Saturday, March 08, 2014

Saule, Perkons, Daugava: Latvia

Whenever I hear this song, part of me wishes I were Latvian. This is a performance from the 2008 Latvian Song Festival.

Happy International Women's day to all who celebrate.

And now I'm off to convey my own greetings to Saule--who is showing her bright face today.

Come, Spring, come!!

Friday, March 07, 2014

One short step from hate to love (part trois)

We switched places. I picked up the square plastic tub and stirred the paste around while Tanya showed me how much of her hair to grab onto.

"What Irina Ivanovna helped me to understand," said Tanya after another sip from her glass, "Was that it is just one step from love to hate, but the step from hate to love is even shorter."

I put down the hair dye, gave both of Tanya's solid biceps a good squeeze, and told her:

"While you were telling me this, Tanechka, I noticed that your face grew softer, younger somehow, it was almost as if you were a different person."

"Yes," Tanya agreed, eyeing herself in the mirror. "The liveliness has slipped back into me from those days."

When I was done with Tanya’s hair, we stood giggling, patting at our matching tin foil dreadlocks, and then I showed her how to download a clip (this was in the days of turtle-slow internet) from the classic Soviet comedy, Kavkaskaya Plennitsa (Prisoner of the Caucasus, or Kidnapping, Caucasian Style). When it was ready, on Tanya's signal, we both raised our hands in the air and danced towards the bedroom, singing, taunting Tanya's husband of the moment, who sat at another computer with his back to us, pretending to ignore our antics:

"Esli by ya bil Sultan,
(If I were the Sultan)
Ya by imel trekh zhen...
(I would have three wives)
I trinoi krasatoi
(and by three kinds of beauty)
Bil by okruzhen
(would I be surrounded) ...

One short step from hate to love (part deux)

"Irina Ivanovna, may she rest in peace, was one of my best friends, but at first she was my enemy," Tanya began her narration.

"When I was in school, she was the math teacher. I got 'fives' in all of my classes except Algebra, and it was because of my mother. My mother was on a committee for a cooperative that distributed food, and she did not do favors for Irina Ivanovna, who at that time only gave 'fives' to those students whose parents gave her credit 'po blatu' -- bartering their services for hers. That was the way people survived back then, you know. When Irina Ivanovna, with her long nails and big bosoms, handed me my grades and I saw a 'two', I thought I would hate her forever.

"Then, when I had finished my courses at the institute, I was sent to a job where she was the supervisor. I was scared at first, when she called me into her office and grilled me with questions about my political point of view, etc., but when she was done, she smiled and told me that my views coincided with hers.

"That was only the first hurdle in my joining this collective. When I began working, I noticed that my colleagues did not like me, because Irina Ivanovna was giving me more responsibility than they had, even though I was new. They treated me badly, glaring at me and saying bad things behind my back. I told them: all I want to do is work, just let me work, I'm a hard worker. Because I was.

"Irina Ivanovna must have noticed what was going on. She called me into her office one day, when she did, I was again apprehensive, and stood there waiting for some kind of punishment. The other women sympathized with me, saying they hoped everything would be all right. I said again that we just need to do our job, that is the most important thing.

"Irina waved me into her office, and then asked me to step into a closet with her. Once in the closet, she pulled out a bar of Swiss chocolate and some ice cream and offered it to me. It was delicious. I realized from that point on that she was my friend and ally.

"When I walked out of the supervisor's office, the other ladies gathered around me, and I screamed, 'Blya!!!' as loud as I could (insert your favorite expletive). They understood from my manner that I had barely survived the altercation with the boss, and I warned them, 'We'd better get right to work, so nothing more like this happens.'

"After that, the relationship with my colleagues was totally normal. And Irina Ivanovna and I became great friends, we always had the best discussions. But once, she came to my place after I had been drinking a lot and demanded, as was her way, a haircut. 'I have a conference tomorrow, I need a haircut.' The more I protested, the more firm her demands became. So I cut her hair as if she were getting a military crew cut, as if she were a man, and then she had to wear a wig to the conference. She was mad about it later, but I explained how tipsy I was, and that she had kept insisting while I refused. She said she didn't for a minute notice that I'd been drinking. In spite of that we remained friends. Even after I left for America, she held my job open for me, just in case I might return, until her death.

"Your turn, Zaika," announced Tanya at last.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

One short step from hate to love (a Tanya story)

Two doubled sets of eyes peered across the kitchen table into a dingy mirror. The pair of eyes framed with wire-rimmed spectacles belonged to me, and the pair ensconced in rhine-stoned plastic cats-eyes floating above mine, to Tanya. I leaned gingerly against the spine of the office chair my friend had wheeled into the kitchen. Because Tanya was standing behind the chair, her body was invisible, and her head hovered above mine in the mirror as if she were about to turn Cheshire Cat and disappear on me.

Gripping a strand of hair in her left hand, she held a piece of tin foil under it and slathered a chalky, slimy paste onto my hair, then scrunched the foil around the pasty strands. "You get to do me next, devchonka," she announced brightly.

"But," I protested, "I've never done it before... What if I mess you up?"

"That's nothing," she said, grabbing another hank of hair with her sinewy fingers. "Did I ever tell you the story about the time I botched Irina Ivanovna's hair, when she was my boss?"

"Nyet," I murmured encouragingly.

Tanya lifted one of the mis-matched glasses from the table in front of us and sipped the burgundy liquid. "Ah...," she said. "This tastes just like Kagor. You try it. It's my favorite wine that I've found here, it's like communion wine. You would like that, you know," she said, poking fun at my church-going habit.

