Prose
25. 12. 2019
Mirko Palfi

The World of Canals

May 2019

“I grew up near the Danube, next to the good old river fishermen…”,
an old song that reminds me of home, and always evokes a sigh. An
extraordinary song that moves me like the waves of the Danube. It
is the best when performed by Gypsy tambourine players. I had the
pleasure to enjoy it few times by the Danube itself, at the Pikec Inn
in Bezdan, not far from my hometown of Sombor. The fish stew was
always freshly prepared in pot “kotlich” and served on the wooden
tables covered with checkered tablecloths, under the shade of trees,
looking over the magnificent Danube, surrounded by the intoxicating
scents of poplar, ash and willow, listening to the irresistible sounds of
violin and tambourine made by the graceful Gypsies… a scene deeply
embedded somewhere in my mind. I cannot say I grew up near the
Danube, as stated by the initial verse of the popular tambourine song,
since the Danube and I were separated by a distance of 18 km. I fre-
quently wanted to go there, but it could not easily be done. One could
take a bus, but I did not have anyone to go with, nor whom to visit, and
I often lacked money for such an adventure. Even though the Danube
was within arm’s reach, it often proved a large enough distance for the
then green and fearless boy from Sombor who barely managed to oc-
casionally get a bicycle to use. The Danube is a river that flows quickly
and was elusive to me, like an unfinished dream. The alternative was
the Great Backa Canal which runs slowly through the part of Sombor
where I grew up. I spent most of the hot summer days of my colour-
ful childhood on this peaceful and calm canal. If anyone had told me
back then that I would get to see a much wider, longer, and deeper
PANAMA CANAL, which connects two oceans, the Atlantic and the
Pacific, and through which many huge ships pass from one side to the
other in only 8-10 hours, I would have claimed it to be an unconceiv-
able and unreachable dream. But some dreams do come true for un-
known reasons and tend to unfold one way or another. Someone up
there takes a bit of care, shuffles some cards, and with ease sketches a
heavenly map for each one of us. And, when the time comes, we get to
see the new earthly roads that we can take if we are brave enough to
make the first step, and the new sights and horizons open up to us to
reveal new pictures ready to be put in the album called “Life”.
It was a two-hour drive by a tourist bus, from the resort in Panama
where I stayed, and we arrived at the main entrance, a ramp that con-
trols the entry of all vehicles to the port of the canal. Even though,
as an organized tourist group, we had a pre-set boarding time onto a
small passenger ship to take us around the major part of the canal, and
lower/raise us between two locks, we still had to wait an additional 45
minutes. Every day about 40-45 various size ships pass through the
Panama Canal, which is the shortcut between the two oceans and one
of the major maritime trade arteries of the world. The large cargo ships
with high-stacked containers, however, take precedence because they
bring in more money, way more than a small tourist ship. We had to
wait for such a large ship to pass through first.
Our bus was parked on a small street, near a park, only about hun-
dred or so meters away from the canal. The tropical climate, wet and
warm air was splashing the windows of our bus. Inside the bus, air
conditioning units cool off the tourists that came here trying to escape
the cold weather in which they live, hungry for the tropical climate.
No one wanted to exit the bus. Few minutes passed by and I no longer
wanted to sit inside that cold bus. I came out to take a walk and smell
the tropical air. All that I could see were few streets, low rise houses,
children playing in the background, a small convenience store that was
part of one of the houses, a fire station, tropical trees, and a park. It was
more than enough! It was an unusually peaceful and quiet area consid-
ering that the canal represents an oceanic shortcut for the flow of huge
quantities of goods from one continent to another. After walking for
half an hour, I looked for shade and a suitable place to sit while I wait
for our departure time to see the coastline of the canal and the place
of our embarkment. I noticed a wooden bench in the park, located be-
tween two large trees. I sat there, relaxed by the tropical climate and
delighted by the natural silence and birds’ chirping. I observed every-
thing surrounding me in the park. I was facing the canal as a huge
cargo ship was passing through, the reason we had to wait. Between
that ship and me, i.e. the place in the park where I was sitting, was a
considerably tall tree with a broad trunk that was partially blocking
my view of the canal as was the ship which was passing through it.
Something lured me to look a bit closer at this large and unusual tree.
There were a lot of fallen leaves and twigs around the tree. It looked like
there was a little hiding place from which you could take a very narrow
path, as wide as a human foot, which resembled a mini grassless track
and then extended all the way to another tree, about 20 meters away. I
was very intrigued by this; I was sitting on the bench while watching
the little hideaway under the tree. Then, I continued to follow that little
narrow path with my eyes to the other tree, that also had a similar
hideout under it. My curiosity ran high, and I had to get up and get
closer to inspect it further. With my mouth wide open and with a sense
of wonder, I witnessed a scene whose main actors were little ants. On
that narrow path, I noticed a very busy flow of traffic, column after
column of small ants all performing their duty. It looked like a high-
way for the little ant army that was busy hurryingly transporting their
cargo from one tree to the other. From the hideaway near the tree, like
on a factory assembly, ants were coming out one after the other, carry-
ing their cargo of little pieces of green leaf which seemed to flutter in
the air, and which was five times the size of the ant. They looked like
mini sailboats with bright green sails. They transported those small
pieces of leaves from one hideout to the next. In several columns, going
in one direction were the little ants with green leaves high above their
heads, and going in the opposite direction were the ants that already
unloaded their cargo at the other anthill and were going back to get the
new load. I’ve watched all this with great enthusiasm and wonder at the
same time! I briefly turned towards the bus where my fellow travelers
were sitting, some of them were sleeping, some were yawning, some
eating snacks, some were bored, some were staring at their phones,
meanwhile not even hundred meters away from them, on their left and
right, the two great transports were taking place. Transit on both water
and land. The harmony of the two worlds, the big and the small. In one
world a huge freight cargo ship was transporting through the Panama
Canal metal high-stacked containers, and in the other, so close to the
canal, the little ants were transporting pieces of green leaves from one
tree hideout to the next.
Having observed all of this, I was a witness to both worlds; to both
transports on contrasting scales, yet neither one of them was more
important than the other! That is when I remembered a writer from
Belgrade, Svetozar Vlajkovic, who is, in my opinion, one of the very
rare and outstanding writers from former Yugoslavia, who, through
his personal experiences, has found and then wrote down in one of his
many novels: “To observe and feel at the same time is one of the ways
to fully exist. For a person to exist, it is necessary to completely forget
about oneself.”
I sighed deeply. That unique scene was interrupted by the voice of
tourist guide from the bus. He called me to let me know that we are
ready to go to the canal. The ramp opened up and the bus came down
to the coast in a minute. Tired from boredom, half asleep tourists
became alive instantly and rushed towards the ship. I found a suitable
spot on the deck. I sat there completely serene. Slightly grey clouds and
a partial fog created an ideal picture in front of me. And the tiny and
dense tropical raindrops were perfect as if they were ordered just for
this very moment. It was as if I was looking through a crystal curtain
through which you could see the Panama Canal…

