N. told me he that wished to speak me confidentially and in private… I invited him round.
He probed me on what people were chirping about over coffee in every drawing room – in other words, the palace coup…
N. said that the vessel of the state was in danger – that you could practically say it was sinking – and that exceptional measures were therefore required to rescue the ship’s crew and its precious cargo.
I responded to this with a question:
“Have you read Jules Verne?”
“Of course I have – which of his works do you mean, exactly?”
“That doesn't matter – I’m not even sure this is from Jules Verne… Anyhow, there’s this theory that sailors have.”
“Two theories, actually. Or rather, two schools – the ‘onboarders’ and the ‘lifeboaters’…”
“The ‘lifeboaters’ maintain that when a vessel suffers a shipwreck, you need to transfer everyone to the lifeboats and try and save yourselves that way.”
“Right, that’s clear enough… And what about the ‘onboarders’?”
“Well, the ‘onboarders’ insist you should remain on board…”
“But the ship’s sinking!..”
“Yes, but even so… They say that nine out of ten lifeboats perish at sea…”
“But that leaves a one-in-ten chance.”
“They say the sinking ship has a one-in-ten chance as well, hence there’s no point worrying…”
“And the bottom line here is..?”
“The bottom line is that I’m an ‘onboarder’ – I shall remain on the ship and have no desire to embark any lifeboat…”
He was silent for a moment.
“In that case let’s forget this conversation.”
Skis. The ones you want aren’t available anywhere. You could probably order them from Finland, and they’d arrive in two weeks or so. But I don't know whether you’d be happy with that?
Do you remember us discussing the fact that a Renaissance is due to begin in Russia? I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the strange people who, after the refined, transparent, wise quattrocento, became the progenitors of an entirely new century. Just like that – in one fell swoop. Just think, Michelangelo came after Leonardo, after women incapable of even holding up a Swan. And suddenly, all those bodies, all that ponderousness, all those visions.
I’m very much looking forward to your play. Its form will doubtless be wonderful, as you well know yourself. But remember, my dear Hafiz, the Sistine Chapel hasn’t yet been completed – it’s still missing its God, its prophets, its Sybils, its Adam and its Eve. And, most importantly, there’s no sleep there, and no waking; there are no heroes either, no singular gesture of victory, and no singular perfect beauty – the cold, stone, abstract beauty unfeared by that century’s denizens, and which they dared to honour as equal. Well, goodbye. Write your drama and come back, for God's sake.
One day, Picasso came round with a slender youth hanging on his shoulder. “This is Jean,” he announced. “Jean Cocteau. And we’re leaving for Italy.”
Picasso was excited at the prospect of designing a set for the Ballets Russes. The music, he says, is currently being written by Erik Satie, and the libretto by Jean Cocteau.
We agreed to produce for S.P. Diaghilev scenery for 27 acts- a curtain counts as one act. We will get 80,000 francs for this work. In every city, S.P. Diagilev will provide us with design studios for writing sets, all the required materials such as canvas, paints, brushes and everything needed for this job. During this period of work, Larionov and Goncharova require two months holiday a year.
We were recently visited by two escaped prisoners of war. It was interesting to see “live” people, not corroded by emigrant life. As types: one is a Jew from Bessarabia, who has seen life, a Social-Democrat or nearly a Social- Democrat, has a brother who is a Bundist, etc. He has knocked about, but is uninteresting as an individual because commonplace. The second is a Voronezh peasant, a man of the soil, from an Old Believers’ family. A breath from the Black Earth. It was extremely interesting to watch him and listen. He spent a year in a German prison camp (a mass of horrors) with 27,000 Ukrainians. The Germans build up camps according to nations, and do their utmost to break them away from Russia; for the Ukrainians they sent in skilful lecturers from Galicia. The results? Only 2,000, according to him, were for “self-rule” (independence in the sense more of autonomy than of separation) after months of effort by the agitators!! The remainder, he says, were furious at the thought of separation from Russia and going over to the Germans or Austrians.
As regards the tsar and God, all the 27,000, he says, have finished with them completely, as regards the big landowners too. They will return to Russia embittered and enlightened.
All the yearning of the Voronezh man is to get back home, to the land, to his farm. He traipsed around the German villages working, kept his eyes open and learned a lot.
They praise the French (in the prison camps) as good comrades. “The Germans also curse their Kaiser.” They hate the English: “Swelled heads; won’t give you a piece of bread if you won’t wash the floor for them” (that’s the kind of swine you get, perverted by imperialism!).
Our time is running out. The war is only the beginning. Something more frightful and stronger than revolution is around the corner. I can make no sense of how those who professed to hold our current system dear could ever have led us into this war.
On the night of the performance all the artists felt uneasy, as if they were afraid of something. The scene represented a revolution with a palace being burnt down.
The Emperor will receive the members of the conference tomorrow. Official luncheon of forty covers at the embassy. The afternoon was spent in drives and calls.
At eight o'clock state banquet at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Prince Nicholas Golitzin, President of the Council, was present; but simply as a silent figurehead. He carries the heavy burden of responsibility which has been thrust upon him with utter indifference and complete detachment. But so long as politics were not mentioned, his replies were courtesy itself.