Archive for January, 2010

THE WHITE MAN’S BURDEN

January 31, 2010

This artistic photo has been up in the hallway of our office for about a year already, and all this time I have felt there is something wrong about it. A few days ago (at last!) I had a free moment and stopped in front of it.  I saw a guy wearing sunglasses who was sitting right on the sand with cards spread like a fan in his hand, and two aboriginals squatting on the two sides of him. And  I understood what was wrong: the “white man” was authoritatively teaching the natives something which was a sign of a civilized world and the natives were respectfully listening. Did he have a right to so high-handedly instruct somebody who represented the million-year-old wisdom of the world in which they live? Why not come here as a learner? Why not squat before these people and listen first to what they will tell you about the desert and the water dozens of meters below the surface? Listen to how they can find that water by carrying a “living twig” in their hands? Hear their legends and see their eyes – so young on their parched faces. Get amazed at their knowing every grain of sand all around them and at their understanding every little sound in the night?

And if the newcomer cannot do all those thing before he does or says anything else, wouldn’t it be better to leave these people alone?

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“POTENCIAL”

January 22, 2010

The picture posted with this blog-entry is what I see from my window. The three-storeyed building in the centre is a secondary school. During national or local elections the school turns into a polling station, and I always cast my ballot here. Sunday mornings is the time for watching amateur soccer matches – no less interesting than World Cup finals, and on week days one may observe groups of both students and teachers smoking behind every corner of the building.

Yesterday I was walking near the school-building. Half-a-dozen boys and girls (apparently seniors) were standing on the footpath where I was going. They were talking lively and roars of their laughter could be heard all over the place. When I was already several steps past the group, I was …thunderstruck.  A boy’s voice behind my back fired a burst of obscenities – definitely not because the boy was angry, but just “for fun”. I cannot say I am too fastidious about the purity of lingual expression. I didn’t grow in an over-protected environment: I had my bit of the army-life, I used to rub shoulders with those who are attributed to as “lower classes”. But this time it was different. The profanity was showered in the presence of the girls, who did not seem to have particular objections to what they heard. In the time of my boyhood expletives could be exchanged but NEVER when girls could hear them.

In his book “The Hard Spring” the Russian writer Benedict Sarnov remembers when right after WWII he observed children fighting a mimic battle, one part of them being “the Germans” and the other calling themselves “Ours”. The writer says that only two decades before he, as a child, also participated in suchlike battles, but they, little warriors, assumed different names in those days: they were the “reds” and the “whites” – just as the two opposing sides of the Civil War in Russia in 1917-1920 were named. Benedict Sarnov says that at that moment he felt how deep was the abyss between his childhood and the childhood of the children he was watching.

I’m not sure how appropriate this comparison is, but when I heard the young people applying swear words as mere silence-fillers, disregarding in whose presence the words are used (moreover, those who were supposed to get indignant, accepted it in a matter-of-fact way), I felt extremely lonely. I felt that my time had passed, I was alien to this world and to its future, in actual fact, I “didn’t belong”.

The name of the school which is seen from my window is “Potencial”, which is “the Potential” in English.

THE CHERRY ORCHARD

January 19, 2010

There is a very strong chance that in a couple of weeks Ukraine will get a new president who in the past first served his two prison sentences for robbery, and then obtained his advanced academic degree and title owing to the qualities other than his intelligence level. The blunt-spoken candidate has also pledged to scrap Ukraine’s NATO bid and elevate Russian to the status of a second official language, alongside Ukrainian – the action which will definitely weaken the social status of Ukrainian and limit its potential for development. Paradoxically, he may be elected in a quite democratic manner, without any major violations of the election rules, with his supporters being quite aware that there will hardly be any democracy after their favourite comes to power.

A factor to which I attribute the success of this candidate is the progressive “MORONisation“ of the society, particularly noticeable in the last 10-15 years. How many Ukrainians have seen films of high artistic merit within this time? Or read books by world-recognized authors? Or listened to uplifting music pieces? The closure of dozens of book-shops, libraries, artistic studios and museums in Kyiv is the sign of the “new times”.  The UNESCO-protected St. Sophia Cathedral, constructed in the 11th century, may lose this status because a five-star hotel was erected right across the street from it and an underground garage was made in the yard of the Cathedral. Shall it be reminded that another historical place of Old Kyiv – Mezhyhirya – is being used by the aforementioned candidate for presidency as his “dacha” (vacation home) and is out of bounds for those who are not confidants or servitors?

