“Woman” by Ler Kamsar

Translator’s note: Ler Kamsar (also spelled Ler Gamsar, real name Aram Toghmavian; 1888-1965) was the last great satirist of the Armenian nation, a worthy heir to Hagop Baronian and Yervant Odian. Born in Van, he took part in the Defense of Van in 1915 against the genocidal Young Turks and their Kurdish henchmen, and by all accounts demonstrated as much courage in arms as he did with his pen. Eventually, he moved to Yerevan and lived there when the First Republic fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1920. He was initially friends with the poet Yeghishe Charents, who would later rat on the satirist, accusing him of being an extreme nationalist and Dashnak because Ler Kamsar had once declined Charents’s suggestion that he write a “Don Quixote” style satire against Dashnak leaders. Ler Kamsar was indeed an opponent of Bolshevism, but not from any ideological prejudice. On the contrary, he was against Bolshevism because he had no ideological position and could plainly see the emptiness of its slogans and the bloodiness of its actions. In 1920 when the independent Armenian republic was “liberated” by the Bolsheviks he wrote, “To give you a basic idea of our “liberation” I would say that in the following year of 1921 when Armenians rebelled against their “liberators”, the defeated Armenian people were fleeing back to Turkey, preferring the Turkish sword to the Bolshevik axe.”  As a result of Charents’s slanders, he was sent to Siberia, imprisoned, or exiled for half his life by the Communists. He was a staunch opponent of the inhumanity of Stalin and the inane ideology of Marxism. When given opportunities to return to his family and home in Armenia in exchange for pulling a Charents and informing on other Armenian writers like Avedik Isahakian, he consistently refused. The rulers of the Soviet Union apparently decided to give the satirist the 1984 Winston Smith treatment, that is, a decision was made to not summarily shoot him in the head and leave him in a shallow grave, but to keep him alive, torment him in a thousand ways, and to make an example of him. His works were suppressed, confiscated, and seized, and his death by heart attack was the direct result of the confiscation of his last work The Man in Home Clothes. His works have slowly gained ground after the fall of the Soviet Union thanks to the efforts of his granddaughter Vanuhi Tovmasyan, but he has received nowhere near the acclaim that his works deserve. I myself knew nothing of the man until several months ago. Just another one of the unending infamies against our men of genius, whose words are drowned out by the gurgling stomachs and the wagging tongues of a careless, selfish, and ambiguous race. His works, beside being genuinely hilarious, are a reminder not only to those older Armenians infected by Soviet nostalgia, but to their younger counterparts now in the West who have succumb to the same -ism that lead to the nightmare of the Soviet Union. His dying words were, “Bury me face down so I won’t have to look at the Communist government. Don’t worry, even if I’ve decomposed completely, I’ll turn over on my back once the regime is gone.”–Hratch Demiurge

Original Armenian text: http://www.lerkamsar.com/misprints/misprints.html

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“There is a very apt saying on women. It goes, ‘A woman is like the tower of Pisa, it leans toward you, but won’t easily fall all over you.’ But it’s also true that if she were to fall all over you, you’ll never ever get out from underneath her; you’re life is done for.”

Woman is a fire. When unmarried, you freeze; and after you marry, you burn. Man still stands on his feet today because woman wages war against against him with primitive weapons. When she gets her hands on atomic weaponry…

Goodbye mankind!

Marriage in our day is much, much easier than before. Before, man and wife were joined together with nails. Now it’s a lift-off hinge: [1] whenever they want, they can separate.

Before a woman had to work, she was a heavy weight on a man’s shoulders. Now there are women who earn more than men and are so light in weight that frequently, a man coming and going for years, suddenly realizes that there’s no woman on his shoulders at all.

I’m a philosopher, but not because I have a lot of brains, rather because I haven’t really lived life to the fullest.

If there was one woman pulling me from the right and another pulling me from the left, and there was no way for me to satisfy both, what business of mine would it have been to think about the world and involve myself in people’s affairs?

To hell with the world, and mankind as well. What I need is a woman.

“Be ready for work and defense!” (1934)

Arguments aside, me and my wife are already old and very often we sit and have the following kinds of conversations with each other:

–Woman, I say, sooner or later we’re going to kick the bucket and we don’t have the money for a funeral.

–You’re a writer, the government will bury you magnificently at its expense.

