Sunday, July 31, 2005

We spent half of the day today/yesterday at Afisha Magazine's Picnic - very nice, so many young, good-looking people, no alcohol and no drunks, fresh air, barbeque... Not interesting to take pictures at all - I was upset at first, thought something was wrong with me, until Mishah told me that two professional photographers, very good ones, also found little worth photographing...

Friday, July 29, 2005

A very happy day today: I've finally found and bought Masha Gessen's book, Two Babushkas, at a small English-language bookstore on Myasnitskaya, the John Parsons Bookshop.

I saw the book lying there the moment I entered the place; I grabbed it and went straight to the cashier's. I told the saleswoman I'd been looking for the book everywhere, for a long time, even in Istanbul, where the non-fiction selection is incomparably better. She seemed to have caught some of my joy and gave me a 5-percent discount: I paid 516 rubles instead of 543, but was prepared to pay twice as much, I guess. She said the book arrived only two weeks ago, on July 16.

I've already finished reading the prologue - loved it. Hope the rest of the book is as good!
True to his old, positive, self, Yushchenko has made a reconciliation phone call to Serhiy Leshchenko at Ukrainska Pravda today.

According to Leshchenko (in Ukrainian), they talked about the situation around Yushchenko's son and ended up having a symbolic handshake over the phone.
I woke up with this very lucid thought today: Yushchenko never seemed to pretend he and his family didn't have enough money.

He's a former banker; his hobby, collecting antiques, is - potentially, though not necessarily - an expensive one; his wife isn't some working class American girl, etc. The seeming populism of his decision to celebrate his 51st birthday at an expat bar is easily negated by the fact that many, many Ukrainians would find the prices at that place prohibitive: 8 hryvnias ($1.6) for half a liter of the local beer or 26 hryvnias ($5.2) for a pint of Guinness is too much. (That the president's son would most likely consider O'Brien's a shithole is irrelevant: I didn't vote for Andriy Yushchenko. Similarly, I sort of hate the look in Petro Yushchenko's eyes - so calculating, only God knows what a person like this is up to - but that's irrelevant, too, for I didn't vote for the president's older brother.)

I loved it that Yushchenko didn't try to conceal part of his wealth when, a few years ago, journalists discovered he had a really nice country house: he invited them over and showed them around, instead of pretending he had been caught visiting a rich friend's residence or something.

It's totally fine with me that Yushchenko isn't as poor as the rest of the country's citizens - and that this is public knowledge: it's so different from the old Soviet ways that it gives hope - assuming, of course, that he and his team know what to do about the economic and social situation in the country.

But the way he behaved at that press conference was so graceless; the way he made it clear he was as Soviet as it gets was so pathetic; the way his press secretary and the interior minister tried to shield him and his son was so amateurish...

With all this, it's impossible to keep the lucid waking thought about Yushchenko's lack of hypocrisy for a long time...
Yesterday, someone named Panas Periperdenko, of The Young Naturalist, Kirovohrad, was listed as #556 on the petition for a while - that name is as unlikely as, say, Archibald Overfartson, and it's good someone at Ukrainska Pravda noticed and deleted it.

If they really want to be taken seriously, by Yushchenko or anyone else, they should spend some time looking carefully through the list of people who have signed the petition, getting rid of those who appear more than once, checking all the names for authenticity.

That's a lot of work - but not as much as raising a good, modest son.

So far, 659 names, including three Stepan Sachuks and two Ivan Kolodiys (#278 and #439).

The original petition, with the names, in Ukrainian, is here; its English translation is here.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

All of a sudden, I'm so sick of Moscow. I wish we had a dacha or relatives in a village. Or a car.

Yuri Lutsenko, Ukraine's Interior Minister, deserves a separate entry.

Yesterday night, during a live broadcast on Channel 1+1, he issued a fine for traffic violations to Andriy Yushchenko: the president's son now has to pay 17 hryvnias. That's $3.36.

Abdymok has more on it - here and here.
As of now, 602 journalists have signed the petition, some of them as many as three times (Stepan Sachuk, newspaper Volyn, editor-in-chief, Lutsk - #420, #422 and #426)...


The story of the scandal is featured in the Times and the Telegraph in Britain, and Mara Bellaby's AP piece is all over the place, too...


The Kyiv Post has a fresh editorial - That Kid Again:


It’s worth separating what’s outrageous about the above from what isn’t. Listening to some of the journalistic rhetoric, you’d think young Andriy was an outrageous decadent in the mold of the Marquis de Sade, squandering the national wealth on ceaseless orgies. In fact, his lifestyle is not atypical of that of young people in positions analogous to his. It might be unfair, but the kids of powerful politicians tend to be showered with gifts and offered opportunities the rest of us don’t get. They get offered high-paying sinecures. When Ukrainska Pravda editor Olena Prytula says in a recent interview that Andriy’s lifestyle raises corruption issues, because Andriy’s unnamed benefactors might be trying to influence the president, she’s mistaken. There’s nothing that says a First Child has to take a vow of poverty, and there’s nothing illegal about a private citizen – which is what Andriy is – accepting gifts or a high salary for doing too little work. Without proof of a quid pro quo involving his father, what Andriy owns – or borrows or uses or accepts as a gift – is no one’s business but his own and his family’s. Unseemliness is no crime. This is a free country.

What is outrageous, however, is Andriy’s allegedly loutish behavior. No one should be able to park illegally in the middle of the street; no one’s bodyguards should be able to warn off the police. This speaks to an old Ukrainian problem: that there have been two sets of laws in this country, one for the guys in the black luxury sedans, and another for everybody else. If young Yushchenko gets to break the laws everyone else lives under, then this is absolutely a matter for a watchdog press.

