I’m writing from London, where next Tuesday, at Pushkin House, Robert Chandler and I will launch Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames, a remarkable, entirely original collection of poems that we’ve co-translated with Irina Mashinski and Maria Bloshteyn. The Financial Times have just published an excerpt from one of the most moving poems in the volume, a portrait of the Soviet Yiddish poet Leyb Kvitko, who was executed on August 12, 1952, a date about which I’ve written here.
Robert, Irina, Maria, and I have been working on this project for years, and the launch will surely be a powerful, cathartic experience for me . For now, I’m enjoying morning work sessions on Teffi and afternoon strolls about town. London has put on its most characteristic face, or at least the one I most enjoy — sporadically sunny and drizzly, chilly but not really cold. Perfect weather for long walks, and for reading in the evenings.
I should add that my reading material could not be more soothing, a bright ray of southern light in the autumnal north. Yesterday, my friend Caroline Eden presented me with a copy of her newly released Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes Through Darkness and Light. Far more than a cook book, it is a magnificent omnium gatherum of historical and literary anecdote, seasoned with the flavors and scents of Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Turkish food and drink.
Naturally, Odessa, the Pearl of the Black Sea, comes first — how could it not? — and Caroline was kind enough not only to quote from my translations of Isaac Babel, but also to serve up a meaty chunk of my version of Eduard Bagritsky’s rip-roaring poem “Smugglers.” She also got the Odessan culinary scoop of a lifetime — Babel’s favorite dishes, courtesy of his grandson, Andrei Malaev-Babel: “scrambled eggs with tomatoes and aubergine caviar ‘on ice.’” How I love that “caviar,” the very mention of which uncorks a flood of Proustian memories!
To give you a taste of Black Sea’s kaleidoscopic splendor, here are two pages — the first “a short mediation on [Sergei Eisenstein’s] The Battleship Potemkin,” the second a recipe for a “Potemkin Cocktail.” (The location photography is by Theodore Kaye, and the food photography is by Ola O. Smit.)
Here’s to London and Odessa!