Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Averbakh 18: Russian geography.

Paris? Yes that's in Texas, a venturesome American might say to a Britisher. He might even be understood. However, the number of English speaking Westerners who could correctly locate Sovetsk (spelt, uncommonly, Sovietsk on page 93 in the book) is rather more modest. I'm not certain that many readers of the campaigns of Napoleon would do any better. Yet, tell them that it was once called Tilsit and recognition dawns: it's in East Prussia, where the emperors Alexander and Napoleon made peace in 1807 they would say. They might tell of Napoleon's victory at Friedland, which persuaded the Czar to become an ally. They might further relate it to Napoleon's first significant check on land at Preussisch-Eylau, earlier that very year. But there is no note in the book to guide anyone. Even the prosaic it's on the Baltic coast in the Kaliningrad enclave would have helped. Although not everyone knows that Kaliningrad was once Koenigsberg: a very important town in the history of Prussia, where the estates of East Prussia met and raised the banner of rebellion against Napoleon at the beginning of 1813. Thus can one make sense of Averbakh's comment about a ship to Sovetsk in the context of his military service.

As an inhabitant since birth of Cobbett's Great Wen (London), I can recall when the then IM Sergio Mariotti left the land of his forfathers, rather than be subject to an absurd law of conscription, I was about twelve years of age. My recollection is that he was set the senseless chore by the Italian military, for a chess master, of peeling potatoes (a less than spellbinding task; one, I suppose, that even a US Republican Party supporter would quail in horror of). Quite a few, to avoid such a fate, trod the road from Italy to London. In the Soviet Union, it wasn't so easy for Lieutenant Averbakh to skip what he should never have had to endure in his thirties in peacetime. But the account on page 94 is not quite right, had the initials VMF been explained, that they stand for Военно-морской флот (the Russian letter В corresponds to the English V, the м to M and the ф to F), literally the military-sea fleet i.e. the Navy, then the English reader would have known that something was rotten in the sentence: Senior Lieutenant Averbakh to be sent to take command of VMF in Moscow. Preferable, possibly, is: Engineering Lieutenant Yu. L. Averbakh to be sent to naval headquarters in Moscow. The Russian reads: Направить инженера-старшего лейтенанта Авербаха Ю. Л. в распоряжение командования ВМФ в Москву.

The absence of strict editing by the publisher has resulted in further inconsistencies of explanation. On page 44 the reader is told that Izhevsk is in the western Urals, which is correct. But then why isn't he also informed as to the location of Murom? I'd have also reported where Vladimir is, although I can more readily understand an omission in that instance. I can recall two towns called, in English, Murom, there may be more; one is north-east of Kharkov (Ukraine), roughly equidistant on a triangle whose other vertices are Kharkov and Belgorod, one can infer from the context (… Vladimir, and then on to Murom) that that is not the town, rather the Murom under discussion is in Vladimir Oblast (province). The principality of Vladimir-Suzdal may be famous in Russian history, as one of the successor states to Kievan Rus; however, I have my doubts that many English speaking chess players interested in Russian chess history can do more than, perhaps, name Alexander Nevsky (considered a saviour of the Russian nation and, accordingly, canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church). The associations are all there to a Russian chess player; a foreigner needs help, he would not relate to Prokofiev,  Eisenstein and the famous film sequence The Battle of the Ice, which is about fifty-three minutes into the motion picture Alexander Nevsky (regrettably the sound quality is poor), from which one can see and hear how many of the ideas contained therein have been filched by generations of Hollywood producers and composers. He would have to have pointed out the design of the helmets of the crusading Livonian knights, for it was no coincidence that they were similar to those worn by the Kaiser's men during World War One. Indeed, Alexander Nevsky was used for propaganda purposes throughout the Great Patriotic War. At the very least the book should have included a publisher's note that Vladimir is some 120 miles east of Moscow, and Murom roughly seventy miles south-east of Vladimir. The very name Murom is testimony to the existence of Finnic tribes in northern and central Russia. Modern Russians are, amongst other things, an admixture of Finnic and Slavic tribes.

Tushino, given on page 149, is now part of Moscow, in the north. Previously, it was classified as a separate town. The name may be recognised as the haven of the second False Dmitri in the Time of Troubles, the interregnum between the death Fyodor I, the son of Ivan IV (The Terrible), and the ascension of Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov in 1613.

On page 140 Staraya Ploschad, more commonly spelt Staraya Ploshchad, is not explained in the sentence I was suddenly summoned to Staraya Ploschad, to see comrade F. Mulikov of the Sports Section. Staraya Ploshchad (Old Square) is about a mile from the Kremlin, it is often a figure of speech, in Soviet times to be summoned to Staraya Ploshchad meant to be summoned to see Soviet officialdom. The Communist Party archives were kept there. Mulikov actually worked for Agitprop, the Agitation and Propaganda Department. Many Soviet organisations had this section. Thus the discussion about abstractness in chess would have been in his proper sphere, absurd though it is in Western eyes. As usual, is is doubtful whether this bureaucrat played chess seriously.

The editor should have included a footnote on page 150, where the account turns to Vladimir Pavlovich Simagin; he should have indicated that Kislovodsk is in the North Caucasus and, moreover, it is the birthplace of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

The shortage of time in which to check things led to uncalled for complications. On page 165, the English text reads … at the beginning of 1972 I was sent to Pakhru, … I believe this is the Pakhra River, which is a tributary of the Moskva River. The Russian text reads:

Я забыл сказать, что еще в конце 60-х годов меня назначили председателем тренерского совета федерации и в начале 1972 года отправили в Пахру, где проходил тренировочный сбор Бориса, что бы посмотреть, как идет подготовка.

Pakhru is a closer rendition of the correct pronunciation for a native English speaker, however, Pakhra is the commoner spelling in English. The country near the river is a destination for tourists, it is convenient for Muscovites. As an aside, there is a mild rebuke administered to Spassky for not trying harder in his preparation for the match against Fischer. The image of a proffered bottle of whisky certainly is a lackadaisical one. The Russian text used is виски, which could be Scotch whisky, as given in the translation, or North American, Isle of Man, Japanese, Irish or Lord knows what else whiskey. Given we are talking of Spassky, I suspect it was whisky. The Scottish distillers have sued and will sue any non-Scottish rival who omits the letter e!

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