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Philosophers reflections upon Kyiv


One day a long-time friend of mine happened to ask me how I relate to Kyiv. On the surface of it, what can be easier if you are really in touch with your feelings and your feelings are unambiguous in this respect? With the latter being not quite the case, I had to do quite a bit of soul-searching, before I managed to come up with a palatable answer.


So to what extent my sensibility is still pristine and avowedly tuned in to Kyiv, to its downtown, after it has been imperceptibly imbued with the elusive beauties of Edinburgh castles so elegantly blended with the inexorable pace of modernity, and to Kyivs extensive outskirts and far-reaching woods and rills after being resolutely and unabashedly won over by a constellation of mist- and pine-trees covered shores in the lake area in England, whose exuberant verdure lies smothered and mirrored in the dormant fount of poetic creativity?

To make things clear I must say that my sensibility of a person born and raised in this city on the fabled bushy hills has not stayed unaffected by a fragrant tincture of lengthy sightseeing tours overseas. Yet, they have hardly transmuted my deep-seated affection for its endearingly familiar skylines, domes and boulevards. One proof of this comes through an analysis of my dreams about Kyiv, which I tended to have while abroad, say, in the good old England. The ever green luxury of its vegetation, especially manifest in small towns, and irresistible coziness of small, handsomely built cottages, interspersed with carefully preserved kitchen gardens, did not lose their grip on my mind even in sleep. In a night dream, I often happened to find myself in Kyiv happily chatting with my folks, only to find out later that along with my Kyivs affiliation I simultaneously belonged elsewhere, and that before I forgot I had to rush to get back to cool Britannia. Then I would wake up with a happy awareness of my extended and quite tangible stay on the British Isles. So England played the part of a post-Freudian id with all of its power of cultural attraction. But part of this id was tinged with Kyiv colours and saturated with a refreshing and invigorating breeze coming from the majestic Dnipro, and when in the former British colonies across the pond, I used to dream about Kyiv, I saw the pendulum of my unconscious moods swinging slowly but resolutely back home. Now that I have not left Kyiv for about five years, my Kyivan identity seems to have been firmly renewed and firmly established. But once in a while I have dreams about foreign lands in which, I wish, I would stay a bit longer.

In this connection I recollect a snowy evening when a friend of mine and I left the premises of a western-looking trade union centre on Maydan Nezalezhnosti central square after attending a thought-provoking lecture on sophisticated theological issues which had brought together over 15 hundred Kyivans, all of them eager to be updated on how the Orthodox church tradition accommodated change. As we walked along Khreshchatyk, I carefully listened to my friend learned comments, with my gaze roaming around and taking in the images of familiar buildings in the main street. Ive never especially enjoyed their appearance and general design, but they have always smacked nostalgically of the na?ve and artless efforts of the bygone epoch to raise something new and reassuring on the heaps of the post-war rubble. The main street seemed to have kept the flavor of my student years, and I remembered visits to the then newly opened cafes crammed with cool cats and classy chicks of the swinging sixties, Kyiv style. Incidentally, those Kyivan beatniks and hippies affectionately called it Broadway. In these recollections I find a solid reason to disagree with the highbrows who arrogantly tagged Khreshchatyk buildings gaudy and cake-like piles of bricks. There may be some truth in this acrimonious judgment, but on a beautiful winter night these buildings seen through the haze of falling snow, do look like cakes but cakes with a difference  there was the icing them too.

Our walk went on placidly and slowly and soon we found ourselves approaching Besarabka, the central Kyiv market place with its around the clock sale of flowers and an increasingly burgeoning variety of exotic and local agricultural produce. From time to time conspicuous BMWs and posh jeeps would pull up to its side gate, with their passengers dropping in to do some late night shopping and get tulips for their babes. Suddenly a cone-shaped tower caught my friends attention. Hey, he exclaimed, youve been to London, you saw their Big Ben. Ive never been there and would give the world just to catch a glimpse of it. But I know it from pictures. If you could tell me, does Big Ben not look like this magnificent tower? To me the local tower did not quite look the way my friend anticipated, Id say it would, but I, not wishing to disappoint him, was not prepared to tell my friend what I really thought of it. I had every reason to wish to make him feel happy but I was not able to make myself lie. Well, there may be some remote resemblance, I murmured hesitantly.

I asked myself whether the architect meant it to look like the tower of the Houses of Parliament in London  hardly so. On that night I was almost sure I would have a dream in which Big Ben would appear, maybe even hear it chime. And it could well be that Id develop no particular desire to see Besarabka very soon again. The pendulum has swung back again.


By Vadim Voynov


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