Where is happiness?

Happiness is in the center of Saint Petersburg, at the corner of Malaya Morskaya Street and St. Isaac’s Cathedral Square. Three of its ground floor windows overlook the square, and two Malaya Morskaya Street, but on this side it also shines on the adjoining house – before the Revolution, the seat of the famous Marks publishing house, and today the Rolls-Royce showroom in Saint Petersburg –, because its entrance opens from there.

People are weird. Just as God’s address is not widely known, so the seat of Happiness is famous for something completely different. The white marble plaque stands in quite absurd contrast to the happily shining golden name of the pub.

“In the former Hotel Angleterre, on 28 December 1925, the life of the poet Sergey Yesenin was tragically broken.”

Hotel Angleterre/Англетер, in whose room no. 5 Yesenin hanged himself – or, according to some unlikely conspiracy theories, was killed – did not always bear this name. Napoleon Bocquin, who built it around the middle of the 19th century, openend the hotel in his own name. In the first photo of the area, made in 1859 from the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, it still bears this name.

In the next photo, of 1908, the main entrance was moved to the façade in Isaac Square, and the place of today’s Happiness Bar is occupied on the corner by I. Grote’s bookshop and the signboard for the St. Isaac Pharmacy. And the hotel is already called Angleterre, taking that name in 1876, when Theresa Schmidt bought it. For a short while it was called Angliya, then Schmidt-Angliya, but it was soon replaced with the more elegant French version. After the revolution, it was renamed “Internatsional”, but in 1925 it was again renamed Angleterre, just in time for Yesenin to die and to immortalize the hotel under that name.

In the 1920s, in the NEP era, it was mainly a hotel for Western guests, along with the neighboring Astoria Hotel. In this period the renowned poet, children’s book author and translator Samuil Marshak wrote a poem mocking racist bourgeois money bags, which was the second reason to make the hotel widely known.

Бывший министр,
Владелец заводов,
Газет, пароходов,
Входит в гостиницу
«Англетер»”, etc.
former minister,
who has plenty of
factories, ships
and newspapers,
enters the hotel

You can see the whole poem here as an animated film. However, in this post-WWII film, the hotel cannot be identified, for since 1948 it was called Leningradskaya, and it only returned to its original name in the early 1990s.

Renaming, however, was not the beginning of a new life, but the definitive ending for the old one. During the decades of socialism, the hotel decayed to such an extent that it only functioned as a low-cost worker hostel. The new investors found it impossible to save. Although there was a mass demonstration and a lifeline against its demise, it did not help. In 1991, the hotel was completely rebuilt with a façade imitating the old one, now part of the neighboring Astoria Hotel.

Building the new Angleterre, 1990s

The new Hotel Angleterre, with a sign on the left-hand side shop windows:
Скоро будет Счастье,
“Happiness will soon be here”.

Room no. 5 does not exist any more, as no longer does the other room where Yesenin first met his femme fatale, Isadora Duncan, who stayed here in 1921.

Room no. 5. The photo was taken by photographer Presnyakov, just after Yesenin’s death, at the request of his widow Sofia Tolstaya. It is interesting that the curtain’s edges were retouched by the photographer’s hand, since without that, the window opening was similar to a contours of a person.

In the room, Yesenin left a short farewell, one of his most poignant and well-known poems:

До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья.
Милый мой, ты у меня в груди.
Предназначенное расставанье
Обещает встречу впереди.

До свиданья, друг мой, без руки, без слова,
Не грусти и не печаль бровей, —
В этой жизни умирать не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.
Goodbye, my friend, goodbye,
my dear, you are in my heart.
It was preordained we should part,
and then be reunited again.

Goodbye: no handshake, no word,
no sadness, no furrowed brow –
there’s nothing new in dying in this life,
though living is no newer, of course.

Below, I also include its Hungarian translation with the beautiful musical version by Kaláka Ensemble, which drew inspiration from Orthodox church funerals:

Yessenin: Ég veled, barátom – Kaláka. From the LP Fekete ember: Dalok Szergej Jeszenyin verseire (Black Man: songs on Sergei Yesenin’s poems)

Ég veled, barátom, Isten áldjon,
elviszem szívemben képedet.
Kiszabatott: el kell tőled válnom,
egyszer még találkozom veled.
Isten áldjon, engedj némán elköszönnöm.
Ne horgaszd a fejedet, hiszen
nem új dolog meghalni a földön,
és nem újabb, persze, élni sem.

Of course, like all great Russian poems, this one also has a well-known Russian musical version. However, its text is not quite the same as Yesenin’s original. The melody comes from Alexander Vertinsky, the great magician of pre-WWII Russian chanson, and he found it more suited to his genre if he paraphrased the original poem with a hint to Yesenin’s memory:

Alexander Vertinsky: Последнее письмо – The last letter. Sung by Zhanna Bichevskaya (1st version) and by Vertinsky himself (2nd version)

До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья.
Мне так трудно жить среди людей.
Каждый шаг мой стерегут страданья.
В этой жизни счастья нет нигде.

До свиданья, догорели свечи…
Как мне страшно уходить во тьму!
Ждать всю жизнь и не дождаться встречи,
И остаться ночью одному.

До свиданья, без руки, без слова…
Так и проще будет и нежней…
В этой жизни умирать не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.
Goodbye, my friend, good bye,
it’s hard for me to live among people.
There’s no happiness in this life anywhere,
every step just prolongs my suffering.

Goodbye, the candles burned to the stump,
how terrible to enter the darkness!
to wait for a meeting for a lifetime
and finally to stay alone in the night.

Goodbye: no handshake, no word,
it’s gentler this way and easier for me –
there’s nothing new in dying in this life,
though living is no newer, of course.

В этой жизни счастья нет нигде” – “There’s no happiness in this life anywhere”, says Yesenin in Vertinsky’s paraphrase. But reality disproves it. After all, where is Happiness? In Saint Petersburg, at the corner of Malaya Morskaya Street and St. Isaac’s Cathedral Square.

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