Triangular letters

“Concerning the first picture: what a strange way of folding letters!” – writes Effe in his comment to yesterday’s post on contemporary Soviet still life photos. And indeed, already the diamond grid of the folding of the letter on the edge of the table is unusual, but even more unusual is the triangular shape of the letters laying behind it, on the folder. However, there was a time when this folding was not considered unusual at all, moreover the mails folded in this way were the most valuable the postman could bring; and, as the story unfolding from the few objects on the picture indicates, for several people they remained more valuable than any other a postman can bring them any more. These are the письма-треугольники, the “triangular letters”, the standard form of soldiers’ correspondence during the Great Patriotic War.

During the war, the mails were brought for free from the front to home. It could not have been differently, because probably the postage stamps would have been the last item the halting logistic support would have delivered to the front. Even so, postcards and envelopes were shortages. The soldiers’ genius has thus created, right in the first months of the war, the format that was a letter and its own envelope in one. The folding process is very similar to how we, in our childhood, folded our soldier’s shako, knowing nothing about the triangular soldier’s letters.

To such a letter it was enough a page torn from a booklet, a cigarette paper sacrificed, the wide margins of a newspaper and the idle half an hour spent in a temporary cover. Their content is not more complicated than that: they assure of their love those at home, draw something for the little ones who cannot read yet, and promise to return home after the war. It did not depend on them.

Folding had one more advantage: that the content of the letter was easy to check. Therefore, it was forbidden to seal them in any way. The censors working at the front did not primarily search for letters reviling the system – according to the analysis of the surviving front letters, almost none of them includes any political reference or Stalin’s name –, but whether they include any indication from which military movements and plans could be deduced. These were erased with black ink, but the mail was still transmitted. As the then seventeen year old front post officer Valya Uvarova recounts it in the 7 May 2008 issue of Аргументы и факты:

There were many letters, and their stream flowed in both directions, to the front and from the front. Beside the postal service, in a special “secret” room there was a censor: her task was to open and read the triangular letters. Valentina Antonovna recalls that censors usually had a humane attitude to front letters. If only a few lines of them contained military secrets – such as the name of the base occupied or the name of the corps –, then they, having canceled it, let the letter go to the recipient. They only banned its forwarding if all its content was of such kind, but this happened very rarely.

Of these letters, which once traveled from west to east by the millions, still thousands are preserved in collections, in private hands, in folders such as in the first picture. You can find lots of them on the Russian web too, mostly followed by a story, so similar to the other stories, and nevertheless always unique and unrepeatable

A late letter: even in February 1951 there came a treugolnik from the front

I was fascinated by a special collection, the letters of Yakov Lazirovich Ashurov from Azerbaijan. He was born in Baku in 1924, joined up at the age of seventeen, was killed at Stalingrad in 1942. His letters to his parents survived in the Iranian Tat (Juhuri) language, related to Persian and Kurdish, of the Caucasian Mountain Jews (on which we will write more later), as well as in biblical Hebrew.

Triangular letters were sent to the front as well, these ones bearing a stamp of course. Moreover, even to the Gulag, as it is attested by the Latvian-language letter below, sent from Latvia to the Pechora camp in the Komi land on 19 March 1945. The letter is now at auction for only 33 dollars. Buy it if you want to possess a real historical document.

On 9 May 2010, the 65th anniversary of the victory, the Russian state distributed among the war veterans still alive a set of triangular letters printed for this occasion. They were already in envelope, but they could still be sent without a stamp to anywhere within Russia.

And finally these letters were immortalized by the contemporary famous soldier’s songs, such as Mark Bernes’ Полевая почта, “Field Post” below. We hope that Araz, the walking encyclopedia of the Soviet film will tell us which contemporary newsreels and later films were used to compose the genial video clip of the song.

В селе далёком плачет Мать от счастья,
Узнав, что сын здоровый и живой.
Ей эту весть сквозь битвы и ненастья
Приносит треугольник полевой.
The mother in the far away village is crying
of joy, knowing that her son is healthy and alive:
this was let her known through battles and storms
by the triangular letter from the front.

The Battery Gardens

On Monday, by taking advantage of the opportunity that on Saturday we would build one of the gardens planned by me, and at the last minute I can add to the order a few plants I want to be taken to Budapest together with the rest, I checked some Heleniums over the web, and thus again I ran across the Battery Plant Database. On this occasion I decided that I would put out these few links on The Battery Gardens.

