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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Historian of My Heart

Слава Україні! East and West together!:)

Now that we’ve exchanged our brief family histories, it turns out we have a lot in common, both geographically and culturally. Not only do we have our roots in neighboring oblasts, but we also have our minds on neighboring wavelengths.
Your collection is fantastic, and I mean both ethnographic and personal sections;)! May Julija acquire the best of character traits her namesake has:)!

Pidhajtsi and Korets share similar landscapes and architectures. I tried locating Pidhajtsi (Підхайці?) on the map, but I guess I need your help:)

By the way, ages ago, I visited Riga and Jurmala (1990), and I absolutely loved it. The Dome Cathedral and St. Peter’s Tower; Jurmala’s amber beaches and aromatic pine forests… My friend’s sister lives there. How lucky the Balts were not to have “applied” for Soviet citizenship as early as we Ukrainians did.

Thank God, Korets, my paternal grandparents’ native town, belonged to a different country in 1932-33. The Holodomor was virtually unheard of there.
Vasyl, my maternal grandafather, nearly starved as a teenager in Holodomor-stricken Kupyansk, Kharkiv oblast. Of course, he always considered it nothing but a famine.

However, “knowing” the system from the inside, grandpa was open to alternative sources of information. His retirement before the dawn of the perestroika freed up time for him to keep abreast of current events.

And he cherished his “freedom of information.” After receiving his daily “Big Brother” rations in the Soviet evening news, he would go on a “night patrol,” a ritual I’ll never forget. Sealed in his room, he would spend an hour or two glued to an antique radio, trying to sort through the heavily jammed VOA, RFE/RL, and BBC broadcasts. These he called “alien voices” (ворожі голоси). Nevertheless, they must have held certain information value even for a card-carrying communist like him.

Mariya, my paternal grandmother, had an entrepreneurial streak in her. Despite a series of close-shave ОБХСС experiences, she stuck to her guns. (In those days, as you know, small business could translate into big jailtime.)

So, being the ball of fire that she was, she would storm the flea market to make the “Polish connection.” The Poles shuttled merchandise in and out of Ukraine, trading low-quality jeans, tape recorders, and bubble gum for Soviet-made home appliances, certain food items, and medications. Grandma did her share of strengthening trade relations. She would swap a few kilos of sugar for a pack of bubble gum, and that transaction meant the world to me.

Against a background of grave supply shortages in the USSR, bubble gum was the elixir of happiness for kids. It was a must-have attribute of Western civilization — the delicious genome of compassionate capitalism about to transplant itself into the stagnating Soviet system, so we thought. Back in the late 80s Kyiv, we kids had our “quality circles.” During these street forums we fervently discussed (the) Ukraine’s prospects of reaching America’s living standards. As funny as it sounds today, our most conservative forecast put us at 15 years away from Easy Street.

Born into a family of intelligentsia, I’ve been literate since the age of 4. My parents subscribed to a stack of papers, among them a carefully combed foreign press digest called Za Rubezhom (abroad). Though not exactly a child prodigy, by the age of 8, I had already gotten hold of the press in the house and had been vaguely conversant in global and local developments.

So, come November 1988, I “voted” Dukakis:) In spring 1989, I became one of the three top students in class to be promoted to the rank of pioneer, the Soviet equivalent of a boy scout. However, my loyalty to the Soviet regime was flailing, and so was the Soviet regime itself.

In spring 1989, I observed my first Rukh rally, and it was fun. That same year, I jumpstarted my English studies.

OK, enough:)! Oh my, why am I such a sucker for bucolic, pre-Kravchuk/Kuchma Ukraine? The retro/introspective dimension of my personality must have cultivated a sharpened sense of lost opportunities and cultural belonging. And I guess I should “blame” my dad for it. Listening to the full gamut of his counter-mainstream, colorful, high-octane WWII bedtime stories shaped me into the historian of my heart.

Anyway, I have friends here in Kyiv who are thoroughly addicted to western Ukraine. I myself plan to spend a few days in wintertime Korets.

Your public relations advice had me thinking. I started out almost a year ago, unsure about my involvement in the blogosphere.

All I wanted to do was write something big and beautiful so I could climb on top of it and say, “Hey! Look at me, I’m a smart guy and I speak idiomatic English!”
I hungered for feedback which I could use as a reference for employment purposes. That’s how I thought up this narcissistic URL of mine.

Now, where do I want to go with this material I’ve compiled? Do I want to continue in low-profile, aloof mode or do I want to go public, make myself blogger-friendly?

You’re 100 percent right. If I pick the latter strategy, I will need to create a friends section and spread the word blog-to-blog. Of course, I know the tradecraft:)

As you noticed, I’ve rebranded my blog to make it more communicative, succinct, and catchy. No, I haven’t seen "Syriana" yet, but I’ve already IMDBed it and I’d love to see it.

My primary concern about blogging is behavioral. You see, in my cyberlife, I’ve experienced symptoms similar to pathological gambling. When someone attacks me online, I just won’t stop until I get it off my chest, no matter how much time and effort it takes.

Given my occasional writer’s block, time management can become a joke. Here’s a case point. In March, I spotted two angry Ukrainophobes on and “enrolled” them in my history class. By initially mistaking me for Taras Kuzio, they took my enthusiasm to another level. I would revel in my status for weeks before finally revealing my true identity. In fact, the first guy who had cheered me up with the Kuzio hypothesis was DLW, my first and frequent reader. I want to thank him once again for the much-desired ego boost:)

And as for my ad hominem-prone “students,” there was no way I could quit lecturing until I hit them fair and square with the facts.

Unnerved by my blogorrhea, the blog owner probably blew a fuse and stopped publishing my comments. At that point, I felt sorry for myself, thinking, “Man, how could I be so damn attention-seeking?”

Since Ukraine is not Russia, as Kuchma put it in his ghostwritten “Україна – не Росія” bestseller, English is my third language:) While in high school and college I also spoke basic French and Spanish. (Not anymore.)

I consider myself a linguistic fundamentalist. English is my pride and joy. I won two bronze and one silver medal in districtwide English contests 1992-94. (District population: 300,000.) After failing the last stage of the 95’ FSA exchange program contest — for reasons still unclear to me — I avenged my hematomic ego by taking my business elsewhere. In fall 1995, I became a member of the America House Library. The rest is history.

Just one more boastful self-report here. When I’m in the right mood, I speak English with an accent so astoundingly American you wouldn’t know the difference.

That said, it goes without saying that near-native English speakers like me should know their limitations. That’s the only way we can push them.

Thank you for being a source of great encouragement in my endeavors. Do zustrichi v efiri:)!

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