Archive for September, 2009

SELF-RESPECT OF A NATION

September 30, 2009

Зобр056bGetting ready for hosting the EURO-2012 football championship Kyiv municipal council made up plans for building several dozens of high-class hotels in the city, one of which was supposed to be erected on the territory of Babyn Yar – the place where the Nazis murdered 33,771 Jews on September 29 and September 30, 1941. The Jewish organizations in Ukraine and abroad protested strongly against the decision of the Kyiv authorities. The fact received wide public attention. The next day the BBC commented extensively about it, and after a couple of days the mayor of Kyiv  said that he would never allow the construction in Babyn Yar. It would have been more honest on his part, though, to confess that it had been he who was authorizing the project first. On the other hand, I am ready to admit that the mayor had been simply negligent about the project and did not give much thought to it while signing the papers.

There is another place in Kyiv which is also notorious for its executions:  the former Institute for Noble Maidens  (a privileged boarding school for daughters of aristocracy before 1917) turned the KGB center in the 1930s. In the cellars of this building, which is situated in the very heart of the Ukrainian capital, the KGB-men kept murdering the Ukrainian intellectuals for seven years – from 1934 till 1941. There was even a special torture chamber with the sloped floor so that the blood would flow to one place and not spread all over the room.

The former KGB building is now Entertainment Center, officially known as the Center for Culture and Arts. Periodic peeps of the Ukrainian intellectuals about the inadmissibility of having “dances on the bones” are being cynically ignored . The BBC does not come up with any commentaries or interviews, there are no international protests.

I take off my hat to Semitism which has helped the Jewish nation survive during several thousands years. Actually, most of the Bible – especially the Old Testament  — is a very nationalist book. There were attempts to learn from Jewish nationalism: a pillar of the Ukrainian renaissance in the 1840s Mykola Kostomarov wrote the Ukrainian people’s Book of Genesis (“Knyha Butt’a Ukrajins’koho Narodu”). And the poetess  Lesya Ukrayinka positively compared Ukraine with Israel.

I understand that the time of 18 years of Ukraine’s independence can hardly be compared  to 3,500 years of the Jewish  struggle for self-respect.  Still greater should be OUR desire… TO LEARN.

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“THE SPECK OF DUST FROM A FAR LAND…”

September 29, 2009

Ofis2I can hardly be called a cactus lover. But there’s something in cacti I’m drawn by.  At my work place cacti are grown as potted plants – a familiar sight.  And every time when I go into the corridor to speak privately  on cell phone, I instinctively approach the window- sill where the flowers are displayed in their full splendor .

Where does the affection come from? From history classes when our teacher told us about the fall of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City)? From the legend of the Headless Horseman, Texas’ version of which was written by Thomas Mayne Reid? From some O. Henry’s  stories about hoboes in the American deserts? There was nothing in all those about the cacti exactly, but the cacti seemed to be always somewhere in the background. And when I’m looking at the flowers on the window-sill  of our company building, I unwittingly think of the capital of the Aztecs which meant “place of the  sacred cactus”,  I see Zebb Stamp detecting the Horseman’s killer, and the Syrian wilderness where I first admired the cacti growing as big trees.

Here’s Alexander Blok’s “Do You Remember?” which so much exactly reflects my mood:

Do you remember? In the harbor passive,

Just where green water calmly sleeps,

Set in the column, strong and massive,

Appeared navy’s silent ships.

All four were gray. And many questions

Were shortly overwhelming us,

And sailors, very tanned and fashioned,

To shore in solemn silence passed.

The world became luring and broad,

But once, ships started to depart:

The four of them on their road

Dug in the ocean and night.

The sea obtained the former glow,

The lone beacon sadly twinkled

When on the mast, becoming low,

The last of signals lost the link.

Oh, how little we wait from living –

We are the children – I and you,

You see, the heart is happy, seeing

The smallest part of all that new.

A pocket knife brought you a treasure –

The speck of dust from a far land —

And world again becomes a stranger

That by the colored cloud veiled.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver

MORNING JERKS WITH DUMB-BELLS

September 28, 2009

Зобр055The printer in the picture was first uploaded on July 6 this year. At that time I suggested that those who come to Ukrainian embassies to have their foreign documents made should come with their own printers because the printers at the Ukrainian Embassies have a tendency to be out of work (the entry of July 6 this year).

