среда, 1 февраля 2017 г.

Магия старых фотографий

     Магия старых фотографий.
Как обычно, наша очередная вылазка в погоне за новыми впечатлениями началась со звонка моей подруги Тамары. В трубке что-то шуршало, и ее голос казался каким-то далеким и отчужденным. Все же мне удалось разобрать, что у них на работе организовывается экскурсия в Каменец-Подольский, и она спрашивает меня, не хочу ли я к ним присоединиться. Я, конечно, хотела. Неожиданная перспектива вырваться из серой паутины будней так меня взволновала, что я даже не особенно вслушивалась в Тамарин рассказ о городе и его достопримечательностях. Мысленно я уже составляла список того, что я возьму с собой в дорогу.
            Поезд, к счастью, отправлялся днем, а не рано утром, как это бывало, когда мы путешествовали автобусом. В день отъезда я, конечно же, нервничала и торопливо сновала по дому, собирая свои пожитки с таким рвением, будто я отправлялась не в двухдневную поездку, а на другой край Земли. Больше всего я боялась забыть паспорт, крем для лица и зубную щетку. Билеты были у руководителя группы – так что хотя бы о них можно было не беспокоиться. Фотоаппарат я попросила у моего зятя Алеши. За 10 минут он объяснил мне, как им пользоваться, и я сделала несколько пробных снимков, судорожно пытаясь запомнить все его советы. Для дальнейшего обучения времени уже не оставалось, и торопливо попрощавшись со всеми, я отправилась на автобусную остановку с дорожной сумкой через плечо.
            Лето было в самом разгаре, и вокзал встретил меня раскаленным асфальтом и духотой. В поезде было не менее жарко и душно, и это еще усугублялось тем, что открыть окно в купе мы не могли. Как-то во времена нашей студенческой молодости у Тамары парализовало половину лица на нервной почве. И хотя она успешно справилась с этой проблемой, доктора посоветовали ей избегать сквозняков. Поэтому мы смиренно парились в нашем закупоренном купе, утешая себя мыслью о том, что каждый стук вагонных колес приближал нас к новым местам и новым впечатлениям.
            На следующее утро мы вывалились из поезда в Каменце-Подольском, совершенно разбитые после ночи проведенной в душном вагоне. Немного отдышавшись, я тут же решила проверить, как я усвоила Лешины уроки и принялась снимать здание вокзала. Строение, правда, глаз не радовало. Это было убогое провинциальное, типичное для времен СССР, здание. Мой зять потом удалил все эти фотографии, и я считаю напрасно. Они так хорошо показывали, что первое впечатление далеко не всегда самое верное. Вокзал был скорее исключением. Все остальное настолько мне понравилось, что я неустанно щелкала фотоаппаратом, с удивлением замечая, что мои снимки не так уж плохи, как этого можно было ожидать.
            Старинный город с его многочисленными церквями, часовнями, высоченным каменным мостом и настоящей старой крепостью, казалось, переносил нас чудесным образом на несколько столетий назад. Он был таким уютным и ухоженным, что невольно вспоминался Львов – другая жемчужина Украины, которой так не хватало работы реставраторов и заботы властей.
            Особенно меня очаровал небольшой дворик старинного католического костела. Я сделала несколько неплохих фотографий разноцветных клумб под желтыми стенами с продолговатыми готическими окнами. Затем довольно удачно щелкнула двух монахинь в развевающихся черных одеяниях, неторопливо удаляющихся по неширокому, мощеному булыжником проходу. Долго и безуспешно пыталась сфотографировать уходящую ввысь колонну у входа в костел. Меня восхитили разноцветные флажки, расходящиеся веером от верхушки колонны и слегка трепещущие на фоне голубого неба. Я сделала много снимков, но мне так и не удалось схватить яркость цветов.
            Но самое незабываемое впечатление оставила поездка на берег Днестра к месту под названием Бакота. Как рассказала нам наша экскурсовод пани Станислава, так называлась деревня, которую затопили во времена СССР, чтобы создать гигантское водохранилище. Для местных жителей это было настоящей трагедией знать, что их дома и деревенское кладбище с могилами предков навсегда скрылись под водой. Но удивительное дело, былая трагедия не наложила отпечатка на дух этого места. Открывшиеся глазу широкие зеленые просторы дышали такой умиротворенностью, что просто не верилось, что когда-то люди нанесли здесь безжалостный удар по природе. Как  это, к счастью, иногда бывает, здесь она восстановилась, и водохранилище не превратилось в отвратительный водоем с затхлой зеленоватой водой, как это часто случалось с так широко разрекламированными в СССР искусственными морями. Здесь же серовато-голубая гладь воды, окаймленная высокими зелеными берегами, манила  свежестью и чистотой. Мы начали спускаться вниз по бесконечной извилистой тропинке. Ветви деревьев смыкались над головой, и казалось, будто мы движемся по извивающемуся зеленому тоннелю. На полпути вниз, у пещеры отшельников мы остановились, и пока пани Станислава рассказывала об их жизни и о целебных свойствах воды в источниках неподалеку от пещеры, я отправилась на смотровую площадку, где все еще далекая голубоватая вода просвечивала сквозь ветви деревьев. Многочисленные ленточки, повязанные у входа в пещеру, говорили о неиссякаемых толпах паломников. И что удивительно – никакого мусора, ни здесь возле пещеры, ни там наверху, где на краю цветущего поля нас ожидал наш автобус. Это немного озадачивало: кто-то убирает или у людей просто не поднимается рука разбрасывать мусор в таком месте?
            Когда мы, наконец, добрались до укромной бухточки, где пологие волны бились об узкую полоску берега, все наши женщины бросились купаться. А я по недомыслию оставила купальник далеко наверху в автобусе и стояла в растерянности, с завистью глядя, как они плещутся. Тронутые моим огорчением все начали дружно меня уверять, что наши мужчины еще не скоро спустятся, и я могу искупаться и так, без купальника. Немного поколебавшись, но, понимая, что времени у меня в обрез, я попросила Тамару меня прикрыть, поспешно разделась и в чем мать родила прыгнула в набегающие волны. Бодрящее ощущение прохлады после изнуряющей жары вызвало прилив новых животворных сил. Казалось, что эта вода была такой же целебной, как та – у источников возле пещеры. Выходить из воды ужасно не хотелось, но я знала, что времени у меня нет. Поплескавшись немного, я выскочила на берег и торопливо оделась, балансируя попеременно то на одной, то на другой ноге. С, казалось бы, утроившимися силами, мы начали бодро взбираться наверх по крутой тропинке и почти сразу же столкнулись с отрядом детей младшего школьного возраста, спускающихся организованной цепочкой и крепко прижимающих к груди надувные круги. С легким содроганием я представила себе, как бы мне пришлось выкручиваться, если бы вся эта компания застукала меня, когда я плескалась в воде без купальника.
            После подъема мы с Тамарой отправились бродить по цветущему полю. Я щелкала фотоаппаратом снова, но ни на одной из моих фотографий не была схвачена красота буйно цветущего разнотравья, ни красота широких просторов реки, текущей между высокими зелеными берегами. А два аиста, приземлившиеся неподалеку, просто не желали фотографироваться. Они поднимались в воздух и отлетали подальше, как только я наводила на них фотоаппарат.
            Когда наш автобус двинулся, наконец, по направлению к городу, я, глядя на проносившиеся мимо живописные пейзажи, вскочила со своего места в порыве энтузиазма, и, пристроившись возле открытого окна, продолжала щелкать фотоаппаратом. На удивление две из этих фотографий, сделанных неопытной рукой во время движения автобуса, оказались несмазанными и на них ясно видна пышная зелень окружающих лесов, где, по словам пани Станиславы, все еще водились лоси.
            Долгое время после этой поездки каждый раз, когда я рассматривала свои фотографии, мне казалось, будто от них исходит едва заметное сияние, возвращающее меня в экзотический мир старинного города и свежей зелени разнотравья на берегах Днестра. И дело было не в том, что я рассматривала их на экране компьютера. Такое же ощущение у меня вызывали другие мои фотографии, сделанные в бумажном варианте. Я привезла их из еще одной нашей с Тамарой незабываемой поездки в биосферный заповедник Аскания-Нова. Эти снимки, пожалуй, лучшего качества, хотя и сделаны еще пленочным фотоаппаратом, за несколько лет до нашей поездки в Каменец-Подольский. Снимал Тамарин младший сын Юра, по моей просьбе. Он, наверное, уже и не рад был, что согласился, когда я носилась за ним по пятам, упрашивая щелкнуть и то, и это.
            А поначалу поездка в Асканию-Нова, казалось, тоже не обещала ничего особенно хорошего. До заповедника мы добирались часов 6, на два часа дольше, чем должны были. Как оказалось, водитель нашего автобуса свернул не на ту дорогу где-то в середине пути. Было и еще одно разочарование: один из наших спутников говорил, что мы будем проезжать ковыльные степи, и я с нетерпением ожидала их появления, расписывая Тамаре, как чудесно серебрится ковыль, если солнце светит под правильным углом. Но ковыльные степи так и не появились. Распахали их что ли или может быть это случилось из-за того, что наш водитель сбился с пути?
