A Diary of Reflections

A Diary of Reflections


photo by Jef Bonifacino


It is a city which has no memory of itself, but whom I remember wherever I go. I cannot live without it, but with it, I cannot live in peace. I drink it, like one drinks salted water. And I cannot drink it over. It doesn’t clench my thirst and does not let me sleep at night; it is demanding, but it does not promise anything in return. But should you be one day with it, it would not let you go away and if it did, it would come back to you in dreams and would call for you to come back to it.



-  So where you going?

He lifts his shoulders.

-  I don’t know yet. It does not really matter where… What matters is what you are leaving from. Nobody should be living here.

I smile and pour him a warm cup of tea.

- Yes, but still, I’m serious… People have nothing to do here. Here there should have been marshes, storks and frogs… The lungs of Europe. That’s how it was thought out. From the start. We are here as an added feature. Don’t you feel it? He looks at me through his clear eyes where there is no trace of irony, only tiredness.

I stop smiling. We remain silent a long time. Smoking. Tea is going cold. Through the window, one can see the night falling. And this city which should not exist.




Minsk only exist for me through and thanks to concrete people whom I love and who live here. It is a ghost city which my conscience draws up every day under a certain effort. On the map of my Minsk, some streets and quarters do not appear, as none of my acquaintances live there. On this map, there is not a lot of historic monuments and the little house of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party only remains on it because, one day, I had a beer at the nearing kiosk with my friends.

My whole life, I have built this city with the zealous eagerness of an ant, filling blanks on the map. It now appears like a on a sheet of paper like a decal; a city which I have imagined, which should not have existed.




If only I lived in Saint Petersburg or Paris, everything would be different. But I am a third-generation Minsker; I cannot go away from this city where I have grown but which I have outgrown…

The first time that I went to Paris, I had a look around me and I thought to myself: would I like to live in this city built to be lived in? As soon as the second day, I knew that I would not. Paris, like other cities that one admires, is similar to these suits with odd shoulders. Let’s admit that it is Haute Couture, their designer still has not thought them up to suit me.



However the designer of Minsk certainly did not have me in mind when he thought up this city. Overall, this city was thought out in a semi-conscious state, in the middle of a feverish outbreak. And it only exists in sketches, outlines and models. That is why I’m cutting out this city to fit my fancy. I think of it as I would like to see it, almost certain that, without me, everything would simply disappear; as would a drawing on the asphalt.


It is not possible to imagine Paris; everything was already thought up. One can live there, but living there would be a little too thought through for me.




I live in an old two-storey house in the centre of the city, in the quarter built by German war prisoners after World War II. In the summer, here, everything is drowned in greenery and blooming flowerbeds under the windows. Here, wooden staircases lead to the building entrance, there are gas boilers in the apartments, attic apartments are used as artist studios. Linen hangs to dry in the courtyard.


… I am happy to live precisely here, in that little Minsk so different from our present-day Minsk. Here time flows in a different way as, for 50 years nothing has been destroyed. For Minsk, half a century of quietness is a lot. I have a feeling that it is even slightly too much: the little Minsk is self-disintegrating, its plaster is crumbling, its old walls are covered with spidery cracks.

One day, it will disappear; it will be just as if it were not here anymore and everything will start over. From scratch.

But for now I live here.




Haven’t you ever wondered that life could be different? Not better, not worse, just different? Looking back, I see that this and that happened and it is easy to draw the conclusion that things could not have been any different. “It was destiny”. And events immediately take a specific meaning. However, destiny only gives you, at best, possible life scenarios. At every moment, we choose one of them. Sometimes, we follow our intuition; very seldom, we do it consciously. Later on, we catch ourselves thinking “but what if…” Life is like a game without any known rule, nor aim. It is up to each one of us to invent the aims and the rules. Only one rule remains unchanged: if only exists until and never after…




When we were little, we were smaller… In our family photo album, there is a photograph: I am sitting in a large shopping bag out which my tousled head is coming. I saw this photograph on many occasions; not so long ago, in the storeroom, I found this very bag and I put it near me. It was about knee-high.

