Archive for February, 2008

Entry for February 29, 2008

February 29, 2008


Further to my latest entry I am posting the letter which I emailed to the BBC home page on March 31, 2004 — the next day after Alistair Cooke died at age 95. The advice to make the letter a part of my blog has been given to me by my daughter. She studies in Washington, DC. and makes shuttle trips to New York City. The book in the picture is my son’s present. He works in the North of England. Interestingly, Alistair Cooke was born in the North of England and lived in New York City for most of his adult life.


In the 1960s Alistair Cooke was presented to the students of our pedagogical institute in Ukraine (ex-USSR) as an unnamed Radio Moscow news analyst. The reason was that the local KGB prohibited to make any audio recording of BBC programmes: only Radio Moscow recordings were allowed for the students of English in our tape-library. That is why we used to record the “Letter from America” but we always removed the name “Alistair Cooke” from it. After each recording session we placed the recorded reel with Alistair Cooke’s message in a box labeled”Radio Moscow news analysis” and the students could use it for their listening comprehension practice.

Much later, in Gorbachev times, when I started teaching at the institute (of which I was a student in the 1960s) I liked to bring recorded Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America” into the students’ classroom. A quarter-of-an-hour work on “Alistair Cooke” was the “meat” of any English class where I was teaching . Of course, at that time I could already fearlessly tell my students that it was ALISTAIR COOKE’s programme. Once (it was the Christmas eve of 1990) when I was collecting my morning mail from the mailbox, I picked up an envelope, the return address of which had the name of Alistair Cooke. I almost fainted right there, at my mail-box: just only fancy! A Christmas greeting from Alistair Cooke himself!! It turned out to be a practical joke my students played on me. Knowing my passion for the programme, they sent me their own Christmas greeting card having arranged the address as if it were from the object of my worship.

Entry for February 26, 2008

February 26, 2008


Alma mater is Latin for a “nursing mother”. The common idea is that it nourished us when we were struggling to out feet and we should remain thankful to it (to HER) for those days.

I remain thankful. First of all, for a very pragmatic reason: I have a profession which has always been in demand and which—for most of the time – has been decently paid. It helped me provide for my family, raise my children. Until now it has kept me independent and given me a kind of self-esteem.

However, there’s more to it. In those days we were a fanatical sect of “English zealots”. We spoke English anywhere we could – with our teachers and friends, with people who we knew and with complete strangers, with those who had a command of the language and those who had never heard a sound of it – until they heard us. We spoke in classrooms, in the streets of our provincial city, in public transport…We were busy with English all through the academic year and in the summer… We hummed the Beatles in the original and sang soviet songs translated into English. We saw English dreams.

It was a tradition with us to arrange annual English parties. Then the whole building was taken for it. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh used to walk along the corridors. You had also a chance to strike a personal acquaintance with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, with the Three Men in a Boat (also Montmorency!), Alice in Wonderland, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Oliver Twist, Admiral Nelson, Lady Hamilton and a good dozen more who would call themselves “Pride of England”. Unperturbed policemen (usually first-year students) patrolled the approaches to the building. The helmets they wore had been borrowed from the local fire department and painted black. Later it took some time to wash the helmets.

Our language laboratory was filled with recordings. They were spools of tapes. The tapes got quickly dry and broke and we put them together with acetone glue. The smell of acetone was always in the laboratory.

Most of the recordings were “home-made”, although — almost clandestinely — our technician would tune in to the BBC broadcasting on short waves and record some non-political programs. Our favourite was “BBC Short Story Competition”. And even now I can very audibly hear Alistair Cooke’s hoarse voice with his “Letter from America” on Mondays.

Nowadays young people know English better than we did. They express themselves more naturally, they pick up a characteristic English twang and speak more colloquially and are more fluent.They participate in all kinds of exchange programs, they win grants and study a foreign language for some definite purpose — to do business, to make a career, to work abroad, etc. Sometimes they take up not only English, but also French, German, Arabic.

Yet… something tangible has been lost. Probably because there’s no Alistair Cooke on short waves and you won’t hear Montmorency barking in the corridors of the pedagogical institute.