This brings us back to President Yushchenko’s behavior throughout this hullabaloo. It hasn’t been good. When an Ukrainska Pravda reporter questioned him about his son at a press conference this week, Yushchenko exploded in dudgeon. In a rambling response, he insisted on his son’s flawless morality, weirdly brought up the specter of threats of violence against his family, adjured journalists not to disgrace their profession, offered conflicting versions of who’s paying for his son’s luxuries, and – most startling of all – told Ukrainska Pravda’s reporter not to be a “hired killer.” That’s a loaded thing to say in a country where journalists have indeed been long for hire, and where they’ve too often been killed.

If Yushchenko’s going to be the leader of a European country, he should try to sound like one. Do we believe Yushchenko has the same contempt for a free press that his predecessor in office did? No. But the trouble with this sort of ranting is that it sets a bad example for officials down the food chain. If a newspaper cameraman has his equipment smashed by an Interior Ministry cop next week, we’ll wonder whether Yushchenko’s effusion didn’t have something to do with it.


The president missed an excellent chance to strengthen democracy and the media environment here, and to affirm that the days of well-connected Ukrainians being above the law are over.
The Spring 2005 issue of Iowa Journalist, a student publication of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has a piece about a faculty members' visit to Ukraine last fall, written by Erin Pfaff, a UI graduate student.

As always, it's absolutely amazing to see how foreign and mysterious we, Ukrainians, probably appear to someone who does not necessarily seem too foreign to us...

Journey highlights freedom of the press
Educating Ukraine about U.S. journalism teaches Berry more than the language

It's Oct. 31, 2004, and the future of Ukraine depends on the outcome of today's federal election. Assigned to cover a voting district, 21-year-old journalist, Hellen Pany Ly Shyn arrives at her post close to midnight. She waits outside for results as election officials have just finished counting the votes and are putting them in bags.

Yelling erupts from behind the closed door. Curious about the commotion, Ly Shyn walks into the room and witnesses "thugs" trying to steal the election bags. A gun shot is fired. The officials drop the bags and the thugs run off with them.

A short while later Ly Shyn receives a call telling her that she has seen too much and warning her to leave town. So the young journalist flees town, afraid for her safety if she stays and afraid for her life should she publish her story.

This is just one of the many personal accounts that University of Iowa journalism associate professor and Pulitzer prize-winning investigative reporter, Steve Berry, was told during his two-week free press mission in Ukraine.


What kind of name is Hellen Pany Ly Shyn - and Ly Shyn? Chinese?

It must've been Steve Berry's journalistic handwriting - DanyLyShyn, Olena Danylyshyn, a reporter with a Kirovohrad newspaper Nasha Gazeta (it's Kirovohad, not Kirovohrad, in the piece, but compared to how the reporter's name is misspelled, it's nothing)...
Here's Mishah's idea on how they could save Yushchenko's ass more or less gracefully (though with Irina Gerashchenko's pathetic attempt, it may be too late now...):

Yushchenko should convince his son to auction his car and his cell phone - and then they should donate all the money to an orphanage.

Wouldn't that be nice.

Me, I had a similar idea about the oranges: Mykola Bazhan should have told his nephew Yevgeniy Lauer to take all the oranges from the fridge and share them with his friends at school.

Too late for Bazhan, not too late for Yushchenko.
A Yushchenko joke someone's posted on the Ukrainska Pravda Forum (in Russian):

Yushchenko talks to his Austrian doctor:

- Doctor, I eat red caviar and shit with red caviar, I eat black caviar and shit with black caviar... Help me, doctor, what should I do?!

- Eat shit and you'll shit like a normal person.
Ukrainska Pravda's "Leonid Amchuk" comes up with Part 3 of the Son of God series - this time in Russian, not Ukrainian, for some reason.

Irina Gerashchenko, Yushchenko's press secretary, has a tough job. Here's some of the bullshitting she has to do to save Victor Yushchenko's ass:

- BMW M6: Andriy Yushchenko is going to pay "over a thousand dollars a month" to rent this car from a friend. (According to Ukrainska Pravda, if you decided to rent a BMW that's nowhere near as fancy from a local rent-a-car place, you'd have to pay from $250 a day to $40 an hour.)

- Apartment: Andriy Yushchenko rents an apartment that's more than 200 square meters for "several hundred dollars." From a friend. Across the street from where I voted for his father three times last year. (According to Ukrainska Pravda, if you decided to rent a place nearby through an agency, you'd have to pay either $2,200 a month for 108 sq. meters, or $2,000 a month for 80 sq. meters, or $2,800 for 170 sq. meters.)

- Job: Andriy Yushchenko "works as a manager in two successful construction and insurance companies." He's responsible for "finding clients, drafting documents, and for interaction with clients." He makes "several thousand dollars a month."

Fuck it. I wanted to write some kind of a conclusion, but fuck it. I'm voting against them all in the upcoming election - until they either learn how to hide their oranges well, or how not to react to accusations like complete idiots.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Maybe Yushchenko could marry his son off to Kenya, instead of exiling him to Niger, as my friend has suggested?

(Thanks to Daniel of Bloggledygook for the laugh...)


Former US president Bill Clinton has been offered 40 goats and 20 cows for his daughter by a love-struck African government official.

Mr Clinton was offered the deal on a recent trip to Kenya.

He was offered the animals as a traditional African way of getting a father to give away his daughter's hand in marriage.

The dowry is a very generous one by the country's own standards.

Godwin Kipkemoi Chepkurgor wrote to Mr Clinton through Kenya's Foreign Minister.

He said: "Had I succeeded in wooing Chelsea, I would have had a grand wedding.

"I would have invited South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu to preside at the ceremony."

The councillor gave the names of the former Kenyan president Daniel Arap-Moi and two of his college mates as character references.

