TRAMVAI

stop 3 - blok and gippius

"From childhood he had been devoted to whatever was useless, metamorphosing the streetcar prattle of life into events of consequence..."



The Egyptian Stamp

In singling out a narrative of the city created by the tram, a banal background noise and the object of no-body's attention, we find ourselves in the company of Parnok, would-be hero of Osip Mandelshtam's Egyptian Stamp (1928). Parnok listens to the "streetcar prattle of life", transforming immaterial episodes into the stuff of stories.

"Parnok was a man of Kamenno-Ostrovsky Prospect - one of the lightest and most irresponsible streets of Petersburg... Venture neither to the right nor to the left: there is bedlam, there is streetcar-less backwater. But on Kamenno-Ostrovsky Prospect the streetcars develop an unheard of speed."

But stray away from the main thoroughfare of Kamenno-Ostrovsky Prospect, plied by trams after they have crossed over Troitsky Bridge, and risk finding yourself in the "tram-less backwaters". The margins beckon Parnok; he exists as a doodle in the margins of the narrator's page. And margins are to be found everywhere: the tram-tracks branch away from Nevsky Prospect, but sustain arterial centers right through the city, but one need not stray far from the activity lining them to find oneself as if suddenly on the outskirts.

Parnok's reluctant double, the narrator of Egyptian Stamp, shares the propensity to hear and read the narrative of the city made available by the tram. He reads pages of musical notation as if they provide images and narrative, and likens sheet-music to the city streets, by comparing the rise and fall of the black notes to the ascent and descent of the lamplighters (who might well be relatives of those who repair the tram wires). And perhaps, even, he sees the tram wires draw a musical stave across the sky, hung with the black dots as the wires connect and join. The tram, then, we might imagine, makes this musical score legible and audible in the city.


Tram wires: a musical stave hung with notes across the sky?