Category Archives: Letters from Russia

epistolary literature project with letters ostensibly written by a cobbler in Napoleon’s army marching to Russia, with paintings + illustrations – bound with hemp, wood and vellum

Letters from Russia serialized in Exode.ca

Letters from Russia pageMy work of fictional epistletory literature project “Letters from Russia” is serialized in the writing & essays section in Exode.ca — a new online magazine whose mission described thusly: By showcasing and diffusing creative work on the web, we seek to give artists the exposure and recognition that their work merits.

Letters from Russia is a mixed media work including hand-written letters, paintings, sketches, and book crafts. The version in Exode contains just the text narrative done up in charming design.

As of this writing Letter One and Letter Two are posted — with another dozen letters to follow weekly.

The gist: Letters From Russia offers hilosophical discourse on war and love written as letters from a cobbler with Napoleon’s army in Russia, to his fiance in Paris. The letters chronicle the logistics of the protagonists’ journey plus observations about all manner of conundrums related to international trade, diplomacy, physiology of war, and individual liberty versus requirements of society.

Plenty of more background including prezo videos, downloadable .pdfs and interviews are scattered amidst this journal for your perusal, including:

Letters from Russia Recap from Northern Voice 09

Letters from Russia preso video from Northern Voice

Letters from Russia on Santa Cruz Free Radio

Background notes on Letters from Russia

Letters from Russia related images on Flickr

Letters from Russia on WriteNow on Santa Cruz Freak Radio

Northern Voice 2009 Dave Olson Letters from Russia (miss 604)

Letters from Russia preso video from Northern Voice

Letters from Russia preso video from Northern Voice

Letters from Russia on Write Now show – Santa Cruz Free Radio

Countryside

Tune in to: Letters from Russia on Santa Cruz Free Radio (.mp3, 57:07, 26MB)

Blurb

DJ Snailmail and DJ Anon discuss Letters from Russia with writer Dave Thorvald Olson on the WriteNow! The Art & Action of Letterwriting show, Dec. 2007 on Santa Cruz Free Radio – Low-power unlicensed station – also streaming live.

Thanks to DJ Snailmail and Bread the Producer

Background notes on Letters from Russia

In prep for a chat on “Write Now! The Art & Action of Letter Writing w/ DJ Snail Mail” on Free Radio Santa Cruz’s about my Letters from Russia project, i jotted down some a bit of backstory which i’m posting here lest i misplace and to share with others with interest.  So, … here ya go …
I started writing LfR while at an Evergreen College week long course “Poets and Philosophers Discuss Love and War” at Lake Crescent, WA. I had prepared with much reading about the historical context so i could make the story accurate. I then charted out the philosophical topics to address during Herni’s political transformation and personal journey.

I wrote each letter separately, handwritten on different papers and different writing instruments and only taking a piece or two to keep the letters brief and intense. Each letter was written while out on a walk/hike (so i could be in character a bit i suppose) and i didn’t edit from the original letters at all.

I also sketched/painted that summer to fill out the story and help me visualize his world and support the letters by replacing some visual narrative – and finally bound the original letters and paintings in a wood/hemp book. (a few are at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/uncleweed/tags/lettersfromrussia/)

I lived overseas (Japan, Micronesia) quite a bit pre-Internet so am an enthusiast of printed letters and papercraft (I collect paper ephemera from trips).

I’d very much like to find someone with some deeper historical knowledge to give a read to see if there are glaring historical
inaccuracies – though i am sure on the dates and locations – before distributing it more.

Letters from Russia to Appear on “WriteNow” on Santa Cruz Freak Radio

CountrysideReceived a lovely note from DJ Snailmail who creates a show (with her colleague DJ Anon) on Santa Cruz Free Radio called “WriteNow! The Art and Action of Letter-writing” expressing an interest in reading my Letters From Russia project.

In case you missed it … LFR (Letters from Russia (.pdf)- war & love epistletory discourse) is written as a series of 14 letters and a “declaration” ostensibly by a cobbler in Napoleon’s army in Russia 1812, to his lover in Paris. It evolved into multi-medium art project with a series of illustrations, paintings and papercraft all bundled in a handmade book of hemp and wood and twine.

Campsite from Letters From RussiaAnyhow, here’s more about the show – i’ll be on to talk about using letter writing a a literary device and the process i used and philosophical underpinnings and inspirations of the content.

