Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We could buy a summer cottage in Finland

... With this object in view, a plan has occurred to me which I now have the honour of presenting to you for your consideration. I shall only give you a rough outline, avoiding all details. Our estate does not pay on an average more than two per cent on the money invested in it. I propose to sell it. If we then invest our capital in bonds, it will earn us four to five per cent, and we should probably have a surplus over of several thousand roubles, with which we could buy a summer cottage in Finland—

VOITSKI. Hold on! Repeat what you just said; I don't think I heard you quite right.

SEREBRAKOFF. I said we would invest the money in bonds and buy a cottage in Finland with the surplus.

VOITSKI. No, not Finland—you said something else.

SEREBRAKOFF. I propose to sell this place.

VOITSKI. Aha! That was it! So you are going to sell the place? Splendid. The idea is a rich one. And what do you propose to do with my old mother and me and with Sonia here?

SEREBRAKOFF. That will be decided in due time. We can't do everything at once.

Anton Checkov: Uncle Vanya

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Listen to the moaning of the pine

but last night I saw him in his beauty and his strength; he was about to speak, and my ear was on the stretch, when at once I awoke, and there was I alone, and the night storm was howling amidst the branches of the pines which surround my lonely dwelling: ‘Listen to the moaning of the pine, at whose root thy hut is fastened,’—a saying that, of wild Finland, in which there is wisdom; I listened and thought of life and death. . . .

George Borrow: Lavengro. The Scholar, The Gypsy, The Priest

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Passing the grim fortress of Sveaborg, with its eight hundred guns

"To-morr punkt at 'leven wir schiff for St. Petersburg," was the polyglot announcement by which all of us, Swedes, Germans, English, and one solitary American, were given to understand at what hour on the ensuing day we were to commence our voyage from Stockholm for the Russian capital. With praiseworthy punctuality the steam was up at the appointed hour of eleven, and as our steamer shot out into the Baltic we took our farewell view of Stockholm, the "City of Piles." As we steamed northward we dashed through archipelago after archipelago of islands, some with bold and rocky shores, and others sloping greenly down to the tranquil sea. Having passed the Aland Islands, one of which, not thirty miles from the coast of Sweden, has been seized and strongly fortified by her powerful and unscrupulous neighbor, we turned into a narrow inlet, and touched Russian soil at Abo, the ancient capital of Finland.

Here we made our first acquaintance with those fascinating gentry, whom his Imperial Majesty deputes to watch that nothing treasonable or contraband finds entrance into his dominions. Our intercourse here was, however, brief, our passports merely being demanded, and permission granted us to go on shore while the steamer was detained. At Cronstadt and St. Petersburg we formed a more intimate if not more agreeable acquaintance with these functionaries. Setting out again we coasted eastward up the Gulf of Finland, passing the grim fortress of Sveaborg, with its eight hundred guns, and garrison of fifteen thousand men, and shot up the beautiful bay to Helsingfors, one of the great naval stations of Russia. Touching at Revel, on the opposite shore of the Gulf of Finland, we ran due east up the Gulf, encountering the great Russian summer fleet, which was performing its annual manoeuvres, and on the morning after leaving Helsingfors came in sight of the shipping and fortifications of Cronstadt. As we crept slowly up the narrow and winding channel, by which alone the harbor can be reached, and passed successively the grim lines of batteries which command every portion of it, we were forced to confess that it formed a fitting outpost to a great military power.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The only people in Russia which furnishes good sailors

The only people in Russia which furnishes good sailors are the inhabitants of Finland in the north and the Cossacks in the south. ...

As these vessels exercise the right to call themselves Russian, they must, without regard to their flag, have a Russian captain on board. But this captain is a man of straw, employed only to act according to imperial will. It is generally an unfortunate man, to whom the owner allows a'small monthly pay, on condition that he will do nothing on board, not even in the caboose, from the fact that he is not fit for any thing. When the vessel loses sight of land, the real command is given to a foreign officer, or to a Finlander, and the past captain is requested to do any thing excepting what concerns the ship.

Frédéric Lacroix: The mysteries of Russia

Sunday, March 13, 2011

As he dreamed

As he dreamed, he was standing again in the outer court of a house in Petersburg—a house to which he was debtor for one night's shelter; it was early morning and deadly cold. The whole picture was sharp as a cut crystal—the triple court-yard, the stone pavement, the gray well, and frozen pile of firewood. He saw, recognized, lost it, and knew himself to be skimming down the Nevskiy Prospekt and across the Winter Palace Square, where the great angel towers upon its rose-granite monument. Forward, forward he was carried, along the bank of the frozen Neva and over the Troitskiy bridge, the powdered snow stinging his face like pinpoints as it flew up from the nails in his little horse's shoes. Then followed a magnifying of the picture—massed buildings rising from the snow—buildings gold and turquoise-domed, that, even as they materialized, lost splendor and merged into the unpretentious frontage of the Finland station.

The scroll of the dream unwound; the dreamer moved, easing his position, shaking back a lock of dark hair that had fallen across his forehead. He was no longer rocking to the power of the north express; he was standing on the platform at the end of a little train that puffed out of the Finland station—a primitive, miniature train, white with frost and powdered with the ashes of its wood fuel. The vision came and passed a sketch, not a picture—a suggestion of straight tracks, wide snow plains, and the blue, misty blur of fir woods. Then a shifting, a juggling of effects! Åbo, the Finnish port, painted itself upon his imagination, and he was embarked upon the lonely sledge-drive, to the harbor. He started in his sleep, shivered and sighed at that remembered drive. The train passed over new points, the hoods of the lamps swayed, the lights blinked and winked, and his mind swung onward in response to the physical jar.

Åbo was obliterated. He was on board a ship—a ship ploughing her way through the ice-fields as she neared Stockholm; salt sea air flicked his nostrils, he heard the broken ice tearing the keel like a million files, he was sensible of the crucial sensation—the tremendous quiver—as the vessel slipped from her bondage into the cradle of the sea, a sentient thing welcoming her own element!

Katherine Cecil Thurston: Max

Thursday, March 3, 2011

No hut is so destitute as not to have its family bath

It is a matter of authentic history that the most highly enlightened and prosperous people of the world have been celebrated for their devotion to the bath as a means of securing health and vigor as a means of curing disease, and preventing it, by promoting the activity of the skin. The excavations at Pompeii show the devotion of the people to luxurious bathing. The Romans are famous to this day for the magnificence of their lavatories and the universal use of them by the rich and poor alike. In Russia the bath is general, from the Czar to the poorest serf, and through all Finland, Lapland, Sweden and Norway, no hut is so destitute as not to have its family bath. Equally general is the custom in Turkey, Egypt and Persia, among all classes from the Pasha down to the poorest camel driver. Pity it is that we cannot say as much for the people of our own country.

Chas. A. Tyrrell: The Royal Road to Health

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finland is overshadowed by despotism

In a really democratic State, where the whole people had equal voices in the government and all could exercise free power of persuasion, active rebellion, I think, would be very rare and seldom justified. But there are, I believe, only four democratic States in the world. All four are small, and of these Finland is overshadowed by despotism, and Australia and New Zealand have their foreign relations controlled and protected by the mother country. Hitherto the experiment of a really democratic government has never been tried on this planet, except since 1909 in Norway, and even there with some limitations; and though democracy might possibly avert the necessity of rebellion, I rather doubt whether it can be called advantageous to any State to accord to its members the right of revolt.

Henry W. Nevinson: Essays in Rebellion