Saturday, November 26, 2016

Rach Of Ages

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a big old romantic Russian composer and virtuoso with a flawless memory who could comfortably reach a twelfth on the piano, or palm a medicine-ball, which is deeply unfair. I mean, anyone could play as well as he could if they had freaky fingers, monumental talent, and practiced all day long for fifty years. I've been playing a piece of his recently. It's called Elegie, so it's about death. It's maudlin as hell, but it works. Rachmaninoff carefully attached his opening notes to our heartstrings and then yanked on them all the way through. A lot of people never even hear the ending because their heads are in the oven. It's sad, is what I'm saying. No one mourns more extravagantly than a Russian.

Russians are very interested in death. In fact, there's a big argument now about where Sergei Rachmaninoff himself should be decomposing. He is currently interred in Valhalla, which is just outside New York City, but there are those who believe he should be rotting in the homeland instead. They're willing to hoist him up and make it happen, too.

The Russian Culture Minister, Vladimir Medinsky, stated with confidence that Rachmaninoff had dreamed of being buried in Russia, although there's no way of knowing if that was one of his good dreams. And it is true that the composer missed his home country terribly, but if he'd wanted to be buried in Russia he could have just hung around in 1917 and let the Bolsheviks do him in. Then it would just have been a matter of digging him up and relocating him when and if he became fashionable again.

That's what happened to the Romanovs. They weren't even all that reliably dead for a while, and mostly unaccounted for, but eventually a lot of their bits were rounded up and given a proper burial. Basically, any dead Russian of prominence can expect to be periodically exhumed and relocated according to the whim of whoever is currently in charge of writing history. If you're a valuable Russian commodity of the 20th century, at a minimum, you can expect to trot the globe for a while, and then try to grab a spot six feet under and hold on, but there will be no guarantees.

I'm not 100% sure it ever makes sense to be proud of where you came from. It's not as though it's an accomplishment. Still, Russians can justify their allegiance as much as anybody. Theirs is a rich and storied culture. They don't write little novels. They don't compose little pieces. They might have been exiled in life, but that doesn't mean they'll stay that way.

As formerly living valuable Russians, they must be ready to continue to serve the state, but the state wants to curate their corpses: they don't want just anybody. The Siberian tundra is spackled with deceased citizens of strong character who didn't start out there, and those are likely to stay put. But there is a strong conviction that any retrievable portions of approved illustrious dead Russians should be gathered up and bronzed, stuck in a glass box, refabricated as nipple jewelry for the President, shoved underground again for the greater glory of the motherland, or pulverized and shot out over Ukraine to inspire the troops. Resting in peace is for sissies. Westerners.

As an American, I have the leisure to expect my own carcass to stay put, but I don't care. I do not give one hoot about where my remains end up. I certainly do not believe I should be carried back to Old Virginny, the place where I was born. If anyone asks, my preference  would be to be recycled as vulture poop, and the vulture can drop her load anywhere she wants.

22 comments:

  1. I completely agree with your last paragraph. Since I love birds, I would much rather my body give sustenance to the vultures, crows, and eagles that I so dearly love. I never could see the point in lavish funerals and all the expenses involved. Just as, as a living person, I can toss clothes I don't wear anymore into a Goodwill bag without a second thought, I expect that, as a dead person, I probably won't give a thought to what became of my body. Just as with the clothes, my only hope is for it to be useful to someone, somewhere, since I'm not using it anymore.

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  2. There are cultures that do just as you want with their relatives...can't remember where, but you might want to move there when you are at death's door.

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    1. Well, there's India, but they ended up with a terrible vulture shortage when the birds started dropping dead after feeding on dead cows that had been administered drugs. They tried to get the local crows to step up, but they weren't as efficient.

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  3. A friend of mine lived for a few years in Mississippi. She made her husband promise that if she died there, he would drag her remains across the state line. After getting her out of Mississippi, her husband could leave her anyplace; she didn't care where else she might end up.
    Is the recent election causing this interest in the morbid? I can understand why...

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    1. Man, she really doesn't like Mississippi.

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  4. I suppose the Russians only consider old Sergei mostly dead. He won't be completely dead until they plant him back in Russia somewhere. Neither do I know or particularly care where my parts end up. Atomically they will get recycled anyway.

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  5. Seems the Russians just can't let sleeping dogs lie.
    I'm not fussed about where I end up either as long as they make sure I'm really dead before they dispose of me. I've heard of people being in deep comas getting buried, but that was probably a couple of centuries ago, before they had all those machines that go beep.

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    1. They used to have WAY too much laudanum in those days. And now I have Randy Newman's voice in my head: "tiny little machines that go beep, beep, beep..."

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  6. "I'm not 100% sure it ever makes sense to be proud of where you came from. It's not as though it's an accomplishment." Yes! Why do not more people understand this??

    And today's golden moment was the heads in the oven sentence. You do know how to turn a phrase, Murr.

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    1. You might be kinda sick, girl.
      I distrust patriotism. I don't even get it. Even though sometimes I thrill to the anthem and that sort of thing--but this is such a tiny world, and we've really infested it. To not understand that everyone else is like us makes no sense to me.

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    2. Indeed. My family used to be so damned proud to be of Polish extraction. Why? For one thing, they were born in this country and had never even seen Poland. Secondly, if Poland was so freakin' great, why did my grandparents leave their families forever and come here to live? Thirdly, as you say, nationality is an accident of birth, not an accomplishment. I may as well be proud of having green eyes or a birthmark on my right thigh.

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    3. It is odd. And yet I have sort of an...affection for the idea that I'm half Norwegian, and not much at all for the half-English part. And none of that is informed by all the forgotten women in the family line.

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    4. I'm happy to be part Swedish but don't care at all about the Germany I was born in. I'm Australian now and we love our country, but we're not rabid patriots.

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    5. I remember being startled when I spent a year in England and mentioned that I was half Norwegian. My friends thought I meant I had Norwegian citizenship. That's when I realized it's kind of an American thing to have one's entire heritage all diced up and on a platter as though it explains us.

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  7. Vultures will not eat dead clowns. They taste funny.

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  8. Nothing good the Irish for false patriotism. Bit they have to leave the priest-ridden misogynistic empire to do it.

    XO
    WWW

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  9. For once, I have no direct response to your thoughts. *However*, rather than stimulating me to think about where I'd like my ashes to be scattered, this post has me thinking about where I should be *living*, at least for the rest of my life. I think it all goes back to the fact that I missed the opportunity to do my "Junior Year Abroad". Could we somehow arrange for me to be teleported to 1973 France, for at least a year? I think after a year of that, I might be more inclined to worry about the disposal of my ashes or the meaning of my murky ethnic heritage.

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    1. Ed, where do you want to go? You could go. You totally could. You could always come back. Okay, you can't go to 1973 France, but I could totally see you with the Ye-Ye girls.

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