Category Archives: LCJ Author Corner

#SafeathomeinRussia: QR-codes introduced in Moscow

We’re in the new week of quarantine, and QR-codes are now necessary to get if you need to go to work. Officially, this is due to the Muscovites’ below-average observation of quarantine. Indeed, a lot of people, especially youngsters, still go out, so now they will have to order a QR-code that will then track their movement and whereabouts.

As for me, I’m in yet another week of distant teaching. There are many advantages, and perhaps my dogs appreciate the sudden absence of people more than I do. The biggest disadvantage is the need to operate multiple devices. In the past, if we used a textbook, then I didn’t need either phone or the Internet. Today, I often use both a textbook and the Internet, and I conduct a session via a phone.

#SafeathomeinRussia: How We’re Getting Through

I’ve been working from home this week. It’s slightly challenging, delightfully novel and surprisingly wholesome. I start work in the morning and finish any time between 4.30pm and 8pm. And I still have time for other things.

I’m a bit concerned about the attitude of some new “divines” to coronavirus. They preach this is a great, albeit scary, way to “clear the planet”. Look, they say, dolphins are coming back to Venice, isn’t this amazing?! Sure, some people die, and still more will if they are too rigid. Be flexible, be liquid, learn to work online, and chances are, you’ll get through alright.

The reason these preachings perplex me slightly is because there is strong evidence of a new kind of biological weapon being tested. And as much as I’m glad for both Venice and dolphins, I feel anxious as to what the future holds.

However, I agree with the sages: we need to be flexible. In the time of great changes it’s futile to try and maintain status quo, ancien régime, the old order, you name it. I’ve just had a thought that this pandemic may hammer the nail in the EU’s coffin, perhaps penultimate yet. One of my students is going through his personal upheaval, and he’s managing it poorly, so I reason with him thus: everything that is yours will remain yours. Sadly, at time like this it is only us that remain ours; the rest may go.

I’ve been through these crises a few times already, and I’m grateful for the skills that will undoubtedly see me through. I’m grateful for my faith, my work, my talent. These are the things that will always remain mine.

I’ve just been through the posts I wrote in 2008 and 2009, and it’s wonderful to see how the above mentioned skills helped me then. Feel free to #readmyblog and find all the inspiration and support you need. And I’ll keep you updated on what’s happening in Russia (particularly Moscow) and how things are going for me this time.

Take care and #staysafeathome

How to Pass any Exam in Flying Colours

I’ve recently written an article for one portal detailing the tips for sitting in any exam. These tips are based entirely on my personal experience of going through an examination, but especially Foreign Language exams. Whether it is a GSCE, an A-Level exam, TOEFL/IELTS or any other international language exam, I am sure this advice will help you pass your exam in flying colours.

An exam is an important and therefore stressful experience but you can cope with it

Whatever exam we have to pass, and no matter how old we are, this is always a stressful experience, especially if the stakes are high. On the day of your exam you are stressed, either bouncing or frustrated, so you need something solid to stand on. Not only did these tips help me in the past, they have been helping my students for the last seven years to achieve excellent results in any exam they had to sit in.

1.A journey to the top mark begins with the first correct answer

If you want to do something well, do well in every aspect of it. Exams, like everything else in life, has got room for improvisation, but the core remains the same: you have to answer each and every question calmly and methodically.

2.If you can’t do it, leave it

“I’m in a block”, “don’t remember anything” etc. is normal. You are overly conscious of how high the stakes are. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths – and move on to another task. Don’t waste time on that which causes panick and insecurity.

3.Take breaks

Listen to yourself. Once you’ve noticed fatigue, put your pen away. Instead of looking at the exam paper, look at the window. Whatever is the season, there will be something nice to see. Especially so if you pass your exam in spring or summer. Breaks + positive thinking = success.

4.Think about yourself

This sounds selfish, but an exam is one’s own business. Every man for himself. If your friend believes it is good to be at her wits’ end before the exam, good for her. You don’t need to help her and wind yourself up. Think about yourself.

5.An exam is you

It is usually thought that an exam checks the knowledge in a discipline. However, it is also a check on our personal qualities. Composure, accuracy, time management are just as important as knowing the difference between Passe Compose and Passe Simple.

6.Be calm!