–If I find out that the government is going to bury me, not to mention magnificently, I won’t die anymore. Let’s scrape together everything we have, you die, until I can figure out what I’m going to do.

–Hey! Why?

–Have you lost your mind, woman? I’ve worked my entire life to stake out the kind of position that would give the  government no reason to utter my name. Now I’m going to let them honor me after I die? What will the nation say about me? Won’t it say, “This man, who fought his whole life against Communism, gave in after death and accepted its honors.”

–After you die, let them say whatever they want. After your dead, you can even enter into ranks of the Communist party.

–Ah, stop saying stupid things, woman! Would a dead man choose to leave his grave to enter into their ranks?

When tyranny enters through the door, love escapes through the window.

“Great Stalin is the best friend of the Latvian people!” 1950

I know for a fact that my wife is having an affair with our neighbor Krikor. I have every excuse to act out Othello with my wife tonight, but I won’t play the part. First and foremost for the reason that I don’t have the strength left to lift that massive woman and twirl her around in the air. Secondly, I have a different view of morality.

I follow the morality of nature, and never consider its operations a sin. In my opinion, men of my age should give their wives freedom.

After they’ve harvested their grapes in the late autumn, all the vintners leave the gates to their vineyards open, withdraw to their homes, and give free reign to grape gleaners. [3] Grape gleaning by traditional right is a sanctified law. Why forbid those people who want to get a taste of the fruits of their neighbors vineyard?

The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet, 1857.

Women at this age are worn-out horses, to pull at whose reigns is pointless. They won’t wander very far…

It has become customary among us to compare choosing a wife to choosing a watermelon.

It’s true, there’s certain similarities; but the differences are greater.

When picking a watermelon, you can have it cut open before you take it home. But you can’t cut open a woman before picking her: you have to take her home whole, then cut her open. It depends on your luck: it could turn out red, it could turn out a “pumpkin”. [4] When a watermelon turns out to be a “pumpkin”, you can feed it to the animals in the manger and rest easy; but, until your dying day, you have to eat a “pumpkin” woman, without ever knowing what a watermelon tastes like.

Watermelon cut by Dixie Rogers

Marriage isn’t even a lottery. The worst thing that can happen in a lottery is your ticket gets you nothing; but in the lottery of marriage, there’s no such thing as a ticket that gets you nothing. All of its tickets will win you either happiness or misfortune.

When my wife is healthy, she uses all her energy in yelling and getting mad at me, unleashing a hurricane upon my head, in raising cries and screeches, cursing and swearing at me. An unprecedented hurricane, a marital typhoon with all its aftermath.

As a man, I’m always doing something wrong every day. There are even days when I’m wrong twice in a single day. But since she’s been married, my wife has never been wrong even a single time and doesn’t even know what being wrong is.

When in this thoroughly botched and wrongly created world, a person doesn’t even know what being wrong is, what can you do? You have to take on all the mistakes they make and bear them with you.

But when this horrifying woman gets sick, you should see how nice, gentle and sweet she becomes with a fever of 40 degrees [104 F]. Her face mild and tender, she speaks in whispers, the way lovers speak with one another, to the point that she even smiles at my face.

Oh, what a great joy it turns out to have a sick wife!

Let this marriage go on like this, but for sure, I’ve decided that when I get married a second time, its without a doubt going to be to a woman who’s dying.

This could have two advantages: one, that she’ll be nice to you, and secondly, when she dies you’ll be free of woman’s good and evil alike.

I have the following opinion on marriage: [եթե հատուկ քեզ համար մի ծնողի պատվեր չես տալիս կին ծնելու` նախապես ծնված պատրաստի կինը երբեք վրադ չի նստելու։]

I think that there’s no need for a man to have a worldview. [5] If it was absolutely necessary, then when God was pulling a rib out of Adam’s side to make a woman, from his other side he would have pulled a worldview for Adam to profess.

“Down with kitchen slavery. Long live a new mode of life!” (1931)

Never in any century has woman been as much as slave as she is now. Women, side by side with men, pull boulders, and when they return home and the man lays down to rest, the woman starts her second job: cleans, puts the house in order, prepares a meal, washes, dries, and so on, endless things to do, until it’s bedtime.

