Saturday, May 30, 2009


(in case you were wondering where we were these past few days, the answer is here. and it was luverly)

now then, the creative process (she says casually as if it had long been agreed between us, that on this day and in this place a discussion would begin, concerning the creative process, and artistry in general, that would go on for, say five, or six, posts, at the very least, with comments, interjections, back-tracking and genial not to mention ingenious conclusions...)... is all about leaving off the main road of the idea, and taking that little overgrown side-track you didn't even know was there until the funny-looking birch tree on the left winked at you.

or: take this little wedding dress, worn by our good old friend Alice (mama, it's actually a dress-up wedding dress, Alice is far too young to be married...). there i was, following up this link on how to turn a man's shirt into a smock. cutting and smocking away. as per the instructions. when my eye fell on an odd object on the floor of my sewing room ( for those who haven't been in my sewing room of late, i should mention that in view of how literally littered every surface of that room is with various objects, odd and even, it would have been infinitely more surprising if i had in fact been able to glimpse a bit of the floor itself...). the oddity turned out to be the collar of my very man's shirt, which, having been cut out in a circle in order to make the smock, then obediently followed the laws of gravity and flopped at my feet. and standing there, looking at this sad sad collar, orphan without its shirt, i suddenly thought: wedding-dress! ten minutes and a bit of lace later... i mean seriously, how does that work? (homework to complete before next installment: think of more cases of "sideways" creativity. tell me about them. watch Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

peonies (by Mary Oliver)

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open ---
pools of lace,
white and pink ---
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities ---
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again ---
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

Sunday, May 24, 2009


this amazingly beautiful and astute poem was sent to me by a dear friend:

do not weep

do not stand by my grave and weep
i am not dead, i do not sleep.
i am a thousand winds that blow,
i am a diamond glint on snow.
i am the sunset on ripened grain,
i am the gentle autumn rain.
when you awake in the autumn hush,
i am the swift uplifting rush.
of quiet birds in circling flight,
i am the soft starshine at night.
do not stand by my grave and cry,
i am not there, i did not die.

this is exactly it. so far, i have seen my grand-father in a cloud formation, a fluff on the wind, a crow, a couple of beetles, the heart of a peony and, most surprisingly, as a little light green catterpillar in a wild rose i wanted to smell, on which occasion, i was so surprised to see him that i croaked out loud: 'is it you?'
(last night was wonderful, we danced, and laughed, and drank and ate. and listened to Patsy Cline, whom my grand-father loved. so good. the children and i are leaving for a few days, back on thursday with more grand-father stories...)

Saturday, May 23, 2009


my grand-father is going to be cremated today, which has me thinking of his physical presence. he was an intensely physical person: he exercised far into old age, taking walks every day, doing his 'exercises' on his balcony. he used to do country-skiing in winter an hike in summer, and when he was already very old, and too blind to trust himself on the metro/electric train, he went cross-country skiing in the little playground in front of his house. he had calculated that he needed to make 40 rounds of that tiny place in order to get in his k's. he also said that the fact that he had to turn every ten metres or so was actually an advantage as it meant he had to practice his turns. and that pretty much sums up his spirit.

he enjoyed eating and drinking, except when in the throes of one of his radical diets (increasingly in the last few years). he was very affectionate, free and generous with bear-hugs and kisses.
but the most vivid memories i have are of his hands. he had remarkably sensitive and strong hands (as Marc found out the first time he came to visit 'that grand-father of yours, he has a strong hand-shake for such a little old man...'). having spent most of his professional life working as a researcher in a medical institute, in the last fifteen years of his life, he developed his own philosophy and practice of holistic healing, based on homeopathy, acupuncture and the sensitivity of his own hands. he believed that his hands could sense what medication (or food) a given organism needed at any point in time. he also believed that all acupuncture points of the body also existed as replicas on people's hands, and that applying homeopathic remedies directly to these replica acupuncture points could heal the corresponding organ/system. i am not sure i am explaining this right, but what it meant in practice is that he would hold my hand in his and place some item of food in my palm and he would then know how my organism as a whole, as well as any sub-systems, would react to me eating this food ('tebe polezno, detochka!'). he also practiced a form of reiki in which he removed pain simply by letting his hands hover over the painful area. he healed many people and made tremendous amounts of notes of his findings. the tragedy in this is that he believed he was alone in these powers, and although he enjoyed the sense of being a unique pioneer, he also felt sad that the 'gift of his hands', as he called it, would die with him, and i now wish i had (as i kept promising myself) done some research for him into reiki, but also into holistic natural medicine practices so that i could have talked to him about how he was in fact, part of a long tradition of healers.

