Magazine article Russian Life

Dog Tails

Magazine article Russian Life

Dog Tails

Article excerpt

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin is a well-known dog lover. It is not uncommon to see an official photo of him in his Kremlin office, meeting with some high official, and there, in the foreground, a black Labrador retriever--Connie--reclines on the floor.

In 2004, the children's book Connie's Stories was published. But it was not a salacious, ground's eye view of Kremlin life. In fact, the word "Putin" does not appear in the book; usually the dog Connie refers simply to his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (master).

In Russia, long before Putin came to power, dogs roamed the halls of power and the alleyways of slums. But everywhere they were considered loyal friends. In the movie Diamond Arm, when the boorish Upravdom [head of the house committee] blames a dog owner for letting his pet "do his thing" on the courtyard grass, the hapless Semyon Semyonovich Gorbunkov recalls his experience in London, where dogs are allowed everywhere because, he insists, "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (dog is man's friend). To which the lady retorts, "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" ("I don't know how things are in London--never been there. Maybe there, the dog is man's friend. But here it is the Upravdom who is man's friend.") The famous exchange from this 1970s movie, suggested what a hard life--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--Soviets had, if their best friend is really the Upravdom. (Yet, if you have walked through enough Russian courtyards, you may well agree that Gorbunkov's Upravdom had a point about dogs leaving their mark.)

The classic Russian dog story, however (which has an even more obnoxious Upravdom, named Shvonder), is Mikhail Bulgakov's novel, Heart of the Dog. In that story, a Professor Preobrazhensky turns the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (stray dog) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Sharik) into a man named Sharikov. Alas, the transformation is a bust. The professor made dog into man by transplanting into him the pituitary and testes of a drunken worker, so Sharikov turns into a boorish Bolshevik, forcing Preobrazhensky to eventually turn Sharikov back into Sharik. To this day, a rude primitive with base proletarian instincts is called [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The phenomenon is known as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Unfortunately, this species is not yet extinct here--you can still meet many on the metro. They are the ones who elbow you like an NHL defenseman.

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Not surprisingly, dog proverbs and sayings abound in local culture and folklore. …

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