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Одноэтажная Америка / Little Golden America

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 1937 год
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Одноэтажная Америка / Little Golden America
Yevgeny Petrov

Ilya Ilf

Russian Modern Prose
«Одноэтажная Америка» – произведение в жанре путевого очерка, написанное Ильей Ильфом и Евгением Петровым. Это добрая и умная книга, рассказывающая о жизни и быте американцев, о встречах авторов с самыми разными людьми, полная интересных историй и наблюдений. Читателям предлагается неадаптированный перевод произведения на английский язык, выполненный Чарльзом Маламутом. Пособие рассчитано на широкий круг читателей, изучающих английский язык и интересующихся творчеством И. Ильфа и Е. Петрова.

В формате PDF A4 сохранен издательский макет книги.

Илья Ильф, Евгений Петров

Одноэтажная Америка / Little Golden America

© КАРО, 2021

Все права защищены

Part I. From а twenty-seventh-story window

1. Тhe Normandie

АT NINE o’clock а special train leaves Paris for Le Havre with passengers for the Normandie. This train makes no stops. Three hours after its departure it rolls into the large structure which is in the Havre maritime station. Here the passengers descend to a shut-in platform, are lifted by escalators to the upper floor of the station, walk through halls and along passageways, all completely enclosed, and finally find themselves in a large vestibule where they take their places in elevators and depart for their various decks. At last they are on the Normandie. They have not the slightest idea what it looks like, for throughout this journey they had not even caught a glimpse of its outer contours.

We, too, walked into an elevator. A lad in a red tunic with gold buttons gracefully lifted his arm and pressed a knob. The shining new elevator rose a little, stopped and suddenly moved down, paying no heed whatever to the uniformed operator who desperately continued to press the knob. After falling three floors instead of rising two, we heard the painfully familiar phrase – on thisoccasion pronounced in impeccable French: “The elevator is out of order!”

We took the stairway to our cabin, a stairway covered throughout with a non-inflammаblе rubber carpet of bright green. Тhе соrridоrs and vestibules of the ship were covered with the same carpeting, which makes each footfall soft and soundless. But one does not fully appreciate the merits of rubber carpeting until the ship begins to roll in earnest. Then the carpeting seems to grip the soles. True, that does not save one from being seasick, but it does keep one from falling.

The stairway was not at аll of the steamship type. It was broad, slanting, with runs and landings of dimensions generous enough for a mansion.

The cabin was likewise quite unsteamerlike. A spacious room with two ample windows, two broad wooden beds, easy-chairs, wall closets, tables, mirrors-in fact, all the blessings of a communal dwelling, even unto a telephone.

Only in a storm does the Normandie resemble a ship. But in good weather it is a large hotel, with a sweeping view of the ocean, which, having suddenly torn loose from its moorings in a modern seaside health resort, is floating away at the rate of thirty-odd knots an hour.

Down below, from the platforms of the various floors of the station people who were seeing the passengers off shouted their final good wishes and farewells. They shouted in French, in English, in Spanish. They also shouted in Russian. A strange chap in a black seafaring uniform with a silver anchor and a shield of David on one sleeve, a beret on his head and a sad little beard on his chin, was shouting something in Jewish. Later we learned that he was the ship’s rabbi; the General Transatlantic Company had engaged him to minister to the spiritual needs of a certain portion of its passengers. Other passengers had at their disposal Catholic and Protestant priests. Moslems, fire worshippers, and Soviet engineers travelled without benefit of clergy; on that score the General Transatlantic Company left them entirely to their own devices.

The Normandie has a spacious church with dim electric lights; it is designed primarily for Catholic services, but may be adjusted to suit other denominational needs. Thus, the altar and the icons may be covered with special shields designed for that purpose and the Catholic church converted automatically into a Protestant house of worship. As for the rabbi of the sad little beard, there being no available room for him, the children’s nursery was assigned for the performance of his rites. Whereupon the company provided him with a tallith and even with special drapery for covering temporarily the mundane representations of bunnies and kittens.

The ship left the harbour. On the pier, at the mole, everywhere were crowds of people. The Normandie was still a novelty to the citizens of Le Havre. They forgathered from all corners of the city to greet the transatlantic titan and bid it bon voyage.

But the French shore was finally lost in the smoky mists of the murky day. Toward evening we saw the lights of Southampton. For an hour and a half the Normandie stood in its roadstead there, taking on passengers from England, surrounded on three sides by the distant and mysterious lights of a strange city. Then again she put out to sea, and again began the seething tumult of unseen waves aroused by tempestuous winds.

