Хотя зачем детям знать биографию мамы, спрашивается. Им неинтересно, у них свои биографии во весь дух пишутся. А вы оставляете историю рода потомкам?
На предков я даже и не замахивалась, у меня нет практически никаких сведений, мама с папой не интересовались, а когда заинтересовались - поздно было. Двадцатый год (не шучу) уговариваю папу записать свои воспоминания, мама освобождена по причине слабости зрения и общей перманентной занятости своим здоровьем и другими делами. Пыталась я самостоятельно изыскать историю семьи, но ничего не вышло. Фамилии у нас такие, что их мильон, поди, найди иголку в стогу сена. С папиной стороны, однако, удалось мне докопать аж до прадеда, но там тоже без бутылки не разберешься, кто кому кем приходится - у деда моего, к примеру, было четыре только официальных жены, и дети от каждой, и многие члены семейства либо друг от друга тщательно скрывались, либо враждовали люто. Пэтчворк наше все и по маминой линии, хотя там причина - революции и войны, а не скверные характеры (впрочем, и они тоже), поэтому все какие-то сводные, единокровные или единоутробные, а прямых наследников и не найти.
Эх, как представлю, что сообщаю бабушке, умершей у меня на руках, когда мне было 17, а ей 92, что правнуки-то ее - полунемцы, и по немецки предпочитают общаться с миром...как такое могло случиться вообще?! Слова "глобализация" она выучить не успела.
Английский текст обрывка очередной моей биографии, кому интересно, под катом. Писать дальше или ну его?
This is a collection of very personal and subjective memories of one woman (me) who is neither famous nor in any way remarkable.
It is my own history, my own views and my own impressions of life.
I tried my best not to generalize, paint a big picture, teach something important, provoke deep thoughts and/or challenge other people´s views. (Although my experience shows some people will feel challenged anyway).
I have no idea about the meaning of life, which political system is the best, what is and is not true in the world history and whether or not Jesus loves you.
I honestly do not know what life is all about, except that it can bring both happiness and pain. This may not be your experience.
I never heard the voice of God telling me to write this book and give the mankind an urgent message. No bush has ever burnt or talked to me. I did not pass out at my desk to wake up to a massive handwritten volume with no memories of ever writing it. On the opposite, I remember very well that all my life I have tried to collect various hand-written notes together in a semblance of order, alas, unsuccessfully.
I repeat: all I am talking about is my own private experience, which I used to interpret differently at different points of my life, which is hopefully far from being over, although it does feel a bit too overwhelming at times.
This here seems the right place to beg various people for forgiveness: my Russian family for writing in a language most of them can not read or understand; my friends and peers for describing a reality totally different from theirs; my imaginary future readers for my foreign accent and lack of imagination, my own children for embarrassing them in public and I will probably add more later when I find time to finish this. About time, I am almost 50.
If I were limited to a 100-word summary, I would probably write this. “I was born in Siberia, grew up in the Soviet Union, left Russia to spend two years in the Czech Republic and am currently living in Germany. At different points of my life I was a student, teacher, interpreter, translator, businesswoman, simply woman, mother, daughter, wife, artist, Sandwich Artist and who knows what else. I lived in three different countries, moved houses many times, had three kids from three different fathers, travelled a lot, laughed a lot, cried a lot and am still puzzled at the strange business of life as I know it.”
Unfortunately, no one limits me to 100-word essays and I can as well indulge myself.
There will be lots of personal pronouns in the narrative. It is my biography, after all, so a higher degree of selfishness is allowed, I think. “I, me and my” are bound to appear quite often. So, here is the (unfinished) story about me.
My name is...even here it is already difficult. My parents used to call me Alyosha, which is a man´s name, by the way. Alyosha is a derivative from Alyona_ which is a pet name for Elena, which is my actual official name. As for the surname, I have changed it two times already. And it´s German although I am Russian. And why am I writing this in English? Nobody knows. Not even me.
No documentary evidence, the whole story is based on hearsay
Sadly, I know very little about my roots. What I do know comes from the stories I heard from my parents and, partially, from my late grandmother, who died in 1987 at the age of 92. My family has a very limited archive – there are no letters, no old documents, only a few photos, none of them taken before the Revolution of 1917. So it´s going to be a very vague picture, but I´ll try to paint it nevertheless.
