Archive for June, 2010

THE FEAST WHICH IS ALWAYS WITH ME

June 19, 2010

1. One of Ernest Hemingway’s books published posthumously is entitled “A Movable Feast”. In some unfathomable way these words may be applied to what I feel whenever I go to the town of my youth. Hardly a month has passed since I was there last. The latest meeting which took place two days ago was no less exhilarating and uplifting.

This time I went there to greet my mother on her birthday. She is 83 years old. Or shall I say “83 years young”? She’s fragile physically and comparatively weak, but her mind is clear, her words are firm and her speech is logical. She attends church once or even two times a week, she knows the Bible from cover to cover and every day she prays for each of us, her children, as well as for the whole world. If this world has something to hope for and if her children have comfort and confidence in the unstable world, it’s thanks to her prayers. I have no doubt about it.

I asked her permission to scan a few pictures of those many she keeps on her desk. One is that of her and my Dad made right after their marriage in 1948. In how Mom is looking at my Dad I may see the same love, firmness and determination which are inherent in her now.

2. Our “old new” apartment (we are having it renovated) is an absolute gem! It is on the fourth floor but huge trees reach even higher than that. They touch our balcony and creep into the open windows. The nights are the shortest in the year now and I wake up to the incessant chirrup of birds to “drink” the morning air – cool and sweet – coming through the windows.

3. It is far cheaper to live in this town than in the capital city. One reason is that people earn less here, and prices adapt to average salaries. Another thing is that it’s situated further to the south, so fruits and vegetables brought by farmers from nearby villages are in abundance, and they cost half as much as the same fruits and vegetables in Kyiv.

4. I had a short “snapshot walk” along the familiar streets. The old part of the town has mainly two-storeyed houses and the streets are lined with trees. The trees spread out over the narrowness of the streets and it’s pleasant to walk there even on hottest days.

5. A sign of the new times: a monument to a well-respected mayor of the town Mr. Pashutin was erected in front of the town-hall. Alexander Pashutin headed the municipal council for 27 years: from 1878 till his death in 1905. His words “Serving the community must be the purpose of one’s life” are carved on the pedestal. The communist regime tried to make Pashutin’s name forgotten – even his grave had been leveled down. Now the ideologue of the Russian communism, whose half-face is etched on granite only a few dozen meters away from Mr. Pashutin’s monument, is practically lost among privately owned small kiosks and stalls, which definitely run counter to the ideology professed by Vladimir Lenin.

6. I could not help dropping at the school my children went to in the 1980s-90s. To begin with I took a few pictures from outside. An elderly lady materialized out of thin air and in a didactic tone questioned me on whether I have any right to take photos. I answered that the right is granted to me naturally by the very fact that my kids had once been pupils at this school. After some more inquiry involving years and names the lady became mellowness itself and invited me inside for more pictures to be taken. There follow the pictures. Among them there’s the pupil whose name magically opened the school door for her father.

7. I like the hidden (and very often humorous) throb of the streets. A small café is arranged in a national style and named “korchma” (a tavern) which brings about associations with bouts of bacchanalia and merry-making, so colorfully described in classical literature and songs of the past. Nimble and quick entrepreneurs establish an agency “Last Minute Travel Offers” – their talent to find business niches is at times unbelievable. In the part of the town which is commonly known as the Thieves’ Ravine (the name dates back to some two hundred years ago) I was so attracted by the wit of the sign pointing to the restaurant Grand Canyon that I made up my mind to cover the 300 meters separating me from “Zlodiyska Balka” (the name of the ravine in Ukrainian) and to photograph the two Grand Canyons – the restaurant and the ravine proper. I must admit that the place is not the one which I would be inclined to visit in the hours of darkness. However, I give credit to the advertisers.

8. Should you happen to sit at the window while returning to Kyiv by bus, you MUST simply keep your camera out of the camera-bag all the time: the beauty of central Ukraine is stunning. The scenes worthy of digital immortalization kaleidoscopically replace one another. These are a few shots of those which I have got.