Entry for February 22, 2008

February 22, 2008


An article in a Ukrainian e-paper was extensive. It was all about the use of profane language in Ukrainian and was written as an interview with a professor of linguistics. The interviewee was savoring the subject matter of her research: she had just published a dictionary of foul words. Her professorship was specially emphasized by the correspondent – probably as a counterbalance to what people earlier (until the interview was published on a popular Ukrainian web-site) might have thought to be an ignoble theme. After finishing this article the readers would realize they were now far more enlightened and were marching abreast with the 21st century.

Ironically, this “breakthrough” in local linguistics coincides with the memorable date: International Mother Language Day. Readers may think that all the problems of the Ukrainian language had been solved by February 21, 2008 and the only remaining problem is the in-depth study of taboo words in Ukrainian.

Obscenities fall from the lips of the professor as naturally as “Yes, please” and “No, thank you”. So cynical…shameless… A kind of stench bomb, if to use military terminology…

I could reach for the Book of Books and dwell on Colossians 3:8: “But now ye also put off all these; … out of your mouth.” However, I’m more than sure: this kind of approach is usually lost on such people. I remembered another example. Being a budding linguist in the days of yore I heard a phrase which determined my scholarly work for a long time to come. My colleague said to me: “The very subject of your research must uplift you”. The colleague was busy with the literary heritage of John Donne, an English metaphysical poet. When my colleague sat down to write the dissertation, he did it to the Renaissance and Baroque music of the period.

Sometimes I ask myself: why should I be so much concerned with what other people think or say? Eventually, it’s their choice and they have the right to this freedom. But…Aren’t I also becoming less of a moral (read: human) being when moral norms are broken round me?

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee

Those are words by selfsame John Donne

Entry for February 20, 2008

February 20, 2008


There is a place (only one?) in the capital of Ukraine which is infested with packs of truant dogs and if you take a walk through that place, you never smile until you pass it. However, the unavoidable thing happened: I was bitten by a stray dog. Knowing that last year more than 5,500 people living in Kyiv were bitten by tramp dogs and appealed to emergency first-aid facilities, I also rushed to the local hospital and had two injections made. As I was explained, one injection was against tetanus and the other was a kind of general inoculation. Nevertheless, my main concern was with rabies, which I knew was incurable if you addressed the doctor too late and I inquired why no injection against rabies was made to me in the Anti-Rabies Ward (that was the official name of the medical room – I had read the door sign). The doctor explained that I shouldn’t be afraid of rabies since there was none of it in Kyiv. On the other hand, those injections were harmful for a person’s cerebrospinal nervous system and I will be given the injections only if they know for certain that the dog which had bitten me was really infected with the disease. For the hospital to be free of any possible charge in the future (which charge?), I should write and sign a note of hand to the effect that I take a pledge to observe the dog in question for the next ten days to get ascertained that the dog is not ill with rabies. Naturally, I took an interest in a suggested method of observation: the dog was ownerless, I had no idea where I should be looking for it, and even if I met it, I would hardly identify the culprit. I just hadn’t remembered its “face”. The doctor only shrugged his shoulders and handed me a sheet of clean paper. I wrote the pledge.

While going through the notorious place today, I made up my mind to take a picture of the dogs for this blog-entry. The moment I lifted my cell phone the dogs – definitely thinking I came with a kind of food for them — dashed to me and surrounded me. NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I SEEN SO MANY HUNGRY EYES. Human-like eyes.

I slowly lowered my mobile camera and SMILED into those eyes – painfully and apologetically. Then –also cautiously – I turned round and making short steps headed out of the dog circle, of which I was the center. The dogs did not move.

I remembered that the other day a scene from Germany was broadcast where a stray dog was being washed after it had been taken to a special care center…

I must take something edible for my new friends tomorrow…

Entry for February 17, 2008

February 17, 2008

A week ago my acquaintance asked me for a manual about business correspondence. When I brought it for her today, it turned out that she had that kind of book already. “Thanks, anyway”, the lady said. “It’s ok”, I answered, “the most important thing with all these requests and responses is the heart we put in them”. An elderly gentleman who was present at our conversation, suddenly said: “Our hands have met, but not our hearts…” That was an off-the-wall quote: the poetic line was definitely recited for the sake of the word “heart” mentioned by me. I was sort of surprised because — being a student of English literature in my youth — I should have noticed the poet who managed to coin the phrase so powerfully charged with talent. The gentleman didn’t know the name of the poet. “It looks like P.B.Shelley…”, he said hesitatingly. On coming home I googled that line. That’s how I came to know Thomas Hood (May 23, 1799 – May 23, 1845).

