I’m serious about leaving. I’ve been working on the dizi and thinking. I know this seems sudden, but what can I say? I know I’m too impulsive.
I feel the need to justify myself. Okay, here goes: I’ve waited two and a half years, the situation is just getting worse, I should have left a long time ago. It won’t be a problem to leave Moscow; the hard part will be getting through the Germans without being captured for a spy. If I stay here, I’ll have to face the Germans anyway. And I feel stupid not doing anything. I must be the only man my age that’s not in the army.
I know the Germans must be coming closer to the city. We can hear the fighting all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were more like 30 km away now.
It’s 1150 km from Moscow to Warsaw. I figure I can walk at least 30 km a day. So, if I walk the whole way, I can be there in a month. But that’s a straight line, and I’ll have to curve around a lot, so my actual estimate is more like two or three months. I hope to arrive before March. Maybe I can hitchhike, too. I thought about buying a car, but that’s probably not a good use of money, considering the roads are all torn up.
I’ve made a list of all the things I need to do.
~Pay all of my bills and settle with the building supervisor
~Sell most of my belongings
~Pay someone to store my library and musical instruments
~Finish up my translation work
~Cancel my lessons and recommend other tutors to my students
~Get some money transferred from the account in Zurich
~Buy Reichsmark and złotych
~Close my bank account in Moscow
~Obtain the necessary documents for travel
~Leave word with the French consulate (considering there is no Polish one now)
Pack—and I’m absolutely only allowing myself one satchel, although it will be sad to leave all of my books:
~Two suits and a pair of shoes
~Soap and a shaving kit
~Iodine and bleach (for the water, just in case)
~Maps, my passport, and money
~Pocketknife and matches
~Notebooks and pens
My plan is to go south before heading west. I’d like to go straight to Warsaw but, at least according to news reports, the fighting is thicker there.
I don’t even know what I’m going to do once I get to Warsaw. I’ll have to give myself a time limit—maybe three months?—to find out what happened to my family, and then I have to take them and get out. Probably we’ll go north and try to cross the Baltic Sea to Sweden. I know a former ambassador in Stockholm who could probably help us out.
No, this is stupid.
If I’m not captured by German soldiers and impressed into slave labor before I reach Warsaw, and if I don’t die from exposure or hunger or random gunfire, I’ll probably get stuck in Warsaw. There’s no way I’ll get to Sweden. How would I get a boat, anyway?
But I have to get my family out of that city, or at least find out where they’ve gone and get them to safety somehow. I’ve know the radio reports by heart: no food, no medical supplies, constant bombardment. The waterworks destroyed. Fires raging through the city. All higher educational institutions closed. Jews—a third of the city—herded into the Ghetto. Civilians dead: 25,800. Civilians wounded: 50,000. Buildings demolished: 12%.
So I’ll go south to Tula, and then cut through Nazi lines to Smolensk and then Orsha. After that, as innocently as possible, I’ll make my way west to Minsk, Białystok, and then Warsaw. At least, that’s my plan.
I seem very well organized and resolved, but actually, I’m terrified.
I went to pray today, not to the Catholic church, but to Red Square, to Собор Покрова что на Рву—the Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed. I go here all the time, but I try to spend my time in the cathedral itself. I mostly ignore the bronze statue in the garden that commemorates the seventeenth-century Russian victory over Poland.
I’ve been thinking about Basil the Holy Fool, and… if I were Orthodox… I’d certainly have him for my patron saint. Actually… I’ve been praying to him, even though I’m not Orthodox. I know that Church doctrine probably frowns on this, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
There are nine chapels on the cathedral’s foundation, surrounding a central tower, and I like to kneel in the one that Tsar Fedor Ivanovich built over the grave of Saint Basil in 1561. Everybody calls the cathedral by Basil’s name, even though it is really named after the Blessed Virgin.
Saint Basil was a юродивый—a holy fool. From the age of sixteen, he went around naked and in chains, pretending to be slow, speaking the word of God in riddles, and telling strangers of their secret sins. He gave meat to Ivan the Terrible during Lent, saying, “Ivasko, Ivasko, do you think it unlawful to eat a piece of beast's flesh and not unlawful to eat so much flesh by your massacres?” His feast day is August 2nd.
My actual patron saint—John of Caramola—has a feast day on the day I was born, August 26th. He was an Italian hermit. I’m ostensibly named for him, although I think my parents actually just liked the name.
I think I’m grown-up enough to recognize my own patron saint, don’t you?
I feel like… somebody should be there for Basil. His own people have turned away from God (though even they have the good sense not to destroy this work of art that is his cathedral, praise be to the Lord) and here am I, also a wanderer and also, in a way, different from those around me.
I'm at a concert in the Small Hall at the Conservatory. I really shouldn't be writing, but I'm not disturbing anyone. I'm sitting in the top row of the balcony in one of those hard, white, tall-backed pew benches; you know, the ones that squish you into your neighbors and cut you off from everyone else.
Luckily, I have no neighbor this evening. It's just a degree recital for a decently-talented pianist, and the lowest floor is full of her friends and colleagues.