Translated by Nikol Markovic

Prose
25. 12. 2019
Pedja Ristić

Kovsh

(Excerpt from the novel)

St. Petersburg, October 1912.

THOUSAND PRIVILEGED INVITEES closely follow the rhythmic
swirls of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna on the
polished mosaic parquet of the Winter Palace Ballroom, in St. Petersburg.
‘Vlad, look at these huge chandeliers, like overturned mushrooms!
How many thousands of crystals sparkle in them?’ Natalia Rubayev-
na whispers into her husband’s ear, stooping slightly on the side line
of the busy dance floor. She is here, in this ball room of the Hermit-
age for the first time.
‘Yes, yes, my dear… thousands for sure… And on the stage, look,
the Mariinsky Ballet Orchestra, specially assembled for the occasion,’
reports Vladimir Sergeevich, pointing to a platform with lavish camel-
lia bouquets, surrounded by a canopy of thick brocade drapes.
A light waltz Я помню вальса звук прелестный 1) echoes. After
the first chords of the dance popular in halls all over Europe and, more
recently, in Petersburg, the imperial couple is joined by other digni-
taries. Counts and generals engage with their ladies in one whirl after
the other, all rank and tier. Decorations and medals shine and rattle
on starched uniforms. Silk ribbons flutter, garlanded flaps of festive
uniforms fly, lacquered shoes sparkle. The faces are serious, almost
frowning, as is proper for persons of such high rank, even if at such a
cheerful occasion. If their gaze traverses that of a superior officer or a
senior official of the court hierarchy, they whisper loudly: “Bonsoir!”
A mandatory, ever-so-slight but still detectable curtsy is hidden in the
gentle, waltz turn.
It is stylish to speak French. To subordinates they return a greeting
with an almost odious: Добри вечер 2) (in plain, almost vulgar Rus-
sian). A few waltzes later, and with numerous glasses of punch (and
more sips of водичкa 3) ) downed, their faces will relax, cheer up. They
will begin to think less about what they look like and whether their
sugar-tinged mustache is still neatly glued to their cheeks, and more
about what they would like to do to young women around them.
Wives in lavish toilets shaped by the virtuoso hands of Parisian
creators, glide on the parquet floor in three-fourths rhythm along their
partners. With each dance turn, they tilt their heads slightly to one side
and the other, observing which lady is wearing what kind of jewelry.
They display their status with diamond earrings, brilliant diamonds,
stunning bracelets and sensational necklaces. The intoxicating scents of
the most popular French perfumes made in Russia: the spicy “Krasnaya
Moscow” and the floral-woody “Bouquet de Catherine” blend in the
whirl. Summer waltzes alternate, flow from one to the other. Осенний
сон 4) follows after Отцвели уж давно хризантемы 5) . Sometimes, at the
end of a song, the generals stop and, with a deep, somewhat theatrical
inclination, exchange partners with neighboring dancers of the same
rank. At the beginning of the next track, their face is adorned with a
mysterious smile and a look directed vaguely towards the orchestra, the
emperor, or the surrounding players … That smile seems to say, “Here,
see what I can do! I abducted the Colonel’s woman.”
20-year-old Vladimir Sergeyevich joined the Imperial Cavalier-
Guard regiment (Кавалергардский полк) in 1867. Fifteen years later
he took the post of regimental aide-de-camp. Then he advanced to
become young emperor’s first assistant, who in 1894 parked himself
on the imperial throne. In 1902, Dyedov was promoted to the rank
of Major General and was appointed to the prestigious post of Com-
mander of the Imperial Cavalier-Guard Regiment.
VLADIMIR SERGEYEVICH DYEDOV does not dance. Due to
the pain in his back, he gets quickly tired of even watching dancers
on the floor, let alone joining them. Natalia Rubayevna knows this
and pities him, but chooses young adjutants and unmarried officers
to swirl with merrily in the cadence. She takes great care to be with
the dance partner in her husband’s sight at all times. Control is spon-
taneous and subtle, mutual. However, when the orchestra embarks on
the romantic Гори, гори, моя звезда 6) , she kindly asks young Nikita
Nikolaevich Samolyukov with whom she has just danced, to escort her
to her husband, just a few steps away. She will try to persuade him for
at least one dancing hug to her favorite tune. Nikita Nikolaevich is, of
recent, the general’s adjutant, a newcomer to the affairs of the court,
the Guard and the aristocracy of Petrograd. Surely, he will not mind
that I want to dance with my husband.
General Dyedov, of course, accepts Natalia’s request. How could I
