Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Luzhniki is such a strange place.
As Julie wrote in a comment a few days ago, it used to be "a giant toilet" - thanks to the huge open-air market based there. But that was five years ago.
The market has since been shrunk and moved indoors, into the pavilions located at a safe distance from the stadium, closer to Sportivnaya subway station than to the impressive metal fence encircling the stadium.
And "the stadium" is, of course, the wrong word to describe Luzhniki. There are several football fields there, including the giant arena in the center, and quite a few tennis courts, and a skating rink or two, and the swimming pool. And there're roads, and all kinds of fancy cars driving around, and inside the giant central arena, there's a driving school, and a restaurant (or, perhaps, nothing but a Soviet-time sign that survives where the restaurant used to be), and even a hotel (or, again, just a sign). There's a statue of Lenin there, too.
FC Torpedo, one of Moscow's several teams, is based in Luzhniki: a few days ago, young boys were having a practice game, and the way the coach was yelling and cursing at them was absolutely unforgettable.
There's the Olimp Restaurant, on the embankment: often, it sends the lovely smell of grilled meat all the way across the river, to Vorobyovy Gory. The cars parked in front of it are sort of intimidating, way too fancy, and so I've never ventured inside, but we've seen the vehicle of the ambassador of Azerbaijan there and decided it must be a place specialising in Azeri food.
The best-looking tennis courts there are clay, and somehow I managed to guess how much it'd cost to play on them for one hour, and Mishah didn't believe me, but I checked online after our walk and it turned out I was almost right: I'd said it must be something like $100 an hour - well, it's $110 (2,800 rubles). Crazy, huh? But there are cheaper options in Luzhniki as well - things aren't as hopeless as they sometimes appear to be here.
The skating rink looks pretty from the outside, its architecture reminded me of the stuff they had in Tallinn back in the Soviet times - but inside it is awful: squeaky doors, leaky-looking roof, dim lights over the ice and shivering kids on it, no decent space for parents willing to watch their kids shiver and skate. But I'm sure the main couterargument of the folks there would be that we have the best coaches in the world. Like we have the best doctors in the world and that, for some reason, is supposed to make one feel okay inside one of those horrible post-Soviet hospitals. (Marta's too small to learn how to skate yet, so why am I complaining? Because I hoped to be able to skate there myself - but now I don't think it's a good place.)
The swimming pool, unlike the skating rink, looks dingy on the outside, and they had fire at a sauna there a few days ago, and the area around it still stinks of burned plastic. (Julie, I know it's been five years - but, how was it swimming in there?)
I tried to take a picture of some writing on the swimming pool's wall, but an Azeri-looking guy told me it was forbidden and threatened me with a guard. I can't possibly imagine what secrets they are hiding. Or perhaps I can. Fire hazard is one guess. Illegal workers is another.
Must be plenty of the latter, for on the edge of the compound there's a makeshift bus station, with a few dozen buses, most of which are ready to depart for Makhachkala, Dagestan. And Derbent, and Budyonnovsk. Lots of people with huge bags and sacks nearby. Quite impressive - and, needless to say, it didn't even occur to me to attempt to take a picture there. I felt happy, though, that there was no way for Moscow skinheads to attack these people - if the fence isn't enough, Luzhniki seems to have enough human security guards, too.
All in all, Luzhniki is a nice place to walk. I let Marta take her naps near the tennis courts - I want her to get used to the sound of tennis: a complete failure myself, a heartbreak for my tennis coach father, I want Marta to grow up a brilliant player, of course.
Here're some pics:
The swimming pool:
A journalist friend of mine was filing a piece on Ukraine's political crisis for a major Western news outlet - and his editors made him re-do the part about Yushchenko accusing the parliamentary majority of buying up votes of the opposition factions. An allegation, according to them.
Last night, this same journalist friend of mine was swamped with messages from a friend in Italy, who was really worried after hearing on TV that Ukraine was on the verge of a civil war. Not an allegation, obviously.
In the middle of this imaginary civil war yesterday, Kyiv residents spent a whole hour admiring the really splendid fireworks - with lightning bolts having "a show of their own in the background" all over the horizon.
"People applauded," my friend wrote me.