I took the glass she offered, and sniffed. "Kagor," I mused. "Remember how cheap it was at the market, though you had to be careful about the fakes. I liked Kagor even better than Kinsmarauli, which gave me a horrible migraine once.It was Galya's favorite, though."

Now that we had agreed upon the wine, Tanya continued her story. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

White Nights - Isaac Schwartz - St. Petersburg

The long-lived composer Isaac Schwartz was beloved by many, including the bard Bulat Okudzhava, who dedicated the song, Musician to him.

Here, enjoy his composition, White Nights, with a few views of St. Petersburg from the film of the same name.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Birches, Light - Kuindzhui

Late winter. Leaf-less birch-trees, in profile, reverse gravity: like, and yet unlike the braided rivers, they flow and branch upwards, fractally, sinuously, slowly reaching, inch by painful inch, but never achieving--the blue heights.

Sunlight crawls over the mountains, glances at the trunks and crowns--and look! they are glittering, purer than gold. The blue is now hopelessly jealous of their transformation in the light.

Birch, willow, spruce (not catching the light that I want to--maybe another day)

That is how it looks out my window, some mornings, but here are some paintings of birch trees in other seasons, and other lights, by the Ukrainian artist, Arkhip Kuindzhui:

On Valaam Island (1873)

The Birch Grove (1879)

Monday, March 03, 2014

White Ravens

Borsch would then be bubbling,
Four pairs of slippers, shuffling,
scuffing the tiles on the way to the kitchen.

Straight by way of bus, from the dusty
bowels of the Tretyakov,
Mama would don an orange house coat,
tallying her beloved paintings.

Pungent, permanent haloes,
axle grease and diesel,
clung to Papa's hair.
Smoke curled past his ears.

Yesenin's poems held the place
where Pasha's nose might exist.

Olya, with that fierce pose,
should have caught a Firebird,
instead of tapping her cigarette on the sill.

After Pasha served with the boys
fresh from Afghan',
only his spectacles returned,
in a parcel sealed with wax.

One day, a gigantic beard
carried off Olya the almond-eyed.
Birch branches brushed the sill in shock.

Every year, on February 23rd,
Pasha perches at the window,
elbows akimbo, a white raven.

Mama knows not to try to touch him.
She opens the book and begins to read:

"Лицом к лицу
 Лица не увидать.
 Большое видится на расстоянье.

Face to face,
A face is unseen.
The whole is glimpsed only at a distance."


------Open to editorial discussion on this one..............

And more Rachmaninoff (I spell it as it appears in YouTube), Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13:

Sofia Rotaru - Aist na krishe - for peace in Ukraine

A song of Sofia Rotaru's. People, we all need to be quieter, let wars perish in the mist, don't scare the sacred storks who live on our roofs--may peace come to our lands!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Lyubo, bratsi, lyubo - for Varvara

Into an émigré family in China in the 1930's, a bright, fierce soul was born, the granddaughter of a Cossack ataman: Varvara. Her first language was Russian; the second, Mandarin. Later, when the family made its way to the United States, English became her third language, and a new identity, which she proudly owned.

Varvara possessed a ringing, authoritative, powerful voice from her youth. Early on, she learned to take the reins in life. She sang her way through operas and symphonies, directed choirs, and obtained several college degrees, supported in her career by her beloved husband. And then, when he passed away: it was at this time that Varvara's life took a different turn. She decided to attend seminary, and became a chaplain, first in a remote Alaskan village; then she returned to what she had always thought of as her native land, although she had never seen its soil--to serve it as best she could.

Varvara journeyed to Russia as a Protestant chaplain, during the difficult times in the 1990's, delivering needed medications. There her heart turned even closer to her roots: she met an Abbess whose words moved her profoundly, and found herself singing her way back into the Orthodox faith, while serving, and assisting those who were in need--especially young women.

At that time, in some cities in the Russian Far East, in winter-time, inside the apartment buildings, the temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Food was not making it to all of the places where people lived. Young girls, in many places, were considered disposable fodder. Varvara opened a house to them, started a church, directed the choir. She was too good! Too noticeable. Varvara played chess with the Bishop--a stalemate. Varvara played chess with the oligarchy: she lost.

When Varvara came rushing back to the states to withdraw a large sum, to help a young man with a terrible dilemma--and told me the truth about what was happening to the deliveries of food aid to the Far East, how they were ending up on the black market--perhaps I should have cried, "Varvara, be careful!" But she was ever the warrior. She may have saved a man--but ended up being expelled, absolutely unjustly, from her beloved motherland, forever.

Did that end Varvara's mission? Far from it. She continued social work with children and the elderly until her last breath.

Fourteen years ago, Varvara presented me with a gift: a blue dress she had worn at a concert; I had the honor to sing with her, several times, in a choir. It is still my favorite dress; I will keep it as long as I am able.

It was with sadness that I heard of Varvara's recent passing.

Varvara, vechnaya pamyat'! Memory eternal. May her soul dwell with the blessed. Varvara taught me: it isn't the label pasted on your forehead that matters, but that you keep your candle burning, and never stop singing.


I think Varvara would smile at the song I have posted above, Lyubo, bratsi, lyubo, lyubo, bratsi, zhit' (Lovely, brothers, lovely, lovely 'tis to live)--sung by Zhanna Bichevskaya, so I am including it here in her honor.

(for erin) when i ask, where have the redpolls gone, and why the silence at my seed station your eyes, unbidden twin candles startle ...

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