Keep Passing the Open Windows! (John Irving, The Hotel New Hampshire)

Autumn's imminent
dmitry_plakhtin
Although today, August 7, is expected to be the hottest day of the year (between 3 and 4pm the temperature will rise to +33С), by the end of the week the temp will drop to +22C (+11C at night) and the rains will start pouring down.

However, it is not the temp that heralds the autumn. It is 1.40am, and the window to my bedroom is wide open (I am not using air conditioning). I feel that the light breeze carries the smell of fading leaves and bushes, of dampness. The sky is moon lit, yet it is not as bright as it was in May and June. The stars are not seen at all. In a distance a dog is barking, being walked by her master who, probably, works late.

The trains of the Belorussian Rail Road parked for the night are all covered in dew. The smell of coal is felt in the air when brought by a gust of wind.

The women who start working early and rush to the offices at 7 - 7.30am, are shrouded in warm shawls or wear pullovers and sweaters. From 6 to 7am is the coldest time of any day. The men wear suits.

Fewer people are spotted in the park going skating, skate-boarding and biking. At times the park seems completely deserted and desolate.

Beginning August the 1st the shops are selling autumn jackets, coats, rain coats etc. The swim suits and light wind jackets are stored until the next spring when the demand for them will resume.

More and more children are in the playground, on the sport facilities and everywhere in the city. Although it is too early, it is evident that they've already been to warmer spots and now are preparing to the new school season. It commences on September 1.

I always wonder how every year outgoing winter struggles with incoming spring. In Moscow the real spring begins only in mid-April. March has been long regarded as a winter month. At the same time, when I am watching the summer succumb to autumn so mildly, I am thinking that, probably, something is a bit dishonest even in nature. Or so is our local climate.

It is 2.10am in the morning now. All I hear is cars passing along the Third Circle. The windows are dark as people already enjoy sleep.

07.08.2012

Accountant restoration
dmitry_plakhtin
It's surprising that after a long while I've been able to restore my first LJ account.

I recall I tried to do it in the end of June, yet it was not possible for a technical reason.

Honestly, I don't know at the moment how frequenrly I will use the account. I think I stopped posting anything to the LJ after my Dad was admitted to a hospital after a brain stroke on March 28. Being in the hospital, he suffered one more stroke. From July 10 Dad is at home. He is taken care of by two doctors from the hospital, a nanny and Mum.

For a while I used a Facebook account where I also blogged, alhough the FB is clearly not for that purpose. One may write into her FB page about interesting news, but should do it succintly. People are publishing there their photos, videos, post some cute pictures, chatting on-line. Yet they are not blogging.

Another drawback I found on the FB is that it allows to add as friends only the people one knows in the real life. OK, what if I want to get acquinted with a person from another part of the globe to learn more about their culture, traditions, events that are happening there? It appears that one is barred from it, pursuant to the FB corporate policy.

I must admit that the two social networks, Twitter and Facebook, that I have been a part of for the time being, are both flawed to some extent. Twitter allows short messages which are not responded to most of the time. The reason is that on Twitter people of the same cluster chat with each other or exchange news, yet others are omitted.

About the Facebook deficiencies I wrote earlier.

OK for now.

06.08.2012

John Irving, The Hotel New Hampshire
dmitry_plakhtin
Reader may have noticed a motto depicted in the right upper corner of my LJ page: Keep Passing The Open Windows!

The motto has been taken from John Irving's novel "The Hotel New Hampshire".

Let me say some words about this book.

First off, it is a complex novel. It is full of charactares, events, changes, unexpected twists and turns. This book is not an easy reading. It takes time to think of its plot, the author's approach, about sequence and development of the story.

What immediately baffles an unsophisticated reader is that the first chapter of the novel is fully dedicated to a BEAR. Yes, he meant a bear, an animal. The bear served as attraction for tourists coming to a hotel located on the East Coast of the United States. The chapter is 65 or 70 pages long, and probably in the middle of reading it some readers have shut the book. However, it is worth to read on to understand why the author spent a chapter on an animal. In the same chapter we learn about the protagonists, where and how they met. And they met in the very hotel where the bear and his master, an Austrian named Freud, made their living by entertaining the hotel public.