Enidd has mixed a BBC report on Ukraine's political crisis with her own photos from Kyiv - an awesome illustration of how the reality presented in the news diverges from the reality of the street.
And here's a comment from Little Miss Moi (and a longer post on civil war, Ukrainian-style):
[...] I celebrated the civil war by going to Hidropark and meeting some civilians, getting caught in a thunderstorm and eating shashlyk... [...]
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Here's my today's GV translation (looks like my "family members" and I aren't the only ones sick of Ukrainian politics):
Ukraine: Politics Overdose
On April 2, Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko dissolved parliament and called early elections, but prime minister Victor Yanukovych and his allies disputed the president's authority to do so (see here and here for earlier Global Voices translations). This week, Yushchenko dismissed the newly reappointed prosecutor general, Svyatoslav Piskun, who is the prime minister's ally. Interior minister Vasyl Tsushko accused the president of usurping power, and riot police stormed the prosecutor general's office. Yushchenko responded by placing interior ministry troops under his direct command. Yanukovych condemned the president's order, and the interior ministry said it would defy it. After a day of confusion over who controlled the interior ministry's troops, Yushchenko ordered extra units to Kyiv, but most were stopped on the way to the capital by traffic police acting on behalf of the government.
The outcome of this highly complicated conflict is yet to be seen, but one thing seems clear: many Ukrainians, on whose behalf the politicians involved in the current feud claim to be acting, suffer from politics overdose (and from unusually hot weather).
Here's what two journalists of the Ukrainian weekly news magazine Korrespondent wrote about this political and climatic heat on their blogs (RUS) on May 25.
Vitaliy Sych, Korrespondent's editor-in-chief:
I've a feeling that our politicians and ourselves have turned into parallel realities. And that our paths no longer cross. That's it. It's over.
Here's what you see on TV: the parliament wants to impeach the president, the president wants to fire the premier, the Constitutional Court's judges have been accused of taking millions in bribes. You watch it and think: So what? It doesn't mean anything anymore. The amount of important political news has grown so huge that it has practically lost all value. If tomorrow they show on TV that the premier or the president strangled and then ate three infants, everyone will say: How amusing.
Ukrainian politics has turned into a TV soap opera that never leaves the screen and no longer has any effect on the people's lives.
Local businessmen have understood this too already. Upcoming elections used to freeze most significant projects for a year, but now no one pays attention to the elections anymore. They have become routine. Yesterday, I looked through the English-language newspaper Kyiv Post, where I worked once myself. Never before has Ukraine seen such an influx of foreign investors. We used to run an item on arrival of a big investor in the market once a month. Now, there are five or six every week. Even the international ranking agencies have stopped downgrading Ukraine in their economic forecasts.
You'd think that the events like this should cause anxiety. No. No one gives a damn.
That's it, politics has strayed away from the people.
But please tell me one thing: if I [leave the city] for an overnight barbeque tomorrow, will they let me back in if the emergency state is declared?
Olga Kryzhanovskaya, editor of Korrespondent's The Country section:
The country has found itself on the brink of emergency state, two of the three branches of power have basically become illegitimate. Amazing, but there is no sign of it in Kyiv. There's no tension in the air, people are calmly discussing their weekend plans, no one hurries to turn on the news. After two months of political confrontation, it looks like everyone has simply lost interest to what's going on up there on the top. Summer, heat, beer in the open air. To hell with all this politics. The economy is working, banks are giving out money, stores are giving out food, subway is giving out tokens. This creates an illusion of everything being okay, and the TV news about the storming of the prosecutor general's office resembles yet another Jackie Chan action movie. Wake up, people! A healthy cynicism towards politicians is good. But at some point it becomes dangerous to be apathetic and carefree. Think of 2004. What would have happened if thousands of people hadn't come out into the streets and taken control over the situation? If only 300 paid extras had gathered at Maidan, instead of 300,000 citizens, there would have been no round table and no compromise. And now, until we turn into citizens again, politicians would continue making empty sounds with their authority, instead of looking for a way out.
UPDATE: Several hours after this translation went up, Ukraine's leaders reached an agreement to hold an early election on September 30. According to president Yushchenko, the political crisis is over.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Svyatoslav Piskun is no longer our prosecutor general (yet again), and some consider his (yet another) sacking a coup attempt.
