Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Things In My Life That Nest

 Spring is coming, kind of, with everything preparing to replicate itself.  My house is full of objects that strive to remind me of this.

Regular (czarist?  Stay with me) nesting dolls.

When I was first studying Russian, a man named Sasha would very occasionally come sing songs with our class.  Apparently, he attempted to come many times, but almost never succeeded.  In my memory this is because it was constantly snowing, because it snowed more in the past, and also Russia.  I think he lived in Windsor, which was the actual reason.

The two things I remember him saying were that he had come to understand while living with a group of Yakuts that music that begins slowly and eventually accelerates to a frenzy was a universal human phenomenon.  He hypothesized that this was because it mimicked the human heart in its response to the world.  The other thing was about matryoshki--that the traditional ones had seven parts, like the optimal Slavic family.  This was supported by the fact that the Russian word for "family," семья (sem'ya), contains the word for "seven," семь (sem').  (Actually, I think he said that it was originally composed of the words семь и я, "seven and I," which to my mind makes eight, but in any case mine has only six, making it unambiguously deficient.)

Soviet-leader nesting dolls.
Fact Time:  Like the seven-string guitar, the matryoshka is a product of the late 19th century that has managed to seem eternal.  It was inspired by a similar style of nesting doll from Japan, and its creation was funded by an industrialist who was also a patron of folk-art-for-folk-art's-sake.  This is the first one.  The original design was heaving influenced by the tradition of icon painting, and many of the early dolls were painted by people trained in that tradition.  Because of this the dolls had a style that was identifiably Russian, but cheerily without context or religious implication.

With enough effort, you can find almost every idetifiable non-matryoshka cultural object that has come about since then represented in matryoshka form.  It has become its own medium as a kitsch signifier, but its association with Eastern Europe persists.

In Prague.

And overall this is not so far off from my newest thing that nests, this floral nesting hammer.

Spring is coming.  Remind yourself what flowers are.
These are its daughter-features:

The fork is unrelated.  It did not come from the hammer.

And, for years undiscovered, until now:

Appropriately, I was given this by a Russian man who I rescued from a snowstorm.  He did not need rescuing, but he was grateful nonetheless.  I kept it in my coat pocket for the rest of the day, which struck me as a handy thing to do, but when it fell out more than one person expressed dismay that it was not a more impressive tool for self-defense; for example, a disguise for pepper spray.  It is a hammer, I pointed out.  Yes, but what if you filled it with acid?  That could be really effective.

One can hide inside the other, in case of danger.

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