“WriteNow! The Art and Action of Letter-writing.” The program explores the art, value and action of letter-writing, basically all aspects of letter- writing, specifically snailmail and handwritten letters. It’s on Tuesdays from 8-9pm on Free Radio Santa Cruz (101.1FM and streamed at Freakradio.org).

And i’m a sucker for civil disobedience, ergo:

In full disclosure, Free Radio Santa Cruz (FRSC) is a 100% volunteer collective and we do not make any money in this effort. FRSC has been on the air for over ten years without an FCC license. freakradio.org/about.html

Declaration – Letters from Russia, Part 15 (fini)

My Declaration

As for me, I choose to forge my own place in history, to determine by own ends rather than subject my precious life for the exclusive use of any man – monarch or otherwise. Without my freedom to be what, and who, I choose, I have lost all!  No matter how insignificant my life’s work, at the least my life is of my own choosing and my labors, at my own volition.  My action, my loves, my thoughts will determine my life’s significance, and I will not surrender to fate’s whims.  I alone will live this life and this value I will not compromise.

Henri Lafleur, Russia 1812

Near Berezin Bridge – Letters from Russia, Part 14

November 27, 1812
Near Berezin Bridge, Russia

My sweet Genevieve,

It has been a journey of horrific proportions since I last was able to chance a letter.

The cold is equaled only by the depravity of desperate humans in its numbing pain. And yesterday, my friend Maurice joined the untold thousands of dead – scattered, abandoned aside the muddy cart path, deep-rutted in the frozen earth.  Littered with wreckage – dead horses, men frozen solid, eyes gaping, boots taken.  Many stumble barefoot roasting frostbitten toes by their final fire.  Pillages of war dumped – no weight or relic worthy of any carrying. Golden candle sticks, Persian rugs – objects of decadence, objects of art, holy relics – deserted now.

One must survive by wits and cunning and in that, my dear Maurice helped me along so much.  He appeared one morning (though there is little difference between day & night – just walking and not-walking), with a sturdy walking cane for me!  He was the one who coaxed me each dreadful day as we trudge into uncertain horizons.  Oh the peace he feels now, free of this madness!

As I sit looking down from the hilltop, watching as thousands fall dead – by bullet, by Cossack sword, or pushed into the icy river with the mob pushing across.  For me, there is little chance of me making my way across the bridge, not alone, not without help from my friend.

Surely when the officers have crossed, the bridge will be destroyed like so many broken dreams – leaving the Russians and French separated as we began.  I will not rush to death, rather for me, I will have the courage to determine my own fate to stride purposefully and resolutely, free of heart, clean of conscience, ruling only my sovereign self.

For you – for the days we missed together & the years in which we‘ll never part – I will find a way to survive. For the thousands of dead faces I have seen, and for Maurice, I renounce this war but pledge that I will not let this tragic madness defeat me.

My dear Genevieve, look for me in the spring, my return will be later than hoped.

With love, freedom and conviction, Henri

Leaving Moscow – Letters from Russia, Part 14

Oct. 20, 1812
Leaving Moscow

Cher Genevieve,

I write with haste (tucked under a rug for a tarp) so I can send this note straight by messenger to you in Paris.  We, since yesterday, have been ordered into retreat and as such are retracing (I assume) our route and trust only to hope that we survive.  When it became clear we would not stay over winter in Moscow, the looting, pillaging & other monstrosities in the name of spoils erupted as these scavengers made away with every shiny trifle they could seize from anyone weaker – no matter their standing.   I loathe the disgusting manner of how we humans can treat each other when exposed to the harsh certainty that death has eluded you so far and your chances may be up soon.

I will spare you details but will assure you of my preparedness I have made.  I managed to cobble together the best pair of boots I could manage.  I made two pairs giving one set to Maurice who obtained scraps of luxurious fur which I carefully sewed inside.  The soles are double thickness and, in mine I placed some felt to prop and protect my limping leg somewhat.  The outside leather is sealed with candle wax, I scuffed the leather to hide the quality lest some drunkard attempt to steal them – though it would require great force for me to surrender my boots – without which would mean certain peril in these treacherous conditions.  I also have a warm coat (the heaviest I could find) and a supply of candles and dry tinder.

Now my sweet, please do not concern yourself unduly, but in seeing the savagery of death around me for so many months & knowing the inhospitable lands ahead, I must tell you two things and request one of you, in event I am unable to return.

