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The house that Sam…


Considering the upcoming interview in the American Embassy – and it was not a trifle matter, people were refused visas rather often – my wife and I decided that we would try to answer truthfully and sincerely, when possible. Standing in line for the interview, I heard that the worst scenario would be to end up with the fat idiot in the horn-brimmed spectacles. As it turned out, there wasn’t an adequate answer to the question: “How can you prove that you will come back to your country of origin?” Her assumption was that any normal visitor on seeing the American paradise would try by hooks and by crooks to join the ranks of the illegal immigration.

To any attempt at providing any arguments, like kids and parents left behind, private business, poor knowledge of the language, this patriot seemed to make a mental note “not quite sincere”, which meant definite refusal.

Naturally, she was my interviewer. And I answered as follows: “I love Kiev, my motherland. So I have no intention to stay in the US”.

She looked at me and did not believe me.

So, humiliated and angry, I would have remained under the impression that one hundred per cent Americans were fat bespectacled idiots, had it not been for Linda, “the host party”.

She sent to the Embassy a telegram that read as follows:

To Whom It May Concern

I have been hosted by this family in 1993 and 1995. Naturally, I have to repay their hospitality.

Dr Linda Rokk

How different we are after all! Had I approached the Embassy, my petition would have been a lengthy description of Dr Rokk’s special merits as teacher and sponsor, her invaluable assistance in promoting cultural exchange leading to strengthening friendship and cooperation between our countries etc., etc. That is I would have stressed her best qualities and high moral standing. And I would not be sure at all of the result.

Linda wrote about the debts that had to be repaid. And no one put her sincerity into doubt.

They let us enter the country.

That was the beginning of our first trip to the US in 1997, followed by the second one in October 2011, and, hopefully, not the last. Now we have a multiple visa valid for 5 years. And we’ve changed, too – not any longer scared neophytes, but seasoned travelers, who have seen the world and life.

A lot has changed. Ukraine is of lesser interest to Americans; no one remembers Chernobyl. And the US is less attractive, when there is Germany and Norway to consider.

Judgment is reserved. Emotions do not prevail.

Good. High time to take to a pen.


Every time Linda visited us, she brought along a bag full of presents. She would not, though, give them out all at once, but did it in installments, for suitable occasions, so that we were waiting for the evening like little kids, when, making a break in the evening tea, she would smile as if remembering something long forgotten – I’ve got something for you – and get from under the table something wrapped in Christmas paper and tied with a ribbon.

Noteworthy, each gift was chosen with due consideration of the interests and wishes of each family member. How she guessed, how she knew, remains a mystery till this day. For example, I’ve got a mug with the portrait of Van Gogh, my favorite, from Metropolitan museum, a gift edition of Mark Twain’s anecdotes with the logo of his home-museum, an exquisite photo album – landscapes inspired by Robert Frost’s poetry (just guess, from what museum?), while my spouse got an entire collection: a scarf, earrings, a brooch, a fridge magnet from “Beaux arts’ museum”. Kids and the old ones and even the dog were equally happy.

One could see she also held her breath when impatient little hands unwrapped and tore the paper to find a small box inside and –wow! God Almighty, how wonderful – or even better – in wordless admiration the contents was taken out and shown to everyone.

The best of the best, however, was in store for the end of the trip. I was in raptures over a book of Yevtushenko’s poetry signed to me by the author – to me personally at the Boston recital. And how happy she made my father presenting him, a retired major, with the album featuring cold war between the USSR and the US – a special edition for summit participants.

One could boast of such gifts to any party of friends, as both their contents and provenance, i.e. the prices (notoriously high in the museums) spoke for themselves. We could also see that she was interested in them herself since they offered an opportunity to discuss art and poetry, the “orange revolution” and Gorbachov.

Her very first visit made us feel as if we’ve known each other for ages. Memory of wars, big and small, of friendship and animosity, heart-felt sympathy after Chernobyl disaster, attention to old people and kids, birds and trees – everything made her a kin spirit. We made friends with Linda, and we were not alone in this.

Due to Dr Rokk, teacher and financial supervisor, the children’s theater presenting in two languages – Ukrainian and English – could go to the US on a guest tour, while the most gifted kids had an opportunity to study in the American schools, and three of them were even admitted to the universities, obtained grants and were hired by renowned companies upon graduation.

Optimism, clear thinking, practicality, firmness in decision-making, the art of listening, patriotism, love of literature and history, perfect driving and camera use, love of travels and eternal curiosity…

Elegant and confident, she divorced her pastor husband long ago, brought up three children on her own and provided best education for them. Now she has nine grandkids as well as siblings, and cousins with their big families all around the country. She also has friends all around the world.

She campaigned against Vietnam war, applauded Martin Luther King. She considers Roosevelt and the Kennedy brothers the paragons of service to one’s country and does not respect the Bushes. She puts out the American flag when she comes to her summer house and curses the oligarchs standing in Obama’s way.

She resides in Chester, New York, and in Cape Code, New England, Massachusetts.

To cut a long story short, she is 100% American and the main American attraction.


– We have two problems, – Linda smiled, – dumb heads and roads.

And I was not sure, whether she was joking or simply demonstrating her knowledge of the matter. I could have related to the dumb heads, especially in the government, but the roads? They were smooth, perfectly organized, leading to every house.

As it turned out, she was referring to the American dream – a house to own, to the ways leading to it and the roads we choose.

I have read One-storey America while still at school and living in “khrushchevka” without any problems. I wondered then how one’s entire life, the only one and unique, could be limited to the purchase of real estate. Is where one lives that important? And what about tent on camping? Or a wagon in the students’ construction camp? Or a communal apartment still preserving its charm at the time? Once in Crimea my friend and I stayed in the bike shed. Every night we switched sleeping places, so that one would sleep in the long part, and the other – in the short part designated for the side seat. The weather was clear, with no mosquitoes and a lot of stars shining brightly!

Years passed, and now an associate professor teaching the basics of entrepreneurship was admiring the clarity of the so-called American dream of “A private house”. How right it sounds! Because it is strictly defined. A big, clear goal defining the future and way of life. It is not about some abstract and uncountable riches, but specifically about a house, a family nest. It offers an example to follow, because the kids flying out of it know that they are supposed to build their own nest, not just out of necessity, but also to honor the family traditions, because “it runs in the family”.

In mid 19th century a modest house cost 500 dollars and it took dozens of years to accumulate the exorbitant sum.

A precisely formulated material goal, compatible with working life of an average American, defined the national character, first of all, perseverance and ability to organize one’s life. Besides, a mortgage for, let us say, 30 years compelled the payer to monitor the stability of his/her income, otherwise, with failure to pay on time, the house could be…But it’s better not to think of that option. Well, one should think, of course. The chosen road in general envisages a lot of thinking…

The house in the town of Chester, not far from New York, duly turned out patent American. During our first visit we found it large and fashionable. Mrs Jennifer Rokk and Ms. Emma Rokk – mother and sister – welcomed us on the porch, under the white pillars. They took us about the house, showing us the bedrooms, the closets, bathrooms and toilets on every floor, the kitchen equipped among other things with washing machine, one covered and one open verandah, at the back of the house.

Obviously the house was built not only for the children and grandchildren, but also for great-grand- as well. I guessed that this goal was taken into account in the choice of a small, but sufficient plot (about 12 to 15 acres), which combined flowerbeds with some elements of kitchen garden; in the choice of right materials – bricks, where bricks should be; right tree species where the trees should be; the neat tiles where the slate should be. The dynasty house should be solid, two and a half floors, and painted white, in line with the tradition: are we worse than the President? By no means.

White is the color of purity and light. A House should embody the “Pure dream of each progressive family”. A dream come true, real pre-paradise award for the life-long toil, so that kids and grandkids will be grateful to grand and great-grand- and inherit and continue.

That is why Linda’s house could have been any color, but stuck in my memory as white, and therefore directed more to the sky than to earth, embodying the very “idea of the House”. That is why I believe that back then – in 1997 – we found it too comfortable. Now I would call it good, rather modest and just right.

The land of adolescents

The US is eleven. Let’s do the calculations: if the USA is 200 years old, while China is 2000, compared to human age it means an adolescent and Confucius. Following this logic it is easy to calculate that Germany, France and Russia are at pre-retirement age. They are afraid that someone else wants to replace them. 30-year old Japan is just in its prime! Ukraine, counting from the time of the first hetmans, is 20-22, the graduates’ age. And the US is eleven, like Tom and Huck, like the boy from the “Last inch” or another boy from “Dandelion wine”, or Norman Rockwell’s characters. Or myself. “I was born in the island of Borneo at the age of eleven”, I wrote once, i.e. yesterday. May be it was this fact that prompted Linda’s decision to take us to the eleven states of the Eastern coast. A state per year?

– I included into our itinerary eleven states and also the District of Columbia as a bonus! – she informed us in the airport, and then snapped her fingers leaving us with no option but to scream “Wow!”

