Way back in the Dark Ages (around 2001) my friend the composer Alexander Bakshi called and asked me to do a favor. Gidon Kremer was preparing a new album consisting entirely of his encores, most of which were quite humorous, and he wanted to print a Daniil Kharms short story in the booklet. Kremer asked Sasha (who’s piece “The Unanswered Call” was to be included in the collection) if he knew someone who could do an English translation of Kharms. I did the translation which was printed as planned in the booklet but – as a real “joke” – Sasha’s piece got cut out of the final version of the CD. Justice was done, however, because Kremer did include “An Unanswered Call” in his 2004 disc titled Kremerland. I totally forgot about all of this until earlier today when I was rummaging around in my CDs (yes, I still have a ton) and I found Kremer’s Happy Birthday (published 2002) – the one that jilted Sasha Bakshi but kept me in tow. According to Matvei Yankelevich in Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms, Kharms’s story, “Connection,” was probably written with Kharms’s friend Yakov Druskin, a philosopher, in mind. The images above and below are of the cover of Kremer’s Happy Birthday CD and of the two pages with my translation on them. I have tweaked the translation below – I just couldn’t leave a couple of sentences alone. This only goes to prove again that no translation, I say, NO TRANSLATION, is EVER complete!
1. I am writing to you in answer to the letter that you are preparing to write me in answer to the letter I sent you. 2. A violinist bought himself a magnet and set off with it towards home. On the way, some delinquents attacked the violinist and knocked his hat off his head. The wind caught the hat and carried it down the street. 3. The violinist set the magnet down on the ground and ran after his hat. The hat blew into a puddle of nitric acid and decomposed. 4. Meanwhile, the delinquents grabbed the magnet and vanished. 5. The violinist returned home without his coat and hat because the hat had decomposed in the nitric acid and the violinist, upset over the loss of his hat, forgot his coat in the tramcar. 6. The conductor on the tramcar took the coat to the flea market where he exchanged it for some sour cream, oats and tomatoes. 7. The conductor’s father-in-law ate too many tomatoes and died. The conductor’s father-in-law’s corpse was laid out in the mortuary but later, in a mix-up, some old woman was buried in place of the conductor’s father-in-law. 8. A white marker stating, “Anton Sergeevich Kondratyev,” was erected over the old woman’s grave. 9. Eleven years later this marker was eaten through by worms and it fell over. The cemetery watchman sawed the marker into four pieces and burned it in his oven. The cemetery watchman’s wife boiled some cauliflower soup over the fire it provided. 10. However, when the soup was ready, a clock fell off the wall right into the soup pot. They pulled the clock out of the soup, but there were bedbugs in the clock and now they were in the soup. They gave the soup to the beggar Timofei. 11. The beggar Timofei ate the soup with the bedbugs in it and told the beggar Nikolai of the cemetery watchman’s kindness. 12. The next day the beggar Nikolai came to the cemetery watchman and begged for alms. But the cemetery watchman gave nothing to the beggar Nikolai and chased him away. 13. The beggar Nikolai was so irate that he burned down the cemetery watchman’s house. 14. The flames leaped from the house to the church and the church burned down. 15. A lengthy investigation was conducted but no one could establish the origin of the fire. 16. A club was built in place of the former church and on the club’s opening day, a concert was held at which the violinist performed who had lost his coat fourteen years ago. 17. Sitting among the listeners was the son of one of the delinquents who, fourteen years ago, had knocked the hat from the violinist’s head. 18. After the concert, they went home in the same tramcar. But driving the tramcar right behind them was that very same conductor who once had sold the violinist’s coat at the flea market. 19. So there they are, riding late one evening about the city – in the car ahead are the violinist and the delinquent’s son; right behind them is the tramcar driver, the former conductor. 20. They all ride on but none of them know what connection there is among them, nor will they know until they die.