Friday, May 22, 2009

miracles in the kitchen

i don't care how mad this makes me sound, but my grand-father is really here. and not just anywhere, but in the kitchen (which is where i have set up his photograph and a candle, because it's the place where i'd like best to talk to him). well, apart from talking and laughing, which he does a lot, he has also been busy: the bottle of failed kvas i was about to pour into the sink, turned, miraculously, within the span of half an hour (while i was out of the kitchen and he clearly was in it) into the best kvas we've had so far (recipe coming up soon). a few hours later, my dreamy licking of a ricotta-covered spoon (making risotto, you know how it is...) led me to fantasies of a ricotta cheesecake and within the hour, i had a recipe for it, delivered straight into my hands by an unknown girl at the supermarket. oh, and did i mention the amazing fresh-salted gherkins (recipe coming up soon too), how well those turned out?

and this for a man who for years, and for complicated reasons (mostly ideological ;) only ate sardines, oranges and kefir (yes, i know, i know...).

anyway, we are having a food/wake thing for him tomorrow evening. in Isabelle's words: 'now your grand-father has finally come to live with us after all!'

Thursday, May 21, 2009

ne grusti, kunichka

my grand-father, Michail Lazorovich Bykhovskij, passed away today, aged 90. although i miss him terribly already, i trust that he is in a good place now. he was a complicated shining man. ours was an uncomplicated shining love. his last words to me were 'don't be sad, kunichka'.

i am anyway, though, but 'gore ne beda...' (sorrow is not a misfortune)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

skirt and sadness

my grand-father is dying now. every time i think 'never again', i cry. every time a memory bubbles up, i smile. it is both achingly raw and surprisingly gentle, this pain of having to say good-bye.

(skirt = little white dress not worn because wrong model + amazing aquamarine indian silk pants not worn because torn beyond repair. i cut off the top of the dress, pleated the back, added elastic and a couple of ties with little bells, then added a silk ruffle on the bottom)

Monday, May 18, 2009


The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Friday, May 15, 2009

the bib and the jellyfish

i completed a bib i have been making for antoine. i started making it on the morning of the day he was born. it took me half an hour to put it together, but i didn't have any snap buttons, so had to go and buy some, got contractions on the way, came home, had baby, sort of forgot about the bib for a few days. that was almost two years ago. then, last sunday, i woke up with the sun smiling at me through a chink in the curtains, stretched, got up, took a hammer out of the cupboard and hammered in the snaps. it took me ten minutes.

half and hour plus ten minutes, that's forty minutes to complete a bib. you'd think. except for the endless remonstrations, complaints, and pestering i put myself through in the intervening months ('when are you going to finish that bib?' 'what, you still haven't finished the bib????' 'come on, how much effort would it actually take to finish that bib?' 'get up! go and finish the bib!' 'right now!!' 'what kind of an idiot can't even finish a bib?' 'i bet it will take you less time to finish that bib than it takes me to form this sentence' 'you know what it is, don't you, it's laziness/lack of perseverance/incompetence/apathy/inertia/idiocy, that's what it is' 'tomorrow, tomorrow i will finish the bib' 'tomorrow, i promise that tomorrow i will finish the bib...').

we went to the zoo last week, and had a fantastic guided tour behind the scenes of the aquarium (for an entertaining and instructive report, see here). at some point we stopped in front of the jellyfish raising section. there was this large round aquarium with jellyfish in it, and they were all turning in circles, at the same pace, and in the same direction, on an invisible ferris wheel. one of the children asked why they were all doing the same thing, and the amazing answer came: jellyfish are not strong enough to move by themselves, they can't swim, they can't determine their direction, or their speed, any movement they make (except for that 'open and close' thing which turned out to be their breathing) is actually the currant lifting and carrying them. at the zoo, the currant happens to be a ferris wheel.


wisdom by juxtaposition. what if i too am a jellyfish, but an odd one, delluded into believing i can determine my own course? what if all i ever do is flow with the flow, whether i want to or not, whether i brace myself or let go, whether i resist or embrace the wave. if it isn't bib-making time, it just isn't bib-making time. whether i give myself a hard time about it or not. all my pestering and worrying, all those months, didn't get me an inch closer to completing the bib. the currant simply wasn't going that way. and when it finally turned, why then, no effort involved, no remonstration required.

a jellyfish can never get tired, or burnt-out. it knows that self-improvement is a really good joke. oh, to embrace my jellyfishiness.