Dont’ worry about what you cannot change. Strange noises, an unpleasant interlocutor, the wrong kind of weather outside – are all of these really more important that your exam result? These things are beyond your influence. Therefore look into your exam paper and do the tasks.

7.Focus is king

Imagine that you are a racehorse. You’re got blinders on your eyes, and the finishing line somewhere ahead. You can take your blinders off when you did all tasks, checked them, transferred onto the exam paper, submitted it and closed the door behind you. Only then can you breathe out. But while you are in the room, the focus is on the exam.

8.Trust your intuition

There are forces that move in mysterious ways, and whatever you personally think of it, these forces exist and are ready to help. Colloquially we call them the sixth sense, or intuition. So if in the exam you stumble into a question you don’t know, ask these forces to help you. It’s quite likely that you will get a correct answer.

9.Choose your order

The main thing is a good result. Foreign Language exams usually start with Listening Paper, but you are free to choose the order of the papers that follow. Same goes for any other exam. Therefore, if, upon looking through the paper, you notice some very easy tasks, do them first. Accumulate the positives.

10.Think positive

Positive thinking finds opportunities, negative thinking sees problems. For some reason not all recognise this. This year, as you pass your exams, make a point of consciously noticing every positive aspect or moment. You’ll see for youself: an exam will go smoothly, and your mark will be higher than the one you expected.

Some useful advice

1.Aim higher

If you want, say, 100 points, prepare like you need to get 120. If you are ready exactly for 100 points, the chance is, your mark will be lower.

2.Prepare in advance.

There are situations in life when last-minute preparation isn’t going to work wonders. An exam is one of these situations.

3.Know thy subject.

The best way to pass an exam in flying colours is to know the subject, rather than do various tests. If you have to write an essay in History, for example, it’s easier to memorise the History course than to cram 20 essay samples.

And finally…

Listen to yourself

If someone tells your passing an exam in this or that subject is unrealistic, remember: this person talks about his or her ability in this subject. Believe in yourself, love your subject, and you will succeed!

Putting the Past Behind You

I have mentioned Jacques Derrida’s essay “On Forgiveness” on this blog, but it recently came back into my life for a different reason: my career.

The point Derrida makes in his essay is that to forgive means to forget; to forget means to make a conscious effort not to dwell on the past. This act of forgetting does not equal amnesia; instead, it is the act of putting one’s entire faith into believing that something bad will not happen again. In family life, for instance, forgiving an adultery means to forget that adultery exists; to treat your partner as if they never cheated on you, and to treat yourself like you are not worthy of being cheated on. In politics, this would be about treating the war as if it does not exist, so that you can never use it as the means to solve problems.

The problem that was holding me back, as I recently discovered, has to do with rejection and the lack of appreciation. People around me at the moment give me a lot of support and encouragement, something I have not had for some time. They believe in me, they see me as a winner, and I know I am going to amaze myself with my achievements this year. But something wasn’t quite right. It finally downed on me yesterday exactly what it was.

It was the past experience.

So many times have I put past experiences behind me. God knows, I could already be very cynical, but I have always made a conscious effort not to let this happen. Yet in the field of my career, in the matters involving career progress and money, the negative experiences outweigh the positives. I have always worked hard but this was often taken for granted. As much as I can say that I should have been more demanding of recognition, I cannot deny that I expected to be recognised for my sheer output, for the amount and quality of my work. It is the direct opposite of my work and achievements in creative and intellectual fields where I have always been “a high roller”.

As they say, the moment you identify the problem is the moment you can expect to find a solution. And this is where Derrida enters the picture. I cannot change the past, but it is entirely in my capacity not to let it further ruin my life prospects. I hear a lot of talk about “taking control”, and this is exactly what I am doing. I cannot change the past, but I can take it to a remote barn, stack it there, close the door, and never go there again.

I share this because at different points in our life a lot of us find ourselves in precisely the same situation. Something just does not let us move on. Something keeps playing the trick. Do not be afraid of confronting it. Strangely, the same relates to the positive experiences. Do not dwell on the past glory, do not try to repeat it. Instead, take every single opportunity as if it is happening to you for the first time ever, and make the best of it.

