January 21, 2020

Der WundertaeterThe book “Der Wundertäter” (“Thaumaturge) by the German writer Erwin Strittmatter (1912-1994) tells a story of a young man – Stanislaus Büdner – from the early 1910 till the beginning of WWII. At one point, being an army soldier, Stanislaus was reading a work by Friedrich Nietzsche.  On the first page of the brochure he saw a portrait of Nietzsche –a man with a sloping forehead and thick hair. Stanislaus, for whom it was his first encounter with the philosopher, was impressed by the man’s bushy eyebrows, the “crazy look” of his eyes and, especially, by the moustache that fell, “like a hair-wave”, from the upper lip on to the mouth.

Due to my professional habit, I often read foreign language books comparing them with their translations. This time it was a Russian translation done by Yekaterina Vilmont in the 1960s. I was immediately baffled by the variant “борода” (“beard”) instead of “усы” (“moustache”) that the translator used for the description of the portrait. And then I understood why the mistake was made. The German word “der Bart” can mean both “a beard” and “a moustache.” Since in the Soviet times the “Nazi” ideologue Nietzsche was not particularly favoured  by the communist regime, his portraits were hardly available, and the translator mistook Nietzsche’s moustaches for the non-existent beard: in all pictures of Nietzsche that I see now on the Internet he has only the thick moustaches and never a beard). What is even more interesting is that Yekaterina Vilmont avoided translating the sentence which followed next: “Es stand für Stanislaus fest, daß dieser Mensch seinen Morgenkaffee aus einer Barttasse getrunken haben mußte.“ (“Stanislaus understood very well that the guy must have used a moustache cup to drink his morning coffee”). No wonder she failed to translate that: “die Barttasse” in the text naturally continues the idea of Nitzsche’s portrait, as seen by Stanislaus. Die BarttasseIn English it is a „moustache cup” – a drinking cup with a semicircular ledge inside. The ledge had an opening that allowed the passage of liquid (tea or coffee) but kept moustaches dry by preventing the moustache wax from melting. Moustache cups were popular in the Victorian era, and from 1860 to 1916 British officers were even required to use moustache cups while sipping hot beverages.

That’s all there is to it. Just an interesting observation 🙂


August 3, 2019

The environs of Tbilisi where I’m living at the moment create a special ambience. The ever-green pine trees, new multi-storey buildings that cling to steep hills, oppressive heat in the afternoons, the mountainous horizon (so exotic as compared to the distant perspective of the Ukrainian flatland), and of course, the throaty Georgian speech – very rapid, distinct and incomprehensible – which you hear on the bus, in a shop, or just from a couple of pedestrians who may bypass you. An owner from whom I’m renting an apartment keeps a rich library of Georgian literature (also in Russian translations), which is another chance for me to plunge into the “atmosphere.” I started admiring the mountaineer poet Vazha Pshavela. I call him the “Georgian Robert Burns,” and I fully agree with Donald Rayfield, a professor of Russian and Georgian literature in London, who said that Vazha is qualitatively of greater magnitude than any other Georgian writer.

I keep learning Georgian, though I understand that the command of the language required to read Vazha Pshavela, Konstantine Gamsakhurdia or Nodar Dumbadze in the original should be much higher than the level set by textbooks, and the time to be spent on achieving such linguistic heights may exceed the number of productive years I still have at my disposal. However, the learning keeps me in touch with this country and makes me “feel younger.”

Ironically, whenever I make an attempt to practice my Georgian with strangers, they switch into Russian. The other day I dropped at a tone – a small bakery where they make authentic Georgian flat bread shoti. To my phrase “Minda viqido shoti” (“I’d like to buy some bread”) I heard an answer in Russian “Yeshcho rano” (“Sorry, we haven’t baked it yet.”). Or, when I once asked a policeman – also, for the sake of practice – “Sad aris gamziri Shota Rustaveli?” (“How do I come to Shota Rustaveli Avenue?”), the policeman replied “Pryamo!” (Russ. “Just go ahead!”).

Georgian traditional bread – shoti. Puri made of white wheat flour in round clay oven. This bread is always on table with bunch of greens for Georgian lunch or dinner.

One more thing. The owner of my apartment has got a sister who lives in England. Every time when he returns home after visiting her, he brings some mementoes from Britain. Here is one of them: a picture of a rainy day in London hanging on the wall in my room now. Red double-deckers, red umbrellas, the shining asphalt, and the yellow street lamp magically dispel the sweltering heat of Tbilisi. The picture is the thing that connects me to another country where my heart is. “Oh English, my love…” was the initial line of the oath of allegiance we, as students, pronounced while saying farewell to our alma mater.


