A Tolstoy Temperance

August 14, 2011

Home from the holiday — nearly a decade since I’d had one of those ‘paid vacations‘ and it was a most-awesome trip.

Since not a real trusting sort, and with my Jeep Comanche currently being in a most-mysterious mechanical condition (to me, anyway), I journeyed south by AmTrak last week to visit a couple of grown daughters in central California.
However, situated behind the notable-nuanced ‘Redwood Curtain‘ up here in Humboldt County, the only way I could get to San Luis Obispo (and back) was first take a bus, then a train, and then another bus — very little train, but a whole lot of bus.
And going down there was a middle-of-the-night- three-hour layover in San Jose.

Despite it all, I’m still mega-amazed at the use-proliferation of all those little mechanical devices, cellphones to tiny laptops, and how a whole-big chunk of the witnessed traveling public are constantly tagged onto them, and this science-fiction/real shit phenomenon is not confined to just any age — grandmothers to teen-agers are talking into or punching these little handheld appliances.
I don’t have a cellphone, had one for a very-short period awhile ago and never really wanted/needed one, but my children talk and punch at them — my daughter from Tennessee made the trip to California via her Droid transport app.

(Illustration found here).

Lugged along as reading material for the trip was Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina,’ which I’d actually started last April, but put aside after about a third of the book as too-much detail of mother Russia — leaping from ‘War and Peace‘ immediately to ‘Anna‘ was apparently overwhelming at the time.
I required a dose of NTAF: No-Thought-Action-Fiction — ‘Anna Karenina‘ was quickly replaced by an original Robert Ludlum.

So neat was ‘War and Peace,’ however, I just so-needed to read more Tolstoy and ‘Anna‘ is considered even better.
Such enthralled, last January I posted an enthusiastic blog about halfway through ‘War and Peace‘ and one after finishing the book.

Since reading for me on any moving contraption sucks (the train is not so bad), the long stop-over at the San Jose train station — which even at midnight on a Monday had way-enough non-threatening activity and people around for the ambiance to be at least near-comfortable — and afforded a chance to continue with ‘Anna.’
Amongst reading and occasional traveler watching, I could still marvel at how well-crafted the story and how complex, though simple, was the writer Tolstoy.

During this particular occasion, a couple of sections near each other touched the eye, seemed to vibrate  pertinent to the nowadays.

Tolstoy uses his most-incredible knack of character with the most-empathetic Anna Arkadyevna Karenina — good-looking, both intelligent and smart, a witty conversationalist, well-received by Society, a good heart with good intentions, but alas the big downer: She’s married to a self-centered, pathetic turd 20 years her senior, who takes her for granted.
And without really knowing it, what Anna actually needed was to get romantically laid.
As if by actual accident, Anna meets the dashing Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky at a train station.
Well-crafted shit ensues.

(Illustration of Ludmila Kalmaeva‘s ‘Anna Karenina‘ found here).

In a nutshell be ‘Anna Karenina.’
Now at about the middle of the book, the whole scheme is based upon character development, the plot driven by characters reacting to stimulus — there’s indeed a bad accident on the tracks during that early scene at the train station, setting the stage.
Tolstoy was good at drama, too.

A crucial element to reading in public for me is that the environment after awhile tends to become what is read.
In my own train station near downtown San Jose, California, the re-occurring motif was economics — a spark of a thought originating with the amount of finances involved with all those smartphones those travelers hauled around.
This theme seemed to play with the words I read on the page.

One particular scene indeed, one involving Anna’s lover, Count Alexei Vronsky, notorious womanizer and gad-about, a captain in the Russian army, and although from a most-wealthy family, he had to make account of his finances from time to time.
As explained: In spite of his apparently reckless existence, Vronsky was a man who hated disorder.
So every couple of months or so, Vronsky would pull his shit together, “secluding himself” and listing together all his affairs: “He called it having a clean up, or faire la lessive.” (French for ‘Do the laundry‘).
He noted all the facts and figures, discovered how much he owed, and then tried to devise a financial plan to cover the bills, maybe cash from his mother, and so on — the noteworthy point was not Vronsky’s laundry list of debt, but how he emotionally deposed of it.
Vronsky conducted his life by strict standards set from his own personal ‘code of rules,’ which were unquestionable and near-about set in stone:

The code categorically determined that though the card-sharper must be paid, the tailor need not be; that one may not lie to a man, but might to a woman; that one must not deceive anyone, except a husband; that one must not forgive an insult but may insult others, and so on.
These rules might be irrational and bad but they were absolute, and in complying with them Vronsky felt at ease and could carry his head high.

The tryst with Anna, however, knocked that hardcore code a bit askew.

In reading this passage/section, I sensed a relationship between Vronsky’s rules and how degenerate is the state of US economics and finance, especially from the GOP and its hindlegs, the nefarious Tea Party bunch.
Hence the key words from Vronsky’s code: Irrational, bad, absolute.
From last May:

We’re telling Boehner and all of the House Republicans, they came into office with Tea Party help.
We now expect them to keep their promises and hold the ceiling on the national debt,” said William Temple, head of this fall’s Tea Party National Convention.
“The Tea Party will not be in a very forgiving mood this fall, nor as the GOP primary season opens, if House freshmen and others elected by the Tea Party cave to Obama.
We will find replacements for them this fall.”

And from a couple of weeks ago: In Cedar Falls, Iowa, Judd Saul, head of a Tea Party chapter, said: “If it takes going into default and losing our triple-A credit rating – our inflated triple-A credit rating – in order for the government to learn its lesson, so be it.”

Yeah so be it — irrational, bad, absolute.
How the Tea Party became part of Vronsky’s rules of engagement I really don’t know — maybe just a dark night at a train station.

Also part of the station reading was a second passage from ‘Anna Karenina,’ which also involved Vronsky and a conversation with his lifetime buddy, a guy named Serpukhovsky, who gave Vronsky the ultimate lecture on the way of ambition — be careful of all women, but it’s better to be married.
A most sexist, sordid and political outlook:

“Here is my opinion.
Women are the chief stumbling-block in a man’s career.
It is difficult to love a woman and do anything else.
To achieve it and to love in comfort and unhampered, the only way is to marry!
How am I to put to you what I think?” and Serpukhovsky, who was fond similes, went on:
“Wait a bit! Wait a bit!…
Yes, if you had to carry a load and use your hands at the same time, it would would be possible only if the load was strapped on your back: and that is marriage.
I found that out when I married.
I suddenly had my hands free.
But if you drag that load without marriage, your hands are so full that you can do nothing else.
Look at Mazankov, at Krupov!
They have ruined their careers because of women.”
“But what women!” said Vronsky, recalling the Frenchwoman and the actress with whom these men were entangled.

On first reading, I nearly busted out laughing, though the few people about wouldn’t have paid much attention.
The romance of a fictional imagination was indeed way-funny, enforced by feeling content and happy, sitting alone at midnight in the San Jose train station.
Just a delightful piece of one awesome week.

2 thoughts on “A Tolstoy Temperance

  1. pws
    August 15, 2011 at 8:02 am

    “But what women!” said Vronsky, recalling the Frenchwoman and the actress with whom these men were entangled.

    =====

    “But what women!” That’s my whole biography, right there. One exclamation from Anna Karenina.

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