THE STACKS Travel Diary

A Point of Pride

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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some Russian tea cake
for the birthday of a beloved poet.
** Linger for a tour of
what makes Tucson unique.
** Savor a last ½ cup puzzling over
complex rhymes lost & found in translation.
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First Sip:

She leaned forward.
“Lensky was killed by Onegin
in a duel.
She said this in a
hushed voice, as if quoting
the events of
Pushkin’s poem required discretion.
“Yes,” whispered back the Count.
“And so was Pushkin.”
She nodded in agreement. “In St Petersburg,” she said.
“On the banks of the Black Rivulet.”

– from A Gentleman in Moscow (2016)
by Amor Towles

Gathering Seeds
Tucson, Arizona
photo by Patti Gardiner

Slice of Cake:

Alexander Pushkin:
A Life in Five Acts

Act 1: Youth
They were heady and reckless days in Europe—the era of the Enlightenment and the French revolution—and Pushkin wanted to live dangerously, party with political radicals, and write and say whatever he liked.

Act 2: Banishment
Inevitably perhaps, some of Pushkin’s writings were labeled ‘seditious.’ The tsar took offense. In 1820, shortly before his 20th birthday, Pushkin was arrested. He was supposed to be sent to Siberia, but his friends in court persuaded the tsar to banish him instead to southern Russia.

Act 3: Writings
During his exile Pushkin began writing Eugene Onegin. He would publish it piecemeal, chapter by chapter, over the next nine years. (A final version came out in book form in 1833.) When the old tsar died, the new tsar recalled Pushkin to Moscow, ending his four-year exile.

Act 4: Marriage to Natalya
In 1831, Pushkin married Natalya Goncharova,
“a beautiful and flirtatious young woman who had many admirers.”
They had three children over the next six years.

Act 5: Duel & Death
When Pushkin was only 37 years old
(and his youngest child just seven months),
one of Natalya’s admirers married her sister Ekaterina.
The man’s name was Georges d’Anthès.

Soon afterward, there was an exchange of letters between the two rivals-turned-inlaws.
Pushkin talked of ‘defending his wife’s honor.’
Who provoked whom, which one challenged which—accounts seem to vary.

Here are two undisputed facts:

On 27 January 1837, a duel took place.
Two days later, Alexander Pushkin died of gunshot wound.

From his deathbed, Pushkin sent a message to Georges d’Anthès,
pardoning him of any wrongdoing.

After creating so many duels within his fiction and poetry, Pushkin himself died in one.

“I know her little ways from experience.”
“You lie, blackguard!” I cried, in fury. “That’s an utterly shameless lie.”

Shvabrin’s face altered. “I shan’t let that pass,” he said,
gripping my arm. “You will give me satisfaction.”
“As you please; whenever you like!” I replied, overjoyed.
At that moment, I was ready to tear him to pieces.

– from The Captain’s Daughter
by Alexander Pushkin
translated by R. & E. Chandler
in the chapter titled ‘The Duel.’


He could have curbed his angry feeling,
Instead of snarling; have appeased
That hot young spirit
by appealing
To reason, friendship—had he pleased…
The best of course is to ignore him;
But still, one will not be exempt
From snickers, whispers, fools’ contempt…”
Our god, Good Repute, rose before him,
To which we feel our honor bound:
This is what makes the world go round!

– from Eugene Onegin
Alexander Pushkin
translated by Walter Arndt
stanza VI-11


** Happy 220th Birthday **
Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin

– born 26 May 1799
in Moscow, Russia

Linger Awhile:

I’ve been thinking this week about pride. The good kind and the bad kind.

A visionary mortified,
Or monster of Satanic pride…
In duel having killed his friend…
Wearied of leisure in the end,
Without profession, business, wife,
He knew not how to spend his life.

– from Eugene Onegin
Alexander Pushkin 1
stanza VIII-46


Your heart possesses, I know well,
honour and pride inflexible.

– Tatyana describing Eugene
near the end of Eugene Onegin
Alexander Pushkin 1
stanza VIII-46

Not that I want to list every definition and derivation—
but it does seem slightly fantastical that one word can mean something
as healing as a Pride Parade
or as toxic as the urge to fight in a duel.

Last week I got to enjoy a place with plenty of the good kind of pride—
a city that takes pride in its 4,100 years of thriving in the desert.

