boris pasternak: 2 posts

Boris Pasternak : Let’s drop words as gardens drop orange-peel and amber

The garden stood still and fragile, ready to drop golden leaves at the gentlest breeze. I woke up early and as I stepped out of the house, I didn’t anticipate the ethereal beauty of autumn. I too stood still, my hand outstretched to pick a red apple forgotten on a bare branch. Fall cast its spell on me, and I didn’t want to shake it off.

The last time I was in Ukraine in autumn was in 1993, but I don’t recall visiting Poltava, the place where my grandmother Valentina lives, at that time. When I still lived in Ukraine, I would usually be in school. Once I was already abroad, I would return only in spring or summer. This spontaneous visit happened because of a series of events out of my control, but as I stood in the orchard filled with golden light, I realized what a gift fate has given me. To experience perfect beauty when one least expects it is after all one of the greatest blessings in life.

Such moments aren’t grand. As Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960) writes in one of his most moving poems, “life, like an autumn stillness, is all detail.” Noticing these details and capturing them is essential. When people ask me why I find the sense of smell so fascinating, I respond simply–it allows me to pay attention to details. If you notice the scent of fallen leaves, you will also notice the delicate etching of their veins, the lemon yellow hue, the silvery mist that turns the landscape into an impressionist painting, the sound your steps make in a quiet orchard. Your ability to slow down and pay attention to such things is the essence of enjoying life, of living it fully, of savoring every moment, whatever the circumstances.

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Reading for Late Summer Days

It’s the time of les vacances in Brussels. The streets are quiet. The parks are deserted, especially during the week. This summer tourists have taken the warnings of their home countries to heart and have mostly stayed away. I have the city to myself. So I take a book to a park, sit on the grass and read. (It’s a rare luxury in these parts, a fact demonstrated by the distinct lack of outdoor scenery in my picture. It started raining just when I had time for a photography session.)

books summer recommendations

The question then becomes what book to pick. A romance, a detective novel or a great classic? Walt Whitman once commented that the only reason he didn’t become overwhelmed by a steady diet of Sophocles, Homer, Aeschylus, and Dante was “likely because I read them… in the full presence of Nature, under the sun, with the far-spreading landscape and vistas, or the sea rolling in.” My selection is less lofty–simply some of my new and old favorites.

Agota Kristof The Illiterate

It’s fitting that I discovered the work of a Hungarian writing in French while reading a book by an American author writing in Italian. In her explorations of self and language, In Other Words (see my review), Jhumpa Lahiri mentioned being touched by Kristof’s experience. Kristof was born in Hungary and moved to Switzerland in 1956 as a refugee, and while she gained safety, she ended up in a social desert as she lost her language. The Illiterate is a series of stories about her love of reading, her family, her writing. They are tragic but also hopeful, and I related to them. I didn’t cross a frontier as an infant and didn’t have to work at a Swiss watch factory while writing poetry in my spare minutes, but having left the place where I was born, relatives, friends, and the familiar language(s), I can understand the anguish.

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