November 01, 2003

Uncle Gilya

Vladimir Gilyarovsky, or Uncle Gilyai, as he was affectionately called, was a living legend. Even today, 150 years after his birth (November 26, 1853) this journalist, poet and writer of prose is widely revered, especially among Muscovites, whose city he described so well. At the turn of this century, Gilyarovsky was so well known that you could command any cab driver to take you “To Gilyarovsky’s!” and he would know to take you to Stoleshnikov Lane, where Uncle Gilyai lived until his death in 1935. 

The writer Konstantin Paustovsky, one of Gilyarovsky’s friends, described him thus: “If the expression ‘picturesque character’ existed in the Russian language, it would fit this man perfectly. Gilyarovsky was truly picturesque, both in his biography, looks, speech, manners, in his childishness and in his multi-faceted and bubbling talent.”

Gilyarovsky looked like an archetypal Zaporozhsky Cossack, with a long moustache, and many stories were told about his amazing physical strength: reputedly, Uncle Gilyai was so strong that he could tie an iron poker in a knot.

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