Archive for July, 2012

TUVALUAN MIRROR

July 28, 2012

I would never have thought that I would get interested in the Polynesian country of Tuvalu, a member of the United Nations, the fourth smallest nation in the world after Vatican City, Monaco and another island nation in the Pacific – Nauru. Tuvalu has a population of about 10,000 people and its land size is 26 square km (10 sq mi). At its highest, Tuvalu is only 4.6 metres (15 ft) above sea level. It is estimated that a sea level rise of 20–40 centimetres (8–16 inches) in the next 100 years could make Tuvalu uninhabitable. Each of the nine islands making Tuvalu has a primary school. Besides, there is a secondary school on the atoll of Vaitupu, the largest of the Tuvalu atolls.

The country spends no money on the military, except that its police have a patrol boat. The Prime-Minister of Tuvalu heads the 15-member Tuvaluan Parliament. There are no formal political parties and election campaigns are largely based on personal/family ties and reputations.

Curiously enough, Tuvalu is involved in Big Politics. It recognizes the separatist regimes of Abkhazia and Osetia, which are a part of Georgia in the Caucasus, but which seceded and have diplomatic ties with some five-six countries of the world, including Russia.

Having read about Tuvalu on the Internet, I thought that there were some similar tendencies in Ukraine: plummeting educational standards, shrinking of science and research, the character of election campaigns, kowtowing to authoritarian states, degradation of the armed forces, Tuvaluans working abroad and sending money to support their relatives in the country … Even the perspective of its existence in 100 years’ time looks similar.

Why did I become interested in Tuvalu? I was announced today that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has authorized Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations to sign a joint statement on the establishment of diplomatic relations with that country.

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HOW IT ALL STARTS…

July 16, 2012

Little Maya decided to measure her weight using the bathroom scale. The problem was that the scale didn’t register a weight of less than 40 kg. No matter how much Maya was trying to become “heavier”, her weight was definitely lower than 40 kilos: the digital display of the scale was hopelessly black. But… Those who seek will find. Maya took two dumbbells, each weighing 5 kilos, and stepped on the scale. When her “new” weight of 45 kg was displayed, she subtracted 10 from 45 and knew her real weight”: 35 kg.

In my opinion, the round-about way of Maya’s detecting the undetectable, is of no less significance on her personal level than the discovery of the Higgs boson on the level of particle physics. Mr. Peter Higgs might have been measuring his weight in the same way when he was 11 years old.

THE COUNTRIES WE CHOOSE

July 8, 2012

My traditional summer pursuit has always been (and remains) “pruning” my book-shelves. Doing it this weekend I leafed through some national periodicals which date back ten years, and I was amazed at how “fresh” they were: you needed only to replace names and dates and you would get yesterday’s news.

In this connection I remembered the film “The City Named ZERO” (Misto Zero) made by the Soviet producer Karen Shakhnazarov in the times of Gorbachev’s perestroika. In the film, an engineer Alexei Varakin goes on a business trip to a factory in a provincial town where he experiences the “theater of the absurd.” Some examples of absurdities:  the admittance card he ordered a few minutes before is missing, the secretary in the director’s office is stark naked and nobody seems to notice it. The director of the factory doesn’t know that the chief engineer died in an accident several months ago. A restaurant in which the protagonist is having his meal is unusually empty. In addition to the meal, the chef of the restaurant offers Varakin a “gift” – a cake in the form of his own head. When Varakin refuses to accept it, the chef commits suicide. The prosecutor who investigates the case tells Varakin that the chef was Varakin’s father and that Varakin’s real name is not Alexei but Mohammad, etc. When Varakin makes up his mind to leave the city, it turns out that at the railway station there are no tickets available, and there will be no tickets in the future. Moreover, the roads from the City of Zero lead nowhere. A young boy tells Varakin (Mohammad?) the exact date of his future death and that a tombstone will be placed on Varakin’s burial place, as ordered by his daughters.

While packing the ten-year-old periodicals to throw them into a trash container, I thought about the irrationality of life in this country where the time has stopped, and about the “gravitational pull” that makes its people accept delusional absurdities as something routine-like. Though I admit: there are many “rebellious hearts” who “buy a ticket” and “find the road.” According to the unofficial statistics, more than 7 million people have left Ukraine within the last 20 years.  When my sister with her three children was emigrating in the 1990s, I tentatively suggested that things in this country might still be put right and the life would be getting back to normal. “What do you mean by “getting back?” my sister asked. “Can you name any period since the time of Kyivan Rus when the life in Ukraine was “normal?”