Mr Chepkurgor also said he was also impressed by Mr Clinton's wife, Hillary, for standing by Mr Clinton during the Monica Lewinksy scandal.

He said Mrs Clinton acted like a "like an African woman".
319 journalists have so far signed the petition (in Ukrainian), asking Yushchenko to apologize publicly to Serhiy Leshchenko, the guy who wrote the Son of God pieces for Ukrainska Pravda, and to answer questions about his family's sources of income.

- Update: 9:30 pm - 416 journalists, though at least two of them have signed up twice - Natalya Katerynchuk (#185 and #320) and Halyna Kovalyova (#186 and #321), both with the NTN TV channel...

Political scientist Andriy Duda, however, points out in a piece in Telekritika (in Ukrainian) that some of the names on the petition (Boris Kolesnikov's press secretary, the editor of the United Social Democratic Party of Ukraine's site) are sadly familiar from the times when it paid more and was in general much safer to be a conformist and pour dirt over Yushchenko.


The story of Yushchenko vs. the press has already made it to the Independent, BBC and RFE/RL.

I loved the following RFE/RL passage - I was so busy cheering for Yushchenko then that I only vaguely remember this joke now:

Last year's Orange Revolution elevated him to near-hero status, prompting many Ukrainians to joke that the only difference between God and their new president was that God didn't think he was Yushchenko.

It reminded me of what I wrote back in November, after watching Yanukovyvh offer candies or sunflower seeds to Putin during a parade:

[...] It was so hilarious. Yanukovych looked so idiotic. He looked like one of those rubber dolls from the extremely biting and popular Russian political TV show that Putin put an end to a few years ago. It was totally hilarious.

And all of a sudden, I began to wonder: what are we gonna do if Yushchenko gets elected as this country's next president? What, apart from building a truly democratic and prosperous state, are we gonna do if Yanukovych loses? Who are we gonna make jokes about? What are we gonna do with all our beautiful sense of irony, cultivated for so many years by our Soviet leaders and then by President Kuchma? In the past ten years, we've grown so used to disrespecting our current leader, who had provided us with such a smooth transition from the idiocy of the Soviet times. What are we gonna do when Yushchenko gets elected? He's such a positive man, he wouldn't give us reasons to sneer at him. Moreover, his victory would be too precious to mar with our totally healthy sarcasm. What on earth are we gonna do?

We'll see, I guess. We'll find ways to sublimate. Yanukovych and Kuchma aren't gonna vanish into thin air after their fiasco in two weeks. We'll survive.

I still hope so much that Yushchenko, boring or not, wins.

What happened now isn't funny. It hurts.

Here's what a dear journalist friend has written me today, when I asked him to be my periscope, to help me get a better feel of what's going on in Kyiv while I'm stuck in Moscow:

It looks ugly. I think it's the second major PR flop within days of the Goverla fuck-up. Yushchenko wasn't drunk. He just wasn't and isn't Vaclav Havel and that's a big problem for him and all of us who voted for him. He was addressing the UP guy by "ty" but I can sort of swallow that since, I'm sure, they'd known each other for quite some time. Still, even then, Yushchenko shouldn't have said what he said. He said, "Behave as a decent journalist and not as a hired killer." Jesus, Yushchenko won thanks, in many ways, to that particular guy and dozens other journalists and I hope he realizes that. His son behaves like a typical president's son and if I were his father I'd send him out to Africa to help people in Niger and learn about life.


Abdymok has also done a piece on the scandal - Hedgehog Day:


leshchenko told the nation’s biggest daily tabloid “fakty” on july 27 that he decided to write the story after a local resident complained to him about andrey’s reckless driving.

“one local told me that he came close to running over a family of hedgehogs that lives on lyuteranska,” he said. “we then decided to find out for ourselves how the president’s son drives.”


According to Abdymok, Serhiy Leshchenko is 24 years old and joined Ukrainska Pravda when he was Andriy Yushchenko's age, 19, on Sept. 24, 2000, just a few days after Georgiy Gongadze's disappearance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Abdymok has more on Yushchenko's son scandal, including the complete translation of what Yushchenko said at yesterday's press conference.

Many people found the following passage especially hard to swallow:

however, if every day starts with a camera following my son, police being called, a camera being on till late at night, these are not journalists. as a father i'd like to say these are the people doomed to experience the same in their lives. or the generation of their children.

you can't do business as dirty as that. so i told my son, "son, i can only alleviate your soul with this advice: learn to defend yourself! learn to defend yourself! a bill? get that bill from the restaurant. how many were you there, what did you eat, what did you drink? put that bill in that journalist's mug, and then go to court! and learn to defend yourself!"

Maybe Yushchenko was drunk yesterday? And then he sobered up and asked his press secretary to write a reconciliation letter to Ukrainska Pravda (in Ukrainian)?

Still, 62 journalists have (so far) signed a petition demanding that Yushchenko "publicly apologize to Ukrainska Pravda reporter Serhiy Leshchenko" and "answer journalists' questions about his family's income and expenses." The petition (in Ukrainian) is posted on Ukrainska Pravda site.

- Update #1: 113 journalists have already signed the petition.

- Update #2: 10:30 pm - 183 journalists.

- Update #3: 11 pm - 197 journalists.