resist that endearing look and smile? He hands over his champagne glass
to the young assistant and wobbles to the parquet to sway through a few
awkward and rigid circles with his exuberant wife. Nikita stands buried
in the place where he handed over his dancing partner and waits for
the old man to return after a few moments, with a barely visible trace of
pain on his face. General won’t complain, just wipe away tiny traces of
sweat from his shaved head with a silky, perfumed handkerchief.
Natalia and Nikita know that Vladimir Sergeyevich is hurting but
all three pretend everything is okay and continue to track the playful
couples in front of them. A waiter brings new glasses of iced cham-
pagne, and the best orchestra in the empire is conquering the hall with
new popular tunes of increasingly fast rhythm.
‘Let’s get to the serving table before the crowd rolls in!’ Dyedov
suggests and turns around, followed by the woman and his assistant.
After the lively Дай, милый друг, на счастье руку 7) comes a quick and
agile song Ухарь-купец 8) . Almost a thousand cheerful guests, includ-
ing the Emperor and Empress somewhere in the middle of the crowd,
sing along the familiar, favorite song and hop around in the ballroom.
Gastronomy is displayed in the adjacent hall. Beside a long table,
covered with a glittering damask linen sheet, stands a thin, sultry
priest. His filthy and completely wrinkled, coal-black mantle is strik-
ing. He pays no attention to music and merriment and ignores the
help offered by servants. He clumsily stuffs profuse amounts of cold
pheasant pâté and goose liver soufflé into his porcelain plate. Greasy,
gray hair down to his shoulders, his frowzy beard reaches to his chest.
A thick gold chain hangs around his neck with a large, wooden cross
resting on his stomach. The monk’s appearance strikingly contrasts
the luxury and beauty of the playful court guests on the dance floor.
For long, Nikita can not peel his eyes off the odd figure.
It’s the first time he’s at a ball, at an aristocratic gathering whatso-
ever, and everything here amazes him. Dresses, epaulets, hairstyles,
jewelry, perfumes and gowns, many famous and more unknown
dignitaries, including of course Emperor Nicholas II himself and
Empress Alexandra. The dark clergyman is the exact opposite of the
whole setting, so the young officer thinks that it may be an intruder, a
bum that is here by mistake, or by some evil intent. How come no one
noticed him, prevented him from entering? Who is he and what is he
looking for here, among all this beauty?
Natalia noticed him also. She has ogled all thousand invitees and
will quiz tomorrow, over tea, all her friends about details: who wore
what kind of dress and jewelry, and who got on with whom. With gentle
disgust, she observes the monk, who lays down his stuffed plate aside,
toward the wall. She knows him well and is aware of how come he is here.
Dyedov acts as if he didn’t notice the priest, but he also sees him
from the corner of his eye, and he knows him well, personally. He sees
the astonished expression and stiff movement of his young aide. With
a gentle movement of his elbow, he pushes Nikita to take his eyes off
the black figure and to move toward the food.
Not far from the corner where the black monk is standing there
are a dozen long tables set with mounts of delicious food. There are
also larger, sitting tables nearby. The Imperial family traditionally
holds French chefs on the court and for such occasions the guests are
offered top entrées, dishes and deserts. The serving plates are packed
with specialties such as horseradish pork, fattened roosters, piroshky,
long-nose sturgeon in champagne … The guests are expected to storm
these tables as the first part of the dancing evening draws to a close.
Some hungry dancers are already scouting, lines are beginning to form.
Elegant guests carry their plates and silverware, while helpful waiters
explain what each bowl contains and help with serving and pouring.
Having put in a plate what will quench first hunger, guests find a place
to sit and eat. For the slightly less formal occasion tonight, places are not
marked, so anyone can sit without protocol wherever they want, even
_________________________
1) “I remember the lovely sound of waltz” – a popular ballroom piece; begin-
ning of the XX on the Russian court
2) “Good evening” – in Russian
3) “vodka” – in Russian
4) “Autumn dream” – popular song of the period
5) “The long-gone chrysanthemums” – popular song of the period
6) “Burn, burn my star” – popular song of the period
7) “Shake hands, dear friend, for good luck” – popular song of the period
8) “The Happy-go-lucky Merchant”– popular song of the period