            Гостиница, куда нас поселили на одну ночь, тоже не радовала. Она была чистой, но весь ее убогий интерьер и отсутствие горячей воды навевали щемящие воспоминания о советских временах, когда гостиниц было мало, и попасть в них без взятки администратору было невозможно.
            После того, как мы перекусили привезенными с собой припасами, большинство из нашей группы, включая Тамариного мужа и сыновей, решили остаться в гостинице и дожидаться обещанного обеда. А мы с Тамарой и еще несколько таких же любительниц дальних странствий отправились бродить по парку. Гигантский дендропарк скорее напоминал экзотический лес с разнообразными высоченными деревьями неизвестных мне пород. Вдоль дорожек у самой земли была натянута зеленая проволока. Как объяснил попавшийся нам по дороге егерь, эта проволока показывала, что мы не должны ходить по траве. Несмотря на восторженные рассказы моего бывшего мужа о том, что в Германии людям разрешается лежать на газонах в парках, эта проволока почему-то не вызывала протеста. Я не хотела никакой мятой травы в заповеднике. Людей становится все больше, а деревьев и травы – все меньше. Наверное, поэтому у меня возникло это странное ощущение, будто я в музее и должна просто любоваться и ничего не трогать руками. Мелькнувший вдали на лужайке фазан так меня растрогал, что когда мы отправились на экскурсию в зоопарк, я была полна энтузиазма и донимала бедного Юру просьбами снять всё-всё-всё. На что он ворчал в ответ, что пленка в фотоаппарате все-таки не бесконечная.
            Зоопарк в Аскании-Нова был, несомненно, намного лучше нашего Одесского: много маленьких прудиков для птиц, а вольеры и загоны для животных – намного обширнее. Хотя, конечно, для копытных никакого загона не может быть достаточно, как заметил кто-то из нашей группы. Но нам тут же сообщили, что имеется огромный участок в 250 га, где те же копытные содержатся в почти естественных условиях.
            Больше всего меня восхитили павлины, свободно разгуливающие по дорожкам зоопарка. Мы попытались погладить одного наименее пугливого, но он отступал каждый раз, когда кто-то из нас протягивал руку. И как забавно павлины, распустившие хвост, начинали вращаться вокруг своей оси, величаво представляя главное свое украшение всеобщему обозрению. Довольно таки душераздирающие крики павлинов доносились даже до нашей гостиницы. Но это мне нравилось тоже, как и рассказ нашего экскурсовода о том, что кто-то известный сказал о павлинах: «У них походка вора и крик дьявола».
            А как меня поразили африканские страусы, огромные, больше двух метров ростом, и луп-луп на нас своими глазищами из-за ограды. Все умиляло меня тогда. И рассказ экскурсовода о том, почему у страусов самец черный, а самка серая. Это потому, что он высиживает яйца ночью, а она - днем. А на большой пруд в центре зоопарка прилетали гнездиться птицы со всей округи.
            Было, правда, и грустное зрелище: бизон полулежал, поджав под себя ноги, а верблюд стоял в углу своего загона, и шерсть слезала с него клочьями. Экскурсовод сказала – они болеют. Зебра, зато порадовала – она стояла, прислонившись боком к сетчатому забору своего обширного загона. Мы остановились и, просовывая руки через сетку, долго и с энтузиазмом гладили ее крутой полосатый бок, а она одобрительно помахивала хвостом.
            На следующий день с утра у нас было запланировано «сафари». Я не совсем понимала, что это означало, но все же надеялась, что стрелять нам ни в кого не придется. Мы прошли по выложенной плиткой дорожке, обсаженной кипарисами с одной стороны, и поднялись на небольшой холм, откуда открывалась чудесная панорама парка со всеми его лужайками, холмами и цветущими кустами во всем их майском великолепии. Две машины ожидали нас внизу: одна крытая «Газель» и другая – пикап с открытым верхом. Удивительно как люди сразу разделились на две группы: одним непременно хотелось ехать в закрытом пространстве «Газели», а другим – чтобы ветер обдувал их со всех сторон. Тамарин муж и старший сын выбрали «Газель», а Юра и мы с Тамарой, получив бинокли, тут же бросились к открытому кузову пикапа. Усевшись, мы поплотнее