Monthly Archives: April 2014

What is it about being understood?

My father made once the following note:


Translated it says:

“What is happiness?
What does it mean to be happy?
Happiness it is when you are understood!”

I don’t know, whether this was said by someone else or whether these were his own words. But one way or another, this note reveals what my father thought about meaning of happiness.

In connection to the novel I write about my father, I read, re-read and research books and material that bring me closer to the world he lived in, when he was looking for his family.

He and my mother gave us a wonderful family and I feel closer to them when I do the research and try to “time travel” into the early sixties and before that, and imagine the streets he walked, the books he read and the radio programs he listened to.

We listened a lot to the radio when I was small. To the music and different radio programs. I will always remember, as when I was with my mother and my father in Algeria, I eagerly waited and then listened excitedly to a greeting from my sister transmitted in a radio show from Moscow, where my sister stayed at a boarding school.

One radio program my father listened to, when he was young, was “Find a Person” hosted by the radio station “Mayak” (meaning Lighthouse). This program was moderated by the famous Russian children poet Agniya Barto, who used to work at an orphanage during 1960s.

She wrote a book with the same title, “Find a Person”. This book is based on the experiences she made during the World War II, in her work at the orphanage, as a poet and during the work on the radio program. My father gave this book to my sister as a gift.

I read this book as a teenager, and today, I discover it anew. In contrast to the first read, I don’t read the book at once. I read one story at a time, savor the story by reminiscing it and by thinking about all those families, who were separated during the World War II and who could find each other thanks to this program.

My father, encouraged by my mother, also wrote to Agniya Barto and her colleagues at the radio. The radio program and my father’s search are prominently featured in the book, I am writing.

One of the stories in the book “Find a Person” is about being understood.

Along with other writers and poets, Agniya Barto was invited to participate at a literary festival taking place in the capital of the former Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, today Armenia.

During this trip to Erevan, Agniya Barto was asked to give a speech at a train station. This speech was going to be transmitted on the radio. She had only one night for preparations and when they arrived, she discovered that she had to perform in front of hundreds of people.

After the speech, she asked Alexander Fadeev, who asked her to do the speech, whether he thought that the audience liked what she said. She hoped they did, because they clapped and cheered when she finished.

The answer was surprising and rather shocking for her. Alexander Fadeev said: “They did like it a lot, but they probably didn’t understand a thing. Because most of them don’t speak any Russian!”

With hurt feelings, Agniya asked Alexander why he didn’t warn her about this before the speech.

With a hearty laugh, he said: “Because, if you wouldn’t believe in having been understood, then you wouldn’t be able to speak from the heart.”

Wow, what a beautiful amendment to my father’s note!

All we need to do to be happy is to believe, be present and do whatever we do by putting our whole heart and soul into it. And by this, we can inspire others and make them happy, whether they understand our language or not.

The way to understanding goes through our hearts.

Everyone’s perfect

“The perfect human being is uninteresting. … It is the imperfections of life that are lovable. … Perfection is a bore, it’s inhuman. … the imperfection, striving, living … that’s what’s lovable.” Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth (discovered in Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger).

I like this quote very much. But I admit that we all strive for some kind of perfectness. Or “good enough” as we sometimes put it in order not to be blamed being a perfectionist.

Perfect according Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is among other “having everything that is necessary; complete and without faults or weaknesses” or “the best of its kind”. In this Learner’s Dictionary, there are seven definitions of perfect. And my guess is that there are many more in various other dictionaries and thesauri.

I had the most wonderful Easter holidays this year. I can say they were perfect. But not because I liked everything or everyone that came my way all the time. Far from it. I had my share of upsets and happened to be angry at least once.

But what was wonderful is that I was more and more aware of what was happening around me and inside me, without judgment, and discovered novelty and the wonder of the current moment.

This is what is truly perfect: the novelty of a moment.

I realized that as soon as I am here in a given moment and discover the novelty of this particular moment, as soon as I say “Wow!” it appears perfect to me. And I suspect I am not alone in this.

To anyone who reads this: have a perfect day full of discoveries at the very place and in the very moment where you are!

Picture: when I saw these trees, close to where I live, being surrounded by flowers, I said “Wow!” and took this picture.