I came as a fairly late child. My parents had been trying for a baby for years, and when Mom finally conceived, at 29, her gynaecologist promptly diagnosed a tumour. In 1968, in a remote Siberian town no one ever heard of a pregnancy test. You knew you were most likely pregnant when your period failed to arrive and morning sickness hit you. Then you would go see your GYN and get an official permission from the state to go on maternity leave four weeks before the due date. So, Mom went to see hers and got the tumour diagnosis, complete with the referral for urgent surgery. Luckily for me, she was adamant she did not want any operations and went for a second opinion. Which was a tricky and almost an illegal thing to do. In the Soviet health care system you were supposed to go to a doctor assigned to you by the bureaucratic machinery. You could neither choose doctors nor change them at whim. If you happen to live, for example, in Communism Avenue (incidentally, my parents are still living in the street bearing this glorious name), then you can only go to “Poliklinika” - Out-Patient Clinic - Number whatever and see Doctor X and not Doctor Y, because Doctor Y would serve, for example, only those living in Lenin Street. The same went for gynaecologists and any other medical specialists. However, there were ways to circumvent the rule. When a good friend of yours happened to be a doctor, they would see you off record. So, Mom’s friend’s daughter-in-law agreed to see her and the tumour diagnosis was immediately ruled out. It was indeed a three-month-old foetus, that is, me.
The rest of Mom´s pregnancy was fairly uneventful. So, when the time came for me to enter the world, Mom went to a maternity home – her waters broke, so she figured it was time. However, since it was rather late in the evening, the night shift did not welcome yet another delivery. They told her it was way too early to expect birth, gave her quinine (now, do not ask me why!) and promptly forgot she was there. Until someone came to check and discovered that there was no heartbeat to hear (no monitors, all done by hand, ear and a lot of gut feeling). Small commotion followed. Mom says a huge-sized midwife was actually stomping on her belly to "help with pushing". After many hours of collective effort I was finally born, bluish and barely alive (as I was later told) and the first thing I did upon arrival...yeah, I peed. Or so they say. I don´t have to believe it! Fortunately for me, I remember nothing.
The Post Box City: Life before Perestroyka as I knew it
Siberia, Tomsk-7, 70-80s
My childhood is a blur. I vaguely remember my kindergarten and a horrible feeling of irrevocable loss that I felt every morning when Mom left me in the cloak-room. The mixture of smells...damp steamy clothes, chlorine used by the cleaning staff, boiled cabbage and something else, something indefinable, the smell of an Institution. Many years later I had to work inside prisons, the smell was the same – mixed with the stench of hopelessness and stale sweat...However, let´s leave Siberian prisons out for now ( I will save the juicy bits for later, yes, I am the author and it´s allowed) and go back to my kindergarten times. I howled every morning, well, most other kids did, too, but that´s no excuse, I know. The day started early, at 8 am, and you had to stay with 20 or so peers and not-too-friendly staff until 6 or 7 pm, when one of the parents would collect you after work. I was one of the lucky ones: I had a live-in granny, who did not have to go to work, so I stayed home until a ripe age of four. I could not skip the kindergarten stage altogether, though. I was put into it so I could “learn how to behave in a group and interact with peers”. I suspect something went wrong with me all along. I never learnt all that group interaction business. My well-meaning parents taught me how to read far too early, so I always preferred the company of a good book to humans, peers or not. My affinity to books gave me certain advantages in the kindergarten: the teachers would ask me to read aloud for the group and went away to enjoy whatever it was they enjoyed when they did not have to mind us. That gave me a privileged status and, alas, helped develop my diva complex.
There was not such a thing as a stay-at-home mom. In my world all mothers worked. There were no exceptions. All fathers worked. Many grandmothers and grandfathers worked, too - although my granny did not. She was too old, I thought. Work meant mom and dad were not home most of the day. Some mothers had interesting jobs, like the mother of my best kindergarten friend Tanya. She worked at a pharmacy, sometimes she took us both there and we played with tiny glass containers and vials. My own mother commuted to work to another city, to the outside world, and it took more than an hour and a lot of stamina to get there by public transport: my parents never owned a car. In those times I was too young to remember any such trips, although Mom did take me to work from time to time. My dad, on the other hand, never did. As I learnt much later, he was one of the guys who helped the state build the defence system. “We are fighting for peace”, that´s what he used to say about his job. And he smiled enigmatically.
Neither of my parents was born in Siberia. They met at what was known as “tekhnikum”, a kind of college where young adults were trained to be electricians (mum) or technicians (dad), in a small town in the Ukraine. Which was at the time part of the USSR. Need I explain what the USSR stands for? God, I feel like a dinosaur, honest. OK, kiddies, USSR stands for the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, how can I ever forget? How did my parents end up in Siberia? They were sent there by the Motherland, of course. The Motherland liked to play practical jokes. It´s not like my parents did not have any choice after they graduated. They had more than one destination to choose from. My father could, for example, choose between several “Post boxes”, slang for a small community grown around a military plant or nuclear reactor. At that time, in the 60-s, there were several such towns, grown or built – usually by labour camp prisoners – in faraway exotic places in the Ural mountains or Siberia. Chernobyl was a possibility, too. Such luck for me Dad did not choose that. Or I would not be writing now, most likely. My Mum did go to one of the other destinations. She chose to be sent to the Far East, to a town which name I forgot. She does not like talking about that time. As far as I know, after a few months of struggling on her own she wrote to my future Dad, he promptly invited her to come, she did, they got married, end of story.