On a different note, Oleh Yeltsov - who hasn't signed the petition yet - reveals (in Russian) that it was actually he who was supposed to break the "son of god" story:

[...] I, Oleh Yeltsov, declare with all responsibility that it was me who came up with the idea for this story approximately three months ago, after a conversation with one of the regulars of a [Kyiv] night club. From him, I learned a lot of curious details about Andriy Yushchenko's night life. I offered [this person] to write a story for [this] "Tema" site. [I] had a preliminary talk with his source of information, who was promised a rather humble gift, and the author himself was supposed to be paid a humble $30 (pardon me, but a freelance journalist's income does not allow to spend more). Due to objective reasons, the story's publication was being postponed, and then... it appeared in [Ukrainska Pravda]. The reason for this is not known: either the author wanted to have more impact, or to make more money. [...]
Yevgeniy Lauer, the editor of an Internet news site Tribuna, contributed to Leonid Amchuk/Kuchma's Son of God-1 piece a few days ago. Here's the ending of Lauer's own impassioned text about Andriy Yushchenko, his daddy, his car and his cell phone, in today's Tribuna (in Russian):

P.S. It somehow reminded me of an episode from my very distant childhood. I lived with my uncle's family then - Mykola Bazhan, a poet and encyclopaedist, who still represents to me all that is called Ukrainian culture and culture in general. Anyway, as I was getting ready for school, I took an orange from the fridge and threw it into my backpack. Mykola noticed this and said it'd be better if I didn't take the orange to school, to avoid inspiring envy in my friends, whose parents were not able to buy oranges, and to avoid putting myself in an awkward position by showing off my undeserved superiority. Oranges were rare at that time - a defitsit, as they used to say. It has to be taken into account that Bazhan was a really famous writer, vice president of the European Pen Club, as well as a CPSU member, Hero of the Socialist Labor, laureate of the Lenin Prize, etc. The president [Yushchenko] hadn't been given advice like this, it seems! Unfortunately!

Why are Victor Yushchenko's watches so different from Lauer's childhood oranges?

Is pretending not to have something equal to actually not having it?

Is having this expensive/rare something outside the country/classroom full of poor people more moral than having it in front of everyone?

Would all those Soviet morality freaks feel happier if Yushchenko hid his son and his car away - as he has already done with his watches?

So sickeningly pathetic.


Here's a brief bio of Lauer's uncle, Mykola Bazhan:


During the terror of 1934–7 Bazhan wrote the trilogy Bezsmertia (Immortality, 1935–7), which was dedicated to S. Kirov, and entered the company of poets enjoying official recognition. His later works, written in the spirit of Stalinist patriotism, all belong to the corpus of official Soviet poetry. [...] After Joseph Stalin's death Bazhan did not take part in the cultural renaissance launched by the Shestydesiatnyky (poets of the sixties); his later collections and poems [...] were also written in the spirit of Party ideology.

- Ukrainska Pravda journalist's question to Yushchenko (in Ukrainian):

[...] The question is on the topic much discussed now - about the president's son, the car he's using and other equipment, pretty expensive... And a question about morality - is it moral in a country like this to be using things like these?

Fucking sovok.

Is it moral to have a salary of, say, $500 a month when the rest of the country is doomed to survive on much less? Et cetera.

- Victor Yushchenko's reply to the Ukrainska Pravda journalist:

[...] You see, I'm not wearing a watch. Even though I've probably got 20 or 15 of them. And until I remain the president, I won't be wearing them.

I don't need these primitive themes, these primitive analyses, I don't want it! I'll only be wearing a trident badge and a neat suit. That's all I need, my friends! [...]

So this is why Yushchenko is always so late for his press conferences. Seriously, though, the most dedicated ones around him will probably hide away their watches, too, now, and the hungry masses will be satisfied.

- Kyiv Post editorial:

[...] In the end, none of this is so scandalous. Yushchenko is at worst another rich, well-connected brat, somewhere on the continuum between the Bush daughters and Paris Hilton. Ukraine will survive.

But it will be interesting to see where the kid ends up in a few years. Will he grow out of this high life nonsense, realize it’s unseemly, and make something of himself? Or will he get worse, and become another sponging, string-pulling, nepotism-exploiting victim of “affluenza,” a parasite who drives half-million dollar cars around his impoverished country and takes off to Ibiza for the weekend?

Time will tell. But we’ve got our eye on that young fellow. We trust his father does, too.

The best thing for Yushchenko, of course, would be to surrender his other three kids to the highly moral public, before it's too late.


Today's International Herald Tribune has a nice roundup of the political situation in Ukraine (via Abdymok):

[...] They say the struggle between President Viktor Yushchenko, a former chief of Ukraine's National Bank, and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, a former business tycoon, over shaping Ukraine's future is delaying much-needed reforms. It could even erode the popular support that put both leaders - who are very different - into power.


Neither politician will admit publicly to clashing with the other. But the openness with which their advisers discussed the problem at a weekend conference in Yalta illustrates that the rivalry and clash of agendas are hampering change. This means that much-needed reforms proposed by the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development - including introduction of clear property rights, the rule of law and privatization - have not gotten very far.
Is it just a coincidence that as Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ukraine's state secretary, suddenly came to Moscow yesterday to meet with Putin and head of his administration Dmitry Medvedev, Yushchenko postponed his joint vacation with Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia - all this at a time when Russia and Georgia have renewed their hostility toward one another?
I spent about two hours at Vagankovo Cemetery today/yesterday, hanging out by Vladimir Vysotsky's grave. Twenty-five years since he died, lots of people, lots of flowers, very moving, as always. I'll write more about it tomorrow, I hope, and here're a few pictures:

Monday, July 25, 2005

Falanster, the bookstore that burned down a few days ago, has a LiveJournal page now, in Russian - but with photos. Since their storage space hasn't been damaged, they continue to sell books, outdoors.
Here's a translation of that Ukrainska Pravda piece about Victor Yushchenko's 19-year-old son and a BMW M6 he's driving around Kyiv.

It's not surprising that the president's son has grown up to be a very spoiled young man - I still remember stories about Vova Shcherbitsky, grandson of Vladimir Shcherbitsky, first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine from 1972 to 1989. Last time I heard about Vova was sometime back in 1992 or 1993: due to various family problems and tragedies, he ended up being drafted into the army, a fate that befalls most ordinary Ukrainian males - but is highly unlikely for someone of Vova's status.

