Hofkriesrath, war & peace

16 May 2009

Adra, Almería

“They’re perfect ruffians, especially Dolohov,” said the visitor. “He’s the son of Marya Ivanovna Dolohov, such a worthy woman, you know, but there! Only fancy, the three of them had got hold of a bear somewhere, put it in a carriage with them, and were taking it to some actress’s. The police ran up to the stop them. They took the police officer, tied him back to back to the bear, and dropped the bear into the Moika: the bear swam with the police officer on him. . . . . That’s the intellectual sort of amusement the son of Count Kirvil Vladimirovitch Bezuhov indulges in! And people said he was so well educated and clever. That’s how foreign education turns out.”
– p. 32 

I’m reading War & Peace on a pebbly beach in a town just west of Almería, where the sand is so dark it leaves streaks on your clothing and there are billboards in Arabic. I borrowed it out of an over-developed sense of irony about my beach reads. The beer on tap in the bars here comes from Murcia, and the tapas here come free with your caña as in Granada & Jaén, but in no particular order; you choose what you want from a chalked-up list behind the bar. Night fishermen returning to port in the morning crowd the bus station bar at 6 am. The mountains of the entire province are terraced and covered in flat grey greenhouses, an immensely ugly monotony, beneath which grow a fantastic array of year-round fruits & vegetables; Almería province has been compared to Jaén, if Jaén were on the Mediterranean, the cliffsides along the highway (which reminded me of the PCH) dotted with little ruined watchtowers, a mecca of fruit & not of olives.

The migas I was served here, instead of coming with green peppers & chorizo, were lighter & covered in onions, dark reddish squid, little fried fish & zucchini. Salmorejo is uncommon, & the olives aren’t as good. The little beach bars are just beginning to open up this week & the next, the season beginning. 

The omnipresence of French among aristocratic Russians in War & Peace is interesting to me (the way the language people choose to speak characterizes them, an Austrian general’s obscure pleasure at getting a Russian idiom right when he gives a speech, society conducted bilingually) — as is the way the translation into a third language makes all that French-in-Russian something still more indirect.

On p. 89, Tolstoy invents a formidable German compound word: Hofskriegswurstschappsrath. The footnote: ‘Literally, the “sausage-schnapps-war-council” (German); the neologism is a play on the German word Hofkriegsrath (“council of war”).’ Further down, we’re reminded that national stereotypes are always already fixed, undeniable, & as constant as water. See early 19th c. Germans as notorious cowards & military pushovers:

“Bonaparte was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has splendid soldiers. And he attacked the Germans first too. And any fool can beat the Germans. From the very beginning of the world every  one has beaten the Germans. And they’ve never beaten any one. They only conquer each other. He made his reputation fighting against them.”

Back to Jaén on Monday, and goodbye again to English prose, in translation or no. I’m sunburned on only one side of my body & wearing pistachio-green pants & going to get some tapas.

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One Response to “Hofkriesrath, war & peace”

  1. Buster Says:

    My envy matches your pants.


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