Friday, 30 September 2011


My German lessons take place at the Deutsche Internationale Schule in The Hague. It’s an ordinary school: concierge, gym, classrooms and children’s drawings on the wall. Announcements are in German, I guess that’s different from Dutch schools, but for the rest – it’s a school. And you know it as soon as you enter. There’s nothing special about it.

I remember my school. Concierge. Gym. Classrooms. No children’s drawings on the wall. Sometimes there were exhibitions of drawings. Only the best drawings were allowed. Obviously, they never put mine on the wall. They didn’t want to disturb public order I guess. There were portraits of Lenin in each classroom. Deutsche Internationale Schule doesn’t have any portraits in classrooms. How do they condition their youth?!

I went to the toilet after the lesson and that’s where I got surprised: the white and red tiles, superstar mirrors, garbage bins built in the walls, and design pots, sinks and taps. Besides from being super fancy, these toilets are also the very definition of clean. I remembered my school. The toilets. I will not describe them here – better for the public order. One thought struck me when I was washing my hands: if my school had had such toilets, what would have become of me?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Facebook has introduced the new profile. Yes, again. And yes, the privacy settings changed too. I’ve spent last four days trying to make a chart that would help to determine the level of one’s privacy on Facebook. I’ll be honest – I failed. Privacy on Facebook is an elaborate 3-d model. Making it would require a computer program with an extensive algorithm and hopefully less than seven million years. But you may see the result of my naïve struggle and hopefully learn something from it.

Imagine you’re a public figure in the spotlight for some reason. With your current privacy settings how likely are you to survive the (yellow) press that are searching for any personal information to feed the hunger of the masses? Let me know! (Click on the image to see it in its full size.)
According to my chart I am doomed! Still that is not a good enough reason to abandon my privacy settings and share everything with the public. Because my privacy settings affect my friends a great deal. I might be willing to share private things with the world (which I very often do on this blog), but I certainly can’t expect all my friends to be this way. So, believe it or not, even I am quite careful when it comes to the Facebook privacy settings.

I don’t mean to scare you. Remember that Facebook is nothing more than a reflection of your real life. Just refrain from doing and saying things you could be (or should be) ashamed of. Then I am sure, whatever your privacy settings are – you’ll be fine!

Feel free to share!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

My first

Guten Abend! Mein Name ist Sasha und ich bin siebenunddreißig Jahre alt. (page 8) But after my first German lesson I feel as if I where three. Or ninety three depending on how you look at it. If I am to learn German I’ll certainly need more challenge.

Wie heißen Sie? Woher kommen Sie? (page 9 of our study book) Petra (die Lehrerin) kommt aus Deutschland. Albert Einstein auch. (page 9) But he is not in our group. There are seven people in our group. Lucio kommt aus Italien. May kommt aus Taiwan. Alex kommt aus Kamerun. April kommt aus den USA. Victor kommt aus Russland. We also have Mohammed. Er kommt aus Marokko. And myself aus der Ukraine.

Leonardo da Vinci kommt aus Italien. (still on page 9) „Lucio, could you please name a famous Italian person?“ „Apart from Berlusconi, you mean?“ – Lucio pauses to think. „Mussolini“ – Victor suggests.

Homework: write about yourself using the words and sentences from pages 8 and 9. I think I’ll skip to page 32. My German pronunciation sucks.

Ich weiss warum - 2raumwohnung

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


I think I shouldn’t spend so much time with men. They make me less feminine. Men persuade me to engage in more active sports and activities than I’d usually do. Some time ago one man managed to make me climb a mountain. He didn’t really ask whether I wanted to, he confronted me with the plan. I did enjoy it a lot, but just the idea.

Today another man pushed me even further – I did some 45 minutes of waterskiing. Well, at least I tried. I managed to stand on the skis for about one minutes three times. The rest of the time I was swimming. He said he was proud of me.

What’s next: ice hockey? Car racing? Boxing? I thought men liked feminine women. But then why do they like to perform masculine activities with me? This puzzles me a little.

It’s been a while since I sent you to Vorontsov, but he didn’t stop making wonderful photos.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


My back and shoulders were giving me trouble again. I suffered the whole day at work. I had to go for a swim to make it to the next day. Swimming is the answer!

I got home, changed, had a very fast dinner, packed my bag and checked the opening hours of the swimming pools in The Hague. Only one was still open. It’d take about thirty minutes by bike, and once I’d get there I’d have about an hour to swim. Good enough.

‘You have a little more than half-an-hour before the closing time’ – I was warned by the man at the counter. ‘But your website... Never mind.’ I ran to the changing rooms. Thirty minutes is very little. I changed and locked my stuff. I had to pee, but didn’t find a toilet inside the changing area. ‘I’ll do it on my way back’ – I thought heading for the pool.