A month ago, his (yet another) reappointment did nothing but emphasize the pointlessness of Ukrainian politics. Today, this pointlessness feels nothing but surreal.
Back in September 2005, I wrote this:
Following this country's politics too closely is as useless as being an expert on all the comings and goings at some obscure little company.
I feel the same way today.
One family member in Kyiv has prefered watching the Simpsons this evening, instead of Victor Yanukovych's emergency press conference.
Another family member says the weather's simply hellish, and everyone's melting in the heat and couldn't care less about politics.
On May 8, I called my friend whose husband died of cancer six months before, on November 8, two and a half months before their daughter was born. She was on her way home from the church when I called, her precious little daughter asleep in a sling. The park near Mariinsky Palace, occupied by the Yanukovych gang, happens to be the only decent place for them to go for walks - and there's no way they can go there now, she told me.
When I think of the current situation in Ukraine, this is making me feel the strongest: not the meaningless politics of it all, but my friend's absolutely desperate situation, aggravated by a bunch of losers camping in the park. So heartbreaking.
A report on BBC World today seemed to give an impression that the pro-Yanukovych rallies were genuine. I might've believed it had I not been there for a while back in April. I suspect that the reporter is perhaps aware of that herself. It's interesting how objective, impartial, purely factual reporting can sometimes obscure the complex truth.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Voting in the Third Annual Satin Pajama Awards (which I won last year in the Best CIS Blog nomination) is now underway over at A Fistful of Euros.
Just like last year, there's lots of great stuff to choose from, and it's also a great way to discover new blogs - so go there, read, vote.
To those of you who'll vote for me - a HUGE thanks.
And, it's not Eurovision, so please don't cheat. I won't.
Inspired by a few wonderful strolls we've had over the past week, I planned to post a 100-percent positive entry about Moscow. I swear I did.
But then something interfered - because it's Moscow after all, you know, and it's best not to expect anything good from it, and that's the beauty of it, I guess, the beauty of running into stuff that pleases you when you least expect it - and then running into stuff that pisses you off and reminds you of where you are.
Anyway. Vorobyovy Gory is such an awesome place, especially now, when everything's blooming all at once: lilac, apple and cherry trees, chestnuts, dandelions, and tulips (in Kyiv, each of these plants has its own blooming season, but here, somehow, it's different, at least this year).
They've set up what they call an Ecological Path on Vorobyovy Gory, and although it's too close to a couple major highways, there're so many trees that the quality of the air is really nice. Even despite all the smokers out there.
We like to take a boat there - a very handy means of transportation, especially on a rainy day like yesterday (I got totally soaked, but Marta didn't even wake up, not until we were safe inside the boat).
And it's lovely to watch all those people jogging and roller-skating, very inspiring - and they do outnumber the smokers.
Then, there's also the Luzhniki Stadium, across the river from Vorobyovy Gory. The air's not that great, but it's surprisingly clean there, lots of flowers, too, and the tennis player in me is itching for some athletic activity (after, like, nine years of being a lazy ass). Lots of kids playing basketball and doing all kinds of extreme bike and skateboard tricks right underneath the subway bridge. Way cool.
So I was all excited on our way home today, and was composing this positive post in my head, but then I decided to stop at a tiny grocery store near where we live. I had no idea it was so tiny, but once I was in there, with the stroller and Marta in it, I was reluctant to go elsewhere. It was late and the place wasn't crowded, no more than three or four customers other than me, and I thought I could survive it. I placed a ton of cookies and chocolates into my basket (just couldn't resist it, must've been those imaginary athletic activities that did it to me), and I chatted about some baby stuff with a friendly shop assistant - and then suddenly this young guy, the big boss, I suppose, started yelling at me:
"Zhenshchina, zdes nelzya s kolyaskoy! Eto vam ne supermarket! Lyudi rugayutsa!" ("Woman, strollers aren't allowed in here! It's not a supermarket! People are complaining!")
It was so shocking, you know. I turned and asked him who was complaining. He repeated what he'd already said: "Lyudi rugayutsa!"
And I looked into my basket, and it was so full of stuff, and I did a quick calculation of how much money they were going to lose if I just left, and then I put down the basket and just left. They must've spent the next hour or so getting all the stuff I didn't buy back on the shelves. Bastards.
