Archive for July, 2008

Entry for July 30, 2008

July 30, 2008
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ANY SIMILARITY BETWEEN THESE TWO PICTURES?

July 30, 2008

After heavy rains the rivers have become high in Western Ukraine. Actually, seven meters higher than their normal level. Thirty people died, thousands of livestock drowned. The harvest was almost totally erased from the farmers’ fields. The damage done by the boisterous weather is calculated to be about USD 1bn. A farmer was complaining to correspondents that, by his calculations, he needed about USD 100,000 to restore his household. He hoped for the maximum of USD 20,000 compensation from the government. Many houses were destroyed in landslides.

Ecologists say that this kind of disaster was also due to people’s activities, in particular, to uncontrolled deforestation. In many areas of the Carpathian Mountains there are no trees which would absorb the water and hold the ground. Any ideas why the civilization on Easter Island disappeared? Because the original colonists had defoliated the island, scholars say. At the time of the colonists’ arrival in the 4th century AD, the island was entirely covered with thick forests, was teeming with land birds, and was the richest breeding site for seabirds in the Polynesia region. Because of the plentiful bird, fish and plant food sources, the population grew rapidly and gave rise to a rich religious and artistic culture. However, the resource needs of the growing population outpaced the island’s capacity to renew itself ecologically and the ensuing environmental degradation triggered a social and cultural collapse. Pollen records show that the destruction of the forests was well under way by the year 800, just a few centuries after the start of the first settlement. These forest trees were extremely important to the islanders, being used for fuel, for the construction of houses and ocean-fishing canoes, and as rollers for transporting the great stone statues. By the 1400s the forests had been entirely cut, the rich ground cover had eroded away, the springs had dried up, and the vast flocks of birds coming to roost on the island had long since disappeared. With no logs to build canoes for offshore fishing, with depleted bird and wildlife food sources, and with declining crop yields because of the erosion of good soil, the nutritional intake of the people plummeted. First famine, then cannibalism, set in. Because the island could no longer feed the chiefs, bureaucrats and priests who kept the complex society running, chaos resulted, and by 1700 the population dropped to between one-quarter and one-tenth of its former number. During the mid 1700s rival clans began to topple each other’s stone statues. By 1864 the last of the statues was thrown down and desecrated.

An old woman from the Carpathian village of Kornylovychi told rescue workers that she would not move from her household unless her male pig Vitya and her swine Yulia were taken by the rescue workers too. It turned out that the woman had named the domestic animals after the first names of the Ukrainian President and Premier respectively. The rescuers did not dare leave the livestock behind.

I thought of how interconnected and interdependent all things in this world are – floods in the mountains, deserts in the Pacific, domestic animals, wildlife, old ladies, brawny life-savers, chiefs on Easter Island and presidents of Ukraine.

Entry for July 28, 2008

July 28, 2008

THE STORY

A story is a remarkable thing. It creates time and space. It starts living the life of its own. As a reader, you grow into it, live in its setting, feel for and with the characters. The story confronts, inspires, guides, invites to a dialog. It has its tonality and dynamics. It speaks volumes when it avoids mentioning directly something very important. A story is when 1+1 makes not two but 5, 10, 100, 1,000…As long as there is a story to tell, there is hope. As long as there are new stories hidden in new lands, there is reason to go to those lands.

A story can be made up of three sentences or it can be as long as a novel. W.S.Maugham, for one, is called a story-teller regardless of the genre he works in. There’s a story in each of his novels.

Just some simple coinages:

FLASH-BACK

The kids were watching television. The program was exciting. Dad was looking at the kids

POSSESSIONS

Tom: “I’ve got a cat!”

Jim: “I’ve got a bicycle.”

Mom: “And I’ve got Tom and Jim.”

IN THE ZOO (after a poem by Sergey Ostrovoy)

They walked among the cages. The eagles were peering into the skies. The boy asked his mother: “Mom, can eagles fly?”

Or Heinrich Heine’s: „Rund um mich her liegen die Leichen meiner Freunde, aber wir haben gesiegt. Wir haben gesiegt, aber rund umher liegen die Leichen meiner Freunde“ („Round me there lie bodies of my friends… but we have won the victory. We have won the victory but there lie round me the bodies of my friends)

Once Ellie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1986, remarked: “God made Man because He loves stories.”

Entry for July 24, 2008

July 24, 2008

THE RED SQUARE MOTIF

The anthem on the radio stopped. I knew that after a few seconds the pips would follow – the time signal for 6 a.m. With the last pip I would be out of bed… Another five minutes and I would be jogging along the deserted, dimly-lit street. It would be very cold, but after some ten minutes I would warm up.

