Archive for October, 2011


October 31, 2011

This evening I turned on the channel RETRO – you may watch some good classical films on it. I was lucky: Jean Gabin was starring in La Horse. The title seems to be a borrowing from English into French: in French argot “la horse” means “heroin.” In the film Auguste Marouilleur (Jean Gabin), a rich farmer, rules his large family with a heavy hand. His grandson Henri, a barman on a ship, is involved in drug trafficking. When Auguste finds a hideout with Henri’s heroin, he has a tough talk with the grandson and destroys the drugs. The gang immediately reacts by burning Auguste’s barn, killing his livestock and raping his daughter. Auguste isn’t the one to be intimidated. He tells his family to remain calm and not yield to pressure. He refuses to call the police either. “None of our family has ever been imprisoned”, he says to Henri, “and I don’t want you to go to jail.” After the five mobsters who tried to intimidate Auguste are killed, the police intervene but they cannot prove that Auguste or any of his family have been involved, so the case is closed. The final scene of the film shows the family having breakfast at a long wooden table. The camera zooms in on Auguste. Calm and unperturbed, he gives instructions about what is to be done on the farm that day. Suddenly Henri volunteers to give a helping hand, which has never been the case before. Auguste accepts it as something quite natural: “You may, if you wish,” he says to Henri.

Of course, the main attraction of the film is Jean Gabin. He puts much of himself in his part (“Quite a bone to gnaw!”). But I also thought about some conservative values which are propagated in the film and eventually preserve the positiveness of our existence: hard work, morality, justice, stability, reliance, honesty. Thanks, Jean Gabin, for refreshing these “old-fashioned” concepts.


October 30, 2011

The latest kitsch of the Soviet-era nostalgia in Ukraine will be the “Stalin bus” – the bus with the likeness of Uncle Joe running along the streets of Sevastopol. The route is going to be launched on November 7, the anniversary of the 1917 revolution in Russia which brought communists to power 94 years ago.  The same kind of bus will be shuttling in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The initiative was spearheaded by a pro-Stalin Russian blogger in May, 2010 and given an official support of the Russian government. The Ukrainian and Belorussian communist-minded rulers are only aping the “elder brother.”

Radio Liberty reports that a bar-relief of Stalin was restored in the main hall of the Ukrainian central bank in Kyiv after the renovation of the building.

The case of young people who blew off the newly-erected monument to Stalin in the city of Zaporizhzhya last May, is still being investigated.

New textbooks in History have been published in Ukraine. The war with the Nazis in 1941-1945 has again been re-named into the Great Patriotic War (the term coined by Stalin), and the Generalissimo himself is characterized as an “effective manager” of the country.

On the day when Stalin died in March 1953 my father was on a business trip to another city. He arrived the next day and spoke about what he had seen in Chernivtsi (that was the name of the city). He said he had seen a Jewish woman who was sobbing in the street after she heard the news of Stalin’s death. “I don’t understand it”, he said, “With all this anti-Semitism started by Stalin, the doctor’s ‘plot’, the murdered poets (13 Yiddish poets were executed on the orders of Stalin the year before – V.)… and she was mourning his death…”

People’s memory is so elusive.


October 29, 2011

During the External Independent Assessment (English Language Test) held last summer in Ukraine, secondary school graduates were offered an abridged article by Benedict Carey, an American journalist writing for the New York Times. The beginning of article deals with the start of the academic year in September and with the difficulty of prodding high school students into studying after the summer holidays. The first question on the article and the paragraph to which the question is related are given below.

Read the text below. For questions (6 – 10) choose the correct answer (A, B, C or D). Write your answers on the separate answer sheet. 


Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits 


Every September, millions of parents try a kind of psychological witchcraft, to transform their summer-glazed campers into fall students, their video-bugs into bookworms. Advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies).