I could've fought for my right to shop there with the stroller, could've cited some legislation, I guess - the way one Moscow blogger did a while ago - but I went to a real "supermarket" instead and bought all I needed there, minus most of the cookies and other sweets - and minus the pain in the ass. This is another thing I like about Moscow (and any other big city, for that matter): you're not stuck with just one option, there's plenty to choose from.
A few pictures:
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
This year, I didn't post anything on the 63rd anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, but here's a link to J. Otto Pohl's entry - please read it.
Below is an excerpt:
On 18 May 1944 the NKVD began the systematic round up of the Crimean Tatars in accordance with GKO order 5859ss. In the early hours of the morning a total of 23,000 officers and soldiers of the NKVD internal troops and 9,000 NKVD and NKGB operatives started going door to door and expelling the Crimean Tatars from their homes. They quickly roused the still sleeping Crimean Tatars from their beds and transported them to rail stations. They had only a short time to gather a few possessions to take with them into exile.
The Soviet security organs worked extremely fast. Already by 8 pm on 18 May 1944 they reported loading 90,000 Crimean Tatars into 25 train echelons. The first 17 of these echelons had already left on their way to Uzbekistan with 48,400 deportees. During the next day the NKVD continued this frantic pace. The NKVD had counted loading 164,515 Crimean Tatars into train wagons and dispatching 136,412 deportees to Uzbekistan during these two days. Finally, the NKVD finished the operation on 20 May 1944. The officers in charge of the operation initially reported deporting 180,014 Crimean Tatars on 67 train echelons and mobilizing an additional 11,000 men for forced labor. The NKVD thus recorded the forced removal of 191,014 Crimean Tatars from their ancestral homeland in only three days. The Stalin regime had ethnically cleansed the Crimean peninsula of virtually all Crimean Tatars. [...]
Monday, May 21, 2007
Ah, the joys of blogging.
First, I'm blasted for being a Russophobic sovok, then some idiot calls my photo of a woman fishing in the Bosphorus "Jewish crap," and before that, in a personal email, I get admonished for making fun of a Jewish last name (a misunderstanding I'll write about later), and one day before that, I'm accused of cheating in both the Eurovision 2007 and Ukraine's 2004 presidential votes.
All that within a week or so.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Again, thank you all for kind words and advice. I'm now writing down everything that Marta eats during the day - and it sort of looks okay, I guess. She's smaller than other kids her age (and smaller than some of the younger ones, too), and this is another thing that's making me nervous, but I've read that growth rates are all really individual, so I hope there's nothing much to worry about here. She's so much fun now, such a precious sweetheart...
On to some negative stuff:
I was at Staryi Arbat a few days ago - one of the most touristy places in Moscow, where they sell all kinds of souvenirs, etc. A foreign-looking couple was picking postcards outside a store when two cops approached them and asked to see their IDs. One of the cops was huge, fat, capable of knocking down half a dozen people with no special fighting skills but his weight alone, I guess, and he was the one who addressed the couple menacingly:
- Molodyye lyudi, vashi dokumenty! ("Your documents, young people!")
And the "young people" looked totally innocent, so like everyone else in the crowd around them. The woman was beautifully plump, something that caught my eye even before the cops showed up. And it was so shocking to see them singled out like that, like some "dangerous element." It was embarrassing.
I didn't pause to see the rest of it, whether the cops succeeded in extorting their beer money or not. But I can't get it out of my mind.
It's been years since I last worried about my own status here, and I believed everyone was feeling more or less at ease in Moscow by now. Well, everyone except for all those dark-haired migrant workers. But turns out nothing has really changed. Just think of it: they are brainwashing the people about all kinds of terrorist threats, but in the meantime, they are hunting down harmless tourists.
It's making me miss Istanbul so much more.
It also got me thinking that even if you stay away from politics here, this ID-checking shit should give you such a perfect glimpse into what this country is really like and how all this "widespread corruption" business really works.
And even if they elect themselves a saint as president, nothing's gonna change, ever.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Serbia has just won the Eurovision - I liked Marija Serifovic's voice.