July 7, 2019

July 7th, 1973. The date of our marriage forty-six years ago. The road my wife and I have passed since then was long, uneasy and, generally, satisfying. We raised our children — a son and a daughter, we saw them through their schools all the way until they earned their PhDs, upon which they started their families and settled respectively in Britain and in Georgia (the Caucasus). So far, as we are embracing our 70s and look back, we feel we are really happy. Nowadays, many elderly people complain that their pensions are rather small. Ours are decent enough for us to live on. Both of us are also quite healthy to travel and receive guests at our place (most often the guests are our son and daughter with their spouses and our grandchildren).

Also, a most gratifying feeling is that the past years have proved we have been created for each other, and that the decision we made on the 7th of July forty-six years back was timely and right. Or did everything start even eight years before that – when I saw my future wife in a corridor of a high school both of us went to? She was the most beautiful girl at school and in the world, and she has remained such until this moment.


July 7, 2019

The recent events in the Georgian Parliament, when the opposition grew indignant over a Russian “guest” brazenly occupying the Speaker’s seat and starting to teach the parliamentarians how to stay united with Russia under the banner of Orthodoxy, demonstrated the difference between the Georgian and the possible Ukrainian reaction to such a provocative action. Yes, the situations with our two counties are very much similar. Both Georgia and Ukraine, after they gained independence in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, have been undergoing all sort of pressure from Russia — political, economic, informational, and also military. Parts of both Georgia and Ukraine are occupied by the Russian troops. The Ukrainians usually mention the number of those killed in the Russia-Ukraine war. As of today, it’s as high as 13,000 people. In Georgia, it is emphasized that 20 percent of its territory (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) has been occupied.

As I am watching the development of the protest here in Tbilisi, I also notice the following two differences in how the Georgians react, and the Ukrainians might react, when such conflicts arise. The reaction of the Georgians was explosively indignant. Actually, the protest took place already later in the afternoon after Mr. Gavrilov, whose views are a cross between Communism and Orthodox religion, tried to take the floor. In an analogous situation in Ukraine, the opposition factions would have mumbled something for a few days until the incident would have been faded and, probably, forgotten.

On the other hand, the idea of the Ukrainians that they belong to one nation seems to be stronger with them. I remember the Ukrainian “maidans” of 2014 and 2014, when lots of people from all over the country (naturally, the Crimea and the Donbass excluding), arrived in Kyiv with overnight trains to support the protests right the next morning. Ukraine must be especially happy with its western part (Halychyna) where the national sentiments are rather high, and, at proper times, serve as a very effective antidote against the Russian aggressiveness. I cannot imagine the Adjara or Kakheti young men rushing to Tbilisi to participate in the revolt. When I mentioned this observation to my Georgian friend, he agreed, by explaining: “There are many more Ukrainians than there are Georgians.” As for me, there may be a historical explanation too: for a long time, Georgia had been kind of empire that kept in its fold dozens of quite different nations. Nowadays, in terms of ethnicity, it’s like a blanket consisting of mostly disconnected, multi-colored patches.



May 9, 2019

Tim Hill, an editor for Guardian US, has accused Melania Trump of not using the definite article with an adjective in the superlative degree ( https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/08/be-best-melania-trump-initiative-grammatical-flaw ).

The American first lady was unveiling a campaign BE BEST aimed at supporting children in today’s unstable (“hyperconnected and often unsettling”) world. Mrs. Trump reiterated the name while addressing the audience, but Tim says the omission of THE doesn’t hold up to the rules of the English language. While partially justifying Mrs. Trump by referring to her ethnic roots (the Slovenian language, like most Slavic languages, has no articles) Tim, at the same time, observes that Mr. Trump should have corrected his wife’s grammatical faux pas. Certainly, as a writer representing Britain, Tim Hill has the right to do it in the capacity of a language guardian and to appeal to English classical grammar. On the other hand, he may not know that a couple of years ago, Donald Trump was accused just of the opposite – of USING the definite article with adjectives standing for ethnic minorities, thus homogenizing the groups and separating from the rest of society (see my blog dated May 6). So, in this grammar squabble I’m on the side of the Trumps: their omission of the THE means that EVERYONE is called upon to be the best. And if “everyone” is covered, then the definite article becomes dysfunctional and can be done away with.

And then… why not remember a children’s rhyme about the “degrees”?