Here’s the poem quoted this morning:

To A False Friend

By Thomas Hood

Our hands have met, but not our hearts;
Our hands will never meet again.
Friends if we have ever been,
Friends we cannot now remain:
I only know I loved you once,
I only know I loved in vain;
Our hands have met, but not our hearts;
Our hands will never meet again!

Then farewell to heart and hand!
I would our hands had never met:
Even the outward form of love
Must be resigned with some regret.
Friends we still might seem to be,
If my wrong could e’er forget
Our hands have joined, but not our hearts:
I would our hands had never met!

The music (I still have to listen to the song) was set by the Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. Restless and adventurous as a young man, Wallace, with his wife and infant son, his sister and his brother emigrated in 1935 to Australia. That is why the first edition of the song book, which cover you see in the picture above, is kept in the Australian National Library.

I could say many more things about Thomas Hood: about the difficulty to classify him as either a Romantic or a Victorian writer since his work spans both periods, about his being both a novelist and a humourist. However, Thomas Hood is best known as the author of the “Song of the Shirt” which he published anonymously in the extra Christmas number of London’s newest and most celebrated comic weekly magazine, Punch, in 1843. The poem is, however, grim social realism. Based on a previous account by Punch editor Douglas Jerrold of a woman accused of pawning articles belonging to her employer, the poem attacks the exploitation of the cheap labour of seamstresses, the poem was quickly reprinted in The Times, and translated into German, French, Italian, and Russian for newspaper publication abroad. It was even adapted for the stage by Punch staff writer Mark Lemon as The Seamstress. As a result of this and other works such as “The Song of the Labourer” which stimulated the Victorian social conscience, a monument to his memory was raised by a subscription inaugurated by Richard Monckton Milnes for Hood’s grave in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. Here are the first three stanzas of the poem:

The Song of the Shirt

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread–
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

“Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!
And work … work … work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It’s Oh! to be a slave
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this is Christian work!

“Work … work … work
Till the brain begins to swim;
Work … work … work
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
And sew them on in a dream!

Those who know the Ukrainian literature cannot but compare Thomas Hood’s poem with the Pavlo Hrabovsky’s “The Seamstress”:

Рученьки терпнуть, злипаються віченьки,

Боже, чи довго тягти?

З раннього ранку до пізньої ніченьки

Голкою денно верти…

For all that, I’d like to finish on a more cheerful note. Here’s another marvellous verse by Tom Hood — perfect in form and loaded with humour and optimism (it’s only superflouous reading that can make you think otherwise):

Ballad (Spring it is cheery…)

By Thomas Hood

Spring it is cheery,
Winter is dreary,
Green leaves hang, but the brown must fly;
When he’s forsaken,
Withered and shaken,
What can an old man do but die?

Love will not clip him,
Maids will not lip him,
Maud and Marian pass him by;
Youth it is sunny,
Age has no honey, —
What can an old man do but die?

June it was jolly,
O for its folly!
A dancing leg and a laughing eye;
Youth may be silly,
Wisdom is chilly, —
What can an old man do but die?

Friends they are scanty,
Beggars are plenty,
If he has followers, I know why;
Gold’s in his clutches,
(Buying him crutches!) —
What can an old man do but die?

Konstanin Paustovsky in his book “The Golden Rose” says that Oscar Wilde hated the sight of a beggar who was standing outside Oscar Wilde’s house in his shabby clothes. So the writer had a tailor take the beggar’s measure and a wonderful suit was made for the beggar in his size. After which Oscar Wilde took the scissors, made holes in the suit and sewed patches of various colours on them. Now the beggar was standing at the intersection in “in the full blaze of beauty”.

Applying Oscar Wilde’s approach to Thomas Hood’s ballad one can authoritatively state: the poem about the inevitability of death written with that degree of skill and thrust can make you only delight in the poem and, henceforth, REJOICE IN LIFE.