To you, please know that no one has ever been loved more by anyone than I love you. You are fantastically adored & amazingly admired.  You stir the very nature of my soul & fulfill me as a man and as a person.  If I do not return to sit with you on the veranda drinking wine in the afternoon, please allow yourself to find someone else to spend glorious days with.  Please do not settle!  Any suitor must be worthy and aware of your refinements, intelligent and vigorous spirit.

For me, please bind these letters and store them somewhere safe in hopes that one day my discourse may help another generation avoid such madness.

Forever yours,  Henri

Moscow, Russian France – Letters from Russia, Part 13

Oct. 11, 1812
Moscow, Russian France

Cher Genevieve,

Again I write to you in haste after too long a month.  The situation found here in Moscow has worsened greatly and we continue to live as a captives rather than conquerors.  I have scant reason to hope, but if only to hang onto my senses and precious sanity which as abandoned so many here.  The ‘Grand Armie’ looting, destroying, pillaging – decimated and surrendered to their basest, barest traits.  Greed and fear rule this city of ashes, destroyed as a desperate hope for some, but fueled by the debauchery of ours.  More than shaming themselves, they risk the common ability for survival as these winds & clouds grow in strength each day.

The Russians’ Alexander continues to ignore N.’s letters of surrender, etc.  How can he be blamed in mistrusting N.’s advances since the public scorn he felt after since Tilsit and now the surrender of Moscow?  Meanwhile, N. issues decrees to mitigate the suffering of the stragglers left here who aren’t already shot or starved.  Promises of kindness & benefit to any that come out of hiding & bring their vegetables or butter to market.  What!  Would anyone bring their labors to benefit a usurper of their lands?  To them, he is no liberator or revolutionary.  To them, he is not a brilliant general & able to fair administrator – he is a tyrant to them & to others, many of which serve in his army.

Save for famine or plague, there is no greater evil than occupation by an enemy, no matter how well mannered, jovial, cordial or able the enemy is.  To spread a revolution or reform must be accomplished as a friend & with openness, sincerity and not at the sacrifice of so many lives.  So many thousands of lives around me, reduced to animals smashing greedily into each cellar, reducing grandeur into rubble.  The discipline is gone – Napoleon does not command these hoarders.  They are controlled only by their overwhelming desires for self-preservation regardless of means.

I however my love am determined to survive.  I am cautiously preparing for the inevitable cold as I await a chance to simply live in peace again – but I fear there is no escape if not soon.

Anxiously, Henri

Moscow, French Russia – Letters from Russia, Part 12

Sept. 30, 1812
Moscow, French Russia

 

Cher Genevieve, As you probably know, we are ensconced in Moscow, or what is left of it.  The city of domes sits in a sooty wet pile of ash and destruction.  I am still stunned at the results of the campaign and can only dream of seeing you again.

 

I pass the days avoiding disturbances and fending for my health and safety along with Maurice who continues to surprise me with his quick mind even more than his capable skills.  People of all kinds are attracted to him and he seems to possess a natural ability towards leadership and decision making.  He listens and makes choices that seem to please everyone without ever compromising his own judgement or ethics.  He appears rough and his first comments upon meeting are usually terse and offhand – even insulting – yet somehow he draws people in.  They want to know him.  For me, he is a fortune.  He gives me much needed grounding and a touchstone for the realities of this ordeal.  He indulges my conversation – despite my lofty ideals or the idealistic chatter – and challenges my thinking with his point of view, the voice of the ‘common man.’  For one to think he can understand a social quandary in solitary state is foolish assumption. M’s conversation helps me understand a contrary viewpoint – and to better collect my own reasoning so to express myself clearly.

 

But the most remarkable feature about Maurice is his refusal to take advantage of his skills & erstwhile power or influence, or at least in my presence.  In this campaign I have seen so many drunk on power – earned or assumed – and wallowing in self-importance. The privileges of ranks and class, while abolished by the civil code, seem to live on in this military realm like some glue holding the masses together.  The men gravitate towards the natural leaders – not the assigned ones – the brave lead, the appointed give orders and pontificate as to who distinguished himself the most, or best.  But I do wonder if any are immune from the majestic influence of power to corrupt as I see even the most earnest submit to the easy treachery of opportunity.  Is any man so uncommon that they can resist the temptation to manipulate? To wield their sword of power so often that at last they expose their great weakness?  To go to the well one more time only to come up dry at the moment of greatest need?  At what point does every man surrender himself into decadence? Succumb to injustice – turning pettiness into grounds for war?  At what point does one move from liberator to tyrant?

 

I hesitate to say what I see happening here as such admittance will steal my last hopes.

 

Fondly, Henri