Yana walked into my classroom twenty five years ago when I was teaching Russian at night-school. I had a class of twenty people who were all fired up by the recent fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War and who wanted to learn Russian for work, travel or because it was just really cool. I was struggling like hell with this huge class of monoglot Englishmen, most of whom assumed that if they could learn the alphabet, everything else would fall into place, and none of whom even knew what a verb was, never mind a past passive participle with a feminine genitive plural ending. (Yup, that’s a real thing in Russian, I’m not making it up).
I was delighted when this young teacher, a friend of one of my students, walked in and asked if she could help. I hardly glanced at her, just gave her half the class and told her to get on with it. She did so and thus dug me out of a nasty hole. This became the pattern for many years. Yana has rescued me from despair on a number of occasions. She was there when my first child was born, she helped me through the death of my father and she has always been there when I’ve needed her.
21 March 2015
Yakitori, Cardiff Bay
Yana decided that we should eat sushi. I explained that I didn’t really like sushi but she just said “no, it’s delicious”. I’ve been around Russians for long enough to know there’s no point in arguing with them. If they say sushi, you eat sushi. As it was a beautiful spring day we went down to Cardiff Bay, to a Japanese restaurant called Yakitori.
The restaurant looks like most Japanese places in the UK: clean lines, minimalist decoration, long beech tables and benches, Chinese waiters. Not sure how that works, maybe Europeans are supposed to be unable to tell that their undoubtedly Asian waiter is not Japanese. Our waiter gave the game away quite early on by not knowing the word ‘nori’, which is the green, paper like seaweed that the classic sushi is encased in and probably enters the average Japanese child’s vocabulary shortly after ‘mama’ and ‘dada’.
The food was pretty good, Yana declared the sushi excellent, although she also confessed that she’d never had it before, so I’m not quite clear on how she knows. I found it tolerable, which is high praise for me. The noodles we also had were a bit slimy and there was far too much chicken in mine, but I know virtually nothing about Japanese food so maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.
The food was an irrelevance compared to the conversation with Yana which as ever, was eccentric and inspiring. She talks about people being re-incarnated, sending telepathic messages and harnessing positive energy in the matter of fact way most of us talk about the amount of traffic on the M4. This is the person who recently explained my younger son’s firm grasp of physics with a remarkable piece of information – didn’t we know that there is now a generation of human/alien hybrids? She said this in front of several people who didn’t know her very well and had perhaps thought my descriptions of her were exaggerated. I had the pleasure of watching them trying to process this and work out an appropriate response.
After lunch we walked through the Bay and had coffee in the opera house. Cardiff Bay is amazing these days, a million miles from the terrifying slum of my childhood. As usual, Yana seemed much happier inside the building than out. She was born and bred in the ancient and beautiful city of Kiev and always seems happier inside. During coffee we had more improbable conversation, but I also received some sage advice and an interesting perspective on a few things that have been pre-occupying me lately. My cynicism, never far from the surface, always goes into overdrive when I’m with Yana, but I would never deny that I love being with her, greedily gobbling up her energy and her positivity. I bask in the warm sunlight of her affection for me which is profound and boundless, she is a true friend.