A story about a large family
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A story about a large family

To take part in funeral of the artist Ivan Bruni, the eldest one in large family bearing this name, relatives got together in Moscow from various lands - America, Germany, Lithuania, Crimea. In the lohn Precursor's Church where the deceased artist was being read the burial service they were distinguished with their tall stature and peculiar significance with which some faces are marked. On the shoulder of one of them quite a little child was sitting and looking at his great-grandfather surrounded with flowers. And no grown-up tried to protect him from this sorrow.

During the burial service some relatives who knew orthodox ceremonies were singing psalms though all members of this family were secular people except Nikolai Bruni who took holy orders. During the World War I he served in the Army as a pilot. He was mortally wounded and doctors in the hospital only made a helpless gesture. But once he saw the Virgin near his bed and vowed to become a priest in case of his recovery. In 1921 he officiated a service for the dead poet Alexander Blok.

Several years ago I found myself for the first time in the house bought by the artist Lev Bruni, Nikolai's brother and Ivan's father, in Sudak, Crimea at the end of 30-th. For the last 60 years from early Crimean spring with red lychnis blossoming to early autumn some members of the family have been living here. And kids cover with drawings stone walls of the kitchen looking like a cave of a primitive man with old table and two wooden benches and bunches of lavender and lemon absinth drying till late September. And last summer a green Crimean grasshopper lived and grew fat under lampshade. At this kitchen Vasili Lvovich, Nikolai Bruni's younger brother told me that parson Pavel (Florenski) was the first who drew a family-tree which represents merging of various nationalities and epochs. Women from Bruni's family have dark eyes, men have faces similar to those portrayed by ancient Italian artists.

If you open a dictionary by Brokgauz and Efron you will read that at the beginning of Bruni's family known worldwide since Renaissance there was an Italian Leonardo Bruni, an expert in Florentine manuscripts. I am ready to have a bet that he looked like his Russian descendant Ivan, who was an artist, a graphic artist, a translator of poet Nizami, a writer, a soldier of the World War II.

During funeral repast after Ivan Bruni's funeral his elder daughter asked everybody to tell something about his farther. Ivan Bruni similar to many in his family lived a long life. And somebody reminded that once when Ivan Lvovich needed supporting badly , one of his friends volunteered to help him and heard in reply: "I don't need your help, I need to be sure that you will help me."

The younger Ivan's sister Mariana, a famous fashion designer in Lithuania, just after funeral was going to visit her elder sister Nina. But it happened that at 2.00 a.m. Nina in her 73 years had to go on business to the Stepanishevo village. "Are you going alone?"- asked Mariana Lvovna. "Sure, alone", - she heard in reply. Stubbornness and independence are in Brini's family genes. But these traits were inherited from another forefather who was not handsome half face and had an ungovernable temper. For long 15 years he had been disturbing Russia with his thundering talent and breaking dishes in restaurants.

Lyrical digression.

For all his long life this poet-balamut (trouble-maker) (By the way Balamut is the real family name changed for Balmont which is similar to Balamut but sounds better.) had loved Lithuania. He wrote a large series of poems devoted to Lithuania. Balmont's love for Lithuania helped him to predict at the beginning of the century future of one of his granddaughters. At the end of 50-ies a Lithuanian sculptor Teodoras Valaitis , handsome like a god, fell in love with Mariana Bruni, a first beauty in Zamoscvorechie. They were married in church in the Yakimanka street and he took her to Vilnus forever. A quarter of a century ago Teodoras perished and left two kids - Cristopher and Maria, grandchildren of the great poet. A few years later Mariana Bruni having survived this loss found her happiness with the namesake of  the legendary prince Gedimin and gave birth to their son Alexander. Thus the wish of the first poet of the beginning of the century has been fulfilled posthumously. Konstantin Balmont's blood became related to Lithuania. This family keep in its memory a lot of legends and mystic stories.

