Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sad Russian Poetry Night

No one can be as gloomy as a Russian poet. Go on, I dare you, try to beat this...

 Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека (Блок)

 Night, street, street-lamp, drugstore (Alexander Blok)

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
The night. The street. Street-lamp. Drugstore.

A meaningless dull light about.

Живи ещё хоть четверть века -
Всё будет так. Исхода нет.
You may live twenty-five years more;

All will still be there. No way out.

Умрёшь — начнёшь опять сначала,
И повторится всё, как встарь:
You die. You start again and all

Will be repeated as before:

Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.
The cold rippling of a canal.

The night. The street. Street-lamp. Drugstore.

What do you think?

I encountered this poem years ago and it's dragged itself around in my head ever since. All the Russian poems I treasure are similarly mournful: последний тост (Last Toast) by the long-suffering Anna Akhmatova, и скучно и грустно (Weary and Sad) from Mikhail Lermontov, the allegedly-written-in-blood До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья (Goodbye, My Friend, Goodbye), composed a day before Sergiy Yesenin's death. 

Last year my Russian teacher insisted I memorize a poem for one of our lessons. I memorized Yesenin's poem, since it was mostly intact in my brain anyways. For someone who tends to be rather somber herself, she wasn't amused. Next week, she ordered, you're to memorize another Yesenin poem- Собаке Качалова (To Kachalov's Dog). I only got through the second stanza. To Kachalov's Dog is about a friendly and loyal dog, so there must be equally upbeat creations out there... but they just don't have that same je ne sais quoi about them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Kharkiv, Freedom Square. 2012.
Kharkiv, train station. 2013.
Portland, Pioneer Square. 2014.

Although these trees all look similar, it's a different feeling to be preparing for the holidays this year.

This year there will be a brief flash of activity on Dec 24th and 25th before regular life resumes, instead of solid weeks of celebrating and feasting. It'll be eggnog instead of champagne. Fake snow in storefront windows instead of real snow piled up outside them. (Gotta admit, that's a pleasant change.) This year I'll be working on New Year's Eve.

All the pine and sugar cookie scented candles, all the whimsical rolls of wrapping paper at the grocery store, all the Christmas lights in windows, don't make up for the fact that when I talked to my neighbor the other day, he casually dropped the words "this is the worst time of year." It's true we were talking about getting together for pizza and he meant that this is the worst time of year for meeting up, but in a way it really could be the worst time of the year. The expectation is that it's the most wonderful time of the year, of course, but unlike Ukraine the focus is more on shopping than seeing friends. Trending articles of the moment have titles like "7 Easy Mays to manage Holiday Anxiety!" and "4 Restorative Yoga Poses to Soothe Holiday Stress". And have you heard this song yet?

I think the biggest problem is the lack of time. In America we decorate more, buy more, mail holiday cards, wrap more, and yet the only time we take off work is... 3 days. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. In this phone survey of 786 adults, 56% reported work stress as the greatest source of stress during this time. In Ukraine the work load is slowing down right now. At my old English school, students and teachers are wrapping up classes and preparing for a long break. At D's old work, the whiskey in the break room starts making the rounds at 2 PM rather than 4 PM. Instead of a mad push to finish up everything in time, this month is a cool down of societal machinery. Then comes January and its one-to-two weeks of freedom for many. (D says this isn't always time off work, but rather time at work spent not working.)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Kharkiv Cat Mafia

There's a crumbling brick house off Pushkinska street, wedged between a real estate agency and an apartment building. For most of the people who live in this area, it's nothing more than a mundane parking spot. Others, though, can tell you what this place really is: home of the Kharkiv cat mafia.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tea tour

To totally misquote Tinie Tempah, I live a very very very tea lifestyle. It hasn't always been like this. I blame it on D; he says he never remembers a time in his life when there wasn't tea. "My parents probably put it in my baby bottle", he laughs.

It all began when we started dating. D lived in a tiny dorm room and his black Walmart coffee maker was pretty much the only amenity. For that entire year we nibbled on late-night snacks of bananas and ramen. His mom and dad would drive up from the tiny community of Delta Junction with huge ziploc bags of dried bananas and D would stash them away in a dresser drawer. Delta Junction, by the way, has the highest percentage of Ukrainian people in the United States per Wikipedia. Per me, it's really cold there. Crazy cold! And the city we were in was a hundred miles north of that, even colder. We'd use the coffee maker to heat up water for ramen and tea on chilly Fairbanks nights (aka every single night). That was the first time tea became a part of my lifestyle. Back then it was one big box of cheap black tea... now it's nearly as extensive as some people's shoe collections.

We have tea for every part of the day. Black tea for the morning.

Herbal teas for the day.

And something uncaffeinated for the evening. Before bed D always goes for a cup of decaf Earl Gray. I don't trust decaf so I pick something out of my private anti-stress collection. (Basically I will buy anything that promises de-stressifying properties.)

In Ukraine we always had a shelf-sized tea collection but it's now grown and requires an entire corner of its own. This is one of my favorite places in the whole apartment.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ukraine and the US, Part 1

The streets of Kharkiv, this spring.

Part 1 of a post months in the making... Do you remember when I was still getting used to things in Ukraine? This is our fourth month back in the U.S. and while we're all a bit more adjusted- D gets to speak his beloved English again, Кит likes to hang out on his new balcony and spend hours sniffing the leaves that fall onto the concrete floor- there are a few things that have taken some getting used to.

The streets of Portland, today.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snapshots of American Life

It's Thanksgiving! I remember trying to get the day off last year in Ukraine, to an answer of "Oh, a holiday of your people?... How nice!... Now get back to work." ; ) One year later and no one's going into work today (except hopefully the people at the grocery store so I can grab some sunflower oil to make a last-minute морковый салат).

In honor of this very American holiday, here's a peek at recent American life:
Science fair!
Hamburger and beer: food for patriots.
Boats moored along the Colombia River.
Reading an old sci-fi book while waiting for the train.