Saturday, March 31, 2007

Oh. Two major rallies in one day is a bit too much for me. And, as Yulia, Lutsenko and Kyrylenko are addressing Maidan right now, there's a nuthouse of a different sort taking place right outside our window at the other end of Khreshchatyk: some ad campaign game in front of some store, I guess - and they keep screaming, "Cola! Fanta! Cola! Fanta!"

***

Anyway, the Party of the Regions rally from noon to 3 pm - and the rally at Maidan from 5 pm to 7:30 pm, both pretty impressive and very different.

Lots of people with Party of the Regions and Communist flags at European Square, stinking of the trains they arrived here in. Despite their purely political flags and slogans, their rally was introduced as "our wonderful concert" - and then there was lots of music - all kinds of Ukrainian, not Russian, songs. Which was strange, and many got bored pretty soon, I guess.

There was a tiny crowd at Maidan at that time, and the part of Khreshchatyk between the two rallies was guarded by both regular and riot police. When Yanukovych folks were leaving their territory, out of boredom and curiousity, and walking towards Maidan, the cops, in that cute and funny fatherly/motherly fashion, were asking them to please take off their blue badges and hide their blue flags, just to be safe - and most of them did.

At first, when Maidan wasn't filled up at all, I was concerned with the presence of thuggish-looking men with what looked like sticks but were actually wrapped-up flags - which could still be used as sticks. But at 5 pm, the crowd at Maidan was as huge as during the first Maidan (or the first anniversary celebration - but boy, the weather is so different now!), and the folks from the European Square could no longer be perceived as threatening.

To me, Maidan was like an adrenaline shot. Lots of memories, lots of orange color, many people still remember how to smile. I'm not so sure about the politics, though. But we'll see where it's gonna go from here.

***

At European Square, I took a few pictures of the guys from Shakhtersk - some coal mining town in the East, I guess. They were friendly, but then asked me where I was from, and I sinned and lied that I was a tourist from Moscow, to avoid going into all kinds of explanations and political discussions. I was shooting against the sun, and they turned around, for me to get a better view, and then they were really excited to see what came out of it. I asked if any of them had email, so that I could send them the pictures, but they shook their heads - no. Which, somehow, is very depressing.

And then I was at Maidan, before the wonderful crowd gathered there, and two old women - from the two opposing camps - were having an argument - were fighting like cats, actually. "Go over to European Square, to Yanukovych, there you'll have your stability!" And I did a video of the end of this fight, and at some point some old asshole with the Ukrainian flag hit the pro-Yanukovych woman with it - which was a pathetic thing to do, really. And then - ha-ha - he hit me on the head with that same flag, deliberately, though not hard at all, but still, and then he was yelling the usual stuff about the Jews - and so I went home amused and perplexed, to say the least.

And this is part of the reason I'm so happy that the crowd at Maidan eventually grew to be more or less representative of the people it's sort of nice to share the country with. Maybe those guys from Shakhtersk joined them, too, later. Who knows...

***

I hope to post some pictures and a few video clips later tonight.

On his way from the train station in Kyiv this morning, Mishah saw a column of the Party of the Regions folks, stretching for about half a kilometer, from Kominterna Street to the University's Red Building.

Young men, some menacing, others looking quite miserable, all in their best tracksuit pants. Half as many young women walking along, dressed up diligently, ready for a day in the nation's capital.

Mishah's cab driver seemed to identify with this crowd (he had a small Party of the Regions flag on the dashboard), and he told Mishah that there were thousands of them, and that there'd be a revolution, and that they'd oust "the political prostitute."

I waited the whole day yesterday (Thu) for the Volia people to come over and set up fast internet for me, and no one showed up, and then I waited till 3:30 pm today (Fri).

It did feel like some conspiracy, you know, after the Ukrtelecom torture earlier this week.

Yesterday, they were here, but at another floor - the wrong one - because of the operator's mistake and their own laziness and/or stupidity. Today, they showed up so late because they were stuck in traffic; one of the guys had a cloth wrapped around his thumb, with some blood beginning to leak through.

On their site, Volia offers urgent installation for $20 or so, but on the phone they tell you they can only send their people over in two days - must be the brain-drain-to-Italy-and-Portugal thing.

People who answer their phones are really nice, I have to admit, and so are Ukrtelecom's people, but waiting for them to answer the phone takes forever, while at Volia you're not put on hold at all. So yes, they are all very nice, but what's the use?

***

To make things worse, our elevator isn't working and the staircase is completely unlit. No one knows how long it'll take them to fix the elevator. And it probably needs fixing - it was installed when I was 5 or 6, over quarter of a century ago. I do remember the old elevator sitting in the shaft, detached, like a dead monster, and I also remember the smell of welded metal that used to scare me a lot then.

Anyway, dragging Marta's stroller up and down several times a day sucks.

And in our building, we have people whose cars are worth a few apartments at Kyiv's Left Bank (and some cars have tyres that are worth nearly as much!) - and I wonder how they feel when they have to climb all the way up, using the stairs that stink of urine...

***

Because of the internet ordeal, I missed today's (Fri) rallies by the opposition and the Party of the Regions.

The 'opposition' label never really fit Yanukovych - even though they were very serious in their attempts to appear as victims of the evil regime back in summer 2005. So now the opposition looks a lot like it did in 2004: Yulia, Lutsenko... It's like acting, I guess - some actors can only play themselves - the same role over and over again.