A Soviet Western Cinema Song

In 1987 Alla Sourikova, one of the “big” female names in Soviet/Russian cinema, made a comic interpretation of the story of the Wild West and the introduction of celluloid film to the United States. A Man from the Boulevard des Capucines hit the box-office with over 60 million viewers.

I am following up on my earlier promise to share my work by offering this poetic translation of one of the film’s songs. Like I said, I wanted to adapt it to the music, so that anyone who wanted could sing it to the tune.

People, gentlemen, and ladies!
Well, of course, we understand this:
Our world is no perfection,
And at times it’s quite bad.
There is very little hope
Any good should ever come of it.
So I’m happy to announce:
Even though I’m no God, but…

Chorus: And so, and finally, now
In this and in just any weather
First here, and then anyhow
We’ll change all the world for the better.
We’ll know no grief or anger,
We’ll live for common good,
Like we have dreamt forever,
But hardly ever could.
Cinema, cinema, cinema,
We’re mad about cinema!

I see fearful believers,
Even though now you’re quite glad,
For, alas! it wasn’t rare
You’ve been taken for the fools.
Oh, you don’t need any dreamers –
Yes, of course, we heard about that.
As for me, I’m not a dreamer,
And I well know what to do.


Our time is so different,
Sticks and carrots don’t mean a thing.
No idealists or tricksters
Ever lure us in their maze.
People, gentlemen, and ladies,
In the age of science and mechanism
There is no room for errors,
Only progress fills the space!


Work in Progress

I wanted to share something about what I am presently doing in terms of literary work.Whereas previously I had often lived in the space created by one language, my space is now always bilingual, whereby I have recently found it very easy to translate poetry into English. I have translated two songs from Soviet movies, one is fully translated, another (The Island of Bad Luck) is a work in progress. With both, I am trying to not merely translate the text, but to also preserve the rhythmic structure. I am inspired by the work by Marshak, whose rendering of Burns’s poem used in Hello, I Am Your Aunt! is so true to the original rhythm that the original poem can be sung to the film’s music.

Most importantly, I have started working on translating Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Beholder (Der Schauende). It was already genuinely translated into Russian in 1961 by Boris Pasternak, and, rather than trying to contest his translation, I draw inspiration from it to produce an English rendering of Der Schauende. If I give you a few lines, you will understand why it is now that I am working on this poem.

Wie ist das klein, womit wir ringen,
was mit uns ringt, wie ist das groß;
ließen wir, ähnlicher den Dingen,
so vom großen Sturm bezwingen, –
wir würden weit und namenlos. 

Was wir besiegen, ist das Kleine,
und der Erfolg selbst macht uns klein.
Das Ewige und Ungemeine
will nicht von uns gebogen sein. 

From an existing non-rhythmic English translation by Robert Bly (found at Wellspring by Larry Clark):

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.

I’m also interested in translating this poem because the motive expressed there corresponds well with my current work on revising and reviving my German. I can only subdue to the Time and Effort, meaning that, just as it took me a few years to perfect either English or French, it will also take something to get me to once again have a decent command of German. In the words of Rilke,

Die Siege laden ihn nicht ein.
Sein Wachstum ist: der Tiefbesiegte
von immer Größerem zu sein. 

(Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,

by constantly greater beings.)

Last but not least, occasionally before when I announced my plans to do something, I somehow ended up either not doing it at all, or doing it with a considerable delay. I detest the situation, but the only way to change it is to declare plans and stick to them. I guess I shall be taking myself upon my own word here.

Night, A Streetlight, A Street, A Chemist’s (Alexander Blok)

This poem by Alexander Blok, one of the seminal poets of the Russian fin-de-siecle, is greatly loved all over the world: so much so that in 1990s it was chosen, along with the poems by Tsvetaeva, Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, and Khlebnikov, to represent Russian poetry in the Leiden-centred project, Poems and Walls (1992-2005). I decided to translate it, as well.

Night, a streetlight, a street, a chemist’s,
All in a dim and useless light.
In the next twenty-five years
They’ll still prevail, against one’s plight.

And you may die but then, returning,
You’ll see again the same old night,
The icy canal waters running,
The street, the chemist’s, the streetlight.

Original Russian text

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи еще хоть четверть века –
Все будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрешь – начнешь опять сначала,
И повторится все, как встарь:
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.


