A splendid buffet : the June 2020 Slavonic item of the month

This month, I wanted to draw attention to a growing open access resource called Prozhito which provides diaries written by the great and the good and the ordinary.  At the time of writing, Prozhito (“Lived”, the passive past participle) contains diaries in Russian by 5755 authors, in Ukrainian by 104, and in Belarusian by 58.

A volunteer-led initiative which started in 2014, Prozhito has since 2019 been a joint project with the European University in St Petersburg.  The latter’s English-language summary of the project is here.  The Russian-language Prozhito “About” page is here.

The diaries Prozhito contains span centuries and their authors range from schoolchildren to grandes dames and grands seigneurs.  Many of them relate to extremely challenging times, with war diaries very frequent.  The screenshot above shows the main entry for the diaries of Khalima Abdrakhmanovna Gaĭfutdinova, a nurse from Tatarstan who managed to keep occasional diary notes during her service in World War 2.  In the top left-hand corner of that screenshot is the adjective voennyĭ (war), added as a tag to Gaĭfutdinova’s entry.  The site contains diaries printed previously (as is the case for Gaĭfutdinova; her diaries were first published on a Tatarstan WW2 website) as well as those published for the very first time.

Many of the diaries on Prozhito provide important sources about the history of the former Soviet space.  Sometimes, certainly for the dilettante reader, it is the less vital details that catch one’s attention – the signs of ordinary lives individually lived.  One of the most recent diaries to be added to Prozhito is two years’ worth of diaries by Vitaliĭ Sergeevich Fomin, the artistic director of the Leningrad Philarmonic.  Fomin’s was certainly not an ordinary life (not many other diaries feature the Moscow-Paris train, for example), yet his entries also contain many domestic details and delightful observations, and I am afraid that it is Fomin’s love of food that has remained with me most strongly.  In late 1984, Fomin travelled all over Germany and Austria in connection with an extended tour by the Leningrad Philarmonic.  His first stay is in Duisberg, where his delight at the hotel’s breakfast provision is extreme.  The shvedskiĭ stol (buffet; literally “Swedish table”) features in almost every Duisberg entry. 

  • 13 September “an excellent breakfast: fruit juice, omelette, ham, coffee, tea, rolls, and every kind of jam…”
  • 14 September “had breakfast: a splendid buffet”
  • 15 September “first thing – the same buffet (this time with [Aleksandr] Lazarev and [Sergeĭ] Stadler”
  • 16 September “the same buffet”
  • 17 September “The morning started traditionally – with the splendid buffet: cornflakes with milk, yoghurt, cheeses, an omelette, and jams”

The love affair with food continues throughout the trip, including a trip with Lazarev to a Chinese restaurant (the Peking duck was “divine”).  Eventually, on 11 November, Fomin makes it home to Leningrad in the early morning and is met on the platform by his wife and daughters, to his absolute joy.  At home, they sit down to a “marvellous breakfast: aspic and potatoes.  Good Lord, this is the food of the gods!”  His delight in aspic is where our opinions diverge.

Music is, of course, what feeds Fomin’s soul.  On the 23rd of September, in Vienna, he writes “I must preserve in my heart and soul my gratitude to fate that such days as this one can occur in life […]  in the morning, a concert in the Muzikverein conducted by Karajan (!), and in the evening, “Don Juan” at the Vienna opera.”

Readers of Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian who are interested in the excellent source material personal diaries provide are strongly encouraged to take a look at Prozhito.  It is very much a work in progress, with some diaries only listed and not yet uploaded, and with a search function that could be improved.  Native and near-native speakers, however, could also sign up as volunteers to help with this very worthy project.

Mel Bach


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