***

But I walked to Maidan in the evening: they were setting up the stage, and there was a bunch of Yulia's and Nasha Ukraina tents, and the familiar flags. Lutsenko's maroon flags, however, have replaced Pora's orange and yellow ones - yes, no Pora whatsoever, or at least they are nowhere near as conspicuous as they used to be. What a pity, I remember voting for them a year ago...

People who gathered there today weren't really my type. Take this guy, for example:



The words on his poster are:

"I've no 'ethnicity' line in my passport? Am I Chinese? And who are you?"


If I understand it correctly, it's the Ukrainian version of Soviet nostalgia: what this guy has in common with his Soviet predecessors is the unwillingness to admit that some things are just none of his or anyone else's business.

***

And in the park across the street from the Cabinet of Ministers, some guys were trying to set up tents - and negotiating with cops. Don't know how it ended or who the guys were.





***

Enough for now.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Internet is such a disaster this time (Volia Cable sucks almost as much as Ukrtelecom does, so far), so here's a quick note:

They are expecting Maidan #2 on Saturday, and for once in a long, long time, on the surface, at least, Yushchenko seems to be making sense, but I doubt Maidan's ever gonna happen again, though, of course, people are likely to show up at the concert on Saturday and perhaps stay for the speeches by Yulia, Lutsenko and a bunch of others later. But, as Mishah said, we'll see how it's gonna go on Day 2. Me, I'd only go there to take pictures, if I manage to escape from Marta and the rest of the family for a while.

As for the rumors of "Donetsk thugs" being bussed to Kyiv, I've seen seven or eight fancy cars driving back and forth along Khreshchatyk tonight, honking like crazy, with flags of the Party of the Regions sticking out of the windows. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Right after they killed Maksim Kurochkin, I saw Natalya Vitrenko of the Progressive Socialist Party trying on a white blouse at a Metrograd store called EuroStyle.

***

And over at the AP they think our president is Victor Yanukovych.

A Russian businessman allied with Ukraine's president was killed by a sniper Tuesday as he was escorted from a courthouse during a break in his extortion trial, a government official said.

[...]

Kurochkin's trial had been closely watched because of his ties to pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. During the bitter 2004 presidential campaign and Orange Revolution protests, Kurochkin ran an organization called the Russian Club that supported Yanukovych.


And the Guardian and a bunch of other publications trust the AP and have reprinted its piece without looking through it first.

Here's the screenshot - because I'm sure they'll fix it when they wake up...



What a mess.

And what a pity that we have once again turned into a really obscure country (the size of France and all that)...

We're in Kyiv, since Saturday; I've been having very sporadic internet access (courtesy of the Ukrtelekom assholes) and I'm currently on dialup (but hope things will get better on Thursday).

***

Kyiv is very nice now, but it won't be real spring until the girls start walking around half-naked.

***

Unlike in Moscow, they wash their fancy cars here. Amazing contrast.

***

Balzaka, with the emphasis on the last syllable - instead of Balzaka - is how a taxi dispatcher called Balzac Street during our ride from the train station.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Other things I saw during our today's (yesterday's) walk:

- The remains of a poster for Mikhail Yevdokimov's performance at the Moscow Youth Palace. Yevdokimov was a comedian whose sense of humor used to annoy me, and then he became the governor of Altai region, and died in a car crash in August 2005. It was his fault, because he was speeding like crazy, as many of them big shots do, but for a while it looked like they'd send the driver of another car, Oleg Scherbinsky, to jail for four years, putting all the blame on him. That didn't happen, though, largely because Russian drivers got together for a few protest rallies - and helped rescue the poor guy.



- The building in which Mykhailo Hrushevsky used to live - "a Ukrainian historian and statesman, one of the most important figures of the Ukrainian national revival of the early 20th century." The sign is in Russian and Ukrainian:



- Wacky wooden fairy-tale sculptures at the children's park near Frunzenskaya subway station - a Russian warrior fighting a jinn and Pushkin's cat and mermaid (I guess):





The park used to be named after Mandelshtam - not Osip the poet, but Aleksandr a Bolshevik. (Have to check this, though.)

- A sign for all kinds of car repairs - tyres and what not - and in the middle, there's a word that I suspect only Armenians and Armeniaphiles tend to notice (our subconscious doesn't let it go unnoticed, that is): khash, served at a cafe that's open from 11 a.am to 11 p.m.

Khash is this wild wild wild soup - do read the Wikipedia entry on it. I've eaten it once - in Iowa City, of all places. I would've enjoyed it more if they hadn't made me drink that obligatory shot of vodka - I've never been a good morning drinker...

I ran into the Embassy of Iraq during our walk today (yesterday) - it's hidden well in an obscure neighborhood, squeezed between a number of medical and military institutions. It looks just like some of those African embassies in Moscow's center - a pre-revolutionary mansion, unkempt, with large metal containers dumped on what used to be the front lawn, etc.

Back in 2001, we lived on Pomerantsev Pereulok, across the street from the embassy of some African country - I can't remember which one - and I always felt sorry for the really beautiful building and for the trees trying to grow in between all the junk; last time we walked there, the embassy was gone - perhaps they couldn't afford it, and I'm really glad they moved out.

A Russian guy was trying to fix a rather elderly Volga in front of the Iraqi embassy building, and two amicable Arabs stood next to him, watching and giving advice.

It's a relatively quiet location, and I couldn't help thinking of how much quieter it is for them here than back home: Moscow may suck, but it's nowhere near as horrible as Baghdad entering the fifth year of war.