This morning I got up on the wrong side of the bed, as the idiom goes. For some inexplicable reason I was in a bad mood. However, I  started doing my daily dozen, which has been the usual beginning of the day ever since my boyhood. When I was making circular movements with a dumb-bell  I accidentally hit the printer that was standing on the desk to my right and which is seen in the picture. The thing is that my room is crammed with books, office electronic equipment, transistor radios, all kinds of bags with card catalogs.etc. And when I put up the roll-away bed to sleep on at night, there hardly remains any free floor space in the room at all.

The moment the dumb-bell banged down on to the lid of the BROTHER multifunctional unit, I understood that the printer is unlikely to function any more. But a miracle happened: the printer didn’t get damaged! Not a scratch or a crack on the lid. Right away I ran off a copy on it to make sure it was ok. Everything was normal. I was jubilant! I quickly finished off my exercises – this time taking the utmost caution and keeping off the printer as far away as the narrowness of the room permitted. After that I headed for the kitchen to prepare my morning breakfast. I was all smiles. My wife was already in the kitchen “See what the morning exercises do to a person. You look quite a new man now”, she remarked.

THE STANDARDS

September 27, 2009

school cartoon10

Early in September President Obama made a pro-education speech in Texas. I had not followed the discussion of the President’s intention to speak to high-school kids and came to know about the speech only after it was delivered. I turned on TV and watched a CNN correspondent fiercely attacking a White House representative about the President “imposing politics” on schools. Later I went online and saved the speech on my computer. I found nothing wrong in Barack Obama’s speech. Nothing to justify the ferocity of the verbal attacks the Internet was teeming with. Nothing to cause the anger of the lady who turned out to be the president of a non-government organization and who labeled Mr. Obama’s plans “eerie as Hitler’s youth movement” Let alone other cases of ugly opposition (the parents’ and the principals’ protests, a sign saying “Mr. President, stay away from our kids.”, etc).

I liked the speech from beginning to end. I wished Mr. Nikita Khrushchev had arrived at my village school half a century ago to speak so clearly and encouragingly about Ukraine and my role in her future. They were the right words in the right place. Later I came to know from the Texas Education Agency report that the state had a grade 9-12 dropout rate of 10.5 per cent in 2008. Critics say the rate was much higher.

I remembered one other thing. Last autumn I happened to visit the premises of a prestigeous school here in Kyiv. When I say “prestigeous” I do not mean that offsprings of high-positioned Ukrainian politicians go to this school (which, unfortunately, is the habitual way of measuring the “prestige” of a school nowadays). It’s the school with an advanced study of physics and mathematics, and it has been renown since the times when the first cosmonauts were being launched into space. To qualify for that school in those days meant to be given the green light to study at Bauman Institute in Moscow, and later – probably – to be a part of the scientific team who were preparing space flights. At present the students of this school are unsurpassed at all-Ukrainian competitions in mathematics (I’m not sure about the results on the world level – will have to check). So, last autumn I was standing in the school yard waiting for my friend. I was standing at the corner of the school-building and could see two students – strapping youths, maybe in their last year at school – approaching me from one side of the building, while there was a stooping little old lady coming from the other side. The lady, probably in her late 70s, was definitely a teacher. She was carrying a stack of copy-books in her arms and she didn’t look up to see who might be in front. So far the students and the teacher didn’t see each other but they were sure to meet when either the boys or the teacher reached the corner. The boys were the first to spot the teacher. There was hardly a few meters between the students and the teacher now. She did not see them: she went on shuffling her feet, with her eyes kept on the ground.

What happened next will probably be remembered by me for the rest of my life. As quick as lightning the youths turned round and dashed back away from the teacher along the same way they had been just leisurely coming. They reached the other corner of the school building before the lady turned the corner where I was standing.

I never knew what made the guys dart away. Did they have some arrears they weren’t ready with? Had they missed the teacher’s class before, or were they going to miss it that day? It is not so important after all. I have just put the episode in the context of Barack Obama’s speech. The Americans may know better if their President ought to speak to high-school kids or not. If they decide that he shouldn’t, I think it would be a good idea  to employ a teacher of the kind I saw in Kyiv school last September


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