Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Aron Zinshtein

On Sunday, I got a phone call from a legendary underground Leningrad painter, Aron Zinshtein. I'd met him in St. Petersburg this summer -- my friend and editor, Galina, introduced us, she'd brought him to my presentation in Bookvoed. In the 1960s and 70s, Aron had been a part of the world that's mostly familiar to me through stories: the world of artists who wanted to exist independently of the Communist party, and thus were unable to sell their art through the official channels, forced to earn their living by sweeping streets and operating furnaces. (I actually don't know how Aron himself had earned his living back then, I should ask him).

In any case, Aron's is having a show of his work in the Bay Area this coming weekend -- the show starts on Friday, in San Jose, and he is staying with friends about 50 miles away in Richmond (the town north of Berkeley). His friend who lives in Richmond doesn't drive on the highways, and the friends who are helping him organize the show in San Jose work during the week. So he needed my help to deliver the paintings from one place to another -- which I was happy to do, especially because I'm going to miss his show this weekend -- I'll be in China.

Theoretically, I've always known that there exists a sizable community of Russian immigrants in the Bay area, but I had no idea where they were or how to find them, especially the artists and the writers. Aron introduced me to a very friendly couple, who until a year or two ago published a Russian-language magazine Terra Nova (they even did a bilingual issue once), a magazine of interviews and essays written by the local Russian-speaking physicists, mathematicians, poets, musicians, architects and other "people of the arts and sciences." They generously gave me copies of the back issues: it felt like receiving a treasure chest. I signed up to their mailing list as well. Even though the magazine is temporarily defunct, the community is going strong with art shows and lectures and talks with all kinds of visiting Russian (and, if I'm not mistaken, particularly St. Petersburg) celebrities. The only problem: they meet in San Jose.

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