(the bib in the photograph is actually part of a baby-shower gift for a little girl who was born this week, the pattern comes from Bend The Rules Sewing)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


thought it would be fun to have a notebook in which to write the russian recipes i am collecting at the moment, so i fished out (and completed) a long-unfinished project. the notebook cover is a linnen napkin with embroidery from a japanese book, can't remember which.
also, there has been quite a bit of movie watching around here lately (we saw Mrs. Dalloway three nights in a row because somebody kept falling asleep and we had to start all over again) (not that i mind, i could watch that movie many many more times...) (we also saw La Maison and Transylvania, both a little disappointing, but that's what happens when you have expectations) so i wanted some light knitting. these dishcloths, from a pattern in Mason-Dixon's Curious Knitter's Guide are pretty, easy but not boring, and very useful.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

soupe à l'oseille

unavoidably, any attempt at recapturing (and sharing) my childhood heritage will involve food(and poetry...). first on the list, and very appropriate for the season: sorrel soup. pick approximately three large handfuls of wild sorrel (in garden, park, forest or roadside)(see here for info on sorrel, distinguishing characteristics: forked horns where the bottom of the leaf meets the stem and sour taste) (whence 'zuring'). in a small saucepan, hard-boil as many eggs as there are eaters. in the meantime, peel two largeish potatoes and throw them in soup pot together with 1,5 litre of water and two cubes of chicken stock (or, even better, 1,5 litre of fresh homemade chicken stock). put on medium-low fire until the potatoes are cooked. throw sorrel into soup, stir once, turn off the heat. put one hard-boiled (and peeled) egg in each soup bowl, mash up with fork, pour soup over egg, garnish with sour cream.

yum. yum. yum.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

still russia

my grand-father is very much alive, and very ill. his illness brings me painfully close to the truth that he will not be around forever (there is that buddhist story of a king who asks a wise man to bless his family, and the wise man says 'father dies, son dies, grand-son dies'.) i will very probably have to outlive my grand-father. and the pain i feel at the thought of life without this dearest of old men is made brighter and sharper by the thought of what would disappear together with him. he is, in a very real (though not factual) sense, my last link to russia. without him, i feel as if the last little thread would snap between me and that weird country of which i was born and that runs in me like a childhood virus never quite recovered from.

walking the streets of moscow, any time in the last 15 years, i have looked, sounded and felt like a foreigner. but deep inside i hugged to myself the secret flame of my belonging. because always, walking those streets, i was visiting my grand-father. and my yearly visits to him fanned and nourished that little flame, so that walking other streets, in such different different places, always i knew myself to be (also) a russian woman.

without my grand-father, russia will become an empty shell. a huge, grey, dirty, difficult and inaccessible shell. and in my pain of having to live one day without my crazy and wonderful ancestor is mingled the fear of the little flame dying out.

i guess i just have to find another way to fan and nourish. another way to connect inner flame and outside world. i guess i just have to learn to be (also) a nomadic russian woman.

(speaking of nomads, amazing photographs here. found through Elianne's new and wonderful blog)

Thursday, May 07, 2009


you see those little hunched up shoulders, the little sideways drooping head? that's pretty much how i've been feeling, these last ten days (it's incidentally not in the least how isabelle was feeling when this photograph was taken, she was busily observing a colony of ants stealing the fallen crumbs of our ontbijtkoek). the russia trip really hit me in the windpipe. like something really big's got a hold on my throat, and the words come out croaky, uneven. most of the time, i don't even know what i am trying to say, and yet it hurts not to say it. it's been, it is, a struggle, with what i want and don't want to say, and how to (not) say it. as well as the sheer impossibility of talking about anything else in the meantime. see what i mean...

(i also went back to work this week, for the first time in months, not easy. but on the bright side, have definitely found calling. now only need to find serious sponsoring for calling.)

and to keep breathing, with and into the hunched-up-ness, the droopiness, the croaking and the confusion, as always, only this will do:
forest walks... and very (very) wet kisses.

Friday, May 01, 2009