In my tenth year of school, I did not know English, although my class was advanced English learning. It’s not that I didn’t know it at all, or at the level of mai neim iz Igor … Zis iz e dog … and all of that Mama myla ramu1 stuff. My knowledge of English was rather specific. I knew just as much as was needed for a self-taught drummer and back-up vocalist for our high school rock band known as “The Wunderbars.” And by the way, how the name of our band was translated I was only roughly aware of. But why bother? It was enough that the whole Sovietskaya Strana2 at that time was hooked on the tune of Boney M’s hit about the cheerful, bearded Rasputin… but he danced the kazachok really wunderbar! The song was banned from the radio and the music video was never broadcast on television. However, one only had to hear:
Russia’s greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on
And he threw his legs into the dance. And I didn’t know anything about Rasputin, but Bobby Farrell definitely would not have been ashamed of my capering.
Passion for music challenged my passion for the Eastern martial arts, when my cousin Pavel left our seaside city and went to Lviv, on the other side of Ukraine, to study as a military journalist. His father dreamed that his only son would become a military officer. However, in his own dreams, Pavel saw himself as a journalist. A compromise solution was found, to the delight of all, including me: The future officer left me an inheritance of a sort: the reel tape recorder “Yupiter-204” and the sizable collection of “magnetoalbums.” Those were tapes of the so-called neformals, the underground rock bands from Piter 3 and Sverdlovsk. Officially never released, and the groups themselves barred from performance, the Red Wave rock bands were incredibly popular among Soviet youth. Oftentimes, these were no more than “home concert” recordings, and the music promised some kind of encrypted message. “Ivan Bodhidharma moves from the south on the wings of the spring. He drinks from the river where there’s been ice …” A hint at Gorbachev? I asked myself – after all, he also came from the southern city of Stavropol and started perestroika. Very much like “the wings of spring,” aren’t they? Like koans, those images pointed at some mystery, and for a youngster like me, who grew up on English-speaking disco and “new wave” music, this novel experience was indeed mesmerizing:
Сколько тысяч слов – все впустую,
Или кража огня у слепых богов;
Мы умеем сгорать, как спирт в распростертых ладонях;
Я возьму свое там, где я увижу свое.4
Yeah, I could feel in these words the taste of that very satori, which was so tantalizingly pursued in the meditations I started along with my karate practice.
On the first of September, I could hardly wait until the end of the celebratory assembly that traditionally started our school year. My only wish was to get to my desk in the back and take a nap. The day before the Wunderbars had played at a dance in the local park of Culture and Rest long after midnight. Actually, we became the Wunderbars after 11 p.m., when the militsiya,5 public order squad and the park administration went home. Until eleven o’clock, we were still the school amateur ensemble “Karavella” and played songs officially approved by the Komsomol, but then the real piply,6 in rugged jeans, shaggy, and musically savvy, gathered on the dance floor. That’s when the rock music began. Who said rock and roll is dead and I’m not yet? Let’s see how dead really is!…
I did not get a chance to doze. The class rose noisily to greet the teacher. I got up too, with my eyes already closed. Hearing everyone sit down, I also sank to my seat without opening my eyes.
“My name is Alisa Arturovna,” I heard an unfamiliar voice say. “Stress is on the first syllable of my otchestvo.7 I will teach you English instead of Roza Markovna.”
I shuddered in surprise.
“And what about Roza Markovna… gone? On her way abroad?”
It was Klaus who said that, with his usual bantering. Why couldn’t he sit still?! Hadn’t he been playing his guitar the whole evening with me?
The class chuckled in amusement.
“The further fate of Roza Markovna is unknown to me. As for your question, my well-informed young man, I only can say: It is the right of every person to live where they consider proper.”
The class quieted down. My sleep vanished as if by magic. With my eyes, I measured up that prickly new teacher of ours, a very young, fair-haired and short-cropped girl in her twenties with a blue cashmere blazer. She stood near the chalkboard, right in front of the class, as if wanting to dot and cross those English i’s and t’s before proceeding to the teacher’s table.
“Do you have any objections?” she asked in a girlishly hotheaded way.
“Them sailors have no questions whatsoever!”8 Klaus responded again, quite conciliatory. “That is, objections!”
“Since there are no objections, let’s get down to English. Hebrew, they say, is much more difficult.”
The new teacher walked over to the table and resolutely put the fashionable leather briefcase at the very center.
Klaus, from his other side of the aisle turned to me and whistled soundlessly. He got nicknamed Klaus thanks to one of his pranks. Last year at the children’s school matinee on New Year’s, he was given a role: one had to look no further for a better Ded Moroz than a one meter and ninety centimeter tall ninth grader named Kolya Motrych. Everything went well until the very matinee where Grandfather Frost quite unexpectedly presented himself as Santa Claus, to the kids’ indescribable joy. But how could it be otherwise, he explained to the outraged direkrtysa,9 in our so very advanced English school?! She summoned his parents. Having listened to her furious speech, Nikolai, the senior, remarked cold-bloodily, as befitting of Granddad Frost’s dad, said: “See no components of a crime. Case closed,” and left her office, entering into no further explanations. The new nickname stuck instantly to the hero of the festivities, just like the white cotton beard of Santa Claus: Kolya-Klaus. All the more so since it harmonized with the rock-n-roll key, with the rising popularity of “The Scorpions” rock band.
(…to be continued…)
1. Mаma washed the window frame: the first phrase from a school primer in the former USSR.
2. Soviet Land.
3. Informal name of Leningrad, today Saint-Petersburg.
4. How many thousands of words, are all for nothing,
Or fire-stealing from the blind gods;
We know how to burn like a spirit in outstretched palms;
But I will take mine where I see mine.
– A line from the famous song of the ‘Aquarium’ rock group 5. Police.
6. People, in hippy slang (from English).
7. Patronymic, middle name, derived from father’s first name.
8. Popular meme-phrase in Russian.
9. School principal.
2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation
January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)
February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)
March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)
April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)
May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)
June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)
July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)
August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)
September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)
October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)
November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)
December: I Can’t Breathe – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)
Background – Context
In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Cover photo: Kiev, Ukraine – All over the place – Külli Kittus (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed