Clet Abraham: Signs across Rome, Milan and Brussels

When I saw the weekly Photo challenge  I had no doubts about what I am going to write. My post about Clet Abraham raised some curiosity, that’s why I am happy to present more of his works and thus establish a tradition of weekly travel photo galleries 🙂

The Sign to Stop (and think)

This week, the Daily Post Photo Challenge topic is signs. I do not know, how much actually a sign can mean for a driver, apart from the order to obey the rules, but for me – it is the whole world.
St. Petersburg is a city without graffiti – the fist time I learn what was it from the course book of English, where graffiti was used to illustrate the word-to-learn “eye-sore” :). And as I lived about 1,5 hours from the city center, each time I took train I sat on the certain site of it, to see the covered with pictures small small part of garages alone the railway. It was 90-s.
Graffiti never became spread in St Petersburg – what is sprayed overnight is washed or colored by 6am by street keepers. Of cause, they try to save colours and that’s why walls are covered with the patches of the whole range of yellow. I guess in several years this mosaics can become a form of street art in itself.
Rome is an exceptional place for me, and some very important events in my life happened there (funny, isn’t it?). The first time I came in late October, when in St Petersburg the water ponds were frozen in the morning, and in just three hours I entered the hot Roman autumn day with +27C. It was an exception, but a kind of exceptions I appreciate. I came alone, found my small flat next to Vatican, put a t-shirt and went for my big adventure. I was hanging on the streets day long, entering all churches, sneaking in all corners and peeping in every hall. I have this kind of aesthetics: I love to take pictures of windows, doors, small elements – the famous monuments were photographed by professionals million times and much better than I could do it. And I’ve noticed something exceptional, what I could not explain. A sign. It was orange, rusty, very old looking (not old enough to suppose ancient Romans forgot it there). It was a clash, beyond the explanation and understanding. Who did it, and why? Later on, I saw another sign, with crucifixion.
I do not remember, how did I figure out about the sign history. It was a French street artist, Clet Abraham, who put his stickers to the signs across many cities. He does it, as a way to fight against the spoiling ugliness of signs, put everywhere, disregarding the surrounding (before monuments in Rome, like on the picture). Never since I looked at the sign in the same way: I found out a lot of his works, I have the complete collection of pictures of each and every his piece across Milan, and highlights of some works from other cities. People always ask me, where could I find them? Actually they all are in the very center, on the most seen and visited streets. The paradox of street art: it is meant for everybody, but not all notice it.
Now in Rome there is a street, where every sign is retouched by Clet. As I usually joke, in 50 years, when people will finally understand the crucial importance of street art, the street will be name after Clet Abraham, and I will proudly show to my grandchildren the old pictures, made with bad iPhone 3 camera, and tell them, how important is to see, not just to watch.
P.S. I went to say hi to Clet, and the sign is still there, still rusty and orange, even more ancient looking than before – it became the part of the Roman history, glorious, but fading away.

