Category Archives: Portraits

My sister’s first name

My sister’s first name pours light on her character. My father did well choosing a name for her. It is hard to say what was there first: her name or her shiny character.

Her name is Svetlana. “Svet” means “light” in Russian.

She was actually named Maya at first, because she was born in May. All the relatives who knew about her birth were calling her by this name for almost a month. In Soviet Union, you had time up to a month to choose a name for your new-born and get a birth certificate.

So, one day my father went and had her registered under the name of Svetlana. Thus, all the relatives had to learn to call her by her new name.

My father rebelled the second time when I was born and did the whole thing again: in spite of all calling me Mihaela for almost a month, he had me registered as Victoria. My Mom was devastated. She had to inform all the relatives on the name change again. And the aunts and great-aunts have had quite of few Why-questions.

But today we are all happy about his two decisions and our names.

He also gave us very sweet nicknames. Svetlana was called “svetliachok” meaning “glowfly”. He used to say that she was the bringer of light to him. And he was completely right. She is a bringer of light. Although she is a head shorter than me, she lights brightly every room she enters, even if she might not say anything at first. And then you just get smitten with her warm smile and incredibly infectious laughter.

I love you, Sveta!

In need of a taxi

This is what came out when I did an exercise from Steve Alcorn’s book „How to Fix Your Novel“ on p. 33

The task was:

“Show vs. Tell

Here’s a short paragraph telling us about a character’s behavior:

Jason Smith hated cab drivers who couldn’t speak English. He also hated being late. He was out of luck on both counts.

Turn that boring paragraph of telling into a scene showing us what is Jason is like. Try to avoid telling us anything about Jason, just show us.”

The result:

Jason Smith was standing outside of a hotel in London and was losing his temper. It was the third taxi that came and took someone else, who in fact ordered a taxi after him. He planned everything meticulously many days ago. He ordered the taxi to come half an hour earlier than they usually did at this hotel. They promised that the taxi will come within ten to fifteen minutes. Now, three quarters of an hour later, he was standing at the reception desk and trying to find what was wrong.

“Maybe it is because you wished a native speaker for a driver, Sir”, said the receptionist with a slight Indian touch to his English.

“I don’t want to appear rude”, said Jason with pressure in his voice and looking imperiously at the receptionist, “but my job has enough challenges in it without dealing with a taxi driver misinterpreting my instructions to get where I want to!” “Your English is very good,” Jason added hastily but with certain reluctance in his voice, and not wishing to appear discriminating, “so if you can arrange someone with your knowledge, I will readily take him”.

The receptionist almost said: “I can’t drive you because I’m too busy here”, but stopped in time knowing that irony would be lost on this man.

Half an hour later, Jason was relieved to see a white middle-aged man stepping out of the next taxi. But as soon as he heard his name being pronounced by this man, his heart sank: “Djaisón Smitt? You want go university?”

Jason knew that his last chance to come in time to his appointment by guiding the driver through short cuts, which he thought through as plan B, was gone now. And he spent hours for putting this plan B together by surfing various map-sites.

So, all he could do now was hope that this driver would bring him to his destination before all his audience left. No, this was not all. He could think of the appropriate strategy of his taxi ride the following day.

You will be the next

A fictional self-portrait given by a person living
on the verge of the Stone and Bronze Age

They call me Nia, as I told you when I woke you up this morning. I am also called “Mother” by our fok because my man was the head of our people. He died when saving the other men from the falling mammoth that they have defeated together.

My man was bringing me green stones because of my green eyes. Until the day before today, my son was bringing me green stones from where he was hunting with others. But now he will be bringing blue stones for you, because of your blue eyes.

He stole you from another folk, just like his father stole me from mine. So, don’t be afraid of me. I know that you are afraid. I was scared too, after I was brought to this folk. They are so different with their small brown eyes and dark skin, but they are good.

Other women here are allowed to have other men when their husbands die, but not me and not you. Our men are the selected ones, because they are of the ruler’s line and the only ones of the young folk who are allowed to come together with the circle of wise men.

I have one son, but all people of our folk are my children. I must take care of them. I wake them up in the morning and go after them to sleep. Many young children come to me when they cry before they go to their own mothers.

My time to go over the river will come soon and you will be the next after me. So, you have to learn how to make the glittering brown arrowheads, before I go. Only I know the right ingredients and my son and the men in his line are the only ones, who are allowed to use them.

And have many kids from your man. After he dies, you will not have any more. I have only one.

We talked enough. Now, come with me. I will show you our cave, which will be your home now. You have to prepare your sleeping place before it gets dark.


A 100% fictional portrait (‘painted’ by a 100% fictional character)

Written and published on an older blog in March, 2013

My name is Jacques. I was born in Helsinki and I am a suomi. Well, maybe not by my first name. If you wonder about it, you will probably come to the solution at the second thought. Yes, my mother was French. I don’t know what she thought about when she insisted giving me a name, which is pronounced by many of my fellow suomi men and women as “jakku “, meaning, yes, correct, a jacket or a coat. Well, you might say there is nothing to it, but at some point at school I started thinking that something was odd when in I wasn’t greeted by a “Hey, ‘jacket’, where’s your jacket?”, “Oh, our ‘coat’ has a new jacket!” etc.

My mother’s name was Isabelle. My father, Matti, is suomi and up to this day he didn’t marry again after Isabelle left. We never say she passed away. We always say that she left us when I was ten. And when we see a shocked face, my father and I say in one voice: “To a better place”. It is hilarious to see what happens to a person who hears us saying this for the first time. The face shows often an interesting mixture of awkwardness at the misunderstanding, relief that there was no cruelty involved from a mother, apology for being so impolite and guilty of thinking such a thing of a most probably loving mother, and sadness for a father and son left without indulging love of a woman and a mother.

My father was always a rebel. Isabelle looked and was nothing like an ideal suomi girl. She was too fashionable, too spoiled and too fragile. The latter made her ‘fade’ and die too fast like a tropical flower brought to Alaska and forgotten outside.

But Matti is definitely suomi, with his quirky, dry sense of humor – it was his idea to say that his wife left him, – and with him being absolutely reliable. He never missed a single game of my ice-hockey team, even if it was a mere training and wasn’t an actual game. Our neighbors thought for a long time that I was playing for at least five teams in parallel, by having so many games a week. Matti sat with me through all of the life or leg saving treatments in the ER, where I happened to be a frequent guest, partly because I mimicked fearlessness of my father and was therefore very ‘headless’, as Matti likes calling me, and partly because I inherited the gentle health from my mother. At least my bones have done just that.

This strange mixture makes Matti and me different, also in the way we relate to speech and feelings. My father, as a man, and more so as a suomi man, has a big difficulty to talk not only about feelings, but to say more than three sentences in half or often also for the whole hour. I am in contrast a river of words, especially, when I talk about feelings. Even suomi girls grow tired of me quite fast.

But there is no other man, who could listen to me as Matti does. Maybe this is due to his quiet nature, but rather it is his endless love to his loved ones and especially to his boy that makes him the first person I reach out to in the saddest and also in the happiest moments. And my guess is that my glamorous, fashionable mother fell for exactly these qualities of his as much as she fell for his glittering blue eyes.