And so we screamed.

The story of the House

– My great-grandfather started the construction, and my grandfather completed it. Three generations.

Linda fetched an album from the shelf:

– This here is my father, this is my grandfather, and this – great-grandfather. And here, in the armchair are my great-great – Lou and Jo. First Americans in our family. We keep their letters. And here is – Linda turned the page and I saw a yellowed sheet in the transparent sleeve – Jo’s autobiography. He was born in 1818 in Manchester, England. In 1826 – right– at the age of 8 (the family had many kids) he started working in the mine. The working day lasted for 12 -14 hours. At the age of 11 he quit. He’d had enough. “The law on vagrancy” made him return to the mine. He met Lou when he was 15, but starting his own family was out of question. He was 16 when he came to the US. To seek better life, as the saying goes. And once again, after all the tribulations, he ended up in the mine. But the working conditions – the labor itself, everyday life, the wages – were different. In a year he asked Lou to join him. He started studying in the evenings and at night, first at school and then at the mining college. At 23 he became a foreman, at 26 – the head of his shift, at 32 – a mining engineer with the diploma. The family was growing. The children, upon growing up, went away. But the eldest, Jim, who followed in his shoes, stayed to help him build the house.

So many similarities! The same happened to my grandfather – he was orphaned and suffered the famine in the 20s, met my grandmother when she was 15! After living in barracks and hostels he moved into his first flat, long-craved, furnished with specially bought pieces on June 22, 1941…

I was listening to Linda and becoming more and more convinced that their family memory dated back at least for two generations more. I’ve come to understand that neither Tripolian culture, nor Aryans, proto-Shumers or Scythians, define the national memory – it is defined by an average family reminiscences, and is centered around a specific land plot and a structure built on it.

Russian miracle in Philadelphia

– The celebration starts in Philadelphia, near the building in which independence was proclaimed. This is a special site. It is like yours – excuse me, Russian – Kremlin. It was announced already that Ted Turner, Jane Fonda – Linda kept quoting the names – would be present. Let’s try, too. Of course, if we manage to find parking space. It is a problem. Of late I had to leave the car far away and then walk. It would be good to arrive on time – she added taking the highway.

There is no point in describing the highway. Philadelphia downtown also is not much different from Kiev in rush-hour. There is one difference, however. We can park a car, even under the threat of getting a ticket and being towed away, while here it is not possible – it is forbidden and the penalties are high.

Approaching downtown Linda started to look around with worried expression. The drivers of the cars in front of us were doing the same. Everyone looked desperate – alas, no chance. The lucky ones, who had come to the show in early morning, were closely parked at the very curb, and there was hardly a chance that any of them would leave to give us the desired – no, the coveted – space. It seemed as impossible as imagining Jane Fonda-Turner taking off her red super-dress, discussed in such detail on CNN and offering it to Linda with the words: “Take it, my dear. Take Ted too, into the bargain, and a place onstage, and a free parking space! Today is your day!”

– Oh! – Linda sighed, as if hearing my fantasies. They turn left more and more often. We’ve got to leave the center.

And then unexpectedly I announced: We’ll find a space round the next turn – I was not sure where it came from and why we, while there was a line of cars in front of us, but I said once again: Go straight forward and make a turn.

We made a turn after stopping at the crossing, and as soon as the Jeep in front of us moved forward, a lady in red abruptly turned from the curb winking her left light, having blocked a car in front of her. The driver, in a flurry, looked aware that he was supposed to back, and lit his emergency light meaning the space was his to take…

– This is mine, – says Linda, firmly and decidedly like a shark of capitalism. – Yes! Here we are! – She sounded triumphant. She turned to gaze at us as if saying “Oh the mysterious and enigmatic Russian soul!” We humbly kept silent. And what was there to be said? A miracle.

What happened next? Speeches, the anthem, African- American choir, Jane Fonda’s red dress, volunteers in the period costumes…It was interesting, of course, but nothing to be compared with the miracle.

House and Home

“It was at the turn of the century”, the House told us, “that I felt like a real family nest. And do you know why? Wrong answer. I was completed earlier in 1880s. It’s pretty simple. Jo and Lou lived to see their great-grand-children! And the great grand-children saw the old folks off from the house they had been born in. Life has gone full circle. An ordinary house has become Home. English language offers two words to mark the metamorphosis – House and Home. Words loaded with meaning. Just say “House”, “It is my House” – sounds as if it had lots of space in it, as if the hostess were showing it to the guests or buyers stressing the abundance of air and light. Now “Home” with its prolonged diphthong [ou] is a hamster hole, a lair, a family fire side. The first sound of the word is reminiscent of Sanskrit mantra “Om mani padme hum”. This mantra establishes the balance between spirit and flesh, home space and outer space. That is why Home is the locus where time and space meet. Four generations – a century come full circle – and four corners of the dwelling space squaring the circle, with life itself solving the problem. Then the whole cycle starts anew”.

Rereading Soviet humorists Ilf and Petrov I understood why American provincial life had changed so little. It is true that drugstores offer no snacks, while Christmas Tree Shop offers exclusively Chinese merchandise, but the post office is just the same, and fire brigade, and library, and gas station…and half-empty churches testify to the fact that a Home, a Manor, a temple to the personal freedom and dignity still remains the core of this world.


Linda pushed the speed control button on the steering wheel and we flew from Philadelphia to Washington, as the Independence Day wouldn’t wait. Naturally, we ended up in a traffic jam – something ground, mixed, cooked under July sun – a dismal and hopeless sight. In front of us, as far as eye could see, the whole highway was filled with cars. People were obviously agitated – the celebrations, the fireworks in Washington bringing together half of the country. A youthful graying black man with wife and two kids in red Cadillac convertible stopped on our right side (black people should be called African Americans, and not Negroes, while the word “nigger” is a direct insult).

He addressed Linda, and upon exchanging a couple of words they agreed that it was at least two hours’ delay Linda took out a tour guide and I decided to take a nap, as tourists tend to do. Sleep, however, fled from me. A blonde on our left side was chatting into a new-fangled cell phone, cursing the jam, the route she had taken, and the cop who had given her a parking ticket. Linda gave her a dirty look a blonde at the wheel deserved, but said nothing. A police helicopter soared above us. The black man pointed at it and they exchanged smiles with Linda. Then Linda proceeded to adjust her hair, and the blonde, after a pause, also started to re-do her make-up. Technologically speaking, the vehicles’ roofs slid off. Some passengers started stuffing themselves with sandwiches, kids kept sucking on Coke. An elderly couple, having adorned themselves with Panama hats and sunglasses, exposed their faces to the sun. The music broke out. Linda also switched on the cassette player, Joe Denver started to sing and the black man addressed Linda once more congratulating her on her taste in music. He introduced himself as Sam and since that moment the conversation proceeded without a hitch. His wife who was feeding the kids offered him a sandwich, while the blonde in red dress – an exact replica of the dress we have just seen on Jane Fonda, but twice shorter – stepped out of the car still holding her cell and chattering into it and opened the trunk. Linda fumbled in the glove compartment and switched the cassette to “Beatles”. – Îh! – Sam’s smile became even wider and more seductive; he asked to turn it up. Then he backed a bit and, on hearing “Obladi-oblada”, stepped out of the car – Louder! Louder! – and began to dance, or rather broke into a jig! – nimbly, rhythmically and elegantly as only black folks can. Everyone forgot the jam in an instant. People started to sing along, to clap their hands. Only the old man and his wife did not react, taking a nap in the sun. – Glen Miller is what they need! – Or rather Bach! – people around joked. But Linda did not hear. She looked at the black man with admiration, and he danced, partially, or may be, not partially, for her sake. The blonde stopped fumbling and moved her thin thighs. The noise increased, people were leaving their cars, remembering it was holiday. And he kept dancing, easily and self-unconsciously, moving to the rhythm, but a bit slower, with the imperceptible pause, which is a trade-mark of good dancer.

“Beatles” delivered, Sam kept dancing. “The jam” whistled and clapped their hands. But suddenly a helicopter flew over. In front of the line we heard the engines start. Everyone hurriedly got back to the cars and started their engines too. Only the old couple, probably napping, lay without moving.

- Shall we put Mozart on for them? – Sam giggled, but the horns blew and the old ones jerked.

– My name is Sam! – Sam reminded, handing Linda his business card.

– And I am Linda! – reminded Linda, hiding the card in her wallet.

That is how one should get to know America – effortlessly and unceremoniously, the way you meet a stranger who is a kindred spirit, the way it happened that time in a jam. Then America will open up and reveal itself unexpectedly and naturally. And you will believe this is a real thing.


The house screeched. I woke up to the wind’s howling and remembered “According to forecast, tornado is possible!” – the weather man advised the previous day obviously worrying about the House.

Notes of anxiety in his voice worried me at first. But my excellent mark in geography helped to regain my calm – no hurricanes occur at these latitudes. – Have you had tornadoes here yet?

– No, we haven’t. – My irony was lost upon Linda. – But the possibility is always there. I am sure, though, that the house will survive. No grounds for worry!

On waking up, I approached the window, and reminiscing about the house history, listened to the screeches and moans and grumbling. It sounded unhappy. “What of your excellent mark? You’ve heard it – “the possibility of tornado cannot be excluded”. Surely, I am no Dorothy’s little house from the Land of Oz my creators had read about while still young kids. And they remembered it and used no cardboard in construction, but built stolidly. But it was quite a reliable channel, not just anybody that announced – hear it howling… Wuu, excellent mark, what?!»

And I understood: the tornado myth became so viable because everyone should worry about one’s kin, it is human, it is befitting. Only thus can a House turn into a Home, acquiring soul, into “sweet home” according to a song.

And the house, listening, roared, roared approvingly, miming the mosquitoes attacking the windows in thousands: – Fat chance for you! What are mosquito nets for?!

“We are all immigrants”

On the sign at the entrance to Shadow Road, Linda’s street on Cape Cod, I saw the names of Bleeznjuk and Nalbandian.

– Our names, even spelt in Latin alphabet, look odd among all these Smiths, Jacksons and McKinleys.

– Nothing odd about it. We are all immigrants. – We are all new-comers – Linda kept repeating, and I assumed it was a courtesy, a polite bow towards long-suffering us. However, the pride ringing in Linda’s words made me rethink and reconsider this phenomenon…

Our immigrant passes through twelve consecutive circles, or stages, or rounds, if you will, or periods. But most likely, they are circles and nothing but circles:

1- he is afraid of not finding a job and is ashamed of living off others;

2- he has a job and is ashamed because this new job is non-prestigious;

3- finally, he’s got a prestigious job, and is afraid it is temporary;

4- he has a permanent prestigious job and is ashamed of having traded his Motherland for a piece of bread;

5- he has everything but is ashamed of his grand-children not understanding Russian.

So, fear and shame are his permanent companions reflected in his eyes. However, their distribution is unequal. Some have their left eye swollen, while the right eye remains practically unchanged; other people have it the other way round – the left eye is piercing you, while the right one is squinting. The eyes of the majority, however, develop a thin film, making them more luminous than usual. They seem to be sweating from the combination of fear and shame and look tearful. But God forbid you think these are accumulated tears or hidden sorrow, or personal drama – oh, no! – These are an ordinary immigrant’s eyes at the first, second, third, fourth and fifth stages of assimilation.

With the flow of time the film grows thinner, and the eyes dry like salt lakes and whiten like talcum, screeching and lusterless.

The last seven stages are beyond immigrants’ lives, with four of them relating to their children, and three more –to their grand-children who really don’t understand this crazy “dyedushka” and his stupid stories.

Why would you come here, old fool, if you are nostalgic?

What are you missing here?

Museums have better collections, the rivers are cleaner and wider, no one calls you dirty Jew, the food, the living conditions – you name it?!

Children graduated from colleges, no one would rob or stab them, two cars, a house with three bedrooms, profitable investments, last year’s trip to visit mom’s grave in Kryzhopol?

What else?

Morning newspaper, lunch beer, night whiskey, 89 TV channels, a man comes regularly to mow the lawn, a rabbit named Petryk lives in the back yard. Why Petryk? What for Petryk?

Old fool…


Îh! They are spoken of and warned against no less than tornado. I happened to open both the window and the net, and was reprimanded by Linda at length on the perfidy of mosquitoes, who, unlike our gnats, who announce their approach by buzzing, attack in silence. Now I understood why the Embassy fat lady in horn-rimmed spectacles did not believe me; I understood her feelings with respect to the myriad of mosquitoes of all nations and ethnicities attacking visa sections of the American Embassies. The number of applications for “green card” – a permit to reside in the US is constantly on the rise, and Ukrainians rank among the first on the list. Sometimes I have a feeling that Ukrainians, ever particular about their homes, having found themselves at the crossroads of wars and revolutions, set their sights on America with special zeal. They hoped to find both house and home here. On the other hand, at the Chester fair, were Linda took us the very first evening I didn’t see either Slavs or Anglo-Saxons. Latinos, Chinese, Hindus…

– So where is America?

– This is America. Not to worry. They will be all Yankees by the third generation. Not 100% Yankees, but they are getting there…

– Are you not afraid of losing American values on the way?

– Which specifically?

– Do you think a Chinese will display personal respect, a Hindu – entrepreneurship, and a Puerto-Rican –law-abidance?

– No one will even ask them. Our way of life will grind everything and come out with a mix including best features of everyone: Chinese love of work, Hindu love of nature, Latino love of freedom. Why the best? Because our – American – dream is capable of uniting the positive, family-minded, stable, law-abiding personalities, in one word – home-centered people. And the others will be rejected as garbage.

And she looked at me triumphantly.

“Thanksgiving Day”

The outstanding American painter Norman Rockwell has a picture so entitled.

A large American family is gathered at the festive table. Four generations. And finally grandma and granddad solemnly bring in the plate with turkey. The turkey exudes wonderful smell; its crust is bubbling – a real feast for both nose and eyes. The turkey is the centerpiece, both for the compositions and the world in which the old ones live.

“Remember, Mary, how the heart missed a beat…Granny brings in the plate and all the eyes are glued to it, and everyone has their forks ready.

– Tu-u-rkey. Of course! And everyone is waiting for the carving, so that meat, the crust, the dressing and the stuffing would be divided equally. Then everyone starts eating without haste, asking for the second helping, holding one’s plate and then stuffing oneself oblivious to everything else. Old people remember. It was like that, and stuck in the memory preserving both smells and the awe.

The picture, however, tells a different story. Kids seem to ignore the main dish, while the grandkids look the other way, engaged in general conversation. They wouldn’t give a wink.

“I was trying so hard…

– They are different, Mary. They missed each other and have a lot of news to share. While the turkey… They can have it every day. Well, obviously not as good as yours…But is it not what we wanted?”

So much for the picture. It features the whole 20th century, a path from poverty to abundance. From toils and troubles towards success and spiritual freedom.

Mary is at a loss.

At the end of the day, what is there to be sorry about? In the picture painted by Rockwell in the 50s, they still haven’t talked enough. For forty years they will be gorging fast food, but by the end of the century they will restart admiring and appreciating with doubled awe the home-cooked food made by granny. They will have enough of talk and will sing high praises to granny’s culinary miracle, and then hold hands and lower their eyes to pray.

Rockwell seems to have such a picture, too.

The land of “fly-aways”

– What kind of family is that – children fly away, while parents spend their declining years on their own. You are right – if the word “emigration” applies to a family, you are all emigrants.

This principle of living where the work is and not vice versa undermines the family and ruins Home. In China, on the other hand, the parents are treated…

– If you have in mind the folk tale character Lee Pen, who used to take off all his clothes and sleep with his parents, so that mosquitoes would bite him and not them, we have a different solution – we have mosquito nets installed

And besides, work means money, and money means opportunities – to visit and to help the old folks if need be. Anyway, where have you seen the old folks?

I am jogging for my morning exercise. The wind from the bay blows in my face. I am jogging as best as I can – trotting without haste. A man catches up with me. Looks like he is a bit older than me, but very lively, quite sprightly. Hello, hello. We exchanged a couple of words.

- Î, Ukraine … Asia! It is far away. While I am still young, I also want to see far-away places – New Zealand, Tibet, Cape Horn, Madagascar…And once I am old, I shall travel to Europe.

– Great – I say, – it’s my plan too. And how old are you now?

- I’ll be ninety next year – and, having waved me good-bye, he ran down the steps to the shore. And I stayed behind. It’s hard for me to walk on the sand.

Having agilely passed parking spaces for disabled a sportive “T-Bird” has come to a halt. The door opened slightly to reveal first one crutch, then another. The driver was hidden behind the door, but eventually one small shoe followed by the other appeared, the door opened widely and I saw an old crone, I mean, an old lady, hunched and barely higher than her sticks. She slammed the door and hobbled towards the post office, expertly and swiftly moving forward slightly first one crutch, then the other, right little foot, then the left one – one, two, step by step.

– I know her. – Linda remarked, when the door after her closed. – Miss Goldwater is a member of our book circle at the library. She is almost deaf, but never misses a meeting. And she lives right where you jog in the morning, over the ravine. She sees everything and nothing slips her.

– So she is the one who calls police if anyone on the beach is wearing too scarce trunks?

– Many of us are doing it – Linda smiled. – Depends on the trunks, though.

But we didn’t finish our exchange.

Miss Goldwater made it back to the car. She opened the door, threw the crutches in. Then she placed herself at the driver’s seat, started the engine, and pushed the gas pedal so vehemently, that Linda even whistled.

– Were her ancestors pirates or congressmen?

– Yes… - Linda said thoughtfully. – Well, my own name-sake Johnson was no better than Barry Goldwater, although he won with big margin. I have another concern, though. She does not have any heirs. I mean, not in terms of inheritance, but in terms of trunks.

– The secret of longevity ... – Linda paused for a second. – It is right what you were talking about – we live separately from kids, cope with this life on our own, keep our home and lawn in order; and if we are strong enough – we also take care of the beach and of the beach-goers morality. A clean beach will tell you more about a country that one hundred politicians.

By the way, I think I have mentioned it – an American buys a “life pass” – for 10 dollars, for the whole life – and to many museums as well! A good incentive to live longer!


Linda has two sons and a daughter. Huge Bob and Jack and miniature Dorothy. Linda and her daughter are what my grandma would call zwei-pair, that is, they look alike, and have similar dispositions. Linda-2 lives with her husband and children near New York, in a big three-story mansion in the woods.

We just dropped at her on the eve of her husband’s birthday. It was, though, all planned by her and her mom. It was the only available day in Dorothy’s busy schedule. Tomorrow – Ron’s birthday, in three days – important trip to Europe – four countries in five days. As a top-manager of one of the largest tobacco companies in the world she has to get ready. Linda talked about her daughter with pride. “Planning is her real forte. After all, they still do teach something in Harvard!”

We were greeted at the gates – the grand-kids hang on Linda, bombarding her with questions and giving us stray glances, while Dorothy, red-cheeked and obviously pregnant – looking forward to a boy! – took us around the house.

Then, in 1997, few people knew about “smart houses” and Dory sincerely admired Ron for having devised and installed energy-and water-saving systems, video-surveillance and guard, demonstrated the system of pool cleaning and heating, closets no smaller than kids’ rooms, and, finally, took us to the kitchen and showed us such modern appliances that my wife was struck dumb and only moaned quietly.

– Tomorrow we host 17 persons, – she told us, wearing an apron and glancing at the window, waiting for her husband to arrive. – Here is Ron! – and the girls ran out to meet their father.

Of medium stature, stocky, he arrived at the threshold, and giving a careful hug to his dear wife, started talking about the Joyces, who, as usual, have mixed everything up and have called to apologize for not being able to fly out today due to some problems in Chicago airport, and when I told them that we expected them tomorrow – you can’t imagine how happy they were.

You will like them, – she said, and we understood we were among the invited, too.

Ron changed and came down to help. “Ron has Italian background. His pasta and barbecue, oh! – Yummy!” At that moment the phone rang.

– Dory, it’s for you. Your boss. – Ron whispered passing her the receiver. And she was immediately absorbed in the conversation. On finishing it she even snapped her fingers – just like Linda – Yes, I’ve got one more region – Norway, the fifth country, but I’ll have to fly out tomorrow. What do you think of that, honey? Shall I take it?

– Of course, considering that you have agreed already. No problem, we’ll move it to the next week. I’ll call the guests, and you go get ready.

– New region – Linda clarified – means twenty thousand more. Not bad as an addition to 120 Dory is paid already.

– Per year? – I wondered.

– Per month. Dory’s salary is only slightly lower than Ron’s income from his African business. The family is growing; the expenses are big, both for the house, and for the kids’ education. But I think, after her son I born, she will quit to take care of the children.

– Quit?! With such salary? – we could not believe it, and, as it turned out, we were right. – Dory stayed at work for two more years, but after the birth of the fifth child – a boy, once again! – she quit, and got engaged in kids’ upbringing and charity.


If you divide a tea-spoon into two halves and cut one of them off, you will end up with half-teaspoon. I would never believe something like that is possible and bought it right away, without bargaining. It turned out that the piece was manufactured early in the last century. Linda was reserved in her appreciation of the purchase. – Yes, it’s funny, it’s cool – while I could not let it go, examining it and playing with it.

I liked it tremendously. Both by its saving capacity and by full compliance with culinary recipes which read “half a spoon”, or “a spoon and a half”, or one quarter – don’t fill my spoon to the brim, and you’ve got the quarter.

I haven’t seen anything like this in our country; well, maybe the dispenser spoons for medicine, but they had measuring mark while here it was physical division…

I remember my fascination with coins of half and quarter of a kopeck – “den’ga” and “polushka” – I admired them, as a proof of thrift and economy of Russian people.

And now I found a half-teaspoon. So, American are twice thriftier and twice more practical than us?

Franklin Roosevelt memorial house

Patriotism is the most important feature of American mentality. The history of the country (not taking into account the Indian period, which is usually not taken into account) is much shorter than the history of Asiatic or European nations. That is why every item of national pride should be multiplied by an index, whose numerator contains, for one, 5000 years of Egyptian civilization, and denominator – 200, or, in the very least, 500 years of post-Columbian American civilization. If you don’t want to multiply by 10, then multiply by 3 and you won’t be wrong – an average American is sincerely triply proud of his country – the most democratic one, the most developed one and by far the richest.

The ritual of hoisting the national flag at the summer home is no joking matter for Linda. She does not do it for fun. This flag covered the coffin of her uncle who perished in World War II. The uncle – mom’s brother – was a favorite in the large Rokks family. Here he stands in the center of a prewar picture, looking exactly like famous Soviet actor Stolyarov in the “Circus” movie – fair, sturdy, smiling, with nieces and sisters clinging to him and little brothers proud of him…I’ve seen the guy more than once: on the posters of the national guard, in the comics books, in the nuts’ ads. Well, you know, a typical John, or, more familiarly, Johnny.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt does not look like such a “John”. But Linda had her mind made: visiting his memorial house is a priority and a must.

– F.D.R. saved the country twice, – she informed me, – from the Great Depression and from the Great War.

And she started telling me about him, the best of all the presidents. I listened, nodded, dosed, and came to, while Linda kept talking. She said that each room in his house – his living room, his study, his library – can tell more about his roots and inner qualities than dozens of books; she spoke about a lovely view of his native fields from his bedroom window, a rivulet, a far away grove, about his touching love of trinkets, each of them telling a story or a parable. She emphasized intelligence, honor and high moral standards of the finest specimen of American people.

On our way we made a stop at West Point.

The cadre cradle for the Pentagon greeted us with a drill – marching to military chants and sergeants’ commands. I stared at the cadets and wondered: where are they – right-flank johns, schwarzeneggers, rambos ? Not a single to be seen. Same story as at the Chester fair. Hunch-back bespectacled boys, club-footed plump girls, scrawny Puerto-Ricans, Chinese, Hindus.. John Silver would have referred to this gang as trash, and I started searching for arguments in favor of computer kids.

Li caught my eye and smiled.

– The main thing is patriotism. They are raised as patriots. Patriotic education is the greatest achievement of American culture, our way of life. Don’t jump at conclusions.

And I started nodding – sure, no doubt. And the location is so great – the Hudson.

– Îh, yeah! A view of Hudson – we call it the Hudson River – is something indeed. Can you help having the feel of your motherland here, where everything breathes history: struggle for independence, battles between the North and the South? The Hudson River – this very site figures in every history book. Every American knows about it the way your kids know about Stalingrad and encounter at the Elbe.

I kept nodding being unsure, if truth be told, of our children, or rather their mentors. And was amazed at the cleanliness around, at the delicious taste of the sandwich we’ve bought at the army kiosk, at well-groomed trees in the academy park: each had a tag with its inventory number attached on a nail with a spring so that it would not sway in the wind and jingle…

And then we were on the road again. Four hours one way proved exhausting. We were still tired from our flight and jet lag. And just to think that the way back would take as long…

But we had no time to give it a thought. Li parked with panache and said in a voice bearing no traces of fatigue:

– Yes! Here we are!

So we hurried on taking along our passports, money, notebooks and pens, “The History of the United States”, a dictionary, spare films for the camera and cassettes for the video cam – our first, purchased specifically for this trip. We took a path. The house – large and three-storey – loomed yellow behind a hedge. I tarried getting my camera and video cam ready, while Linda made it to the ticket office and stopped scrutinizing the prices. The framed sign over the cashier’s window had only two lines:

Adults– $ 28.

Students – $ 14.

Li leaned to the window and asked whether former USSR citizens were entitled to a discount. She studied the prices again. Then she thought for a moment and wrapped it up:

– Oh, no. It’s too much.

Then she turned and headed towards the car.

We followed in her steps, inwardly agreeing with her. The tickets were indeed too costly. What was there to see, in the long run? The furniture? Some trinkets on the desk? The family portraits? At that time we did not think much of this minor fiasco at the outset of our tour. Okay, we made the trip, okay, we did not get in… And it was not until much later that I realized: it was not easy for Linda – a 100% American – to take a decision like this. Prestige – her personal, a veteran’s family’s, national – was too important for her; F.D.R.’s authority in the US history and culture was too great for her just to turn, say “No!” and ride away.

The decision, yet, was prompt and final. Why so? What was the decisive factor? Could it be money? In fact, the money was not such a big deal – that is, not big for her. With her pension amounting to three thousand a month, ninety bucks is like ten hryvnas for me – it’s not a trifle, but not an extreme expense either. No, it must be something else… Thrift? Protest? Refusal to accept ungrounded, apparently unreasonable price? Why should it be 12 bucks at the Metropolitan, eight bucks at the Kennedy museum?

Or could it be a subjective feeling of a dollar’s worth, the memory of the old-times valuable buck of the 40s and 50s, and of how hard each of these bucks was earned, and of how much you could buy for a buck at home and in Ukraine, or all over the world …

To tell you the truth, at that time $56 for the two of us was a considerable sum. Having converted it into hryvnas and then to coupons-carbovantsy, I compared it to my salary of the time, which did not exceed $100 per month, and then made a mental estimate of how much money we’ve brought for presents and souvenirs.

And, anyway, something did not work. I wondered whether I should take into account the passion for minor profits formed by the market. Well, not even the passion, but the whole strategy to wait for discounts, to bargain for a sale, and if it does not work – well, nothing doing, we’ll come again…Or another thing – the budget. Linda certainly estimated the budget for our visit, and it did not make provisions for this sum…I did not think about it while we were returning to the car, but now, from my position of a man with average income I answered myself “I would have bought [the tickets], of course”. Moreover, had I been in her shoes, I would have bought them even then, in 1997, when I earned much less, and could barely make both ends meet. Why? Because: hospitality, practically, the first day of the visit, and patriotism, damn it. Or I would just be ashamed…

…search for another decision?...

However, at the time I did not entertain any of these thoughts. We felt lousy, or even humiliated. “With the French she hardly would…” – someone was whispering. And suddenly Linda turned around. – Yes! – and took us back to the memorial house. I did not know whether I could offer financial participation in the purchase – wouldn’t it be offensive? – in Kiev, obviously, I would not let her spend a cent…Li was walking in big strides, with determination, and having come around the fence, suddenly made a turn and, instead of going to the central entrance and ticket office, she circled the house and took us to the back porch with a small sign “Shop” near it.

Linda asked the guard where the shop was. – Oh, at the ground floor! She asked whether we could buy souvenirs, and, after thanking the guard, made us a sign to follow her. Once inside she demonstratively made her way towards the shop, but suddenly made a turn – right! – to the first and second floors of the museum, and started showing, explaining, quickly, but in an engaging way – then back to the second, first…We’ve covered everything. In the shop, if I remember right, she bought us postcards, about two dollars each, and before leaving thanked the guard, for good souvenirs for our guests from the former USSR.

- Îh, you are welcome, m’am! From the USSR, m’am?!

Coming back to the car was self-confident usual Linda.

When we were there Linda winked and snapped her fingers:

– Yes! We saved eighty two dollars!

And we nodded.


Linda is an amazing person. Just now she was describing with fascination how Jane Fonda – Oh, I love her! – passed nearby, so close Linda could even touch her dress. “It is the latest Versace dress! In the 5th avenue they were sold out immediately. It is very, very expensive!” Or she is telling us with enthusiasm how she managed to get 8 – eight! – cameras from the bank, in which she keeps her accounts. Having learnt about the promotion she immediately divided her deposit into 8 – eight! – portions – opened eight (!) accounts – and “here are the cameras for each account! I have a big family!”

And right away she is making fun of her mother’s sclerosis, of her husband – a minister “thank God, former one”, of the president, of the country and its people, apathetic and gluttonous, and “stubborn nonsense of many-hours blabbering during the meals”.

That she detests most of all. I mean senseless, in her opinion, customs and rituals. I remember, on our trip to Chernigov, we were invited to the monastery refectory for a dinner. We sat at one of the long tables for the brethren, waiting for the monks to finish the dinner prayer in a church adjacent to the refectory.

Linda was fidgeting in her chair, listening to the monotonous chant on the other side of the wall and suddenly suggested we all go under the table.

– Won’t it be cool! Just fancy, they are coming in, taking their seats at the tables…And suddenly we jump out from under the tables and shout all at once – Sur-prise! Ah? Won’t it be cool?


- Your “dream” seems to have one big fault.

- Which one?

- It is too specific. It is even not interesting – the whole life is predetermined in advance. As the Buddhists would have put it, you have equated yourselves. You are not free, you are attached to it…

Linda listened, then nodded – “right, got you” – and said:

- There is a community, a monastery not far from here. I have not been there, but I think it might be of interest to you. They say, the basilica is beautiful, and all…

- Is it Catholic or Orthodox?

- I believe, it’s neither. But they accept anyone who believes in Christ.

- Is it Protestant, then? But do the Protestants have monasteries?

- See, I’ve got you interested already. In America we have everything!

In the shop at the community gate we were greeted by a friendly receptionist. On learning that we were from Ukraine she smiled even wider – Let me call sister Martha, she is studying Russian (You do speak Russian, don’t you? – Very well!). She dialed her and in a second Martha was already approaching us, rejoicing and apologizing for her Russian.

“I’ve been to Russia, to the female monastery –right?” Martha completed the sentence in her slightly broken Russian and was happy when all of us, including Linda (God knows why!) nodded in accord.

– Oh, Yes! Us invite bishop Alexis live two months? – We nodded again. – So! It’s wonderful! – Martha laughed. And I put in that the Estonian nunnery at Kuremaa struck me with its pear orchard. – “Bera”! The real “Bera” variety, taste like honey! Ripens up fully. Isn’t it a miracle for Estonia?

– Îh, honey À-àh! “Bera”! - Martha beamed and sweetly ushered us into the temple.

It was most improbable to find a Byzantine temple on American land. Everything there – the columns disappearing in heaven, the uplifted organ pipes, and the river of life – the mosaics flowing from the entrance to the altar, and Biblical stories told by blue frescoes lining up under the ceiling – everything leads to Him. And a ray – not a painted one, but a genuine, sunset ray unites stained glass over the main entrance and the altar, multicolored window and Christ, spreading arms for an embrace, flying forward – and the eyes of every person walking towards Him under the ray.

– What a beautiful face! – we heard Linda say for the first time. And I refrained from specifying whom she meant.

The hall reminiscent of the British Parliament was gradually filling with people. We were given the seats in the first row, and politely pointed at for everyone coming in to see. Martha explained something, the community members smiled. Since that moment on I felt elated. This state persisted while we were waiting for the Mass, and while twelve chosen chorus members took their place in front of the altar, and the organ struck, with recital and chanting alternating.

The Mass was short. My poor English prevented me from singing along. So I mostly stared around, watching the way sisters celebrated their meeting with Him and one another, the way they rejoiced in their hearts. Earlier I never gave a thought to the idea that Temple as such, as God’s house, is radically different from a human house, implying neither a bedroom, nor a kitchen, nor a garage (we are not going to comment upon the elite garage under the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow…)

I found myself at a Philharmonic hall, where people, as a rule, do not sleep, but stay awake, and feed solely on spiritual food.

The Basilica was singing. Joy and delight resided in the faces and expanded beyond the Temple boundaries, extending to the refectory, to the spacious cells, to the orchard, to the bell-fry, and to the shop…

The service over, we were taken to the bell tower. The same twelve singers – each time new singers are appointed in turn – made a circle, seized the ropes hanging from beneath the dome, and starting pulling them in turns, forcefully, in swinging motion. There were no small bells, so there were no trills. The chime was joyful and lingering, making one wish to join in a slow church procession to the count: one-two-three-step! One-two-three–step!

– How nice their faces are – Linda remarked surmising costly mementoes at the shop in no hurry to buy anything.

She repeated these words on our way back and at home, when we were discussing our plans for Sunday, including the option of attending a Sunday – that is, festive – service.

– It is a very wealthy community. Everyone joining it has to pass their property over to the nunnery – real estate, land, stocks and shares – the nunnery manages their assets. As you can see, rather successfully – Linda stressed.

– And what do they get instead?

– Carefree life. Socializing. Talking to God. And mind you – you see around joy, awe, singing praises, smiles…

– It means we are going to mass tomorrow?

– Nope! – Linda snapped. – What about you?

– To tell the truth, I don’t feel like that either. One should have home of one’s own.

Whales and humans.

Provincetown – unlike, say, New York, – is a small place. Nevertheless, you can’t consider it a provincial town, even a “rayon” center. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the town is the unofficial Mecca for American sexual minorities. And the second is the world-famous eco-show “Atlantic Whales and Killer Whales”.

We learnt about it as soon as Linda slowed down to turn to Main Street. The town was making merry. A policeman was dancing at the crossing. Pot-bellied, in tight fitting uniform, he was gamboling around juggling his pink-and-striped baton as a virtuoso bandmaster. Doing so, he moved his thighs so suggestively and smiled so seductively that people in expensive convertibles were laughing and tooting their horns trying to catch the rhythm of his “latina”, while he, like a reverse strip dancer, was not winding around the pole, but, quite the other way round, was turning the pole, that is, his baton, around himself.

Everything about him was different, unlike our traffic policeman – his fluttering baton, his short trunks, his smiles, and his jokes cracked left and right. Hence, the result was also contrary: instead of alleviating a jam at the crossing, he made the public, in no hurry at all, stare, applaud and whistle without moving an inch.

Linda waved to him, too, and we made it along the main street yielding to merry-making parties – moving on foot and doodling champagne in their convertibles stopping on their way.

– Look, look – here is a mermaid made of sand! Wow, she has man’s balls!

And what is this? Is he walking on the leash all the time? We were turning our heads, while a bald midget in a dog’s collar was waving at us.

– Look to your left – this is the port. See, how many yachts, and what yachts! It’s the most fashionable yacht-club. In this country many rich people are gay. In fact, the crowd hanging around earlier belonged to the male half of the mankind, but now has grown effeminate – manicure, make-up, pungent smells of perfumes, dyed hair, bright garments, – but first of all, the faces – smooth, calm, fatigued by the vice…I remembered a gray-haired couple – one in the golden cap shining brightly in the sun, and the other meditating with the toy rack. He dragged it in the golden sand circling the pebbles placed in the wooden tray with low boards. I tried it, too. It was nice, gently liberating from the bustle, soothing both for eyes and soul, helping to assuage some old forgotten fears, smoothing some old scars...A different gender greeted us in the intimate and souvenir shops. There were no kids at all. Some Sodom, I thought, indeed…

– At least our parents still are aware of the fact that children are not to be taken here. There is another, roundabout road to take them to the whales show- Linda just managed to tell us that, when a minibus with a whole herd passed us by, with kids’ faces glued to the windows observing the multicolored minorities. We take a turn to the port, too.

The wind from Atlantic was fresh. Boats carrying crowds of tourists dived into the waves and then climbed them with outrageous roaring. We were passed by a blued yacht with very loud loudspeakers. It carried the “best men of the city” – I managed to catch a glimpse of the old man in the dog’s collar, and of the “golden cap”. The wind was getting stronger. Moving along the deck I had to cling to the rails, barely having time to keep track of the sea, where the whales were due to appear any moment, and of my camera and video-cam, not to throw them aboard by chance, but to switch them on in time.

Look! Look! – there was a shout on the starboard and everyone moved there peering at the sea, near and far, trying to locate a fountain or a hunched back, or – with a special bit of luck – a huge tail fin striking the water before the monster goes under. And there was a shout on the port side:

Look! Look! – and I ran to the prow trying to make it both here and there, but so far seeing nothing. Suddenly Linda screamed:

– But it’s here, here! – pointing right beneath us, under the boat, where the giant appeared. The stories of enraged killing whales immediately started filling my head – and our boat was so small! But curiosity took over, and I managed to get a glimpse of a hunched back passing beneath us and disappearing into the depth. Now people were shouting all around us, pointing, clicking cameras; the captain slowed down and suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a school of whales. The captain announced we were in the middle of the plankton field.

There were about thirty of them. Big, and small, and the little ones. They were playing in the water, turning to their backs and exposing their whitish bellies, snorting and letting out small fountains. Our boat, as well as others, and the aforementioned blue yacht killed the engines, and the blessed silence descended upon the sea, interrupted only by the sound of the wind and the waves and snorting of the monsters, which could hardly be described as such by then – they looked so peaceful and harmless. I had time enough both to gaze and to shoot my film.

A family. Mom, dad and a kid. A huge one, a smaller one, and a tiny one. Still clumsy, but full of curiosity and joy. Squinting his eye, so amazed, so overfilled with everything around! He swam closest to the boat and the parents were trying to take him away, pushing him from beneath, and coaching their offspring lovingly, without reprimands. And the kid obeyed, forgetting about us for a while, and then approached again, snorting and frolicking. No one thought of feeding the whales, so his innocent interest was no less human than our interest in him. I could not have enough of him – he was so cute, and I realized he was sharing with us his bliss: how great life was – enough food, all the freedom he wanted and the main thing – mom and dad were nearby! That’s why they grow so big! No limits for growth in a healthy family – probably, granddad, and grandma, and siblings were also around.

The isle of Nantucket

The story of the “Essex” whaler and Moby Dick – white killer whale – was retold to us by an elderly guide, a grey neat man in his seventies. He was telling it, probably, for the umpteenth time in a moderately soft, well modulated voice, and also simply, intimately, without dramatic pauses and theatrical gestures. It should have been expected, since the story is not just tragic, but terrifying.

Still, his voice trembled, when the young seaman Coffin, captain Pollard’s nephew, said;

– Kill me and eat me, I’ll be soon dead anyway.

– He offered himself in lieu of another – the guide explained – who had drawn the lot, so Coffin was shot and eaten up. Only five members of the crew made it back home. That was the end of the white whale, when the tables were turned and the whale attacked them, leaving them without rudder, with holes and broken masts in the very midst of the Pacific.

And the guide’s voice quivered once again, when, upon return, captain Pollard related the whole story, and the Coffins – well respected and numerous Coffins – never shook his hand again, refused to see or hear him, looking right through him as if he were not there. Both he and the other survivors did not stay long there – for how could they live after what had happened.

But the guide’s voice never quivered when he was telling about the golden age of Nantucket – America’s whaling capital, about tens and hundreds of thousands of whales – blue and grey, fin whales and sei whales, striped whales and killer whales pursued all over the oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, and in the last century – in the Antarctic – and killed and killed, first with manual harpoons from a whale boat an then with harpoon guns from big ships, and the hunt turned into carnage.

I cannot argue that the “Essex” failed to affect the minds of Nantucket Quakers. But captain Pollard came back in 1820, while whaling in Nantucket did not decline until 1850s… Woe to us, woe. Even after the whale oil was replaced by gas in the lamps, the whales were still hunted on larger scale, till full extinction…

The whaling business with its romantic aura. I remember the reports; the “Slava” whaler flotilla fulfilled its plan 150%, while the “Soviet Ukraine” flotilla came up with 170%! The heroes of Antarctic were like cosmonauts of the 50s! The whole Odessa went out to greet them. The rumor had it that the guys even kept real Odessa dovecotes on the whalers. How nice, how touching. Who would think of the whales then?

On our way back it became clear to me why whales threw themselves ashore. No, no one is hunting them anymore. They have another reason.

They come up to surface and see this ugly rejoicing city, with no children, they see perverted creatures calling themselves “ the crown of nature” – and they “return the ticket” because life is devoid of meaning if “gods” are deceitful.


Jack – Linda’s eldest – works for the National Geographic shooting the documentaries I watch in fascination admiring both nature’s sublime harmony, and the skill of the people capable of seeing and filming it. And you know, it’s not the roads, it’s not the conquest of the Moon, to say nothing of sky-scrapers and aircraft carriers that amazes and captivates me in the long run, but the awe towards life, Schweizer-like awe underpinning the world view first of National Geographic script writers, then camera men, and then billions of TV viewers all over the world. Like the Hubble turned towards the Earth, the NG team brings us back home – from the fuss of shopping malls, money, and career races – back to Earth, to the infinite world of amazing life, genuine life, life alive.

It’s high time I stopped admiring their attitude towards nature – I keep telling myself, since it won’t do me any good – I’ll end up asking for asylum – not political, but environmental – and no love for my country will keep me from that, no Kiev will hold me. I am sorry, highly esteemed lady from the Embassy, you were right. That’s me who is an idiot, blind and dumb, unfeeling and indifferent. My land is moaning and weeping, woods and parks are felled by axes, lakes and rivers are poisoned, and the heavens are stifled with noxious fumes. And all that is perpetrated by our people, Ukrainians, with their own hands. And we live in the midst of the mess.

Thoreau, or a House in the Woods

It took us less than an hour to circle the lake, and, truth be told, we did not see anything of interest save two squirrels, which we fed off our hands. The lake was like any lake, without any special landmarks – rocks or waterfalls. No sequoias around, just maple and birch trees. And the house where Henry David Thoreau lived – a simple wooden hut with primitive furnishings – was nothing special. In fact, everything we saw was in line with his motto “Get simple!” His asceticism looked like a pose and desire to be original for us, unable to survive without a computer and TV, hot water and gas, pills and planes. It is only now that I’ve read his book Walden, or, Life in the Woods, and realized that Thoreau was trying to get away from the standard – house as a material goal, and family as its natural extension – to Home as an individual’s asylum in nature. And his choice is deeply personal. Thoreau never imposed his way of life upon anyone. His path is just a vector, “just” an American dream of freedom. But this dream is not to be forgotten.

But for a modern man raised on the ideas of return to nature Thoreau’s appeals are too obvious and they no longer look innovatory or asocial. Still, I was moved by the book. How so? Maybe, it was its practical approach to creating a wonder of one’s own? Or maybe, it was its style, as unassuming as the cabin and the lake? Or its enthusiasm which appealed to me, in contrast to Lev Tolstoy? Or Henry David’s passionate longing to retain his national American identity – love for freedom?