They don't allow to take pictures near embassies, so I never do. When I was pregnant, sometime in the summer of 2005, I was walking along Pomerantsev, for the first time in a few years, I guess, and I saw the dog that I used to feed when we lived there - a mutt that looked like a dirty mop, ugly but very clever, so clever that the cops guarding the African embassy kind of adopted it. And I was so excited to see it, after all those years, and I decided to take a picture - but a young cop emerged from his booth right away and asked me, politely, to move on. I complied, but took some time to explain my nostalgic feelings to him, and he must've been moved, because what he did next was really crazy, really hilarious: he grabbed the dog into his arms, with that totally serious look on his face, and started carrying it away from the embassy, so that I could photograph it. Just imagine it. It got me laughing, and I begged him to please put the poor creature down, and then walked off without the picture. I mean, a picture of the cop with the dog would've been a real masterpiece - but I don't think he would've agreed to be photographed like this, and the dog alone, well, I don't really need a picture to remember it.

Some of those police booths in front of the embassies have an unlikely village feel about them, by the way. Many have little white curtains on the windows, so carefree, and once I saw a cop pouring the remains of his tea into the puddle by the sidewalk, without stepping out of the booth.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I've a question: is there a collection of Georgi Gongadze's work, in any language?

I'm asking because today they are reading Politkovskaya all over the world, in memoriam, and it got me wondering.

P.S. And I don't mean something like Ukrainska Pravda's archives - I'm thinking more of something like a book. Does it exist?



St. Patrick's Day Parade was held at Novyi Arbat yesterday (Sunday). I'm not good with dates now, but from LJ user nl, I learned that, for some reason, the parade in Moscow was one day late.

It was over when I got there, and my camera's battery died soon after, so please visit nl's blog for awesome pictures and comments (in Russian), and also Darkness at Noon, who was there as well.

***

They all moved to Staryi Arbat after the parade was over, writes nl, and it was fun there, but I missed that, too, because I had to spend some time walking back and forth along Novyi Arbat, looking for a replacement battery, with no luck. Then I felt thirsty and decided to go to Rosy O'Grady's on Znamenka - but it was no longer there!!! The building it used to be in is being rebuilt, damn it. I ran into a group of fun-looking foreigners there - on a scavenger's hunt or something - and the lead guy told everyone that this was a very special spot because Rosy O'Grady's used to be there - and then they all bowed in that direction, in mock grief. Very sweet and very funny.



(Later that day, I stopped at T.G.I. Friday's on Pushkinskaya, still hoping for a Guinness - but it's been two weeks since they had it last. Incredible.)

***

The craziest thing about the parade was all the police and soldiers that they assembled there.



And even though the soldiers were dressed in green, it was depressing. Especially after one cop barked at me and a bunch of others, ordering us to step back - "How many more times am I supposed to tell you? STEP BACK! NAZAD!" Here's the jerk:



But there's always an antidote, right? So I also saw a cop playing some Celtic music real loud on his cell phone - he must've recorded a video of the parade and was reviewing it. That was cute.

***

I also saw one of the anti-war guys from the March 8 rally - he stood by the movie theater not far from the Ministry of Defense, giving out anti-draft leaflets that no one seemed to be eager to take. Not even I.

***

In general, I would've preferred to be in New York City that day. (And on other days, too.)

***

My 29 pictures are here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Thanks to Akhmad Kadyrov's ghost, there's a new twist in Russia's extremely twisted politics.

This past Saturday, a bunch of DPNI/nationalist/anti-immigration folks held a rally against renaming one of the streets in South Butovo, Moscow, into Kadyrov Street: he used to kill Russian soldiers in Chechnya and doesn't deserve being glorified like this.

Several activists were detained - and one still remains behind bars, awaiting trial and, possibly, deportation.

Deportation to Ukraine.

Olga Kasyanenko, aka LJ user matilda-don, a native of Donetsk, a Ukrainian citizen, an active member of DPNI (Movement Against Illegal Immigration) and a few other groups, a journalist, a correspondent for DPNI-TV, recently married to Vyacheslav Makarov, aka LJ user slavamakarov, a 27-year-old Russian citizen and a comrade-in-arms in the fight against illegal immigration.

Turns out she was not registered in Moscow - because, according to her husband, the new registration rules are too confusing.

Back in 2004, as a favor to presidential candidate Yanukovych, Putin allowed us Ukrainians to stay in Russia for 90 days without registration; Russian citizens had three days - not 90 - to do all the paperwork when they moved from one city to another, and if they failed, they were fined and/or detained; eventually, however, they were granted the same rights as the Ukrainians living in Russia. Beginning this year, though, the rules for foreigners have changed, and no one can figure out how they apply to Ukrainians - not even those who enforce the new migration laws. Either we have very little time to get registered, like everyone else, or the 2004 agreement is still valid and we still have our 90 days.

Anyway, matilda-don/Kasyanenko has gotten herself and the anti-immigration movement in a very funny, very absurd situation. Below are some of the exchanges (RUS) on her husband's blog - hilarious:

prof_umoriarty: How come the husband hasn't registered his lawful spouse? Greed?

slavamakarov: Damn. Even now, they can't give me a clear answer at the Federal Migration Service on what the rules are for Ukrainian citizens staying in Russia. If we had known what's required, we'd have gotten her registered [...].

ryurikov: I no longer understand anything. Slava, I apologize, but what you write is strange. Registration is meant for everyone. Ukrainians were just allowed to stay longer, but this did not cancel registration. Which means that Matilda was an illegal immigrant, violating registration rules, but she had an excuse - a train ticket [certifying that she had entered Russia within the past 90 days]. DPNI is fighting against such excuses, if I understand it correctly. So here's what we've got: a leading member (as she's been described here) of DPNI has consciously become one of those NI [an illegal immigrant] (hiding behind a scheme). It's surreal.

