Saturday, July 7, 2012

Kholstomer: The Story of a Horse (and cake)

Last week I was wandering around downtown with my boyfriend when we stumbled upon a tent advertising the Daegu International Musical Festival. They were selling discounted tickets for some lovely musicals performed by actors from all around the world. One of these happened to be a Russian musical based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. We quickly purchased 2 tickets and I'm super glad that we did because the performance was amazing!

The story uses defamiliarization - a literary device that makes us view something ordinary and familiar in a new way. In this case, the story is told from the point of view of a horse. This makes us look at certain artificially constructed concepts with different eyes. For me, one of the most memorable parts was where the horse talks about ownership. This is something that we ordinarily take for granted, but from the view of a free animal that lives wherever he is and belongs to no one, the concept of ownership takes on an utterly different meaning (or lack thereof). Here is a translated excerpt:

The words 'my horse' referred to me, a living horse, and seemed as strange to me as the words 'my land,' 'my air,' 'my water.' But the words made a strong impression on me... only after the most diverse experiences with people did I understand... In life people are guided by words, not by deeds... Such are the words 'my' and 'mine,' which they apply to different things, creatures, objects, and even to land, people, and horses... And the one who says 'mine' about the greatest number of things is, according to the game which they've agreed to among themselves, the one they consider the most happy... 

 (I always feel that Russian cannot be translated in a way that keeps the beauty, poetry, and tone of the language intact. When I read English translations, the words don't touch me the same way. However, now that my Russian isn't as good as it used to be, I'm immensely grateful for all the translations available these days. Luckily, I could understand almost everything the actors said in the play. Listening is easier than reading.)

Back to the story, just as Animal Farm is not really about animals, Kholstomer is not really about horses. I love stories that reveal truths about humanity and make us question things that we ordinarily take for granted and don't bother thinking about. This illuminates our everyday life and challenges us to live authentically and freely.

I feel so lucky to have gotten the chance to see this performance. I think I miss hearing Russian and connecting with Russian culture far more than I realized. So now I will delve back into Anna Karenina and savour every (translated!! bah!) word. I should study Russian more so that one day I can actually read everything in its original version.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the cake! After the performance, we visited Daegu's most famous cake shop and got one slice of opera cake and one slice of tiramisu cheesecake. They were beyond delicious!!! And incredibly satisfying, the ingredients were rich and high in quality, the flavours deep and subtle. I had some hazelnut coffee with my cake, which was tasty but resulted in insomnia. That's alright though, I just ended up reading and listening to music for many magical hours ;-)

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