An Interview with Constantin Kazansky

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en français

на русском языке

1. You were born in a small college town along the Danube river. How did you imagine your future self when you were a child?

When you grow up in the fifties, in a town that combines Tortilla Flat, Cambridge and Clochemerle (a subject I have tackled in one of my Bulgarian songs) and that is located on the wrong side of the “Iron Curtain”, well … One gets used to feeling happy in the ‘here and now’ and one dreams about non complicated but impossible things to carry out in the context of the period. What is the job that mixes drama, music and poetry? Maybe directing …

2. Are there any stories regarding the origins of your first and last names?

My last name derives from my father’s hometown:Kazanka. But there are similar names given to rivers or other places in Russia and elsewhere. This explains the Казанский, Kasanski (among other spellings) to which I am absolutely not related. I bear my grand-father’s name on my mother’s side. The Kazansky spelling was chosen by my father who studied in Toulouse in the thirties. Otherwise, in Cyrillic, I hold on to the Bulgarian spelling of my name without the final “й”. Not really from motives of patriotism but so as not to be taken for a Russian person (or someone who would pretend to be Russian) when I am in Russia.

3. When you were a child, was there a person who inspired you, a role model?

No. We belonged to a generation that read widely, anything and everything, a generation that was interested in all kinds of music, poetry (French, Russian, Bulgarian poetry as far as I am concerned, as well as any translations we could find in any of these three languages) and our “Pantheon” looked like a Tower of Babel which never stopped expanding, raising … towards a walled sky.

4. How did you imagine death when you were a child?

When you are a child, you can’t imagine death. I saw it but it did not concern me. I was immortal. However, this depends on circumstances.

5. If the cosmopolitan Paris that you once knew was a person, what would this person be like?

The Lady of the Camellias supported by d’Artagnan.

6. Have you ever wished to live in another era, somewhere else?

As for eras, I had set ideas when I thought I was immortal. I also had other ideas in the event that I would experience “several lives”. Since I now know I only get one life, I refrain from imagining anything else.

7. Which places do you like best in Paris?

I had several but within the last forty years Paris has changed. It has become less and less “my Paris” . It’s only normal. It has always been that way. Now it is cleaner and less spiritual. The spirit of a place is like tripe, the more you wash it, the less tasty it is.

8. What does freedom mean to you?

Smoking my pipe where I used to be allowed to smoke it in the early seventies. This is just an example, but it is much more meaningful than one might think it is, at first glance. Otherwise, you can meditate on the two last stanzas of one of Vladimir Vissotsky’s songs: Мне вчера дали свободу // Что я с ней делать буду. (Yesterday freedom was given back to me// What am I going to do with it.) Or take a look at Tommaso Campanella’s biography. There are more serious matters than lacking freedom.

Lacking wit.

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9. When you think about the different stages of life when exactly would you like to start again or what would you do differently?

I don’t feel that way. I wish to carry on as long as possible- if it is written on the wall- and as long as I do not need to constantly remind myself, in my daily routine, that I am no longer 20.

10. For which of your flaws do you have the greatest indulgence and, for which do you judge yourself the most severely?

The mix of good and bad qualities is Nature’s balance. I am lazy by nature. I am far too selfish and not self-centered enough to start analysing that. However, my wife who has put up with me for nearly 40 years now, could write a dissertation or something close to it on that topic. I don’t think she would be completely without objectivity.

11. What are the greatest risks you have ever taken or wished to have taken?

Several. The fact of having done everything so I would not have to choose a “stable” job. The fact that, after having been first in the Bulgarian equivalent of Science Po (Poli Sci) I did not finish my studies in order to avoid becoming a sham diplomat. The fact of having stayed in the West, which seemed to me and proved to be to be the least damaging solution … However, I do not like taking risks. I am not the adventurous type by nature or in life. Except in my career …

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12. What words, in French, Bulgarian or Russian do you prefer?

I do not have any preferences. Words are like notes. The mix is what is most important. Finding the right word at the right moment. I would have liked to have a good command of the three languages that you mentioned, the way that Jean Dutourd or Sacha Guitry spoke French. Unfortunately this is not the case- far from it … in any of these three languages.

13. What music do you regularly listen to? Which musicians, which composers?

Nothing, regularly. I try to empty my ears of the music I have racked my brains over. Once done, I need to give time to my hearing for my ears to recover a certain virginity. And I move on to the next order. In the meantime the urge of reminding myself where North lies might make me listen to Chopin not Horowitz, or to Romanian Laoutaris (some of them ..), or Luis Prima, or Julio Iglesias in French, or Sinatra, or Dean Martin, or Aznavour, or Charles Trenet. Apart from that, I remain a fan of Nino Ferrer, Adriano Celentano and Gainsbourg whom I had the privilege to know and even to accompany on a Russian song in a radio show that has been on You tube for some time. As for musicians, since I am an arranger, I worship the Italians and the French from the fifties and the sixties. Paul Mauriat for Aznavour or François Rauber and Gérard Jouannest for Brel, they are the height of intelligence. I am extremely biased and I prefer pop and rock music from the sixties. Composers? This would be a long list of several countries, several song-writers. And from time to time, I feel happy to expand the list as a simple listener.

14. If you had a magic wand (in politics, economics, and cultural life) what would you wish or have wished to change?

Nothing. Whatever you do, there will always be fools to twist things around and as a Bulgarian saying goes: “Putting out an eye instead of drawing an eyebrow”. I just need to avoid belonging to these people. Otherwise (and I think this sentence is to be found in the Talmud) “Even where I have not met men, I have tried to be one.” One does not need a magic wand for that.

15. I f you were to draw a list of things that make life worth living, what would they be?

Life is an adventure. As long as we are experiencing it, we cannot make an objective report and draw conclusions. Except if we have given ourselves a script and if nothing else matters. Everyone is different. Even if the uncertainties, the unexpected, the fact that I have never had to look for a stable job have, in the end (or at least, up until now) brought to me, well at least up until now! some most unexpected pleasant surprises and some great satisfaction, my daily life has not been a bed of roses or a barrel of laughs. And things have gone sour. To be true to yourself even when you get unlucky … But how should you know before you have even tried? And how should we know if we must persist?

16. Do you enjoy the rain?

Not more not less than the fair weather. It depends.

17. Are animals part of your life?

They have long been in the past. Later, our children ensured succession for the benefit of their children. If we lived in the countryside, we would have taken animals again. This is not the case. But who knows?

18. What is elegance to you?

Elegance is what you imagine rather than what is seen. One must know how to wear a piece of clothing, one must know how to walk, how to stand… And leave the impression that everything is natural. Not everybody can do it but one can always try not to be ridiculous.

 19. In your opinion, what remains undoable?

I have no idea. I know what interests me. The rest …?

August 2013, by Sabrina de Velder

(translation Alexa V. Wayne)

© sabrinotshka (Please mention me if you find yourself in a sharing mood )

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Permalink 2 Comments

2 responses to “An Interview with Constantin Kazansky

  1. Cibo Buono

    Why is the word “tripe” in inverted commas? Is it intended to show some double meaning here?

    • No, there is no double meaning intended here. The French dish “tripes” can either be translated by tripe or chitlings. The inverted commas are not necessary in fact. Thank you for your remark.

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