I was a post-graduate student and that was how each of my “library days” began. Actually, every day was a library day when you were writing a dissertation. My determination that ejected me out of bed took me to the library later in the morning – a few minutes before the library opened – and seated me at my “favorite” desk in the corner of the reading hall. And then…ten hours of “happy linguistics” would follow. Leonard Bloomfield, Edward Sapir, Ferdinand de Saussure…and down to the shortest précis of the humblest researcher from a provincial institute: I was an omnivorous reader of linguistic literature.

The monthly allowance I received was not enough to travel to the Lenin Library or the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow. So once every two months I went to the local distillery and got employed for some five days. I washed bottles which were later filled with vodka at a shop-floor at the same distillery, cleaned tubs off the sediments that formed on their inner side and by the end of the workday loaded the full bottles onto trucks and accompanied the trucks to the railway station. The job involving the direct contact with vodka was scarcely trusted to full-time loaders: most of them were chronic alcoholics and prone to steal a bottle or two for selling or drinking them later. Within a week I earned a sum half of my monthly stipend and was able to buy a ticket to Moscow to work at libraries there. I usually took an overnight train and arrived in Moscow early in the morning.

The Moscow libraries were for “field work”. My dissertation was dealing with the development of English in the 16th – 18th centuries and I was awed at reading early English dictionaries, tracts of religious writers, passionately worded Puritan pamphlets…

The library closed at 10 p.m. and at about 11 in the evening I was already at the Ryizhsky railway station. The time before midnight was enough to have a snack at the refreshment room and find a place on a bench in the departure lounge to sleep through the night – till the opening hours of the library next morning. You even did not have to think of rising on your own: a policeman was sure to wake you up.

That evening I took my usual frankfurters with some salad and a cup of coffee. In the refreshment room you eat standing at high round tables. Under the tables there are hooks to put your briefcase or bag on. That was where I hung up my fur hat and my bag. A few moments after I started eating, a young lad came up to my table with a cup. He stayed only for a couple of minutes, finished his coffee and went away. I wasn’t rushing: I was “at home”.

Having carefully eaten and drunk everything I had, I reached for the bag and the hat…

…I was in a cold sweat: the hat was not to be found on the hook…

Fur hats were in great shortage in wintertime. Not only in Moscow, but all over the country. In Moscow you had more chances to see hats on sale, and a lot of people from the province used to come to Moscow to buy them. Hats were frequently stolen and when you were walking along a dark street late at night, you could be even robbed of your hat.

…I was in panic. I ran first left, then right. Shall I catch the guy who had been eating at my table? He might have already been far away. Shall I rush to the police station? The police will scarcely help me right at this moment… And something should be done urgently. With the cold being 30 Celsius, I will not be able even to stay out of doors even five minutes.

I was really desperate. I could keep a stiff upper lip under stress, but this time tears rolled into my eyes. The money I had was only enough to buy two more helpings of frankfurters and a ticket back to Ukraine. I had never felt so helpless.

I decided not to rush. I had to collect my wits.

Slowly I walked to the departure hall. The last train to Riga had already left and the hall was half empty. I sat down on a bench and opened my bag…

…I stared into the bag for some longer time. I thought I was hallucinating. My fur hat was there. It was black, soft and warm… I had mechanically put it into the bag before I started eating.

Huge, enormous, tremendous, immense, great, super, terrific, avalanchine, immeasurable, overlarge, dimensionless, overwhelming, gargantuan, oceanic – regardless of how many adjectives of the highest degree I would use to express my emotions at that moment, they would not cover the whole spectrum…

…I went to sleep on the same bench – with my head resting on the bag and the hat safely inside the bag. I dreamt that Ferdinand de Saussure and Antoine Meillet were writing a vehement pamphlet attacking the Anglican episcopacy.

The policeman woke me at about five in the morning. There were no pips for exact time.

Entry for July 22, 2008

July 22, 2008

THE BLACK SQUARE MOTIF

Many years ago I was going in a car with my friends – an English couple. Eric was driving, I was sitting next to him, and his wife was in the back seat. Eric started explaining some right of inheritance in the English law by saying: “For example, if Jeanette dies…”

In my culture any reference to death in the presence of the person whose death is being discussed – even hypothetically, is out of the question. I was horrified at Eric’s words and told him openly about it, to which Eric said: “I see nothing special in it. Aren’t all of us going to die? I will die one day, you will die…”

Later I came to know about the British black humour finding its way into the darkest of places – the graveyard. So I thought that it wouldn’t be tragic if I tried to formulate, tongue-in-cheek, the bottom line for my life on my own tombstone:


THE HUSBAND AND PARENT loves no more,

THE TEACHER has done away with teaching,

THE JOGGER has stopped his trot

and THE BLOGGER has crossed his last “t”

in the final entry


Will be tickling my bones, won’t it?

The only thing that is baffling me is how to explain to a passer-by that only ONE person is buried under the stone. Anyway, IT-persons will understand: just “FIVE-IN-ONE” – a kind of human multifunctional centre.

