Sketching

The Pine Kingdom

Image Credit; Kim Daniels / Unsplash
Image Credit: Kim Daniel / Unsplash

I was eleven months old when my mother brought me to a camp in the pine forest. The photo of me sitting on the ground and staring at the trees with my mouth open was lost, but this image is safe and vivid on my mind.

After our first travel to the camp we would go there every summer which explains a great variety of memory pictures. I am running in the grass on the sunlit lawn. I am eating berries picking them right off the bush. I am walking along an endless woodland path. I am playing in the sand with a boy I’m in love with at the age of four. It’s a slide show of my childhood.

One of those memories is about my first acquaintance with ants and unfairness. My mother and I walked in the forest and found a big anthill. My mom told me that ants crawled around looking for food, and I decided to give them a wild strawberry I had in my hand. I put it on top of the anthill, and one of the ants bit me. I cried for half an hour, and I still hold the grudge even though my mom explained me then that I should have simply dropped the berry instead of pushing it on ants to try and convince them how yummy it was.

The camp where we lived was set up near a beautiful lake with grayish-blue mountains rising on the other side. I spent days in the lake and taught myself to swim in the warm summer waves when I was about five. In the evening all kids grabbed little torches and wandered in water near the shore looking for crayfish that hid under the stones. Almost every night campers gathered on the lakeside around the fire to share their stories and worries. Accompanied by the droning sound of their conversation, children watched sparkles fly up to disappear in the dark and toasted pieces of bread pinned to long wooden sticks. The bread got usually burned on one side, but you could not imagine anything more delicious than the black-smoked crunchy crust. Well, one thing was yummier: potatoes baked in the coals of dying fire. When potatoes were ready, we rolled these hot balls out of fire and gave them a minute to cool down a bit, then peeled them, soiling our hands with black coal coating. After that we dropped a pinch of salt on steaming white pulp and bit into it, slightly burning our lips and tongues.

In the daytime we made little boats of the pine trees’ bark and then shipped them into the lake. The wooden boats with leaves for a sail rocked on the waves and headed away. We stood on the shore and watched them disappear in the glittering distance and imagined big adventures. I loved pines and believed they were travelers in their core, and that’s why today, when I look at their tall and straight trunks, when I breath in their spicy resinous smell I feel as if I were on board a ship, next to the solid brown masts that reach up to the sky and stretch its infinite sail.

Childhood memories are indelible. If someone tells me today, “Imagine your favorite place where you feel calm and happy,” I close my eyes and immediately see myself sitting at the foot of a tree, on the soft carpet of fallen, yellowed pine needles. In the realm of my vision, I look up at the blue that shows through the lace of green branches, and I want to stay there forever.

Bookworm, Sketching

The Tank Travel Dream

 tank
When I was a kid I read a lot of sci-fi, and one of the books impressed me so much that I wanted to repeat a trick described in it. The idea of the story (the author’s name and the title escape me now) was that if you find a building that has not changed at all and has stayed untouched for a certain period of time you have a door leading into the past. All you have to do is enter this place, convince yourself that you are in the chosen period (the book’s character was hypnotized for first couple of times, and then he learned how to put himself in trance on his own), and go out to the street some years ago. As simple as that.

The protagonist made several trips to the end of the nineteenth century, fell in love with a beautiful girl and decided to never come back, even knowing about all the dramatic events of the twentieth century that lay ahead of him. Love was worth it, he thought.

I wasn’t looking for love in the past. I was only amazed with the idea that a simple building can be a door into another world. I shared this thought with a friend of mine, and then together we started running round the city and looking for a place that might suit us. We weren’t lucky. There were some old buildings, of course, but they were reconstructed or half-destroyed. They wouldn’t work. Finally we found something. It wasn’t a building, it was a monument. A real tank that stood in the middle of the square as a reminder of the Second World War.

“We should get inside,” a friend of mine said. “The tank is the same as it was fifty years ago. We can go to the sixties and have fun.”