Today I was talking with my sister on skype. For me, she hasn’t changed at all since the time fifteen years ago. When we were talking, her 3-month grandson (my grand-nephew) was quietly asleep in the adjacent room. Yesterday he had been taken to “attend” a baseball game. That was his first sports experience in the country which he will call his own.

THE ARTIST by Felix Krivin

July 5, 2012

Felix Krivin is a Russian writer whom I discovered being still a high school student – in the 1960s. I didn’t find this short story in English, so I translated it. Hopefully, the readers will enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed translating it. Incidentally, the illustrative photo has been downloaded from the Internet and performs only a symbolic function, being in no way connected with Felix Krivin or with the plot of the story.

Once upon a time there lived an artist. As a child, he painted a picture of an old man. The old man in the picture was a product of his own imagination but looked very much lifelike. Now and then, the Little Artist added something new to the picture – just a touch or two every time – until the Old Man grew sick and tired of “being improved.” Finally, he stepped down from the portrait and said:

“You’ve harried me to death! Stop it!”

The Little Artist was dumbfounded: he wasn’t acquainted with any old men who would step down from their own portraits.

“Who are you?” he asked. “A magician?”

“Not quite.”

“A trickster?”

“Not quite.”

“A-a-h! I understand it now,” the boy exclaimed. “That’s exactly what your name is: Not Quite, right?”

“You got it,” the Old Man said. “That’s my name. And do you know why? Anybody who has anything to do with me thinks that I’m not quite what they need.”

“What do you do, then?” the boy asked.

“Well, I’ve got quite something to do here,” the Old Man replied. “Everything created on this earth by Man is created with my help. At some point you’ll come to understand it.”

Having said that, the Old Man retreated into the canvas.

The Little Artist didn’t dare touch the portrait any more. He hid it away and forgot about it.

Time passed. The Little Artist grew up and became a Real Artist. His art was recognized and loved, and his paintings were exhibited in the best art galleries of the world. Many people envied the Artist – they envied his fame and his success and considered him to be a happy man.

However, that wasn’t the case.

The Artist wasn’t pleased with his pictures. He liked them when he was painting them. When a picture was finished, doubts stated assailing the Artist. Every new picture was a disappointment.

Once he came back home from another exhibition and couldn’t go to sleep. He ran back over his pictures and felt annoyed with people because they were admiring them.

“The pictures are not quite what they should be,” the Artist exclaimed.

All of a sudden, the Old Man, whom the artist had painted in his early childhood, arose before him.

“Good evening,” the Old Man said. “It looks like you wanted to see me.”

“Who are you?” asked the Artist in surprise.

“You haven’t recognized me.” The Old Man’s voice was sad. “Remember the portrait you once painted.”

“Don’t tell me about my paintings,” said the Artist. “Nothing comes out of it, no matter how much I try. Why do all people like my pictures?”

“Why ‘all’ people? I, for one, don’t particularly like them.”

“You don’t you like my pictures?!”

“Why should it surprise you? You don’t like them either.”

The talk had upset the Artist. True, he used to be critical of his work, but he also found comfort in thinking that he was the only one who took that approach, and his view could be erroneous.

The Artist kept on working hard as he never did before. New pictures made him even more famous and assuaged all his doubts.”If the Old Man saw my pictures now, he would definitely like them,” the Artist thought.

But the Old Man didn’t appear.

Many years passed.

Being already old and ill, the Artist was once burrowing among his archives and he found the portrait of the Old Man.

“What kind of picture is it?” he thought. “I don’t remember it.”

“And again you forgot me,” said the Old Man stepping down from the portrait. “All the time I have been waiting to be called, but you never did it. You might have been quite satisfied with your paintings and you forgot about the old Not Quite, and he is the only one who could have helped you create anything valuable. Here are your pictures! Look at them through my eyes.”

Suddenly, all the pictures were given a new look. The Artist gazed at them and he didn’t believe that he had painted them.