I feel kind of bad, doing this. But I guess if I'm not bothering anybody, it's okay...
Quartet for the End of Time is still going through my head. Music has changed so much... everywhere but here. Conservatory students are excellent technicians and expressive to the point of inanity. (So few are true Romantics... I'm surrounded by Philistines here!) But the innovations in modern music are happening in France and Germany and the United States.
It seems stupid to go to concerts, but I guess there's nothing else for us to do. We have to try to preserve some sense of normalcy and joy in everyday life. I only wish I could be doing something useful to ease people's suffering.
I spent the day at the library, researching folk instruments. I dreamt all last night about that stupid flute again. I woke up feeling distinctly unsettled, so as soon as I got dressed and forced myself to finish some paperwork like a responsible member of society, I caught the metro to the city center and went to the public library and then to the library at the Conservatory. (That's where I found out about the recital, by the way.)
I went to the library because I wanted to find out where I've seen that instrument before. My dreams are so detailed, and I remember them so clearly, that I know I must have played--or at least seen--that instrument before.
It turns out, it's a Chinese bamboo flute called the dizi, also known as a di or hengdi. It was introduced into China from Central Asia during the Han Dynasty, between 206 BC and 220 AD, although simple transverse flutes have existed in China for over 8,000 years. Modern instruments have a little membrane in them, called the dimo, that gives them a buzzy sound, but it wasn't invented until the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). The one in my dreams doesn't have it, so obviously it's an older style. The dizi has a pretty big range for a flute: about 2 1/4 octaves!
I had to go through a lot of pictures in a great number of books to find it. It's played exactly like I play it in my dreams. I know I must have studied it somewhere.
It's actually strange that the dizi turns out to be from China, though, because of course my flute dreams, like most of my other ones, take place in this odd quasi-China-like place. I have no idea why I have this bizarre obsession with China.
Anyway, I bet I could make one, if I could find the right sort of bamboo. All you have to do is stop one end and drill holes in it at even intervals. There would be one embouchure hole (chui kong in Chinese!), six finger-holes, and two pairs of holes in the end to correct the pitch and hang decorative tassels. It's not even equal temperament, so determining the placement of the finger-holes should be a matter of simple mathematics. The scale is actually a mixture of whole-tone and three-quarter-tone intervals.
Maybe I'll start one this week. I'll scour the city for bamboo, or else see if I can make it out of some other type of wood. It'll give me something to do to keep my mind off Christmas.
Christmas is awful here. Nobody else celebrates it except other expatriates, and anyway it just reminds me of how much I worry about my family. I usually (by which I mean, for the last two years) attend parties at the homes of various ambassadors and foreign teacher on the nights leading up to the holiday, but the day itself I usually spend alone, praying and reading. I go to Mass, too, I guess. It's nice that there's a Catholic church here, even if it's only foreigners who attend. The service is in Latin and the homily in French, so everybody understands.
This will be my third Christmas here. I don't even know if there will be a Moscow by then.
I really wish something would happen so I could go home, or the world would end.
I don't care if there is half a meter of snow on the ground. I don't care if Moscow is surrounded by Nazi soldiers. I'm going to find a way to leave this city and find out what's happened to my family. And I'm going to do it in a rational, well-organized way, and I'm not going to get killed doing it.
I’m sitting in Александровский сад—the
There is a grotto here under the
Barricades have been built up in the streets. The government's moved out of the Kremlin to Kubyshev, but Stalin's stayed, of course. He's been a very inspirational leader. I came to see the annual military parade on November 7. All the soldiers paraded across Red Square and marched right out to the battle. It was pretty stupid; it would have been disastrous if the Germans had chosen to bomb us at that moment. But it really helped people, I think, to see such a visible reminder of how hard this city is fighting right now.
It's horrible at night, when you can hear the sounds of the fighting. We're not surrounded yet, so we're not really short supplies, and everyone's going about their jobs, but it feels so hollow and tense. I feel very silly giving music lessons when there are men--and even women, we've gotten so desperate--exploding into pieces not 120 miles away. And it's cold. Dmitri Aleksandrovich next door says that it's the coldest winter he can remember.
I’ve spent the last two days inside my apartment, and I was ready to get out, so I rode the metro to the city’s center. Whatever else people say about
I can’t even express how much I hate war.
I’m not old enough to remember the First Great War, but I saw what it did to my father and mother. I saw what war did to my
Instead the world descended into chaos. It’s like the End Times described in the Book of Revelations. Out of a German prison camp, there’s come a piece by a French composer, Olivier Messiaen, called Quatour pour la fin du temps. I heard it performed at a private party—it’s too modernist for official channels—and it’s the most profoundly sad thing I’ve ever heard. We all were crying silently as we left.
I’m sitting in the snow-covered garden watching good things that I know may soon disappear into nothing. There are school kids and factory workers on their days off, and packs of wild dogs and doves. But it’s not just these that worry me—we can save them, we can move them.
