Archive for May, 2015


May 31, 2015

The phrase That was the curious incident functioning as a familiar quotation indicates an event that didn’t happen, but the absence of this event is more significant than its existence. The quotation is an allusion to Sherlock Holmes’ words from Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Adventure of Silver Blaze. In this story Sherlock Holmes observed that a dog on the farm hadn’t barked at night while the racehorse (named Silver Blaze) was being stolen, which made Sherlock Holmes infer that the horse had been led away by someone who was a member of the household and whom the dog knew quite well. In the aftermath of this inference, the criminal was identified. A longer phrase, of which the curious incident is a part (The curious incident of the dog in the night-time), was borrowed by Mark Haddon for the title of his well-known mystery novel that later won several prestigious book awards and had a few stage adaptations.

2015-05-30 16.35.44 In its turn, Mark Haddon’s book has also become a source of quotations. The site gives more than 150 sentences and even passages that resonate among readers. In fact, the book is a window into the world as viewed by an autistic teenager. The boy is very good at math, but in all other aspects he is a 5-year-old child, though having a fresh look at thing around him. Like Sherlock Holmes, he also investigates a murder – the murder of a neighbor’s dog. To every chapter of his first-person narration Christopher (the teenager) assigns only prime numbers: the first three chapters are numbered correspondingly 1, 2, and 3, but the fourth chapter goes under number 5, the fifth under 7, the sixth under 11, etc. The boy explains his choice in the following way:

“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.” 

You may also be impressed at how philosophically this boy measures himself against cosmos:

“…and I went into the garden and lay down and looked at the stars in the sky and made myself negligible.” 

When doing the study of the phrase curious incident I looked through some websites dedicated to “sherlockians” (aka “holmesians”) and “sherlockisms,” and I was surprised to find out that, for instance, the familiar phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” was never used by Sherlock Holmes in this form. What has actually been used was a one-off “elementary” – in the The Crooked Man:

“…I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson,” said he. “When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom.” “Excellent!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he.”

Among other utterances that struck my eye were: “There’s nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”, or “I never guess – it is a shocking habit destructive to the logical faculty.” Sherlock Holmes’ perception is rather sharp, isn’t it?

What is it that makes quotations from literature so loaded and expressive for the reader? In the first place, it’s their applicability to situations the reader goes through. In other words, the ability of the quotations to be “internalized.” The more situations which can be associated with a quotation, the deeper will the quotation be rooted in the reader’s mind. For instance, each time when I see that there have been no major changes in the life of my country – even after the new president, the new government and the new parliament came to power last year (the old guard are not brought to court for the crimes they have committed, the corrupted judicial system is not reformed, no preferences to small and medium business are given, etc.) – I say to myself ironically: “Another curious incident.”

One more characteristic that turns such expressions into our possession is our experience. As I age into the late afternoon of my life, I get better understanding of life when it is compared with prime numbers: on the one hand life is simple, on the other hand you can hardly work out the rules for that simplicity, even if you “spend your whole time thinking about them.

On these warm and short nights in May my balcony door is always open. I go to the balcony and forget about all kinds of “curious incidents”: I just look at the stars in the sky, think about eternity and… make myself negligible.


May 27, 2015

I like playing chessChess pieces named “a knight” and “a bishop” in English have respective Ukrainian names “a horse” and “an elephant” in Ukrainian. With this knowledge, it is easy to understand a Ukrainian joke about a zoologist who noticed on the chessboard nothing but horses and elephants. Looking for the best way to translate the joke into English I thought about substituting a zoologist by another specialist with the simultaneous replacement of the chess pieces: an ornithologist – rooks, a historian – knights, a theologian – bishops, a royalist – the King and the Queen, a lender – pawns.

Then I digressed and thought of a potential player who would be able to keep a watchful eye on ALL the chess pieces at the same time. His profile might be: a graduate of a history school, being also a royal family fan. His recreational activity can be observation of birds. On weekdays he would work as lender at a company, and on Sundays – go to a neighboring Anglican church. With all that background he will notice all the chess pieces on the board (see the paragraph above). However, there’s one more prerequisite: to be a player he must also know how to move the pieces 🙂 For this, please,  read  the Russian classics — The Twelve Chairs by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeniy Petrov (Part 3, Chapter 34: The Interplanetary Chess Tournament) to be found at 


May 20, 2015

2015-05-20MOM-METhe first picture of me was taken 65 years ago. I was smiling into my Dad’s camera while my Mom squatted by my side to support the toddler from falling off his feet. My friends say now that with my big bald head slightly covered by a country feller’s cap and with the solid corn stalks in the background I resemble the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev at the peak of his “maize campaign” in the 1960s after he returned from the U.S.A. in 1959.2015-05-20Khrushchev's maize campaign2

My latest image: an optimistic pensioner in a black-and-red track suit looking forward to talking with his 5-year-old granddaughter via Face Time. After a few minutes the granddaughter, periodically casting professional glances (as she was taught at school) at Granddad’s face in her Dad’s (my son’s) smartphone, 2015-05-20will draw my picture in her writing pad: a bespectacled face, a broad smile, short hair, dimples (rather wrinkles) in my cheeks, big ears. A spitting image of what little Sophia saw in her video box.2015-05-20ME2

I am enjoying the picture drawn by Sophia, as well as the photo of my tiny artist standing on her tiptoes against the blue expanse of the sky and sea … So far she does not know anything about Vasco da Gama or Ferdinand Magellan, William Adams or Francis Drake, James Cook or Horatio Nelson… But those are the same waves, the gusts of the same wind and the blueness of the same sky that made those people great.


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May 12, 2015

While following the style of expression to which possible 2016 contenders for American presidency resort, I was surprised to find out that they try to avoid using the term “middle class”, although for each of them it’s critically important to win that social stratum over to their side. The clue to the lexical aberration may be the results of the recent Gallup poll ( The “middle class” had long been synonymous with the American dream – a house in the suburbs, a permanent job, tertiary education for children, opportunities for social mobility, financial security (also in one’s old age). At present the situation in the American society is described by sociologists as an “hourglass model”: much wealth is being concentrated in the upper stratum, more low-paying jobs appeared at the bottom, but a lot of jobs with median wages have been lost in the middle. Actually, for millions of families the middle has ceased to be a secure place. Belonging to the middle class evokes fears of falling behind, social connotations of the term have changed, so candidates wishing to appeal to middle-class Americans do not know how to address them and they are grasping for a right word. I watched excerpts from speeches of a few American politicians on the Internet. Here’s how they say it:

Mike Huckabee (R): “The working class blue collar people who grew up a lot like I did – not blue blood, but blue collar…”

Martin O’Malley (D): “Eighty per cent of those who are working harder, but are not getting ahead…”

Senator Rand Paul (R): “All Americans, especially those who have been left behind…”

Senator Ted Cruz (R):Hard-working men and women across America are hurting. We today have the lowest labor participation force since 1979…”

Senator Marco Rubio (R):Millions and millions of people who aren’t rich… “; “… People who are to work full time and raise a family…

Senator Bernie Sanders (D): “There needs to be a voice to represent the working families of this country…

Hilary Clinton, who, generally, uses the replacement “everyday Americans”, once mentioned the “middle class” too. However, she did it in a nostalgic context: “We need to make ‘being the middle class’ mean something again.”

DSC05005bIn 1971 the Russian linguist Ruben Budagov wrote a book “History of Words in the History of Civilisations”, which was rather popular among those who were engaged in sociolinguistic research at that time. I was a post-graduate student in those days and found it an added relish to my studies, following the development of such words as science, art, nature, culture, person, talent, genius, humour, irony, drama, tragedy, romanticism, etc. in their connection with the development of society. Alas, key-words in current social history are less cultural and romantic, but more dramatic and, at times, there are more tragedies of crushed hopes behind them.



May 6, 2015

universe-beautyOnce upon a time there was a planet in the Universe which orbited around its sun, and there was nothing special about the planet and the sun – even the name of the planet was Earth, just like the name of our planet, and there was nothing strange in that coincidence because planets can also be namesakes.

On Earth-2 there co-existed two civilizations – homines quietos, who stood for peace, and homines bellicosos, who thrived on wars. Being tired of continuous strife the quietos asked a magician (he was also one of the quietos) to rid them of wars. The magician waved his wand and – presto! – all weapons disappeared from Earth-2. Peace ensued, but it lasted only for a few days because the bellicosos started using stones instead. After the magician removed all the stones from the surface of the planet, the bellicosos began cutting trees to make clubs and spears. Certainly, the magician couldn’t destroy the trees because in that case the photosynthesis would also be destroyed and, eventually, there would be no life on Earth-2. The magician was at a loss not knowing what to do.

Then a little boy came up to the magician and said: “Sir, what if all people feel the way they make other people feel?”

“How’s that?” asked the magician.

“If someone hurts another person, let him also feel the same pain. If someone makes other people happy, may he also be happy.”

The magician thought for a moment, then he took out his wand and waved it…

Since that time there were no more wars on that planet. The two civilizations merged into one which was called populum felicem, and populum felicem was made up of numerous nations. If translated into English, the nations’ names would mean something like Cheerful, Elated, Glad, Joyful, Contented, Merry, Delighted, Thrilled, Blessed, Gratified, Mirthful, Responsible, Helpful, Considerate, Attentive, etc.

To mark the change, the people of Earth-2 renamed their planet, so I cannot say at the moment where to find it because it is floating in the depths of the Universe under some other name. But I’ll continue surfing the stars, and as soon as I spot the planet, I will let you know through Facebook.


May 4, 2015

Bild027This past Friday, when I was jogging along the embankment, I received a call on my mobile. I looked at the display, read the name of the caller and shouted “Hello, Mykola” measuring my shout to the rhythm of the run. The first words I heard this time from Mykola, my long-standing friend, were a German rhyme: Rote Fahnen, freue Leute, // Blasorchester geht vorbei. // Unser Feiertag ist heute, // Heute ist der erste Mai.   (Red flags, joyful people, a brass band is going by, today is our feast day, today is the first of May).

 My friend is appealingly odd. He never ceases to think out of the box, and is an interesting person to talk with. In 1956 we started going to school together. After seven years my parents moved to another place (“moved to town”, as we used to say, because we were living in the country at that time), but Mykola and I kept being in touch and are now proud that we have known each other longer than any other people have known us, including our spouses and children.  In those days Mykola was a passionate learner of foreign languages, which was an exceptional thing in a rural school. Later he even tried to enter the Foreign Languages Department at Kyiv University but failed. A plough-jogger couldn’t compete with city applicants trained by private teachers.  Afterwards Mykola was admitted to an agricultural school and nowadays he is a moderately successful farmer. However, Mykola never misses an opportunity to speak German or English with me, and this time he remembered a verse we, as schoolchildren, had been made to learn long ago. Incidentally, after our family had moved to town I began learning English instead, and there was less of ideological brainwashing in class, since all English-speaking countries were “bourgeois” countries, but German teaching in a village school was based on the political realities of the “Deutsche Demokratische Republik “ and it exploited communist mottoes of that country. In those days German learners in the USSR knew Ernst Thälmann’s biography better than their own parents’ life histories.

Bild026Having exchanged a few words with Mykola, I jogged on thinking about the transformations May Day has suffered.  A traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures, it had been preserving roughly that status all the way till the end of the 19th century when May Day was chosen by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the shooting of workers by the Chicagoan police in May, 1886. As a young man, I used to march in civil parades past the podium where local party functionaries were standing, and I chanted, together with my fellow-students or colleagues, something like “Long live the first of May, the day of international solidarity of all workers.”  After the disintegration of the USSR and the number of the world proletarians dwindling due to the technological revolution, the ideological charge of the holiday worked itself out. Even in Russia, the former citadel of communism, the day is officially named as Day of Spring and Labor.

Bild023In Ukraine, with its “multi-vector” course of development, May 1 is still the Day of International Solidarity of Workers (there’ a hope that things will start changing after the recent anti-communist law was adopted last month, and the day will be renamed). When local communists celebrate it, they hardly think of any “solidarity” or international workers’ movement. Being Putin’s fifth column, they keep crying for the Russian moon and choke with rage when Ukrainian independence is mentioned.

This year the communist-style May Day was banned in Ukraine, and after a short unofficial rally held near the museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kyiv the first secretary of the Ukrainian communist party Petro Symonenko (a rather affluent person, by the way) had to flee through the bushes from angry pro-Ukrainian activists. As I was watching the video of his escape, I thought that all those party functionaries on the podium in Brezhnev times would have hardly believed that such things could happen if they had been told about how the communist May Day -2015 would be celebrated in Ukraine.

Bild029After jogging I took several pictures of the Dnipro and the fishermen, and the beautiful panorama. A gorgeous morning in May… If I were to give a name for this day, I would probably name it the Day of Jogging along the Embankment with the Dnipro and Heavens Embracing Each Other. A sort of longish name, but exact.


May 3, 2015

Here’s a story by Konstantin Paustovskiy, one of my favorite Russian writers. This “very short” story introduces a longer one dealing with secrets of a writer’s creative work. The longer story has the title THE GOLDEN ROSE.

