She wears cashmere sweaters, and I don silk gowns

Maybe birds are German. After all, they are incessantly loud. And. After all. Even though my balcony isn’t Instagram ready, it faces a park rather than a concrete void, filled with worldly possessions, and humans. ——-

 

My bronchitis infuriates me. But on the other hand, having brought my operational temperature to above 35C, it lends a keen sense of enjoyment to the steady ring in my ears, and the way that the ivy – that damned parasite – makes its cut-out je-ne-sais-quoi attitude –  with its hipster abandoned lantern.

I came back after a month in Uganda —- and it was great. Spanish specimens in appreciation of my Siberian “blonde” azure-eyed beauty – ok, quotes here; delicious Argentinian steak grilled by a true Argentinian able to sway his hips in the right – salsa -esque— way, and best of all — wines brought over the Gibraltar, from the sundrenched hills of Spain. My colleague, Chris, used to the meekness of Vietnamese and Ukrainians, was a bit overwhelmed. I told him from the get go – no point in playing a melancholic wallflower, angling his head in demise of Whatever, be it millennial sense of entitlement, or German sense of well-deserved guilt — he has to be up there, with the rest of them, dangling the shoe off his broken foot on the terrace, dancing his way into their fickle hearts, and kissing the pillowy lips of a Somalian princess —-

even if a tall half-French-half-American-ex-special-forces-turned-luxury-hotelier (what would V Bout’s friend say to that?) picked you up, schooled you on the importance of having chilled glasses before the pouring of gin — and

most important of all, despite whatever pressure there is, appreciating your friends for who they are — the inspiration they bring you—

to keep —-

hammering on!

 

Rafa, my mustard-moustached

darling.

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Squelch

Tomorrow, off to Yerevan.

A week ago, Hamburg lost its northern demeanor, and surprised itself by slipping into full-blown summer. The green– as far as eye could see — was overtaken by pale German bellies, soaking up the sun.

I, however, took a scenic route. From the passenger’s seat in a convertible, with cloudless sky above, wind whipping my hair around my face, and self-assured practiced lines of my ride, Hamburg looked very beautiful. It was like looking at it through fresh tourist eyes — I don’t quite remember the last time I was so overtaken with admiration for its fine buildings and well-groomed streets. It looked quite distinguished.

The weight of your hand on my shoulder guided me through the Main Train Station, and for once, I was clad in armor, invincible, no side-glance, cat-call, or an impish grin could touch me. I should always walk like that. You left me at Deichtorhallen, having first pointed out your favorite 80s hang out spot – Traxx – there no more – you guessed it – under the S-Bahn train tracks. I went to see Eisenstein/Goya/Longo’s combo, organized by Garage Museum of Modern Art. One of the best curated exhibitions I’ve been to, and a German tour guide to boot — preaching to a group of retirees about Ivan the Terrible and Stalin and Putin and Ukraine. How and why Aleksandr Nevskiy was an expression of anti-German sentiment in the 30s, he had preferred to skirt. My Sunday was blissfully, perfectly complete.

Then my Team Leader for Armenia arrived, laden with Sachertorte and Oberlaa (Konditorei that delivered to Kaiser himself) from Vienna. Bottom line from his two-day prep: all is hopeless, but not serious. I rushed through dinner, and found myself in Hamburg’s new favorite pet, The Fontenay (that even sounds appropriately snooty).

I sat in a low faux-velvet chair and drank red wine. You gave me lessons on how to look at ease in any environment, and slowly, I relaxed. The hurts and slights from the previous week have dissipated like knots and aches in a Russian sauna. Haha. Gotcha.

And now, a week later, it’s raining. This time, though, I know better. Raindrops are full and luscious, and make me think they are conspiring with the willows.

Their catkins make a delicious squelch when I step on them.

 

 

Exercised eulogy

If Christos were here with us today, he would laugh out loud. Really, Yulia, would I? True that. He would most likely say: ‚Compose yourself, woman‘, followed by some terribly crude sentiment conveyed in a highly intelligent manner  —- a heightened emotion delivered in flat voice.

For that was Christos for you – an unusual combination of high and low, tops and flops, of the ability of not just to appreciate but to be moved by one of the greatest surviving pianists — Sokolov (despite all of his sentient self resolute, hell-bent on not being moved by anything), but also the ability to enjoy death metal (Christos would, of course, say it’s not).

This dichotomy, this dissonance of sorts, the infamous Russian nadruiv (the state of string so tight it’s about to snap – and snap he did!), that was very much celebrated by the Russian literature (that Christos so assiduously read), became the leitmotif of his life. A man so unequivocally Greek (in the classical sense of the world) chose Hamburg as his lieu de séjour, a gifted word-crafter who opted IT as his profession and was devoted to his family and his friends… Still, perhaps his greatest quality was not his commitment, or loyalty, or generosity but rather where it stemmed from – the capacity to recognize beauty (the kind that can save the world, Dostoevsky-style), and be its unfaltering champion.

Perhaps for this very reason, looking back from the time we first met (even though I don’t remember it, I had to take Christos at his word), to that bright winter’s day when Christos finally left Hamburg for good, he had always taken it in stride. He was nervous, of course, his voice reverberating in the cold and crisp air, but — ‘I have to do it, Yulia, my nieces need me’.