But that's okay. However, here's what you write: "If we had known what's required, we'd have gotten her registered" - this is totally crazy. According to you, after three months [since the new laws have been introduced], folks at DPNI don't know the basic things about immigration? Information on the changes regarding Ukrainian citizens is completely in public domain. I didn't know about them - but I'm not following migration politics. But DPNI and DPNI-TV - it turns out they know nothing about ... what they are fighting against? [...]

prof_umoriarty: Why didn't you register her [in your apartment] as your lawful spouse? Don't you trust her? Why did you get married then?

slavamakarov: Damn. I didn't have enough time - we were going to deal with it in a week, I was finishing up my property ownership paperwork.

eduard_bagirov: He doesn't trust her. He's afraid she's gonna cut off half of his room, hahaha. Ukrainian Tatar women [khokhlyatskiye tatarki], they are like this, yes.

signamax: Maybe someone will explain to me: Matilda, a citizen of Ukraine, stays in Moscow in violation of the registration regime (or whatever it's called), and at the same time, she's a member of DPNI - and yet, she's currently an illegal immigrant herself. [...]

signamax: Can I write somewhere - to DPNI or the prosecutor's office - that I support in every way the movement against illegal immigration and believe that, above all, its members have to fight for the purity in their own ranks. To support the deportation of Matilda to her historical homeland would be a logical and extremely patriotic step on the part of DPNI - and following inner logic, they should gather near the place of her detention right now, with the corresponding demand. [...]


***

I think it's all very typical, part of the general pattern. People who make me think something like, OK, if this is an alternative to Putin, then perhaps it'd be better for him to stay. As fucked up and hypocritical as Limonov and Anpilov posing as Kasparov's allies. And it's such a waste of time to be taking any of these characters seriously. There is, of course, some entertainment value in it.

***

Here're a few related but more or less irrelevant links:

- DPNI-TV's YouTube video of matilda-don interviewing (RUS) residents of South Butovo - including some clueless kids - on their views of Kadyrov;

- a few photos of South Butovo;

- matilda-don's CV (RUS) - unearthed by some skinheads who don't seem to like DPNI, partly because the movement's leader, Aleksandr Belov, is believed to be a Jew hiding behind a Russian last name (his real name is Potkin); matilda-don started out as Vecherniy Donetsk newspaper reporter in 1996; from September to November of 2006, she worked at the youth TV channel O2TV but quit because she "didn't agree with her bosses' ideology" (Aleksandr Dugin and Mikhail Leontyev often appear on that channel, as well as Maria Gaidar and Oleg Kashin);

- matilda-don's "prose" (RUS) at Proza.ru;

- the skinheads' forum thread on matilda-don - includes pictures of her with Belov-Potkin from her LJ (oh boy, I've just realized he's two years younger than I am... here's a bio of his, in Russian);

- a wedding picture of slavamakarov and matilda-don - they look like Tolkien fans, like hobbits...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I'm re-reading some of my old notes now - from my 2002 journal:

Two fat women at the hotel cafeteria in Nizhniy Novgorod are watching a Brazilian soap.

"What an apartment he got himself! A house, with a swimming pool and with a lake! The rich! [Bogachi!]"

"Her husband got into a fight with another guy - and what a fight that was!"

They are talking about the soap as if it's something from their own, real, lives - really hard to tell when they are discussing what.

"It's disgusting when he first has an affair with the mother, and then with the daughter..." - "What's disgusting about it? This is life!" - "Still, it's not nice."

"The guy's so good-looking... And women are so spoiled."

They switch to talking about themselves during commercials.

"Now you have two papas!"

"That's it. She's married now, and you better do something about your own life as well."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Here's something that I'd normally overlook - a "Fur Fair" ad:



But it's pasted all over the neighborhood, on what seems like every street pole, so I ended up taking a picture.

The "Fur Fair" is held at the dry cleaner's building near the Usachyovsky Market, from March 12 through March 18, the cheapest fur coats produced by the Pyatigorsk "Alef" Factory, mink, from 30,000 rubles up (at the current rate, $1,000 is something like 26,000 rubles)...

It's so mundane and yet so surreal, for some reason.

My friend Sasha has forwarded me this report by the Committee to Protect Journalists - "in case someone thought something had improved" was the title of his message:

UKRAINE: LOCAL AUTHORITIES CLOSE CRITICAL NEWSPAPER

Closure of independent weekly Dzerzhinets in the central Ukrainian city of Dneprodzerzhynsk and the harassment of its editor-in-chief.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
New York, New York, Wed, March 14, 2007

NEW YORK - The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the
closure of independent weekly Dzerzhinets in the central Ukrainian city of Dneprodzerzhynsk and the harassment of its editor-in-chief.

Dzerzhinets was closed on January 30, after the Zavodskoi civil district
court convicted the paper of defamation and incitement of religious and national hatred.

Founder and Editor-in-chief Margarita Zakora said the decision is related to
the paper's highly critical articles about local businessmen and officials
that revealed corruption in the city.