9. The final touch. I was carrying three bags with me. After I arrived at the bus station in Kyiv I took the metro (green line), changed trains at a station in the center, went as far as “my” metro station and then got on a trolleybus. When I got off the trolleybus near my house and the trolleybus started further on, I discovered that I was holding only two bags. A third bag had been left by me in the trolleybus. Running after that means of transport could hardly pay off. I crossed the street to the trolleybus stop which was opposite and started waiting. The trolleybus I had arrived on went as far as its terminal, turned round and came back to the stop where I was waiting for it. My calculation was perfect: the abandoned bag was down at the seat where I was previously sitting. Glory to the honest Kyivans!

Happy ending to my saga, eh?

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SUNDAY MOZAIC

June 13, 2010

My wife says that I blog the way a Kyrgyz  akyn composes his poetry: the improvising bard representing the cultures of Central Asia is known to immediately turn into a song whatever he sees around. I liked the comparison. Blogging develops the ability to observe, to think, to draw conclusions. I also liken blogging to wearing ankle weights. The emotional and intellectual challenge may be sort of moderate, but by making a permanent effort of observation you exercise your brains, and the value of such pursuit increases with age :-). This morning I decided to walk all the way to the metro and made a few snaps with my cell phone. The billboard advertising the Green Party is definitely not about environment as they try to persuade us – very few people know about the party and still fewer people know about the party working in this direction. The Green Party is about hard currency. From this perspective all the 173 political parties registered in Ukraine as of June 11, 2010 are “green”.

Mr. Oleg Bakhmatyuk is on the cover of the quality periodical Kommentarii displayed in a newspaper kiosk. I bought the magazine. The gentleman knows how to invite 25 billion (!) USD of investments into Ukraine: the Ukrainian negotiators have to be more firm while talking to foreign partners. He also pins hopes on the coming famine in 2012, which will raise the demand for eggs that his company produces. A planted article – that’s all about it.

The hot phone number 559 deals with more realistic matters: you may be momentarily informed about restaurants, bars and clubs, which may present some interest to you– should you have some money, of course. If not, you may push buttons for another number. The person on the other end of the line will tell your fortune, kill the hoodoo, bewitch those whom you choose to be bewitched, attract money and good luck and “many more things”. Or you may buy a book by the city mayor “How to Become a Millionaire”.

The Golden Calf is the idol nowadays. This morning I was going down in a lift. At a lower floor the door opened and a huge dog rushed into the lift. A modishly clad dame followed. “Down!” she said to the dog which had already started sniffing me all around. The next moment the dame pulled an iPhone from her bag, looked into it and put it back right away. It might have been that she wanted to check some info on her phone, of course, but more likely it was a coordinate behavior to impress with the purebred dog, her stylish clothes and the mobile phone which costs about 900 dollars in Ukraine. Would I feel happy with the pedigree dog and with an iPhone in my pocket? Don’t know, really. But happy I was! This morning I managed to buy a set of three CDs for IELTS, though at first the purchase looked rather problematic. A saleswoman in the book market had sold me a wrong disk to the self-study book two days ago, and when the right disks were finally unearthed after my several visits to Row 12 Place 5 (her point-of-sale), she did not utter a single word of apology.

In my home library I found a collection of humorous stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko. Most stories were written in the 1920s-1930s, but I was surprised at how modern they sounded. The poor ethics and the primitive outlook are in the foreground again. Have they ever been in the background?

The FIFA World Cup opened in South Africa. This is the first time that the tournament has been hosted by an African nation. Africa was chosen as the host for the 2010 World Cup as part of a short-lived policy, abandoned in 2007 to rotate the event among football confederations. England played very unimpressively against the U.S.A. team and drew 1:1. The regular Sunday match in the school yard was more exciting.

At the moment the temperature in the room is + 32C. I am wearing only my shorts, which may be my blogging uniform this summer. Heliolaters have occupied the beach at the lake in front. Happy sun-tanning!

“AND SEEK FOR THE TRUTH IN THE GROVES OF ACADEME”

June 6, 2010

A young girl was sitting next to me in the metro filling in the blanks in her English workbook. From time to time I gave sidelong glances at what she was doing. The book was an upper-intermediate level and every other answer the girl was writing down was wrong. The rattling noise in the metro car pounded on the ears and the announcements about the coming stations was even more deafening. I thought that the girl might better cope with the task in the quietness of her study-room with reference-books available. Anyway, there was more to it than the shortage of dictionaries or grammar textbooks. I was unhappily surprised at the girl believing that the exercise she was doing could be done “off-the-cuff”. I accepted the girl’s attitude as grossly irreverent towards language.

