The year that changed my reading habits

Delete, delete, delete.  I wipe one unfinished book after another off my Goodreads currently reading list, some of these books were on that list since about 2015 and the number kept growing and growing.

This year’s challenge does not look too promising either. Eleven out of 30 thus far, there are less than two months to go till the end of the year. Most likely, I will not even make it half-way. Two years ago I pledged to read 45 books, the year ended with 52. Only two books on this year’s read list are works of fiction. The change is also striking, but I suppose these changes only reflect the turbulent reality of 2017. 

Fiction used to be a refuge in the darkest of days, but fact is that the imaginary worlds also drew me in because they were a form of escapism. I do credit imaginary worlds of fiction for keeping me sane, for safekeeping a light at the end of the tunnel, but what this year has shown is that I started to live differently. Some days are still dark, some are also full of terror. This year has been one of, no, THE most emotionally charged of my life and it has taught me a great many lessons about my self. I have realized that I have changed, and so have my reading habits. I no longer intend to put frames, I do not intend to erase, rewind and press play. This is a new start on a blank page.

My #HarryPotter20

My, I do feel so old when I think it has been 20 years since I first laid my hands on Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. The first book, one that I borrowed from a childhood friend has changed the way I see the world, but that’s what J.K.Rowling’s books did for most of the readers.

Those days weren’t the brightest ones I could look back on. Book one was borrowed, books two and three were brought by my parents, who went to Moscow to earn some money. When the Goblet of Fire came out,  I had to sell my copies of the Chamber of Secrets and the Prizoner of Azkaban in order to be able to afford to buy the latest installment.  A penpal sent me her copy of the Order of the Phoenix. Another friend from England sent me the Half-Blood Prince.  The last chapter, the Deathly Hallows, became the one – the first book – that I could truly buy on my own…

One of my closest relative blamed all my faults and mistakes on that book series. I forgot something – Harry Potter was to blame, I never did something – it was all about Harry. The smallest of missteps oftentimes resulted in degrading words about the books that – I’m not afraid to say it – kept me sane and, however irrational it may have seemed at these points, they kept me hopeful. These books have also made me loyal to the ones I have let into my life till the last.

I speak/know/understand 7 languages. Going on 8 right now… When people hear this, they are almost always perplexed. How can this be possible? For those that do not know, I am from Moldova – a country which is not only bilingual, but is a country which brings together languages of two different groups. So, since childhood I have gradually gained understanding of languages of both Slavic and Latin origins. Russian and Romanian were the beginning. Harry Potter and J.K.Rowling taught me English. I have re-read the series in every language that followed. French, Spanish, Czech… Every line, every word in a language that I did not yet quite grasp was familiar and every time, I felt like I was reading the series for the first time. Just a little bit like that.

J.K.Rowling created a home for me, she created my friends, my escape and my consolation, her words stopped me from falling to pieces many, many times, she made me fall in love with English and helped me discover other languages. That is what she did for me and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Ghosts of distant past: looking for relatives in 19th century Poland (Part I)

It’s almost midnight, and I’m supposed to be in bed, but my head is buzzing like a group of ravenous bumblebees because I found a picture of a graveyard monument. Yes, when you spend months holed up in a tiny room on the outskirts of Paris things could get even stranger. There, before my eyes, covered in green ivy, lay the tombstone of one 70-something Dimitry Bartniczuk, year of death 1912. My great-great-great-somebody from my mother’s side of the family. His grave was just at on the other side of the screen, and quite frankly, I was ecstatic about it.

Dimitrii Bartniczuk, lived 78 years, died on January 28, 1912

Researching my Polish relatives became a personal question for two reasons. One – the fact that our family history – and the way people moved around countries – is not exactly the most common story you may hear. Blame it on the journalistic instincts, or the pure and enduring love of history, but the matter of people long dead yet not forgotten was too fascinating to let go. And the other…  The other reason shall remain not for print.


Anatomy of cruelty

They were running when they heard the shots, my mum said. Some sort of PE class outside of school. Chisinau city workers were shooting stray dogs with rifles, in the open, in daylight and in front of children. That was in the 1970s, sadly, over 40 years on when it comes to stray dogs on the streets of the Moldovan capital, the only thing that changed is the weapon of choice. Now, the penalty for barking, distrust of humans and a rare attempts to snap is poison, or an iron club that would smash the head in and make the tail stop wagging. That’s what happens at home. 

I spent almost half of my childhood at my grandparent’s place. They still live in one of those typical Soviet five-storey buildings that you so often see in the cities of former USSR. Those were the days of rooftops, park adventures and dogs. You don’t ask where they come from, I suppose. Back home, we had a Rottweiler, Sabrina. I loved her dearly. There was my Saba and the other dogs. Back in the day I made no difference.