According to Zakora, authorities have tried to prevent her from launching a
defense or filing an appeal by not informing her of court dates and blocking
her access to case files. Zakora said she received a notice informing her of
an appeal court session scheduled for January 30-three days after it occurred.

A week before, the same court ordered the seizure of property belonging to
the journalist and the paper, and the payment of 140,660 hryvnias (US$29,071) in defamation damages to a local police chief for articles accusing him of corruption and intentionally violating the city's laws.

This court session was also held without Zakora's knowledge; she was
informed of the decision January 31, when she found court notices stuck to
her front door.

Authorities have refused Zakora's appeal, saying the time limit has passed.
Zakora maintains she could not meet the deadline because she received the
court's notification too late.

"The closure of Dzerzhinets comes at the end of a seriously flawed judicial
process which has denied our colleague Margarita Zakora the right to answer
her accusers," Executive Director Joel Simon said.

"The paper Dzerzhinets must be allowed to appeal this verdict, which should
be overturned. We also call on local police to investigate the attacks on
Zakora and guarantee her safety."

On July 12, pornographic cartoons of the journalist were pasted on the walls
of her office building, the local library, and other public places.

Dzerzhinets reporter Nadezhda Kuznetsova also received the cartoons and a
copy of the paper by mail, which she turned over to the local prosecutor's office.

On June 17, 2006 an unidentified gunman fired into her apartment window,
days after the paper carried a letter to the editor critical of local
businessmen. Police had opened a criminal investigation, but no arrests were
made.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I've been cleaning up my photos as well:

- There's a new Nostalgia #1 set - 70 photos from Pushcha Vodytsya and Gorenka that make me feel good even though I'm not there and it's not summer.

(Gorenka really feels like the same thing as Pushcha if you live there, but is technically a separate entity - a village, while Pushcha is part of Kyiv's Obolon district.)



- There's also a tiny set of Ostorozhno, zlaya sobaka! pictures - "Beware of the dog" signs on the fences in Gorenka and Pushcha. Only two real dogs, though.



- And I've added a bunch of Marta's pictures to her set:

Mishah returned from his trip, looked around and wrote (RUS):

I'm back to Moscow from Luxembourg. Nothing but shit, mud and ugly faces around. Should either travel more often, or not travel at all. Or just once.


He then got himself a Flickr account - for his Luxembourg pictures:


© Mishah Smetana

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From a New York Times' profile of Garry Kasparov:

[...] someone who sounded angry that Mr. Kasparov had given up chess for politics attacked him with a chessboard in 2005. (“I am lucky,” he said at the time, “that the popular sport in the Soviet Union was chess and not baseball.”)


How can someone like Kasparov - someone with his sense of humor - be called a fascist? (Folks like Nashi do call him that a lot.)

And - how can someone like him mix with people like Limonov and Anpilov?

***

By the way, I can't access NPB's site - who knows, maybe they've finally decided to get rid of those idiotic Nazi posters, now that they are allied with someone as presentable as Kasparov.

And there seems to have been a split within NBP: the site that is accessible now is NBP Without Limonov (English version is here). A quick look through it shows that they are up against Linderman, some Jewish comrade of Limonov. And Garry Kasparov ("half Jewish and half Armenian, born in Baku") cannot be their dream leader, either, I guess.



I took this picture around 6 p.m. today (yesterday): a bunch of street-sweepers (also, ice-breakers in winter) are playing football at a school playground. It was very fun to watch them: they were totally immersed in the game, didn't even notice that I was photographing them.

Most, if not all, were Asian (non-Slavic) - most likely imported into Moscow from a Russian region (not from the "near abroad").

Reading some people's blogs (mine included), you'd think all that ever happens to these "foreign migrant workers" is they get beaten and killed by ethnic Russians. Reading other people's blogs, it seems that all they ever do here is abuse and humiliate ethnic Russians. But life is more complex than that, of course.

The school near which they are playing, by the way, is named after a WWII "Hero of the Soviet Union" with a Georgian last name (which I don't remember).

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dog shit is everywhere, huge turds, and what remains of the snow is either water or it's black. The only bright spots turn out to be trash - or cars. And children's playgrounds. Mezhsezonye. Seasonal affective disorder should be renamed into inter-seasonal affective disorder - but this would kill the tasty acronym. Mishah is in Luxembourg; he wrote me that apricots are in bloom there already.









The cops in the last picture, armed with Kalashnikovs (I guess), searched this dark-haired, non-Slavic-looking young men, then put him into their car and drove off.

***

Novodevichiy Monastery remains the nicest place for walks in our neighborhood: now it's perfect for shit-free walks.





Sunday, March 11, 2007



A set of 14 photos from the March 8 rally is here.

***

Here's the note-taking cop:





***

And here's the protest-addicted babushka (still haven't found that funny post about her...):

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I really regret not being able to write every day - to write as much as I want to every day. To reply to people's emails. To write down all the exciting things about Marta. Once again, I wish I had a clone - and it'd also be great if the day lasted 30 hours, not 24. I wouldn't be so sleep-deprived then, too.

Anyway, here's how I spent March 8.

Mishah had a day off, so he went for a walk with Marta, and I took a cab downtown (or is it uptown? it is...), to Chistiye Prudy, the area where I hadn't been to yet, since my return from Kyiv.

