Archive for December, 2012


December 10, 2012

This week saw two anniversaries which bear some similarity, though they relate to different times and involve different people.

On December 7, 1972 the American astronauts Gene Cernan, Jack Schmitt, and Ron Evans lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on their way to the Moon. Cernan became the 12th and, so far, the  last man to set foot on the lunar surface. The Apollo program was finished.

2012-12-10Apollo17Yesterday I watched on the Internet the celebration of the 40th anniversary of that flight to the Moon.  Eugene Cernan spoke bitterly about the frustration of the hopes which they had cherished half a century ago. “We are standing with our hands in our pockets… It is tremendously disappointing… A half century ago, we went 250,000 miles, cracked the door open, and never walked through it into the future. The future is still out there…(At the moment) we spend one half of one penny of every one of our tax dollars on space, all of space”

“To say that I thought it would be 40 years, or what is really going to turn out to be 50 or 60 years before Americans are back on the moon, I would not have guessed that at all,” Harrison (“Jack”) Schmitt added.

The mission that was supposed to start a path toward space travel became only a history lesson.

The second anniversary was about Mathias Rust, a German teenager from Hamburg. Twenty-five years ago he 2012-12-09Rust4started serving his four-year jail sentence in the Soviet Union. Six months before that, on May 28 (right on Border Guards Day in the ex-USSR), he landed his Cessna plane near the Kremlin towers because, as he said at that time, he “wanted to set an imaginary bridge between East and West.”  Mathias Rust, became a hero in West Germany having gone through the Soviet air defenses, Michael Gorbachev used his flight to kick out hard-liners from the government, and for most people in the Soviet Union the 19-year-old German was a sympathetic character. As a dedicated Gorbachevite  in those days, I was really glad when Mathias Rust was released after 14 months of staying in prison.

Later Mathias brushed with the law again: first he went behind bars in Germany for having stabbed a young woman who had spurned his advances. In 2001 he was convicted of theft, in 2005 he was convicted of fraud and had to pay €1,500 for stolen goods. Now he describes himself as a financial analyst, a poker player and a yoga instructor.

We were all dreamers when we were young. The American astronauts who thought about an exciting era they were opening, millions of the Russians who sympathized with Rust, and, probably, even Mathias Rust himself, who might have really believed that he was building the “imaginary bridge.”

Those dreams are gone. Instead, there came other expectations: the Americans hope their Mars Rover will find life on the Red Planet, Mother Russia looks forward to pulling her wayward children back into her lap, the Ukrainians desperately want to become orphans.

On a positive note, however, it should be mentioned that both the space endeavor of the 1960s and the Mathias Rust flight generated a good many jokes. One is the popular myth that NASA planned to develop a pen that would write in outer space, would contain enough ink, would not depend on changes of temperature or air pressure, would not be too big in size and would stay comparatively cheap. To which the people from the development laboratory said, “Hey, guys, haven’t you tried a pencil?”

On the other side of the globe, people were queuing up on Red Square with their travel bags, suitcases, etc. When asked why they were standing there, they answered, “Waiting for a flight to Hamburg.”


December 2, 2012

Calendar-20121. December 1st has always been a special date:  it’s the beginning of winter  (even though the winter may be quite snow-less), it’s also the sign that the year is finishing (time to sum up what has been done during the lap you’ve covered), as well as the anticipation of some unique atmosphere, particularly if you know that your children come to see their parents and to stay at your place from Christmas to the New Year, and then to Orthodox Christmas and, as the case may be, even into the Old New Year (which is  January 14).

For my Dad it was different. On this day he used to say, “Today’s December 1 – the day when Kirov was assassinated.”  When Sergey Kirov, Stalin’s comrade, was shot dead in the hallway of the communist headquarters in Leningrad in 1934, my father was 13 years old, and he said he had never doubted that the assassination was arranged by Stalin himself – to consolidate the whole power in his own hands. Rumors about Stalin’s involvement in the murder of Kirov were circulating among ordinary people too. One of the “protest couplets” sung in undertones in those days was “ Эх, огурчики, помидорчики, //Сталин Кирова убил  в коридорчике” (roughly translated  as, “You may say whatever you like, but it is Stalin who killed Kirov in the corridor”).

Within a few weeks of Kirov’s death some 20 “accomplices” were executed, and about 12,000 of “class aliens” (mostly, members of the opposition, the old gentry, army generals, intellectuals, etc) were exiled to Siberia.

weapons2. The topic of guns is becoming more frequent in Ukraine nowadays. The police are busy mainly with pacifying crowds, when people demonstrate against the government’s  policy, but you do not feel safe at all while returning home in dark hours of the day. Last month, in broad daylight, a young man shot dead three guards at a big shopping centre in Kyiv and disappeared. Later, someone looking like the murderer was found in the outskirts of the town, but there are serious doubts that it was the murderer himself. Opinions are heard that private possession of guns should be officially allowed.  This way or the other, but stores with the name “Weapons” started appearing in the capital city (see the picture).

gagarin pub3. I’m no adherent of the former Soviet empire, but, in my opinion, Yuri Gagarin belongs not only to the Soviet Union or Russia  – he is a representative of the planet Earth. And to see the picture of him with his  famous words  “Поехали!(“ There we go!) over a pub entrance looks like bad humor to me.

Ukrainian meat4. Once I mentioned in my blog that a popular word used here for saying that a product is of high quality, is “euro-“. Thus, we have “euro-repairs”, euro-windows”, euro-locks” (for doors),” euro-filling” (for teeth), “euro-lab” (medical analysis), etc. However, there’s one area, for which the characteristics “home-made” is valued more: food products. I was kind of proud seeing the notice “Ukrainian Fresh Meat” over a meat kiosk. And when my wife and I went to the market today, I was amused to find out that apples can STILL have thick delicious smell enveloping you even if you stood somewhat afar from the apple stall. I couldn’t help taking a picture of a guy from Vinnytsia,  who was selling the apples, as well as of his odorous fruit.Ukrainian apples-1

5. One of the purchases my wife and I made at the market was a broom. When we came to an old woman selling brooms, I said jokingly: “Nice vacuum-cleaners, as I can see!”  To which the woman immediately retorted: “Made by the Japanese company METY-SUKO-SAM.” Arranged as a Japanese sound pattern, it was a somewhat robust Ukrainian phrase, loosely translated as “Pick it up and sweep on your own, dude!” After that repartee it was quite a pleasure to buy from the old lady. Besides, the “Japanese” make was rather cheap – just only 20 hryvnias (USD 2.5).

new broom

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