6.  In the 1st paragraph the author advises parents NOT to __________. 

A/  behave in a dishonest way in order to get an advantage

B / deliberately tell a child something that is not true

C / offer a child something in return for studying

D / make a child feel guilty for something he/she has done offer a child something in return for studying 

The majority of those who were tested chose the answer A (“behave in a dishonest way in order to get an advantage”) associating the word bribe with the meaning give money to someone (illegally) to gain influence, which was definitely wrong in this context, since the author meant that parents should not lure their children into to studying by promising, say, to buy something for them, or by giving permission to use their car, etc. (hence, the correct choice is C). I looked through the comments of the students who had undergone the test and were sharing their impressions right after taking it. Many of the participants in the forum sincerely believed that the author’s advice DO NOT BRIBE was about not giving presents to secondary school teachers (!!). The practice of parents “sweetening” teachers to get them favourably disposed towards their off-springs is quite common in Ukraine.  Those who had chosen A were just measuring the American reality with a Ukrainian yardstick.


October 26, 2011

Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better. Andre Gide (1869 – 1951)

Skill without imagination is craftsmanship … Imagination without skill gives us modern art.
Tom Stoppard (1937 – ), “Artist Descending a Staircase”

Everything you can imagine is real. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. Pablo Picasso

I shut my eyes in order to see. Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903)

An artist asked the gallery owner if there had been any interest in his paintings on display at that time. “I have good news and bad news,” the owner replied. “The good news is that a gentleman enquired about your work and wondered if it would appreciate in value after your death. When I told him it would, he bought all 15 of your paintings.””That’s wonderful,” the artist exclaimed. “What’s the bad news?” “The guy was your doctor…”

After his wife divorced him, Joe asked his best friend, Bill, to fix him up with a blind date. Bill obliged. The next day Joe called up Bill and shouted at him angrily: “Bill, what kind of a guy do you think I am. That girl you fixed me up with was cross-eyed; she was almost bald; her nose was long, thin and crooked; she had hair growing on her face; she was flat-chested; and her ankles were as thick as her thighs”.
Bill answered: “Either you like Picasso, or you don’t like Picasso.

An artist had been working on a nude portrait for a long time. Every day, he was up early and worked late – bringing perfection with every stroke of his paint brush. After a month, the artist had practically finished the portrait. Since his model had already shown up, he suggested they merely have a glass of wine and talk.They talked for some time. Then as they were sipping their claret, the artist heard a car arriving outside. He jumped up and said, “Oh no! It’s my wife! Quick, take off your clothes!”

Abstract Art.

I think my Grandson best summed up my feelings about abstract art. We were looking at a painting with a wild mish-mash of colours and he asked, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s supposed to be a cowboy on his horse.” “Well,” he continued, “Why isn’t it?”

RIGHT HAND, LEFT HAND (continued from yesterday’s blog)

October 25, 2011

Having lived all her life in the village, Maria was quite unfit for the village life. Polio had crippled her when she was a little child. She was called “a beauty on crutches.” Those who know something about rural life will understand what it means to be a cripple in the countryside where hard physical work is the chief value and duty. However, there was a positive element in it too: that defect sharpened her perception of the world. It also explains Prymachenko’s pictures. Art critics characterize her scenes and objects as “kind” – for me there’s much of childish pain and fear in almost all of them.

Her talent was noticed due to the communist slogan of the 1930s: any person who “delves and spins” can become a poet and an artist. Her works – pictures as well as pottery- and textile painting – were promoted by the regime and sent to international exhibitions in Paris, Warsaw. Sophia, Montreal, Prague.

She was an odd bird among the villagers. Her husband, a professional soldier, was killed in the war in June 1941. Their son had been born earlier that year. Officially the marriage was not registered and that was a disgrace in the eyes of the rural folk. Even the very talent that made Maria Prymachenko world-famous was waved off in the village as something empty and not serious. Myself, I experienced that kind of attitude when, as a child, I would carry books to the village library to return them and borrow new ones. I used to hide the books under my coat not to be laughed at by dozens of those whom I met on the way. “There’s Olga’s son who knows nothing but his books”, they said (my mother’s name is Olga).