The fact that Father of the family that the book describes served in the Army during WWII is not emphasized. There is quite a lot of material about the Father's father, who played an important role in upbringing children by giving them solid values. The father, dabbed Iowa Bob, was the character who best determined Father's state of mind: Father always lived in the future.

Having learned much of the hotel business and being a Harvard graduate, Father starts to realize his plan of converting a former girl's school into a hotel, the first Hotel New Hampshire. He would not manage the project without his wife's clever and prudent support. By the time the family started the adventure, they already had five children.

When the hotel was ready for guests, the entire family lived there too. And here is the first time where the author comes up with an important morale: as a bear cannot survive in a human society, a family cannot exist in a hotel.

The venture was quite queer in many respects, starting from the staff employed and ending with Iowa Bob's weight lifting practice, that invariably led to some barbells falling down. Three of the five kids reached their teen age, and each of them proved to be quite a complicated character.

In the first Hotel New Hampshire the children picked up that weird slogan that later has proved to be an important guideline for all of them: Keep Passing The Open Windows! This phrase was from a German language textbook. Mother and kids started to learn German upon receiving a letter from Vienna.

Father received subject letter from Freud. Freud wrote that he ran a hotel and that he wanted Father to assist him in making it better. Father accepted the offer, although Mother was not sure it must have been done.

On the transatlantic flight the family took different planes. Here reader witnesses the first tragedy afflicting the family. Mother and the youngest son, who flew a day later, never reached the European shores. The plane crashed into the sea not far from France.

Here is another interesting step the author takes. He does not concentrate much on the loss. And he does it purposefully, as a lot of new characters are to appear onstage.

Father meets Freud. Freud is blind as he was a victim of a Nazi death camp. The hotel he runs is shabby and well battered, and it hosts a strange clientele - radicals who prepared to blow out the Opera, and prostitutes. The family, now consisting of two boys and two girls, gets sandwiched between the radicals and the prostitutes. What is peculiar about the hotel is that it has a "smart bear" in the lobby. The bear is an American girl who wears a bear's costume and entertains guests and scares away naughty clients of the prostitutes.

From the first lines describing the hotel and its inhabitants, it is clear that it can hardly be improved. The name change was undertaken, the hotel became the second Hotel New Hampshire.

The real feat is that the family prevented the blast of the Opera concocted by the radicals. As a result, Father loses his eye sight.

The family stayed in Vienna for 7 years instead of two or three. Lilly, the youngest girl, discovered and developed a talent of writing. Her book was called "Trying to Grow". The name of the book came from the fact that Lilly was almost a dwarf, and she desperately wanted to grow. Her book, being sent to a New York publisher, was accepted. However, the fee offered was very small. Frank, the oldest, acted as a Lilly's agent and negotiated a better deal. In Vienna he majored in economics, while other kids - Franny, John and Lilly - majored in American literature.

The girl who played the bear was named Susie. As Franny, she was raped while being a teenager. After saving the Opera the family comes back to the US, and settles in New York. Unlike others, Lilly chooses to live in a hotel for all her short life.

Here we see another important human issue that the author speaks about. Do not overwhelm people, don't make them work faster and harder than they can. What they do under such a pressure is never as good as that created on inspiration. Frank pushed Lilly too hard to write more, and her second book was not a match to the first one. Lilly was squeezed and fully exhausted. She ended her life by throwing herself out the 14th floor of the hotel where she lived.

This has been another turning point for the family. Although Frank remained in New York, and Franny, after starring in the "Trying to Grow" movie, lived in Los Angeles, Farther wanted to return back to the very first hotel where he met his wife more than twenty years ago.

The hotel did not exist, except for some ruins reminding of what it used to be. However, the owner was alive, and for pennys he sold the ruins to Frank and John. The family did some work and turned the ruins into a kind of hotel. The third Hotel New Hampshire. Actually, the hotel existed in Father's imagination only. In fact, it was a house with some spare rooms. Very rarely guests visited this desolate place.