“What’s this?” he shouted. “Are they my pictures? Did I really paint them? It’s not quite what I meant to create.”

“You are calling me,” the Old Man said sorrowfully. “It’s too late now. Alas, too late.”

APOLOGY FOR SNOBBERY

July 4, 2012

I love this sitcom. Keeping Up Appearances (5 series, 44 episodes), aired from October 1990 till December 1995, is # 12 on the list of 100 best British sitcoms since 1954. Now it may be watched on YouTube.

Hyacinth Bucket, a middle class woman, wants to rise socially, and being obsessed by this goal, is involved in an endless stream of comic situations. She is torn apart between what she understands as her “low” origin, and her aspirations. She insists that her surname should be pronounced in a French way – “Bouquet”, she drops names trying to create the impression that she rubs shoulders with an elite, she henpecks her husband for his perspiring too much while gardening, etc. Her biggest headache is her relatives: two sisters (one of whom is married to a “bone-idle” guy) and her senile father. All the relatives live in a rundown council house and they don’t particularly care for the order and cleanliness inside or outside it. Her father is prone to run periodically from home to meet women of easy virtue, whereupon the whole clan starts looking for him – being afraid that he might have fled to the trenches of World War I, which he thinks is still going on.

Snobs are usually disliked. The starring actress Patricia Routledge also said that she had opposed snobbery in real life. However, while watching this sitcom episode after episode I warmed up to Ms Bucket’s (sorry, Bouquet’s) pursuit of perfectionism. I enjoy her exquisite English which is echoing the language of Victorian novels; the interior of her house is immaculate; even when she’s angered she never shows her true emotions that may hurt people who are the cause of that anger. I don’t know why the blunt straightforwardness or defiant slovenliness of her sisters should be more positive than her intention to look better. And when Hyacinth “Bouquet” makes a laughing-stock of herself, I don’t always laugh with the laughter track: I’m just …a little sorry for the “lady of the house” who, snobbishly, forces her way to the top from the lowest rung by means of her bootstraps and never goes an inch higher.

BLACKLISTED PAST

July 3, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

On its official site http://www.minjust.ru/nko/fedspisok/ the Ministry of Justice in Russia presents a list of  1,271 “extremist publications”  which shall not be reproduced, saved or distributed in any form. For those who violate the regulation criminal liability is established.  Among the prohibited printed matter there are materials about the man-made famine of 1933 in Ukraine (orchestrated by communists), books and articles about the Ukrainian Liberation Movement in 1941-1952, the archives about the activities of the KGB.

All that sounds rather familiar. About 30 years ago your career could be broken (or you could even face a prison term) if you mentioned those millions who had died as a result of the genocidal Holodomor, or if you started being interested in the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera.

I think the only reason why the Bible is not on the list is that the Russian Orthodox church is performing a political function at the moment: it’s gathering the ex-USSR lands.

Interestingly, the list was first published in 2007. At that time it contained 14 items of banned literature.

NOW THERE WILL BE NO RAIN, FOR EACH WILL BE SHELTER TO THE OTHER..

July 2, 2012

Today I was working a crossword puzzle from The Guardian. I’m not a particular lover of crosswords, especially of those which are usually published in tabloids and are done by people in the metro. The “across” and “down” questions of the type: “A piece of furniture on four legs with a slab on top; may be used for eating at or writing on” can hardly be encouraging. Crosswords from The Guardian are different. They exploit immediate situations that are well-known to native speakers and challenging to foreigners.

The first question of crossword 25674 ran as follows: Eg Dull and Boring tunes oddly enthrall women in drag (9 letters).The wording seemed kind of strange. The number of the letters wasn’t of much help either. Viewing the puzzle as a material for cross-cultural studies, I peeped into the answers (crossword # 25675). The word sought for was “twintowns.” After googling the three words “Dull”, “Boring” and “twintowns” I came to know an interesting story.