' I am all Spring when I am singing, I am a light God when I am kissing". On one autumn day of 1920 the poet Konstantin Balmont, one of the "founders" of the Silver Age, was quietly leaving Russia. He was departing from his house in Nicolo-Pescov in open truck of Lithuanian Embassy. Some literary men and ladies were seeing off him. Balmont was waving his hat to them for a long time until they hid from his view. His friends believed emigration was a great luck for Balmont: living in poverty (he took boards out of the fence to make up the fire and cooked millet porridge without milk)   and having impatient nature Balmont could easily tell something unpleasant to one of those bosses and that could end in disaster for Balmont. The poet Jurgis Baltrushaitis, Balmont's closest friend whom Balmont being irritated arrogantly called the "foreigner" and former Lithuanian envoy in Moscow, arranged his legal departure from Russia saving Balmont from obscurity. At first there was a period of general puzzlement full of shrugging shoulders, throwing up hands and delight. In gleam of revolutionary fire all things looked pretentious and hysterical. Brjusov as Zinaida Hippius told not approving him " was rushing along Nevski avenue with a red rag in hand". Blok was writing a poem "The twelve". In the basement "Stray dog" where artists gathered one of Balmont's admirers with bright lips whispered in unconsciousness shining wild-looking eyes: "Konstantin Dmitrievich, would you like me to jump out of the window for your sake?" " It is too low , Balmont replied pompously, - too low." and started throwing dishes on the floor. On the eve of great changes   Russian literature was a destruction for desparate admirers of symbolistic literature. The fatal letter "B" which started names of Balmont, Blok, Brjusov, Belyi determined the future of the Russian literature in the opinion of people of the beginning of the 20th century believing in fate. Balmont was the first in this row. When passion for Balmont calmed down later, Teffi, the poet's great admirer, wrote: " It always happens this way...when the heat of passion has faded away one asks himself surprising:" What was I so crazy about?" Balmont was leaving Russia in perplexity. He was leaving behind a strange epoch, his wife and his daughter who recently got married.

In August of 1917 a young artist Lev Bruni came to the Balmonts' dacha to spent some time. And he fell in love with the 17 years old poet's daughter Nina ( called Ninika by her relatives) to the great confusion of her mother Ekaterina Alexevna and her father Konstantin Dmitrievich. Because Lev was "a good-natured boy but a bit silly" though he studied in Paris. Therefore he had nothing to do with the Balmont's daughter who was definitely supposed to have a bright future! "It's a banal and almost vulgar love story!", declared Balmont while Ekaterina Alexevna persuaded the young man to leave dacha, not to make Ninika uneasy and to give her a chance to graduate from gymnasia. Ninika had also a strong character similar to that of her father. She used to tell :" I want everything and right now." Every time Marina Tsvetaeva was touched having heard this saying : "She is just as Balmont!"

However, it was just Balmont who knew from his experience that there would be a lot of love stories in Nina's life and it didn't make sense to destroy her life for the first one who came along. To tell the truth, once a lady made Balmont commit a rash act - he jumped out of the window. It didn't mean that Balmont wasn't able to gain her love, simply he couldn't get rid of her by any means.

Unlike the Russian genius Balmont, Lev Bruni was a person devoted to his affection. Rejected by his fiancee's parents he went straight to the last anchoret living in the Optin hermitage to get his advice. The parson Nectari gave him an advice to steal his fiancee!

It's easy to imagine what Konstantin Balmont could have done if Bruni had followed this advice. Balmont was famous for his making a row for no serious reason. Once in the hotel "The Alpine Rose" the waiter instructed by the writer Leonid Sabaneev who believed that Balmont had already had enough drink didn't serve a glass of cognac to Balmont. Balmont getting mad had a glass of eau-de-Cologne and demanded the waiter to bring him a book for guests of honour. There was nothing similar to such a book in that hotel that's why the waiter brought him a book for registrating tenants. And Balmont in the column "Occupation" wrote in clear handwriting :" Only making love" and went to the lobby to destroy statues representing Negroes before the very eyes of the hotel manager looking at him with adoration.

