Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Old friends

Many, many years ago when I was a teenager my parents had a friend whom we mostly met during summer holidays in Karelia. He was a scientist and a true Russian intellectual. My mother first met him during a rainy walk when they discovered that they had lots of common friends, and they decided to meet again next day and introduce their spouses. As they were about to part, this man said: "To be honest, I must warn you: I am a Party member". They became close friends, and one of the favourite pastimes was fishing. I spent hours upon hours in a boat with him, rowing and listening to his stories about theories of universe. Pulsars had just been discovered. Big Bang wasn't common knowledge. It was very exciting. I had always been fascinated by astronomy (I wanted to become an astronomer, but that's another story). But in the first place I was fascinated by this man's genius. It's easy to have a crush when you are a teenager, but it's easiest when you meet a brilliant mind. At least for me.

He was already then internationally famous, member of dozens of academies and learned societies, honorary doctor everywhere, award-winner, but he was bitter about the Nobel prize, because there wasn't any in astronomy.

Many years later he and his wife called me in Stockholm where he was giving a lecture. We invited them for dinner. Staffan, who was as good then as he is now at cooking, made oven-backed fish with spinach. The great scientist looked at the green mess on his plate and asked: "Do I have to eat this?" Staffan was a bit upset.

One day I was sitting in front of the TV and suddenly saw my childhood love and fishing companion. He had just been awarded the Nobel Prize. Astronomy or not.

If you want to know more, read this.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Twenty years ago

Twenty years ago I was sitting in front of the TV in my living room in Stockholm, crying floods. I am almost crying now when I think about it. I grew up knowing that the Communist regime was invincible. At sixteen, I as prepared to die for freedom, to burn myself on Red Square, to do anything to overthrow the hateful dictatorship. My mother told me not to be a fool. Nothing would change if I sacrificed my life. The dictatorship was there for ever. Not even my grandchildren would live to see it fall.

And there I was, twenty years ago today, watching, together with the rest of the world, the Wall being pulled down. I had never imagined I would live to see it. But there it was, happening right in front of my eyes. I had never before known what it meant to cry of joy. Those who remember, just look back and contemplate. Those who were too young, try to grasp.

For my grandchildren it is all ancient history.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Really useful

I have eventually set up another bookshelf in my room (aka guest room). Too long to explain why it took so long. But now it's there, and I went to Staples to get some boxes to store my doll house materials. I planned initially to arrange working space in the garage. I have realised it might get a bit chilly in winter; the light is not very good, too many other things - it's nice to feel comfy when you play with miniatures. True, there is some dirty work, but it's not what you do often, so garage will be ok for occasional staining or mitre sawing.

Anyway, I went to Staples. I have always loved office supplies stores, even when I was a child in Moscow and there wasn't much to buy. The smell of new notebooks, the feel of new pencils, the softness of new erasers. But not until I discovered Staples in San Diego did I realise how much you can indulge in binders, pencil holders and thumbnails. I can spend hours in Staples, and I could spend fortunes there if I didn't already have too much of everything. But now I really need boxes for my hobby things. What a marvelous excuse! Staples has a line called Really Useful Boxes. They come in all shapes and sizes and colours, and I see already that I will need twice as many as I have bought. Three ot four with small compartments, for all my tiny, tiny things. One large and shallow for paper. Some large and deep, for fabric and wood. Some medium, for plastic, metal, leather, paint... Yes, I know I am crazy. But once you start getting all your stuff neat and sorted, all ugly shoe boxes and plastic cans become conspicuous. The Really Useful Boxes look so nice in the new bookshelf, and it's easy to see what's inside and to find exactly what I might need, like a champagne cork or a metal button or a broken chess piece. Sometimes it's easy to make oneself happy.

When I was packing my stuff in Staples, a very young man at the till announced in the loudspeaker: "Ladies and gentlemen, we will now join the rest of the country in two silent minutes". It's Armistice Day.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

No sun, no moon

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds - November!

I learned this poem in school and have always recited it to myself this time of year. I forgot who wrote it, but - praise Google! - I searched for it now. It's Thomas Hood, English (1799-1845).

British climate must have been different then. Today has been a warm, sunny day, and the moon is just rising, after a beautiful dusk hour, and dawn this morning was stunning. There are still some pears in the pear tree, the marigolds are in full bloom, and three roses have decided to bloom again. Birds are louder than ever. Yes-vember.