Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thinking of Kiev

Following Kiev developments with much anxiety. Updates can be found here. 

It is about 20 years (!) since I went there with a close friend whose family was from the city originally, but had emigrated to Israel in the 1970s. She hadn't been back since she was about eight years old.

It was a powerful week that I will never forget. We were overwhelmed by the warmth, hospitality and profoundly cultured outlook of the people we met; they lived often in conditions of what we in the west regarded as quite some deprivation, but never lost their sense of dignity and perspective for a moment. I was bowled over by everything we saw - from the beauty of the cathedral to the numb horror of the monument at Babi Yar.

The depth of the metro seemed incredible: you'd get on the escalator at the top without being able to see the bottom. And back in the open air I adored the magnificent monasteries and the sound of their bells, which is pure Rachmaninov (guess where he got it from)...and we visited the Great Gate, which is really rather small compared to Mussorgsky's picture of its picture. Inside crumbling concrete high-rise blocks, astonishing things included the fact that the lift actually worked - getting into it was a little frightening, though - and the sheer quantity of cockroaches, as I just didn't know you could have that many cockroaches in one place at the same time...

In those days everyone was still adjusting with some surprise to the lack of Iron Curtain and experimenting with the new openness, dipping their toes - and often more - into the notion of capitalism. Pianists turned into marketing managers. Smart cars were still rare, but existed. New blocks with smart flooring and plate glass windows rubbed shoulders with the Soviet era towers near the sprawling Dnieper. We ate blinis and Russian salad and probably got through a fair bit of vodka; our hosts opened some Soviet Champagne, which tastes a little like fizzy dry sherry, and washed it down with huge amounts of cake. We heard an extraordinarily gifted young pianist in a celebratory concert at the conservatoire; she was about ten, so she must now be 30. I hope she is still playing.

I often think of our friends there and wonder how they are and what has become of them. Sending you love, wherever you may be.

In tribute and in hope, here is some of that bell-laden Rachmaninov... played by Martha Argerich and Lilya Zilberstein. It is from his Suite No.1 and it's called "Russian Easter", but please note that this is a musical statement, not a political one!