Each one of us certainly has a similar memory. One day, a sense of understanding overcomes us to our very soul: our childhood, the people we are close to, what we have already achieved; all this is waiting for us there, on the other side of the fence. I think that we physically die because, at a given time, we have less things left here than there are there.

Culture stands for the possibility to return what cannot usually be returned. To a certain extent, it is a game with death…




I have never doubted that life was a dream. I have very rapidly felt that life was an illusion of reality.

Dream bewitches you by allowing reversals. You can go back to your dreams, even if you just woke up, you can live your dream again and make it last.

You cannot do that with real life.

Almost never.

But life here is like a dream. Minsk is a city which invites you to dream. It is outwardly more than conditional, volatile and ever changing; only yesterday, I was walking down Lenin street towards Skorina street passing through an old square boasting pretentious granites and marbles, with a pompous bronze statue and I suddenly felt the urge to narrow my eyes: maybe I am sleeping and I am in Rome at the time of its fall?.. And if tomorrow, instead of the monument to Dzerzhinsky, I saw here a bust of Caesar, I would not be surprised. It is just a dream and it will fade away, the same way as the 900 years this city went through faded away without a trace.

It is interesting to note that, in my dreams, Minsk is never present.

It is impossible to dream about a city which only exist in your imagination and your memory.

In Minsk, it is good to be an artist.

Life in Minsk is like life within a picture.

In Minsk, it is good to be a Buddhist.

Life is merely a dream.




The Ancient Chinese believed that the Golden Age of mankind occurred a long time ago and that all our civilisation novelties were only pulling us away. The world is breaking down and leading us to nowhere.

I increasingly agree with that. Medieval churches are beautiful, even if they are crumbling. What good has come out of architecture after Gaudi? “The Empire State Building”?

Will we be able to worship what we have built?

I have never been optimistic about our “bright future”, should it be Soviet or American, it will taste like hamburger and be as cold as armed concrete; numerous psychoanalyses and little poetry. Nobody will ever build anything comparable to Notre Dame; it would not be rational.

“It is unlikely that we can still save the world, yet, we can save Man”




… You say: “culture, it is nice dreams that we imagine for ourselves and then for the others”? Perhaps… When I dream of something in particular, when I wake up, I grab a pencil and I unevenly and hurriedly write down my dream on a sheet of paper… If you slow down, even just a little, the dream has escaped your memory. It fades away like your foggy breath on a glass…

Perhaps life is merely a dream which you have trouble remembering when you wake up… The dream of wind and September rain…



Here people lived not thanks to, but in spite of, forgetting their language and learning to speak another one, without remembering their past, perhaps because that past carried a lot of blood and suffering?.. In the same country lived victims and tormentors, patriots and cosmopolitans; people were born, loved and died because life is greater than any ideology, it is greater than any representation setting down what life is; life should simply be, in spite of everything.




Minsk is small and the world is big; living in Minsk you live even longer beside the world and the world will be aside from you, far away. You cannot find your self in Minsk and by not finding your selfhood, you cannot go anywhere because, in order to live, you need to know where you are coming from and where you are going…




In Minsk there is not enough history: Minsk did have a history, but there is almost trace left of it in the urban architecture. In Paris, you can walk down streets in which eighty years ago Hemingway was walking. In Minsk, you cannot even walk in the streets of your childhood…




Why, if you had to leave, do you always wonder: “will I come back?” And why do you always appraise the strength of your affection for the places and the times you live in? Why do you endlessly beseech yourself in changing by looking to new places and wondering: could I live here?..

People scrutinise other people’s houses thus when they do not own one of their own…

What then is the “national spirit”? Can it be put into words if it is a feeling which, therefore, only exists aside from words, originally, like the ability to breath?..

And does it really exist if you often find it so hard to breathe in your house that you are feeling dizzy and your temples are throbbing?