The driver was a 30-year-old Uzbek guy from Tashkent who has lived in Moscow for half a year. He complained about the loose morals of the local males: on the average, he gets propositioned twice a week here, by "all those transvestites and gays." A cute guy, a Muslim. The ride was over before we got to discuss xenophobia.

It was the first really warm, really sunny day, so wonderful, so I walked and walked and walked. Originally, I had been planning to have coffee and read a book at the coffee place on Pokrovka, but I just couldn't stop walking. I only took a few pictures during my walk - here's one:



It was nice seeing women with flowers (though so many had their men with them - and it was often the guys who were carrying the bouquets - as if flowers are such a heavy burden for a woman to carry herself). It was also nice saying "Happy March 8" to those poor women who had to work on what was a day off for the rest of us: a kiosk woman I bought water from, a bookstore woman, etc. It felt nice to make them smile.

I didn't give up on the idea of having coffee, but when I was ready to pause, the place I went into on Tverskaya was choke-full. So I decided to walk past our former place on Bolshaya Bronnaya instead, across the street from the synagogue - the lousy weather of the past two months hadn't allowed me take this nostalgic walk.

I was near the McDonald's on Pushkinskaya, feeling pregnant again (because this was the area where I spent most of my pregnancy), when I saw one of those ugly buses, with curtained windows, and then a few more, and I had this click in my head right away, and I turned left, and yes, there was an awfully tiny rally near the square - which I wouldn't have noticed if it hadn't been for all the riot police around.

Just like in September 2005, two and a half months before Marta was born - I wrote about that rally here, here, and here.

There were only a dozen people or so, protesting Russia's involvement in Chechnya. I walked by, read the slogans, accepted a leaflet from an eccentric-looking man, got reminded that March 8 wasn't just the International Women's Day here but also the second anniversary of Maskhadov's death (a flashback: dead Maskhadov on every TV channel, Ramzan Kadyrov's sick sick sick sense of humor - this corpse was his March 8 present to every Chechen woman).

I continued on my walk towards our Bolshaya Bronnaya place.

But when I was a block away, I heard some noise, turned around and saw a guy climb the blue toilet booth a few meters away from the protesters, and then a riot cop got there after him, and, after some struggle, he pulled the guy down, from all the way up, into the snow.

Damn, I thought, as I saw a pack of journalists rush towards the toilets: I was there just two minutes ago - why did I not stay?

So I went back, in time to capture the cops carrying the poor guy to the bus:



But my footage is nothing, especially compared to this:



Normally, I wouldn't link to anything by the folks who shot this video - and who, it turned out, were counter-rallying against the anti-war folks (the guy on the toilet roof was from their crowd): Rossiya Molodaya, a youth movement that seems to be very much like Nashi, as moronic (though I do admit I haven't bothered reading about them at all - all I know is they are against "liberal fascists" and "political prostitutes").

But this video is different: it's something that I watched from afar - because of the really bad timing.

I hung around for a while, taking pictures of the poor anti-war people (will post them later, I hope).

One cop there had a tiny notepad and a pen: he walked around, diligently copying all the slogans. I wonder why he was doing that. In the last Esquire, there's a selection of LiveJournal entries by Moscow cops - an awesome piece - maybe he was one of those bloggers. :)

And I've finally seen that elderly woman who goes to every rally, left and right, just because she loves it. (Later, I'll post my photo of her, and a link to LJ user nl's hilarious entry about her - need some time to find it).

One woman at the rally held a poster that said Aslan Maskhadov wasn't a terrorist but a slain president of the Chechen Republic. Okay. But I've had this question about him for a few years now and kept forgetting to ask it here. A rhetorical question:

Maskhadov used to be the "anti-aircraft and artillery division chief-of-staff at the Baltic Military District in Vilnius, Lithuania" (from here) and "took part in the Soviet army's attempt to suppress Lithuania's nationalist independence movement in January 1991 - an episode he quickly came to regret" (from here):

"I was in Lithuania, in Vilnius during those events. I also thought at that time that the Lithuanians were allowed to do what they wanted, to live under the wing of Russia, they lived normally there. And today it is shameful for me that I had those views and I think differently."


(From here.)

And then he also regretted the Chechen fighters' involvement in the war against Georgia, on the Abkhaz side:

"The participation of our volunteers in the Abkhazia conflict against Georgia is not the best page in the history of relations between two brotherly nations," Maskhadov said. "We acknowledge today that our volunteers were deceived. At the outset of 1993-1994, on the eve of Russia's invasion into our territory, on the eve of Russia's aggression, we should not have been involved [in the conflict], taking into account strategic, tactical, military and political considerations. We had no right to do this. We only damaged our interests, even from military point of view, even from political point of view, to say nothing about the brotherly relations between our peoples. I hope that this will serve us as a lesson forever."


(I've no link for this, it's in my Beslan notes, but is easy to find - here's the source: The Jamestown Foundation's Chechnya Weekly, Vol. 5, Issue 33, Sept. 1, 2004.)

The question is this, I guess: how come politicians always manage to get off so easily? Or something.

To wrap this up, I did walk past our former house eventually and it was such an emotional boost for me. All the memories from that totally different life we had. And, strangely, the impromptu rally experience had the same effect on me: a glimpse into the past (a more realistic observation, though, is that the opposition seems to have gotten even thinner in the past year and a half - or perhaps I'm wrong and they've all just moved to St. Pete...)

