The Malta Independent 20 September 2020, Sunday

Malta love story

Malta Independent Sunday, 6 April 2014, 12:42 Last update: about 7 years ago

Haiku poetess Anna Guseva (Mayakova) was born in the Ukraine 67 years ago as a citizen of the former Soviet Union. Since her university days she has lived in Moscow. She has two daughters, charming Polina and Lisa and also has grandson Max and it is for these obvious family reasons that she has remained in Moscow and not moved permanently to Malta, with which she has an eternal love affair.

Current political turbulence between her place of birth (Ukraine) and her current residence (in Moscow) has caused her emotional turbulence about which she would rather not comment, preferring to focus on her eternal love affair with Malta.

In her own words she writes:

“I visited Malta for the first time in 1989 when our business-cruise ship “Azerbaijan” entered Valletta. It was “perestroika” time when so called “red directors” (ex-Soviet directors) and “new Russians” (the newly-rich) tried to establish business contacts with foreign partners. Three hundred Russian businessmen received two hundred Maltese entrepreneurs on board. It was an extraordinary event and an unforgettable evening!”

Later in that same year Soviet leader and Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev met American President George Bush Snr in an historic sea meeting off Malta’s shore.

Prior to that her knowledge of Malta was limited to knowing that the Knights of St John had ruled Malta for a couple of hundred years and that former Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff had steered Malta’s direction to one of “neutrality”. Remembering that first cruise and her presence on board as an English, French and Polish languages interpreter representing the Soviet Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service, Anna further recalls:

“Next day we all were invited by the Soviet Ambassador Valentina Matvienko, who made a successful diplomatic career during perestroika, to a reception at a luxurious hall and although the attendants were many and varied I felt that we all were united by one thing – the hope for a brighter future.

Valentina Matvienko, now head of the Russian parliamentary Upper House (The Duma) was one of the first people to be put on the boycott list last week by the EU and the USA with the placement of travel restrictions and having her external financial assets frozen.

“Later that night the ship left Valletta. I stood on the deck watching the receding island’s splendid illuminations and my heart confided ‘dear God, let me come back to this wonderful island because I have left my heart here’”.

She is certain that God heard her plea and smiled down on her because since then she has visited Malta almost every year and must surely be one of Malta’s foremost tourists. She was in Malta for two weeks in June last year, accompanied by her elder daughter Polina and grandson Max.

Today, she has so many what she describes as “devoted” friends that she classes Malta as an “island of love and friendship”, thus Malta being her “love and destiny”.

Her “Malta Love Story” developed after a long and interesting career in the Soviet Diplomatic Service, thanks to her linguistic skills.

“Somebody once said ‘A human being is so many times a human being – depending on how many languages they speak.’ It is true. I visited many countries and almost everywhere I could communicate with local people, could talk to them, could make friends, and ask them about their life, their hopes and dreams. I feel I am a citizen of the world and that makes me happy.”

Her role enabled her to visit many countries, including the United States (where she visited New York and Santa Barbara) and classes visiting the rich US as the greatest contrast to her visit to Yemen, “one of the poorest countries in the world”. For many years she worked in Moscow as interpreter to the Yemeni Ambassador to the Kremlin. She classes Yemeni diplomats as being “very kind people”.

During her stint she had the opportunity to visit Yemen as Soviet chief interpreter on a Russian cruise liner which docked in the port of Hodeida. She recalls one particular episode during that memorable visit.

All was going well but in Hodeida port the ship’s agent demanded double the fee which he had originally quoted. When he confronted the Cruise Director Slava Solntsev with this demand, the agent’s voice was throaty and his eyes shifted restlessly. His hands clutched a vicious looking dagger which he fingered nervously. The Director reflected for a moment and then ordered the ship’s accountant to accept the demand and pay.

The resultant land tour was largely disastrous but Anna tried to enhance the situation for the tourists by pointing out the country’s positive customs, the friendliness of the Yemeni people and the unusual architecture of the houses.