застегнули наши ветровки, а Тамара повязала голову шелковым платком. Пикап тронулся не сразу потому, что в нашей машине захотело ехать на два человека больше, чем полагалось. Все сидели, вцепившись в сиденья, и никто не хотел вылезать, но потом одной молодой паре пришлось таки перебраться в душную «Газель». Эта машина ехала впереди, и в салоне у них играло радио. Зато мы прокатились с ветерком, и пыли было мало, хотя нас ею пугали те, кто предпочел другую машину. Тем, кто не надел ветровки с капюшоном было холодно – одна девушка не выдержала и перебралась в «Газель». А вот симпатичная загорелая женщина в футболке сидела, как ни в чем не бывало, и улыбалась. Она выразила мои мысли, сказав, что немного разочарована, так как сетки, разгораживающие дикую степь, портят всю картину. Но, в общем-то, издалека сетки были почти незаметны. И как бы иначе егеря перегоняли животных из одного участка степи в другой, мешая им вредить друг другу, а некоторых, особо нежных, загоняли на зиму в стойла? Времена настоящих диких степей давно прошли. Цель биосферного заповедника – сохранить генофонд животных, который все сокращается из-за того, что биологический вид homo sapiens продолжает увеличивать свою популяцию, вытесняя всех остальных.
            Особенно ярко отношение современного человека к Природе продемонстрировал эпизод с лисенком. Вдруг наш пикап резко затормозил, хотя в обозримом пространстве не просматривалось никаких стад бизонов, лошадей Пржевальского и прочих копытных. Сказали, что в траве спрятался лисенок. Пятеро из нас: я, загорелая женщина в футболке и трое парней с фотоаппаратами вылезли из машины. Лисенок лежал, притаившись в траве на животе, уткнувшись носиком в землю. Пятеро представителей homo sapiens окружили несчастное животное и самые смелые, включая женщину в футболке, начали осторожно раздвигать траву, держа свои руки в сантиметрах 10 от животного. Три фотоаппарата нацелились на боящуюся пошевелиться жертву и сделали не менее десяти снимков. Я не рискнула раздвигать траву, а вдруг лисенок бешеный и укусит? Но все обошлось, и Юра сделал три снимка моим фотоаппаратом. Много позже мне вдруг пришла в голову мысль: может быть лисенок вовсе не притворялся мертвым, как казалось, а напротив ожидал, что мы оставим ему что-нибудь вкусненькое за его готовность фотографироваться? Вот так оно чаще всего и происходит – мы просто не понимаем, что же на самом деле происходит в дикой Природе.
            На следующий день после нашего возвращения в Одессу я отнесла пленку в фотоателье и с нетерпением ожидала, когда будут готовы снимки, а позже с благоговением расположила их в хронологической последовательности в своем альбоме. Я видела, что фотографии не отражают всей красоты огромного дендропарка, но когда я их просматривала, мне казалось, будто я переживаю нашу поездку снова и то, что не сумел ухватить фотоаппарат, дорисовывало мое воображение.
            Тамара рассказывала мне по телефону, что в первый понедельник после нашей экскурсии все ее коллеги пришли на работу с сияющими улыбками на лицах. Я обычно не могу улыбаться, когда меня фотографируют, но почти на всех фотографиях, привезенных из этой поездки у меня на лице тоже счастливая улыбка. А вот у Тамары на большей части снимков какой-то потерянный грустный взгляд. У меня было сильное подозрение, что ее муж приложил к этому руку. Он был все такой же, как во времена нашей студенческой молодости: любитель побалагурить и язвительно пошутить. Когда мы прибыли в гостиницу, я слышала, как он отчитывал Тамару за что-то за моей спиной. Но все на что меня хватило, после утомительной дороги – это сказать ей потом что-то вроде: «Не бери в голову – ты же знаешь этих мужиков». И в глубине души я порадовалась, что мои дети отказались ехать. А как их отказ расстроил меня вначале! Но потом я вдруг почувствовала, что все к лучшему – я снова могла ощутить себя молодой и свободной отдаться целиком окружающей меня экзотике, отвлечься на время от своих проблем и, надо признать, от душевных переживаний моей подруги тоже. Вот почему я так непринужденно улыбаюсь в объектив фотоаппарата: и когда сижу на суховатой траве в степи с биноклем в руке, и в парке среди цветущей травы на фоне пышно разросшихся желто-зеленых кустов, и когда стою на вершине холма, раскинув руки как птица. Это была Юркина идея, чтобы я сделала вид, будто собираюсь взлететь. Он сказал - все так фотографируются, когда они на вершине холма.