What's surprising is that Yushchenko's son has become newsworthy only now; I wonder if he was any better when his father was Ukraine's prime minister and, before that, head of Ukraine's National Bank. I don't think he'll end up in the army anytime soon - but maybe somewhere in Switzerland, or in London, or on some nice, undemanding American campus, any place where he'd be out of the ordinary Ukrainians' sight?..
I bought a book by Yuri Dombrovsky at a secondhand bookstore on Saturday - a novel, The Monkey Comes for Its Skull (is there an English translation?), plus a few essays and poems.

Dombrovsky started working on the novel in 1943, but it was published only in 1959: in 1949, he was arrested for the fourth time, and the manuscript was used as evidence against him and confiscated; when Dombrovsky was finally released and allowed to return to Moscow, his manuscript, miraculously, re-emerged - it was returned to him one day by a man who had been ordered to burn it.

The paperback I found on Saturday was published in 1991 and is of no typographic value whatsoever. Still, it led Mishah to make this wonderful observation: the last years of the Soviet Union were extremely eventful, busy and disorderly, and this, among other things, affected book publishing - a lot more stuff was being printed than before and this was probably causing a shortage in paper; also, after decades of Soviet bullshitting, the appearance of the book didn't matter as much as its content; and so, very often, several types of paper were used indiscriminately in the same volume. Yellowing pages suddenly interrupted by a thin white insert, right past the middle of the book - this is what my Dombrovsky's edition looks like: like Holden Caulfield's head, with that patch of gray hair that just doesn't belong...

One awaited the beginning of these irregular sections of the book, Mishah said, consciously and unconsciously, as if they carried some sort of a revelation - which they rarely did. A little like telling fortune using a poetry volume, making a wish and opening the book at random, then looking for a hidden message, some special meaning stored there especially for you...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

I sort of hated to be photographed, but now I guess I've reached a stage in my pregnancy when I totally love it - and feel that my stomach has to be documented or something...
We've got a really nice balcony here, with straw chairs and a little red table, and with a view of the synagogue across the street, and of the rest of Moscow. Yesterday night, around 1:30 am, Mishah went out to smoke and I joined him to look at the moon. On the synagogue's roof, we saw seven or eight guys sitting around a table - they were eating, drinking, chatting; the roof was unusually well-lit for such a late hour.

One of the guys at the table suddenly turned and waved to us - in a really friendly, neighborly way, and very energetically, too, as there was quite a distance between us. For a moment, I couldn't believe he was actually saluting us - it's Moscow, right, a very unfriendly city surrounding the synagogue, a Lubavitch synagogue... But I really couldn't help it, so I waved back to the guy, with one hand. The rest of the guys had turned around by then, and most of them were laughing and waving to us - so I waved again, with both hands, and Mishah did, too, and it was so fun, but also a little awkward, because we couldn't spend the rest of the night waving to each other, nor could we start a conversation. We could hear their voices - but not well enough to know what language they were speaking - and I'm still wondering if they could hear my laughter. My theory is that they had just arrived from a place like New York and were jet-lagged and excited... We invaded their privacy, kind of, and they acknowledged it and let us know they didn't mind, and in this way they took part of our privacy, too - but it felt so good...

All in all, a very un-Moscow episode.


A while ago, Galina Vasilyevna cornered Mishah by the elevator and told him a story of how she had once stood up for her neighbor's religion:

A rabbi used to live in our building, and every Saturday he had a problem getting in or out of the building because of the electric locks we have on our doors. He used to stand patiently, waiting for someone to come by and open the two doors for him. No one seemed to mind this, until one day a nouveau riche - New Russian - neighbor complained loudly to Galina Vasilyevna: "What am I, his slave? Who does he think he is? I'm sick of serving to him like this!" To which Galina Vasilyevna replied, indignantly: "You yourself have servants, the bodyguards, and it's them, not you, who are opening the doors for the poor guy! You should be ashamed of yourself for not respecting another person's faith!"

Saturday, July 23, 2005

I don't feel like writing anything today - so here's another wedding picture...

Still can't believe I'm a married woman now!..

Friday, July 22, 2005

A very good, tiny bookstore near us - Falanster - got burned down yesterday night. The guys who ran it believe it was arson - there are witnesses who saw someone throwing something into the bookstore's window (gasoline?); there are witnesses who heard an explosion (a hand grenade?); and two bottles with gasoline were found in the archway near the bookstore's entrance.

The guys who ran the bookstore looked like they didn't like Putin at all; they were also selling a little of what looked like anarchist and National Bolshevik books and leaflets, which potentially could've been a problem with some people. But - what made this bookstore real good was a very diverse selection of fiction and non-fiction, some of it not available in bigger, mainstream stores. I bought two really good non-fiction books about Yugoslavia there, for example (I did mention one earlier - here).

This is the second non-mainstream bookstore that has burned down within a month or so. The first one was Bilingua - I've never been inside but it looked really nice from the street - and many of the really outspoken anti-Putin folks used to frequent it.

Tomorrow, there'll be a little rally near Falanster at 1 pm: fundraising, moral support - but no politics.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

After two weeks, Galina Vasilyevna came back from her dacha. When Mishah asked her if she'd had a good rest away from Moscow, she exclaimed: "What are you talking about?! What rest?! They spilled oil into the river 40 kilometers away from my dacha on one side, and there's Rzhev with an outbreak of Hepatitis A on the other! I'm relaxing here, in my apartment, here in Moscow!"
Speaking of the Russian opposition, Masha Gessen has written a short piece for Bolshoi Gorod (in Russian) about Garry Kasparov's disastrous tour of Russia's southern regions:


The story of a 5-day journey to the Caucasus and the south of Russia undertaken by Garry Kasparov, a world chess champion and currently an opposition politician, was incredible indeed. [...] In five days, Kasparov was denied access to approximately a dozen places. [...]