It’s the public library. It’s the Bolshoi Theater. It’s the Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed. It’s the trees and the fountains and the bricked-over square. These things cannot be moved to a safe place. When the bombs come, they will be destroyed. We will build newer, uglier buildings in their places, but even a truly beautiful building cannot replace what was truly beautiful and now is gone.
The tone of this has been dark, but so have my thoughts been lately. I will try to be more cheerful.
On a less doomful subject, that strange thing happened again today.
I was giving an oboe lesson to one of my students—Natalia Ilyevna, the round-faced eleven-year-old who wants to be a factory director when she grows up—and I was trying to get her to play an arrangement of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte.
I was trying to get Natasha to imagine what it would feel like to be a medieval Spanish princess, but the idea of identifying with something so imperialist was repulsive to her.
I finally told her to forget the programmatic meaning and just make up her own meaning for the music. We listened to a recording for a while, and then she told me that she thought it sounded like a lullaby. I asked her to play it like a lullaby, but it was still squawky, so I took the oboe from her and played it.
She fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up. I was so afraid she was going to be still asleep when her father came to pick her up. He’s a tall, big, important businessman. I met him through the Swedish ambassador. Frankly, he terrifies me.
After about forty minutes, I managed to shake her awake. When her father arrived to take her home, I overheard him ask her how her lesson had gone. I think she may have gotten in trouble for falling asleep. I feel really bad about it, but what can I say?
Spend five seconds thinking about the possible ways to explain that situation!
The first page of a journal, I always feel, should be filled with introductory statements. It doesn’t make much sense to begin in media res, but since I wasn’t, contrary to what you may believe, born with a pen in my hand, I must select the most recent event that could be construed as a beginning.
I have been in Moscow since August 6, 1939.
I live in a little apartment on Arbat Street. I can see Pushkin’s house from my window. Scriabin’s house is just down a side street. There are still a few of the old churches here.
It is a very nice apartment, considering. I am lucky to be in such a beautiful part of the city—inside the Garden Ring—but I can’t help but feel a little like a tourist, or a guest.
Or an expatriate.
I should have gone home in late August, when I had the chance. Instead, I chose to stay for a September 3 concert at the Little Theater. Well, how could I have known?
Of course, I didn’t go to the concert. I was too busy frantically trying to call home. But you know how the phones are here.
I decided to wait until it blew over, since it sounded like there was going to be a treaty. Stupid, stupid, stupid. By September 14, Warsaw was completely surrounded. It was bombed into submission on September 27. The Germans targeted all routes of communication.
I am never going to see my mother and sisters again. This is a war of extermination.
France and the United Kingdom have declared war, naturally—they had pledged to do so—but they didn’t send any troops.
Escribo esto en español porque alguien pudo encontrar mi diario. ¡Los polacos rechazaron permitir que los soviet entren en la nación, y hooray para nosotros! En un periódico secreto, Rydz-Śmigły dicho, “con los alemanes corremos el riesgo de perder nuestra libertad. Con los rusos perderemos nuestra alma."
Anyway, it meant there was no help for us until it was too late. The Red Army has been in Poland since September 17, “helping the Ukrainians and Byelorussians threatened by Germany”.
At least as far as the Soviet Union is concerned, Poland no longer exists. I can’t go back even to the Soviet-controlled section because of security concerns. And now that conflict between Germany and the USSR has started, the entire front is blocked. There’s been a new treaty, and the Polish prisoners the Soviets took in 1939 have been allowed to leave the country via Persia. They’re going to London and Paris, though; I want to get back to Warsaw.
I’ve been trying for the past six months to get permission to travel to Paris. If I can get there, someone in the League of Nations will give me my job back, and I’ll at least have something productive to do for the war effort. Also in Paris is the exiled Polish government. President Mościcki has appointed Senate Speaker Władysław Raczkiewicz as the new President, and Władysław Sikorski is the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces (ha!). Well, I haven’t always agreed with these men’s politics in the past, but now is the time for Polish solidarity.
Anyway, I won't get out now. Leningrad has been besieged since September, and there's fighting just 120 km outside Moscow even at this very moment. Hospitals are filling up with soldiers. Everyone here is holding his breath, waiting for the order to evacuate. There have been air raids in the last month or two.
I can’t help but smile sardonically at myself.
Anyway, I have been praying to Saint Andrzej Bobola, the patron saint of Warsaw. And to Saint Elizabeth the Peacemaker. And to Saint Adelaide, the patron saint of people in exile. I’m not technically exiled, but it was the closest thing I could think of.
I wanted to work for the Soviet government, translating, but so far, there’s been no luck. I don’t think the Kremlin officials trust Poles very much. I’ve been giving lessons in music and languages to the sons and daughters of Soviet officials. It pays the rent and for groceries.
Really, this isn’t an expensive place to live. Well, basic necessities are less expensive than in the rest of Europe. Luxuries are ungodly expensive. Ice cream is cheap, though, and so are the opera and the symphony and the zoo. So you see, I’ve been keeping busy.
And now I will also be spending my time writing, I think.