Luckily Lev Bruni didn't have to steal his fiancee - Balmont allowed his daughter to marry the young artist. In May of 1918 they got married and went to their "wedding trip" by rail with the soldiers of Kolchac Army retreating to the East. A few years later Nina Konstantinovna reminded that Lev Alexandrovich was delighted with the idea to have a wedding trip free of charge. But most likely the Brunis simply followed the congenial souls because the fate of the Russian nobility in this new , strange and speaking another language Russia had already been predetermined.

Balmont was scared to leave Russia. Several months before his departure he had a dream: " somebody's voice at dark told him in Greek : there is one general reason for your departure   and a reason related to your sacred duty." Balmont spoke 14 languages but he didn't know Greek. Nevertheless he retained in his memory these words and succeeded in learning its translation next morning. So he left Russia.

In 1937 Marina Tsvetaeva who decided to come back to Russia visited Balmont in Paris.

Lyrical digression.

Tsvetaeva was on touching terms with Balmont. Once in the very beginning of the Revolution Marina Ivanovna recited her poem about the Freedom who came from the past like a Beautiful Lady worthy of Blok's beautiful dream and turned out in the present time to be "a street-walker on the crazy soldier's breast". Having listened to this poem attentively , Balmont told thoughtfully: "I feel hurt for this street-walker because some street-walker is worthy of note". And he heard in reply: "How it's pity I can't tell you the same about the soldier."

At the time of their last meeting Balmont was seriously ill, wrote almost no verses and was said to be mad. He told there was no spritual life both in Europe and in suffering Russia. He passed souvenirs to his friends in Moscow.

"There is no space for Art in the young socialist state especially at the moment of its establishing. Stereo-typed semi-Art adapted to existing social life wasn't worthy of efforts and troubles so it was easy to sacrifice it., " wrote Boris Pasternak in 1918.

I don't know whether Lev Bruni agreed to Pasternak. Bruni started working as an artist not long before the new epoch which Pasternak called "full of suffering" came. There are few publications devoted to Lev Alexandrovich Bruni who was an artist, a VHUTEMAS' professor and a founder of monumental painting studio. His centenary taking place several years ago wasn't celebrated wide. After his death there were a lot of pictures left. Lampshade-painting in the Soviet Army theatre and wall-painting in Bogoyavlenski Cathedral have come down to us while other wall-paintings which he liked so much weren't kept against destroying. Buildings painted by Bruni were re-built for different reasons, plaster was split off the walls.

Lev Bruni is the 16-th artist in his family. People said about this family that water-colour instead of blood flowed in their veins. One of his great-grandfatheres was a famous water-colour painter Petr Sokolov. Other one was Fedor Bruni who painted Kazan and Isaaki Cathedrals in St.Petersburg. Most likely it explains why their great-grandson liked wall-painting so much and even told:" Wall is the best paper". His great-grandmother on his mother's side was Karl Brjullov's own sister. Once Nikolai Gogol read aloud his poem "The Dead Souls" to Fedor Bruni and Karl Brjullov listening to him attentively.

In 1915 Bruni painted Balmont's portrait on which people said Balmont looked like a drowned man and bore little resemblance to himself. Balmont red-haired in life was painted with blue hair! Most likely it was then that Balmont who liked eccentricity in everything except other people's opinion about him thought of Bruni as "a silly guy". Many years later experts in painting contended that portraits painted by Lev Bruni bore more resemblance than photographs.

In his youth Bruni was thought to be a favourite of Fortune - not long before the Revolution he exhibited his paintings to the public in St. Petersburg like a grown-up! And critics wrote and argued about him. It was the time when "20 new art schools appeared every month" as Sergei Djagilev said. The representatives of "World of Art" - Filonov, Shagal, Altman, Goncharova - reigned in St.Petersburg. And in spite of yeilding to their irresistable charm Lev Alexandrovich continued to keep to simplicity as his own principle in Art.