It does not concern only English. It is about studies in general. When we were not properly ready for our lessons in high school, our teacher of biology – a man in his seventies (wasn’t it for that reason that he was nicknamed “Coliseum”?) – used to shout to us while knocking on the table with a bunch of keys: “Will you kindly remember, ladies and gentlemen, that studies presuppose hard work?”

I was fortunate enough to be in the class where most students understood the true meaning of Coliseum’s words. I compare it with what I hear about the intellectual and emotional environment at schools nowadays. If you try to get ready with your homework in a proper way you risk becoming a laughing stock in class. Moreover, I know a case when a good pupil was beaten by a bully because the bully envied him his good answers. The reason for beating was stated quite openly and clearly. A mother once said that she and her son had not slept all night writing exam cheat sheets for the son. The tone in which she mentioned it was that of pride and achievement. Incidentally, at present cheat sheets are sold to broad public in markets and prepared in electronic form. The electronic cribs are later downloaded to cell phones which are allowed to be kept by students during exam hours provided the mobiles are not used for phoning or answering phone calls. Whence it follows that teachers turn a blind eye to copying and to other forms of cheating. It looks like the teachers connive with the cheaters.  So they do!

When you are a university student, there’s no special need for you to exert yourself writing term papers, diploma papers, course works. You’ll get a flyer with the postal address, where these services are given, from a lady on the steps of the metro, you will read about them on billboards where specialized agencies boast about having been in it for a number of years already. If you need prompting during the viva voce exam, the right answers may be whispered into your ear through an electronic hearing device which you will buy at a given Internet address (see the pictures).

If you, as a university student, are “too busy” to take an oral test, you may also settle things through another student – the elected elder, whom you give a fixed sum of money and s/he hands it over to the professor with your matriculation book. The professor gives you a pass (or a grade – if the test is graded) and returns the book with his signature.

The above practice goes all the way to the top of the social ladder. The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, who has a degree of the Doctor of Sciences, was twice caught in plagiarism. The Ukrainian President is an object of ridicule the moment he starts speaking or writing something, but he has got numerous academic titles and ranks.

I feel disgust writing about all that. However, I feel it my duty to indicate the point where society starts disintegrating.

P.S. The title of the blog entry is a quote from Horace. Many of us also know the words of the Duke of Wellington about the battle of Waterloo which was won on the playing fields of Eton. Where are the “groves of Academe” in Ukraine? Where is Eton?

INTENTIONAL BLINDNESS

June 2, 2010

The outcry against the raid of the Israeli commandos on the aid flotilla for the Palestinians is universal. The media speak of “blooded” passengers and quote Jordan’s, al-Jazeera’s and Turkish newspapers about the “murder conducted by a state” and the Israelis’ “heinous crime”. Ukraine rushed to condemn the raid. Before becoming the Russian satellite she had never been so resolute about international matters and had preferred sitting on the fence.

Do I see something which the world does not (or WILL NOT) notice?

1)      The government in Gaza is headed by the organization which denies the very existence of Israel.

2)      Missiles are fired at Israel (mostly at the civilian population) from the Gaza strip.

3)      The missiles are brought into the Gaza strip illegally from the countries which are anti-Israeli, anti-American and pro-Palestinian.

4)      Because of this situation Israel imposed an embargo on shipments to the Gaza strip. As for the food products they are allowed to be brought to the Palestinians but only after the shipments have been inspected at Israeli ports with respect to the possible presence of armaments and ammunition among the food.

5)      In a similar way the humanitarian aid which this time was being brought to the Gaza strip from Turkey had to be first brought to an Israeli port and released to the Palestinians after the inspection.

6)      The organizations which had arranged the aid thought not so much about the humanitarian aspect of their voyage as about the condemnation of Israel – condemnation harsh and swift and global.

7)      The tactics of the humanitarian mission reminds me of the Palestinians firing their missiles at Israeli civilians from behind the living shield made of their women and children. The moment the Israelis react militarily against the provocation, the Palestinians  start screaming about the Israeli “atrocities” and the world joins the Palestinian chorus.

I wonder what the Turks would say if Israel tried to send a humanitarian mission to the Turkish Kurds.


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