The small sport pool was occupied by a group doing aqua aerobics. I was bound to use the recreation pool with underwater lighting, curves and streams. On the bright side - I had it all to myself. I used my time to the max and got out only when they started switching off the lights.

By now I needed to pee really bad. But I still had to shower, put my clothes on and pack my things. That would take some time even if I skipped the hairdryer. I stood in the shower letting warm water flow over me. My bladder was now threatening to explode.

I looked at the aqua aerobics women. They were chatting, picking up their things, slowly approaching.  But they were still far enough. The thought was too tempting, but I’d have to make up my mind really quick: ‘If I am fast and discreet...’ I watched the women approaching...

Thursday, 15 September 2011


So she met this man. He said he loved her. Apparently she wanted to believe it. Maybe it was true. It all depends on one’s definition of love really. In a couple of weeks she transformed into a person none of us was able to recognise anymore.

In a rapid tempo she was giving up things she'd always claimed to stand for. She stopped dancing. She changed her religion without even noticing it. She lost touch with men who wanted more from her. Then with men she used to be close with. She moved to another city giving up her apartment. Then she called her female friends with a formal announcement that she didn’t want any contact.

I was one of the lucky ones to receive a phonecall. “I now have a man who does everything for me. I am very happy.” - she said in a dry formal voice. Yesterday she deleted her Facebook and Hyves accounts wiping off contact possibility with many people at once. How long before she gives up her LinkedIn, changes her e-mail address and both phonenumbers?

I am now torn between being angry at her for abandoning me just like that and being scared for her sensing a future in total isolation. I know I can’t save her because she absolutely doesn’t want to be saved. But what am I to do? Lose her out of sight and pretend everything’s fine? I don’t know...

I don’t know why, but I found this song very comforting today: Elin Ruth Sigvardsson - Dead Man Walking (you’d better listen to this song on Spotfy, though)

Monday, 12 September 2011


The train had just departed and I was still busy with my tea and croissants (breakfast) when I accidentally overheard two men talking. “So what do you want to become when you’re done with your studies?” “A physics teacher.” That’s when I looked up from my breakfast surprised and curious. The man in his early thirties looked like a secondary school teacher already.

Why on Earth one would want to become a teacher?! I remember a young mathematics teacher who was supposed to teach us while our regular teacher was ill. Believe it or not, I was a very quiet and well behaved kid. But even I failed to behave during those classes. The guy was called Eduard Aleksandrovich and I was replacing his first name with: leopard, erudite, parasite, etc.

I remember participating in humming actions against the teacher of Russian. All children were humming with their mouths closed and if the teacher approached you, you’d stop making sound. As soon as she’d move away you resumed humming again. So she was moving in a bubble of silence through the humming space and no one could be punished.

I remember singing during geography classes and minding my own totally irrelevant business during the lessons of Ukrainian (in case you were wondering why my Ukrainian is so bad – that’s why). I remember the whole class building an ingenious construction around the class door to make sure the chemistry teacher would get hit by a mop and get water splashed all over him as soon as he’d open the door. It worked. I remember... too much to describe here!

So why on Earth people would want to become a teacher when they risk all this happening to them? Never say never. But children are monsters and you’ll never find me in front of a classroom!

Maia Hirasawa - The Wrong Way

Friday, 9 September 2011


I was passing that nice knitting shop on the Westeinde and couldn’t help peeking in. A group of women sat around the table in the middle of the shop – chatting, knitting. No, not a group of women. There was one man at the table. Just as the rest of the group he had some knitting project in his hands. It’s very unusual to see a man indulge in such a typically feminine activity.

Women have gone a long way in claiming their right to do stuff that was considered men’s domain. But it seems men are either bound to the traditional pattern (and an enormous pressure to comply) or are torn between the traditional pattern and attempts to comply with the feminist view of the world order. But what is it that men really want?

Do men in our society have a free choice when deciding on their behaviour, occupation and hobbies? They now seem to take a more active role in the household and childcare and some are very happy at least with the latter. Still it seems this kind of development is initiated by women.

We have allowed them to work in typically female professions, we've let them take over some of the household tasks, we've even made them shave their armpits. But what do men really want? And when will they stand up for their right to get it? For their right to take part in a knitting club without looking strange?
Photo by Wolfgang Josten

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Absolute beginner

So following my intention to not get a baby, but learn German I went to the Goethe Institute today and enrolled myself on a course of German language.

I made an attempt to take the basic test they offer to determine the level. The test confirmed – I’m an absolute beginner. I don’t like beginners’ language groups. I tend to comprehend the material twice as fast and feel bored and annoyed for the rest of the time. But the lady assured me I can switch to a higher level if I move fast enough. And that’s what I am determined to do!