A lady from a village of Dull in Scotland was on a bicycle tour in Oregon, U.S.A., where she bumped into a town named Boring. On her initiative the village council of Dull addressed the administrative ruling body in Boring about establishing a kind of partnership. However, there was a setback: Boring was a town with a population of about 10,000 people, while Dull had only 80 inhabitants. After a two-month red-taping (the period might have been qualified as a “drag” in the crossword I was doing) the council in Boring took a unanimous positive decision about the partnership. The voting was decided not in the form of a traditional show of hands but through the archaic affirmative “aye” shouted in chorus. A special declaration was issued to the effect:

“Be it known throughout the world that Boring, Oregon, U.S.A. and Dull, Scotland, UK are hereby recognized as sister communities. With this declaration the following is stated: sincere wishes for continued freedom, safety and prosperity for each community and its residents.”

At the moment the village of Dull is working on hats and T-shirts to promote the association. The road sign “Dull” will be accompanied with the words “a sister community of Boring”, which is supposed to boost tourism in the area: after seeing the sign drivers may do a double-take, and they will probably want to stop-over at the village hotel. Someone may choose differently, but I would stop.

SPECKS AND LOGS IN THE EYE

July 1, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I find most interesting about EURO-2012 is foreigners and their impressions of Ukraine. The impressions I find even more valuable, because they serve as a mirror in which I can see myself and my own country. Here are some moments picked up from the media which have seemed exotic to the football fans and tourists.

  • 1.A lot of expensive cars in a comparatively poor country. Car owners prefer to ride their own cars through the city even when it’s quicker to get by metro.

 

MY NOTE: Many successful young people consider it not prestigious to travel by public transport or shuttle-buses, also called “marshrutkas.”

  • 2.There’s more freedom for street musicians in Kyiv than in Amsterdam. In Holland they have to take a special test arranged by the municipal council if they want to practice their art “on the asphalt.”

MY NOTE: Of course, the information is not official, but it’s commonly known that in downtown Kyiv every beggar and/or street artist must pay to the protection racketeer, which means that there’s not too much freedom for street performers, in the long run.

  • 3.Every other woman in Ukraine looks like a model (and she dresses accordingly).

MY NOTE: What else is new? The Dutch have taken Holland!

  • 4.Coffee and beer taste better than in Europe. However, in Ukraine prices for these drinks may vary considerably from place to place. The same beer at one shop could be ten times as expensive as in another. See the note to item 6.
  • 5.Hotel prices are exorbitant: you pay 300 Euros for one night at a three-star hotel. See the note to item 6.
  • 6.In restaurants food portions are rather small in size comparing to what the foreigners are used to in their own countries.

MY NOTE TO ITEMS  4, 5  AND 6: People in Ukraine are only coming to know what the limits to their greediness are.

  • 7.Waiters and shop assistants don’t try being friendly. They accept their work as a burden.

 

MY NOTE: The transition from the laziness of the Soviet times to hard work under capitalism may take more than one generation to start smiling and loving what you do.

 

  • 8.People smile rarely. To some European guests it seemed a little strange, since a new generation has grown in Ukraine in the last 20 years: at least THEY could smile more often. See MY NOTE to item 7.
  • 9.The Ukrainians are generally friendly, sincere and open to foreigners. On the negative side, the Swedish fans cannot forget the “walk of shame” when after the defeat they were leaving the stadium (under the protection of the police) to the chant of the Ukrainian fans: “Ukraine, Ukraine! Swedes, go home!”

 

 

MY NOTE: Not all of the football fans are gentlemen. Incidentally, the quickest way  for a complainant to find out the “gentleman-ness” of his counterparts  would be to ask them if they had handkerchiefs in their pockets.

 

  • 11.Streets could be cleaner. Churches and cathedrals are something the Ukrainians can be proud of. However, there’s little information about places of interest and tourist routes through the city and across Ukraine. A lot of buildings look unimpressive: they are box-like and whole districts appear rather monotonous.

 

MY NOTE: The tourist industry in Ukraine, and in Kyiv in particular, is not developed. While talking with me about Kyiv as a tourist attraction, a British student said once, “You just keep walking all the time.” According to the journalists’ poll, 7 out of 10 foreign fans said they wouldn’t like to come to Ukraine again.

 

  • 12.Many food-shops and services work late into night (in Berlin everything is closed after 6 p.m.).

 

MY NOTE: It partially explains the absence of smiling salespersons.

 

  • 13.Too many police in the streets.

 

MY NOTE: On the other hand, the foreigners may feel safer. One of the football fans wore a T-shirt with the words: “Now I fear nothing – I’ve been to Donetsk.”


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