I voted, like, 14 times for our Verka Serdyuchka (I'm in Moscow, not Kyiv, so I'm allowed to do that), and I also voted four or five times for Romania.
Ukraine came in second, and I'm sort of glad, maybe because we have Euro-2012 to prepare for, and hosting the second Eurovision in three years would've been too much.
Estonia gave 12 points (the highest mark) to Russia.
Turkey gave 12 points to Armenia.
Very strange - and moving.
Then there's all the diaspora voting: "France" giving 10 points to Armenia, "Portugal" giving 12 points to Ukraine.
Israel gave its 8, 10 and 12 points to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (maybe not in this order, though).
All the former Yugoslav countries voted for Serbia.
Maybe Eurovision should replace politics. Eurovision and the World Cup (football). This would make the world such a passionately friendly place.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
My May 9 photos are here.
First, there are the real (or more or less real-looking) veterans:
Then, there are the so-called average Russians, many of them with all kinds of flags:
And at least one non-Russian, with a Soviet flag:
And there's also this kid:
Then, there's all the disgusting Stalinist shit from Lubyanka Square:
And some more freaks from the same rally:
And finally, there are the nationalists, marching toward Pushkinskaya Square and making themselves comfortable there:
All in all, 87 photos.
I had only two hours for picture-taking that day, which is probably good, because, honestly, it was something I'd rather not see.
Two years ago, I didn't have to rush back to Marta (though I was already pregnant), and I spent about four hours among the freaks. Then, they were all piled together near Belaruskiy Train Station - and it was something. That was one of the first times when it occurred to me that if these people were the alternative to Putin, then it'd be better for Putin to stay. I also sort of sympathized with the cops then - the freaks were cursing them for those four hours non-stop and it would've been a completely logical human reaction to end it all in fucking bloodshed. But it ended peacefully then.
This year, they were allowed to march through the city. Accompanied by the riot cops, yes, but still, this was something that Kasparov's folks were not allowed to do on April 14. Strange, huh?
Two years ago, the freaks were really hurt by Putin's decision to occupy Red Square, fill it up with all the foreign guests - it was the 60th anniversary of the Victory. They were really mad at Putin then.
This year, they cursed Yeltsin the Drunk for having died before standing trial, and they also cursed the der'mocrats (this is what they call the "democrats" - "shitocrats"). I heard one of the speakers say that Putin was an okay guy, sober, but there was still no Order in the country.
The nationalists also seemed discontent with Putin: they were calling for a "Russian" regime. Kondopoga is the Hero City, according to them, along with Sevastopol. My favorite chant of theirs was "Christ has risen!" - "Indeed, he has!" It sounded weirdly Soviet somehow, the way they chanted it. Many people on Tverskaya looked at them as if they were aliens (the UFO type of aliens, not the gastarbeiter ones from Central Asia).
This year, Red Square was inaccessible again, and the cops, via a loudspeaker, were directing people towards Lubyanka. I found it amazing - because a much more appropriate destination would've been the tiny square in front of the Bolshoi Theater, halfway to Lubyanka, where veterans gather every year to listen to wartime songs and move everyone, including themselves, to tears. But the crowd was encouraged to go to where the Stalinist freaks were:
Around the flowerbed where Felix Dzerzhinsky used to stand, there was a little flea market: Soviet-time books, Stalin's portraits, toy soldiers. One woman was selling Taras Shevchenko's Kobzar, among other things (a Russian translation, the black-and-red book in the very center):
Darkness at Noon has a wonderful roundup of the day, with great pictures. He was lucky to see only one portrait of Stalin that day - the big one, attached to a minivan. I took a picture of it when it was already parked at Lubyanka, but Darkness at Noon saw it being driven there - and it made him wonder:
I don't know how the driver saw where he was going.
Here's my photo of the thing:
This same portrait was there two years ago as well - my 63 photos from the 2005 freak show are at fotopages.com, here.
(In 2006, I photographed the parade in Kyiv - 65 photos are here.)
The old Asian Stalinist from the previous post was there in 2005, too:
She's still wearing the same leather jacket and headscarf, but she's gained some weight in the past two years, and her Stalin is now safe inside a transparent plastic folder.
Back then, she was walking along Tverskaya, all alone, solemnly, and one of my thoughts was, "Doesn't she understand that if she decided to walk like this in, say, 1937, with a portrait of, say, Trotsky, she wouldn't last a hundred meters?"