Рубрике

ДОНАЦИЈЕ

Претплатите се и дарујте независни часописи Људи говоре, да бисмо трајали заједно

даље

Људи говоре је српски загранични часопис за књижевност и културу који излази у Торонту од 2008.године. Поред књижевности и уметности, бави се свим областима које чине културу српског народа.

У часопису је петнаестак рубрика и свака почиње са по једном репродукцијом слика уметника о коме се пише у том броју. Излази 4 пута годишње на 150 страна, а некада и као двоброј на 300 страна.

Циљ му је да повеже српске писце и читаоце ма где они живели. Његова основна уређивачка начела су: естетско, етичко и духовно јединство.

Уредништво

Мило Ломпар
главни и одговорни уредник
(Београд, Србија)

Радомир Батуран
уредник српске секције и дијаспоре
(Торонто, Канада)

Владимир Димитријевић
оперативни уредник за матичне земље
(Чачак, Србија)

Никол Марковић
уредник енглеске секције и секретар Уредништва
(Торонто, Канада)

Уредници рубрика

Александар Петровић
Београд, Србија

Небојша Радић
Кембриџ, Енглеска

Жељко Продановић
Окланд, Нови Зеланд

Џонатан Лок Харт
Торонто, Канада

Жељко Родић
Оквил, Канада

Милорад Преловић
Торонто, Канада

Никола Глигоревић
Торонто, Канада

Лектори

Душица Ивановић
Торонто

Сања Крстоношић
Торонто

Александра Крстовић
Торонто

Графички дизајн

Антоније Батуран
Лондон

Технички уредник

Радмило Вишњевац
Торонто

Издавач

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The Journal "People Say"

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Контакт

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т: 416 823 8121


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т: 416 558 0587


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