And it was only when I was getting the text ready for publication I found out still another reason. The house built by Henry with his own hands cost him 28 dollars. The money was spent mostly to buy the materials, but it’s not the point. Remember, it was exactly the sum we had to pay for a ticket to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s memorial house a hundred and fifty years later.

“Why should I live like everybody else in this out-of-the-way Concord?” – Thoreau thought, and as a real American, made his choice.. “Why should I pay this? – Linda thought and also made her decision.

I respect your choices, my friends.

“No more than water…”

(Poetic trope on Frost’s path)

It was showering in Robert Frost’s memorial house. The roof was leaking so heavily that water was champing and squelching even on the floor, under a carpet of damp leaves, and the walls deprived of the perspective surrounded one with isolated trunks and stumps, and the rest was drowned in the sounds of endless torrents. The path leading from one hall to another could be barely perceived, and only boards with poems’ texts marked the way – his and ours. Linda did not miss a single one. She read them aloud, slowly, so that I might, if not fully understand, at least appreciate the harmony. And it was showering cats and dogs, the raincoats did not help. Our feet got wet, the trousers clung to the legs, and the cap visor was soaked with water… I was on the verge of pleading return – but Linda marched on and kept reading without missing a line, and it was apparent that she would move on, she did not come here to be deterred, and the rain – well, what about the rain – it’s just water, no more than water. “No more than water” – Linda repeated aloud, and I trudged along with her and so we reached “The Birches”. The birch riding, I knew and remembered the translation, and at the moment we both started climbing the birches, oblivious to the fact that we were children no more, and our time has passed, and the trunks might give in – at this moment the sun peeped out, and everything around us shone, and all the halls we have passed, and all the verse we have read merged into a huge – sky-reaching – maple and birch forest…

…no more than water

…no more than sun

…no more than Frost


– Bobby was born in 68, in January, and R.F.K. was killed in early summer… No, I called my son after his grandfather – neither Frost, nor Marley have anything to do with it…Although, you know…Linda paused for a moment – I still believe Robert Kennedy to be America’s conscience. His speeches, his articles – I have read and listened to all of them – were not like sermons, or well-studied politician’s tricks. Especially during the last year. It was a difficult conversation with himself, without pathetic or special effects. His being compared to a rock-star is a complete nonsense. But we loved him dearly…

(So far talking about the first persons of the state – about Roosevelt, J.F.K., Obama – Linda showed respect; I could hear pride, admiration and pain in her words. But ”we loved…” )

Linda told us the story of how Robert Kennedy saved the world from the nuclear war more than once. I kept asking for the details – she heard the story from a man close to the Kennedy family, and he – probably from Edward himself. On that day – October 27, 1962 – at the peak of the Caribbean crisis – everything was hanging on a thread – Khrushchov sent his first, reserved telegram to J.F.K., but the “hawks” delayed with the answer, so not getting any Khrushchov sent the second one – harsh, accusing the counterpart of piracy – the “hawks” knew that John, the President of the United States of America, will consider it insulting and… But this, second telegram, read aloud many times and passed through the table to the president grown red in the face, will be given to Robert by Linda’s fingers…

Retelling this story I demonstrated the elegant gesture as well, repeating it even after I’ve read somewhere that it was not like that – first that harsh, accusing telegram, each letter of which had been approved by CC Politbureau, arrived, to be followed by another, written at night by Nikita himself, personally, the one that ended with the words: “…we’d rather not pull the ends or the rope unleashing the war…”

This version could have been told with the accompanying gesture of “pulling the rope”. But somehow I never did it. I could imagine Khrushchov “I’ll show you Kuz’ka’s mother [I’ll teach you a lesson] – only with the closed fist, banging his shoe on the US podium, but never with the rope or with the knot.

Years passed, and once, visiting Far Lavra caves, crossing myself and repeating “Our Father” – one of the few prayers I knew, I suddenly felt how close these gestures are to the sign of cross, smoothly and consciously effortlessly removing a deathly threat of war.

Here it is – the gesture of prayer, starting in the depths of the brain, moving to the flesh to be completed by the heart. Here is the sign of peace – not of war and of the light and the world – Old or New, – but not darkness. And it is irrelevant, whether the fingers are brought together by someone with little faith, or even a militant atheist Nikita. What is important is that he does not pull the rope, not understanding, but foreboding the start of the new era, when another peace-maker will come, destined and marked and also with the father named Sergey…

And Robert Rokk – the youngest – became a doctor, a roentgenologist. His studies were long and difficult. There was not enough money, and Linda had to mortgage the house for the credit.

Fall in the New Hampshire

“Red! – Yellow! – Off you go!” wrote Mikhail Veksler about the street light, and, having found ourselves in the New Hampshire autumn at the very October crossing of summer and winter, we echoed him shouting “Ah! Oh! Wow!” at every turn. Linda slowed down, and we jumped out trying to get back to the point of the perfect view – red-yellow-green – but, first of all, red, mixed with yellow, with green or even with blue, snowy and blindingly sunny. We jumped out and choosing the point of shooting were stunned by that abundance of maple multicolored feasting so as to sigh – “Get ready for moving…” and roll on, to a new turn.

Now I seem to realize why early autumn here us referred to as Indian summer – multicolored as a patchwork quilt, motley, without a pattern or rhythm, or any color system, without mystic nonsense where red color stands for one thing, yellow color – for another, and green color for something else again. And I understand the reason the quilts are in same high demand as New Hampshire scenery. The creators of the quilts and of the fall do not impose anything on you – you choose for yourself, something for you alone, affecting you and no one else.

Or late they started saving on yellow. The street lights switched to red and green mode, with seconds’ count. You are standing at the crossing, the digits keep running, and you should be alert not to miss your light, lest you have to wait again. Wait…As if it were the worst! What about quiet, the companion of waiting? What about thoughtful pause everyone needs at the outset of a journey? And what about sitting down for a sec before starting? “Oh[moment] stay, thou art so fair!”, as they say – No way. The urban autumn sneaks by like a fox. Not just Fridays – the whole autumns flicker by like crazy.

But if we somehow got reconciled to the transience of life, the verses get old very quickly! And our children’s children will be perplexed reading Veksler. ‘Why yellow, what has yellow to do with anything? The street light has no such color. It has been reduced”. So, in my description of View Hampshire fall landscape I will have to reject the image of garbage or, rather, of the fair of the street lights, that have lost their yellow component? Reject the crossing? The pedestrians frozen in amazement? The divine charm of the lingering moment?

“The most beautiful fall on the planet” was darting right into the eyes, rolling from the hills like frozen tsunami. And in order to confuse the viewers thoroughly, to twist them around and make them forget about everything, the lakes’ mirrors were invented and thrown around, so that some of them look vertical. And only the road, gray and smooth, with no color shades, saved from the multicolor insanity, and I tried to avoid looking into the rear view mirror, lest I would cry “Stop! Stop! Let’s turn back!”

The rain, also gray, absorbing the sky and the landscapes, helped, too. As well as the coziness of our ambulant home – a wet five-fingered leaf, picked up and presented by the Fall itself, and small round drop on the leaf, and sudden beam of sunshine – a needle inside the drop – to stay there just for a moment, a tiny bit, and then go back into the clouds, get hidden and absorbed there…

– Canka-magus, Winni-pesoki, Can-ka-magus – Linda kept repeating the Indian names of the hills and lakes, as striped and enigmatic as a blabbering of a one-year old or a fool without age. She kept repeating them with gusto, tasting them on her tongue. I missed a lot in her stories – alas, my poor English – I nodded politely, and I think, she guessed I didn’t get everything.

– Well, nothing doing, – five-fingered Fall probably thought, trying to talk to me – with colorful pendants of the festive regatta, or with the kaleidoscope of the Indian quilt, which is used, among other things, for fortune-telling, and I kept smiling and nodding, nodding and smiling like an idiot.

What else can I tell you to encourage you to come here next year? Five-fingered brotherhood between a tree and a man? The handshake of the two worlds noticed by Tarkovsky? Do you remember? [The summer] lay down in my palm like a five-fingered leaf? Or, translated into baby-talk by Falkovych, so that stretching my hand to a boy-maple, I turn into it at the first opportunity? And my wooden eyes get rounder and rounder with amazement, and my nose – a curious long nose like Pinocchio’s stretches a kilometer long, behind the lake, while my hands are full – with camera, or a pen, or money, again five-fingered.

What shall I think of?

A squeaking and talkative old man – Linda’s house on Cape Cod – whispered to me that this very fall saved the US from war with Russia. “Because the Red Army is the strongest of all?” – I tried to guess. “Or because the beauty will save the world ?”

