Monday, November 07, 2005

"Love, Love Me Do" and "Lenin, Kharkov, Da-Da-Da!"

Today, oddly enough, is the anniversary of the Great October Revolution (thanks to a switch to the Gregorian calendar). But you’ll see no great displays of red in the streets of Kharkov; that came last week (and the displays were neither great nor public) when, while walking over to Sumskaya Street, I saw a line of young people, the oldest maybe eighteen, carrying red flags and banners and chanting, “Lenin! Kharkov! Da-da-da!” The da-da-da might not have been a yes-yes-yes! I seem to recall hearing what sounded like a string of verbs or nouns or maybe even a Capitalized Essence or two. But my understanding of Russian is limited, and so I can only translate it like the tag-line to a Beatles ditty. Anyways, it’s a suitable approximation, I think. They were pumping their flags and raising their voices and police officers were at the front and the rear, looking as bored as cops do when they’re told to do something “just in case things get out of hand.” The kids stopped in the middle of a park where brides and grooms like to get their picture taken, and there they gathered in a circle, the shape favored by the alcoholic, environmentalist and slam-dancer, and chanted some more; only now they were louder and more passionate. I thought to walk nearer, but again, my Russian is still at the elementary stage. So I didn’t want to sidle up alongside them, whisper into someone’s ear (“What’re the saying?”) and then learn it was something about driving the foreigners out of town. So I went for a cup of coffee instead.

In neighboring Russia, today is no longer a day off from work. A holiday honoring the Communist coup was replaced this year by one honoring November 4th as National Unity Day. Something about heroic actions taken in the year 1612. I don’t know. But then neither do many Russians.