A cold day in Vienna or the best way to chat with an angel

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Well, I travelled a bit. And of cause I have a lot of stories to tell – partly because I am a disaster and able to find adventures straight out of my door, partly because I am so chatty that after a day I know 15 people living in that place. But among all my experiences related to travel there is one story I would always like to put on words but never had time (thanks to a bit of this and a lot of that for motivation – hope I am in time, GTM is till before midnight :P)
I was in Austria one very cold autumn. The air seemed to be crystal clear. I was always fascinated with how water changes it color and becomes transparent in October, but in Vienna it happened with the air. And suddenly everything became different, so simple, so ordered, so real. I always joke that the Austrian discipline is so high, that even leaves fall down in straight squares. It feels like everything was brushed up, leaving only essential things. You even feel your head is clean from all rubbish thoughts, buzz and noise.

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One morning within the program of sightseeing we went to the Church of St Charles Borromeo, described as a Barocco masterpiece with “some interesting frescoes” inside. Well, to put it mildly, I am not a fan of barocco. My hometown is simply flooded with golden buildings painted with cupids carrying swags of flowers under fatty sheep. I think I was oversaturated with the cupids almost to the state of allergy, I hate yellow gold (specially in the architecture and décor), and I would have happily skipped the “masterpiece”. But I was not alone and I had no choice but to go. Outside it looked exactly like just another Barocco building, basically it was so even inside… but there was one feature that made it different. An elevator. No, I’d seen an elevator before and for me it was not a secret that more and more churches upgrade their customer service offer to the possibility to avoid long, dark, narrow and slippery stairwells for those who want to reach the top for the sake of spectacular view. This very elevator, though, was inside the church, made of transparent glass, it provided an opportunity to see closer the inner part of the dome, and not the panorama of the city. So I handed my ticket to a lift lady, she closed the door and we started slowly going up. There are not enough words to describe my feelings. I am not the most religious person, but when you start slowly raising up to the very middle of the church, and you see everything around, below and under you, it seems you are hovering above, it seems you have this superpower and you are the one going up straight to God. You reach the dome, and you can touch the gigantic frescoes, which seemed so small from the bottom, you can see how rough and not detailed they are (who would distinguish all these details if they were in place?). You can sit with the enormously fat cupids; discuss with them the last news, imagining you are looking down from a cloud. You can dance with the angels and think what may it feel to live up here? When do they wake up, are they on duty during certain hours or all day long? How are they doing, are they happy or they are sad sometimes? Do they have nightmares, and if they do, what do they see?

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…Times come to go down, back to your everyday cares – you wave hand to the new acquaintances and enter the elevator, and watch how the Earth is coming slowly closer and closer, and you are again among tourists looking to the cupids and angels so high there. But you have changed somehow, as you can’t go to Heaven, see all its secrets and remain the same person, can you?
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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.

Clet Abraham: Signs across Rome, Milan and Brussels

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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)

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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.

The Every-day Venice

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“Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,” Polo said. “Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
So never to loose My Venice, I will never ever tell about it… Just show you some pictures from it’s everyday, simple and cracking life

 

 

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.

Why do we travel? And what travel has to do with food?

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Three years ago Foster Huntington left his I believe well-paid position at Ralph Loren, bought a van, and went to exploit the USA (the result is a highly spectacular blog, you can check the pictures from the trip and read his stories here). Approximately the same year a fantastic, deep and thought-provoking movie “Up in the sky” went out on the big screens. Starring Richard Gere, the movie told a story of the hero of our days, a man who has neither flat nor car, actually he owns nothing, he lives in the airplanes and hotels as because of his job he has to travel constantly. Well, he is pretty criticized, people advise him to set a normal lifestyle – he tries, but in the end he understands that the place he is indeed happy is the sky. These stories seem out of the real life, and are not supposed to happen with ordinary people. Ironically, I know in person several “homeless” people, and I partly belong to the same category.
Two years ago I left home and I hardly go back. No, I am not sleeping in the forest and neither do I sold out my property – but I went to live in Italy, then to USA and now I ended up in London (well, actually something tells me it is not the end). I spent weeks in planes and cars, and I saw many incredible, amazing, disgusting and scary things. And two years after I am at the good point to honestly ask myself: was it worth? I don’t see my family anymore, I left all my friends, my well-paid job and my car, well, actually everything which people describe as “home”. I can’t go to my favorite bar, I have to accept that supermarket closes at 7pm, and if someone whom I love is in troubles – I won’t be able to help. I think majority of people who write about traveling idealize it a lot, forgetting that it all came with trade-offs. A whole lot of trade-offs.
So was it worth it? What do people see on these kilometers and kilometers and kilometers of roads, that pushes them forward? New impressions – but you can get them at home, visiting a new exhibition of the nearest museums? Desire to relax – but you can have a passive sea vacation without moving at all and relax as much as you want? Desire to learn something new – closer, but you can read a good touristic guide and know all the facts you need. There is a great post of Mike, and I love it because he nailed it: we travel to find ourselves. You grow up within a society with some truths and believes, you never question them as they seem so obvious. But what if all you trust in is wrong? When I left my family was desperate as they were convinced I MUST have get married instead, as it was just the right time for getting married. When I arrived to Italy, people told that if someone decided to get married at the age of 24, he would be perceived as insane. Funny, but then it was a revelation for me – nobody ever told me things in this way. (BTW, still the first question people from my motherland ask me is whether I finally got married :P). To make the long story short, on my road from country to country, I got so much more than I could even had though of in its beginning: I saw the real, pure and sometimes even unbearable beauty, I met amazing people, I have hundreds of stories to tell, I found my real passion and I met my real love. But most important: I understood who I am, which values are indeed essential for me and which I should revise. And I learned to adjust without stopping being myself.
So I want to share a small piece of what I experiences, sometimes as a story that happened to me, sometimes just to share my impressions and emotions from places. I have several loyal readers (thank you, guys!) but I would like to reach more people. As my blog is a cooking blog, each story will be followed by a vegetarian recipe. Because as Matthew Fort once said “The history of any country is written in its food and dishes. Nothing arrives on your plate by accident. There is always history and a story behind it. It tells about trade, conquerors, migrations and social changes. Every fundamental identity of people is based on what they eat”