вторник, 13 декабря 2016 г.

My mother's stories (chapter nineteen)

My mother’s stories
Chapter 19
The forest of my dreams
I was a dreamy sort of girl as a child. I think I developed the habit of day-dreaming at the time when my mother didn’t manage to place me in the kindergarten. I was so sensible at the age of five that offered to lock myself up at home to allow my mother to go to work.
So I used to seat alone near the window, looking at the world outside, drawing in my sketch-book or turning over the pages of books with multicoloured pictures. It was so nice to imagine myself not in our quiet flat, wet and shadowy, but playing in the yard or walking along the path in one of those wonderful sunny places depicted in my books.
Approximately at that time, I think, I went to my grandmother’s village with my father and aunt. It was the only trip beyond the boundaries of Odessa that I’d had till the age of fifteen. It was, it seemed to me, a very long and tiring journey as though to the opposite side of the world. We went by train at first. I remember very vaguely sitting near the window and pestering my relatives with talks about the forest that I was going to see at last. Then it was a bus and afterwards a jolty journey in some truck that we managed to catch.
It’s a pity but only a few tiny fragments of that visit remained in my memory. A man next to a huge apple tree showing me how to collect apples with a long stick supplied with some clever device on top of it. Or two barefooted girls in long, grey with dirt frocks. They ran out of the house and stopped in the distance watching me. They had their dignity, those girls, and playing together in the yard never showed any interest in me afterwards. My short urban dress and leather sandals were big enough obstacles to prevent us from making friends.
It’s amazing how little I can recollect, considering that I had to be overwhelmed by a huge amount of new impressions. Nevertheless I can remember only some little flashes of my sole visit to the village. My grandmother was not at home, for example, when we arrived. So we went to the kindergarten where she worked and I recollect my fear as I watched her approaching us. Or those two girls, of course, whose behaviour hurt my feelings. And nothing about the forest. Nothing at all. I had a nasty suspicion that adults could be going there without me, early in the morning, while I was sleeping late, tired of new experiences. Adults never realize how important for a child some things can be.
The forest was important. Hadn’t I heard about it since I could remember? Didn’t my mother wake up in the morning sometimes and begin to tell me with a sigh that she’d dreamed about the forest again? And what wonderful sceneries she saw in her dreams. It was the place where she used to go with her grandmother Euphemia, her faithful protector in her endless battles with her mother.
Sometimes my mother felt especially weak, her heart thumping against her ribs, frightening her after a new clash with her mother. Her grandmother knew how to calm her down. “Let’s go to the forest,” she usually said. “You’ll see how quickly you’ll feel better”. And it was true. As soon as they found themselves under the roof of the forest my mother felt a rush of new strength washing away all the miserable sensations of a nervous break-down.
I didn’t understand, of course, all of this in detail at that age. I only knew that the forest was a beautiful place where my mother felt happy and strong. No wonder I dreamed of going there myself. It would have been such a nice place to escape from the factory region where we lived at that time. It was the place I hated not even realizing it, I think.
Several factories polluted the air in our vicinity and nothing, even the closeness to the sea, could save us from different smells. Our yard was not a feast for the eyes either. Only a big willow tree near a common tap brightened up its poor exterior. And perhaps some wilted vines crawling up the walls of our shabby, slightly lop-sided, dwellings. But mostly the world of my early childhood was made up of asphalt, shell rock walls and bare ground trampled down by numerous feet, let alone revolting public toilet and a huge scrap-heap at the back of the yard.
But the main problem was the children who used to rush in packs through the tangled labyrinth of yards in the neighbourhood. I learnt the vital art to fight back only at primary school but at that time, when this skill was most important for me, I was completely helpless and usually ran home in tears after being attacked by someone.
My mother’s stories about the forest seemed so attractive against this dark background. They sounded like a fairy tale which could come true. If only I got there, I could see with my own eyes huge oaks towering above my head, red squirrels jumping among the branches, a skittish hare crossing my path. How nice it would be to look for fragrant berries hiding under green leaves or drink cool and tasty water bubbling up from under the ground.
And what a thrilling adventure my mother once had in the forest! Her grandmother Euphimia or Yukhyma, as everybody called her, knew everything about the forest: what mushrooms, berries and herbs were edible and when people should start to collect them. In fact she knew every single path in the woods. So it was completely inexplicable why they lost their way on that occasion. It couldn’t be just the sun that suddenly hid behind the clouds. The old woman used it, of course, to get her bearings, but she knew a lot of other signs to help her on cloudy days. This time, however, it was like in a nightmare: they were walking and walking and couldn’t reach the edge of the forest. They continued to toil till they suddenly realized they were passing by the same small wooden hut for the second time. “So we were walking in circles!” Yukhyma exclaimed in dismay. “Good heavens! I should have guessed that Blud stuck to us”.
For a long time I believed it was a wood-goblin whom my great-grandmother blamed for playing the trick on them. But my son assured me it was Blud and who could know better than him? He used to listen to my mother’s stories so often that neither his sister nor I could compete with him. But who was that mysterious creature? At first I thought it was just a funny expression, because “blud” is the root of the word “go astray” in Ukrainian. My son searched the Internet and to my surprise found the information about Blud at once. As it turned out there really was a supernatural being named Blud in Ukrainian folklore. It lived in the woods and entertained itself by leading strangers astray. I must say that it was doing its work pretty well at that time when my mother and her grandmother were roaming among the trees.
It was getting dark but time after time they stumbled on the same creepy-looking hut, grown into the ground to its windows. It seemed to them so scary that they didn’t dare enter it. Utterly exhausted they sat down near the damned hut discussing if it was safe for them to spend the night among the bushes when suddenly Yukhyma remembered her own grandmother telling her about Blud and how to get rid of it. No wonder she forgot – it was so long ago, but it was laughably simple, actually. They just had to change their clothes inside out. The incredible thing was that this simple recipe really worked for them. Soon after they changed their clothes the old woman recognized the familiar path. It was not far from the edge of the forest after all. Why couldn’t they see it before? It was a real mystery.

пятница, 21 октября 2016 г.

My mother's stories (chapter eighteen)