Tucson: ‘land of heat and cactus
(photo by Prof B)

Coaxing a vibrant food culture from this land of
heat and cactuses seems an… impossible quest.
But it’s never a good idea to underestimate a desert rat.
Tucson, it turns out, is a muscular food town.

– journalist Kim Severson
New York Times

August 23, 2016

When Tucson was designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015,
it was one of only twelve cities worldwide—and the only one in North America.
(Now it’s one of two; San Antonio was designated in 2017.)

Why was Tucson chosen?
Exploring a bit, I found 5 good reasons.
Hint: It’s not about fancy restaurants.

Tucson has a kind of open-software approach to food.
People want others to succeed,
especially if you can make food from this region….
It’s like a
new point of pride.

Don Guerra
owner of Barrio Bread

#1 Four Centuries of Agricultural History

The Sonoran Desert is one of the lushest deserts in the world, “blooming with over 400 edible plants.” 2 The Tohono O’odham Native Americans have been farming here for centuries.

In 2000, the city of Tucson hired a team of archaeologists to look at an area near downtown Tucson. Dr. Jonathan Mabry describes finding charred corn and layer after layer of irrigation trenches. Carbon dating proved that the Tucson of today is sitting atop a 4,100-year-old farming village.

In the 1600s, at the San Agustin Mission in Tucson, an Italian missionary named Eusebio Kino created, with people from the Hohokam and Tohono O’odham tribes, a walled garden with fruit trees. Today the Mission Garden project uses the site of that 400-year-old garden to revive historic agricultural practices while growing quince, figs and white pomegranates from descendants of the old fruit trees.
It’s a living history lesson on four acres.

My son found a fig tree to buy at Mission Gardens
November 2023

Mission Garden project

#2 “Unparalleled Sharing” 3

During the economic crash in 2008, the lines at Tucson food banks nearly doubled. The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona began a project to help clients build gardens to feed themselves and to sell extra produce on consignment at the food bank’s farmers markets, which are set up in food deserts: neighborhoods where it’s particularly difficult to access fresh, healthy food.

Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona

#3 Super-Local Recipes

This town just lives and celebrates every
day with its great food and its great farming traditions.
One in six jobs here in Tucson is related to food and farming.

– Gary Nabhan
co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH

Harvesting bahidaj from a saguaro cactus
The ku’ipad (harvesting stick) can be up to 20 feet long.
(Photo by Elizabeth Hoover) 4




Walk into any Tucson restaurant, cafeteria, elder home, or homeless shelter, and here are some of the locally sourced or wild food you might find on the menu:

– agave
– amaranth
– ciolim—the flower buds of cholla cactus
– mesquite pods pounded into sweet flour
– nopales—prickly pear cactus pads
– saguaro cactus fruit or bahidaj—eaten raw or made into syrup or jam
– Sonoran white wheat—one of the oldest varieties grown in North America
– tepary beans
– wild chiltepin—the hottest chili in North America


We have a wild oregano here that is about
20 times more potent than any other oregano in the world—
high in antioxidants,
high in fragrance, high in flavor…
There’s something about the pungency of the herbs and
other plants that occurs in desert climates.
essential oils that give them this powerful
fragrance are actually enhanced by the
hot, dry climates here.

– Gary Nabhan
co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH

Harvesting the flower buds of cholla cactus.
“You need kitchen tongs and a quick twist.”
(photo by Leslie Boyer)

A Sampling of Local Foods…

At Barrio Bread, a community-supported bakery,
you can buy Pan de Kino made with wild yeast culture and Sonoran white wheat.

Barrio Bread

At San Xavier Co-op Farm, members of the Tohono O’odham nation
gather and dry ciolim (cholla buds) to sell in jars and soup mixes.

San Xavier Co-op Farm

A favorite from my old neighborhood is a prickly pear mimosa
from the bistro at Tohono Chul Garden. Refreshing and yummy,
with a festive fuchsia color.

Tohono Chul Garden

At chef Janos Wilder’s restaurant Downtown Kitchen,
you can often find local foods featured,
like in their Dark Chocolate Jalapeno Ice Cream Sundae.

Downtown Kitchen

#4 Seeds

Libraries in Tucson
use their old wooden card catalogs to file seeds,
which anyone with a library card can ‘check out’
in the hopes you’ll grow them in your backyard or community garden,
and then save some seeds to bring back to the library for
someone else to check out!

Tucson is also home to one of the world’s largest seed banks.