When I think about my school days, I never feel nostalgic. Long ten years, far too long. I went to school in 1976, an out-going, slightly nerdy but otherwise normal kid, with a passion for books and drawing, healthy interest in things and many friends. I emerged ten years later as an insecure introverted individual, hiding all sorts of fears behind an air of arrogance and desperately wanting approval and love. Looking back, I can say that it was pretty normal for a teen, but it somehow did not feel normal then. At those times no one was fussing about the complicated life of poor teens and their problems, there was no teen culture and even if there was one, I was definitely not part of it. I jumped straight to adulthood. Maybe that´s why I still suffer from all those teen complexes, which emerged 30 years later...But let´s go back to the USSR.
There are many people I know who miss the times when one could buy an ice cream for 11 “kopeek”. “Oh, - those people say raising their eyes to heaven, - everything was so much better then! The team spirit! The romantic of digging potatoes in the fields! The wonderful films and cartoons and songs teaching our children all the right things! How helpful and kind everybody was back then!” And so on. I don´t know. I don´t compare how it was then and how it is now. We all live in our own realities; we see the same things differently, feel different emotions about the same events and if only we could accept that difference, there would be world peace already. Anyway, I do not miss those times, even though I was young and the grass was bound to be greener.
My first school was the school named after Pavlik Morozov, a boy hero in the Soviet mythology. The official story, many times recited to us by various Pioneer and Comsomol leaders at all sorts of meetings, describes a ten-year old boy, who ratted on his own grandad to the new authorities and was then ruthlessly killed by the unhappy relatives. Thus, Pavlik Morozov made it to the ranks of the Soviet underage saints; there were many, not only the Soviet gods like Lenin and Stalin. Although when I was at school, Stalin`s name had already been wiped out of the school books (to be re-introduced much later as an “effective manager”, obviously, to confirm the thesis of “history is nothing but a slut”).
The school building is still standing in front of my parents´ apartment block. It looks like it survived a couple of wars and a very successful air raid. Dilapidated, charred, with gaping windows. The small bronze statue of the unfortunate Pavlik Morozov was quietly taken away from the schoolyard in the 90s.
I am trying hard to recall any happy memory which would involve my school. But nothing comes to mind. I was not very happy there, it seems.
To start with, I did not have any favourite teachers or favourite subjects. Some were easy for me, some not, but all in all, I was managing pretty well. Perfection was expected from me at home (all sorts of psychiatric diagnoses root from there, as we all know), so I was always giving my best. And at first it was a breeze. Reading, writing, Math...the first several years were nothing special. I was not very sportive but had no big problems – I just could not be “the best” in all disciplines. My luck that my parents concentrated on “more important subjects” so I never got much bollocking at home for a mediocre grade in Sports.
I quickly learnt to do everything I was told to do, never questioned any rules and was generally an easy and convenient child, as I see it now. I never flunked school, never talked back to teachers, always did my homework and always tried to please. That´s why I never achieved anything in life, you know. I admired Tom Soyer and Karlsson, bless them, but would never even dream to be such a rebel. I was a good girl, period. Or, at least, I was always doing my best to be one. Little did I know...My lack of popularity and deficit of school friends did not bother me much back then. I was busy. School, music school – the piano lessons started when I was four and went on for long ten years. The art school...oh the art school!
That one year was my happiest. I was ten and I enrolled myself at our local art school completely on my own – passed the exams even. And it was my absolutely favourite place on earth! I loved everything about that school – the teachers, the kids, the adventures on the way there and back, the plain air lessons, the smells and sounds, even the taste – there was a plant in the classroom with juicy leaves we would sometimes nibble on. It was not a regular school; we had classes in the afternoon, after the “normal” school. In winter we – my “art school friends” and I – would walk to a bus stop together and buy us a quarter of the most delicious rye bread, dark brown, moist, with unforgettable aroma and texture...The excitement of every lesson – what comes now? Still life? Illustration? Sketching? We went to the zoo to sketch, to exhibitions and museums, we drew each other, we discovered new colours, made small sculptures with white clay, weaved, listened to fascinating stories at the art history lessons...How I loved that school! But alas, it did not last long – I started getting rather slack at my other schools, the normal and the music one, and that alarmed my parents. My mom decided I should drop the art school and I was not able to confront her. I was never able to confront her; moreover, I am still unable to confront her - but that´s another story. Anyway, I was told to drop out and so I did.