In the stern, where we were located, everything trembled. The deck and the walls and the lights and the easy-chairs and the glasses on the washstand and the washstand itself trembled. The ship’s vibration was so pronounced that even objects from which one did not expect any sound made a noise. For the first time we heard the sound of towels, soap, the carpet on the floor, the paper on the table, the electric bulb, the curtain, the collar thrown on the bed. Everything in the cabin resounded, and some things even thundered. If a passenger became thoughtful for a moment and relaxed his facial muscles, his teeth at once began to chatter of their own free will. All through the night it seemed to us that someone was trying to break down the door of our cabin and someone else was constantly rapping at our window-pane and laughing ominously. We discovered no less than a hundred different sounds inside our cabin.

The Normandie was on its tenth voyage between Europe and America. It was scheduled to go into dry dock after its eleventh trip, when its stern would be taken apart and the structural deficiencies that caused vibration eliminated.

In the morning a sailor came into our cabin and closed its windows with metal shutters. A storm was rising. A small freighter was having a difficult time making its way to the French shore. At times it disappeared in the waves, only the tips of its masts remaining visible.

We had always expected to find the ocean roadway between the Old and New Worlds quite lively with traffic. Now and then, – we imagined, we would come across ships blaring music and waving flags. But we found the ocean a grandiosely deserted expanse. The little boat that we saw bucking the storm four hundred miles from Europe was the only ship we passed during the entire five days of our crossing. The Normandie rolled with slow and dignified deliberateness. It steamed ahead, never decreasing its accustomed speed, nonchalantly flinging aside the high waves that attacked it on all sides. Rarely would it dip – and then in even tenor with the ocean. Here was no unequal struggle between some miserable contraption fashioned by man’s hand and the unbridled forces of nature. It was rather a contest between well-matched titans.

In a semicircular smoking saloon three famous wrestlers with cauliflower ears were sitting with their coats off, playing cards. Shirts bulged out from under their vests. They were in the throes of painful thinking. Huge cigars dangled from their mouths. At table two men played chess, every minute adjusting the chessmen that kept sliding off the board. Two others, their chins cupped in the palms of their hands, watched the chess game. Who but Soviet folk would ever think of playing the queen’s gambit in such weather? We guessed it: the charming Botvinniks proved to be Soviet engineers.

In time people met one another and formed congenial groups. A printed list of passengers was distributed. There we found a very amusing surname: Sandwich— a whole family of Sandwiches, Mr. Sandwich, Mrs. Sandwich, and young Master Sandwich.

We entered the Gulf Stream. A warm rain drizzled. In the oppressive hothouse atmosphere hung the heavy sediment of the oily smoke that the Normandie’s smokestacks belched forth.

We set out to inspect the ship. A third-class passenger does not see much of the boat on which he travels. He is not allowed either into the first or into the tourist class. Nor does the tourist-class passenger see much more of the Normandie, for he likewise is not permitted to trespass certain limits. But the first-class passenger is the Normandie.

He occupies no less than nine-tenths of the entire ship. Everything is immense in the first class – the promenade decks, the lounges, the saloons for smoking and the saloons for playing cards, and the saloons especially for ladies, and a hothouse where fat little French swallows swing on glass branches and hundreds of orchids hang from the ceiling, and the theatre with its four hundred seats, and the swimming-pool full of water illuminated through its bottom with green electric lights, and the marketing square with its department store, and the saloons for sport where elderly bald-headed gentlemen, flat on their backs, play ball with their feet, and other saloons where the same bald-headed men, tired of tossing balls and jumping up and down on a cinder-path platform, dream in embroidered easy-chairs; above all immense is the carpet that covers the main saloon, for surely it weighs more than half a ton.

Even the smokestacks of the Normandie, which one might think would belong to the entire ship, are reserved exclusively for the first class. In one of them the dogs of the first-class passengers are kept. Beautiful pedigree dogs, bored to the verge of madness, stand in their cages. Most of the time they are rocked to dizziness. Now and then they are led out on a leash for a walk on a special deck reserved for them. Then they bark uncertainly and regard the tossing ocean sadly.

We went into the galley. Scores of chefs were at work around a huge electric stove. Scores of others were dressing fowl, carving fish, baking bread, rearing tortes. In a special department kosher food was being prepared. Occasionally the steamship’s rabbi would come down here to make sure that the gay French chefs did not throw bits of the unorthodox trefa into this sequestered food.