I agreed, we could have fun in the sixties, and I already started thinking what I should wear to look modern in the past. But we still had to find the way to get inside the tank. I suspected that the hatch cover might have been locked, but we couldn’t be sure until we checked. The problem was we couldn’t climb up there, the monument was too high. For a couple of days we walked around the tank like hungry cats smelling fresh fish, trying to figure out how we can bring a ladder and get in, not attracting anyone’s attention. Should we do it at night?

Then suddenly doubts crawled in. I thought that yes, the tank is exactly the same, nobody disturbed it for years, but the dust inside must have changed. Every molecule matters, the book said. Can the new dust be an obstacle on the way to our adventure?

A friend of mine had her fears too. “What if we just get insane?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“What if we get in the tank, convince ourselves we are in the past, then go out to the present, thinking we are in the past because we’ve gone mad?”

This was a very complex concept for me. I was only preoccupied with the possible dust disorder. Still, the magic was ruined: I knew she didn’t truly believe it was possible, and I, deeply inside, didn’t believe it either. We walked around the tank for another day, and then dropped the idea to climb in. Our doubts won over. Plus, we never found a ladder. But I still think it would be cool to go to the sixties or just to see what’s inside the tank.

 

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Sketching

The Wish to Spit at the Mirror

Once I read a story of an actress that was standing in front of the mirror trying to ‘arrange’ her face. She used every habitual trick, but the face didn’t respond to anything and stayed puffy, swollen and wrinkled. The actress spat at the mirror and went to the plastic surgeon.

Realization that you are not as young as you were comes as a whip when you are the least prepared. And most often your face or figure is not the biggest sorrow. The lost opportunities, the things you might have done, but never have are the heaviest burden. You know it’s kind of too late to prepare yourself for the Olympic Games, and you wish that you have thought of it earlier because, oh my god, how you want that golden medal!

But what can you do when you stand in front of the mirror and the only wish you have is to spit at it or even break it? The answer depends on the person and the suddenness of his or her insight. I’d say when your train’s gone it’s time to look for a bus. It won’t take you, probably, as far and as fast as the train would but you still can have a great journey. Just don’t wait till you need a wheel chair.

 

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Sketching

The Shaky Age Perspective

Designing-for-a-Lifetime

When I was six all adults seemed to be people from another world, even kids above fourteen were not our, children’s kind.

When I was nine I tried to convince my mom that she was old. She protested, but I knew I was right and couldn’t understand how she could not understand it. We were sitting in front of a TV, and in the middle of our discussion one man on the screen said to another, “You’re thirty years old, you are a young man. Why don’t you do something about your life?”

My mom victoriously pointed at the telly, “You see, thirty is young!”

“Yeah,” I said, “but you are thirty nine!”

When I was fifteen my mom mentioned someone from her work as ‘this boy’.

“How can you call him a boy?” I resented. “He’s twenty five, he’s a man with a beard, he’s totally an adult!”

“Ah, for me he’s a very young boy,” my mom sighed.

When I hit twenty five myself I was shocked. I felt, “That’s it, I’m a grown-up.” I stepped into the world of adults that seemed to be so alien even a year ago. I didn’t have a beard, but it wasn’t too consoling.

Next Monday I will be thirty nine. My son won’t tell me I’m old, not because he is smarter than I was, but only because he is four and can’t count further than ten where, probably, the border of strange adulthood starts for him.

It’s funny to look back and see how the concept of young and old changes. I’m not old, and if somebody tries to convince me in the opposite I won’t believe them, no matter how desperately they try. But I can look at a twenty-five-year-old thinking “Oh, that kid’, and, like my mom years ago, I don’t care if he has a beard.

These days I think I won’t get old, ever. I don’t mean on the physical level, of course, here you meet the power you can’t overcome. But on the inside, there are two stages for me, live and dead, the rest are nuances not worth attention. My belief is that if you don’t let it your soul will never get blind, deaf or callous.

 

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Sketching

How Moms Get Lost

train

I remember how my mom got lost when I was six.