Art and music schools were extras. The “normal” comprehensive school was something one could not drop out of. At least not until a certain age, then one could choose to go to another school to be trained in something practical. Now, what subjects did I have at school? Let´s see.
History was a ridiculous collection of “the Party decisions”, which seemed to accompany any event, regardless of its actual significance. There was only one party then, much like there is only one “big” party now in Russia. The party was called the Communist Party, “KPSS”, and no one bothered to ask any questions as to why there was only one party. Like the weather, it was just there. It was part of life as I knew it. There were Party members and there were ordinary people like my parents and there were, of course, dissidents but I never heard of them at that time. The path to the Party was standard: the children´s organizations first – “oktyabryata”, the carriers of a small red star with Lenin´s baby face in the middle, “pioneers” – a step further, the red scarf wearers, then the youth organization, the Komsomol, and then – it is up to you; actually. You could climb the ladder up and up until the very top. Some did, some did not. But back to the school subjects.
Our class teacher was a physics teacher and she had a sadistic habit of assigning problems to be solved in front of the whole class, at the board. You would not want to be failing at that, for she was extremely generous with caustic comments like “of course, with your cereal for brain...” The Russian literature was taught in a way that would make you hate reading books in general and Russian classics in particular. I did read “War and Peace” - but only the peace bits. We spent so much time on the war in class, discussing what Leo Tolstoy meant in view of the latest Party policy that to actually read the book was a torture. We did have English lessons. The only hitch was the teacher could not speak the language. English text books contained such gems as "The Summer at the Collective Farm" and "The Life of Lenin". You were not supposed to enter into idle conversations with a foreigner, or do any small talk . Instead, you were expected to convert the enemy by making passionate declarations about the blissful fate of collective farmers in the Soviet Union and your own unbearably happy school life. The textbook school children (usually named Petya, or Sasha, or Tanya) would tell wonderfully uncomplicated stories about their life: "This is my desk. The desk is brown. It is made of wood. This is my pen. It is my pen, isn´t it? Yes, it is. No, it is not. It is Petya´s pen. This is my pioneer tie. I like it. It is red." And on and on and on. I was seriously wondering if all foreigners were imbeciles, as they seemed to be talking like ones. If you believe the text-books, that is.
However, my most hated "lesson" at school was the so called "political information hour". When many years later I read "1984", Orwell´s "five minutes of hate" reminded me of those "political information hours" very strongly. We would have them every Tuesday, at 8.10 am. To miss such a lesson was a capital crime. All sorts of reprisals would follow if you failed to show up: first, an angry note in your school log, then a warning call to your parents and, finally, the summons sent to your home. To miss it was almost as bad as to miss a weekly or monthly "class meeting", or "Pioneers` meeting" or "Komsomol meeting" or whatever else meeting. The whole country was wasting time in all sorts of useless meetings, and a taste for keeping the minutes was inculcated at school. The political information lesson meant that the teacher would distribute newspaper clippings among the class (mainly from the "Pionerskaya Pravda" or "Komsomolskaya Pravda" or, occasionally, simply the "Pravda", “The Truth”) and the unfortunate ones had to take turns to recite the contents of the articles to the rest of the classmates. As far as I remember, it was incomprehensible gobbledygook on fantastic breakthroughs in various industries in the Soviet Union and examples of the oppression blatantly practised by all those capitalist states. At one time we were all collecting signatures under angry petitions demanding Angela Davies be released from prison (I don’t remember who she was), at other times we were sending our votes of support to Nelson Mandela and so on and so forth.
I was no fighter with the Communist regime and neither were my parents. However, in my family no one took this propaganda nonsense much to heart. The meetings, brainwashing, mandatory street demonstrations and other "civic activities" were regarded as necessary evil and never taken seriously. None of my parents or close relatives even belonged to the Party. Hence, no perks. Just an ordinary life, with perpetual shortage of everything, from butter to soap. Mom did a lot of knitting and sewing, to supplement the ready-made clothing which insulted her aesthetic feelings. Granma spent her days queuing for whatever was suddenly available in the stores - the most valued groceries, such as butter, sausage and meat, were rationed, but at least we had a chance to buy real butter or an occasional chunk of frozen meat or a roll of suspiciously pink sausage that tasted like salty cardboard. I do not remember the times when such luxury items as salmon or caviar were seen in normal shops, but my parents do. They say, back in the 60-s one could see huge wooden barrels full of caviar and intricate shop window decorations built of canned crab meat in every store in town. No one could afford to buy such delicacies. And then they disappeared, as if all salmon and crab decided to emigrate.
We did not starve, as there was plenty of bread and milk and grey noodles and rice and good plain vegetables, like potatoes and cabbage and carrots and onions. There was no shortage of those foods, as far as I can remember. Gran would make cabbage soup and cabbage pies and Mom could make delicious cakes out of nothing. Dad would get free meals at the plant and sometimes he did not use all his meal tickets and I could go to a canteen in town for free, too. I would get sticks with candied sugar there instead of change.
There were holidays and then there were holidays. I don´t have any fond memories of the state holidays like November the 7th, the Great October Socialist Revolution Day or May the First, the Day of International Solidarity of all Workers, hurray. There was no school but you had to go to a stupid demonstration (for what? against what? nobody knew and no one cared) and freeze your butt for half a day, whatever the weather. Dreadful. Adults used copious amounts of vodka to cheer themselves up. Us school kids had to carry big and heavy slogans all the way from the school, down the endless Communism Avenue, past the colossal statue of Lenin and then back to the school. I hated the ritual with a passion.
The New Year was by far everybody´s favourite. However, every year one had the challenge of getting a fir-tree for your family New Year celebration. In the country of total deficit fir trees were in short supply even in Siberia. Once Dad got a small tree somewhere, which involved, as usual, standing in a long line and then fighting with others for a tree which would at least look like one. When he triumphantly brought it home, we put it on the balcony, as the tradition demanded the fir-tree should be set up and properly decorated only on December 31, the New Year´s Eve. A few days later, after a particularly stormy night, we discovered that the tree was gone, must have been blown away by the wind and someone promptly picked it up once it hit the pavement under our balcony. I remember howling like mad. The New Year without a fir-tree...unimaginable! Unspeakable horror! Luckily, our neighbours bought two trees, just in case. And they kindly agreed to give one to us, so I could have a tree, after all. The New Year night was sacred. Months before December 31 the food hunt would begin. The New Year table simply had to be bountiful. Well, as bountiful as possible, at least. Sometimes we would get special coupons, which gave you the right to buy certain amounts of tangerines or oranges or apples. I don´t remember now, something like 200 grams per family member. Coupons did not necessarily mean you could have whatever it was that was rationed. If you were lucky, you could locate the store which was expecting to be delivered the food you craved. Then you would stand a huge line to the counter and maybe even get what you wanted, if you had enough money to pay. I do remember the frustration when you finally get close to the counter, only to discover that there were no apples (or oranges or whatever) left anymore. I never saw such a powerful display of human emotions as in our grocery stores at that time. And those times are now called stagnation.
Which at some point did come to a rather abrupt end, as we all know. Like my adolescence, it started pretty suddenly.
Mr Brezhnev the Immortal Secretary General died when I was 15. We had a day off school, because we were supposed to watch the funeral on TV. They did drop the coffin. The new party leader Andropov the KGB Guy died fairly soon. Another day off, another funeral to watch. Then it was Mr Chernenko´s turn to die. Predictably, a day off for funeral watching. Then finally the young and healthy Gorbachev came to power and my last year at school was marked with excitement and panic: our history teachers had no clue what to demand from us at the finals and actually accepted any answer, provided there was the word “perestroyka” in it.
By the way I forgot to mention where I was growing up. Russia is correct, but way too abstract. Siberia is better. I love shocking people with my “Oh, I am actually from Siberia” line. I just love the look on their faces. Mind you, not everyone knows that Siberia is not always used metaphorically. It is actually populated. Polar bears are not running around the streets of our snowy cities, as some people seem to think. Nothing looks much different from, say, Norway. Only lots of signs in Cyrillic. Other than that - nothing extraordinary: snow in winter, short but rather furious summers. There are cities, towns, villages, settlements, roads, central heating, wooden houses, standard grey apartment blocks, schools, kindergartens, universities, public transport, life is pretty much ordinary, and has always been so, even at the ancient times of my youth. And I come from a small nameless town (small by the Russian standards, more than 100,000 population), a satellite to another, somewhat bigger city of Tomsk, 500,000 population. Although “this ain´t Kansas, Toto”.
I love travel writers. No, seriously, I just love travel writers. Especially those who write about the country I grew up in. They have such a fresh view on all those things I always considered ordinary. Like snow in winter. Mysterious Russians and their love for vodka and ice cream. The proverbial babushkas and matryoshkas and fur hats