19 September 2013

Library cat

Source--with partial transcript, in Russian.

PJ and Scripachka ... a winter pose.
Elektrostal's cemetery cat on Easter.
McDonalds also has a cat! Please supply a
I'm always fascinated by the fact that anytime I post something involving cats on Facebook, the likes just flood in. My posts about Syria or gun control get maybe one tenth of the attention. This of course says nothing about my friends; they (you) have lots of sources for information and commentary about Syria, and care intensely, but everyone needs a cat or two simply to stay sane!

Most of my cat posts on Facebook feature our own Skripachka and PJ, but as soon as I read about this library cat in today's Moscow Times, I knew I had to track down the story. I was not disappointed; when I found the original feature on the Channel 1 Web site, I knew I had to post it on Facebook. So far it's not my most popular post--that honor goes to Skripachka and PJ helping Judy get over her cold--but it's by far my most shared! And I'm actually delighted, because there's really a lot of Russia in this brief report. I particularly appreciate the librarian who picks up Kuzya and says, "Wake up, little guy, wake up, it's time to go to work, dear." Later she explains that she's learned to understand his expressions and gestures: "We've found a common language." You get a glimpse of the humor and generosity of spirit that marks this country, as well as the organizational culture--even the document officially defining Kuzya's status and position. There's also the veterinary passport, showing that Kuzya's immunizations are up to date, so that parents can be sure their children's health is not at risk, as the reporter explains.

Of course Kuzya has real responsibilities--to gladden the hearts of the library's young patrons, and to post book recommendations on the library's Web site. As of this date, the first recommendation is Terry Pratchett's The Unadulterated Cat! If mice fit into Kuzya's job description, we're not told. In any case, long may Kuzya serve the young readers of Novorossiisk!

While we're on the subject of Russia and books, just a quick note about some of the most agonizing and riveting reading I've ever done: Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales.I'm only about two-thirds of the way through this book, even though I've been reading it for over a month. The book consists of a series of vivid semi-fictional sketches and vignettes--some only four or five pages--describing scenes, incidents, and personalities drawn from his life in the Stalin-era Kolyma labor camps of eastern Siberia from 1937 to 1951. Beyond the gratuitous cruelty, systematic dehumanization, and unforgiving winter climate of those years (not to mention the incidental fact that he was guilty of nothing), his deadpan delivery both masks and mirrors the utter passivity of someone who's lost even the strength to hope or plan. Getting through today is all that counts--and doing whatever it takes to avoid being sent back to the gold mines.
We had no pride, vanity, or ambition, and jealousy and passion seemed as alien to us as Mars, and trivial in addition. It was much more important to learn to button your pants in the frost. Grown men cried if they weren't able to do that. We understood that death was no worse than life, and we feared neither. We were overwhelmed by indifference. We knew that it was in our power to end this life the very next day and now and again we made that decision, but each time life's trivia would interfere with our plans. Today they would promise an extra kilo of bread as a reward for good work, and it would be simply foolish to commit suicide on such a day. The following time the orderly of the next barracks would promise a smoke to pay back an old debt.
In his foreword, John Glad says, "If you are about to read the stories of Varlam Shalamov for the first time, you are a person to be envied, a person whose life is about to be changed, a person who will envy others once you yourself have forded these waters." A bold prediction for any book, and one that, in my case, seems completely justified.

Even so, I can't read even a few pages without stopping and practically gasping for air. I've taken to indulging in big gulps of kind and sentimental books (Nicholas Sparks, for example) in between exquisite helpings of Shalamov.

And why we're on the subject of Internet behavior (back to Facebooks and cats), what's up with the business and career networking service LinkedIn? Suddenly I'm flooded with endorsements for my supposed abilities and qualifications. Some of these things I think I'm actually good at, so thank you! But what do I do when I receive endorsements for things I never claimed to be able to do at all? What do you do?

Concerning Aleksei Naval'ny, second-place finisher in the recent Moscow mayoral election, I asked rhetorically last week whether those who criticize his latent authoritarianism seriously expected "... a leader to emerge who is shy about being a leader?" This article explores some of those authoritarian worries.

Have you heard about the Fairphone? Would you pay over $500 for a smartphone that you would not actually receive for months--on the understanding that its manufacturers were attempting to be serious about corporate ethics and environmental values? And could we foresee a future in which many other major purchases would be planned for on a similar basis?

"Edward Said Speaks Candidly..."

"Why Quakers need the Christian Community Development Association, and vice versa."

"Here's how to smell out a manipulator in a religious setting...." This is important, as I know from painful personal memory.

I think I posted part of this French TV segment with Cat Power and Buddy Guy some time ago. Now I'm glad to see that the whole segment is online.

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