Literature is a creator of Odessa myth and its constituent at the same time. Literature as a myth creator is completely realistic whereas as a myth constituent it is completely unreal. We have no other way: reality is quite sad.
In general, we can divide Odessa literature into three parts – guest, immigrant and “residual“. The best writers and poets of Russian Empire and later of the Soviet Union – Pushkin, Gogol, Bunin, Mayakovski, visited Odessa… Odessa appropriated them in some or other way: legends, street names, monuments and memorial plates. Odessa was present in the works of those writers and poets. But… That is how people reminisce their past transient romances – with sadness and sometimes with irritation …
Immigrant literature is the literature created by the Odessans who chose to die not at their birthplace. Akhmatova does not count – she was taken out of Odessa when she was a child and renounced her native city in her verses. She said she wanted her monument built “not by the sea where I was born, I have severed my last ties with the sea…“ The monument was built though – in the area where her birthplace (“dacha”) was supposed to be located. The monument consisted of a bronze bass-relief and cast iron bench. All elements of the monument were stolen at various times and most likely, they were given away for recasting. They renewed the monument later.
Moreover, what a nuisance – the beauty and the pride of Odessa literature, the writers and the poets of the so-called Sothern-Russian (now Sothern-Ukrainian as it appeared) school upon reaching their mature age had already left their city. They did not forget to leave us their correspondence though where they called the city “dead“ and “empty“. In the 70-90ies of the 20th century the history repeated, the only thing is the writers who left Odessa at that time had never reached such a level of popularity as had Bagritsky, Kataev, Olesha… However, their names are also well known – Arkady Lvov, Yury Mikhailik, Maria Galina, Efim Yaroshevsky. There are many more.
The situation with residual literature is worse. Those who died here are practically unknown. Even Boris Necherda, a wonderful Ukrainian poet, stayed unknown after Ukraine had already gained its independence. At the time when Boris was already severely ill, I was making efforts to arrange at least any apartment to be received by him…! Whereas a Soviet poet from Odessa Victor Bershadsky who was not very prominent, sometimes very naïve, moved to Moscow, lived there for a while but didn’t manage to stay there. That is how he described his return:
“My coming back is doubtful deed.
Publishing houses, talks and friends …
Moscow is Moscow, province is province,
and there is no way around it“.
No mistake, Victor was right. Province is province, but Odessa is Odessa, ah!
Now the most painful thing comes. I am sure there can be no one whole Odessa myth in a city with such a diversity of population. I think every ethnic group has created its own myth. Don’t the Greeks have their own Odessa myth with “Filiki Eteria“ in the center? Can the Moldavians be indifferent to the fact that “Moldovanka“ – the Moldavian settlement – is older than the main part of Odessa? I observe a lame endeavor to validate the Ukrainian Odessa myth as the main one, the official one. This myth is based on the data that once there was a Ukrainian settlement Katsyubeev at the place of the Turkish fortress Khadjibei. Thus, Odessa is not 200 something years old but more than 600 years old. De Ribas and Lanzheron are hardly seen behind the back of ataman Golovatyi. Cossack forces that participated in the assault of Khadjibei transformed into liberators of the Ukrainian ancestral lands from the Turks. Here we do not talk about the facts but we do talk about accents. The heavy load of phantasies suppressed the facts – phantasies can truly be heavy.
I mean that the official “Odessa myth“ – is also a partial myth. It belongs to the substantial part, but still only to the part of Odessa population. That part lived in the city much longer than others did and it was the most stable. It spoke more and louder though with an accent.
The mythologization processes made Odessa topsy-turvy. The Odessans live all over the world. They say Odessa is a smile of God. I am afraid it is a bitter smile.
They say Odessa is not a city but a country. If so, it should have a capital. Is Moscow the capital of Odessa? Could be. Not the Moscow of Putin but the Moscow of Zhvanetsky. Anyway, for decades Moscow had been the center of attraction for Odessans.
Today we commemorate the victims of political repressions of the Soviet times. Thousands of Odessans died at the times of “the great terror“ at the end of the 30ies. The repressions did not stop after the WW2 either. There was less blood though; people had had enough during the time of war. The arrests continued up to the Perestroika. The “Memorial“ association carried out exhumation at the places of mass executions. Many victims of the Stalin’s repressions were finally peacefully buried at the Second Christian Cemetery. Still nobody knows how many of the victims were left at the 6-th kilometer of the Ovidiopol roadway. …
The «Memorial» program. Skeletons exhumated.
Hands tied behind the back. Bullet-ridden skulls.
If you near one to the ear, you would hear the Soviet songs.
Same as you would hear the sea in the seashells.
What a huge crowd could gather on the Resurrection Day to
Celebrate the Execution Night.
How the bodies could be warmed by the God’s love!
Deacons shouting, popes howling for now,
They bury the bodies properly, in concordance with rites.
Bury the second time. Not digging them up like dogs.
Nothing threatens the herd of humans today.
Where there’s an immortal regiment, there is an immortal barrack.
That was the “Memorial“ program. Skeletons exhumated.
The country was sleeping well. Same as the victims sleep
On the night before execution.