Trying to get to sleep, before her battered body has had a chance to relax, suddenly the man across from her calls out:

Aryousak or Astghik, get over here, let me make love to you…

To hell with that kind of love! You shouldn’t make love to your wife: pity, sympathize and feel sorry for her.

It makes me cry. Who’s ever seen a cow yoked with an ox, then saddled, then milked, and then made love to?

To say nothing of the working women who are tormented at their jobs by all their higher ups.

I know an unmarried woman whose already forty-five and hasn’t married.

When I asked her why she hasn’t gotten married she responded:

–Always waiting for something better, turning down those who proposed to me. Now it’s too late.

–Well, how are you going to live all by yourself?

–I’ll become a Communist and I’ll live.

–You’re even later for Communism, I said. You should’ve become a Communist long ago, when you were a kid. After you know what the world is like, it’s no longer possible to be a Communist.

“There were not such women and could not be in the old days. I.V. Stalin” (1950)

Over the course of years, my wife has been saving up kopek by kopek, and has collected one thousand rubles for her funeral. When she found out that the cheapest cost for a funeral was a minimum of 2000 rubles, she turned to me and asked:

–Well, husband, what should I do?

–What are you going to do, half die? I responded and added, I won’t be saving up for funeral costs beforehand. However many rubles I have, I’ll take to the funeral bureau and tell them, “Here, take it. Bury me this many rubles worth. I don’t have any more.”

When the Young Turks overthrew the Sultan in Turkey, they wanted to exile him to Egypt, and he requested he be  exiled with the 600 women of his harem. And until he got his way, he wouldn’t leave.

The Sultan, who was as a man up in years, to have asked for 600 women, I ask you, how many people will the Communists ask for, who just this year [ոտք դրին քառասունի մեջ].

Oh Sultan, your greedy house stay standing, your ancient throne was overthrown, and you’re still thinking about women?

What spunk!

Of all the kings in the world, I envy Sultan Abdul Hamid because he had 600 women.

“An Idle Evening in the Seraglio” by Giacomo Mantegazza (1876)

But I’m against the harem system. The harem is the graveyard of love, because that goddamn feeling, without exception, requires reciprocity.

Sultan Abdul Hamid, to get a taste of love, shouldn’t have gathered and put all the women in a harem. But rather like the Bolsheviks, who gathered up the peasants and put them in a kolkhoz [a Soviet collective farm], he should’ve let his ladies go, hand over their “land” to them and told them, “Go and be free: till your land for yourselves, but give me ten percent.”

The Bolsheviks basically applied this same method, with this one small difference. They, having entered the private homes and put all the women into government institutions, informed their husbands:

–At night they’re yours, during the day they’re ours.

In other words, equality, brotherhood…

“Long live the Soviet women’s equal rights!” (1938)

The whole time under Stalin, for twenty-thirty years, day and night, I was contemplating what punishment I would subject him to if he was caught and handed over to me.

No law anywhere in the world has been devised to punish such a big criminal, in the same way that the people who make thermometers for the sick, not foreseeing that it’s possible to have a temperature of 43 degrees, [109.4 F] till this day only make thermometers that go up to 42 [107.6 F].

Yes, well then, for thirty years straight I’ve been searching for a punishment for Stalin and couldn’t find one. But today I’ve found that punishment. Unfortunately Stalin’s already dead.

Do you know what that punishment I found is? I’ll tell you.

If right now they delivered a living Stalin into my hands, without the slightest bit of remorse…I’d marry him off to my wife.

Footnotes

[1] “պետլի”, from Russian петля, a type of hinge used for removable doors or cabinets. Also known as “detachable hinges”, or “take apart hinge” due to its loose joint parts.

[2] Original proverb, “When poverty comes through the door, love leaves through the window.”

[3] Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. It is a practice described in the Hebrew Bible that became a legally enforced entitlement of the poor in a number of Christian kingdoms.

[4] i.e., it could turn out tasteless and inedible, like a raw pumpkin.

[5] From what I understand, the Communist party would press individuals to have and state their worldview, of course to sniff out heterodox ideas and destroy people like the Inquisition. On one occasion, the satirist is supposed to have dodged this accusatory question by saying “A person has to know something about the world to have a worldview.”

Comedian and teacher; translator of Daniel Varoujan's Pagan Songs and the forthcoming Armenian Big Shots of Hagop Baronian. What makes him so smart is that he is too stupid to understand nonsense.

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