Brought to your gracious attention
illustrations for Table Talk 1882 project
(Based on B. Akunin’s book of the same name)

Issued regularly

20 December, 2004

Chapter One

Contents: How to get to the Odintsov mansion. — “To a friend and a muse from a forever beholden.” — On daguerrotypes. — Oflameron coffee recipe.

In this chapter our task is to illustrate one of the first sentences in the story: “The hostess Lidia Nikolaevna Odintsova…” and provide the reader with an insight into what Madam Odintsova was like and where she held her famous Velvet salon.

Let us begin.

How to get to the Odintsov mansion.

According to the story, the salon was a five-minute walk from the governor-general’s office. We open “Alphabetical index of Moscow dwellers” of 1853 and on page 318 we read that Lidia Nikolaevna Odintsova lived on Bryusovky lane.

Odintsova Agnia Fed.
— Evdok. Is…
— Lid. Nik. Bryusovsky lane, Odintsov mansion
— Sof. Mikh…

Now we need the exact house number.

We consult “Table of Moscow houses” of 1881.

1.  Fedorova Ekat. Dm. 252/251, 249, 271.
3.  Stankevitch Andr. Vlad…
5.  Anglican church…
7.  Streltsova Fed. Fed… 269, 270.
9.  Odintsova Lid. Nik.
11. Dobrova Nat. Fed…

House 9. It is on the right if you walk from Tverskaya.

All that’s left to do is to find a map of Moscow of those days and put the accordant marking on it.

“To a friend and a muse from a forever beholden.”

Now let me tell you a little about Lidia Nikolaevna herself. But not directly—we’ll take a look through the eyes of her acquaintances and salon frequenters.

It goes without saying that after all these years a half of Moscow society could say they visited her salon. May we take, for example, two famous personalities: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev. The hostess carefully kept their cards in her album.

Tchaikovsky signed a photograph for her in 1878. It was a difficult year for him: going through an emotional crisis because of the failed marriage he moved to Switzerland. It was from there that he sent Odintsova, a close friend of his, an autograph with a monogram.

We get hold of a photograph of Tchaikovsky at the age of 38 and a specimen of his handwriting.

We paste the photo onto Wesenberg Studio cardboard.

Copying Tchaikovsky’s hand, we trace out painstakingly in ink: “To a friend and a muse from a forever beholden.” We sign the name and put the date.

On daguerrotypes.

It will not be so easy with Turgenev. The problem is that in 1848 neither silver bromide gelatin emulsion nor silver chloride albumin paper (appeared in the early 50s) were yet used for printing photographs. At the time positive images were obtained through niepcotype (also know as heliography)—a process that used albumin coating containing potassium chloride on glass or metal; the plates were then washed with silver nitrate solution. It was expensive and not everyone could afford it. Those who decided to immortalize themselves in a photoportrait (that is how the advertising announcement on Moscow’s first Grekov Artistic Bureau went) which was the size of a snuffbox, were offered special wooden cases with velvet interior and decorated with family coat of arms.

We face another difficulty having to find a portrait of 30-year-old Turgenev and a specimen of his handwriting that, as it is know, changed significantly in his later years. We dug up a sheet with the scribbles we were looking for in “Bread for the Starving,” an autograph album where Turgenev answered questions like “What quality you appreciate most in women?” or “What vice do you tend to make allowance for?”

We take up the ink pen again and put down “To darling sublime Lidinka from I. T.“ In French, of course.

We have a mere nothing left to do—we need to composite the pieces together, add a few things and, naturally, have the hostess’s monogram embroidered on the tablecloth.

Take a closer look (chapter01.swf, 450 KB)

Meawhile, coffee lovers and those with slow download are welcome to learn a recipe of cooking the fashionable back then coffee Oflameron that is still popular today.

(To be continued.)

Narrated by Ilya Mikhailov

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