I'll only translate a couple more things from this text and that would be it, first, because it really hurts to try to translate Masha into the language she writes so beautifully in herself, and, second, because I really hope Masha's more detailed, English-language account of the ordeal will soon appear in the New York Times Magazine, on whose assignement she accompanied Kasparov.

(Update: David McDuff of A Step at a Time has translated Masha's text in full - here! Thank you, David!)

In Moscow, a young opponent hit Kasparov on the head with a chessboard; in the regions, the crowd attacked the chess champion and his entourage with eggs:

[...] When the bodyguard's heavy hand pushed my head down, all I heard were some screams, and then I felt something sticky flowing down my face. "Cold," I thought. "Not blood."

And here's Masha's take on why Kasparov is so unwelcome in the country he's willing to improve:


We've traveled from Moscow to Russia. Stability is somewhat lacking over there, outside Moscow. The balance over there is so fragile that, it seems, as soon as an opposition politician opens his mouth, everything will collapse. [...]


Marina Litvinovich has another report on the trip (in Russian), and some pictures - of the remains of the eggs and of the handwritten signs announcing that the venues Kasparov was supposed to speak at were closed.

Someone from Ukraine left a comment regarding the eggs and our own election last year:

Cool. We didn't have anything like this even at the height of the election campaign. You should feel flattered, though. B-) As for the eggs and stuff, the main thing is not to lose dignity. Remember Yanukovych's dishonor. B-)


Can't resist translating these two sketches, also from Marina Litvinovich's LiveJournal:

Two sketches.

Stavropol. A woman, head of an entrepreneurs' association, says:
- To hell with it all... I'll move to Russia...
- To where?
- To Russia..
- And where are you now?
- What do you mean? In the Caucasus...

Vladivostok. A businessmen says:
- They now manufacture it all over there, in Russia...
- Where?
- Well, beyond the Ural, in Russia...

I guess what's missing is a sketch from Kaliningrad.


An article from Tuesday's Vedomosti - the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center asked 1,588 Russian citizens from 153 locations in 46 Russian regions to share their views on political opposition:

- 48 percent of the respondents believe there's no need to have opposition if "political, social and economic situation in the country is normal;"

- Two-thirds think that a "real democracy" can exist without opposition;

- 54 percent think the opposition's role is "to point out the current leaders' mistakes" and "to assist in their work;"

- 43 percent would vote for the current leaders, even though they "do not approve of all their initiatives;"

- 18 percent would not vote for "either the current leadership, or for the opposition."

While I'm at it, here's another update/correction, a very, very belated one: Ilyas, the only Kyrgyz I used to know, is not the nephew of Misir Ashyrkulov, former head of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council and Askar Akayev's friend. Someone who calls him/herself "another Kyrgyz" left this comment on April 12:

Neeka, I can assure you that Ilyas is not in any kind of relation to Misir Ashyrkulov. I know both of them very well.


Finally, while I'm at it, I've been looking for this guy for a painfully long time - Matthew Thomas, or Motya, or Matvey. I know that several other friends have been looking for him as well.

He could be anywhere now: in LA, in Tanzania, in Zanzibar or Kenya, or in Russia...

Last time I heard from him was in October 1999 - and I do miss him terribly. Here're two silly pictures of us that I've got right here with me, taken in Moscow, in August 1998, by our friend Dima - too tiny, and all you can see is that Matvey is very blond and totally unforgettable.

Internet is an amazing thing - but it's helpless when the guy you're looking for has this crazy name: Matthew Thomas...

Here's what he was up to at the end of October 1999 - has anyone here heard anything about him or seen him since then?.. That'd be such a miracle...


O so pleasant to settle down for your story of lousy Ukrainian trains. You are a sponge wiping up the flavors of life from the table top, the walls,--this metaphor would become quickly disgusting if I said even the liquid off the train's bathroom floor...

I miss you nika. I saw Dima the other night. I went to the Bijou, not knowing what was playing and saw a documentary on a legendary experimental film maker I had never heard of. Dima was doing the same. We walked after the movie and caught up on each other's news. He leaves soon for Munchen-lucky sod.

For myself, I leave soon for LA. I'm spending 6 weeks with my family, then I'll return quickly for a week in Iowa City to defend my thesis for Journalism. Then I'm off for Tanzania. It feels like a huge change, I'm anxious for it yet nervous. I'm trying to get all the details together for my trip, and not doing a good job of it. I hate those travel details, packing mostly.

Between departure and thesis, I have plenty to keep me boringly busy. I look forward to Zanzibar where I'll have nothing to do for a while except learn Kiswahili.

Tutaonana badaye,

I kiss you,


(Motya, where the fuck are you? This letter has made me cry, almost. I do hope you're safe and happy...)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Reading about Azar Nafisi's Iran is, in many ways, like reading about the Soviet Union - the imaginary Soviet Union, of course, the one in which religion wouldn't have been banned or frowned upon but, instead, imposed as fiercely as possible, in addition to what they wanted us to believe was socialism/communism...


The following reference to the Soviet Union made me realize that if I were teaching some kind of a class, I'd assign Nafisi's book together with the one by Yury Dombrovsky - The Faculty of Useless Knowledge, a novel that best describes the process of "individualization of evil"...

Modern fiction brings out the evil in domestic lives, ordinary relations, people like you and me - Reader! Bruder! as Humbert said. [...] We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others.

Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination. Stalin emptied Russia of its soul by pouring on the old death. Mandelstam and Sinyavsky restored that soul by reciting poetry to fellow convicts and by writing about it in their journals. [...]