The Battery is the point of Mannhattan at the confluence of Hudson and East rivers where the first Dutch settlers landed. It got its name of the first artillery stationing here to defend the young city. The castle built here was New York’s first cultural center and later the first reception center for immigrants, converted in the early 20th century into the first aquarium of the city. After the renovation of the castle in the 1970’s a cultural and tourist center was established here again, and in recent years the hitherto quite neglected garden has been renovated, too.

The two gardens established here belong to the major jobs of the Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, a leading figure of the New Perennial movement. By entering the site of The Battery Conservancy and clicking on the Things to do above, the first option offered is the Gardens. By clicking on it, you can see a series of beautiful pictures on the park, you can check various information pages on Piet Oudolf, the details of the park and its plants, and if you think so, you can even buy plants from there.

The New Perennial movement has never belonged to the mainstream trends of gardening. In the last hundred years the main currents of gardening mostly regarded plants as objects to be used for various purposes, an element of the architectural concept, which as a living organism was of very little interest to the designer. What is important to him/her is the optical unit, the effect to be achieved with the plant as a bloc, and the individual features of the plants are completely irrelevant as long as the desired effect is achieved through it.

In modern gardens the plants often appear as an inarticulate green medium without any individual significance, whose only function is to provide a counterpoint to the concrete, metal or plastic objects placed in the given space. And when the plants are the main character in the garden, they usually create images with flowers, possibly of great size and strong colors. These images usually live only a few weeks, while in the rest of the year the gardeners dig out, distribute, cut down, force into artificial support system, tie and prune them, so that in those few weeks when in the given bed everything is blossoming and the image is ready, the plants would display the desired size and form, which is often very different from their natural size and form.

As these beds are attractive only for a short period, the gardeners often start the plants in the nurseries, they bed them out in full blossom, and after blossoming they take them out and throw them away – not only the yearlings, but also the perennials –, and plant a new set. In these perennial beds the gardeners usually adopt vivid colors, which act as a strong stimulus, and overshadow any other element.

The founder and still dominant personality of the New Perennial movement – in an interview Oudolf called him my hero –, Karl Foerster opened his nursery in 1903 in Berlin with the aim to realize his ideas which were completely opposite to the public opinion. The nursery, which today grows 2,000 different perennials on 70,000 square meters, begins the presentation of Foerster’s work on its site with the following phrases: „Contrary to the prevailing bourgeois conception, which regarded the plants as pigments, and after blossoming replaced them with new ones, to Karl Foerster every plant was an individual. Due to his enlightened, humanist intellectual character, his breeding work aimed at highlighting the inherent characteristics of every plant, without changing its essence.

The New Perennial movement, on the wake of Foerster, unfolded this relationship to plants. Here, the gardeners do not want to demonstrate the enforcement of their will, and they do not intend to maximize the sensory stimulus, but they are passionately interested in plants. The gardener knows exactly the environmental needs and tolerances of plants, so he is able to establish in any environment ensembles which develop well and require little maintenance. The thoughtful understanding of the growing, flower and leave forms and colors of the plants, and the humility with which the gardener do not want to put himself at the center, but wants to unfold the inherent beauty of the plants, opens a very large space to creativity. The fact that today the German gardens, for example, use perennials so widely and with such a high quality, is a good indication of what a huge job has been realized in this field by the gardeners.

However, the world fame was brought to the movement by the work of Piet Oudolf. Oudolf added to the results accumulated over the decades not only the extremely sophisticated visual culture of Flemish painting, but also his extraordinary talent. The result is a series of gardens where every plant is on the place best fitting to it, which show the beauty of the plant from sprouting to withering, which give a natural impression as a result of professional color management and richness of form, and nevertheless they are in fact an incredibly sophisticated combination of plants. Which touch your heart without being sentimental for a moment, and open you up to freedom without having any moment of destruction.

While the ideologists of the leading horticultural trends aestheticize and raise into high culture the destruction labeled as modern or postmodern art, and while mass culture is flooded with the magazines and coffee table books showing almost only three weeks old beds (and even this is not enough, because they sharpen and saturate these pictures so that the reader gets the maximum stimulation and does not fall out of the wheel of consumption), there are people who do not let themselves being swept with the mainstream. I find it beautiful that in the Battery, where 8.5 millions of immigrants – who mostly had to leave their country because of politically legitimized hatred or poverty – were received by America, now there are two New Perennial gardens.