Anyway, it was a great day, and I've written more than I expected I would, and there'll be some pics later, and then for a while I won't feel too guilty about not writing here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

According to Korrespondent.net (RUS), 14 skinheads attacked a Brazilian football player Glayton Barbosa (formerly of FC Schalke 04) in the very center of Kyiv on March 7.

It happened near the fancy-schmancy Arena City mall at Besarabka - I've always thought it was one of the safest and best-guarded places in the city:

One of the attackers sprayed some tear gas into the black player's face, and then the rest attacked him and started beating him with their legs. They were stopped by the girl accompanying the football player; she screamed: "What are you doing? This is a Brazilian football player!"

Glayton managed to escape inside the Arena City, and skinheads started lecturing the girl for being a Slav and yet walking around the city with a negr. While they were moralizing, someone called the police, and the skinheads ran away.

Let's add that the football player and his girlfriend Byata [sp?], a singer with the Lithuanian Funky [sp?] band, were guests at Masha Fokina's new album presentation.


Motherfuckers.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Warning: a long tennis post ahead :)))

This piece in the New York Times caught me unawares - How to Grow a Super Athlete, by Daniel Coyle.



I saw Yelena Dementieva's picture on the coverpage, next to the article's title, and immediately began thinking about a story of one of Mishah's colleagues: how her daughter and Dementieva had the same tennis coach when they were little, and Dementieva was deemed absolutely no good, while the daughter of Mishah's colleague was considered really promising - but in the end, it was Dementieva who managed to beat them all big time.

Then I opened the story, scrolled down, and saw this photo (by Olaf Blecker):



Larisa Dmitrievna Preobrazhenskaya, she was my coach here in 1986-87, when I lived in Moscow with my mama after Chernobyl.

Bumping into her like this so many years later is strange - and very moving.

The coach, 77-year-old Larisa Preobrazhenskaya (pronounced pray-oh-brah-ZHEN-skya), stood at the sideline, watching. She wore a red-and-white tracksuit and a knowing, amused expression. Preobrazhenskaya was Spartak's most renowned youth coach, but she wore her authority lightly, radiating a grandmotherly twinkle behind hooded eyes. She'd been quite a player in her day, the 1955 Soviet singles champion. She still looked athletic, sauntering around the court with a John Wayne limp caused by a sore hip. The parents huddled by the door, watchful and silent.


She has aged so much. And so has my father. How heartbreaking. She's three years his senior.

***

If Preobrazhenskaya's approach were boiled down to one word (and it frequently was), that word would be tekhnika — technique.


Papa made it possible for me to be her student that year - it was an honor, even then. But when I returned to Kyiv, he was displeased with the way my serve had changed, and he blamed it on Preobrazhenskaya: her "swing your arms up, like wings" approach wasn't his idea of good tekhnika.

A few years ago, at a press conference, Dementieva, teary-eyed, blamed her serve for the defeat at some tournament.

***

To put Spartak's success in talent-map terms: this club, which has one indoor court, has achieved eight year-end top-20 women's rankings over the last three years. During that same period, the entire United States has achieved seven.


Back in the 1980s, there was a very talented junior player, Natasha Biletskaya, from Novaya Kakhovka, a small Ukrainian town that we used to teasingly call "New Kakhovka." There, they didn't have a single indoor court at all, and all winter long she used to play against the wall - and then, she kicked everyone's asses at most tournaments.

***

About the translator accompanying the author of the article in Moscow, and about the tennis center where Preobrazhenskaya works:

"I learned my English listening to music, like Elton John," she said. "'Crocodile Rocks'! I love it!"

We rode the subway half an hour northeast to Sokolniki Park and started walking. And walking. Sokolniki is almost twice the size of Central Park, considerably less central and only vaguely parklike. It's basically a huge forest of birch and elm trees filled with a disconcertingly energetic population of stray dogs. [...]


Oh, man, this is so familiar. The way I learned English, but also how I became immune to Moscow: I was 12, and several days a week, after school, I had to take a bus to Universitet subway station, then ride all the way up to Sokolniki, walk to the tennis center there (no stray dogs then, though), play for a couple hours, then go back home and do my homework. After Kyiv, where everything was so close, this was such a feat, and so exhausting. But I'm grateful I had to go through this: Moscow doesn't seem like such a nightmare now.

***

[...] a Slavic gene pool that produces a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tall, fast, strong kids [...]


Funny, but the only one of Preobrazhenskaya's really successful students who I played next to that year was Tatyana Panova, two years my junior, height 5' 3/4'' (1.54 m), weight 115 lbs. (52 kg). Watching her play against Lindsay Davenport - height 6' 2 1/2'' (1.89 m), weight 175 lbs. (79 kg) - was very, very, very scary. Just imagine: Davenport is 35 cm taller.

***

[...] the economic and cultural gateway that opened with the 1991 collapse of the Communist government [...]


Somehow, this was when I quit tennis. I was lazy and liked to cheat my way out of much of the work, and it was easy with my extremely kind papa, so it wasn't like I was going to become a star anyway, but I also remember my mama telling her friends that she wasn't going to torture her child as long as all the prize money went into the pockets of the bureaucrats at Sportkomitet.

***

[...] the former Russian president Boris Yeltsin's enthusiastic (if at times klutzy) love for the sport [...]


Yes, he could spend six hours in row watching every single Russian player, with only one bathroom break. Amazing.

***

About Dementieva:

Surprisingly, she had been rejected by several other clubs as too slow before landing at Spartak. She spoke fondly, if a little vaguely, of her days at the club: dodging stray dogs, washing dirty tennis balls in the sink, doing homework on the long subway ride.


