Tag Archives: Professor

Let us now praise Carol Apollonio

I want to thank Professor Apollonio for coming to last night’s rehearsal and re-rooting us in the Russian context of Chekhov and Uncle Vanya. As I said at the start of rehearsals, as a production dramaturg one is constantly hoping to become enough “expert” to support the work until the next play, the next period, writing and performance style when one quickly gathers a different sent “expertise” as she moves into the next project. So I am utterly grateful for the support of scholars like Professor Apollonio and John Wright (who came in last week to work with us on pronunciation) for providing expertise that is grounded in years of focused research and direct experience with our playwright and his culture and language.

It’s especially gratifying to be able to fact-check some of the more oblique references within the text. For example, learning that the Russian root of Yelena’s name means “lazy”, reminding us to consider that the absence of Sonya’s mother is the long-range catalyst for events in the play itself, and how Chekhov casts beauty and love in the figures of Yelena and Sonya.

I also thought of two moments where my own reading felt less than secure given the many layers of translation (language, time period, & culture) Baker’s text has gone through. So I sent Carol a follow-up message after last night’s rehearsal, and I’m very glad.

I first asked her about that moment early in Act I when Vanya goes on his first tirade about the professor (pg. 31) and he quotes from an unknown source:

With tired minds and furrowed brows/We write ode after ode/Not for ourselves/And not for the praise we’ll never hear.

I’ve been operating as if Vanya is quoting the Professor’s own hackneyed writing especially as he follows this line with “I feel sorry for the paper.” But Professor Apollonio informed me

Vanya quotes (inexactly, but recognizably) an 18th-century sentimentalist writer Ivan Dmitriev [from Jules — forgive the Wikipedia link but all the other materials are in books or behind paywalls]. These are the 2nd and 3d lines from a satirical poem mocking sycophantic (and boring) ode writers of his day (from the collection “At Second Hand” [Chuzhoi tolk]). “These writers slave away at their writing, but their hard work is not appreciated.” Your translation gives the basic meaning. The quote itself has a more stuffy and archaic feel (“having strained our minds, having furrowed our brows, with zeal we write…”), so the actor could feel free to lay it on thick. Since the professor writes academic prose, not poetry, the quote adds a thicker layer of bitterness and satire by referring to odes from 100 years ago.

So I got the basic purpose of Vanya’s quote correct but not the reference. Vanyas please make note of this change.

The second question — attention Phil — was in reference to a quote slung by the Professor himself at the end of Act IV when he’s parading himself out of the house. He says,

He who dwells in the past shall have his eye plucked out.

In this case it didn’t seem to be the Professor’s own prose that he was quoting but I was unsure if it was referencing material from known poet or writer. I’d been operating under the impression that it might be a kind of folksy saying or proverb and Professor Apollonio confirmed that reading:

it’s a Russian idiom. Your translator has rendered it fairly literally–but of course it’s hard to make this line work. The basic meaning is “let bygones be bygones.”

And that information just adds to the irony and irritation I think we’re encouraged to feel for the Professor as he leaves the scene and the estate. He’s so full of forgiveness for all the disaster his presence has largely set into motion. Not quite as ire-inducing as the “Do something with your lives” line. But close.

Again, a massive thanks to Professor Apollonio. If you have have other questions that dawned on you after last night or if you have them about translation context or cultural context, feel free to email her directly at flath@duke.edu or email me and I’ll pass the query along. You can also catch her “What Would Dostoyevsky Do” columns in The Chronicle every other Tuesday.

I don’t eat meat. That makes me strange.

Happy World Vegetarian Day!! In observation, NPR had a story today about the 115-year-old Zurich restaurant Hiltl, “the world’s oldest continually operating vegetarian restaurant,” and its founders, early customers, and latest offerings.

"This gang founded Zurich's Vegetarians' Home and Teetotaller Cafe in 1898. Ambrosius Hiltl bought the joint and changed the name in 1903."

“This gang founded Zurich’s Vegetarians’ Home and Teetotaller Cafe in 1898. Ambrosius Hiltl bought the joint and changed the name in 1903.” NPR.

The details about its early days struck me for how they touch on both Astrov (in terms of the atypical choice to go meatless at that time) and the Professor (in terms of vegetarianism being offered as a medical treatment for various ailments like rheumatism).

“The first several years, people entered Hiltl through the backdoor,” says Peter Vauthier, the head of Hiltl guest relations.

The Swiss, you see, have long been a pretty meat-loving bunch. “If you didn’t eat meat, it meant you had no money,” he says. Vegetarianism, in other words, was kind of a badge of shame.

But that didn’t deter Ambrosius Hiltl. Back in the 19th century, the Bavarian cobbler was working in Zurich when he adopted a vegetarian diet to alleviate joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis. The advice came from a doctor who followed the school of thought that a diet of raw vegetables, fruit and nuts could heal most ailments. That was an idea popularized by Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a Swiss physician and nutritional theorist best known for inventing muesli.

Lucky for Hiltl, Zurich had an option for budding vegetarians like him: the Vegetarians’ Home and Teetotaller Café, which had opened its doors in 1898. Not exactly the kind of name that draws crowds, but Hiltl nonetheless became a frequent diner. Eventually, he decided to buy the joint. Hence, Hiltl — a Zurich institution — was born.

The original menu may have been vegetarian, but it wasn’t especially healthful. Dishes were essentially regular recipes served without meat. Potatoes, rice and flour-based foods featured heavily, […]

The original vegetarian restaurant had been in business for five years before Hiltl took over in 1903, continuing to serve a motley — and largely female — clientele. The meatless menu attracted artists and writers, as well as those with ailing health and the religiously observant.

100+ years later, the restaurant has become one of Switzerland’s largest restaurants seating over 500 on three floors with a bar, nightclub, and cooking classes for patrons. Of course its popularity has meant a return to some of those unhealthful offerings before Hiltl took over in 1903:

Many of [today’s] Hiltl customers aren’t vegetarian. They just like the concept of an international buffet with fresh, quality food served in a trendy environment, which also explains why some of Hiltl’s unhealthiest fare is the most popular. One top seller: meatless Zürich Geschnetzeltes with Rösti, a typical Swiss dish usually made with small pieces of veal and mushrooms in a cream sauce, served with crispy potatoes.

The story doesn’t give the calorie count for the meatless version, but the average for the traditional recipe averages about 500 total calories with 300 of those coming from fat. But at least it continues to be one of the few fully Kosher, high-end restaurants in the city. Field trip anyone?

"Today, Hiltl features more than 100 items on its vast buffet."

“Today, Hiltl features more than 100 items on its vast buffet.”