If you are interested, check the pictures loaded on Piet Oudolf’s site, on The Battery page, too. (And once you are there, have a look at the other gardens of Oudolf as well.) If you are fascinated by this work of Piet Oudolf, be sure to read the excellent articles on the Battery in the great blog of James Golden. And if you have even more time, then – back to the stove – absolutely dig a bit into The Battery Plant Database, either in order to have a look into the workshop of the New Perennial, or just to marvel at these beautiful plants.

Sagrada Familia

on the outskirts of the Far Eastern city of Artyom, being built from construction waste since 1995 by former construction workers Alexei and Valentina Krivov. Particular attention should be given to the separate entrance for the fifteen cats and three dogs.

Memories of others

On the curiously folded letter see the next post

No, we could never see them like this, in this light evoking Flemish still-life paintings, in these calculatedly random and heroic compositions. Still we remember them exactly, as we would swear to exactly remember the smell of that madeleine. For seventy years these objects had inhaled that history and those meanings which they are now emitting by way of slow glasses as long as we live, as long as there will be someone who feels to exactly remember them.

Alexandr Sennikov’s Soviet still-life photos from his gallery at, where some ten times more of them are waiting for us.


Today we want to share a joy with you. Just saw the light our edition of the Libro de las Honras de la Emperatriz María de Austria, a chronicle of the remarkable celebrations organized by the Jesuit college of St. Peter and Paul in Madrid to commemorate the piety and generosity of its greatest benefactor, María of Austria on her death in 1603. María bequeathed virtually all her property to the Jesuits in Madrid, including a parcel of land where they could build their new school, opened in 1608. This school educated people of the stature of Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca, Francisco de Quevedo, and many other illustrious Spaniards. The legacy of María of Austria would have thus a huge impact on the Spanish literature and culture of the Golden Age.

Following the conventions of the highly ritualized genre of royal funerals, the Book of Honors begins with an eulogistic dedication by the Rector of the University to the House of Austria and to María’s daughter, Margarita of Austria, a sister of the Poor Clares of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid, where María lived in retirement until her death. It is followed by a description of the catafalque and of the decoration of the church, a long sermon in Latin by the Jesuit theologian Juan Luis de la Cerda, and a magnificent funeral sermon by the famous Jesuit preacher Jerónimo de Florencia.

Much of the rest of the book consists of an anthology of poems produced by the Jesuit fathers and their students in honor of the Empress. However, the most unique and interesting part of the work is the description and reproduction of the 36 “hieroglyphs” or emblems which were placed on the walls of the church as part of the iconographic program of the funeral. They were carefully designed as a visual reinforcement of the main points of the funeral sermon, which resulted in a unique interconnection between the spoken word and the attractive series of emblematic images.

We believe that this English translation of the Book of Honors makes available to the international audience a very important and not too well known event of the genre of funeral emblems. It illustrates well the Baroque penchant for “preaching for the eyes” which led to celebrations organized with public display of poetry and emblematic images, a pedagogical technique particularly effectively exploited by the Society of Jesus in their schools almost from their inception. The book has an outstanding importance also because this is the first work of this kind in Spain which includes woodcuts illustrating a royal funeral. The Book of Honors for Empress María de Austria will be interesting for the historians of 17th-century Spain, art historians, emblem scholars, researchers of the Spanish literature in the Golden Age, of sacred oratory, of the history of Catholicism and of the Society of Jesus.

Professor Frederick A. de Armas valuated this publication with these words:
“This is an important and fascinating book. It provides a much needed English translation of a rare and significant work, the Book of Honors for Empress María of Austria. Indeed, the translation is very readable as well as accurate. The work deals with Empress Maria, who was a most important figure in early modern Europe. This book provides crucial new material for historians, art historians, and those interested in emblematic literature and in the literature of the period. It also provides a concise and excellent introduction that studies the structure of the book as well as its many emblems. One of the major points here is that the sermons for this funeral celebration are reinforced by visual elements, while the catafalque and the emblems displayed in the text preach to the eyes. The constant interaction between the visual and the verbal makes of this book an important document for the study of the relationship between the ʻsister arts’ in Counter-Reformation Spain.” (Frederick A. de Armas: Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities. Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature. Chair, Department of Romance Languages & Literatures. University of Chicago)

We want to say thanks for the work done by the team of Saint Joseph’s University Press, and want to express our special gratitude to the immediate supervisor of the publication, Father Joseph F. Chorpenning, who is responsible for the superb editorial quality and final beauty of the result.