My mother’s stories
chapter 18
Cibul'ka and two little pigs
Not all of my mother’s stories had that dark tinge that her hatred and non-ability to forgive her mother gave to them. Actually, she could find some humour or attraction in almost every situation. I loved listening to her stories about domestic animals and picturesque nature of the place where she was born. After coming home from school I used to spend an hour or two telling my mother about lessons and complaining about my first teacher, who was malevolent and rude with her pupils. My mother interrupted me from time to time to make a remark or to tell a story from her own childhood, trying to show me that people had not changed much since then. And children had not changed much either. Despite their bad nourishment, shabby clothes and hard work from an early age, my mother and her friends were also eager to look for fun in their surroundings.
      I remember once my friend and I spent one or two wonderful hours in the neighbouring yard jumping down from the attic onto a huge corn-coloured pile of straw, laughing our heads off. My mother had in her stock a story like that for comparison. She also was having a lot of fun with her friends while teasing their red dog Cibul’ka. The dog was so clever that children believed she could understand every word they said. At least one word she could not stand completely. If someone called her “dog”, even in a low voice, Cibul’ka would always bare her teeth in response. And, of course, she got really frenzied when children climbed the tree and began to shout loudly “Dog! Dog!”
I imagine how exciting it was to sit there on the tree branches, shouting and laughing, while Cibul’ka was jumping fiercely on the trunk, barking madly. After shouting themselves hoarse, children gradually calmed down and began to tell the furious dog that they had not meant anything wrong and remembered perfectly well that her proper name was Cibul’ka. Miraculously, after hearing her name, Cibul’ka settled down quickly and wagged her tail vigorously, showing the children that she was ready to accept their apologies and be patted on the head.
Or a story about two piglets, which was one of my favourite. It was actually, a tale of competition between two sisters. It started as soon as a neighbouring woman brought two new-born piglets to their house. The problem was that her sow gave birth to 14 sucklings and it has only 12 tits. So the woman offered my mother and her sister to take care of two little ones. My favourite aunt Zina seized the smaller piglet immediately. I would do the same in her place. I remember how fascinated I was with tiny dolls at that age. My mother, who was five years older and much cleverer, grabbed the bigger one instead. This initial difference between two piglets was getting only more pronounced as the time passed. It was not really something unexpected. Everybody knows that a better start usually leads to a higher level of success. Moreover, to her piglet’s luck, my mother had poor appetite and in spite of lack of food was always ready to share her meals with it. Zina, with her excellent appetite, couldn’t even think about such a thing. When two little pigs reached their teens Zina’s one escaped and roamed wild for two or three weeks. After it was found and caught at last it looked so much smaller than my mother’s that everybody asked if those two were a mother and her off-spring.
Especially I loved the ending of the story when my mother, chuckling merrily, began to describe to me how her grown-up pig tried to protect their house by attacking the intruders. And nobody except her could stop her devoted sow because it took only her orders. So in that long competition between two sisters my mother triumphed and in spite of my affection for my aunt I enjoyed it simple-heartedly. Didn’t I have the same with my friends? Whose dress was better, who could jump further or climb higher – this everlasting competition made our life more interesting and exciting. Inevitably, it led us to disappointments from time to time, and some of those failures, for some reason, got stuck uncomfortably in my memory.
I remember once, for example, we tried to impress one rather reckless girl, who was a new-comer in our settlement. She was just staying with her grandparents for some time and we couldn’t resist the temptation of showing off in front of her. So we took her to a high-voltage pole towering above the road not far from our dwellings. It was a gigantic metallic construction 30 meters high at least and we dared to climb it only till the place where the first cross-beams were situated. It was about eight meters above the ground and we felt very proud of ourselves when, after reaching it, we climbed down towards the girl, who was watching us from below. But as it turned out she could do better than that. After we faced her at last, she rushed to the pole and easily reached the same place. Then she clutched the nearest cross-beam and hung in mid-air, calling us mockingly to join her. But nobody did. It looked pretty high when we were staring from below at her legs dangling above our heads.
I knew it was a challenge for me in the first place as I was a leader of our small group of playmates. Yet I stood there rooted to the spot, caught by a sudden fear. I didn’t have a very high opinion about that girl, especially after she sang a very rude song in front of my best friend and me. Moreover, I knew her main motive was her desire to shock. Yet nothing could justify my cowardice in my eyes.
I don’t know why but my memory is always ready to jump to those recollections where my self-respect suffered. It was visa versa with my mother. In her stories she always tried to show herself in a better light. It was difficult not to feel a prickle of envy sometimes, listening how popular she was among the boys because of her beauty and sharp tongue. Or what a good runner she was that nobody could catch her. Or how she recited long poems in front of the whole school and everybody clapped their hands enthusiastically while she was climbing down from the stage.
So, perhaps, that is where the roots of my lack of self-confidence lie. I shouldn’t have concentrated so much on my mother’s triumphs. I was not so beautiful and was not a good runner, and I was too shy for stage. But I was definitely better at maths or drawing, for example. As for our adult life we were both unsuccessful from the common point of view: no career and no money. So why on earth do I have an especially acute feeling of failure when I look at my life with my mother’s eyes? Perhaps, it’s that inner aspiration to be approved by my mother that I have never been able to get rid of entirely. I am afraid that that little girl with a bow in a mop of blond hair, who used to listen to her mother’s stories, trying to catch her every word, still exists somewhere inside me, and she is still waiting for her mother’s words of praise and encouragement.

вторник, 2 августа 2016 г.

My mother's stories (chapter seventeen)