Lev Bruni liked the Art of the Ancient Russia and the East. He lived in aul in Hevsuretija and   spent his time painting. The Georgian poet Vazhi Pshavely who learnt about young Russian artist sent him his regards through shepherds. (A series of pictures made by Bruni at that time are kept in French museum's collection.) ln 1917 Lev Bruni drew an illustration to "The Dances of Death" by Velimir Khlebnikov. He depicted a figure of a strange woman with face resembling a gas­mask. Romanticism flaming up in the time of Balmont and Blok was decaying in Russia suffering from starvation and economic dislocation. As before people worried about their unforeseeable future. Younger people took the life easier: eventually it was their life and their own country and they went with the stream dreaming at heart that nothing had been changed and dacha was called in the old way "a country estate."

Balmont's friends feared that he would tell something unwanted and would be lost in the hearth of Revolution. It happened that his tactful son-in-law made a mistake. In Omsk occupied at that time by White Guard the newly-married couple interrupted the wedding trip because Ninica fell ill with typhus. Trying to get some money Bruni undertook to draw a transparency with a political cartoon on Lenin. This "mistake" brought about a lot of troubles for him. During the war he was declared as representative of the exploiter classes that meant that he was deprived of suffrage and other civil rights. And many years later he failed to get a flat in Moscow. He lived for the rest of his life in the communial flat shared by 6 families in Polyanka street. When their seventh child Mariana was born a basket in which she slept was sometimes put on radio set because there was no room for it. In addition to that the Brunis had visitors all the time!

Lev Bruni wasn't a loud artist. It's best of all to look at his pictures where they are gathered together. It arouses a sense of peace of mind. Bruni liked a quiet life though this didn't accord to the style of that life. He painted his wife and children. He often brought them to the Optin hermitage and Sudak. There lived a strange very old woman Sonya in the neighbourhood with the Brunis. She was most likely a witch. The present-day owner of her house believes that the late old woman wearing pink wide trousers sometimes sits on the roof of the house smoking hookah. Once Vasili Bruni told me: " There are a lot of devils in Crimea." May be Crimean wine which was always in abundance in Crimea is to blame for it.

Lev Bruni painted ever day. He was not afraid of painting the same landscape several times. He believed that the beauty of nature lies in its changeability. It is enough to spend some evenings in Novosvet bays watching sunset in order to understand that one sunset will be pink, another - grey and yellow while the third one will be scarlet. Lev Bruni conceived reality in terms of colour.

Lev Bruni was a very generous man. Very often he gave away the last he had. In 30-ies his brother parson Nikolai who officiated the service for the dead poet Alexander Blok was arrested. Several years before Nikolai was arrested he sculptured a statue of another poet - Alexander Pushkin - by local authorities' order This statue was erected in the town for civilian not far from political prisoners' camp on the Ukhta river. It was the first sculpture in his life.. Nikolai Bruni was shot. And Lev Bruni started taking care of Nikolai's wife and 6 children left.

Sometimes the Brunis' lived in a great way but most often in a small way. Once one month before the War the Brunis' had a party in the restaurant. It was long after midnight so when the main course came nobody could eat it. And Lev Bruni's friend, a famous art critic Alexander Gabrichevski, put out a smoking cigarette-end on the hot beefsteak (Just so. Like Balmont could do that!). 5 hard years of wartime followed this party and Nina Alexandrovna went with her children to the fields with frozen cabbages near "Sokol" metro station and digged cabbage stumps out of frozen ground. She put stumps into the bag on the sledges and pulled sledges to her home.

Alexander Gabrichevski was exiled during wartime where he went with a book of poems by Dante in Italian.

A pianist Genrich Neigauz, a friend of both the Brunis' and Gabrichevskis', served time in the prison. Long after that he attending various parties picked up crumbs on the tables, rolled them up and ate.

In 1942 Lev Bruni and lliya Erenburg, his old friend since pre-revolutionary time, were seeing off Marina Tsvetaeva who was to be evacuated from Moscow. She hold a pillow case full of rice in her hands and asked again and again :"What shall I do when this rice comes to an end? What shall I do?" She didn't even take any sandwiches for this trip.