That’s my today’s discovery

Entry for February 16, 2008

February 16, 2008


The swinging doors leading into the Kyiv metro are massive and heavy. You should exert quite some force to push the door open and no less effort to stop it when the door bounces back after a person, who was entering the metro right before you, releases it right into your face. There’s something to observe during rush-hours. However, from time to time potential passengers may become aware that there is another person following them. The door is held from shooting back and the chain-reaction takes place: several people in succession will hold back the door for those stringing along after them.

You are going down in a lift. On some floor the lift stops and another person comes in. He/she may greet you or may just keep silent. Until you reach the ground floor the psychological field in the lift will be different in each separate case.

You may cross the street against the red light or you may wait – even if the street is empty of transport – to do it legally.

I like when people hold the door for you and I like to hold the door for other people. I like to greet people in the lift and to be greeted. I hate people jaywalking, remaining silent when you say to them “Wonderful weather today, isn’t it?” or keeping their face grim when you give them a smile.

I work for an IT company which resells computer equipment, audio- and video products, etc. Some resellers are simple “box-movers”. We are a VAR – a value-added reseller. We take an existing product and add our own “value” usually in the form of a specific application for the product. We also extend the warranty time for the products sold and accommodate long-distance truck drivers who deliver imported goods to us. Our partners are invited to our annual corporate parties and holiday trips are arranged for our most loyal and efficient dealers.

I often think: what if we start adding value to everything we do? Going by the metro or using the lift, walking across the street or doing the shopping. Wouldn’t the life get much more exciting then?

Entry for February 15, 2008

February 15, 2008


Today’s February 15th. The day which in religious calendars goes under various names: the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Candlemas. If you translate it from Ukrainian it sounds like the Meeting. The variety of the names becomes clear if you do some Bible-search.

In the Law of Moses a woman after childbirth had to stay at home for a certain period and abstain from touching anything consecrated to God. This was a state which the Law called ‘unclean’.

Forty days after the birth of a boy or eighty after the birth of a girl the mother would bring to the door of the Temple a lamb of a year old and a pigeon or a turtle dove: the lamb for a burnt offering in recognition of God’s sovreignty and in thanksgiving for her happy delivery, and the bird for a sin offering. These being sacrificed, the woman was cleansed of the legal impurity and was reinstated in her former privileges. In the case of poor people, a lamb was not required but two pigeons or turtle doves had to be brought – one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering.

Mary came like every other mother for this ceremony of her ‘purification’, desirous as she was to honour God by every prescribed observance and act of religion. And being poor, she and Joseph brought the offering appointed for the poor.

The second aspect of the same event was the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. A first born son had to be offered to God and then ransomed back. So Mary would have offered her Son to the Father, and then Joseph would have paid the priest five shekels. Then she would have received Him back in her arms and they would have been free to go home.

The third step is the meeting of Simeon with our Saviour. For years Simeon had been praying for the coming of the Messiah. Like the prophet Daniel, he was a ‘man of desires’ and God had told him that he would live to see the One he so longed for. So besides the titles of Presentation (of Our Lord) and Purification (of Our Lady), this feast is also called in the East, ‘the Meeting’ (of Simeon with the Infant Jesus).

And because of Simeon’s prophecy that the Messiah would ‘be a Light to enlighten the Gentiles’ the custom grew up of celebrating the feast with candlelight processions. And so the title of ‘Candlemas’ was also given to the day.

It’s interesting that many Ukrainians interpret the name of the day (the “Meeting”) as the event of Winter and Spring meeting together. You may hear people tell a story about a rooster which would try to drink water on this day. If the rooster DRINKS from a pool of melt-water (i.e. when the temperature outside is above zero on this day), the spring will supposedly arrive late. However, if cold grips the ground and everything is frozen hard on February 15th , we are in for an early spring : ).

The approach to such stories may be different: from downright rejection to trusting them wholeheartedly. I would characterize my position as “humorously positive”. They help you understand the Ukrainian mentality.

I just love the weather today: light snow in the morning, a very bright, sunny afternoon. And… the temperature is about minus five Celsius. The pools are frozen… Guess what the spring will be.