My mother’s stories
chapter 17
My grandmother's visits
My mother had the same low opinion about most of her relatives except her father’s sister and one of her numerous cousins. They used to be good friends and from time to time she got a letter from one of them. When her cousin was going to have a surgery in our city hospital he had even spent several days in our house. Some years later his daughter came for the same reason and this was not a very good occasion for making friends. But mostly it was my grandmother who visited us once in two or three years. I was too small to remember her first visits but, as I was told, at the beginning she arrived accompanied by friends and relatives. They were unpretentious folk and didn’t mind sleeping on the floor. My mother, however, didn’t like cooking for such a big company. Moreover she disliked all those people and quickly put an end to their visits. So my grandmother used to come alone after that. We learnt about her coming beforehand and the very expectation of her arrival was intimidating for me.
From time to time I examined my grandmother’s photographs and this only increased my reluctance to meet her. She looked rather like a bird of prey with her narrow, slightly crooked nose, hollow cheeks and smooth black hair parted in the middle. An intent stare of her black beady eyes only intensified this unpleasant impression. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so strong if I had not been growing up on the stories about my grandmother’s cruelty and mad tempers. How often had I heard that my mother’s mother hated her because of her blond hair and was fond of her younger daughter because that one was dark-haired and rosy-cheeked. As I was blond myself I didn’t expect my grandmother to like me. It was odd for me to listen to my friends’ tales about their grandmothers. It looked like they were really fond of each other. Grandmothers, as it turned out, sewed dresses and baked apple pies for their granddaughters and, what was more, they were always happy to see them.
My grandmother had not come to our house empty-handed though. It was an old rural custom to give presents when you visited your relatives. She used to bring a lot of nice food from the village: unusually tasty eggs, fragrant honey and home-made bread, which was both soft and resilient, pleasantly melting in my mouth. Such bread didn’t get stale for several days at least. Trying to make friends with me my grandmother used to bring big spice-cakes, production of the local bakery. They were made in a form of roosters or other animals and I liked their appearance rather than their unusual mint flavour. And, of course, I was too prejudiced against my grandmother to be friendly with her.
I am afraid I perceived her as that speckled rooster that she once brought as a gift with half a dozen hens into the bargain. He was so energetic that continued to fly up onto our cabin roof even after my mother clipped feathers on one of his wings. He was so strong and aggressive that my mother forbade me to approach him. I knew all the roosters fight each other – it was their custom, actually. Nevertheless, I was really impressed watching that malicious bird that my mother kept separately from our poultry to prevent him from the attacks on our own chief of the coop. I suspect that speckled rooster didn’t live long after my grandmother’s departure.
What really puzzled me was that I had never seen my grandmother leave. It was some kind of a mystery for me. I remember once my grim-faced mother told me about it when I came home from school. As usual she refused to explain why my grandmother had left so suddenly. But some days later, after I began to pester her with questions again, she revealed the truth at last. I regretted she did after all. As it turned out my grandmother’s departure was even more frightening than her arrival. As my mother told me, while I was at school listening to my first teacher shouting and scolding her pupils, as it was her way of teaching, my mother and grandmother were shouting at each other, having a huge row. By the end of it the old woman hastily packed her things and left for the train station, spitting curses and promising to jump from the railway bridge, which was just on her way to the bus stop.
Many years later I learnt the main reason of those fierce arguments was my grandmother’s attempts to persuade my mother to sell our house and come back to the village. So the old woman just wished to live with her daughters as they used to. My mother told me a lot about her life in the village. It was, I think, some kind of obsession for her. Yet her grudge against her mother was too strong even to think about coming back without a fit of anger.

To be continued…

среда, 6 июля 2016 г.

My mother's stories (chapter sixteen)

My mother’s stories
chapter 16
My father's only friend
As far as I can remember my father had only one friend who lived with his mother in the next street. He was red-haired with freckles and had a strange name Renar. His job also seemed exotic to me – he worked as a captain or a captain’s mate on a tug-boat in our sea port. Uncle Rena, as I used to call him, was good-natured and I liked him and his thoroughly cultivated garden, especially the roses, which climbed up his fence, creating a beautiful dark-red carpet. Once he had something like a garden party where I was present. I don’t remember eating anything there but the atmosphere was wonderful: cheerful people sitting in the garden chattering. We had never had such gatherings at home and I enjoyed the experience. From time to time my father and Renar went fishing to the sea or shooting birds at the coast of the salt lake Kuyal’nick. My mother disapproved their entertainments, like most wives usually do, and refused point blank to cook poor birds. Nevertheless, their friendship lasted till Renar himself got married. After that my father began to feel that he was not welcome in his friend’s house any more and their relationship quickly came to an end.
My father worked at the machine-building plant, at first as an ordinary worker and later as a foreman of the model workshop. There they made wooden patterns, which were used for making moulds for future machine parts. Some of the rejected patterns my father could buy as firewood. I remember how excited I was when a truck uploaded the pile of curiously-shaped pieces of wood in front of our gates. I was always eager to help my father carry them inside our yard and then I invited my friends to explore the pile and build wooden castles for our dolls.
My father liked working with wood. All the windows and doors in our house and most of our furniture were made with his own skillful hands. I liked to watch him work and inhale fragrant smell of wood as corn-coloured shavings were falling down from under his plane. He got up very early in the morning on his working days. I couldn’t understand why he had to get up at a quarter to five and arrive at his working place 45 minutes earlier. He explained to me that as a foreman he had to make some preliminary calculations before the shift started. Yet, I had always had a nasty feeling that this job was too exhausting and he had not had enough sleep. I tried to persuade my father to get up half an hour later at least but he wouldn’t even listen to it.
As for making friends at his plant - he had never managed it. The main problem was that my father couldn’t drink alcohol because of his stomach and for his co-workers drinking was the foundation of male friendship. They didn’t think that he had a good enough reason to justify his sobriety. So, for several years my mother, on my father’s request, had to meet him near the entrance gates on paydays not to let his mates drag him to the pub. It was a widespread custom to wash salaries over. So my father’s colleagues perceived him as some weirdo, who was under his wife’s thumb, and left him alone in the end.
My mother didn’t have friends at all – only the stories about her disappointment in different people who she had tried to make friends with. From time to time I could see her standing near the fence with some neighbouring woman, gossiping happily about all their acquaintances and relatives. Yet, after a long chat was finished, she usually came back slightly irritated saying that malicious talk left a nasty taste in her mouth. I felt irritated myself watching her near the fence for two or three hours, wasting her time with people, who, as she believed, were stupid and malevolent. I couldn’t comprehend her behaviour, but now, I think, I understand her better. There was no mystery, actually. She had always loved the process of talking and our secluded style of life hadn’t given her a lot of opportunities for that. Although, there could be another reason too. She thought that people couldn’t be trusted and her gossip-mates only confirmed this belief, giving her a pleasant feeling of her own superiority.