Good, better, best,// Never let it rest,// May your good be better// And your better — best


May 6, 2019

Donald Trumpdefinite-article-300x225In 2016, during his presidential campaign, and also in the early months of his presidency, Donald Trump was accused by the anti-Trump press of using the definite article with the names of ethnic and racial groups – like THE Latinos, THE Afro-Americans, THE Hispanics, etc. Politics aside, I’d like to observe the tendency in using the article as compared to how it was used about 50 years ago. In mid-20th century America, each of such groups was considered as something homogeneous, whole and complete. Consequently, one could offer one recipe for resolving societal and economic problems of a group in question. Nowadays, when the social links have become significantly more complicated and when both ethnic and national interrelationships acquired new standards, there cannot be one single solution for each group because such a group is not thought as singular and integral any more. (Incidentally, societal synonymy has also changed: “man” does not stand for both a man and a woman as before, and “mankind” is not related to all humanity). That’s the reason why the usage of the definite article with names of the above communities seems so ill-fitting and off-putting. Even if not used in political parlance, the article THE in such cases is felt as outdated and, more specifically, locked in the middle of the past century. So, let’s be on the lookout for new developments. Let’s live and learn.


May 6, 2019

My brother is a journalist. He has been in that profession for more than 40 years. His first article was published in a local paper when he was still in high school. I remember that article very well. It was about a goose my brother had lost on the lake outside our village. After driving the geese home and discovering that one goose was missing he took a goose from the flock that was already in the enclosure and carried all the way back to the lake. The goose in his hands started honking and the lost goose that was hiding in the thicket of the shrubs at the lake shore honked back. Volodya (my brother’s name) picked up the found goose and brought the two birds home.

Being a pensioner now, Volodya keeps on working as a correspondent. Yesterday, on May 4th, I recollected that in Soviet times, on the 4th-of-May page of tear-off calendars (very popular in those days), it was usually written: TOMORROW IS PRESS DAY. The Press Day, which was celebrated by journalists all over the country, used to be announced in calendars a day earlier. The reason was that May 5th was Karl Marx’ birthday and to compare Karl Marx’s holiday with any other celebration would be sacrilegious. There could be only one red-letter date on the page commemorating the founder of communism.   Hence, “tomorrow is Press Day…”

I telephoned Volodya and greeted him with tongue in cheek. “What is it about?” he asked in surprise. “I greet you on the holiday “Tomorrow is Press Day,” I said. He laughed. He understood.

Generally, calendars were propagandistic by nature and reflected the character of the totalitarian regime. The prominent communist and socialist functionaries’ years and dates of birth and death were almost on every front page there. On top of every page it was written which anniversary of the “Great October Socialist revolution” would be celebrated on November 7th.  There was something symbolic for me in the fact that the anniversary of the 1917 October revolution was celebrated in November. Though I understood that the discrepancy was due to the difference between the Julian and Georgian calendars (the latter was adopted in socialist Russia only in 1918), but it looked like another communist lie: they say one thing and they do another.

The heritage of the regime is a bunch of communist festive days accumulated early each May. May 1st and 2nd  (International Day of Workers’ Solidarity – now renamed into Labor Day), the 4th and 5th of May (already discussed above), May 7th (Day of Radio) and May 9th (Day of Victory over Germany in 1945). There was no point in working on the days that came in between these festivities. That’s why on the government level there was almost always a decision to “transfer” the days of work to several preceding or following Saturdays, or to take them off the annual leave. Even until now, the authorities and businesses juggle days and dates in May to coordinate the economic interests of the state with the interests of the people for whom these days are a doorway into the approaching summer.


January 21, 2019

I had a half-hour walk with a camera about the place where I live.

1.With three weeks into the new 2019, it may be time to throw New-Year trees into a garbage dump (in Ukraine, they are called “New Year trees” rather than “Christmas trees”). That’s what has just been done. Farewell, holidays! Ave, festivities!




2.A place which earlier was an enclosed dump has been turned into a coffee-house. The entrepreneur has got a real business acumen. Well done, entrepreneur!







3.The announcement about a celebration of Epiphany Day. People start gathering at an ice-hole of the nearby lake at 8:45 AM. The ice-hole, as well as the water brought by people in bottles, is to be consecrated at 10:00 AM. Whereupon those who want to have a dip in the ice-hole may do it. Finally, participants are going to be treated to hot tea and booblyki (soft ring-shaped rolls). It’s emphasized that the consecration will be done by a pastor of a newly independent Ukrainian Orthodox church.


4.The picture of the aforementioned ice-hole. It was a very busy place yesterday.







5.Meanwhile, children are sliding down the sloping banks of the lake. A freewheeling anarchy of trashcan lid-style sledding – that’s the name of the fun in advertisements. Incidentally, they are no sleds nowadays, they are Paricon Flying Saucers…




6.Senior citizens poke their memories remembering the times when they were just “sledding”…











7.While their children crawl up and tumble down the hills, the parents are barbecuing.








8.“The summer is coming! Get ready!” The local fitness club is advertising its services.








9.Until not long ago, this was an office of a Russian-based bank. Now the premises are for sale.