I couldn’t find THE OLD MAN IN A STATION CAFÉ in English, which is why I had to translate it and post it for the readers’ most critical judgment and (hopefully) approval. The Russian variant is supplied. I am also giving the YouTube address of a video I came across while browsing the Internet. The video is somewhat rough and not so romantic as the story. Anyway, it serves well to emphasize the beauty of the literary piece.


by Konstantin Paustovskiy

Paustovskiy-1A thin old man with a prickly stubble on his face was sitting in the corner of a café at the train station of Mayori. Swishing winter squalls swept over the Bay of Riga. Thick ice gripped the coast, and from behind the raised clouds of snow one could hear the surf thundering against the ice flange.

The old man must have dropped in at this the cafe to warm himself. He didn’t order anything and only sat gloomily on a wooden bench, with his hands tucked into the sleeves of his unskillfully  patched fisherman’s coat.

A white hairy dog had come with the old man. It sat on the floor clinging to his foot and quivering from cold.

Next to his table a group of burly young men with reddened necks were noisily drinking beer. The snow melted on their hats. The melt water dripped into their beer mugs and onto the sandwiches Paustovskiy-2topped with slices of smoked sausage. But the young men argued about the recent football match and did not notice that.

When one of the men took a sandwich and bit into it, the dog gave up. It came to the man’s table, stood up on its hind legs and, in an ingratiating manner, started looking into the man’s mouth.

“Patty”, called the old man quietly. “Shame on you, Patty. ”Stop bothering people!”

But Patty remained standing. Her front legs shivered and she lowered them tiringly now and again. Each time her legs touched her wet belly, she braced herself up and raised them again.

However, the men did not notice the dog. They were engaged in the discussion and kept adding cold beer into their mugs over and over again.

The falling snow stuck to the window panes. A shiver ran down the spine to see the men drinking icy beer in such cold.

“Hey, Patty”, the old man called again. “Come here, Patty!”

The dog wagged her tail a few times as if intimating that she heard the old man’s words and apologized to him, but she could not help staying where she was. She did not look at the old man, she even averted her eyes. It seemed she was about to say, ‘Myself, I also know that it’s not good to beg, but you can’t afford a sandwich like that for me.’

“Patty”, whispered the old man deprecatingly. His voice shook. “Why are you putting your master to shame? Don’t I share my last piece of bread with you?”

Patty wagged her tail again and threw an imploring glance at the old man. It was as if she was asking him not to shout to her anymore and not to shame her, because she, too, felt awkward about all that, and she would never beg from strangers if she didn’t need it desperately.

At last, one of the men with high cheekbones and a green hat on his head noticed the dog.

“Begging, little bitch, aren’t you?” he asked. “Where’s your master?”

Patty wagged her tail happily, looked at the old man and gave a low yelp.

“It’s not right, mister,” the young man said. “You keep the dog, but you don’t provide for it. That’s what I call bad manners. Your dog begs! Begging is illegal in this country.”

The young men guffawed.

“You gave him the works, Valka,” said one of them and threw the dog a slice of sausage.

“No, Patty,” shouted the old man. His wind-battered face and his thin veiny neck turned red.

The dog squirmed and, lowering her tail, she went back to the old man without looking at the sausage.

“Don’t you take a single crumb from them!” the old man said.

He went rummaging in his pockets, got out a few silver and copper coins and started to count them on his palm, blowing off specks of dust that stuck to them. His fingers were trembling.

“So touchy!” the young man said. “See, how independent he is!”

“You just leave him. What do you have to do with him?” said another young man in a conciliatory tone pouring beer for everyone.

The old man did not say anything. He came up to the bar and put a handful of small change on the wet counter.

“A sandwich, please,” he said in a hoarse voice.

The dog was standing by him with her tail between her legs.

The saleswoman gave the old man two sandwiches on a plate.

“One, please,” the old man said.

“Take both,” the saleswoman said quietly. “You won’t bring me to ruin.”

Paldies,” said the old man in Latvian. “Thank you.”

He took the sandwiches and walked out to the platform. It was empty. A squall had just passed over, another was coming in, but it was still far away on the horizon. One could even see the sun shining weakly at the white forests behind the river Lielupa.

The old man sat down on the bench, gave one sandwich to Patty, wrapped the other in a grey handkerchief and put it in his pocket.

The dog ate spasmodically, and the old man talked to her.

“You, Patty. A silly little dog, that’s what you are! Now look what you’ve done, Patty.”

But the dog did not listen to him. She was eating. The old man looked at her rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. The wind made his eyes teary.

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