I am a Russian
I am sitting at the chessboard, trying to think my way out of a maze of variations.
My name is Mikhaïl Ivanovich Tupolev, like the great Alexeï Andreïevich,
the inventor of the aeroplane that matched the Concorde and exceeded Mach 2.
I am Russian, and I play chess.
Slavs were converted to christianism by Cyrille and Methode
and their followers created the Cyrillic alphabet.
I am staring at the various reproductions of paintings
by Dali and Picasso
that cover the walls. The vast hall in which we play pretends to be modern and trendy,
but it is a pity that there is nothing from Kandinsky.
I like Picasso and Dali, though they have little to do with Russia, but Vasily Kandinsky
is another modern artist, and he was born in Moscow, which makes him one third Russian.
Sometimes, when I enter an Italian restaurant to have a pizza, a cunning waiter notices my slight Russian accent and asks with a subtle expression on his face : “You are Russian, aren’t you?”
It is somewhat pleasing to be recognized as a Russian , because
I am proud to be a Russian, but all the average Westerner knows of Russia is at best
Garry Kasparov and Kalinka,
at worst Maria Sharapova and vodka.
Russia exports 7 bbl of oil a day and 7 Tcf of gas a year,
produces 65000 thousand metric tons of cereal a year,
but I am still struggling to make a meagre living
in the West out of my modest chess talent.
It is the last game of a rapid tournament
in Spain. If I win it I will finish first and grab a nice
$1000 USD prize. I will eat paella in a typical Spanish restaurant and travel to Paris to play
in a team championship.
At the same time, Gregory Perelman is hiding in Siberia and refuses the
$1,000,000 USD prize that the Clay Foundation awarded him for his proof of the Poincaré theorem.
There is no word, neither in English nor in Russian, to qualify such a thing.
The ticking of the clock is a strange lullaby.
I am still a Russian
I have lost my game, something I still can not believe, because
I am still a Russian and my opponent was only Latvian.
When we are sad, people say in our deep blue eyes one can see
the infinite plains of the East and the cold and empty sky.
I'm currently reading “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”,
by Kundera. He is the writer I enjoy the most. He had a fairly good level at chess,
but wasn’t Russian. Nevertheless, Russian literature is immensely rich.
Bulgakov (1891-1940) is said to have been a favourite
of the Soviet regime. Yet he wrote the unforgettable
“Master and Margharita”, and shares his first name with no less than
yours truly and Botvinnik, world chess championship
from 1948 to 1957, from 1958 to 1960 and from 1961 to 1963,
who lost his title twice then struck back in return encounters.
One day, I will have my revenge for today’s loss, too.
“War and Peace” was translated into more than 10 languages ;
it is the novel which depicts the Russian soul the best. I was born
in Poltava and grew up in Volgograd, two places where
the Russian Army won crushing victories.
Russia was never defeated, or those were not real defeats.
I finished shared third and got a tiny
$50 USD cheque. Tonight, I'll have a quick
meal in a meaningless fast-food restaurant as my Spanish
girlfriend comforts me. She thinks I am just
slightly overconfident when it comes to
concluding something. After Kipling, I should say
“Triumph and Defeat, those two liars”. Oil still pours from the ground
in Russia and cars roll in the US, it is the middle of the day
in the Arctic, night falls in Sevilla, and I have not been to
Siberia yet. St Petersburg and Moscow are 650 km apart,
but Russia is only 64 km away from the US,
over the Behring Sea (it would be funnier if, as in Gibraltar,
the West of Alaska belonged to Russia and the East of Chukotka to the US).
But I, the most faithful Russian, wander along in
tiny Western Europe like a fish in its tank.
Not much to regret though, the whole world would still be too
narrow for me : I shall always be a Russian.