Another book that would probably go well with Nafisi's is In the Walled Gardens by Anahita Firouz: as far as I remember, our part of the world is hardly ever mentioned in this novel, and yet, the spirit is there, the excitement and hope of the revolution and the subsequent horror and disillusionment; also, unlike Nafisi, Firouz does provide an insight into what the Shah's regime felt like...


Michael Ignatieff's piece in this week's New York Times Magazine - Iranian Lessons - also shows that, despite all the obvious differences, Iran isn't too far from Russia (and the 19th-century Russia isn't all too different from what it is today...):

On the nights after Ahmadinejad's victory, the atmosphere among many of the liberal Iranians I talked with was reminiscent of another group of intellectuals: the Russian thinkers of the 1860's, Western-educated men and women who had to discover, painfully, just how out of touch their reformist ideas were with the poor and burdened of their own society. Barmaki told me mournfully, ''We reformers have lost five years.''

The political task ahead for the liberal thinkers of Iran is to find a program that links human rights and democracy to the poor's economic grievances.

A comparison with the current Russian liberal opposition - Nemtsov, Khakamada, etc. - would fit so naturally here: back in 2003, their campaign messages could have been appealing to the majority of the Swiss electorate, but not to the Russian masses.

Finally, this reads like it was written about Russia, too:

With oil at about $60 a barrel as I write, there is little likelihood that the regime will be forced to open up and reform the economy. But unless it does, there won't be much democracy or progress for the poor. One human rights truth, universally acknowledged, is that oil is an obstacle to democracy in every developing society. When a government can get what it needs out of oil derricks and ceases to derive its revenue from taxes, it loses any incentive to respond to the people. Theocracy in Iran is built on oil and will endure as long as the oil price holds up.
Sometimes, it's really, really hard to take Ukrainska Pravda seriously...

Yesterday, one story that they ran - about Yushchenko's order to abolish traffic police - had been written by Nestor Chyrfush: if you read the guy's last name backwards, you get 'Shufrych' - Nestor Shufrych, a PM whose truly pathetic manners gained him lots of notoriety during Yanukovych's failed attempt to become the Ukrainian president last year...

The byline on another story - about the extremely expensive lifestyle of Yushchenko's 19-year-old son - is Leonid Amchuk: read the last name backwards and you get 'Kuchma' - Leonid Kuchma...


Update: It looks like they've been doing it forever: a July 15 piece about a recent conflict between Yulia Tymoshenko, the premier, and Volodymyr Lytvyn, the parliament speaker and former Kuchma's ally, was written by Victor Chyvokunya - 'Yanukovych'...


Another update: Add to this a banner flashing at the bottom of the Ukrainska Pravda page, linking to something called Shaved Pussies - brityye kiski - on Obozrevatel, another widely-read Internet daily, and you'll have an idea of what fun it is to be a journalist in Ukraine... Too bad Georgy Gongadze didn't live to see it...

(And no, Shaved Pussies isn't porn - it's just the pictures of those really bold cats, shaved kitties...)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

First of all, thank you all so much for your warm wishes!!!

Mishah and I loved our wedding - I wish I could do it again, actually...

I'll write a little bit more on it later, but for now, here's a picture - one of the very few nice ones that we have...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mishah and I are going to Kyiv for a few days tonight, and I really, really wanted to post my backlog of photos before we leave - photos from Turkey, as well as from Moscow and Kyiv. Unfortunately, I got bogged down re-sizing them and will now have to wait till we return.


I have a personal announcement to make, a huge one: Mishah and I are getting married tomorrow, after more than ten years of being together! And - I'm 20 or so weeks pregnant right now!

Please wish us good luck or something!..

(I feel totally weird writing about this here - I've a very vague idea of who's reading this and who isn't, and so it feels a little like standing in the middle of Khreshchatyk, yelling about some really personal stuff... Oh well.)
I'm having a Surkov overdose by now, but here's the link to his Spiegel interview, which was mentioned by Gevorkyan (see my previous entry).

Here's a more presentable version of Surkov's view of the West, with enough common sense in it to make me doubt the authenticity of his quote from the transcript...

SPIEGEL: What happened differently than expected?

Surkov: When the Soviet Union was dissolved, most of us didn't even have the feeling that the country was falling apart. We thought we would continue with our lives as in the past, but as good neighbors. Of course, we also believed that the West loved us and would help us, and that we'd be living like the Europeans in ten years. But everything turned out to be more complicated.

SPIEGEL: Because the West didn't love you after all?

Surkov: No. The West doesn't have to love us. In fact, we should ask ourselves more often why people are so suspicious of us. After all, the West isn't a charity organization. How have we been perceived for centuries? As a huge, warlike realm ruled by despots -- first by the czars and then Bolsheviks. Why should anyone have loved us? If we want to be accepted, we have to do something in return. And it's an art that we have yet to master.

SPIEGEL: How far has Putin's Russia come on this path?

Surkov: The people have attained a new sense of soberness. The romantic days are gone. We no longer have the feeling of being surrounded by enemies, but rather by competitors. We have achieved too little when it comes to modernizing our society, and we must look to the West for the technological and intellectual solutions necessary to do so. The idea that we should suddenly be able to produce something, now that we're on our own, is erroneous. We must learn from others.

And here's something that Surkov sort of has in common with Khodorkovsky, something capable of making his Successor's Chair ambitions less realistic - sadly, the way thing are, the masses in this country are unlikely to perceive him as their ideal candidate...

SPIEGEL: You yourself have your roots in the northern Caucasus.

