Wednesday’s Child: Capram et circenses
For Christmas dinner we had ordered a roast baby goat, and consequently the teenage daughter of one of our invited guests regretted on the grounds that she is “a Vegan.” When the animal, just shy of sixteen pounds in weight, arrived from the local fornaio, resplendent in a cloud of rosemary and a jubilation of potatoes, I must confess I felt a trifle abashed at the spectacle and glad that the girl would not be coming. The serving platter took up the entire dinner table, with cutlery, plates and wine glasses huddling around its edges like poor relations, and the butcher’s humorous touch of using maraschino cherries for the eyes would surely have caused a lifelong family rift.
The girl who has described herself as “a Vegan” is Russian, which I found hard to believe. Of all the nonsense that is rife in the West, from dyslexia to bulimia to feminism and body art, this is the most unlikely candidate for adoption anywhere east of Kaliningrad. Martians or Lunatics my compatriots may be, but certainly not Vegans.
Or so I thought. After all, in the news last week was the tale of a man by the name of Sergei Levchenko, who happens to be the governor of Irkutsk, a province in eastern Siberia. He had been caught bear hunting in winter time, when the animals hibernate and consequently such merrymaking is forbidden, and that would have been a tad scandalous even if one were not “a Vegan.” But then a YouTube video emerged of the man actually shooting the poor bear while it was peacefully sleeping in its lair. Now, that was a real scandal, but Mr. Levchenko is still the governor of Irkutsk, who has responded to the charges against him by saying that he doesn’t watch anything on the Internet.
And yet the news is not all bad. Vladimir Petrov, a parliamentary deputy from the Leningrad province – which, unlike its capital, St. Petersburg, retains its Soviet name – has initiated proceedings to forbid attendance at the circus to children under 18 years of age, arguing that he has observed a “global tendency to humanization in the public handling of animals” and that the mores of the circus arena run counter to this salutary new tendency.
“Cruelty to animals,” said Petrov, “is a persistent feature of circus activities, and this may negatively impact” – the man was speaking Russian, of course, but had he been an American he would almost certainly have used “impact” as a verb, so my rendering is legitimate – “the sensibilities of small children.” In other words, at age sixteen the small children in question can legally drive, hold jobs, rent property, and marry, but only on reaching the age of eighteen would they be allowed in indulge themselves, like Nero, in spectacles of bestial abuse.
So, as those who have ears will hear, not all Russia is like Irkutsk. We too have our gentler, kinder species of citizen, our gentler, kinder species of legislator, and, as my luck would have it, our gentler, kinder species of guest. “Oh, to be a Vegan, now that Russians are,” as Robert Browning might have said.