Here's some of what I wrote to a friend on August 8, 2003:
[...] I'm home alone again, the third day in a row. I've been talking to my cat, you know... And I'm too sick of Kyiv to go for a walk or something, and all my friends are either busy with family and kids, or away on vacation. And it's 4 am now.
[...] I found myself in my parents' room, trying to watch the news, and then I drifted off to one of those dusty corners where my father keeps all the useless vinyl records (is that what they're called?) - and there I saw our ancient reel-to-reel Philips recorder, underneath a pile of my mama's sewing patterns magazines. And I realized that I'd wanted to drag it out for so long, and to see if it still works (it must be at least a few years older than I am - my father's diplomat friends gave it to him when they acquired something newer...), and to try to find those old records (Italians, and the stupidest English-language disco, and the great Dalida...) that I used to listen to as a child, in the early 80s. So I unearthed it, and then I checked whether the records were still where I remembered them to be - they were, stocked behind all the vinyls, invisible and hardly reachable.
I wiped the dust off the recorder and removed its gray, rough lid - and inside it had that incredibly familiar smell, nice smell, of some kind of plastic I think. I plugged it in and put on the first record - I still remember how to put on reel-to-reel - not from childhood but from the radio journalism class at Iowa where the recorders were very shitty and broken-down. It worked! (The only two things that don't are the rewind and fast-forward functions - they never did, as far as I remember - so I have to do it manually, at first using my index finger and then when it starts bleeding, I switch to a pen.)
The first record was of my father's idol, Charles Aznavour, the French Armenian who has recently had a secondary role in Atom Egoyan's Ararat, a film about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I never really liked him too much (except that he reminds me of my grandfather who died before I was born, allowing me to idealize him all I want) - but this time he sounded like magic!
I unplugged the recorder and transported it to my room. There, I put on one of my favorites, Nada, an Italian who won at San Remo in 1971, three years before I was born. She has a boy's voice - and I've been missing her so so so much all this time. As soon as I heard this voice, I saw my mama dancing around the room to her, twenty years ago... (When I was in Iowa, I found her sound-alike, an Arab woman with a boy's voice, and at first mama would yell, Turn this horrible music off, but when she was going back to Kyiv four months later, she asked if I could please let her have that Arabic tape, and back home she was torturing papa with it the first thing in the morning...)
At Nada's fourth or fifth song, I realized I was so happy I felt like crying, so I called Mishah in St. Pete. But it's Friday night, right, and he was tipsy and not too much use.
To chase away the reality that Mishah had imposed on me, I put on the recording of my 5-year-old self (as any parent, my papa used to sit me down in front of the mike every year, religiously, till I was ten or something). In 1979, he had me believe that the mike was still off and so I chatted away happily for half an hour, interrupting myself every other minute with, Papa, let's record me already, enough of this testing! Among other things, I showed off my English - a dog, a cat, a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a baby, hello, good morning good morning good morning to you, good morning good morning I'm glad to see you - all with the strongest and the funniest Ukrainian accent I never knew I had to such extent (the way to tell a Ukrainian accent - in Russian or in English - is to listen to the "g" sound: the word God would sound like GHod; also, in proper Russian you'd say 'shto' ('what') and a Ukrainian is likely to say 'sho'...). I've also sang a song they taught us at the kindergarten, a very sad song about a schoolgirl named Lyudmila, from the town of Cherkassy, who was captured by the fascists and they wanted to know where the communists were, and she wouldn't tell because she was a conscientious young Pioneer, so they tortured her in every way possible and then hung her... (If I ever have children, I'll record them every three months - because now I know that by the time they are 29, this stuff would make them laugh their asses off.)
Now I'm beginning the fourth hour of listening (it’s my favorite mix now), feeling totally happy, and totally grateful to my parents [...]
The latest thing I've discovered listening to papa's reel-to-reels is that in 1982, I spoke French. It was some little poem, and it did sound like French to me, like real French! My English didn't sound too English then - and now I'm allergic to French (I mean I like the sound of it but when it comes to spelling and understanding, I always freak out). So now I'm waiting for one of my French-speaking friends to return from his vacation - I really want to know what that poem was about!!! (It's very strange not to be able to understand yourself speaking - almost like amnesia...)
I still remember how happy I was that night. Papa was still healthy, they were in Odesa with mama that week, I guess...
And here're two old videos by Nada - I found them on YouTube a few days ago, and it was the first time I saw her, and both mama and I got really emotional listening to her...