Archive for January, 2008

Entry for January 13, 2008

January 13, 2008


There are quite a number of words and expressions that are related to the word combination in the title. I don’t mean a neutral “motherland” or rather a dry “native country”. I am more attracted by “cradleland”, “chimney corner”, “place where one hangs one’s hat”, “hearth and home” , “God’s own country” and even “la patrie”. In Ukrainian there exists a word combination “malA bat’kivshchYna”, which literally means “little fatherland”. I will always associate it with our tiny mud-hut in Northern Ukraine where we lived in the first post-war years and a vegetable garden that was also overgrown with blackberry and red currant bushes. Our hut stood at the very edge of the village. Right behind it there began an endless wetland called the Bog (sometimes a risky place to go about). From the other end of the village — some three kilometres away from it — one could see a busy thoroughfare. It ran past the village and huge trucks and fast cars thundered along it both ways day and night. In the centre of the village there was a library. Besides the required propaganda stuff there were nice collections of classic literature, poetic works and adventure stories there. I used to go to the library practically every other day borrowing the volumes of Maxim Ryl’sky, Alexander Pushkin, Jack London and Mayne Reid. I read them, listened to the incessant drone of the highway and dreamt of endmost lands of the earth.

Well, I’ve been to those “endmost lands”, and my children live far away from Ukraine now. I do not remember when I visited my native village last. Hoewever, as years go by, I think more and more of the mud-hut on the outskirts of the village and of the little boy who was reading world classics at the light of an oil burner all night through.

In the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs I came across the saying: “Take away Aberdeen and twelve miles round and where are you?”. Even if the saying was used as a scoffing or jocular sentence to emphasize the provinciality of the Scottish people, I accept it as a sample of kind humour loaded with the eternal truth: we are nobodies without our “little fatherland”


Entry for January 11, 2008

January 11, 2008


Some thirty years ago the whole country would rush to black-and-white television screens when the programme “Irakliy Andronikov Tells His Story” was on. His lively affable face, richly modulated voice, fine sense of humour, extemporaneous wit and — above everything else — his erudition and intellectuality attracted everybody. He had quite something to tell the TV audience. He had been acquainted with the best minds of Russian culture and literature in the 1930s -40s: Viktor Shklovsky, Maxim Gorky, Yuri Tynyanov, Alexey Tolstoy, Vasiliy Kachalov. And the way he spoke! Nowadays we are used to the monotonous oxylalia of radio newsreaders and TV anchors who are trying to cram as many words into one minute “as they possibly can”. He was a “quick speaker” too but you could hear every sound in each of his words which rocketed and plummeted on the waves of his baritone. And how wonderful his language was! Not just newspaper cliches but fresh weighty words loaded with meaning. The American linguist Uriel Weinreich once said that the energy a word can either make a doorbell ring or it can operate an elevator in a skyscraper. It looked like Irakliy Andronikov’s words took jumbo jets into the air as easily as if they were made of paper. His Russian language was copper-plate and my advice for students of Russian would be to learn the language from his recordings.

He was said to possess photographical memory. The scenes of which he had been a witness and which were reproduced by him orally looked like videotaped pieces that were being played back in your presence now. He could recite thousands of poems, he knew practically everything about the Russian literature of the 19th century — its Golden Age ! — and what he did not know was not worth knowing. Korney Chukovsky — another literary giant of the first half of the 20th century Russian literature called Irakliy Andronikov “a charmer, a wizard, a sorcerer, a fascinator”, having in mind Irakliy Andronikov’s influence on his listeners. Irakliy Andronikov established a genre of an Oral Story on television. The miracle if the Internet may bring the master into your home. Just visit

This year will see a centenary of Irakliy Andronikov’s birth (he was born on September 28, 1908). Will Russia remember him? She will sooner keep in mind the guy in the picture of my yesterday’s entry. Forgetfulness is the disease of our time.

Entry for January 10, 2008

January 10, 2008

HAPPY OLD 1937, Russia!

Those who know Soviet history may remember that 1937 was the year of the most severe reprisals on the territory of this huge country — probably the worst since the times of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. Today the Ukrainian internet-zine “Korrespondent” published an article with reference to the Russian viewspaper TV-6Vladimir ( about the Russian prosecutor’s office initiating criminal charges against some journalists in the city of Vladimir who had covered a pro-Putin political meeting. The journalists had smartly used the new coinage “PUTING” when they spoke of that “MEETING”. The newspaper report was sent by city officials to experts of the Linguistic University in Nizhniy Novgorod who found that the invented word was offensive for the Russian president. As a result, the criminal case was opened pursuant to Article 319 of the Russian Criminal Code “Public offence of a state official in the course of duty””. The journalists are facing two years in jail.