Although she met many foreign international diplomats her most memorable event was the day when she shook hands with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Saddam was in Moscow on an official visit and on this occasion a reception was given at the Iraqi embassy for local embassy staff. It was a stiff occasion with many formalities. All Soviet employees were lined up according to importance and seniority, headed by the Soviet Minister Plenipotentiary for Iraq, the military, trade and cultural attachés, and descending ranks. Russians tailed off the line. At precisely 6pm the great carved wooden doors were thrown open and in the frame stood the imposing figure of two-meter high Saddam dressed resplendently in a black toga with gold lace edging. He was an imposing figure, radiating power and light and his coal-black eyes proudly surveyed the people assembled. She remembers his appearance with the astonishment and awe that struck her at the time.

After delivering a short speech in Arabic glorifying the “indestructible bond” between Iraq and the USSR, he proceeded to shake hands with all those lined up, and she remembers him fixing his eyes pointedly in hers (as he did to all) and warmly pumping her hand with his own gigantic dry and warm hand.

When on 30th December 2006 the international media informed the world that Saddam Hussein had been executed she felt sorry for him despite knowing that he had been a cruel tyrant, very much the same as Josef Stalin.

On retirement from the Diplomatic Service, Anna was admitted to the Union of Russian Writers and the literary society “Otradnoie” under whose framework she organizes poetry soirees for blind people. She also started work with a Franco-Russian production company involved in film making. In her own time she also devoted herself to her love of classical music, ballet and choral singing. For many years she has been a member of the Moscow Teachers Choir.

When and why did she start writing haiku?

“It was two years ago, during Christmas (the Russian Orthodox Church’s Christmas celebrations are held in January) 2011 when the weather in Moscow was extremely cold. I felt blue and went to see my friend Olga. She said: “I know the treatment for depression – haiku writing”. I protested that I am not able to write poetry because I write only prose. 

“‘Do not say – no, just try’. And I did! I tried and soon published a 185 page book of ‘haiku a la Russe’ in which the longest chapter (50 pages) is entitled “Malta”. Nowadays haiku is my favourite genre. Why? Because haiku is a flow, it takes you and leads you to poetry as unfortunately I do not have the talent to write poetry. In fact I was always a literate person, writing my diary, submitting articles to the school newspaper, penning short and long stories, and later dramatic scenarios, essays and memoires. Unfortunately, I could never write poetry. I was admitted to the Union of Russian Writers due to my prose works. I regard my ability to write haiku as a gift from God.” 

Nowadays, Anna feels different because haiku has opened a new world for her and has given her a new existence because of its calming effect on the soul and because it has lead her to appreciate the sophistication of Japan with its ancient and modern poetry. Amongst her favorites she lists works by Matsuo Base and Busson, and “extraordinary” Japanese films by Hayao Miyadzaki and Takeshi Kitano which are not her favourite but which she still regards as being very talented and “very Japanese”.

Amongst her most poignant pieces is one titled “Military Haiku” being an integral part of the chapter “Malta” in her book ‘Light through the clouds’ which is essentially based on the small Mediterranean island.

Another recalls her reflections after a visit to the Holy Land in March 2011 which visit she described as being the highlight of her spiritual persona.

Amongst her non-haiku works, Anna Guseva has also written and published her memoires reflecting her extraordinary life of work, travels and adventures, a veritable autobiography.

What are Malta’s principle attractions to Anna?

She classes them as the things she misses badly in Moscow: sunshine, the azure sea and a freedom of spirit that engenders a love of humanity. After a while she was also struck by the historical ties between Russia and Malta which later excitedly enabled her to embrace the panorama of historical events that have shaped Malta over the centuries.

Malta’s megalithic temples leave a lasting impression on her as well as the works of Giuseppe Cali. The “gorgeous” environment of Mdina and the friendliness of Sliema where she usually stays are also high priorities. Visiting Casa Roca Piccola is always a grand attraction, viewing the works of Alfred Durer and a memorable concert featuring the Maltese soprano Lidia Caruana remain enshrined in her many memories which she described as being “endless”.

In conclusion, she quotes a favorite prayer. “Lord, give me the grace not to seek for comfort, but give comfort, not to seek to be understood but to understand, not to seek for love but give love, because we receive when giving”.

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