10.A nook at the very entrance door to our block of flats. A 91-year-old lady, who knew everybody in our 16-floor building, used to sit here for a couple of hours every day when the weather was warmer. Spring is near at hand. We look forward to seeing you back on board, Antonina Andreevna!


September 27, 2018

1It has been a special day today. My wife and I were welcoming my former student whom I haven’t seen for 35 years. Only a few days ago Hryhoriy sent me a friend request on Facebook, and I immediately confirmed it.

Hryhoriy arrived in our city for one day to visit the local military call-up office. He had been in the war in the east of Ukraine since he volunteered there in 2014 when the war broke out. Being 60, which is the mandatory retirement age for officers of his rank (Hryhoriy is a lieutenant colonel), he is resigning now.

He was a paratrooper and stayed in the hotspots of Donbas. The Ukrainian army, he says, was saved in the spring of 2014 only thanks to the effort of the civilians who contributed all they could to get the soldiers dressed, fed and armed. Somewhat later, assistance was given by western countries – the uniform, food rations and medication. At the moment, front line hospitals have the latest medical equipment, a good part of which has also been imported from abroad. “I don’t think Putin will issue an order to further invade Ukraine,” Hryhoriy says. “The Ukrainian army is much stronger than it was in the beginning, and the Russians will suffer heavy losses if they decide to advance. Our armaments are not bad either. On the other hand, it’s only Putin who can get the war stopped. One word from him would be enough to have it done. But he will hardly do it.”

Hryhoriy talked about Ilovaysk where the Ukrainian troops had been entrapped by the Russians in August 2014. “At that time, I didn’t believe the Russian assurances that they were letting our detachments go through the green corridor and I took my guys through another route. That’s why I didn’t lose a single soldier, says Hryhoriy (a well-known fact is that the Russians broke their pledge bombarding the “corridor” and hundreds of Ukrainian troops were killed).

Hryhoriy walks with a slight limp. He was wounded in one of the skirmishes with the enemy and had to stay a few weeks in hospital in the city of Dnipropetrovsk. Then he returned to his military unit. “The doctor said I would have to learn how to live with my left leg,” smiles Hryhoriy.

After retiring from the army, Hryhoriy cannot see himself just sitting with a fishing rod at the lake. “My school said they want me back. I will continue teaching kids English. And not only English, he added. I’ll be explaining to them what it means to love Ukraine.” There was kindness in his eyes and his voice was soft.

5I saw Hryhoriy off to the bus station. His farewell greeting was “Glory to Ukraine!” – the words by which the Ukrainians recognize one another.


August 3, 2018

Unleash Limitations.


List of idioms:

Bite off more than one can chew = try to do more than one can

Burn oneself out = wear oneself out by using all of one’s energy or strength

Drink like a fish = consume alcoholic drinks excessively

Eat like a horse = eat excessively

Eyes are bigger than one’s stomach = Think that one can eat more than one is able

Lose one’s head = lose control of oneself

Make a pig out of oneself = eat in excess

Run oneself ragged = make oneself excessively tired by trying to do too much work

Spread oneself too thin = become involved in too many activities

Talk until one is blue in the face = talk excessively but not convincingly

Take it easy = avoid hard work; relax



Coach Palmer: Jim, you’ve practiced enough. I want you to take it easy tonight. You know you should get plenty of rest before the big game tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough one.

Jim: I’m too nervous to do anything else, coach. Can’t I stay and work out some more?

Coach Palmer: You are running yourself ragged. Save some of that energy for tomorrow, Jim. If you push yourself too hard, you won’t be any good for the game.

Jim: Okay, coach. You’re the boss.



Monica, a good friend of yours, tries to do many things at once. She does not know her limitations. You see that she is always tired and anxious, and you are worried about her. One day, you sit down with her and try to convince her to slow down. Using the above expressions write out what you would say: (BEGINNING: “Monica, you have to slow down. You can’t do everything that you want to do. You are running yourself ragged…”)


Discuss the following:

  1. Several of the expressions in this lesson compare people to animals, such as “she drinks like a fish,” “He eats like a horse,” and “She is making a pig out of herself.” There are many other expressions in English that compare human traits to animals, such as “wise as an owl,” “sly as a fox,’ and “timid as a mouse.” Are there expressions in your language that compare humans to animals? What are they?
  2. Look at the following sentences. After each one, someone might say, “Be careful, don’t spread yourself too thin.”


  1. I have to take seven courses this semester.”
  2. “I have four meetings scheduled for tonight.”

Think of other sentences like this.

  1. When people “lose their heads”, they become so upset that they lose control and do or say things they later regret. This happens to almost everybody. For instance, if a man breaks all the windows in his home because he had a bad day at work, he lost his head. Talk about a time when you lost your head or when someone you know lost his (or her) head.

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