In 1983, Gary Paul Nabhan helped start Native Seed/SEARCH to save and distribute Southwestern heirloom seeds, to preserve place-based Southwestern agricultural plants, and to increase our knowledge of historic agricultural practices.

Native Seed/SEARCH

#5 Parties!

It’s a terrific way to hear live music, meet friends, and eat amazing food.

It’s every October (starting back in 1974).

It’s a festival that the locals call ‘Tucson Eat Yourself’

Its real name is Tucson Meet Yourself

Its goal: To hold an annual folklife festival celebrating community, honoring a culture and sense of place unique to the desert borderlands, and sharing the diversity of living traditional arts within our multi-national Arizona-Sonora region.

Tucson Meet Yourself


“Half Cup More”

You English
cannot know what Pushkin is for us.
He is our pride,
our hope and our love.

– anonymous commentator
in The Sunday Times, London (1976) 5

Puzzling over Poetry

Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse. And not just any verse.
It’s written in the ‘Onegin stanza.’
(so called because no one ever used it before Pushkin wrote this book—
and, seemingly, no one has used it since).

Side note:
Jack Murnighan suggests that
(in America anyway) you can get away with
pronouncing Onegin as if it were
advice to a cotton farmer: ‘own a gin’.
(from Murnigan’s book Beowulf on the Beach)

Let’s look at the rules that Pushkin set for himself:

14 lines; in other words, your basic sonnet, except…
• Every line is in iambic tetrameter: da DA da DA da DA da DA
• The final couplet neatly rounds off with an ‘epigrammatic tag line or a flash of wit.’
• Every sonnet has a rhyme scheme that goes: a B a B c c D D e F F e G G

And what (you may well ask) are the lower case/upper case letters about?

Ever heard of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ kinds of rhyme?
Yeah, me neither.
Turns out that a masculine rhyme has one stressed ending syllable.
(Like light/night or sound/around).
A feminine rhyme is more complicated: two syllables that rhyme with the last syllable unstressed.
(Like ringing/singing or resurges/emerges).

And the novel has more than 370 of these sonnets??

Okay… All I can say is I’d rather read it than write it.

Then again…Pushkin didn’t write it—at least, not the version I read—in English.

Pushkin, writing in Russian, created a novel with not just rhyming verses, but in sonnets with excruciatingly intricate meter and rhyming pattern.

The version of I read was translated into English by Walter Arndt (1963)

Which begs the question…
Who am I actually reading
—Pushkin or Arndt?

I decided to write to my nephew, Dmitriy T, who was born and spent his boyhood in Russia;
I asked him this question:

How far would a translator have to contort the meaning of the original Russian text
to get it to squeeze into ‘epigrammatic iambic tetrameters’ in English?? 
And… is a translation even worth reading?

Here’s what Dmitriy T wrote back:

My sense is that the translation captures
the rhythm and gist of Pushkin’s work, but in order to keep
the iambic tetrameter, Arndt necessarily has to be a
little loose with the translation—meaning that
some of Pushkin’s words are not translated at all,
while others are translated not quite literally.

The question then is whether this makes for a good translation.

From my perspective, the answer is
a kind of qualified yes. It is a better than, for example,
Nabokov’s translation—which is probably the most
precise and literal translation of the original—but that
precision makes it tedious to read. Poetry translated
word for word does not make for great reading,
especially when you are translating
between Russian and English.

If the original is very good,
then even a “close enough” adaptation is, to me,
worth a read.

Dmitriy also recommended that I give one of the more recent translations a try…

Just to give an idea of how flow and meaning vary
from one translators to another—
Here are three side-by-side translations of a couple of passages
from Eugene Onegin. ***

James E. Falen

(from stanza I-5)
He did possess the happy forte
Of free and easy conversation,
Or in a grave dispute he’d wear
The solemn expert’s learned air
And keep to silent meditation;
And how the ladies’ eyes he lit
With flashes of his sudden wit!

stanza III-8
And now at last the wait has ended;
Her eyes have opened…seen his face!
And now, alas!…she lives attended—
All day, all night, in sleep’s embrace—
By dreams of him; each passing hour
The world itself with magic power
But speaks of him. She cannot bear
The way the watchful servants stare,
Or stand the sound of friendly chatter.
Immersed in gloom beyond recall,
She pays no heed to guests at all,
And damns their idle ways and patter,
Their tendency to just drop in—
And talk all day once they begin.

