Spanish beggars in Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog

And Russian itinerants in Barcelona.

Last night I read Michael Glenny’s translation of Bulgakov’s vicious Frankinstein-and-the-Bolsheviks romp (and so should you if you haven’t).

As he contemplates his other clients’ sexual difficulties, Dr. Preobrazhensky sings to himself fragments of Tchaikovsky’s setting of the serenade (ru/fr/en) from AK Tolstoy’s Don Juan. Here’s the Central European-Jewish baritone Juan Luria/Johannes Lorié in 1908:

And here’s the good doctor’s debut in the role:

The dog opened a languid right eye and saw out of its corner that he was tightly bandaged all around his flanks and belly. So those sons of bitches did cut me up, he thought dully, but I must admit they’ve made a neat job of it.

… “from Granada to Seville … those soft southern nights” a muzzy, falsetto voice sang over his head.

Amazed, the dog opened both eyes wide and saw two yards away a man’s leg propped up on a stool. Trousers and sock had been rolled back and the yellow, naked ankle was smeared with dried blood and iodine.

Swine! thought the dog. He must be the one I bit, so that’s my doing. Now there’ll be trouble.

… “the murmur of sweet serenades, the clink of Spanish blades . . .” Now, you little tramp, why did you bite the doctor? Eh? Why did you break all that glass? M’m?’

Oowow, whined the dog miserably.

Later on he goes to Aida at the Bolshoi, and the sacred Nile begins to flow past Granada and Seville, but here’s the Hispanicism that got me:

You can’t serve two gods! You can’t sweep the dirt out of the tram tracks and settle the fate of the Spanish beggars at the same time! No one can ever manage it, doctor – and above all it can’t be done by people who are two hundred years behind the rest of Europe and who so far can’t even manage to do up their own fly-buttons properly!

The wisdom is a homespun composite, but, though I haven’t found it, Spanish beggars presumably are or were proverbial in Russian for their numbers or chilledness or whatever.

In Spanish there were serious studies of beggars by Cristóbal Pérez de Herrera and a few others, and then there’s the huge picaresque repertoire. The British also made some useful discoveries, but I guess such an idea would most probably have arrived via France.

So maybe the early exoticism of Jean-Guillaume-Antoine Cuvelier and his Dago, ou les mendiants d’Espagne (1806) became fashionable in Petersburg.

And maybe that’s what persuaded Barcelona’s numerous Russian street drinkers to come. I would ask the notoriously drunken Russian buskers, but most of them have seem to have moved on to better things – wifi hacking (30€), madness, liver cancer, prison, jaw reconstruction, plumbing…

On the other hand, maybe Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain (1993) was a cult hit post-Gorbachev:

The novel’s title comes from its primary moral question, as presented by character Tony Indivino: what do productive and responsible members of society owe the “beggars in Spain,” the unproductive masses who have nothing to offer except need?

Penny for my thoughts, guv.

Dago in the play is the nickname of a Venetian alchemist. Mago and Dago are good and bad magicians in a 1795 commedia dell’arte piece written by one Lonsdale for Londoners. Maybe they both came from a southern hemisphere deity encountered by Jacob Roggeveen. Does the word deserve (partial) rehabilitation?

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