Every year on April the 12th

I love languages. I think they are like various sides of a diamond, all letting very special light and glitter to shine through them. But I always wondered what my favorite was. My father was in love with French. My mother is devoted to our mother tongue, Romanian. My sister, my niece and I grew up with Romanian and Russian. Nowadays, I poke my nose in about thirteen languages, of which in five I can understand and be understood.

A few weeks ago, I finally admitted to myself: English is my favorite. My wish to write in it makes it pretty obvious. And I guess, one of the reasons for the love of it was my English teacher. Valentin Ignatievich Jeleapov was my all times favorite teacher. He was a good friend of my father and after my father died, he became a father figure to me.

He used to give me his salami sandwiches. He engaged me into the work on our school museum. I gave guided tours in this museum. It was my first school of speech. I spent a lot of afternoons at school after the lessons and remember fondly those days.

The teachers in Soviet schools didn’t have much possibility to improvise, because the school program and material were prescribed. The text books were not very exciting. Foreign languages were not an exception. Most of us thought we wouldn’t have a chance to use them.

Only after finishing school and after Perestroika years, I learned how much passion Valentin Ignatievich had for English. I started teaching English to adult beginners, and upon advice from my mother, I brought him all the material I gathered and received at the University and from English friends I was lucky to make in Moldova during my years of study.

But there was one special “English” lesson we had with Valentin Ignatievich, and which I will never forget. It happened every year on April 12. It was done in Russian. We were not asked to read our assignments during those 45 minutes, although we were always told to prepare diligently, also for April 12.

On that day, Valentin Ignatievich told us how he and his fellow students experienced the day when Yuri Gagarin went to space as the first human being. He told us how his professors called off all of the courses and seminars, and how hundreds of students were extremely quiet listening to the report on the radio of the Gagarin’s flight and his landing. He shared with us the emotions he and his friends were living through on that historic day.

I loved those English lessons on April 12. I asked my sister, who is eight years elder than me and who learned her English with Valentin Ignatievich, too. She reported of the same experience. My friends from other classes said the same. This was an unofficial tradition at our school. And it was way out of program and rules.

In the seven years of learning English with Valentin Ignatievich, two times a week, I had several occasions, on which an English lesson for me and my school friends fell on April 12. And I was always glad to experience it again and again.

Valentin Ignatievich told us the same story every time, but the way he told it to us was always new. New sparkle, new detail came every time. I will never forget those special lessons. Every year, on April 12, I remember them with a smile. That is why I write this post. And that is why I created a scene in the novel I write about my father, inspired by my teacher’s story.

I was also glad to learn and experience two other things, occasions, connected to April 12. My mother told me that my father, if he would ever have a son, wanted to name him Yuri, after Yuri Gagarin. And my PhD exam was on April 12, 1999. When I learned that my exam was put on this particular day, I knew that everything would be all right. I was still nervous. But the memory of my father, of my English teacher, and the fact that I defended it in English, made this day very special, festive and unforgettable.

Picture: my father at his PhD defense in 1971. One year before I was born.

papa PhD 1

A laundry picnic

Several months ago, I have written in this blog that my son didn’t like tidying up.

This has changed. He doesn’t throw things on the floor anymore but puts them into boxes or onto the tables. I had to take one of his socks off the dining table today.

He also started to be appalled when we spill his toys on the floor in order to find one particular toy. Or he gasps and laughs afterwards.

This is the way Niklas tidied up last Saturday. He took an empty laundry basket, put it in the middle of our living room, which is also his playroom today, and piled various toys in it, so that the toy-tower was taller than him. Looking at his creation he said proudly: “Now I have tidied up!” I had to explain myself to him when I started to un-pile the tower and put the toys on racks and into boxes at the end of the day.

On the same day, I was folding up our washed and dried clothes as I recalled several occasions, on which I did this before. On some of them, I was in hurry and folded up the clean clothes and linen while standing in our master bedroom between the bed and the closet and trying to finish the task as fast as possible. I didn’t enjoy those. On other times and this time as well, I sat on my cover as one would sit on a picnic blanket and played memory while folding up the socks. I had fun. And I came up with a fun name for my new hobby. A laundry picnic.

The experiences on this day made me realize that we humans are not only complaining or seeing the things we usually enjoy sometimes as a burden, of what we often accuse ourselves in. I realized that we are definitely able to turn the activities, we might not have liked before, into a hobby.

When did you have your last laundry picnic?

Picture: Our window sill tidied up by Niklas.