The Normandie is reputed to be a masterpiece of French technique and art. Its technique is indeed splendid. Admirable are its speed, its fire-fighting system, the bold and elegant lines of its body, its radio station. But as for art, surely the French have known better days. There were, of course, the faultlessly executed paintings on the glass walls; but the paintings themselves were not in any way distinguished. The same might be said of the bas-relief, the mosaic, the sculpture, the furniture. There was a profusion of gold, of coloured leather, of beautiful metals, silks, expensive wood, fine glass. There was much wealth but little real art. As a whole, it was what French artists, helplessly shrugging their shoulders, called “stile triomphe”. Not long ago in Paris, on the Champs-Elysees, was opened a Cafe” Triomphe, sumptuously upholstered in the boudoir manner. A pity! We should like to have seen as partners of the remarkable French engineers who created the Normandie equally remarkable French artists and architects. All the more is the pity since France has such people.

Certain defects in technique – for example, the vibration in the stern, which threw the elevator out of commission for half an hour – and other annoying trifles must be charged not against the engineers who built this first-rate ship, but rather against the impatient orders of their clients who were in a hurry to begin exploiting the ship under any circumstances in order to secure a blue ribbon for record speed.

On the eve of the ship’s arrival in New York there was a gala banquet and an evening of amateur entertainment managed by the passengers themselves. The dinner was the same as ever, except that a spoonful of Russian caviare was added. Besides that, the passengers were given pirate hats of paper, rattles, badges with blue ribbons on which “Normandie” was inscribed, and wallets of artificial leather, also with the trade-mark of the company. Gifts are distributed to prevent pilfering of the ship’s property. The point is, the majority of travellers are victims of the psychosis of collecting souvenirs. During the Normandie’s first voyage the passengers stole as mementoes a huge quantity of knives, forks, and spoons. Some even carried away plates, ash-trays, and pitchers. So, it proved more convenient to make a gift of a badge for a buttonhole rather than lose a spoon needed in the ménage. The passengers were overjoyed with these toys. A fat lady, who throughout the five days of the journey had sat in a corner of the dining saloon all alone, suddenly in a most businesslike manner put the pirate hat on her head, discharged her popgun, and attached the badge to her bosom Evidently she regarded it as her duty to take advantage conscientiously of all the blessings she was entitled to by virtue of her ticket.

The petty-bourgeois amateur entertainment began in the evening. The passengers gathered in the saloon. The lights were put out, and a spotlight was trained on a small stage. There, her entire body trembling appeared a haggard young woman in a silver dress. The orchestra, made up of professional musicians, regarded her with pity. The audience applauded encouragingly. The young lady opened her mouth convulsively and shut it at once. The orchestra patiently repeated the introduction. Sensing forebodings of something frightful, the audience tried not to look at each other. Suddenly the young lady trembled and began to sing. She sang that famous song, “Parlez-moi d’amour,” but she sang it so quietly and so badly that her tender call was not heard by anyone. In the middle of the song she quite unexpectedly ran off the stage, hiding her face in her hand. Another young lady appeared, and she was even more haggard. She was in an all-black dress, yet bare-footed. Sheer fright was written all over her face. She was a bare-foot amateur dancer. The audience began to glide out of the hall stealthily. None of this was at all like our buoyant, talented, vociferous amateur entertainments.

On the fifth day the decks of the steamer were filled with suitcases and trunks unloaded out of the cabins. The passengers moved to the right side, and, holding on to their hats, avidly peered into the horizon. The shore was not yet visible, but New York’s skyscrapers were already rising out of the water like calm pillars of smoke. An astounding contrast, this – after the vacant ocean, suddenly the largest city in the world. In the sunny smoke dimly gleamed the steel extremities of the hundred and two storied Empire State Building. Beyond the stern of the Normandie seagulls swirled. Four powerful little tugboats began to turn the enormous body of the ship, pulling it up and pushing it toward the pier. On the left side was the small green statue of liberty. Then suddenly it was on the right side. We were being turned around, and the city turned around us, showing us first one and then another of its sides. Finally, it stopped in its tracks, impossibly huge, thunderous, and quite incomprehensible as yet.

The passengers walked down covered passageways into the customs shed, went through all the formalities, and emerged into the streets of the city, without having once seen the ship on which they had come.

2. The First Evening in New York

THE CUSTOMS shed at the docks of the French Line is immense. Under the ceiling hang large iron letters of the Latin alphabet. Each passenger stops under the letter with which his surname begins. Here his luggage will be brought to him from the ship and here it will be examined.

The voices of the arrivals and of those meeting them, laughter and kisses, resounded hollowly throughout the shed, the bare structural parts of which made it seem rather like a shop where turbines were being manufactured.

We had not informed anyone of our impending arrival, and no one met us. We waited under our letters for the customs clerk. Finally he came. He was a calm and unhurried man. He was in no way affected by our having just crossed an ocean in order to show him our suitcases. He politely touched the upper layer of our belongings and did not look any further. Then he stuck out his tongue, a most ordinary, moist tongue, a tongue devoid of all gadgets whatsoever wetted the huge labels with it and pasted them on our travelling-bags.

When we finally freed ourselves it was already evening. A white taxi-cab with three gleaming lanterns on its roof, looking like an old-fashioned carriage, took us to the hotel. At first we were tormented by the thought that because of our inexperience we had got into the wrong taxi, into some antiquated vehicle, and that we were funny and provincial. But, having fearfully looked out the window, we saw that automobiles with just as silly little lamps as ours were going in all directions back and forth. We quieted down a little. Later we were told that these little lamps are placed on the roof, so that the taxi may be more noticeable among a million other automobiles.

For the same reason taxis in America are painted in the most garish colours – orange, canary, white. Our attempt to take a look at New York from an automobile failed. We drove through quite dark and dreary streets. From time to time something rumbled hellishly under our feet or something else thundered overhead. Whenever we stopped before the traffic lights the sides of the automobiles that stood beside us hid everything from view. The chauffeur turned back several times and asked again for the address. It seemed that he was somewhat anxious about our English. Now and then he would look at us patronizingly, and his face seemed to say: “Never mind, you won’t get lost! Nobody ever got lost in New York.” The thirty-two brick stories of our hotel merged with the rufous nocturnal sky.

While we were filling up short registration cards, two men of the hotel service stood lovingly over our baggage. On the neck of one of them hung a shining ring with the key of the room we had selected. The elevator lifted us up to the twenty-seventh story. This was the commodious and calm elevator of a hotel that was not very old and not very new, not very expensive and, to our regret, not very cheap.

We liked the room, but we did not pause to explore it. Hurry into the street, the city, the tumult! The curtains of the windows crackled under the fresh sea wind. We threw our overcoats on the couch, ran out into the narrow corridor covered with a patterned carpet, stepped into the elevator, and the elevator, clicking softly, flew down. We looked at each other significantly. After all, this really was a great event! For the first time in our lives we were about to walk in New York.

A thin, almost transparent national flag with stars and stripes hung over the entrance to our hotel. Only a short distance away stood the polished cube of the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria. In prospectuses it is called the best hotel in the world. The windows of the “best hotel in the world” sparkled blindingly, and over its entrance hung two national flags. Right on the sidewalk, by the wall of the building, lay tomorrow’s newspapers. Passers-by bent down, took a New York Times or Herald Tribune and placed two cents on the ground beside the newspapers. The newsdealer had gone somewhere. The newspapers were held down with a broken piece of brick, quite as it is done in Moscow by our old women news vendors as they sit in their plywood kiosks. Cylindrical garbage cans stood at each corner of the street crossings. A considerable flame spouted out of one of the cans. Someone had evidently thrown a lighted cigarette-end there, and so the New York refuse, which consists mostly of newspapers, caught fire. An alarming red light illumined the polished walls of the Waldorf-Astoria. Passers-by smiled and dropped remarks as they walked by. A policeman, his face set, was already moving toward the eventful spot. Having decided that our hotel was in no danger of catching fire, we went on.

At once a slight misfortune befell us. We thought we would walk slowly, looking around attentively in order to study, to observe, to take in, and so forth. But New York is not one of those cities where people move slowly. The people who passed us did not walk, they ran. And so we, too, ran. From that moment on we could not stop. We spent a whole month in New York, and throughout that time we were constantly racing somewhere at top-speed. Simultaneously, we acquired such a businesslike and preoccupied air that John Pierpont Morgan, Jr., himself might have envied us. At our rate of speed he would have earned approximately sixty million dollars during that month. We earned somewhat less.

In a word, we started off at a trot. We sped by signs on which in lights were outlined the words: “Cafeteria” or “United Cigars” or “Drugs – Soda” or something else equally enticing yet so far utterly incomprehensible. Thus we ran to Forty-second Street, and there we stopped.