Michel Polnareff – L’Amour Avec Toi

I have translated this song previously into Russian, now it’s the turn for English rendition. I like this particular, romantic and tender, version. Once again, Polnareff gently attacks the society’s frowning upon “love talking”.

There are words that can be thought
But not said in public.
I’m sick and tired of the public
And its fake morality.

Chorus: I would simply want to make love to you,
I would simply want to make love to you.

Of course, I could tell you
That I live only for your smile,
That your eyes are the bluest in the world,


Then some will say one cannot
Speak to a girl like that.
This should be done, not talked about,
It is my dream, and tonight is made for it.


Эти слова могут быть на уме,
Но их нельзя произносить в обществе.
А я устал от общества
И от его выдуманной морали.

Я просто хотел бы заняться с тобой любовью х 2

Конечно же, я мог бы тебе сказать,

Что живу лишь твоей улыбкой,
Что у тебя – самые голубые в мире глаза…….

А я просто хочу заняться с тобой любовью х 2

Кто-то скажет: нельзя
Так говорить с молодой девушкой!

Но ведь это делают, а не говорят об этом.
Это мечта, и этот вечер – для нее,

Потому что я хочу заняться с тобой любовью х 2

Money Costs a Fortune, People Cost Nothing

It’s been a couple of years already that Mr Freeman has been the mystery no. 1 on the Russian Internet. Although there have been many a guess who may be hiding behind this matchstick man, the real person is yet to be pinned down. If you ask me, I’d rather have him remain mysterious like one of those famous literary memes, say, Kozma Prutkov (a brainchild of Alexey Tolstoy and the Zhemchuzhnikov brothers) or Emile Ajar (another pseudonym of Romain Gary, writing under which Gary had received his second Prix Goncour). One day, perhaps, we’ll find out whose genius produced Mr Freeman, but for now it is more important what the character is saying.

Until recently, the character was mostly speaking Russian, although one of his recent uploads was in English. What you are about to read, however, is a biting satire of our fear of, and love for, money. Now, where money is concerned, it is evident that people fall into one of the two extremities: they either don’t care for it, or they care for nothing but money. Whether or not they actually have money doesn’t matter. As we would agree, neither extremity is good, but if the inability to attract and preserve money is pathetic, the blinding desire for money is ugly. And this is what Mr Freeman has contemplated in his video, What Is You God?

And at the very bottom of the post you’ll find a brilliant number from Cabaret the film.

Not bad. I never said that money was bad. I respect every religion however servile it is. Ah, well, you don’t know. Just relax, don’t spew your spinal marrow around…. Money is God. You have always thought that religion was Christianity, the Buddha, the shaman. No, of course not. You cannot be that thick. The single modern global religion is money. And different currencies are like Catholic religion, Orthodox, Protestant, Buddhism, Judaism… Generally, money is your God. It is the thing in itself, it is the beginning of everything, and it can, from time to time, make wonders. Wow… This God has got the millionaire apostles, whose sacred lives you study so jealously. Each of you regularly takes part in the Communion service when you receive a piece of divine flesh in the envelope. Yet how about asking anyone, how much he earns? He’ll shit himself as if you asked him to confess to his sins… And what about those bank notes? They are the icons, you look at those notes, and for you they are not merely paper and paint, no! For you it is your God’s flesh. It is born in the sacred place where the entrance is forbidden for ordinary mortals. Then those divine notes get into the hands of people, and then, weary, creased and dirty, are burnt in the furnace, in order to be reborn, like a Phoenix, to once again follow their earthly path. Everyone touches money. Now, take out your wallet: can you imagine what ways has every single note moved in order to get to you? Who crackled it before anybody else? Where will it go next? A tramp, a syphilitic, a prostitute, a president, and you, all of you receive Communion with the same piece of paper. People! Wake up! The circulation of money is necessary so that you give away your power. You see, the value of money is maintained by labour, and without you money means nothing. In fact, it is merely a result of the printing press at work. Everyone can print his own money. Except that instead of collective unconscious there will be a person behind the money. You were divided so that you can be ruled. Of course, money is common… but everyone has his own money. Money costs a fortune, people cost nothing, for you are worthless because you have proved that you can turn any myth into a God. And you are ready…