Sunday, May 08, 2011

What is a Samovar? (Arthur Ransome)

Read a blog post on the role of the samovar in international relations here (in Russian).

Few items of material culture are as close to  Russian heart as the samovar. The word literally means self-boiler, but the device is symbolic of home, warmth, shelter and closeness of friends and family. Samovars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from portable travel devices to huge tavern-service monsters.

Here is how Arthur Ransome of the Swallows and Amazons fame describes the samovar in Old Peter's Russian Tales, which he compiled and adapted in English while in Russia (from The Hut in the Forest):
Then old Peter took his big coat off and lifted down the samovar from the shelf. The samovar is like a big tea-urn, with a red-hot fire in the middle of it keeping the water boiling. It hums like a bee on the tea-table, and the steam rises in a little jet from a tiny hole in the top. The boiling water comes out of a tap at the bottom. Old Peter threw in the lighted sticks and charcoal, and made a draught to draw the heat, and then set the samovar on the table with the little fire crackling in its inside. Then he cut some big lumps of black bread. Then he took a great saucepan full of soup, that was simmering on the stove, and emptied it into a big wooden bowl. Then he went to the wall where, on three nails, hung three wooden spoons, deep like ladles. There were one big spoon, for old Peter; and two little spoons, one for Vanya and one for Maroosia.

Old Peter's Russian Tales can be downloaded in various formats, including ePub and Kindle, from Gutenberg here. Ransome had incredible adventures while in Russia, serving as a secret agent for both the British and the bolsheviks. Read about him in The Last Englishman.

I recommend Old Peter's Tales to translators and students of Russian to see how he tackles the numerous affectionate-diminutive suffixes. Most of the tales included in Ransome's collection are available online in Russian. For example, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship is here as "Летучий корабль".

Wiki article on samovars here.

Photo: from here.

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