Literature inside out

Daily prompt: When reading for fun, do you usually choose fiction or non-fiction? Do you have an idea why you prefer one over the other?
I doubt if in whole my life I read more than 5 non-fiction books. I am humanitarian in my nature, I love good literature and then it was just the way I was brought up – in Russian school you have an extensive literature program, I believe I had around 6-8 hours of it per week. Moreover, I had a truly amazing teacher, and when you are in school this factor is always among the most important to make one love or hate a subject.
It is very interesting though, how the same topic is viewed from inside and outside the country. For example, if I ask a foreigner, whom of the Russian writers does he know, the answer will be Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Who on earth would read it in Russia? Of cause they are included in the school program, so you are supposed to spend days and days reading how Raskolnikov in the fever was going around the city thinking about killing the old lady. To be honest, I didn’t – I had a period of rebellion (better don’t ask me against what – now I can hardly understand what one can prove not reading Dostoyevsky, but teenagers are strange). The other curious think is that if I ask a foreigner, what was the main claim of Raskolnikov, his idea, his doubt, reflecting the whole idea of the book, nobody would answer. In Russia this phrase is one of the most popular aphorisms (whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right). Dostoyevsky is very hard to read, he was an outstanding thinker and philosopher but not a great writer. His style is heavy, hard to follow, oversaturated and moreover the language is outdated, so it is very hard to follow. Please forgive me my claim, but his books are simply untranslatable in English: in Russian with the help of prefixes and suffixes we can express tens of slightest variation in the meaning of a word. In English it is impossible. Example: my name is Anna. In Russian people may call me Anya, Anechka, Anyutochka, Anyuta, Anyutka, An’ka etc. Each of this has a slightly different meaning and will be used by different people to address me. In English the only possible expression to translate it all is little Anna, which is not true – I am adult and tall. Moreover, passive voice is quite untypical for Russian and very typical for English – this also makes something get lost in translation.
Ok, when it comes to Tolstoy wise people say you should read him after 30. So I listened to wise people and skipped him as well from my program. I am very decisive to come back to him at the proper age.
If you ask a Russian person, who is the most important figure in the literature, without any doubt the answer will be Pushkin. He is Shakespeare of our language, his Eugeny Onegin is known by heart by many Russian-learners, and trust me it is an amazing books. Though it is poetry, which takes us back to the same problem – hard to translate. Once I had a chance to read a peace in Swedish, and it was very good, I was quite surprised.
When it comes to the titles, the two most popular books in Russia I guess are 12 Chairs and Master and Margharita. The former, written by Il’f and Petrov, is a humoristic story of a very entrepreneurial young man, and it is quoted on every corner in Russia. I don’t know how much a person without a relevant cultural background and solid knowledge of Russian history can understand the humor, but this work is of exceptional importance. The second mentioned book is written by Mikhail Bulgakov, it is a mysterious novel, where Devil is coming to Soviet Moscow to check the state of the capital. The plot is developed simultaneously in several époques, and thus there are several main heroes (the charming Cat on the picture is one of them). On contrast with 12 chairs, it is not place and culture specific reading, so if you’d like to read someone Russian but lighter than Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky – you know what to grab.
Is there any underestimated or not that popular abroad book in your language? What would you recommend?
P.S. When my friends come to visit St Petersburg, I take them on the walk on Raskolnikov’s traces and show where each of the heroes lived. I forgot where the flat of the old lady was supposed to be, so each time I show a different window and they happily take a picture. So if online you find a lot of very different pictures of the flat, well, that’s my fault.
P.P.S. When I just moved to Italy, I was reading Dostoyevsky non-stop. It was my own way of missing Motherland.
P.P.P.S. I decided to list the most important of Russian writers, in case you’d like to go deeper in your research. These are the must of all school programs, the basics and the “pillars” (not in chronological order, just a brainstorm listing):
1. Pushkin: Stories of Belkin; Eugeni Onegin 2. Lermontov: Hero of our days 3. Gogol: Shinel, Dead Souls, The night before the Christmas 4. Chekhov: plays, Cherry Garden, Unkle Vanya, Three Sisters etc. 5 Bunin: A man from San-Francisco 6. Turgenev: Asya,  Garnet Armband 7. Leskov: Left-handed 8. Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago 9. A. Tolstoy: Killer Whale 10. Sholokhov: Quite Don 11. Solzhenitsyn: Gulag archipelago 12 Zamyatin: We 13. Dovlatov: the foreigner and so much more.. but it is a good list for a start 🙂
There are three eternal questions of Russian reality were formulated by Herzen, Chernyshevsky and Nekrasov and are, respectively: Who is Guilty? What to do? and Who has a good life in Russia? (The names of their epic novels).
P.P.P.P.S. If you go to the Russian Wikipedia and look for “Russian Literature” you will see Pushkin, “the greatest Russian poet, the creator of the Russian literature language” Guess who is on the English article main picture? Tolstoy and Chekhov 

The Hardest of Christian Dispensations

I am supposed to melt a heart my dream reader with this post, but who am I dreaming about?
One of my favorite writers is Milan Kundera, the author of Unbearable lightness of Being. In one of his books, I trust it was Immortality, he wrote about Christian dispensation. He said, that it is easy not to steal, even easier not to kill nor to desire the other man’s wife. What is indeed a challenge is not to judge. Indeed, the habit to judge is deeply rooted in our nature, we are slaves of logic and we try to weight and analyze everything. The problem is that after initial evaluation we hurry to criticize everything, which stands out of our notion of “normality”. We try to put labels and operate with stereotypes, as we think we know better. As soon as I say I am Russian people offer me vodka, ask idiotic questions about bears and nuclear weapon, and actually the same routine of introduction to new people repeats again, again, and again. This is embarrassing, I am sick of it. It is also hard to reassure people as “they know it all, they saw it on TV” (of cause, TV is a holy point of truth). In current political situation I had to say I am Russian with a tone as if I am asking for excuse. Recently I just stopped saying it at all.
Indeed, people love to discuss politics. I don’t. Ironically, I have the degree in it – enough to understand, how tricky and slippery the politics is. The black is never black and white is never white – the one who has the more power will decide the color, an trust me if he wants he will name it yellow. The decision makers in this game are so unreachable, and so far from ordinary people needs that they will keep on going to their aims through corpses. Hundreds and thousands of corpses. But behind the politician games there are the humans, just ordinary people like you and me, who will suffer whom the silliness of their governments. My country is chocking because of the sanctions, the inflation rates and currency exchange rate bet all records, banks are closing, the cultural events are cancelled – people are desperate, and we are waiting for the worse. The whole nation suffers because of one person – the one, who actually will get everything he wants.
So who am I dreaming about? The people, who don’t judge blindly, based on the old stereotypes or the latest news – they are not as neutral, as you may think. I am looking for people enough open-minded to be able to listen, learn and respect. And take me as I am – not telling me that meat is healthy and how sick I will be because I don’t eat it, that contemporary art is so shitty that it is not art at all, that ballet is so boring you can go to watch is just to have three hours of sleep and that I should finish all my traveling nonsense and go to “normal life”. Telling this is not less embarrassing as offering me vodka. And as you may guess – I am sick of it.
P.S. I am supposed to insert a new form of media, so it will be a video from CNN about situation in Ukraine. To support my claim that politicians is dirty in every country and media is still selective in what they show and what they hide. I read news in Russian, Ukrainian, English and Italian – and know the truth about what is going in the Eastern Ukraine because one of my closest friends lives there – he told me how the city is under the fire, both from rebellions (they are btw not pro-Russian, they don’t know themselves what they want) and of the state Ukrainian army. Watch it, question what is truth