I found it very amusing that the ‘intake’ lady could not speak Dutch very well. I haven’t seen many Germans stumbling over Dutch. :)

Excited I went back to The Hague. The lessons start in two weeks, I can’t wait. I got off the train and headed for the book shop to get my dictionaries. I was all consumed with my excitement, trying to speak German in my head already, when I saw a homeless man on the sidewalk. He was consumed with polishing his shoes with a piece of toilet paper.

It’s remarkable how two people at the same time in the same place can be concerned with such totally different things. I bought my dictionaries. And I’m still very excited.

Absolute Beginners- Carla Bruni

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A baby?!

The words reached me and revealed their meaning a few seconds after the waitress had finished the sentence. I got this funny feeling again. The one that had been haunting me for the past two days. Only this time I suddenly felt more. I felt it was time for the next step. I took a deep breath and before I realised what was happening I asked a question. In that princely restaurant in Vaduz on my birthday, there and then for the first time in my life I asked a question in correct German!

No, I am not going to have a baby as the majority of the voters suggested! As long as there’s no dedicated father (extremely high standards apply!), there’ll be no baby. So thirteen of twenty six voters can relax – no Spotify for those.

No eco farm either. It’s not because I’m opposed to eco (although some people might think so), but because farm isn’t quite the right environment for an urban creature like me. Apparently most of the voters (all except for three) know that about me. Although, with my adventurous nature and the ability to change direction, one never knows...

Flying lessons are no longer a no-go area, but I’m not sure it’s such a good idea. I might want to polish my driving skills first. So, no flying lessons. Not yet. To those six voters – thank you for your trust in me.

Most people voted for the sake of voting and didn’t care to let me know their choice (which was required to be able to win the prize). Of four people that voted for German, only one revealed his identity to me. So we have a winner and I’ll contact him to get his Spotify premium to him.

I am sorry to disappoint you, but no baby. I am going to learn German! This might not sound very exciting to you, but I am very excited. Tomorrow I am going to Goethe Institute in Rotterdam to determine at which level I should start. Yay!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

I love the police

Yesterday I got locked at a cemetery. Yes a cemetery. The Portuguese-Israelite Cemetery. I came there to see it and to make photos. No I didn’t climb over the wall, I came through the gate. Yes, the gate was open. No, I was not hiding. There’s no place to hide anyway. Unless one would lie under a gravestone. I didn’t.
No I didn’t panic when I found the gate was closed. I was just very thirsty and rather excited. Because I had to call the police! So I did. They said they’d send someone and asked me to wait in the meanwhile. As if I had any choice!

If you ever go somewhere where you could be locked in, make sure you have a smartphone with you with internet access. Because if you do, it’ll allow you to search internet for help. And when you don’t find anything useful on the internet you’ll be able to call the police. And while you wait for the police you can entertain your friends with Twitter and Facebook updates and comfort yourself with Wordfeud and some music. I did all of the above. I found Klezmer very appropriate for the occasion.

Police came within ten, maybe fifteen minutes. A guy on a bike, that is. He was good looking, friendly, practical and fast. He talked to a colleague in the office, knocked on the door of the warden’s house, walked around to examine the walls and ignored the curious passers-by. Then he went to the nearby café, came back with a ladder and a man and voila – I was on the other side of the gate. I thanked him, he wished me a good day and off we went in different directions.

I love the Dutch police! And my iPhone.

Don’t forget to vote!

Thursday, 1 September 2011


I share the city I live in with half-a-million other people. This morning The Hague welcomed its 500,000th resident. The city went crazy for a couple of hours: the bells of the Grote Kerk tolled, cannon shots were fired on the Plein and Dutch rusks with green and yellow aniseed comfits (beschuit met groen-gele muisjes) were doled. I was at work and missed that all.

Until I was fifteen, I haven’t seen a city smaller than one million inhabitants. The one million one was Saratov (even though because of the heavy military production it never officially reached one million, attributing people to surrounding villages) and I used to think of it as a small town. Which in a way it was back then. When I started travelling, I’d discovered that the world is much smaller than I thought. Amsterdam is smaller than Saratov!

The Hague is smaller than Saratov, but somehow it’s not. There’s much more life here on this tiny piece of land – our government, The Queen, international organisations, theatres, cinemas, museums, concerts, festivals, art galleries, shops, parks...

Still of all the cities I’ve lived in and visited so far The Hague is the one that resembles Saratov the most. It’s not the look of it. It’s the way sun lights the buildings on a March afternoon when the tram number eleven strolls along. It’s the way the air smells on a chilly morning in February. It’s the way the August voices sound when I hear them through the open door of my kitchen.

I think I´ll stick for a while.

Mélissa Laveaux - Needle in the Hay

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