Entry for July 20, 2008

July 20, 2008

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Her name is Maya. The endearing variant of the name is Mayechka — that’s what we usually use to address her. She’s a pretty little thing — just 7 years old and I call her the youngest polyglot in the world. Being German-born, she speaks natural German; she attends a primary school in England and her English is perfect. She converses in Russian with her equals when she meets them abroad and when she arrives in Ukraine she switches over into Ukrainian. The EU language policy implemented — that’s what Mayechka is! The European Union is known to encourage its citizens to be able to speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue. Mayechka speaks three “in addition”.

She finds her way among a forest of book pages with perfect ease. She knows that the best guide to fish information in a book is its contents. That’s the first thing she searches in any new piece of literature –the contents. Searches for it and finds it . The difficulty may arise when the piece looked for for is on the page that has three digits. Mayechka hasn’t yet covered numbers of three ciphers in her school , that’s why she addresses adults about this kind of problem.

When Mayechka visited us two years ago, she introduced me into “O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, Wie gruen sind deine Blaetter…” This time her favourite is the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas…” A reminder: the carol deals with gifts given by the lyrical hero’s “true love” on each of the twelve days of the Twelvetide (from December 26 till January 6). The series of gifts begins with only one present on the first day. Increasing each day by the number of the gifts that correspond to the ordinal number of the day plus the daily increase corresponding to the number of the gifts given during all the previous days, the maximum number of all the gifts on the twelfth day equals 78 (generally, the number of gifts on day N equals square N plus N with the resulting sum divided by two). Within the period of 12 days the number of ALL the gifts given by the “true love” amounts to 364. It would take quite some space to quote the repetitive lines, so I’ll mention only the last stanza:

On the twelfth Day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Twelve Drummers Drumming,
Eleven Pipers Piping,
Ten Lords a Leaping,
Nine Ladies Dancing,
Eight Maids a Milking,
Seven Swans a Swimming,
Six Geese a Laying,
Five Golden Rings,
Four Calling Birds,
Three French Hens,
Two Turtle Doves,
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Mayechka takes a special delight in proposing us riddles with puns in them. D’you want to try your guessing powers?

1) What goes black-white, black-white, black-white…?
2) How did the dog stop the cassette-recorder?
3) Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party?
4) What did the shy pebble say?
5) What is a cat’s favourite colour?
6) What did the cat say when the mouse said he’d be back before lunch? etc

The answers are respectively: 1) a penguin rolling down a hill, 2) by pushing the pause/paws button, 3) he didn’t have any-body to go with, 4) I wish I was a little bolder/boulder, 5) purple/purrple, 6) perfect/puurfect, etc

I type this blog entry humming to myself the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas…”. Feels kind of refreshing with the temperatures in the high 90s on this July afternoon.

Entry for July 19, 2008

July 19, 2008

THE NEIGHBOUR

When I meet this man in the lift every now and then, I suggest I push the button for him. He willingly agrees, though he would do it on his own too. It would take him somewhat longer though — he is blind. He says he ceased to see anything some ten years ago. I don’t know how old he is — approaching eighty, I think. He does not have any family and lives quite alone in his flat on a lower floor. Every morning — rain or sun — he walks round the lake, which is my route for jogging too. I greet him with an encouraging “hello”, he recognizes my voice and tries to greet me in the same cheerful way. His voice is weak. Every ten minutes I take him over on the track. Each time he knows it’s me but says nothing.

This time I had to rush to work earlier and wasn’t jogging. While passing the lake I saw him walking towards me. I knew he was wondering what had happened to me. I got my cell-phone out of my pocket and took a picture of him before I came close enough to say a short and friendly “hello.”

Entry for July 18, 2008

July 18, 2008

FROM “BLOBBING” TO CANCAN

The oldest blogger in the world Olive Riley died in Sidney, Australia, at the age of 108. In her life she was a cleaner, a barmaid, a cook. Once she cleaned Rupert Murdoch’s room at his Sidney hotel. Wasn’t it at that time that the seeds of love for blogging (“blobbing” as she called her passion) were implanted in her heart? She embraced the Internet some five years ago and managed to post some 77 blob entries. Her first one was about a horse who came to the hotel side window every afternoon for his beer. Ollie would have written more and on a greater variety of topics if it hadn’t been for her other penchant: she tried to wed blogging and dancing, cancan being her favourite (see the picture above).

I could sneer at the lady’s queerness for hours, but at the back of my mind I respect the centenarian. She had always kept her mind fresh; she blogged for reasons far from lucrative inclination; being eccentric, she had remained open to every innovation.