Entry for February 11, 2008

February 11, 2008


Foreigners who have been to the countries of the former Soviet Union and who arrive in Kyiv, observe that the people of the Ukrainian capital look more optimistic than those in Moscow or St Petersburg. I remembered that remark when I saw a couple of youngsters the other day who were holding their sides with laughter. I did not know the reason for their titters of amusements. However, whatever the reasons were, there was more than enough ground to tune down their merriment. One should only have cast a glance at a homeless person who was crouching right here – with a stray dog next to him. Or a red-faced man in his winter cap and heavy coat selling CDs from his open stand in freezing cold all day long. Or a busker further off playing some nostalgic melodies, but actually soliciting for alms. I thought about the stairwell of the apartment house where I lived, which was graffitied and vandalized all over. If I should think higher, I would also recollect the tabloids feeding the multitudes with oodles of crime reports and pop-star trivia, about the politicians’ venality or the fact that Ukraine is no longer a place for a highly-educated person with moral principles

In the 18th century the British chemist Joseph Priestly invented nitrous oxide – a kind of gas that was used by dentists as local anesthetics. It could also cause euphoria in people, which is why it was named “laughing gas”. I was tempted to consider the scene that I had been watching in terms of gas N-2-O – and to give a sarcastic ring to the scene. However, I remembered the other inventor of the laughing gas with a different spin to the word. Here’s a short quote:

“And as she spoke, she looked up at the ceiling, Jane and Michael looked up too and to their surprise saw a round, fat, bald man who was hanging in the air without holding on to anything. Indeed, he appeared to be sitting on the air, for his legs were crossed and he had just put down the newspaper which he had been reading when they came in…’You see, it’s this way: I’m a cheerful sort of man and very disposed to laughter…If I laugh,…I become so filled with Laughing Gas that I simply can’t keep on the ground. Even if I smile it happens. The first funny thought, and I’m up like a balloon. And until I can think of something serious I can’t get down again…It’s awkward, or course, but not unpleasant…Once after I’d been to the circus the night before, I laughed so much that I was up here for twelve hours, and couldn’t get down till the last stroke of midnight”.

The inventor of Laughing Gas-2 was P.L.Travers. The stern and efficient nanny in her book understood the speech of animals, manipulated space and time, floated and flew at will and possessed a wonder bag with things in it which could be far larger than the bag itself. She could go up (not down!) the banisters, arrive with the east wind and depart with the wind from the west. When P.L.Travers was young her favorite author was J.M.Barrie, that is why there are so many similar motifs running through both “Peter Pan” and “Mary Poppins”.

And I thought: what if I mistook the ebullience of the young people? What if the real reason for their mirth was P.L.Travers’, not Mr. Joseph Priestley’s laughing gas? The one which lifts them up and sets positive values after which millions of people will be modeling their lives. What if I am too “serious”, which makes me always DOWN and never UP?

I felt strangely elated at the thought. Yet, I was not certain whether this guess was right. Let’s live and see. In the meantime I feel like saying (let me brace my energies!) SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS! = a word made up for the 1964 Disney movie musical “Mary Poppins” (pronounced [supɚˌkælɪˌfrædʒəlɪstɪkɛkspiælɪˈdoʊʃəs] )The word is taught to the children in the movie to be used as a polite way of saying something when you hesitate what to say. The song lyrics are as follows:

Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay
Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You’ll always sound precocious
Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay
Because I was afraid to speak
When I was just a lad
My father gave me nose a tweak
And told me I was bad
But then one day I learned a word
That saved me aching nose
The biggest word I ever heard
And this is how it goes:
Oh, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You’ll always sound precocious
Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay
So when the cat has got your tongue
There’s no need for dismay
Just summon up this word
And then you’ve got a lot to say
But better use it carefully
Or it may change your life
One night I said it to me girl
And now me girl’s my wife!
She’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Entry for February 08, 2008

February 8, 2008


There were times when the world was at a standstill: the same room, the same school, the same people around you. Day after day…As if in irons…But you were youthfully restless, impatient, dynamic. You moved faster than the “milieu” …To get unfettered you studied languages, built a family, raised your children, traveled thousands of miles, defended your dissertation, attended all kinds of symposiums, mastered the fine art of making friends.


