Archive for November, 2009


November 23, 2009

While President Obama visited China last week there was much reporting on the Internet about the present state of China’s development: on Beijing’s giant avenues cars and buses crowded out bicycles, giant skyscrapers towered above Guangzhou and Shanghai, the interior of big shops was bustling and prosperous. In 2009, the time of global financial crisis, China expects economic growth of 10%, experts say.

However, one detail was discordant. The students whom Mr. Obama met at the town hall in Shanghai were “filtered” by the Chinese authorities. Carefully monitored were also the questions Mr. Obama was asked during the meeting. The stage-managed town hall also brought to mind some other facts, like the “great firewall of China” (the Internet censorship) and jailings of dissidents, who were too mouthy.

It reminds me of Aesop’s tale “The Dog and the Wolf” – the story about the Dog who persuaded the Wolf to follow him to town, his master’s place, because there was regular food and work there. On the way the Wolf noticed that the hair on a certain part of the Dog’s neck was very much worn away, so he asked him how that had come about. “Oh, it is nothing,” said the Dog. “That is only the place where the collar is put on at night to keep me chained up; it chafes a bit, but one soon gets used to it.”

“Is that all?” said the Wolf. “Then good-bye to you, Master Dog.”

We, here, know very well what it is all about, since we’ve been through all that. Through brainwashing, through students reporting their teachers and teachers keeping a watchful eye on the “ideological maturity” of their students, through dismissal from work or expulsion from universities for an opinion which did not “agree” with the “party line”, through “provocative” questions which “were bringing grist to the mill of imperialism… Through “filtering” and “monitoring”… We had even our own Tiananmen:  in June 1962 in the southern Russian city of Novocherkassk.

Good-bye, Master Dog


November 13, 2009

DSC0126913th November, 1970. The day is warm and foggy.  A column of young men in dark overcoats, with wintry caps on their heads and backpacks on their shoulders are marching their way through the green-painted gate with red stars on it. The brass band on the territory of the military unit is playing the Russian patriotic song “Farewell of Slavianka”.  I am one of the conscripts going in the column.

There followed many days and nights of accelerated marches with full combat gear, mimic warfare when we had to search for and blow off “enemy” missiles… We slept in the snow at night and jumped with parachutes at dawn.

I enjoyed my army life.  It was the life of discipline, of “vim and vigor” and there was a romantic drive in it.

DSC01399There was also an irresistible wish to get on further in life, to learn…  Before lights were put out in the barracks after the taps I used to put my name on the “waking list”, and the barracks orderly woke me up a couple of hours earlier. Half-asleep, I would take my English textbooks (already stacked) and go to the store-room to get ready for university admission exams. As soon as the orderly shouted reveille, I started having my morning run and physical jerks with the rest of the soldiers. The three pictures attached don’t show, however, one thing which was always with me in the army: my English notes that I would make in the small hours of the morning and carry in my pockets (or behind my boot-top) later in the day.

DSC01397The civilian life that followed was no easier. And many a time – when the worst came to the worst – I would whisper to myself:  “Just another kilometer…You didn’t give in after running several hours with the submachine-gun and a pack radio-set on your back… you won’t give in now”.

The foggy day in November … The get-go for many things to come


November 9, 2009

Cat and Parrot 3A funny thing happened to my friend last summer. She owns a summer cottage, which is also a dwelling place for several pets: a few cats, a huge Alsatian, a parakeet, etc. Once her neighbors, a married couple, asked her to have their parrot quartered in her lodging – just for a few days while they were away from town. The neighbors also asked her to let the parrot fly all over the room from time to time. They also warned my friend that the parrot was sort of “feisty”. At the weekend my friend let the bird out of the cage – for the “feller” to stretch his wings (incidentally, the spread of the parrot’s wings was more than one meter!) At that very moment Timothy, a Siamese cat, made up his mind to drop by. Timothy, it should be admitted, was far from being a “honey of a cat” too. On seeing someone who “did not belong”, Timothy decided to teach the “smarty pants” a good lesson. But the parrot didn’t lose his courage either: he bristled his furthers, clucked his beak and counter-attacked – boldly and aggressively. The next moment Timothy understood that the bird was a little “toughy” and started beating a retreat. Eventually he ended up under the sofa. The parrot came to the sofa, went round in a circle, bent his head trying to see Timothy in the darkness of the latter’s shelter and asked politely: “Would you like a cup of tea?”


Kotsiubynske, Kyiv oblast

Translated from Readers’ Letters (magazine POLINA)


November 2, 2009

face maskThere’s a swine-flue panic in this country and during the last several days I have been wearing a face mask while going out. I must admit I feel quite comfortable with half of my face covered. And not only because I feel safer health-wise, but also because the mask makes me more “impermeable” to other people’s looks and glances. The days when you thought the world was a friendly place are gone. My impression is that I must stay alert every moment while I am in the environment other than my home.

Frankly, I ENJOY wearing the face mask. It’s like challenging the growingly hostile world. Is my mask a kind of “protest” against everybody and everything  — the type of Holden Caulfield’s red cap he was wearing (The Catcher in the Rye)? Come, come, old chap. Most likely it’s age-related. After 60 a person tends to become more and more of an anchorite.


November 2, 2009

“Rise, M. le Comte – you have great things to achieve…” It was said that the “utopian socialist” Henri de Saint-Simon got his valet to wake him every morning with these words.

Good morning3In my student years I used to get up from bed every morning at six o’clock to the tune of the national anthem on the radio – mumbling this phrase. I don’t know how great or small are the things I have achieved (cognition comes through comparison), but recently I decided to restart the practice of “early reveilles” and on the eve set the alarm ring of my cell phone for 6 a.m.  It was pitch-dark outside when the phone began beeping and flashing. I jumped to my feet. “Rise, M. le Comte …” I cast a glance at the watch. It was… three in the morning. Through some unexplainable mistake  I had set the alarm by three hours earlier than I had intended…

Le Comte took off his track suit and dived back under the blanket. He got up at 7:30 a.m. As he usually does.

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