John and Susie started to live together. She abandoned Greenwich Village where she lived before moving to the third Hotel New Hampshire.

Susie and John turned the hotel into a rather prosperous rape crisis center.

John was 39 and Susie was over 40 when John spoke to her about having a child.

The child came from an unexpected end: Franny got pregnant and, being too busy with her film career, handed her child over to John and Susie.

This was the last morale the author tought us: having a baby is an ultimate happiness on Earth.

27.03.2012

Taking a break
dmitry_plakhtin
I have not been writing in my journal for almost a month. Firstly, I was busy, secondly, I was ill. The second circumstance is especially frustrating, as I didn't expect to fall sick at all.

Well, we are not choosing time to get unwell. An ailment is coming and has to be dealt with. It takes time, efforts and often ends up in lost opportunities, but it is the issue that needs to be addressed when it happens.

I am sincerely thankful to my parents for their kind support and attention during my ailment. I value it especially high taking into account that my Father is not well himself and is very busy at work. He told me of a sudden death of his best employee two and a half weeks ago. Kind memories forever to this colleague. Of course, I am always thankful and greatful to my Mum, my real rescuer. I love my Mum and Dad dearly.

Yet life goes on. Vladimir Putin has been elected president until 2018. His official score is 63.6%. His close rival, communist Gennady Ziuganov, won 19.2%. The third one is a billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov with 8%. Рrokhorov announced that he would be starting a liberal political party.

Mr Putin will be inaugurated on the 7th of May. Acting president, Dmitry Medvedev, is expected to be appointed the prime minister. Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev are discussing behind closed doors who will be the members of Medvedev's government. Personal changes in the Cabinet of Ministers will be announced and implemented after Mr Putin becomes president and Mr Medvedev is approved by the state parliament as prime minister.

From July 1 tariffs and taxes will be raised. At the moment we may only guess how significant the changes will be. Obviously, the monetary policy will be amended as well.

There has been an unconfirmed report that a lot of Russian families are intensifying efforts to emigrate. The report, should it be trustworthy, indicates millions of those who want to leave Russia for good.

At the same time, the local economy and Rouble are quite strong capitalizing on high oil price. The other positive factor is that Europe finally managed Greek debt issue. It appears that euro is saved as a currency, and the monetary union remains unchanged. Both Italy and Spain are implementing austerity steps to right their finances. The weak link is Portugal. Yet the country is small and is also committed to an austerity program, therefore there is hope that Europe's financial woes are being left behind.

Let us see what will happen next inside and outside Russia.

27.03.2012

The Day of Silence
dmitry_plakhtin
Today is a quiet day after months of the pre-election hysteria. Pursuant to the law, the day on the eve of the election is supposed to be used by the electorate to make their final choice, not being impacted by any opinions.

I have not been making my choice today, as I made up my mind long ago: tomorrow I will cast a ballot for Prokhorov. I realize that it is unlikely that he will catch up with the favorite, prime minister Putin, but Prokhorov is a presidential nominee most acceptable for me.

Today I recalled the events that took place after the parliamentary election. Two meeting in December, another one in February, plus some actions like "the white band", car runs around the Garden Ring, people standing around the Ring holding hands. The actions indicated that the original protest has been turned into a festivity. When it happened, the protest began to deflate. In the last two weeks nobody doubted Putin's victory. At the moment it is unclear what we should expect in the days after March the 4th.

As the protesters belong to the class that has a lot to lose if the economy or the financial system or anything else collapses, it is unlikely that any meeting will lead to a resolute action. There will be a meeting on March the 5th, then, probably, on the 8th or the 10th, and then I anticipate the protests to dwindle.

Nevertheless, let us find time tomorrow, March the 4th, and cast our ballot for a candidate we feel is the best for each of us.

