The Left Bank of the Dniester, sometimes called Transnistria, is located not so far away in eastern Europe, once being part of Rumania. It became an autonomous political entity In 1924, when its people were made up of mostly Moldavian, Ruthenian (Ukrainian) and Tatar peasants. Overrun by the Nazis in the Second World War, all the Jews and a large number of other ethnic minority groups were systematically murdered. Reoccupied by the Red Army in 1944, the killing and deportations continued with thousands of peasant farmers and families being targeted over several years, and the land often being resettled by Russians. (For instance, in just two days, July 6 and July 7, 1949, a plan named “Operation South” saw the deportation of over 11,342 families by the order of the Moldovian Minister of State Security, I. L. Mordovets).
The ‘War of Transnistria’ broke out in 1990 as Moldovian nationalist and separatist groups clashed violently. A ceasefire was agreed in 1992 and has been maintained since then down to this day with neither Moldova, Ukraine or Russia being able to exert control over the unruly Transnistrian ‘authorities’. It is a criminal outlaw society and I would not want to visit there unless I knew what I was doing and had friends on the inside.
In dream world (such as during Shiva Yatra, Shrove Tuesday and other rabelasian Carnivale times) it is also the time before people with no morals took authority without anybody asking, and declared that they were sovereign, making claims that land and property belonged to them, and also taking away common freedoms. The East Midlands, a dream world where I lived as a child, was also an outlaw society which resisted outside authority, and kept up a strong old-fashioned morality where people knew who lived where, protected each other from harm, and each group of peoples reached to the end of its village. There was much cheek about us.
I didn’t know about Transnistria until I began reading Siberian Education (Nicolai Lilin 2009), or that any special knife you are given is called a ‘Pike’. For life on the Left Bank of the Dniester it should be a flick-knife with a long thin blade, safety catch lever and a button to press on the handle. When you press the button, the blade instantly slides out with a distinctive singing sound and remains fixed open.
Every pike you receive in your life has magical powers, and closed it is “like some kind of writing instrument from the turn of the century”. You receive your first pike from somebody older in your family. It varies when, but you have to be ready for the moment whenever it comes, and should have learned how to handle a knife properly, and of course how to look after and not lose it. I remember that I was about five and the glow in my chest when I received my first knife from my father. Whenever you receive a pike you always know it for what it is by the presence of the same glow in the chest.
My first knife in fact wasn’t a flick-knife. It was a citrus knife which had been made to cut oranges that were taken directly from a growing fruit tree. Closed it certainly felt like holding a pen, and it had magical powers both of the tree and land. The handle was straight and narrow, a cream white colour that looked like ivory or a special hardwood, but I knew, because it came from America, that it was made of a kind of synthetic plastic resin . The alchemy however was still there in the hard smooth feel of the white handle, and then especially in the way it opened. Closed the back of the blade rose out of one side like the back of a snake with a curve indent in the metal for my thumbnail to fit in, and then the long thin three inch blade opened in perfect curve and set itself in the open position with a dull thud.
That the blade always opened outwards away from the body, was a part of its magic which I knew as a child and I was ready for, but it had to teach me the rest of its magic the hard way. Whittling wood one day to practice how to work it I once twisted the blade towards me, and like a thing alive it leapt towards my left hand that was holding the stick and the blade bit into my index finger and down to the bone at the first joint. The sound of blade on bone was the same dull thud it made on opening. Blood began to flow fast and an intense pain grow in my hand. It took many months for the wound to heal, and for the pain in the first join to go took even longer.
Then later on there were other lessons it taught me, culminating in the day my first pike went missing. As I realised I had lost it an intense feeling of shame rose in my chest as I realised my folly at carrying the knife in an insecure pocket. For days and weeks I looked and looked over the ground where I thought it might have fallen, and in other pockets and places where I imagined it could be, but it was gone.
I have had other pikes since the first, and have lost some of them too. Always there is the resulting mix of shame and sadness, and sense of loss, but then sometimes I think of them on their magical travels and this softens the regret. One of the pikes I have today is another citrus knife, and makes the same sound as my first one, that magical thud when it is opened. I have also learned to keep it better than my first one and of course it never travels in my pockets. Like the Siberian ‘red corner’ (Left Bank of the Dniester) it lives with other pens in a pewter tankard on which a protective dragon is carved. One day I will pass it on to my one of sons, or another male in my family, when I know it is the right day and they are ready – if God permits that is.
Dream world/words: ‘D’ is for Dialogue, Defiance and Decline