The Ukrainian commentaries are filled with witticisms of the type “Do not ask what Putin can for you, ask what you can do for Putin!”, “Ban the word “пудинг” (pudding) from the Russian language!”, “Petya went to the meeting and Mitya went to the puting” (“Petya” and “Mitya” are Russian names). Reading that jocular, sarcastic and ironic word-juggling I remember the “rally of freedom” in Moscow in August 1991. It was held a few days after the abortive pro-Stalinist coup which was aimed at toppling Mikhail Gorbachev and re-establishing the Communist dictatorship. How happy and beautiful were the faces of the people in that meeting! Who could have thought that after some ten years the same people would turn into draft animals and would (most willingly!) be PUTTING their necks into the yoke of dictatorship — even without any coup.

Entry for January 09, 2008

January 9, 2008


This morning I was listening to the Ukrainian news about the primary in New Hampshire. Mr. McCain was quoted saying that he was no longer a kid – regardless of what other word you put in front of it, but “this night, he said, we showed what a real comeback was.”

I tried to sort out what I had heard and I did not see any connection between the “kid”, the “comeback” and the adversative conjunction “but”. All that seemed so illogic.

I surfed the Internet views-papers for clarification. Thanking his supporters, McCain actually said the following: My friends, you know I’m passed the age where I can claim the noun ‘kid’, no matter what adjective precedes it. But tonight we sure showed ’em what a comeback looks like.As it turned out, Mr. McCain used to be the front-runner but his campaign crumbled last year when his funds and support evaporated (analysts said) down to his unflinching support for the Iraq war. That partially explained the usage of the word

comeback”. The phrase “…passed the age where I can claim the nounkid”” becomes explicable if you know that McCain is a 71-year-old former Vietnam prisoner. However, the real stumbling block was the baffling “BUT”. How were the “kid” and the comeback” linked, which gave McCain the apparent right to oppose them through “but”?

The search revealed that former President Bill Clinton called himself the “comeback kid” in New Hampshire’s primary in 1992 when his own White House bid was resurrected by a strong, second place finish in the state. Now everything fitted nicely! Mr. McCain might have implied the following:

“The ex-president Clinton, whose spouse is now running in the primary too, called himself a “comeback kid” in 1992 after he had won the New Hampshire stage. Being 71, I’m passed the age where I can claim the noun ‘kid’, no matter what adjective precedes it— “old”, “quiet” , or even “comeback”. But tonight we sure showed ’em what a real comeback looks like.”

Entry for January 08, 2008

January 8, 2008


The right to privacy is historically and socially dependant. In real fact, people have always enjoyed some freedom from unsanctioned intrusion — even under the most severe totalitarian regimes (the major reason being the inability of dictators to TOTALLY control people’s thoughts and feelings). What I feel as new nowadays is the right of privacy given to kids in their very young age. The spheres of life covered by the concept of privacy is also dynamically expanding. When I was in my first year of primary school, my parents attended a function dedicated to the Bolshevik Revolution. The event was arranged for the whole of the village. (It goes without saying that attending such functions was a must and should anyone miss the ceremony, disciplinary actions would follow right the next day). At that very meeting the head of the collective farm read to the audience the names of top pupils in their classes. There was only one school in the village and such meetings actually could also be classified as parent-teacher meetings. I remember how proud were my parents because my name had been read first among some 20 or 30 best pupils. Frankly speaking, the name went first for one simple reason: I was in the first form (the list began with first-formers and finished with those who were in their last year at school). Anyway, in those days it seemed quite natural that the names of “best” pupils were announced publicly. Incidentally, during parent-teacher meetings at school academically poor pupils were criticized in public no less forcefully — the criticism was rather pungent.

I think of those days and compare them with what I see at present. My friends’ son goes to a very “progressive” school of high repute. He does not know his marks, neither does he know how good the achievements of his classmates are . It’s not that the pupils’ knowledge is not assessed. It is simply kept confidential. When parents come to school, they may see their offsprings’ achievement files — but only with a special permission of a school deputy-head. One of the newsletters sent to my friends contained the question whether they (as parents) agree to their son’s papers and tests (which were rather good)! being exhibited as a part of some educational project, and whether his name could be used for some media reports. Another parent explained to the teacher that her six-year old kid could not discharge his duties due to a definite emotional problem: the kid had fallen in love!