I don't know whether Lev Bruni ever regretted that he lived in hard times. Most likely nobody is able to seriously regret about time one happened to live. He did only that he considered necessary and useful - in this respect he was pedantic to the core. He refused to work on a monument to the Third International and went to the Zoo to draw crocodiles for the fairy-tales by Kipling, Bianki and Mamin-Sibiryak. At the same time he made his best sketches to Nizami's poetry which his eldest son Ivan translated. While Lev Alexandrovich was painting he asked somebody to read poetry aloud. It may be that it was easier for him to paint to the rhythm of poetry.

A lot of well-known and unknown people visited the Brunis' communal flat. Sweet honey-cakes having the shape of animals which didn't get stale till the next Christmas used to have baked there. The Brunis brought culiches to church for a blessing and attended a night-service at Easter.

Once before Easter Nina Konstantinovna holding a bag with culiches in her hand got off the bus. A driver hurried to close the door and Nina Konstantinovna didn't have time to let handrail go. The bus started pulling he" several metres along the road and she found herself under the wheels. As a result of this accident one of her legs was amputated. She was 78 years old and she had to walk on crutches. Later on her nephew lev Bruni who was a journalist specializing in international affairs got a prosphetic appliance for her from Switzerland. And this enabled her to visit her friends, to go to the exhibitions and to travel to Sudak where she cultivated the land in her kitchen garden moving along the ground sitting on the ordinary pillow as if it were an invalid carriage. Vasili Bruni still keeps this pillow in his house in Sudak in memory of his mother.

When Balmont and others were leaving Russia , Russia could perish but it didn't. Their descendants saved Russia . All of them , whatever the talent they had and contribution to the home culture they made, led the life that fell to their lot. They adapted this life to themselves ( but not vice versa!), they made it better than it could have been without them. But the most complicated thing is to live by one's own principles in any or even the worst world. In spite of all calamities people were able to decorate Christmas tree for their kids as well as to grill sausage and black bread on a bonfire as if it were a shashlyk and to serve it on grapes leaves as if it were a china set. And the most important thing was that people were able to give birth to many kids. Nina Konstantinovna and Lev Alexandrovich had seven kids. Two of them died in their babyhood. But their grown-up sisters and brothers have three or four kids as if they tried to make up a deficiency in their family. One of Lev Bruni's sons Lavrenti who could have become a famous artist was killed in the war. But in more than 20 years another Lavric, Lev Bruni's grandson, was born. He is fond of drawing and likes to paint in oils huge bunches of flowers to which he gives woman's names. Ivan Bruni's grandson Andrei also wants to become an artist.

Lots of guests visited kitchen ( so-called "brunevka") in Bruni's house in Sudak. Several years ago in this kitchen Lev Bruni's son Vasili saved the author of this article from severe depression by his unbelievable love for life! He doesn't paint pictures or write poems. He doesn't stand civilazation and spent half of his life in hard geological expeditions. He sings to a guitar accompaniment about a French captain who fell in love with a Japanese girl. And he himself loves women. And women love him to distraction. Like Balmont he is impetuous and tender. His granny Kate, Konstantin Dmitrievich' wife, taught his grandson the most important thing on earth is to be a kind person. Now he teaches the same thing to his younger kids -five-year-old Kate and eight-year-old Peter.

The air in Sudak's kitchen is inhabited by spirits of late members of family just as in Voloshin's and Gabrichevski' houses in Coctebel and Blok's apartment in St. Petersburg. Late members of family never leave living ones.

Lyrical digression.

On the 24th of December, 1942 Konstantin Balmont was being buried in Paris occupied by Germans. It was raining and the digged grave half-filled with water pushed out a coffin with Balmont's body on the surface several times. It seemed as if Balmont's restless soul didn't want to go to immortality this way. He was ready to go there but of his own free will! Balmont died in poverty in the Russian madhouse at the age of 79. Inscription on his grave in small French town Nuzi-le-Grand reads:KONSTANTIN BALMONT, the RUSSIAN POET.

During funeral repast after Ivan Bruni's funeral the relatives were sitting at the large table in the sitting room and singing with no accompaniment an old song of Russian emigrants. They were singing in tune quietly and harmoniously.


Natela Meshi