- No, no, wrong…Listen! – he preached staring with his windows into the landscape. And the trees were rustling around. They rustled regularly, without emotions, deliberating on the US and Russia, and on how everything was alike, the rustling and the noise…

What else shall I think of? – It is very simple: come here as you would come to your Motherland, come home, where everything is familiar, and you don’t need to think where to go or where to ride, where thoughts and topics come and go effortlessly, contemplating consciousness – your or mine, choosing red or yellow, an hoping for the green in the end, free and environmental expressed by the spring motto «Off you go…».

And off you go. Where? Up hill and down dale…

Chicken Kiev

- What can we impress them with? Varenikis, borshcht, kholodets, stew in the pot – we’ve had all that…

- What about chicken Kiev? Do you know how to make them?

- Right you are, of course! They have chicken breasts, Linda has bread crumbs, I saw them. We’ll cook potatoes with garlic! Let’s be off to the market!

And we hurried up. Because…probably, it was high time to return, we missed our home, and for the last festive dinner we wanted to make something special, to amaze and to please, to reciprocate the hospitality.

On our way we dropped by the Christmas tree shop. What abundance! It looked like all the stale goods were brought here from the Chinese markets. That is, absolutely useless things, but so cheap that one wanted to buy them for future use.

Once we came here with Linda trying to find at least something of local – American production. We wandered around for an hour – China and more China, and only at the end Linda found and immediately bought a fabric mitten for hot pans. Just our cup of tea!

Meanwhile I’ve been waiting for my wife at the entrance, growing more and more exasperated. What is there to look at, it is all like our Petrovka or Troyeshchyna – same stuff, same money. I lost my patience and went looking for her.

- Look, - my wife said in a whisper, for God knows what reason – and passed me a wooden box. I opened it and found Egyptian-style brooch inside.

- So what? What would you want it for? Don’t you have enough?

- You don’t get it, do you? We are lucky, it is a new delivery, of which Linda told us!

- On the other side of the box I saw a familiar stamp of Metropolitan museum, with the column of prices. All of them were crossed out. The only one remaining was simply ridiculous.

- And here is “Fine art museum”. And Chagall’s gallery!

- Go ahead and buy them! We’ll give them to Zlatogorkys. They will appreciate.

- And do you remember small cups she presented to her sisters and mom? The ones from the Boston museum, medieval China? Here, make your choice, both with the price and stamp of the museum.

- Take them, don’t think twice. Can we tear off the prices?

Choosing chicken breast was fun. Everything we needed for Chicken Kiev was already in our basket, when my wife whispered again, I don’t know why:

- Look!

- What?

- Here, - she pointed at the box in the open refrigerating stand. – Read it!

- Chicken Kiev… well, so…

Our chicken Kiev was shown on top of the box. Our own, with crunchy crust, with the leg adorned by a special serviette, with fragrant aroma. One was whole, while the other was cut in two seeping golden butter on the plate.

Chickenkiev – in one word, where Chicken was in a capital letter, while “kiev” seemed to be of no consequence./p>

I don’t know why, but suddenly I felt lousy. I remembered everything at once – that kiev is a suburb to Chernobyl, that Ukraine is somewhere near Russia, that we were refused the visa and not let go. And that cleanliness, and the environment. And “Yes, we saved!” And the junk we bought in Christmas Tree Shop.

My God, – I thought – how suspicious we are, how provincial, if such a trifle can throw me off balance…

- So what now? Shall we take it and warm it up? You don’t want to bother?

- Put it back. Let’s go. We still need bread crumbs and dill and garlic for potatoes – my wife said.


The end of the day at Cape Cod, lovingly called sunset made us happy every evening. No breaks in illumination, everything is precise to the minute, as the school bus. We passed the same way – along a path between shrubs and low-growing trees, and every time Linda warned us – there is poison ivy all around, and we tried to go in an Indian file looking beneath our feet.

The bay view opened from a precipitous shore. We could stay there or get down to the beach and swim if the water was rising. The low-tide, on the other hand, made us go further, almost a kilometer, treading on sand and clay bottom, wondering about quick sands and getting evasive and intriguing answers. The bay was rich with stories of Vikings, the first re-settlers, pirates, occasional sharks, and, of course, tornadoes, referred to by the weather channel – just in case. And indeed, something felt wrong, something was hiding behind total quietness, lack of wind, noisy parties and fireworks, something was boiling at the horizon, but passing over the bay, without interfering with the unhurried hikes along the coast and inside the bay, lengthwise and crosswise, in diagonals and in circles. And the disappearing coastline felt wrong, or, rather, felt so right that one would not walk around, but just sit there in peace and quiet, gazing at the setting sun every evening pouring gallons of shining terracotta, bloody and purple, onto the naked shining bottom.

Today the tide was especially low. The bay looked striped from the precipitous shore: a stripe of drying silt alternated with a stripe of shallow water, high enough for a chicken to wade in. The sea interspersed with the dry land was shining in the rays of the setting sun. We counted 20 stripes and then lost the track and hurried to the water.

We moved farther and farther from the shore crossing the sailor’s striped tee-shirt of the bay and Linda showed us the fountains – small holes in the silt. You stamp your foot on the sand nearby and a stream comes out. Someone lived inside, and, unhappy to be disturbed, snorted and spat. The game engaged us, and we were running from one hole to another, when suddenly I noticed that the waters began to move, rising; the rivulets were running around, making new paths that were joining the streams. We hurried back, too. But suddenly Linda stopped at a sand strip and stood motionless. We stopped too. The water kept coming, devouring the remains of the dry land. Our islands were melting in front of us. The rivulets were cutting new stripes, dividing and swallowing new slices. We had to run to the remaining pieces of land, with screams and terrified shouts, thank God, faked. Finally we occupied the last islet, back to back, waited for finale – now on tiptoes – here is a deluge for you! – and waded towards the shore ankle-deep.

- I love this parody of deluge. May be death is only the parody of non-existence?

I did not argue. Believe me, lovely tide, light playful breeze, the gold sunset are rather strong arguments.

Mark Twain house and museum

I’ve met Mark Twain more than once. And I befriended his characters, especially, the boys – and it means him, too. As the saying goes, the author has no choice – you brought the kids to life, so suffer their friends in your house, in the living room, in the attic, in the courtyard and in the basement, and even in the pool room, where you can close the door and write, but only in the mornings, while the whole gang of characters and readers is still napping, taking their rest after the yesterday’s adventures.

With his unruly mop of hair and sparkling eyes Mark reminded me of Jules Verne, especially, the cartoons featuring the latter. And I’ve been waiting when Mark will make it somewhere farther than Mississippi and Cornwall. And finally I’ve had my due. It means I took “Around the Equator” from the shelf, read it before travelling to the island of Mauritius, and reread it on my return.

- That is what your secret is about! – I dared to get to the core of the matter, while we were sitting in the chaises-longue on the shore waiting for the sunset – You refused to grow up!

- How so?

- Just so! I don’t know how you guessed or sensed the historical age of the US – I’ve just written about the country of adolescents – and the country of the 11-year olds accepted you as a peer and a guy from the next block.

- Interesting… And so what?

- Your house in Hartford, meanwhile, tells a different story. A story of solidity, quality, comfort and riches. And no matter how hard your aphorisms – as relevant as they are – are trying to ruin the museum’s walls, how hard the docents are trying to “rejuvenate”, to “teenage” the story, – the polished heavy furniture, dark jaws of the hearths, draperies and curtains…

- ... Well, don’t consider me tactless, but you cannot negate that you came to my house uninvited?

- That is true.

- Things being what they are – you can be happy with everything that made me run away to the island in mid-Indian ocean, and to be able to sit with you at Cape Cod.

- So, everything written in Hartford – I mean, Tom and Huck, and the Yankee, and “The Prince and the Pauper” – was written against and not due to? Or maybe, after all, the navigator and the quarter-master of literature needed this very Victorian house in order to light a pipe and to sink without haste into the river of memories and flow along it?

- I hope, you are not seeking advice? – the maitre asked and looked at me intently, narrowing his eyes and obviously looking for an adequate aphorism or anecdote. - I hope, you are not seeking advice?- he repeated with the same expression. - I hope, you are not seeking…? With the same voice. - I hope…the new waves were coming to the shore, and the sun set down by half.

- I am! – I nodded and blushed.

The Master lingered with his answer. The sun meanwhile disappeared completely and the clouds, lit from the horizon, turned into an intricate golden palace.

- Did you fail to notice what amazing palaces appear at sunset? Not at dawn, but at sunset? Although, the morning hours are none the worse than the evening ones…The sunbeams conceal the blush of a conscientious dreamer…Some people think it does not matter whether it is a corner in the pool room, or the isle of Mauritius. Some prefer morning, an early morning, or the depth of the night – I mean place, not time…

My advice is: come and visit Linda here, in a cozy home in Shadow-road, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, United States of America, the third planet of the Solar system… It is good to write here.

© 2011, Òåêñò Ñ. ×åðåïàíîâ / Äèçàéí Î. Çäîð
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