Friday, August 31, 2007

Apples are everywhere here; I make tons of apple juice a day, and we drink it all. Nothing else to report - and I kind of like it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Z Dnem Nezalezhnosti! Happy Independence Day!

I'm glad we're not on Besarabka today, though. Too many people there, too noisy, too dirty afterwards. Here, it'll be wise to stay away from the beach for a week or so, before it gets cleaned up, but it's so peaceful in our little garden, and I'm nowhere near as freaked out as I was yesterday, on my first night here.

Everyone seemed to be making shashlyk here today - the air is still filled with smoke and that totally delicious smell.

A neighbor yelled to an acquaintance who was walking by his house: "Valya, take a bottle of vodka!" She said she didn't need it, but he insisted, and she protested again, and then it turned out he was asking her to buy him a bottle of vodka: somehow, he knew she was on her way to the main street, where the little shop is. The way he cursed at someone at one point, I don't think he was able to make that important journey himself.

Another sign of the holiday are the fireworks, of course: Marta slept through it all, which is very nice.

And we don't even have a TV here yet, so I've nothing else to report on this subject.

Still, z dnem nezalezhnosti, everyone!
I'm at the dacha. There's too much nature here, and it's freaking me out. I've just spent 15 minutes chasing a huge moth out of the kitchen. The size of my cell phone, almost. Apples are falling from the trees. Dogs are barking. Frogs are ... what's the English word? Kvakayut. Marta is asleep. The sound of faraway trains passing by. The only two constellations that I know are up there, above the house. Internet works fine. I guess I'm happy, despite being freaked out.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Today, we've found a summer house we really like. Inshaallah, we'll move in there by the end of next week. So sad that the summer is almost over. So sad that tomorrow's the last day of Mishah's vacation.
I've been catching my breath this past week. Part of me is numb, but that feels almost good. I avoid thinking of papa's death as much as I can.


All the little things are going wrong here again.

Mishah has managed to catch a cold again. His mother isn't feeling well, either. His vacation is almost over.

My cell phone got stolen while we were at a bookstore, looking at books in English.

The sanatorium in Pushcha is full until Sept. 6 - but even after that, we aren't likely to get a room there because of the fucked-up way things work here: they don't accept children under 4.

This rule is breakable, of course - last year, we spent four months taking really long walks there, and we befriended quite a few people with kids Marta's age, people who lived there full-time - and most live there this year, too, with their kids and all. But to get in like this, you need connections, someone from up high to make that phone call. Money's not enough. Or - what we think is enough money isn't enough to get a lousy room at a relatively well-maintained sanatorium here.

This country is such a pain in the ass. Or - Mishah and I are two naive idiots.

We tried to rent a house in Pushcha, went to look at one: $800 a month, not a single plant in the backyard, all died during remont. A rusty-brown metal fence, really depressing. They probably think that plastic windows is all anyone needs.


I don't even feel stuck anymore. I feel as if I've slipped and am sliding down an endless slope on my ass.


Of the good things, I've swallowed Ludmila Ulitskaya's latest novel, Daniel Stein, Interpreter. An amazing, very moving book, about all kinds of people and their faith. About a real-life person - Brother Daniel Rufeisen. I hope they'll translate it into English one day.

Also, I'm addicted to Facebook now. Haven't done much on my page yet, but am delighted to have 47 friends already - and to see a few old dear friends there among them.


Of the bad things, here're a few more:

- At the Mandarin supermarket tonight, a young male employee got mad at two young female customers, after they left their cart about half a meter away from the rest of the carts (nothing too outrageous) and walked out carelessly. The guy seemed to have gathered all his hatred, kicked the cart, and called the girls "korovy" (cows) - not loud enough for them to hear it.

But I did hear it - and got really upset, because Mandarin is this fancy-schmancy place where you aren't really prepared for lousy service, and I'm so so so sick of rude people.

- Two nights ago, our neighbor Roza Lvovna, a recently widowed Jewish woman in her early 80s, had two plumbers over at her place around 11 pm. We heard some noise, went to the door to check what was going on - right when one asshole said this to the other outside Roza Lvovna's apartment: "Zhydyara".

A kike. Just like that.