So off he went to the country he swore never to return, only to discover that his new life – his new family — gave him finally that much sought-after sense of completeness, of fulfilled symmetry and proportion so vital for a classicist. In his later years, his voice had gained volume and depth, and his gestures grew steady and self-assured, making everyone in his presence listen intently.

And it is that image of a man, who was bold and unafraid to stick to what he believed in, surrounded by the most unlikely of people who loved him – from all walks of life – that we celebrate today. To Christos! –may he rest in peace.

Yearly reflections

I leaned back in my chair and looked outside. Who am I but a cyclops, whose sun-scorched lens refracts the brown-leafed misery — the way it gathers into mush — inwards?

It’s been a funny year, really. The last six months plagued by sunscreened bodies of Copacabana, the breathiness of Nairobi, even the deceiving familiarity of Uganda (how things are known, yet different: a shift in focus, perhaps), unyielding of Dar (how Dune-esque it sounds!) — and Mom in Minsk. My icy hand in yours — in anticipation of Yerevan — it stretches out – so long I’ve been away – almost five months, I counted – but it seems less and less. Time protruding out of one’s navel.

 

I sashayed – no better way of putting it – into the Hamburg Rathaus. Down the stone steps in a spiral, the synthetic red carpet damping the click of my heels — into the damp air buzzing with voices in pre-holiday bliss. A nod here, a hand meaningfully extended to the CEO –thank you for having me- a glass of Sekt vielleicht? with pleasure – and a bout of panic before seeing a familiar face. How goodhearted it all seemed, no doubt, German friendliness unleashed by the unstinted flow of alcohol.

 

Rewind some weeks back, and you’d find me in the taxi – by your side – I’d imagine – shades of oak in passing as we head towards The Yearly Retreat. We’d hold a presentation deemed excellent (like a well-herbed steak) and I’d draw stick figures of my colleagues in various stages of repose, bored out of my mind those last few hours. We’d walk to the vista, you and I, observe the dwarfed lake flat under the low unintelligent sky.

 

North Germany, though, a tease, will, on occasion, offer itself up in some unexpected unequivocal visions of startling beauty. Those early dusk hours, a rich purple if not for its fleeting nature, — one can almost breathe in the color, the asphalt and the walls steeped in it.

 

Observe the tear on my ear – from the way the head slants.

Milling

“…When we process, we sort through all the raw material in the psyche, all the things we’ve learned, heard, longed for, and felt during a period of time. We use these processed ideas and energies to implement creative endeavors… The mill is not milling” (C.P. Estés)

And if I get up, and ignore the urge, where will it end up — up whose nerve endings will electric current run its creative course? I am greedy and do not want to share – what’s mine, this hardly legible pastiche of washed off colors in autumnal light, the twist of ankle down a crooked alley – or worse, the cracked white paint on double doors of Paul Celan’s birth house (the real unofficial one) — and what am I to do with it, with all these smuggled riches?

The rosy-cheeked students of Chernivtsi music school, in their lovingly ironed out shirts, surrounded by a moat of admiring and proud relatives, so full of nurtured talent, of fresh nerves, with all the zest that youth can muster on a Sunday morning, made a pretty spectacle for the Chernivtsi City Day.

Two days later, though, in perfumed, gilded, heavy velvet halls of the Regional Theater (built in 1905 to rival all the baroque in Vienna), I heard a different kind of music. A butcher for a violinist, affected préparations (yes, read French) strung out the already painful symphonic renditions of rock songs. It’s been a long time since I’ve been assaulted with such an obvious lack of talent, so much so, that ‘incompetence’, ‘talent-less-ness’ simply doesn’t cut it. It was pure unapologetic bezdarnost. Like bad wine, it enveloped you, grew on you, making a piece of you die with each new sip, stifling the first impulse to categorically walk out at the first flat chord. The red wine, too, they’d measure with a plastic cup and pour into champagne chutes.

I guess we should blame Bolsheviks.

Tannins

Simply, it crept up on me as I walked back to the hotel — the faint scent of acridity in the air, of something burnt, not unpleasantly, but rather the kind that makes you think of taking long strolls through the forests, of mists circling ravines, and the general state of dishevel before the advent of winter.

And if I am to read Cavafy, ‘because it’s nightfall and the barbarians didn’t come’, for the sudden longing, and break of the job that gave so much – yet is now claiming its first-born — who is to come, knocking on my hotel door, and remind me of unfinished business?

Artaxerxes

A bright crisp day – a roasted chestnut of a day – autumnal and all-round delightful, even if with sticky remnants of a cold – from sleeping in underheated hotel rooms, with windows thrown open to welcome in chilled September air. The moon, too, rose and dipped as our plane skirted towards Chernivtsi — no impossibly long, impossibly uncomfortable and over-crowded train ride this time, but rather a quick, pain- and turbulence-free commute from Kiev.

I should be writing a proposal for Uganda – but here, with cold rushing in from the Carpathians, Kampala  –with its lush vegetation, and everlasting eggs —is but a distant memory.

…How will Artaxerxes give you all that,

how will you find all that in the satrapy;

and without all that what life will you have.