Good Family or Intelligent Family (Inteligentnaja Semja)? Radka Rubilina, Armenia, 2013
A heart of the Caucasus; buzz, movement, fast talk. A center of the city welcomes me with its own life style. Riding an off-road jeep with big tires, I am trying to figure out if the driving bravura here is resembling more Eastern European or African driving standards. Really not easy to decide.
“Here we are, Radka, džan.” We are getting out of the car. There are five men waiting for us already, each having two to three mobile phones. Our conversation is happening while the phones are taking constant turns in ringing. I greet the men with an extended hand what immediately earns me their lowered-eyebrows looks together with mistrust. Women do not shake hands here; and definitely not with men. I pay no attention to their attitudes as they, being polite, are letting me go first into a wide-open black maw of the entrance door. I was hit by total darkness and then by a sharp odor. But, I am already standing inside the elevator which is going up, up, up, then shakes and stops; we made it. Taking stairs that are falling apart and heading toward a door made out of a solid wood.
After a few apartment hunting visits, I got the point - the apartment quality is determined by the parameters, namely the size and thickness, of a TV display. "Posmotrítě, gaspažá, vot kakoj tělevízor!" I am nodding enthusiastically; never mind that I have been living without a TV for a five years now and not missing it. I am not going to share this with them. Rather, I am looking around. The last time I have seen such a large set of a living room cabinets was over at my seventy years old aunt’s…And these beautiful staffed chairs I have used to see over at our German neighbor’s apartment (may God bless her soul). Also always present dark purple colors and silver walls. I have not seen these anywhere else; it must be a local specialty. By now, a baldachin-like decoration in a miniature room in a high-rise could not truly surprise me. Experiencing a similar situation day after day. Phone conversations, bargaining through the receiver. “Here we are, Radka, džan.” And extended hands.
Ms. Stella granted my request and significantly decreased the rent. “But, first, she would like to invite you over for a cup of tea” the real estate agent presented the demand prior signing the lease. Well, then…A lady with kind of a long face opened a small garden gate. “Stella,” extended her hand and stepped back to make a space in the entrance, through a gate covered excessively by a twisting grapevine. At first, Stella asked me to tell her something about myself. She maintained a suspicious look until the moment when I started to elaborate about my fondness toward books. I put them together; translate and publish. And then, Stella started to talk about her family – that is, where the family members have gotten their degrees and how they have put these degrees in use in Armenia. She even brought some Brussels pralines on a tray for us. “You know, I am a diplomat, too, but I have been always drawn to the people who were able to preserve their interests. When you were talking about your books it was like if I was reading them with you. After all, the rent amount you will be paying is not so important to me. For my apartment, I am looking for someone” – ATTENTION! here comes the Russian expression – “iz intěligentnoj semji”! And, I am finally getting to this translation hard-nut in the title of my story!
Many people would translate this expression as “being from a good family”, meaning - being from a well to do (wealthy) family. However, this expression has its own tradition in the Russian culture, proving and solidifying itself mainly throughout a period of the Soviet Union. During this period, due to an everlasting lack of essential goods on the market, the people valued education and gained knowledge. So, in such family, untidy host-father reciting by heart poems written by Rilke, Achmatovova, or Goethe was not such a surprise to fellow guests. While exhaling cigarette smoke in the Moscow’s kitchens and discussing repressions and labor camps imposed by the Stalin’s regime, this expression was commonly associated with political prisoners. During the 30’, the "Intěligentnaja semja" status has simply justified the reason for placing a couple of the family members to the gulag – because of their knowledge, ethnicity, or influence they represented a danger for the state seized by a dogmatic Stalin’s dictatorship. "Iz intěligentnoj semji..." is this special expression that I would, as an experienced Rusist, translate rather as from a “well-educated/literate family”; it is this special expression that leads us toward a connection between generations of fathers, children, grandparents, mothers, and also toward a legacy of values which forms a family bond, cohesiveness, and family loyalty to each other. It is exactly this expression that, during the Soviet time, have been used by all dissidents; but during the last 20 years this expression has been disappearing similarly to vanishing animal species.
After all that was said above, and leaving a following judgment up to you, could a black shiny grand piano in the middle of this Yerevan’s apartment really surprise you? I am thinking which friend or visitor of mine will be playing this beauty...?
my working place... Radka Rubilina, Yerevan 2013