Home?

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Yes, it was a while. During these weeks of absence I worked for Frieze London, went back to Italy and traveled to Scotland. I passed a marketing exam, which deserve a separate story and I am back today with an impulse from Photo101 challenge. And the first task was… the image of home.

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I am a deeply urban creature; I breathe with polluted air and walk along the rivers with lead water. My sky is limited with the edges of houses and my ground circled in the rings of yards. I love the urban, the quintessence of urban, together with its mess, concentrations of people, decadence, chaotic movements, pollution, traffic, high crime rates and other depressing statistics from the books of urban development – the typical imaginary of hell. I love the very greyness of the pavement, buildings, sky and its reflection in the water, the characterlessness of the 6-million crowd in the faded underground. My native city is the 50 shades of grey under the white nights of cold summer and total of 62 sunny days per year. Yes, a slight sadness and thoughtfulness never leave you along there, as well as in any depersonalized urban crowd in the world, you are pursued by the same damn loneliness. I am a XXI century Nomadic, wandering from a big city to the bigger. I don’t know anymore, where is my home, and I do not remember, how it looks like, but in my nightmares all 6 million of faded crowd visit me, under the lead sky reflected in a dark water running through numerous bridges.

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I live with the city, I breathe with the city, I dream about the city – and more and more often I have nightmares.

Literature inside out

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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 

How Traveling will make World a better Place

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Every bird should have its sky!

Every bird should have its sky!

I was born in the USSR, on the other side of the iron curtain, in isolation, surrounded by enemies. White spot on the map in the knowledge of Western world, but it was largely perceived that in USSR people were hostile and life was tough. The same was true all the way around: Soviet people were persuaded that Uncle Sam hates us and dreams about erasing the country from the earth surface. And capitalistic countries’ citizens share his ideas. I think majority of Soviet people questioned the latter, and not because they were so nice, but simply because the very fact of American existence was rather a myth, a communistic version of hell. Did someone go there and saw it with his very eyes? No, so even if America existed, after all it was as irrelevant, as life on Mars. Yes, these guys may dream to conquer us one day, but as for now they did not show up – so let’s better care about something useful, for example what can we watch today from the theater.
More than 20 years ago Soviet Union collapsed, and the rests of Cold War were finally buried under its ruins. Travelling out became permitted, and later even common and affordable for an average person. Later the technology provided us with an opportunity to connect with the whole world. We started going around for studies, job or pleasure with frequency nobody could imagine 20 years ago and even staying home we can chat with, let’s say, Vietnam or Brasilia. My mom when she came to visit me in London first of all ran to the Tower. Why? As she told when she as a little girl studied English in school she could not even dream she may see Tower one day. The moon was more probable due to the advanced Soviet space program.
Thus, traveling became available for people from my Motherland and stopped being elite pleasure for selected only in general. That is truly pleasurable, but I believe it will led to something more, than only nice time spending.
Ironically enough, before those selected who could afford the travel were rich, influential and in many cases they were involved in politics. So basically they were the voice, transferring the opinions to masses: if they had told, let’s say so, Americans were idiots – who would have questioned them? They have been in America; they have seen Americans. All Soviet are underdeveloped and live in forest – yes, because no one from ordinary people went to Soviet Union to check. Now people who have travelled a while would hardly trust a single word of politic propaganda of any type: just as we visited many places ourselves and luckily we have a bunch of international friends, whom we can call and ask about what is going on there in your country? Without any doubts, we became more open-minded and more knowledgeable, thus less easy to manipulate and press. And I hope more human, as after all you see that people are the same in their core in every corner of the world.
But if we look at it in a long-term perspective, the very popular political tool of generalizing nations under one umbrella term, like Soviet – dangerous, Chinese – slaves, Americans – money-fixed etc. – will loose a lot in its power also because of… multiethnic couples! My partner is Italian, and I doubt our kids will think that there is nothing but mafia in Sicily and nothing but vodka in Russia. As we live in UK, neither will they have wicked ideas about this or any other country they will grow in. Moreover, at my partners job every couple is multiethnic, and he works with around 30 people. The very notion of nation in its aggressive, superior form of we-are-better-than-they becomes obsolete.
Moreover, one of the fundamental distinctive features of a nationality is language. But the younger generations start learning English from the early ages, and perceive it as almost a mother tongue; so many people use English at work on everyday basis or while traveling that we indeed are more cosmopolitan nowadays.
I trust in humanity and the common sense of people, and I am sure that all these changes will facilitate the better world. I trust, that the very notion of the Cold War is not relevant anymore, because it is not “we” against “them” anymore, it is “we” against “us”. Just imagine, how much money could be saved not producing another, more powerful atomic bomb and how much we accomplish with this money: we can cure the diseases, fight the starvation, give education for those who can’t afford it… All we need after all is to be more human and more open.

The Hardest of Christian Dispensations

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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