When in the 1960’s Maria’s family needed money, their good friend Serhiy Paradzhanov (the famous author of the famous film “The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”) suggested that some pictures of Maria and her son Fedir, also an artist, be displayed outside in the street for sale, none of the villagers turned up even to look at them — to say nothing of buying a picture. On the other hand, when Maria would send some 40-50 paintings to an exhibition in the capital, only half of them were usually returned – the rest were just “lost’ or “borrowed.” Later Paradzhanov sent Maria and her family a big parcel of oranges from Georgia (oranges were something exceptional in a Ukrainian village in the ‘60s). Maria and her son treated to the oranges everyone they met that day.

During her life Maria Prymachenko painted more than a thousand pictures. About half of them are now at Kyiv Museum of Decorative Art, some 200 – in other museums of Ukraine and the ex-USSR, another 200 are owned by private collectors. In 2006 her house was raided by a group of armed criminals and more than 70 pictures were stolen. Later the police found the pictures. Each of the pictures had been insured for a sum of $10,000.

Maria Prymachenko was right-handed, but she painted all her pictures with her left hand. She might have instinctively felt that this world and the world of her imagination did not overlap.

Maria died on August 18, 1997. She may continue living now somewhere in the naively fanciful and uneasy world which her left hand has created.


October 24, 2011

For the French artist 3ttman (Louis Lambert), who lives in Spain, travel remains a necessity. He thinks it’s fundamental to getting to know other cultures, ways of expression, colours, smells…He’s interested in confronting other societies with his work and his Western perspective.

At present he is in Kyiv painting a mural on a building in Urytsky Street which is in the centre of the city. A young man who is trying to get across to the Kyivans the beauty of his art, which they erroneously called graffiti, is surprisingly unassuming during his interview. When I saw his painting I was amazed at how much his style resembles that of Maria Prymachenko, a Ukrainian representative of “naive”, or “primitive” art. Maria Prymachenko was born into a peasant family in 1909 and died at age 89. The year 2009 was announced by UNESCO the year of Maria Prymachenko. There’s a legend here that Pablo Picasso spoke highly of her talent. All the time she lived in her village of Bolotnya. She had never been invited to any of the European capitals to paint murals.


October 23, 2011

News can be purchased. Much of editorial content in the Ukrainian media is bought by advertisers, but disguised as news. More often than not such information is of little value but it is presented as something worth noticing. Practically every day you may hear a “doctor’s advice” on the radio. Seemingly , the radio takes care of the listeners’ health. But after ten minutes of listening to how well and effectively a disease is treated at a certain clinic you start understanding that it is the clinic that placed the order for this information. I can accept this kind of “reporting” in glossy magazines which you read on a flight (you can hardly expect much more from glossy magazines), but I do not imagine the New York Times or the Guardian giving details of a restaurant service on their front pages. The question arises: why can’t the Ukrainian media go honest and start selling its space for adverts and commercials? Maybe they would do it, but the reader will hardly “believe” that advertisement. The cases when goods and services of low quality are promoted through advertising are numerous. That is why both the media and the companies do this back-scratching.

In Ukraine one may often hear debates about whether or not the country should join Europe (the EU, NATO, etc.) I think the major reason why Ukraine must be after it is that in Europe we may start learning not to cheat about advertising, not to advertise smoking and drinking; we’ll formulate “European” laws and start abiding with those laws; we’ll be learning politeness to customers, and, maybe, we’ll begin smiling more often at one another.  But… will Europe want a learner who is a cheater, a smoker, a drinker, a churl, a lawbreaker? Which reminds me of a typical case from our childhood: the parents of a problem child want their offspring to keep company with a “good boy”, while the parents of a good boy tell their kid to stay away from the “bad boy.”