03.03.2012

The First Day of Spring
dmitry_plakhtin
Today is the 1st of March, and it is the first day of the calendar spring. March is still a cold month in our latitude, nonetheless it's a beginning of the spring.

This year March is marked by an important event - the presidential election. Therefore there is much less talk about the beginning of spring.

This article is not about politics. It is dedicated to what we feel when the spring finally comes. The commencement of a spring is definitely enhanced by
a holiday, the 8th of March.

So what do we feel at the beginning of a spring?

The first thing everyone looks forward to is that the spring is followed by a summer. When it is in the back of our mind that the next season will be warmer and sunnier than the current one, it lifts our spirit up. The summer season is associated with holidays, which are always very much awaited.

The other thing is that we are thinking that as the weather improves, other things will get better as well. This holds true for the relationships, for business deals, for other tasks we must resolve. Lonely people are more optimistic about finding a partner.

When freezing stops and the day time temperature rises up to positive numbers, the puddles start drying, and the streets are getting much cleaner. This is a significant advantage over a weather when our boots, pants, skirts and coats are dirty from the mix of snow, rain, dust and street filth.

A real wonder of the late spring is that the nature is beginning to bloom, and the little light green leaves rise up on the trees and bushes. Birds singing on the twigs and branches add to the festive spirit.

The above list can never be complete, whoever makes it. Everyone seeks in the spring time something beautiful for him/ herself.

In any case, it is already good news that the calendar winter gave way to the calendar spring. After a while, the winter will fully give up to the spring. The real spring.

01.03.2012

The English Language
dmitry_plakhtin
I am fond of the English language. My goal is to make it the second language I can easily speak.

Despite the fact that I have been using English for 20 years, the last three years have become the period when the language became my hobby and a subject of unabating interest.

I would compare learning English with getting a particular skill. This holds true for learning any other foreign language.

Let us have a sports analogy. If one wants to run fast, they have to run, starting from a slow jogging and eventually switching to a higher pace. If one wishes to jump high, they have to jump, putting the bar higher as the progress is achieved.

At the same time one should not forget that, being an amateur jogger, it is impossible to reach the speed of a Jamaican runner or stamina of a Kenian athlete. These are professional sportsmen who have mastered the sport by bringing their speed to the record level. No matter how hard we run, we can hardly catch up with those athletes.

The same holds true for foreign language learners. For reading well, one should read. For writing well, the one must try to compose some texts. Listening comprehension is achieved where the one listens to the radio in the chosen language, watches TV, listens to how native speakers communicate to each other. However, the best result is gotten where the person, aiming for improving their listening comprehension, talks with a native speaker. A preferable native speaker is the one who does not speak at all the learner's mother's tongue. But beware of a snag: English is spoken differently in the UK, in Ireland, in the USA, in Australia, in New Zealand, in India, in Hong Kong, in African countries. It is, of course, the same language, but the pronounciation may differ as day and night. The accent one hears and catches from their teacher may be completely different from that used in a country the one travels to. A classical example is a student who learned to speak English with an American tutor and who arrived in the UK.

When I turn on CNN or BBC or any other TV or radio channel broadcasting in English, I understand that I cannot emulate the language of the program anchor. And this is natural, because I live in a non-English speaking environment. Yet I keep trying to get closer to that anchor.

29.02.2012

Apologies
dmitry_plakhtin
I apologize for starting to overlook incidental errors in the text that I am writing.

It looks like the spell check no longer works for the texts typed in a language other than Russian.

On the other hand, it is an incentive to check much more carefully what I am posting before the text is available for readers.

29.02.2012

Staying Healthy
dmitry_plakhtin
Everyone of us thought at some point of life what to do to stay fit and healthy. There is a good American proverb: one can never be too slim or too rich.

Today I am talking of being slim and healthy.

When we are young, everything we eat serves the purpose of constructing our body. By being young I imply the physical age: for girls it is until 21 and for men it is until 27.

Usually that part of life - after finishing school at 17 until getting married on average at 23-25 for girls and 27-32 for men - is passing at the speed of light. These are the most active years we live.

