I got in some trouble in political circles for a piece I wrote about strolling through Boston and sticking revolutionary news papers where they should not belong. I saw myself as something like the character in Edgar Poe’s “The Man and the City.”
But, as I looked at some of the other writings I had made about my walks through the city, and the people I’ve met and interacted with on the streets I began to think of the collection of Russian stories about seemingly mundane everyday events and people by Ivan Turgenev – Sketches from a Hunters Notebook.
At least that’s how the title was remembered by me. As I look into the work I find the translated title would be more accurately rendered ‘Sketches From a Hunter’s Album.’ I remember one college prof quoting an Italian writer: “Translation, traitor.” Another prof said that reading fine works of literature in translation was like feeling a beautiful body with mittens on.
But, the book was in my head. Or, at least the title and the idea of someone wandering around their society and learning about places and people they met. I haven’t read the stories. But I liked the title and the idea and I had thought of collecting some of the pieces I have written that might fit in that kind of a description. For instance when I met the Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney at a high school I was teaching technical drawing at. I didn’t know who he was, I had fun interacting with him and feeding him limericks to complete. I didn’t find out who the man was until ten years later when he died and I recognized his picture in the news. Or when I met a girl from Donegal on the streets of Dorchester when a wild doe came down Ashmont street at 5 o’clock in the morning. I could add the piece I wrote about being at a rally to defend immigrant rights where at the beginning of the rally on Boston Common an older woman approached me and said, “You have really beautiful eyes.” Later as the rally arrived at Boston City Hall a young woman in a group also said to me, “You have really beautiful eyes.” I’m still puzzled by that.
A few days ago I was walking in New York City toward a meeting in a restaurant where I might speak with some political friends who were critical of some of the things I had posted. I was thinking of my blog as a series of Sketches From a Hunters Notebook.
As I crossed one street I saw a ‘free newspaper’ plastic display box on its side with five books spread out on top. Abandoned literature? My favorite kind. I stopped and immediately the title that captured my attention was a book I had read in high school – “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck. A bright colorful cover, and as I opened the book it had good large type that I could read easily. I thought of taking the book to read on the bus trip home back to Boston. Underneath “The Good Earth” was — “Sketches From a Hunter’s Album” by Ivan Turgenev.
A book that I had been turning over in my head for the past two months appeared on the street in front of me practically on platter. I don’t believe in God, or Gods, or muses or the spirit of Literature… but what a strange development.
I thought of taking both “The Good Earth,” and “Sketches From a Hunters Album,” but I was worried about the weight on my back. I had miles to go before I slept. I have too, too many books at home and have been trying to give away as many as I can in the last few years. As people remind me, so many of the books I love or want to read are online, and with large type. There is no pressing need to fill my apartment with books, books, books.
I put the books down and turned the pages of a hardcover book that had no dust cover with a title. Through a blank page I saw a large thin letter ‘U’ that I recognized from…I wasn’t sure. Then it came to me as I turned the page. This was a copy of James Joyce’ “Ulysses.” A Nobel Prize winning novel sitting on the street. Free to any who might stop to pick the work up. Abandoned on an overturned free newspaper box.
I saw a woman’s name on a bookplate on the first page. I should have written her name down, but I did not. I decided that I could not resist taking the “Sketches From a Hunter’s Album” and put it in my backpack.
A few more blocks down as I moved toward Lower Manhattan I saw a pizza place with lots of seating and not too many people. They offered “Two slices of pizza and a 20oz Coke” for $5.99 (plus tax). This was not as good and offer as the $3.00 for two slices and a can of coke that I had passed earlier, but one could not sit down in that place.
So I sat down to my pizza and coke and opened the pages of “Sketches From a Hunter’s Notebook” and a tasty meal of words and cheese and sauce and sugar. I had much to digest.
I especially liked the fact that Turgenev got in trouble for what he wrote, and I was in trouble for what I had written. At least I am not going to be confined to my mothers estate under house arrest as Turgenev was in 1860 Russia . Any arresting I will do will be in my head. And yet, arrested I am.