At some point you start feeling the world is out-striding you. In the metro there are more and more people who look younger than you are. Songs and films are becoming increasingly tasteless. The circle of friends isn’t any circle at all but just two or three whom you phone once or twice a month. When average salaries keep going up and yours is unfailingly steady, you start understanding that the administration is simply waiting for your retirement. You begin looking for a job opportunity and discover that you are on the wrong side of the age bracket which is set for open vacancies. The key-word of your existence – “a HAS-BEEN” – is creeping in. And your only advantage is that you – with your degrees and research experience – can explain that the word “a has-been” is a wonderful example of English word-building: it’s the result, firstly, of grammatical ellipsis, then, composition, and, lastly, nominalization. Not so many entrants, even those who are up-and-coming, are versed in such linguistic niceties 🙂

Entry for February 06, 2008

February 6, 2008


I am not sure whether a wired radio-outlet will live long enough to see the second half of this century. In Ukraine this kind of radio goes under the name the “little liar” and is usually installed in the kitchen rooms of flats that date back to the 1960s – 1980s. At least I don’t know any of such boxes put up in luxurious apartments of modern high-rises.

The wired radio was an essential part of the culture that relied on the official information portioned for socialist mass-consumption. The word heard from the dark radio-box (earlier the device looked like a big black dish hung up on a wall) was the highest authority and should have been used for further guidance. Nothing that came on the radio was haphazard or occasional. Everything was a well-thought instruction – be it the latest news, a concert at listeners’ choice, an interview with a member of a communist shock-brigade or the morning dozen which – with the verbal tutorial and accompanying music – was transmitted over the huge country stretching through nine time zones. Even whims of weather were reported in a soothing tone to make two hundred million citizens aware that the Party and Government will leave no unturned stone to help the peasants secure a rich crop.

The reaction to that kind of brainwashing was twofold. Some people swallowed the propaganda even without preliminary chewing since it had already been duly processed. Critical minds used to filter the information for bare facts and more often than not they managed to do it. Especially with the appearance of short-wave transistor radios in the 1960s which served as an optional channel of the information received. For one, I usually fell asleep only when a transistor was humming into my ear the news from Radio Liberty, the BBC, the Voice of America and the Deutsche Welle, and I knew what was going on in the world a day or two before the news was presented on the Soviet land-line radio in a refined way. No such “luck” nowadays! With the richest Internet menu making a wonderful replacement, radio-stations are opting out and the short wave bands get dead-silent. Or just become filled with electronic noise which makes it impossible to hear even those still surviving.

What are my sentiments when I see that means of communication disappearing over the hill? I’d characterize them using the learned word “EQUIVOCAL”? Yes, the thing is the “little liar” and it has deserved the name. And yet…

Shall I forget the slow solemn music that sounded from the radio one day in early spring? The music was periodically interrupted by no less solemn and very thunderous voice of the news announcer. The moment the “health report” of the dictator started being updated, I – a small tot – shouted “Mum!” at the top of my voice: I knew she would rush to the radio to listen. And so she did each time. She did not look saddened, though. The first half of the 20th century – probably the most tragic in the history of my nation – was coming to an end.

Shall I forget how blown my mind was when I heard a tragic story about a fisherman who was “broken but not defeated”? The story was a regular evening read on the radio. That was done in Russian translation by a professional actor. I was listening to it when I was already in bed, but after I heard it I could not go to sleep till the day broke again. Somewhat later I came to know that Earnest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize just that same year – also for that story.

Or the romantic 1990s – when people were being awakened to freedom and their own identity? Our son, a teenager, courageously gave radio interviews commenting on the current politics, and our daughter’s poems, which came with that revival, were broadcast all over Ukraine. Each time my wife and I dashed to the kitchen radio with a cassette-recorder to tape their voices (we still keep the recordings!)

I could also mention the music and songs and the melodious speech which appealed to our inner beings and reminded that our origin and history and our language shall always be remembered. Otherwise we will simply cease to exist – as ceased to exist those who spoke Dalmatian, Crimean Gothic, Apalachean or Polabian to name just a few.

So, how shall I estimate the phenomenon of the “box”? Was it a “baddie” or a “goodie”? My answer is: being evil one day and good another day, it was just as much good or bad AS ALL OF US WERE. Robert Louis Stevenson (see the title of this blog entry) noticed it as early as 1886.

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