26 January 2008

The Blue Danube

Rumor has it that my city's new master plan calls for restoring the Zilā Donava -- The Blue Danube, a saloon that was gutted by fire not long ago. As it was one of the few seedy bars to survive the clumsy gentrification of darkest Dvinsk, and as its character is now a rarity rather than the norm -- bravo! I append a brief, relevant fragment from The Penetralium. Other extracts from my work-in regress may be found here. The work pictured (paper, watercolor, ink) is "Padegs un astrālais" ("Padegs and the Astral") by Kārlis Padegs, 1939.

Vegetable Street (literally the Street of Roots) runs parallel to Bread Street until the latter curves. Vegetable Street is the steepest street in the city, reaching Station Street at an ugly monument built for the Dvintsi, their bronze faces scowling under the red star, across from the Blue Danube, first tavern to greet a visitor to our fair city, the kind of bar that only certain women enter late at night, or long-suffering women accompanying their suicidal husbands for a last drink – what the rite is here: a man, dressed in hideous synthetics (no longer so obvious, since there is a “sekondhends,” a second-hand clothing store, on nearly every corner, erasing the old distinctions in No-Man’s-Land) – such an one, shining with the slime of masculinity, slimed with machismo, brings his draugs his droog his buddy, for early destruction (“no man is safe who drinks before breakfast”) – eight a.m., at the Blue Danube or Uyut (vaguely Gemütlichkeit) or the nameless bar next to the ragpickers’ – the scene is the same: a bottle of Agdam, a sort of faux port that is really grain neutral spirits and color, sugar, a trace of grapes – my buddy – the man with whom I am entering the grave – my buddy and I: Agdam, half-liter jars of bad beer (once, mine had maggots at the bottom of the glass), and a thick, hexagonally patterned tumbler of vodka, two three hundred grams of vodka each, and a pair of voblas, a dry, salty fish – the Caspian roach. You talk, the benches scraping against the floor, sip Agdam, down vodka, and drain your beer, beat the fish against the side of the table to loosen its meat, and then it is morning. And that is manhood, far from the nervous children and neurotic wife, finally far from your buddy’s seeming inability to see what it is you were saying as the fish kept time, far even from yourself. Somehow lately everyone is dying from cirrhosis, or from the brake fluid they drank during prohibition in the eighties. You stagger home to Stropi, where the slaughterhouse is (“please celebrate your wedding at our café”), or Grīva, crossing the river by ice if it is winter. When the thaw comes, the last to cross seem to disappear, or ice fishermen adrift, devoted folks, away from the family each day, warming themselves with grain alcohol, waiting for fish. This is only a man and his bottle, dawn or was it dusk, crib.

And then we came out and saw the stars of hell. In vino veritas, pravda? “And ruthlessly sow the salt of deformation.”

For years now, the Fortress is a place of internal exile. If you are unable to pay the “heating net” or the hot water (only on weekends in summer), and are delinquent for a few months, you are sent to the Fortress – “allocated space” – and live there with men who can no longer afford the aforementioned manhood. They gather by the yellow tanker trucks that sell beer, loll in the grass of the dry moats, torture their families (what is a family) and create hell as easily as I drift into doubt and ambivalence. The poetry of departure. In Hochsommer, the barges still function, bearing ordinary sand from as far as the rapids – this is an unnavigable river beyond Pļaviņas – the formerly proud tugboats lately sinking when they are not moved on time from the summer to the winter dock, the pressure of the ice, the pilots ensconced in the sorry Blue Danube or another nameless place known by a graffito of a crescent and star, where they were about to plow under the shuttered wooden hovels of Viduspoguļanka and build soc-houses, what leader are the buildings named after today, what is built, confused crones bearing sour cream to market, so that yesterday by mid-afternoon, when the hopeful enter despair and pack it up and head for their homesteads, the tables were still laden with cottage cheese and the eyes of those who milked that animal were dark... they look good, things here, from the bars the few foreigners enter, the ones where one beer would buy you seven at Uyut, and there is some fresh happiness in the ulitse Lenina, after all my daughter went to Denmark to study drawing and Sasha is working for that man behind the tinted windows of the Lincoln Navigator… and now is something akin to goldenrod, last night’s mussels in brine, I reacting to my sudden presence after two days dragging my lover into selfsame nightmare, an old and degenerate man rounding our house, peering at the garden, and entering I’s mother’s apartment, my not understanding a word he said as I led him away (how do I know what he wants? Once it was a man whose family squatted here when this house was abandoned during the tail end of the German occupation – he only wanted to see his memory – “my first bath, I had never seen a bathtub before”) … kak cauchemar, why have the Russians taken the French word for nightmare, did they not have them before?

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Blogger Baltic said...

Good piece as always and reminds my 1989-1991 days in D-pils:) However, when you referre, "Agdam, half-liter jars of bad beer" then I remember that Agdam was a o,75 or 1liter champagne bottles of Azeri spirited wine.

"Agdam" the same as Bulgarian "Gamza" was particularly cherished by collective farm tractor drivers and other petit drunkards, as we used to say back those days of Brezhnevite "binge totale". Also, if one thinks about the ethimological meaning of Agdam in Russian - ak dam...ahh, give you a punch:)

27 January, 2008 10:26  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Paldies, Veiko! Yes, the Agdam was the wretched "wine"; the full breakfast of the underclass ca. 1992 sometimes consisted of sips of Agdam between gulps of vodka, washing some unidentifiably fleshly belaši down with the maggoty beer...

Ah, well, lifestyles change -- a sedate mojito for 5 lati at the Rothko Bar doesn't come close!

Latviski lasošajiem -- tagad var baudīt Veiko emuāru arī V-dienā!

27 January, 2008 10:44  
Anonymous RobThBruce said...

I could imagine strains of Tom Waits songs, wailing their way across the room before slowly sauntering their way downwards into oblivion, The excuses: "The Piano has been drinking, not me!" Before he thrown to the floor by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds who capture the attention of the bar-goers with their murder songs, they conjure to life the Pirate Jenny in the middle of that black night until the bells toll, their tintinabulation ringing in the late hour, when only the one and only lonely Leonard Cohen can talk some sense into all those who chose to stay in this city, who so humbly endeavour to persevere when reason has turned its back on them followed by an exodus of the mothers of fate and fortune, oh fortuna!

28 January, 2008 04:56  
Blogger Blair Sheridan said...


Russian has a phrase for nightmare: страшный сон. I think кошмар was probably just a je ne sais quoi c'est la vie zut alors affectation that caught on and stuck.


28 January, 2008 10:01  

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