Aram Ilyich Khachaturian

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Free time for whims is what makes age alluring;

the aging Khachaturian grew to like touring:

Rome—Paris—London—Berlin.

He conducted, shook hands,

represented the State,

gave many an interview,

enjoyed his fame through and through.

Glory, after all, is glorious;

he lapped up “bravos”;

the glitter of concert halls

held him in thrall.

Glad of each chance

to further his own fame

he paid his respects

to the Pope and von Karajan,

Stravinsky and Britten,

the Dalai Lama, the Queen.

He was photographed with them,

or rather—they with him:

some PR, others more personal.

He liked snapshots

of the handshake—

inclined heads, coupled hands.

In his Moscow apartment,

with its sliding doors,

he treated guests to Armenian wine,

Mutakh cheese, a few grapes,

and these photos—

expecting rapture.

These albums, the apartment walls,

were adorned with every

major celebrity.

The only one missing

was Salvador Dali.

He must visit Dali!

Must see Dali!

Must chat with Dali!

Must be photographed with Dali!

Otherwise

both the collection

and Khachaturian’s fame

would be incomplete.

Dali acquiesced.

A date was set by

Salvador Dali

in one of his castles,

remote beyond belief.

At the agreed time,

Khachaturian and his assistant,

his assistant’s assistant and his

photographer,

a friend and this friend’s daughter—

a budding artist—

approached the castle.

It was truly ancient!

But in order to enter it

you had to cross

a wide swath of swampland.

No other way:

no footbridges,

no guards.

Mud splattered

their dress shoes

and best clothing;

dispirited and exhausted

they crossed the swamp.

The gates clanged open;

they entered the empty vastness

of the ancient castle,

akin to a planetarium or crematorium.

The silence continued.

The guests stood in a stupor.

This was insane!

Suddenly, the furious

“Sabre Dance” was unleashed.

It was like bolts of lightning!

Crossed ringing sabres

furiously attacked each other,

pushed off, recoiled,

flashed again,

clanged again.

It was spectacular!

Aram Ilyich—the proud author—

managed a smile, after all:

this was, after all, meant for him.

He was distracted,

however, by his polished

Angelo Putti shoes

bought the day before,

now encrusted with mud.

The dazzling “Sabre Dance” was done.

After a significant pause,

Salvador Dali himself appeared

riding a dark horse,

dressed like Don Quixote,

carrying a spear, of course,

but without Sancho Panza.

He rode three victory laps,

respectfully stopping

beside his shivering guests.

Through half-closed eyes

he looked down at everyone

with benevolent condescension:

a look full

of significance.

Then, thrice brandishing his spear,

he withdrew so abruptly that

the photographer

had no time to remember

why he was there.

A pre-recorded message

boomed a polite “Arrivederci,”

the lights went out,

the wayfarers exited.

“Ouch!” groaned the photographer.

“Argh!” growled the assistant.

Khachaturian stayed silent.

Once again they trudged

through the local mud,

but I said enough about that

as I described their approach

to the castle

of the ingenious Salvador.

 

It is said that this episode

cooled the composer’s ardour:

he went less often on tour

to dodgy venues.

 

December 1995–1996

Translated from the Russian by Maria Bloshteyn.

[*] In the 1960s and 1970s Aram Ilyich Khachaturian and L. A. Ozerov were not just friends but creative collaborators: they were planning to write an opera together: 26 Commissars from Baku. Ozerov wrote the libretto but the opera was never finished. The story described here was told to Ozerov personally by Khachaturian.

Lev Ozerov was a poet and literary critic of Jewish-Ukrainian origin. His book Portraits Without Frames (published posthumously in 1996) constitutes a mini-encyclopedia of Soviet life.

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