четверг, 5 мая 2016 г.

My mother's stories (chapter fifteen)

My mother’s stories
chapter 15
The only man she ever loved

Devotion – it was the basic feature of my aunt’s character and this quality determined all her future life. She was, as it turned out, a one-man woman and he ruined her life as most of them usually do.
I remember how startled my parents were when I told them that my future husband’s name was Peter. It was the very name of the only man my aunt Zina had ever loved. Maybe he loved her too – at least he kept a secret his intention to marry another woman. They even had a date on the day before the wedding. For a long time I considered this as a top of treachery, but now when I am much older and wiser, as I’d like to believe, I think it was rather a sign of passion.
Anyway, some time later after his wedding they resumed their relationship and through all my teens my mother used to tell me how wrong it was to love a man like that. After my aunt reached her thirties she felt, as she once told me, a strong desire to have some little creature trotting beside her, holding her hand. So she began to save money till she had a sum big enough to allow her to look after her baby for a year without having to go to work.
At that time society greatly disapproved single mothers and deprecating whispers could often be heard behind their backs. My aunt, however, was a strong personality: she decided to have a baby without a husband and she gave birth to her daughter when she was 35. Yet nobody knew who the father of her baby was – she took this secret into her untimely grave. In her daughter’s certificate of birth she wrote a different name – not Peter. Had she split up with him by that time or had she promised him not to reveal his paternity? Or, probably, it was some kind of protest against his treatment of her. There was a time when I really wished to know the truth but now I think it’s better like that. I have had my own reasons since then to have a grudge against the name of Peter without knowing the details of my poor aunt’s sufferings.
So that was the only relative our family kept in touch with. I was very fond of my aunt, especially in my early childhood, and was very proud that she allowed me to call her just by her name Zina as if we were sisters. Her presents always made me happy.  She didn’t give them to me very often but this only increased their value in my eyes. What a pretty set of toy china tableware she gave me once! Or my sledges - they were so light, with good slippery runners. Or my first tights. It was not so easy to find them in our shops – just as it had always been with things which were new and fashionable. All the girls dreamt about them! That was the difference between my aunt and my parents: she usually bought me those things that I really longed to have.
Another good thing about my aunt was her readiness to share her knowledge with me. My mother had never been consistent in this question. On one hand she often blamed me for my laziness and on the other hand was often reluctant to teach me. Sometimes she confused me with her completely incomprehensible to me hostility when I tried to clean or to put things in order in our messy dwelling. She used to grumble she couldn’t find anything after that. As I understand now she perceived our house and yard as her realm, created with her own hands, and no one could infringe on her supreme power there. Besides, deeply inside she had never wanted me to become a day older than five and a half. Most of my wrongdoings were usually followed by her stories about me being kind and responsible at this age.
My aunt, on the contrary, was glad to help me to grow up. I regret I was not interested in cooking at that time, because she was an excellent cook. But she taught me to swim, for example. Not being a very good swimmer herself, she helped me to overcome the fear of water. I remember how soothingly she tried to persuade me, telling me that every girl had to learn how to dance, cycle and swim. She regretted she couldn’t cycle herself. And I really took her directives close to heart. I didn’t manage to learn properly the art of dancing but swimming and cycling have become my favourite leisure activities.
I was 13 when my aunt’s daughter was born and, of course, it changed our relationship. She couldn’t support me as she used to and, I have to admit, I was not too eager to help her. Besides, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities for that because suddenly and completely unexpectedly for me my father’s usual friendliness towards my aunt turned into total coldness. My aunt became a rare guest in our house since her pregnancy and tried not to face my father if she could help it. I remember how shocked I was when my mother explained that my father didn’t want to see my aunt after she disgraced herself giving birth to an illegitimate child. Only much later she confessed that the real reason of this dramatic change in our family life had been my aunt’s request to let her live in our cabin, which was situated at the back of our yard. We lived there before our big house was finished. My aunt promised to leave after she got a room in the family dormitory. My father, however, was frightened by his co-workers. They told him a scary story about their acquaintance, who accepted his relative to live in his house for a short while and that person lived there for years and in the end sued him and got half of his house. It was not, actually, odd that my father was scared. At that time people got their dwellings for free but they were waiting for them in a queue for years, even decades. It was an especially slow process because there had always been people with money, who knew whose palms to grease to get their flats out of turn.
My aunt, for example, had been waiting for her two-room flat for thirty years. But she got her room in the family dormitory more or less quickly: in half a year or so. I think her room-mates’ complaints helped her in this matter. They weren’t happy, of course, to live in one room with a baby, when they had to get up early in the morning. Some of them had night shifts and wanted to have peace and quiet at the day-time too. But most of all it was my poor aunt who was suffering. Every night she was walking in the corridor with the baby in her arms trying not to disturb the other girls in their sleep. I remember how much older she began to look after this awful time. I am afraid I used to blame an innocent child for that.
In course of time we began to see each other more often and from time to time my cousin and I tried to make friends but it was always a failure. Mutual jealousy was the main obstacle, I think, which had always stood between us. I have gained only a few friends during my lifetime and now I regret that my cousin has never been among them.