started raising hell with him. So of course, these previously pleasant neighbors began telling my wife that our dogs are dangerous and we must henceforth make them wear masks. Except that our dogs have never bitten anybody and they do not like to wear masks. So my good Russian wife told these neighbors that they should henceforth go f--k themselves and keep their kid out of our yard.
But now we have to be careful. The beaches are getting crowded, houses in our neighborhood that were empty before are now full of their previously absent occupants. So I drill it in Liuba to be careful because any indiscretion on part of the dogs – even if a child neglected by his guardians caused the problem – will result in drastic measures taken against the dogs.
Don't get me wrong. I like children. I do not automatically LOVE them. To me, after an initial period of 'cuteness', kids are just miniature adults. I am around a lot of them because of my teaching assignments. By the time a child is 6 or 7 you can see pretty clearly signs of character. And you can fairly well guess which ones will be nice people and which ones will grow up to be arrogant, self-serving assholes. It's written all over them. So I, for one, do not instantly jump up and relinquish my seat every time some able-bodied young 6-year-old climbs onboard the metro train, and it almost makes me laugh (with contempt) the way everyone leaps to their feet and darts around all over the place – such histrionics! – so that the budding little Pushkin can rest his milky young bones.). Let them stand up, I say; it's good for their legs and coordination. (Obviously – this is common sense, for God's sake – I will happily give up my seat to help any young mother who is clearly in need of a seat for herself and/or her very young children.)
Kids have their place, and so do dogs. They certainly are not created to be foes; rather, the opposite is true. In my opinion, nothing better can happen to a child than to be given a dog and taught how to care for his new friend. When I was a child, only people hurt me; never a dog, and so, as I age – with many years under my belt – I remember the friends I have had – among them plenty of people, but also animals, dogs in particular. When I recall those years back in America, frankly speaking, it is the dogs that I miss the most.
When I came to Moscow 10 years ago, dogs were running the streets everywhere, now you rarely see them. Much as I would like to believe that marvelous new animal shelters have sprung up to shelter and protect them, I know better because I know how it is here. Those dogs are just quietly rounded up and put to death. Like many of Moscow's ugly little secrets, this goes on all the time too.
So I tend to my little friend in Uzhnaya. It's the best I can do to make the world a better place. And soon I will be back in Bliznatsa and Liuba, Casper, and Poppindoshka. I hope nobody tries to f---k with any of them, or there will be bloodshed in the village. But the village is a nice place, and I am sure trouble can be avoided. Maybe I will show the neighbor's grandson how to make friends with a dog.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===