My mom took me and my brother to the countryside. We went there every summer so the road was pretty familiar. We would take a local train and an hour later arrive at the station to catch a bus that would bring us to the destination point, a little town at the lake where we would spend holidays.

That day started like always. We climbed up the train with all those bags my mom packed. For an hour we stared through the window at the green fields and forests passing by. Close to the end of the trip I had a strong wish to go to the bathroom. My mom said, “Go, it’s in the end of the carriage.” She stayed sitting with my three-year-old brother.

Today it’s impossible to imagine how a minor could be left alone, even for a second. But I was born in pre-historic times when nobody heard of pedophilia or illegal organ traffick, at least my mom didn’t. So I went to the bathroom and saw it was closed. I wanted to pee very badly so I decided to check the bathroom in the next carriage where I went and happily did what I had to. Meanwhile the train stopped. I looked out of the window and recognized the station. We arrived. I rushed back to our carriage and didn’t find my mom. The train moved when I saw her standing on the platform surrounded by all the bags and holding my brother in her arms. The same moment she saw me in the window of the departing train. My mom was totally lost.

I was six years old. I knew how to read, knew the name of our station, understood the concept of direction, and luckily, in the earlier travelling bustle, my mom left the train schedule in my pocket. So I did simple math. I had to get down at the next station, wait for the train that would go back in five minutes and take it. I wasn’t scared; I had a plan and knew what to do. My only fear was to meet a train supervisor who could ask, “Where’s your ticket, girl?” I knew I would not have any and was afraid to get arrested. I was lucky, I didn’t meet the train supervisor, and ten minutes later I was already next to my mom telling her that it was easy to find her. My mom didn’t let my hand go all the rest of that day.

 

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Bookworm, Sketching, Writing 101

My Precious Heritage

When I think of my family, of the apartment we used to live, I can see bookshelves. Many of them. In every room there was at least one. We had more books than any of my childhood friends could imagine. For some it looked like we lived in a library.

Ironically, my father didn’t read much. He loved buying books and putting them on shelves without specific order. He loved numbers, numbers of books. Most of all he adored collected works of famous authors. We had 22 volumes of Leo Tolstoy’s writings which included not only his novels, short stories and plays, but letters and drafts of his numerous works. Nobody read a third of all that. My father was extremely proud of his Charles Dickens’ collection as it occupied a whole shelf on its own and looked cute. He also subscribed for photography and chemistry magazines, as he claimed his interest in these subjects, and every year the piles of those magazines on the top of the shelves grew higher and dustier. We had the Bible, Torah, Koran and The Great Book on Atheism. They were beautiful to look at, but stayed lonely.

My mother was the one to read all those books. I recall her sitting on the sofa with her legs tucked beneath her and her eyes glued to white pages with black letters. Every evening was the same. After the dishes had been done she was there, in the living room, with her mind lost in someone’s world.

Jane Austen was one of the writers she would always come back to reread and reread again. “I belong to this era,” she told me once. “I wish I could live in those quiet and slow days.“ It seemed strange to me then; she was so energetic and joyful during the day, but obviously, on the inside, she dreamed of long peaceful walks along the green hills of Victorian England.

I started reading early; I had no other way in this environment. At five I was already on my own, reading children’s books and not bothering adults, ever. I had my world. I became a constant visitor to the school and city libraries as my father wasn’t into collecting children’s books in particular. As I grew older I read all sci-fi collections we had and dreamed about time and space travelling. And thank God, we had Chekhov to whom I still cannot say goodbye.

I didn’t inherit my father’s addiction to collecting books. Today, if I can, I go digital. I don’t feel specifically attracted to leafing the old pages, or cutting the new ones, or smelling the binding, or hugging a book with a sigh “my precious!” Besides, I don’t like dusting bookshelves. But every evening I sit on the sofa with my legs tucked beneath me and read. And this is the greatest possession I can think of, the luxury of getting lost in someone’s world.

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