Roza Lvovna's son is (or was) a violinist with the Moscow Virtuosi chamber orchestra, her two-room apartment is full of portraits of him and other musicians, and she lives there all by herself now.

Reminded me of Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog.

- Yesterday, by the presidential administration on Bankova, I saw a nice fat black Lexus, parked in some backasswards way that drew my attention. On the dashboard, there was a flag of Narodnyi Rukh Ukrayiny (People's Movement of Ukraine): it is mostly blue, so at first I thought it was a flag of the Rukh's nemesis, Party of the Regions.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I've had this crazy thought for a while now: what if Mishah made a mistake at the Obukhiv morgue, what if it wasn't papa? I know it's totally nuts, but imagining papa still wandering there somewhere has helped me to pull myself together a bit. Part of me still doesn't believe it's over.

I've just finished a GV translation on the new Beslan video footage, and besides feeling terribly sad, I suddenly wished I had gone to Obukhiv myself that day, to identify papa's body. After reading so much about the Beslan horror again, I feel I could've survived the morgue experience. But that's an illusion, of course: I'm not that tough.

But yes, I've been able to do some work, though I'm not too good at being around people for too long yet. I've been able to get really upset again about being stuck in Kyiv. We went to Pushcha yesterday, it's such a paradise there, but there're still no rooms at the sanatorium. And Mishah's vacation is almost over. And the summer is almost over, too. Damn.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

In those two horrible weeks, I got used to waking up in the morning feeling sort of optimistic, hoping that a new day would bring us some positive results. This habit is hard to break - and now it seems to be breaking me. I wake up with this silly hope and then remember that it's too late, that it's all over. I feel beaten, both emotionally and physically. I hope for this stage to pass soon or I'll go crazy.


There's a newspaper kiosk outside our window. Papa used to go there every morning to borrow his papers, up until his last day. Over the years, the woman working in this kiosk has become something of a family friend: sometimes, we would take her some drinking water; once, we recharged her cell phone at our place; mama used to talk with her about cats and about her son's problems caused by his political affiliation; and she's also given Marta a few presents. When papa disappeared, she accompanied mama to Kontraktova Ploshcha to speak to the bums there. She also told mama that papa was good at saying his full name, despite his post-stroke speech problems: once, when she locked down the kiosk, there was a knock on the window, and when she yelled that it was already closed, he said it was him, Khokhlov Igor Sergeyevich. As we know now, he was still good at it after spending two nights at a bus stop God knows where - but it didn't save him. Every time I look out of the window, I see the kiosk, and I expect to see him there. It's such a torture.


On the way to the Botanical Garden on that last day, papa kept trying to offer his seat on the bus to some elderly women, and mama - as well as those women - kept trying to keep him seated. Me, I was so exhausted by the heat that day, that I never smiled to him when he and mama arrived to take Marta from me. This is just one of the things I can't forgive myself for now. He also tried to put his baseball hat on Marta's head - I guess he was worried she'd have a sunstroke - and I told him not to, because she hates hats and because his hat was too big and, well, not sterile.


I've got two phone calls from people who saw papa's Missing printout. A woman called yesterday from the Vydubychi bus station to say that someone had written at the bottom of the poster that papa was last seen in Obukhiv on July 18 - maybe we'd find it helpful, she said. I told her it was my mama's handwriting. A man called today to say that they'd seen a man who looked like papa at some forest - I didn't even ask where that was. It hurts like hell.


I'm all for reforms, David, but I really don't believe that raising that nurse's salary would've changed anything. Forgive me for being cynical, but I feel that people like her would invest their money in a nice car and then go parking on flower beds. Or worse. Once a bitch, always a bitch. There're plenty of examples here.

As for the cops, it's too complex.

The Kyiv ones would probably give you a million excuses for their lack of action during the first week. The car was broken, there was no paper to print papa's info and photo, hiring irresponsible and brainless village guys is the only possible way to staff a police station, et cetera. And we really should've known what country we live in, we really shouldn't have waited for so long to arrange that pressure from the above.

The cop who brought papa to the Obukhiv hospital was a nice man. Mama gave him 200 hryvnias ($40), and he wouldn't take it until she placed the money into his pocket. It wasn't a bribe, it was more like a reward - or charity. Not much, but a decent amount for a place like Obukhiv.

If only he had stayed there, to see what happened to papa later on. If only papa had given his name to the cop, not the nurse. If only the cop, or the nurse, had notified someone else, if only they had cared a tiny little bit more. If only this country's cops were using computers to record their info - but no, they had spent several days driving in and around Kyiv, distributing printouts with papa's info to various police departments.

And when Mishah was in Obukhiv the day before the funeral, arranging some paperwork, there was no electricity at the police station there all morning long. A usual thing, a cop told Mishah. And it's not the cops who really suffer from it, but whoever it is they've detained and locked down in the damp, windowless detention space in the cellar. Those guys are using lighters and flashlights and what not when the lights go out like this. Good thing civilization hasn't reached you yet, Mishah joked, or else you'd have those electronic locks that unlock every time there is a blackout. The cop laughed at this.

And we're talking about a town 45 km away from Kyiv, real close to where Yushchenko and others have their fancy homes.


The priest who read a prayer over papa's coffin seemed like such a nice man. He let mama cry on his shoulder, his voice was really beautiful, he told us we should be praying for papa even if we didn't know any of the "proper" prayers, and he also said I should honor papa's memory by telling about him to my kids, and to their kids, and on, and on, and on, and he also said we shouldn't get drunk at the pominki.

After it was all over, Mishah paid him what the folks at the cemetery office had told him he'd have to pay: the same 200 hryvnias ($40) that mama had given to that cop in Obukhiv.

"What? Is that it?" the priest asked.

Mishah said he'd been told this was the fee, but gave the priest another 100 hryvnias ($20).

"Well, if you don't have much money, then this will do," the priest said.

We've chosen not to tell mama about it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I drank a bit too much at the post-funereal get-together, and today both the funeral and those two horrible weeks seemed like a nightmare, like something I've just dreamed up. It's really tough to have to remind myself it's all for real.

I had never understood those post-funereal gatherings, where food, and drinks, and words seemed to suppress the grieving - but I'd never been to a funeral in my life: papa's was the first one. And it's a good thing we decided to do it the way they do it here. A photo of him smiling, and a few dozen people remembering how kind he was, how he had taught them something about art, music, literature, and, of course, tennis.

At some point, it all started to feel a little like one of his birthday parties, which he adored, in a somewhat childish way. But his birthdays were always messy in a fun way, with mama always late with food, with female guests always helping her out and me cutting my finders off while chopping veggies for the salads in a hurry. Yesterday, everything went without a hitch, thanks to Mishah, and mama spent most of the evening crying.

The song we played at the farewell ceremony is here: Gori, gori, moya zvezda, by Anna German. It's beautiful, and I remember it from my early childhood. When she sings this part at the very end - "Umru li ya, ty nad mogiloyu gori, gori, moya zvezda..." ("Shall I die, you'll be shining over the grave, my star...") - I'm always reminded how as a child I had no idea what "umru li ya" ("shall I die") meant and how it sounded like one exotic word to me - "umruliya," like "magnolia"...

What else... The cause of papa's death is "unknown" - but it was a "natural" death. Because of this "unknown" thing, we had to postpone the funeral till Wednesday, as they had to issue a permission for cremation and that took a lot of running around for Mishah.

As for "assigning blame" and being angry, I think it's both too late and too early for it.

The nurse who let papa leave the hospital - just because she didn't know someone was looking for him, an old man, obviously unable to take care of himself. The cops who didn't do a thing until they got a phone call from the deputy minister of internal affairs.

But I'm too sad to feel angry anymore. And I'm so grateful to the person who has arranged that phone call - if it hadn't been for him, papa's body would've been lying in Obukhiv morgue forever, with no one knowing there were people looking for him.

Again, thank you all for your kind words and prayers.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

My family and I are extremely grateful to all of you for your support. Thank you so much.

Papa's funeral is tomorrow (today).

They put July 19 as the date of his death - but it could've been July 18 or 20. No one knows for sure. But it was TOO LATE for most of the time of our search.

I'm not myself now. Nor is mama, I assume. Mishah has done most of the arrangements.

The finality of it and all the "if only we had or hadn't done this or that" - this is what hits me the hardest now. All the tiny things that could've averted such a terrible death. He was the kindest person in the world - why did it have to happen to him like this?

Again, thank you all for being here for me.