I marvell at the degree of respect those little things get! And I like it. Isn’t the infants’ privacy the first step on the way to what we call “democratic society”?

Entry for January 07, 2008

January 7, 2008


The degree of a person’s youthfulness is measured in the first place by his/her health. A person is also said to remain young as long as one feels young. I dare say there’s a couple of other parameters to the measurement scale: it’s one’s openness to life’s challenges plus the ability to meet the challenges as well as one’s flexibility and adaptability to new conditions. In my case this test comes in a very stimulating environment of Internet technologies: downloading and uploading the Internet info, manipulating with video files and their scripts, creating libraries (crammed with up-to-date “raw products”) for foreign language learners, making web-sites, mastering the innovative professional methodology…That’s what I have been doing (or rather trying to do 🙂 today all day long — WITH MY DAUGHTER’S HELP :-))))))

So, answering the question asked in the title, I may say: yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks as long as the dog is able to learn. Only … can the dog be called “old” then?

Entry for January 06, 2008

January 6, 2008


Today most of the Ukrainians are celebrating Christmas Eve. Is Christianity ideology? To a certain extent, it is. Is Christianity history? In a way, yes. However, if we consider the traditional greeting the people are going to exchange these days: “Khrystos rozhdayet’s’a! Slavite Yoho!” (Christ is born! Give glory!) we will see that the birth of Christ isn’t presented as a fact of the past: it is expressed through the grammatical present. Moreover, in Ukrainian the greeting sounds as if the birth is taking place right now, and probably, a better way to convey the idea would be the English variant “Christ IS BEING born!” That’s what Christianity really is about: not so much the memory of the days gone, not only a system of theological concepts. It’s an idea of the baby in the manger who was sacrificed thirty-three years after he was born to save mankind for eternal happiness. And that birth is reproduced each time in human hearts when the people greet each other with “Khrystos rozhdayet’s’a! Slavite Yoho!” Also, as the wise men brought their gifts to the baby, the people give each other kindness and warmth of their hearts — the Christian feelings which were kindled more than 2000 years ago.

Entry for January 05, 2008

January 5, 2008


There were three of us queuing up in the vet clinic that morning: an old lady with a one-eyed kitten, a teenager claiming that his grey cat’s father was a cat from Japan and his mother was an “ordinary Ukrainian female”, and me — with our long-standing pet Klaptyk (English for which was “Patch”). The lady kept telling how she had saved her cat when more aggressive beasts almost killed it. The boy would come to a huge chart picturing all kinds of thoroughbreds and show what the Japanese “father” looked like. I did not say anything about Klaptyk, though I could say volumes about her. About how we picked her on the stairs landing in our block of flats thirteen years ago — a tiny trembling thing no larger than a patch on a kid’s trousers. About how she had been with us all these years — clinging to us and depending on us. She loved when our family gathered in a big room in the evening discussing the events of the day. Then Klaptyk used to sit down among us in such a way that a complete circle of “partners in conversation” was always formed. Occasionally she used to approach each of us in turn and touch us with her tail: that was the sign of a special favour she showed towards us. Actually, she always behaved in a way that demonstrated who was really wielding the sceptre. SHE was the true queen. When you touched her and started stroking her, she would purr mightily and you felt that all the stresses of the day were being removed from you with that purring.

She accompanied us when we moved from one place in the country and began living in a new city. Later, when our children left home to study and work elsewhere, Klaptyk remained with us as a “third member” of the household. My wife and I had never ceased to be amazed at how much love and attachment was centered in that weeny creature!

I could say all that (and much more) to the kind old lady and the teenager in the vet clinic but I did not. My heart was too heavy after coming to know that the tumour on Klaptyk’s abdomen was malignant and she would hardly live longer than another year. The malignant tumours are rather rare with cats because they live shorter lives. However, as soon as they live longer, these diseases are likely to come in.

Klaptyk died very much like a human being would die. Being very weak, she suddenly called us in a loud voice and when we rushed to her, she crawled from under the table, stood on her shaky legs, fell on one side, agonized for a few seconds and then lay still with her head among her front paws. After a few moments her body twitched again and she moved no more. She grew tranquil. This time for ever.

We thank you, Klaptyk, for making us more humane and human.

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