In gran’s yard there lived Tobik, a bearded beige fellow. Baby – a pincher with shiny jet-black fur and and I-love-you-all-to-bits temperament. There was Red, a furry stray constantly limping around and not letting people close. Somebody broke her paw and it never really grew back together. She was constantly afraid of all moving things. I managed to pet her once, I think she even licked my hand – before she disappeared forever. And finally, there was Palkan. The staffie cross with “tiger” stripes and piercing yellow eyes. Almost everyone in the building thought him dangerous. I thought him strange and magnetic. That’s how our friendship began.

 A little kindness and Palkan started following me around everywhere. He started to live by my grandmother’s door, curling up on the rug for the night by the 4th floor apartment. Not everyone liked him there, even though the most trouble he’d get into would be an occasional squabble with the staffordshire from the 5th and barks at drunkards that used to wonder in sometimes. Us, my family, he’d sense us coming up the stairs just as we entered the building. He’d poke his head between the rails and wait… Palkan had this hilarious habit of greeting you with the front of his body lying down on the side, and his bum in the air, tail waging ferociously… About three years of wonderful moments with the dog I never owned, until he disappeared too. He’d wonder off sometimes, for days, but would always come back. Until he just didn’t. Once, a car tried to run the both of us over, because he dared to bark at the driver. My grandmother’s neighbor from two floors down was known to feed stray dogs with meet laced with poison and sometimes – sewing needles. Gran looked for him around the neighborhood and went to the dog pound, hoping that he wasn’t yet butchered like all of the other dogs that ended up there. We never saw Palkan again, until one day I met his spitting image one year later, a female stray which must have been his sister. I almost cried of shock seeing the resemblance….

Palkan was one of the thousands of dogs that fell victim to the cruelty of Moldovan street life. I’ve been living abroad for quite some time, and each time I return to Chisinau one thing is blatantly evident – there are less and less dogs in the streets, but you barely ever see stray dogs as pets. So, what happens to all of the puppies and their parents and grandparents? They are simply killed in a manner that would have revolted any civilized society, not to mention a country with pretension to enter the European Union.

Animal cruelty is an inherent problem in Moldovan society. By all means, as a dog owner throughout my whole life and a friend of many people who can’t imagine life without a furry friend, I don’t brand all of my compatriots cruel and abusive. On the contrary, quite a few people in Chisinau can’t stand seeing starving animals in their yards and in their streets. Yet, the problem is big and it’s impossible to ignore.

Where do these dogs come from? A lot of them are thrown out. Untrained, eating too much, becoming a baggage after the death of an elderly owner… you name it. Some – consider the dogs a commodity, nothing better than a piece of furniture. Some dogs run off from their callous owners. It’s quite common to see a stray with a German shepherd or Staffordshire terrier traits. Some despicable owners allow their male dogs to breed with strays, as they watch. Just like that, breeding more miserable dogs just because they think their pure-breed boy needs some “entertainment”. In some extreme cases, you could see dog fur belts and dog fat being sold, because according to some – there’s no better remedy….

In the end, thanks to a handful of very common issues Chisinau was left with thousands of unattended pets. And what has been done about them? Organized murder. In Chisinau, there’s a place called the Necropolis, where all caught stays are butchered by city worker. They used to use electricity, now it’s mostly smashing the dog’s head in. The photographs taken near the place over the years are some of the most gruesome things you’d see in your life. Cut off heads and paws, skinned dogs, puppies burned in the fire… There’s no end to it.  The most horrifying thing is that these workers who commit such atrocities, they don’t go around streets looking for dogs – they are called. Barely anyone asks questions or bothers to think what happens with the dogs afterwards. Sometimes, dogs are poisoned by ordinary people. Just because. Admittedly, some packs grow to be dangerous, but on and on, dogs that have been fed by half of the building, neutered and loved by the local children get killed. Sometimes, just in front of the children they play with. 

Adoption is rare. Some of the dogs that have been picked up on the streets end up there again in a while. There are several shelters, none founded by the government. A number of those receive funding from charity organizations in Germany, a few others exist on the mere enthusiasm of its workers and occasional donations from the locals and animal lovers from abroad. One of these shelter, “Live” has a neuter program, aiming to release the dogs and thus help reduce their population. Numerous international animal protection organizations whom Moldovan campaigners have addressed have offered no tangible help or recommendation whatsoever. Animal rights activists received numerous replies stating no interest, inability to help (even with campaign recommendations). Last one of those, stated that that particular international organization helped Romanian stray dogs only. All strays need help, everywhere, yet a blunt refusal to provide even informational council or an attempt to pressure our government and city officials – in the light of all the factual proof, photographs and testimonies that Moldovan animal protection organization can provide – that’s abandonment. With the absence of funding, government support (no animal protection laws!) and the dangers of the streets it’s a fight that’d  last for dozens of years to come.