Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To His Sister.

FEODOSIA, July, 1888.

. . . The journey from Sumy to Harkov is frightfully dull. Going from Harkov to Simferopol one might well die of boredom. The Crimean steppe is depressing, monotonous, with no horizon, colourless like Ivanenko’s stories, and on the whole rather like the tundra. . . . From Simferopol mountains begin and, with them, beauty. Ravines, mountains, ravines, mountains, poplars stick out from the ravines, vineyards loom dark on the mountains — all this is bathed in moonlight, is new and wild, and sets one’s imagination working in harmony with Gogol’s “Terrible Vengeance.” Particularly fantastic are the alternating precipices and tunnels when you see now depths full of moonlight and now complete sinister darkness. It is rather uncanny and delightful. One feels it is something not Russian, something alien. I reached Sevastopol at night. The town is beautiful in itself and beautiful because it stands by a marvellous sea. The best in the sea is its colour, and that one cannot describe. It is like blue copperas. As to steamers and sailing vessels, piers and harbours, what strikes one most of all is the poverty of the Russians. Except the “popovkas,” which look like Moscow merchants’ wives, and two or three decent steamers, there is nothing to speak of in the bay.

. . . In the morning it was deadly dull. Heat, dust, thirst. . . . In the harbour there was a stench of ropes, and one caught glimpses of faces burnt brick-red, sounds of a pulley, of the splashing of dirty water, knocking, Tatar words, and all sorts of uninteresting nonsense. You go up to a steamer: men in rags, bathed in sweat and almost baked by the sun, dizzy, with tatters on their backs and shoulders, unload Portland cement; you stand and look at them and the whole scene becomes so remote, so alien, that one feels insufferably dull and uninterested. It is entertaining to get on board and set off, but it is rather a bore to sail and talk to a crowd of passengers consisting of elements all of which one knows by heart and is weary of already. . . . Yalta is a mixture of something European that reminds one of the views of Nice, with something cheap and shoddy. The box-like hotels in which unhappy consumptives are pining, the impudent Tatar faces, the ladies’ bustles with their very undisguised expression of something very abominable, the faces of the idle rich, longing for cheap adventures, the smell of perfumery instead of the scent of the cedars and the sea, the miserable dirty pier, the melancholy lights far out at sea, the prattle of young ladies and gentlemen who have crowded here in order to admire nature of which they have no idea — all this taken together produces such a depressing effect and is so overwhelming that one begins to blame oneself for being biassed and unfair. . . . At five o’clock in the morning I arrived at Feodosia — a greyish-brown, dismal, and dull-looking little town. There is no grass, the trees are wretched, the soil is coarse and hopelessly poor. Everything is burnt up by the sun, and only the sea smiles — the sea which has nothing to do with wretched little towns or tourists. Sea bathing is so nice that when I got into the water I began to laugh for no reason at all. . . .

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July 22.

. . . Yesterday we went to Shah-Mamai Aivazovsky’s estate, twenty-five versts from Feodosia. It is a magnificent estate, rather like fairyland; such estates may probably be seen in Persia. Aivazovsky [Translator’s Note: The famous marine painter.] himself, a vigorous old man of seventy-five, is a mixture of a good-natured Armenian and an overfed bishop; he is full of dignity, has soft hands, and offers them like a general. He is not very intelligent, but is a complex nature worthy of attention. He combines in himself a general, a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello. He is married to a young and very beautiful woman whom he rules with a rod of iron. He is friendly with Sultans, Shahs, and Amirs. He collaborated with Glinka in writing “Ruslan and Liudmila.” He was a friend of Pushkin, but has never read him. He has not read a single book in his life. When it is suggested to him that he should read something he answers, “Why should I read when I have opinions of my own?” I spent a whole day in his house and had dinner there. The dinner was fearfully long, with endless toasts. By the way, at that dinner I was introduced to the lady doctor, wife of the well-known professor. She is a fat, bulky piece of flesh. If she were undressed and painted green she would look just like a frog. After talking to her I mentally scratched her off the list of women doctors. . . .

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