Saturday, February 17, 2007

Anti-Danube: Chapter II

In which I add to my opponents

Slavko the barman had stopped laughing, so I approached him.

"I would like a shot of afinata and a plum pirizhyk to go."

"Comrade Zhatko," replied Slavko, "I would like my wife to go. Or at least to look more like Kim Novak and less like the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Democratic and (United) Socialist Party of Ruthenia, Kostyatyn Novak. But neither is provided for in the Plan this quarter, and we do not practice voluntarist adventurism in this cafe."

I silently shared his regret at the unwholesome appearance of Madame Slavko, with whom I was conducting an affair as research for my short story "The Chiropractor: Symphonies in Squalour". From time to time I imagined that Slavko, through some dim sense developed in the Carpathian Forests of his forefathers, knew of my disinterested mounting of his wife, as every pastry-related inquiry was met with the wish that Lottie should leave him for parts unspecified.

I tipped him a full half thaler, which he bit and pocketed. A wise and dangerous man.

I left the cafe, crossed Hetman Shaxraj Boulevard and headed towards the National Library. I burned to begin research on the Danube and its dark twin that I had felt flow through me, but first to old business.

I settled myself at my customary table, that reserved for the late Academician Prof Yitzhak Zhatko, and as usual ordered the latest London Review of Books, L'Infini, Dilema Veche, Frak(tur) and the Frankfurter Allgmeine Zeitung. As usual the librarian sneered and dropped a copy of Litblatt Rutenskij and the daily papers on my blotter before wiggling off in her Bulgarian slingbacks.

Litblatt, the only arts and literary journal to lead on sports stories, provided a convenient cover for my swift perusal of the daily obituary columns for any reference to the passing of Prof Zhatko. Reassured that my table by the radiator was safe for another day, I opened my notebook at the page "Those Who Reject the Thesis of Zhatko", and sadly added the name of Slavislav Kodoba: mon semblable - mon pere.

(Yizhak Zhatko 1982)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Anti-Danube: Chapter I

In which I ascertain the source of my own Danube

I was drinking in my favourite cafe in Zhakhiv. The one they call Kodoba entered, sat down and ordered mamaliga with salt cheese. He did not greet me.

I called over to him:

"So, Kodoba, in not greeting me

You are like the River Danube.

"Like you, the Danube rises in Bavaria
To greet Heine's dark hero, Germany.

"Like you, it pays courtly respect
To a fallen grande dame,
In its case Austria.

"It splits Hungary in two,
As you have promised to do
With Madame Tyskovitz
Should the opportunity arise.

"It separates the squally Balkan brood of Jugo-Slavia,
Roumania and Bulgaria,
As you seek to adjudicate
Among the various factions
Of your Socialist Intentionalist Movement.

"And, as the Danube shuns Ruthenia
By running to the Black Sea at Constanta,
So do you, Kodoba,
Shun me."

Kodoba eyed me steadily across the hushed cafe, and slowly brushed cheese from his moustache.

"I wipe my cock on your mother's grave," he pronounced at length, and returned to his lunch.

This moment launched the barque of my anomie against the raging torrents of my own personal Danube.

(Yizhak Zhatko, 1982)

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Happy New Year, innit. Like the strapline says, I've been busy - translating Protydunaju, the masterwork of Ruthenian sage Yizhak Zhatko. Ages it took me, but Anti-Danube is ready for publication in bits on this blog. No publisher will touch it, see. Here are some of my (and, in a real sense, Zhatko's) rejection slips:

Weidenfeld & Nicolson: It is not the policy of this company to denigrate rivers or any other bodies of water.

HarperCollins: We foresee no paperback market for this title, or hardback for that matter.

Verso: He's a Fascist. Fascist!

Pergamon Press: We're interested.

So it looks like a No Good Boyo venture from beginning to end.

Zhatko, for those of you who missed the East European component of your philosophy degree, is the founder of Existential Nihilism ("I Think, Therefore It Isn't"), Ruthenia's most frequent political prisoner (Bjulleten karpatskyx zindaniv, 2004 iv/b p 23), and Europe's Least Effective Culture Minister 1992 (up against Anna Benaki-Psarouda of Greece, Grethe Rostbøll of Denmark and whatever plank ran skateboard rinks in Britain that year).

I've admired his work since I heard that he made Emil Cioran sound like a stand-up - a career that he tried briefly during Ruthenia's most Stalinist period (prison term No.2 - his first was for putting "poet" as his nationality on his national service card aged 18). Tracking down his writings could have been easier- it involved learning Ruthenian from a mimeograph of Magocsi's Bisidujme po-rus'kij that I had to degrade myself for with a librarian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. It turned out to be the wrong type of Ruthenian, but I've busked the rest and no one's complained so far.

I'll put up some of chapter one tomorrow, whether you Slovak-loving bastards like it or not.