Monday, January 7, 2013

Nikolai

Seen at Fullerton Station boarding the Brown Line to the Loop at about 8:20 a.m.

Superficially, Nikolai has a military bearing. Tall, erect, strong, proud. But closer inspection reveals that his chin is a little lower than it should be, the expression on his lips a little softer, the puff of his chest a little weaker. It is as though someone with many years of military service impressed these mannerisms on Nikolai, but Nikolai himself never served. This is, of course, the truth of the matter.

Nikolai’s father is the classic war hero—strict yet selfless, cautious yet brave, intelligent yet plainspoken, eternally patriotic. He raised his son to be a man, and Nikolai knows he has failed him. Nikolai spent his youth in a liberal arts college, not on a battlefield. Now he has a cushy office job. He performs no acts of daring. He cannot even muster the courage to commit to one woman. He serves no one but himself, and he knows that makes him cowardly. In his father’s eyes, Nikolai will forever be effete and craven and useless. He is male, but his father will never consider him a man.

I hope you all had a nice weekend. I certainly did. I watched an interesting documentary called The Queen of Versailles, which is about an incredibly wealthy family that gets unexpectedly caught up in the recent financial crisis. I went to a birthday party and met lots of interesting people, including a dominatrix. And yesterday I started reading the most recent issue of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, which is fascinating. In this issue they wanted to explore how a work changes when translated. So each story in the issue, most of which were originally written in non-English languages, was given to one author or another who translated it into English. And then they gave his translation to another author who translated it into yet another language. And then they gave THAT translation to someone else who translated it back into another English version. And so on. They went through this process about 6 times per story. It is so cool to see all the little changes. I can only read the stories in English and in French, but it's enough. I highly recommend it if you can get your hands on a copy.

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