What is happening after that? We are getting absorbed by every day life, having chores at work, at home, with our kids. We often forget or say we don't have time to exercise and adhere to a healthy diet. We are gradually putting on weight and starting to feel worse. It is the time when the first signals of an approaching illness are heard. I would like to repeat that it is on average. There are men and women who are lean, sportive and active into much older age in life.

The doctors are saying that it is necessary to exercise at least 15 minutes a day. Well, it is definitely better than nothing, yet clearly this is not enough. It must be at lest an hour spent every day walking, jogging, playing games, lifting weights, riding a bike, swimming in the pool or doing anything else what is pleasant and repetitive.

At the moment we are seeing a trend, a fashion for being slim. The trend was pioneered by the public people: actors, actresses, TV hosts, politicians. At some companies it is considered irrespectful if one is overweight. Therefore fitness clubs, from very expensive ones to those in one's vicinity, are packed with people. And it is a good sign.

Every time I am taking a stroll in the nearest park, I see people jogging and exercising. I meet those people early in the morning, at midday, in the evening. Most of them are lean, and they look healthy.

The other component of our healthy existence and longevity is diet. Do we think of what we eat? I am putting outside the brackets the issue of choice. These days there are shops and supermarket chains for every income. Do we choose apples over candies and cakes? Do we buy fresh meet to cook or opt for a sausage? Do we fry food or steam or boil it? How much butter and cheese do we eat? Don't we think that switching to healthier stuff would do us good and let us free of acquired or upcoming ailments?

Let us not forget about children. They eat the adult's food from the age of three. If they stuff their little bellies with fat fried food, consume as much candies as they want, how can we expect them to grow healthy, slim, sportive, and eventually successful in life?

All the questions have the right answers. It does not matter if a one found them herself or has been assisted by a professional. We know it.

28.02.2012

Modern Technologies: Good or Evil?
dmitry_plakhtin
Every time I am visiting a Euroset store or any other store of a similar kind, I am mesmerized by the selection of mobile phones, laptop computers, net books and so on.

Life is making people use technologies at work, at home, on the go, for communicating with colleagues, relatives and friends, for learning what's happened in the world around. Although modern means of communication are intended to keep us closer to colleagues, to home, to relatives, to friends, they, quite often, perform an opposite function: the modern communication devices keep us more alienated, more estranged.

Reliance on modern devices often reduces our willingness to meet in person, to speak face-to-face.

A nightmare of the modern office life is teleconferencing. Instead of a personal meeting, partners talk through a computer screen. No matter how good the monitor is and how well the sound is adjusted, this communication will never substitute a direct conversation, where the partners seat around the table and look in each other's eyes. Well, I fully acknowledge that if a simple or minor issue needs to be imparted, it may be and should be done via teleconferencing. Whenever an important matter is to be spoken about or decided upon, the partners should make an effort to meet face-to-face. There are, certainly, urgent moments, where a decision must be taken as promptly as possible. Then the modern means of communication justify themselves.

Let us turn our attention to what is going on at our homes, which are filled with computers and various gadgets. No doubt, Internet has become a vital part of our every day life at home and at work. Unfortunately, it is quite rear that children are taught to select information which is useful for them, which is contributing to expansion of their knowledge. Speaking of children, we should not forget the issue of information noise. Being absorbed in the noise, children don't use scarce time for doing home work, for outdoors exercising, for meeting with friends.

Adults are not immune to the problem. It is much more a men's issue. Having come home after an exhausting day at work, they seat at the computer and play games or browse the sites not worth to spend time on. Things don't get done, important matters get put off, even children may be neglected.

Many of us, children and adults, recognize ourselves in the narrative. I recognize myself as well, although I am trying to avoid information noise. Sometimes, after I seat at my computer for hours, I blame myself for not having used precious time differently, more purposefully. Did I really need that piece of information that I waisted two hours for? I am afraid I cannot reply in the affirmative.

Let us have a close look and carefully decide where modern technologies really support us, and where we are simply killing time and ourselves while abusing them.

27.02.2012

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