In the store windows of Forty-second Street winter was in full swing. In one window stood seven elegant wax ladies with silver faces. They all wore wonderful astrakhan fur coats, and regarded each other quizzically. In another window stood twelve ladies in sports costumes, leaning on ski poles. Their eyes were blue, their lips red, their ears pink. In other windows stood young mannikins with grey hair, or dapper gentlemen in inexpensive, and hence suspiciously resplendent, suits. But we were really not impressed by all this store munificence. It was something else that astonished us.

In all the large cities of the world one can always find a place where people look at the moon through a telescope. Here, on Forty-second Street, we also found a telescope. But it was mounted on an automobile.The telescope pointed at the sky. In charge of it was an ordinary mortal, just like the men at the telescopes in Athens, in Naples, or in Odessa. And his was the joyless manner peculiar to all exploiters of street telescopes throughout the world.

The moon showed itself in the interstice between two sixty-storied buildings. However, the curious onlooker, applying himself to the tube, gazed not at the moon but considerably higher: he looked at the top of the Empire State Building and its hundred and two stories. In the light of the moon, the steel eminence of the Empire State seemed to be covered with snow. The heart turned cold at the sight of this chaste and noble building glistening like a sliver of artificial ice. We stood there long, silently gazing up. The skyscrapers of New York make one proud of all the people of science and of labour who build these splendid edifices.

The news vendors roared hoarsely. The earth trembled underfoot, and through the grates in the sidewalk came a sudden gust of heat as if from an engine-room. That was because down there passed a train of the New York metro – the subway, as it is called here.

Through vents, placed in the pavement and covered with round metallic covers, steam broke out. For a long time we could not understand where that steam came from. The red lights of the advertisements cast an operatic light upon it. Almost at any moment one expected (he vents to open, Mephistopheles spring out of one of them, and, after clearing his throat, begin to sing in deep bass, right out of Faust: “A sword at my side, on my hat a gay feather; a cloak o’er my shoulder – and altogether, why, got up quite in the fashion!”

We again rushed forward, deafened by the cries of the news vendors. They shout with such desperation that, to use Leskov’s expression, it is afterwards necessary for a whole week to dig the voice out with a shovel.

It cannot be said that the lighting of Forty-second Street was mediocre. And yet Broadway, lighted by millions and perhaps even by billions of electric lamps, filled with swirling and jumping advertisements constructed out of kilometres of coloured neon tubes, appeared before us just as unexpectedly as New York itself rears up out of the limitless vacancy of the Atlantic Ocean.

We stood at the most popular corner in the States, at the corner of Forty-second and Broadway. The “Great White Way,” as Americans call Broadway, stretched before us.

Here electricity has been brought down (or brought up, if you like) to the level of a trained circus animal. Here it has been forced to make faces, to hurdle over obstacles, to wink, to dance. Edison’s sedate electricity has been converted into Durov’s trained seal. It catches balls with its nose. It does sleight-of-hand tricks, plays dead, comes to life, does anything it is ordered to do. The electric parade never stops. The lights of the advertisements flare up, whirl around, go out, and then again light up: letters, large and small, white, red, and green, endlessly run away somewhere, only to return a second later and renew their frantic race.

On Broadway are concentrated the theatres, cinemas, and dance halls of the city. Tens of thousands of people move along the pavements. New York is one of the few cities of the world where the population promenades on a definite street. The approaches to the cinemas are so brightly lighted that, it seems, if anyone were to add one more little lamp the whole thing would blow up from excessive light, all of it would go to the devil. But it would be impossible to squeeze in another little lamp; there is no room for it. The newsvendors raise such a howl that digging the voice out of it would require more than a week, more likely years of persistent toil. High in the sky, on some uncounted story of the Paramount Building, flared the face of an electric clock. Neither star nor moon was visible. The light of the advertisements eclipsed everything else. In the display windows, among simple crisscross neckties, small illuminated price tags turn around and go into a balancing act. These are the micro-organisms in the cosmos of Broadway’s electricity. In the tumultuous uproar a calm beggar plays his saxophone. A gentleman in a top-hat walks into a theatre, and with him is the inevitable lady, whose evening-gown has a train. A blind man led by a dog moves like a sleep-walker. Certain young men walk without hats. That is fashionable. Their neatly combed hair glistens under the street lamps. The odour of cigars, nasty ones and expensive ones.

At that very moment, when it occurred to us that we were so far from Moscow, before us floated the lights of the Cameo motion-picture theatre. The Soviet film, The New Gulliver, was being exhibited there.

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