She was 5 years old when I was suffering through my subway rides to Sokolniki...

***

Driven Parents. The hunger and ambition of Russian parents is uniquely strong, particularly when one considers how hard life is in Russia right now and also that the patron saint of Russian tennis parents is the ex-Siberian oil-field worker Yuri Sharapov, who came to America with less than $1,000 and his 7-year-old daughter, Maria, who now earns an estimated $30 million a year in endorsements.


I'm so happy for Sharapova. I read somewhere that she spent the first two years in the States without her mother - because they wouldn't give her an entry visa to join her daughter. And now she's an absolutely free person - doesn't owe anything to Russia and doesn't have to worry about visas.

***

After all, at Spartak, they don't speak of "playing" tennis. The verb they like to use is borot'sya — to struggle.


My papa's way to describe some of my opponents was zubastaya - the one with the teeth. It was making me jealous, I guess, but then it was also pushing me to try growing the teeth of my own. He also used to tell us to "play our own game" - igray v svoyu igru - to avoid being manipulated by your opponent, and, as trite as it sounds, it's a good thing to remember in everyday life, too.

***

I've skipped most of the article - everything not related to Preobrazhenskaya. Will have to return to it later.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A brief note on Ukraine (via Korrespondent.net, RUS):

According to Yaroslav Davydovych, head of the central election commision, an early parliamentary election would cost us around 400 million hryvnias (approx. $80 million). This is part of the reason I'm against it: there must be a better way to spend this money. Many better ways, I'm sure.

In St. Pete today (yesterday), a surprisingly large rally.

Mishah showed me this lovely image from Reuters (from this series on Newsru.com) in the early afternoon - but this a guy with an NBP flag... I just can't get over it, you know... and I wonder how many people choose to stay home instead of having anything to do with the Nazi-style hammer and sickle... I've said this many times before, I know...

But now I'm reading the blog of someone I admire - LJ user aneta_spb, a St. Pete journalist of Belarusian descent - and here's what she writes (RUS):

In this case, I don't care what flags people were carrying. What's important is that the most popular slogan - the one that everyone supported - was: "This is our city!"


And I guess I understand how she feels: it's probably like having those UNA-UNSO guys all over the place at Maidan - I kind of hate their guts, and they do seem pretty marginal (even though they are part of BYuT - or are they still?), but sometimes I'm able not to notice them and their flags. Same with NBP, I guess... (Only it's still not the same, for some reason...)

From a number of LJ comments, I understand that many of the media do focus on NBP presence at the rally a lot - bad, bad protesters, extremists-fascists. The fact that NBP exists at all certainly helps the regime - otherwise, who would be there to get attacked by OMON? (The old ladies on the wonderful picture over this New York Times piece aren't such a good target, are they?)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Really gloomy weather here today: +2C and raining.

There are so many things I want to get done, but there's so little time, and I have this constant feeling that I'm not getting anything done at all, except for feeding Marta and doing the dishes. And doing laundry.

She's asleep on me now, so I'm writing.

She's had a cold this week or something - we wouldn't have guessed if it hadn't been for some fever on Monday night and some coughing today: in between, she is the usual Marta.

I called a doctor on Tuesday (or was it Wednesday?) and he said she was okay, developing normally, etc. But in Moscow they have this favorite condition - intracranial hypertension syndrome (sindrom vnutricherepnoy gipertenzii) - which seems to be just like hip dysplasia in Kyiv, a scary-sounding but rather vague thing that they feel safe (mis)diagnosing way too many kids with. The doctor - elderly, with a fancy medical/scientific degree and a personal stamp - said Marta should be checked by a neurologist, and, of course, he recommended someone, a friend, I'm sure, or a colleague he's getting commission from for sending customers her way... I mean, patients, not customers... I was actually thinking of one cozy restaurant in Istanbul as I was writing this - our friend, its owner, told us all about this commission thing (as it applies to him and his friends, not the Turkish doctors). Anyway, here's why the doctor thought Marta could have hypertension syndrome: because of her large forehead. Ha ha ha. If left untreated, it'd crush her brains, he told me very kindly, but was careful enough to put a question mark next to the diagnisis on the paper he issued to me. I told him (quite proudly) that the forehead is most definitely from Mishah, a familial trait, sort of. I hope he understood that his neurologist friend isn't getting any money from me.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

LJ user radulova (Russian journalist Natalya Radulova) has posted photos of Moscow apartments for rent. Jesus.

They say Kyiv is drowning in garbage (thanks to the already-not-so-new mayor and his preoccupation with stealing land instead of working). Mishah's mother confirms this, my mama hasn't noticed anything (but she's such an optimist, maybe that's why). What she has noticed lately is two things, though: first, a huge bath tub made of malachite on display in one furniture store downtown - the price tag is either 10,000 euros or 100,000 euros (I have to ask her again, but either way, it's outrageous); second, a stained-glass filling for wardrobe doors at another store, really beautiful, Tiffany, either $1,000 or $2,000 per square meter (a sudden memory loss - have to check this as well). "So what?" is an obvious question here, I know. Well, I guess it's a good example of how we take such truly amazing things for granted - I wasn't planning to write about it, but since I'm so terribly busy with Marta and with Global Voices and am neglecting this blog so cruelly, I had to jumpstart myself somehow, and this little anecdote is as good as any, I guess: Kyiv, the luxurious shithole.