Now one of my thoughts is, "Old age can be too fucking scary."
As for the Bronze Soldier hysteria, I think Putin is helping the angry folks let the steam out in a way that's safe for his ass. Kasparov is trying to do the same thing, but he's directing all that steam at Putin, not out of Russia, so it's not surprising that they are demonizing him so grotesquely.
But with this yearly Stalinist freak show, I don't get it. Because using the freaks to emphasize how scary/gross Putin's opponents are seems too smart for the people who act with so little common sense against Kasparov.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
After reading through a whole bunch of WWII stories that I found through this blog (here, here, and here, all in Russian), after being moved to tears by a number of them, after finally managing to pick two texts for a GV translation - after all this, I don't really want to think of what Moscow was like today/yesterday, on May 9. It's such an embarrassment - and, in many ways, such an outrage. What this regime is trying to accomplish by letting the freaks rally all they want is totally beyond me.
More pics later (I hope).
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Moscow, May 8, 2007: how typical...
"Vladimir Mikhailovich Chkhaidze, Hero of the Soviet Union, attended this school."
PLEASE DO NOT PICK OR TAKE AWAY FLOWERS FROM AROUND THE HERO'S MEMORIAL PLAQUE.
HAPPY VICTORY DAY!"
(I mentioned this school once before - here.)
Monday, May 07, 2007
From a New York Times story on Turkish politics:
[...] Turkey has had trouble choosing a president before. Shortly before the military coup of 1982, the parliament held 114 rounds of voting to elect a president. All failed. Candidates included an actress and a singer. The political jousting went on for six months. [...]
We're back in Moscow: it was a very short trip, but it went really great.
This time, I spent very little time photographing the city, and when I did, I was just shooting randomly, while walking, so there are very few quality pictures. I guess I overdid it on my previous trips: wherever I looked now, I knew I'd be repeating myself if I paused to take a picture...
The revelation of this trip (our tenth one, I guess) is how much Turkish people love children and how eagerly they show their affection. All those beautiful young men, pinching Marta's cheeks, saying, "Masaallah, cok guzel!" - this is something I'll definitely miss here...
Saturday, May 05, 2007
When we were making our hotel reservations back in March, we thought we were doing it sort of early - or, just in time. But we were late, and this is why we had to change rooms yesterday. Not a big deal, as long as we stay at this hotel.
The place - Kybele Hotel at Yerebatan Caddesi - is like home, and people here are family.
I used to consciously keep myself from writing about Kybele - guarding a secret, sort of - but there's no use to anymore: there are way too many visitors here anyway, and we've nothing to lose. So here goes:
I do recommend this Istanbul hotel to everyone - though I hope I've no jerks in my readership, and I also hope that none of you will beat us to a room next time we travel here again :)
Thursday, May 03, 2007
We're in Istanbul, since Monday. I'm so supersticious, I didn't want to write about the trip before we actually got here. And since both Marta and I are more or less sick, I was scared we'd decide not to go.
Marta did really well on the plane (that's a 3-hour flight), but I didn't: my right ear still doesn't hear anything. To make things worse, my nose is running like crazy, and I can neither smell nor taste anything. The loss of taste perception is especially depressing, as I love and always crave Turkish food.
Istanbul is incredible, as ever. I'd love to move here one day - live here full-time.
It's been almost two years since we were here last - in June 2005, when I was pregnant - and this gap, as well as the fact that I spent the happiest almost-a-month of my pregnancy in Turkey, somehow helped me realize how much I've changed since Marta's birth. Everything is about Marta now, nothing else really matters.
Everything, including my photos.
Marta is extremely popular here, but of course.
Finally, the rallies - Istanbul is so huge that the only way we could tell something was happening somewhere on May 1 was by seeing that black helicopter flying over us again and again. And I don't regret missing it; I went to Taksim Square today, saw the remnants of the riot police, but soon forgot about it - because to me, riot police is a Moscow thing, something that Istanbul knows much better how to transcend.
I'm sitting on the stairs at the hotel right now - because their wifi doesn't reach up to our room. So I guess I better go now. Iyi geceler to you all. Good night.