October 21, 2011

In September this year the Ukrainian parliament decided not to move the clocks back to winter time later in October. The political background of the decision was more than clear: the pro-Russian government in Kyiv was aping the Kremlin “astronomers” who opted on the “eternal” summer time in the Moscow time zone. But being tethered to the Moscow time meant that the people of Western Ukraine had to begin their day long before the sunrise. The category that was going to suffer most were children – especially those who go to kindergartens and primary schools. When the morning debates started in parliament on October 18, the ruling party representatives argued that the decision to move into winter time would be a “stab in the back”, because exactly on that day (October 18) the Ukrainian and Russian leaders were meeting about gas supply to Ukraine. The discord in the time according to which the Russians and the Ukrainians lived would supposedly “threaten very important economic decisions” at the Medvedev-Yanukovych summit! The difference between the Kyiv winter time and the Moscow summer time would be two hours!! In the Soviet Union the whole of the European part of the country was in the Moscow time zone!!!

However, a few hours of the summit meeting between the Russian Medvedev and the Ukrainian Yanukovych showed that there would be no concessions on the part of Moscow regarding the price for gas deliveries. Yanukovych was definitely offended by the “non-brotherly” stand of the Russian counterpart and the go-ahead for  winter time in Ukraine was given! In the afternoon the Ukrainian parliamentarians voted “for winter.”

You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. People are trying make laws of nature politically appropriate. Again and again history teaches us lessons which we will not learn. In the past we called genetics and cybernetics “bourgeois science.” The ignoramus Michurin was rocketed by Stalin into the position of “god” in horticulture (“Soviet horticulture”!). This time there came into being a new branch of knowledge – “political astronomy.”


October 20, 2011

One of the most eccentric and ruthless heads of state is dead. In his life-time he surrounded himself with gun-toting female bodyguards, and for years he traveled with a voluptuous Ukrainian nurse. He brought along a Bedouin tent to sleep in when he traveled abroad, and once attended a summit in Belgrade with six camels and two horses in tow. Gadhafi wore flowing robes, favored oversized sunglasses and received Botox injections. His peacock-style military uniform reminded me of Joseph Stalin whom I remember from portraits seen in my childhood. Later Leonid Brezhnev had five stars of the  Soviet Union Hero on the left part of his chest and a common joke was that his left shoulder had to be elongated in pictures– to make it big enough for the stars and for kilos of other “rewards.”  Why are dictators so vain? Or, they wouldn’t be dictators if they weren’t vain?

Gadhafi got what he deserved. However, when I was watching the rebels on all the channels today as they celebrated their victory, dancing in front of the cameras and shooting into the air, it seemed to me that Gadhafi wasn’t dead at all. He was living in each of the rebels. In the aggressiveness of their joy, in the vehemence of their anger… In their stupid vanity.


October 17, 2011

Tense-aspect forms. I came across two interesting cases of Indefinite (Simple) tenses being used. The so-called “historical” Present Indefinite is combined in the same sentence with the Past Indefinite: When I go to 50, I felt it was time for a change. A more natural way of presenting the same information would have been: Now, when I’m going to 50, I feel it is time for a change. However, it looks quite reasonable that the speaker emphasized a longer and more stable duration of  his advancement in years by using the Present Indefinite (I go…), at the same time remembering some fact of the past and using the Past Indefinite to convey it (I felt…).

Of late linguists start speaking about the “polite” Past Indefinite (used instead of the neutral Present Indefinite in questions): How much (milk) did you want today? (a talk between a salesman and a buyer). Did you think it is a good idea? Did you hope he is a reliable partner?

The old form of the Perfect Tense with the auxiliary to be is acceptable in the phrases of the type: Their enthusiasm is gone, I’m done (= I have finished), Are you finished with the dishes?

A learner of English should be careful while identifying the word recently (which is usually a marker of the Perfect tense). If the word means from some time in the past until now, the Perfect tense is used. However, when the meaning is some time ago, one should use the Past Indefinite. The same concerns other markers of the Perfect tenses: lately, ever, never. Cf. Have you ever talked with the boss? (the addressee keeps working at this company), and Did you ever talk with the boss? (the addressee was once working at a company and is now asked about his previous communication with the boss of that company).

In British English the usage of the Perfect tenses in the constructions to be the (first, second) …+ (that) + Clause and to be + adjective in the superlative degree + Clause is a norm. E.g. This is the first time (that) I’ve been here. OR: He was the most middle-class person (that) I have known.

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