Ollie’s main attraction is that being so much of a “senior citizen” she “makes you feel very young” (almost after Frank Sinatra:-) Even the next-old blogger, a 95 year-old Maria Amelis from Spain, who has replaced Ollie on the throne, looks a teenager at her side. And you suddenly see the perspective, you’ve got the feeling of a chance given. AND THAT MAKES YOU TICK.

Entry for July 13, 2008

July 13, 2008

A WORD ABOUT SUPERSTITIONS

Almost every culture has elements of superstition. These beliefs may even be linguistically incarnated: “knock on wood”, “to keep one’s fingers crossed”, “rabbit foot”, “lucky penny”, or, like in the children’s rhyme:

See a pin and pick it up,

All that day you will have luck.

See a pin and let it lay,

You’ll have had bad luck all day

Superstitions differ markedly from one another and are often unpredictable with various cultural groups. Some superstitions become notorious worldwide. The computer virus Westwood deletes any file run during Friday the 13th and every hacker knows it.

Superstitions are rather silly but as soon as they become integral elements of people’s everyday life (and in most such cases their “superstitious” origin is forgotten or disregarded), they should be reckoned with. I for one would advise a person facing the Ukrainian culture to give only an odd number of flowers as a present (even numbers are for the dead). In Ukraine it’s considered ill breeding to whistle in the room (even though everyone present in the same room may understand the absurdity of the phrase “…or you’ll whistle away your/our money”). Neither is it a sign of “refined manners” in a Ukrainian’s opinion if you try to shake a person’s hand across a threshold while greeting them or saying good-bye. It would most certainly upset a person who suggested sitting quietly for a minute before leaving on a long trip, if you tell this person that the time is short and you cannot sit because you must rush to the airport.

Yes, some superstitions look preposterous: a person crossing your path with empty buckets, or a black cat running across the street right before you. Why should they bring bad luck? The best “imitated superstition” (mocking such beliefs) which I have ever heard was coined by the French wit Nicolas Chamfort:

“Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting during the rest of the day.”

For all that, if I go to the village where I was born and see an elderly woman with empty buckets stopping and letting me pass –not to cross my way – I smile at her gratefully and think how beautiful her wrinkled face is.

Entry for July 09, 2008

July 9, 2008

BON APPETIT!

The 34th G8 summit in Toyako was dealing (among other issues) with the world food price crisis. The leading industrial nations are supposed to make efforts to reverse the harmful policies that have led to that crisis. The G8’s communiqué was worded rather mildly: it only mentioned – in the most general way – the imperativeness “to remove export restrictions.”

What was very real and concrete about the Summit were the Japanese overflying aircraft to prevent suicide attacks from the air and the public kept outside a wide security perimeter.

I agree that a G8 summit may not be the place to flesh out the details of difficult issues within only three days. But at least the world leaders could have been less cynical and hypocritical while discussing the plight of the third world and at the same time proudly releasing the menu for a dinner banquet offering 17 different dishes which the delegates will attend after a busy day with the agenda “The global food crisis”

The menu follows:

Dinner

Corn-stuffed caviar
Smoked salmon and sea urching “pain surprise” style
Winter lily bulb and summer savoury
Kelp-flavoured cold kyoto beef shabu-shabu, asparagus dressed with sesame cream
Diced fatty fles of tuna fish, avocado and jellied soy sauce and Japanese herb “shiso”
Boiled clam, tomato, Japanese herb “shiso” in jellied clear soup of clam
Water shield and pickled conger dressed with vinegar soy sauce
Boiled prawn with jellied tosazu-vinegar
Grilled eel rolled around burdock strip
Sweet potato
Fried and seasoned Goby with soy sauce and sugar
Hairy Crab “Kegani” bisque soup
Salt-grilled bighand thornyhead with vinegary water pepper sauce
Milk fed lamb from “shiranuka” flavoured with aromatic herbs and mustard
Roasted lamb and cepes and black truffle with emulsion sauce of lamb’s stock and pine seed oil
Special cheese selection, lavender honey and caramelised nuts
G8 fantasy dessert

… And it would be deeply wrong in any assessment to forget the selection of wines on offer …

Wine list

Le Reve grand cru champagne
Japanese saki
Corton Charlemagne 2005
Chateau Latour burgundy
Ridge California Monte Bello 1997
Tokaji Essencia 1999 from Hungary

The G8 leaders confirmed their intention to support African countries regarding agriculture, education and health service — by helping to create the infrastructure needed. At present millions of people in Africa are on the verge of starvation due to rising food prices. Ironically, the leaders of Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Ethypoia and SouthAfrica, with whom G8 had been discussing these issues just a few hours before, were not invited to table!

The Russian president is said to have initiated the future expansion of G8 by adding G5 to it: China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. I wonder, what will be the menu then.

Incidentally, the Ukrainian president often comes up with statements advocating the interests of children living in orphanages. He does it sitting at the desk which was bought at the price as high as the annual budget of an orphanage.



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