As regards moral values, one example will suffice. It is hardly incidental that the would-be president is right in arms against the newly-introduced universal all-Ukrainian testing of high-school graduates as a gateway to universities. It is much more convenient for corrupted authorities to manipulate the admission to universities by means of oral entrance examinations conducted by obedient admission boards (as the case was until two years ago).

In Chekhov’s last play the estate of an aristocratic family is sold to the son of a former serf, and the family is leaving  to the sound of the cherry orchard being cut down. Significantly, during Stanislavski’s rehearsals of the play the word “orchard” was substituted with the more practical “plantation”, which showed how practically and symbolically Anton Chekhov had captured the new motifs of life.

The first round of the Ukrainian presidential election was held on January 17, 2010. The debut of The Cherry Orchard took place on January 17, 1904, which was also Chekhov’s birthday.

LIKE PRIEST, LIKE FLOCK

January 11, 2010

My son was asked by his colleague in Britain to buy him a book which had been written by the colleague’s friends and published here in Kyiv. The colleague did not know the exact title of the book, but the title dealt with the research into the lexical- and semantic field of “pain”. Incidentally, the “field study” is a standard theme of lexical research. I, for one, was studying the development of the lexical- and semantic field of “faith” as it could be observed in the pamphlets of English protestants written during the revolution of the 17th century.

My son googled the information about the book and found out that the book of the indicated authorship and theme had really been published. At the moment a copy of it was deposited in the National Parliamentary Library of  Kyiv and was classified not as linguistics but as MEDICAL literature.

Little surprise, if you consider the intellectual level of our parliamentarians, eh?

TIME TO NOTICE

January 8, 2010

I had a “lazy” morning today. Got up at about 8 o’clock (horribly late!), put on my warm-up suit, crammed my cell-phone into my pocket and jogged outdoors. I usually take the cell-phone with me to call for help in case the elevator gets stuck and I stay marooned between the tenth and eleventh floors. You can never rely on the alarm button in the elevator, so it’s better to have the phone by your side. I must admit, though, that I got trapped in the elevator not more than a couple of times in the last ten years, but I feel I got enough of it.

My mobile was used for another purpose this time. While running up and down the river bank, I couldn’t resist the beauty of the wintry morning and had to interrupt my jog now and then to take snaps either of the dark pine-tree against the whiteness of the snow, or the wild ducks on the bleak water surface, or the ice fishing enthusiasts (we call them “penguins” here) for whom fishing in this season is not a punishment but a way of life.

I sadly observed to myself that one of the statues lined up along the river had its head broken by vandals. But I tried to find comfort in the thought that this way the statue started looking more classical and, probably, more valuable 🙂

Another “point of interest” on the track was the restaurant Murakami. Before I saw the sign I had known only one Murakami – the Japanese author of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (there are many more books but I read only these two). I remembered that a Ukrainian restaurant in the central park in Kyiv next to the monument to Taras Shevchenko, the national poet, was first named TARAS, but after the intellectuals’ indignant outcries it was renamed into PANAS (a typical Ukrainian name), which was eventually transformed into O’PANAS. So far, the city of Kyiv does not have the critical mass of Japanese intellectuals to protest against the blasphemy of their writers’ names.

The final picture taken was a church between the two cranes – a symbol of modern developments in Ukraine.

BRIDGING THE TIMES

January 5, 2010

My record player was hopelessly broken some 20 years ago.  I didn’t manage to buy a new one right away, and when after a couple of years I made up my mind to buy the device, it could not be found anywhere: the new media had replaced the “pre-historic” LPs and people were buying CD-players and VCRs instead. When I started asking shop-assistants for an electric gramophone they gave me funny looks and said that phonographs could be bought only by special order, which service was not delivered at their shops. I abandoned all hope of bringing my records back to life, when this last Christmas my son brought me a USB turntable as a gift.

The turntable was supplied with an installation disk, so after half an hour of IT manipulation the turntable was ready to be used for digitalizing the records on to the laptop. The sounds – so familiar in my younger years – filled the room and compressed the previous two decades into a mere nothing. W. Somerset Maugham might have felt the same way after stepping aboard a sailing vessel in his senior years (he was born in the time of sailing ships and died when spaceships started being launched).

First I thought that only a sexagenarian could grow nostalgic. I was mistaken: in a jiffy my son and daughter were copying favorite recordings of their youth from my computer to their laptops and were singing the songs they once loved and quoting the heroes they once admired.

Another time-spanning gift was a super-modern ball-point pen presented to me by my daughter. The kind which is taken by astronauts on their space missions. The pen can write in any position, at any angle and even under water. It has taken pride of place next to the dip pen with a metal nip and a wooden holder which I used more than half a century ago heavily smearing my hands and face with ink.


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