Walter Arndt

(from stanza I-5)
For he possessed the happy gift
Of unaffected conversation:
To skim one topic here, one there,
Keep silent with an expert’s air
In too exacting disputation,
And with a flash of sudden quips
Charm tender smiles to tender lips.

stanza III-8
Now found him… And in wonder gazing,
She could but whisper—So it’s he!
Alas! Henceforth her days and blazing
Lone-sleeping nights are never free
of him: All things and every hour
Bespeak him with a magic power.
The looks of worried maids, the sound
Of kind solicitude she found
In equal measure irritating.
When guests came, absent and distressed
She scarcely answered when addressed.
Resentful of their leisured prating,
The unexpected calls they paid,
And once arrived, how long they stayed.

Henry Spalding

(from stanza I-5)
In truth he had the happy trick
Without constraint in conversation
Of touching lightly every theme.
Silent, oracular ye’d see him
Amid a serious disputation,
Then suddenly discharge a joke
The ladies’ laughter to provoke

stanza III-7
The fatal hour had come at last—
She oped her eyes and cried: ’tis he!
Alas! for now before her passed
The same warm vision constantly;
Now all things round about repeat
Ceaselessly to the maiden sweet
His name: the tenderness of home
Tiresome unto her hath become
And the kind-hearted servitors:
Immersed in melancholy thought,
She hears of conversation nought
And hated casual visitors,
Their coming which no man expects,
And stay whose length none recollects.

Take-Away Box

Here is my favorite from Pushkin…

Fall lingered on as if it never
would leave the countryside that year,
Nature seemed to wait forever
for winter. Snow did not appear
till the third January morning.
Up early, Tanya without warning
finds roofs and fences overnight
turned to exhilarating white,
Her window laced with subtle etching,
in wintry silver bright each tree,
Rooks wheeling overhead with glee,
The mountain summits softly stretching
‘Neath winter’s scintillating shawl.
And clear is all, and white is all.

from Eugene Onegin
stanza V-1
by Alexander Pushkin.
translated by Walter Arndt

Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me a note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…


footnotes & photo credits:

This translation of Eugene Onegin is
is by Henry Spalding (1881).
Urbana, Illinois:
Project Gutenberg. Retrieved June 11, 2019,

Eshelby, Kate.
Tucson, Arizona, cultivates its foodie reputation – with a nod from Unesco.
The Guardian.
17 Jul 2016

Chef Janos Wilder,
in an interview with Andi Berlin,
said that Tucson draws strength from the ‘unparalleled’
work of the Community Food Bank.
“UNESCO Designates Tucson as World City of Gastronomy”
Arizona Daily Star,
December 11, 2015

I am very grateful to Elizabeth Hoover
for the photo of saguaro fruit harvesting.
I found her Garden Warriors website both helpful and illuminating.

A big thank you to my Tucson friends
Patti Gardiner and Leslie Boyer
for coming through with terrific photos
on horribly short notice.

An anonymous commentator
in The Sunday Times, London
quoted in ‘Russian Views of Pushkin’ (1976)
an essay by D.J. Richards

Coda A:
This morning in my local newspaper,
I read a little more about pride, in a column by Leonard Pitts:

Black pride was required as a
corrective to a culture that taught us black was
something to be ashamed of…An ethos that
made it necessary to…declare oneself black and proud.
It was pride as self-defense.

Much the same is true of the LGBTQ pride movement…
But one hopes—for them and for all of us—that ‘pride’ is only a way station
to something larger and more accepting,
something that has learned to
celebrate all the ways
our differences make us human.

– Leornard Pitts
syndicated columnist
The Miami Herald
June 13, 2019

Coda B:
I lived in Tucson for 12 years and I love going back to visit
especially when it means seeing friends…
and getting a bit of writing done, as well.

In late May, Leslie and I had a terrific 4-day do-it-ourselves writer’s retreat!

Leslie & me –
taking a break from writing

In beautiful Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains
just south of Tucson…

…We rented a cabin from the U.S. Forestry Service on Kent Creek.

(A few friends stopped by…)

The hummingbird feeder
very popular.

(photo by Leslie)
– first time I’d ever seen
a coati!
(photo by Leslie)


Please note:
Whenever you click on ‘Post Comment’ your comments always come to me first. Then I post them below.
If you’d rather they stay between us, just let me know.
© Kelly J Hardesty 2024

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