Surkov: Yes, my father is Chechen, and I spent the first five years of my live in Chechnya. As someone who grew up there, I say: The Chechen Republic must remain part of Russia. Everything else is negotiable.
Kommersant's Natalya Gevorkyan comments on Vladislav Surkov's possible intentions (, in Russian). Below is my almost complete translation:

President Surkov


There's a legend about Vladislav Surkov: according to it, he's not a public person. This, along with his efficiency, is what makes him attractive for Vladimir Putin. And it's making me think: how come the "non-public" Surkov has been quoted so much in the past months? That is, I'm really not aware of anyone else of this rank in the presidential administration who is being quoted this much. After the president, Slava [Vladislav] ranks second now. If it was someone else, not Surkov, I'd think it's just a coincidence. But to him it cannot happen accidentally. He's been in the Kremlin for too long, and has been shunning publicity for too long. He knows perfectly well how to avoid publicity. Thus, his public appearance can only be calculated, conscious and staged.

As part of this unexpected publicity campaign, Surkov interacted with the people through [Komsomolskaya Pravda] and said precisely what the people wanted to hear. He didn't sound exactly like himself, it seemed to me, but we haven't been in touch in a long time and I can be mistaken. He was a lot more recognizable in his interaction with Der Spiegel's correspondents, an export version [of Surkov]. The West then saw a statesman [who places the interests of the state above those of an individual], albeit not a hawkish one. And finally, Surkov mixed with the Russian elite, and we learned about it verbatim, though belatedly. Since the only structured elite in this country is the business community, Surkov's choice is understandable. The gist of the transcript that was leaked to the press (and I don't think Surkov even tried to prevent the leak) is this: let's work together, guys, or else...

Or else it looks like everything is just going to collapse. Two principal revelations in Surkov's conversation with the businessmen are these: first, [the situation cannot be any worse] in the Caucasus (quote: "It looks like an underground fire."), and second, the United Russia can lose the election, and the 2007-2008 elections pose a serious problem in general. It appears as if Surkov, a smart and well-informed person, fears the future for the reasons he knows very well.

His current publicity, I guess, has a very reasonable explanation. Are you thinking about the successor, my friends? Look at Surkov. What's happening now is a rehearsal of a promotion campaign, making his contours visible. Why not? Everyone keeps talking about our main problem - [the lack of political personalities]. He seems to be saying, carefully: "Here I am, look at me, listen to me." It may be too early for the beginning of a presidential campaign, but who knows which way things are going to go and whether we have 2-3 years before the election. Maybe Surkov knows. But even if these years are available, it wouldn't hurt to make some announcements for the future. And why not Surkov? Who is more experienced than he is? Who of the current Kremlin residents is craftier and smarter than he is? Who knows everyone and everything longer and better than he does? Who is as flexible and diverse? Who is as familiar, almost like family, I'd say? And he's a bridge, in a way, between Yeltsin's past, Putin's present and the future... All in all, he's a 100-percent successor and the keeper of all traditions at once. Find me another person in the current presidential administration who's been on both Khodorkovsky's and Putin's payrolls? You get it, right? If not a reconciliation figure, then at least a hint at one.

Anyway, I think Surkov is quite a candidate and this may well be his ambition. And I believe that with all his recent actions he's been provoking the media to arrive at this very conclusion. And he is absolutely positive he's got the power to refute such blatant allegations and calm down the most jealous ones - that is, to survive politically and to continue his political life. After all, it can't be his highest aspiration to remain the deputy head of the presidential administration!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe (Russian Service) has published a transcript of a "secret" address by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of Putin's administration. He spoke at a closed meeting of the general council of Delovaya Rossiya, a public organization representing members of the Russian business community, two months ago, on May 17.

I would've translated more from the address if I hadn't been too lazy, but here's a little something that I just couldn't resist: Surkov is being so pathetically honest here, it hurts...

[...] I often hear that democracy is more important than sovereignty. We don't agree with that. We think that both are needed. An independent state is worth fighting for. It'd be nice to escape to Europe, but they won't accept us there. Russia is a European civilization, it's a poorly lit edge of Europe, but not Europe proper. In this sense, we are completely tied to Europe and have to be friends with it. We are not enemies. We are just competitors. And it hurts not to be enemies. To be enemies is when you can die as a hero at war, having had a head-on collision with your enemy. There's something heroic and beautiful about it. And to lose to your competitor means to be a pathetic loser. And this hurts even more.

It's better to be enemies, and not like what we are now - the ambiguous friends! This is, sort of, what we want.

There are psychological reasons for this. For 500 years the country was a modern state, it was making history and not vice versa. With all respect to these peoples, we are, after all, different from Slovaks, the Baltic peoples and even Ukrainians - they didn't have states of their own. They were being drawn on the maps - by the past Russian politicians, too. We participated in the common creative process, together with the leading countries of the world, in changing the map of the world. [...]
As far as I can see, only two Ukrainian papers have picked up yesterday's Interior Ministry's troops in Crimea story: Krymskaya Pravda and Segodnya (both in Russian).

Krymskaya Pravda's piece is a reprint from Novyi Region and includes the line about the "Slavic population's" hurt feelings.

Segodnya has some additional info: according to Mike Lvovski, at least 150 soldiers are aiding the police in preventing confrontations, and 7-8 army trucks have been seen on the way from Feodosiya to Koktebel.

Whoever wrote the Segodnya piece (I'm sorry but 'Mike Lvovski' sounds a bit unlikely, like a pen name or something) deserves some praise for having bothered to get a comment from the press service of the Interior Ministry's Crimean department: folks over there claim not to be "dividing citizens according to their ethnicity and are calling everyone to choose a weighed approach in solving this problem."

The story's headlines, however, aren't peaceful at all:

Crimean natural preserve lands are now being guarded by the troops

The Slavs have risen against the Crimean Tatars, who decided to build eight houses at once in Tikhaya Bukhta

(The land in question, by the way, wasn't considered anything too special until very, very recently - May 19 this year...)


Many ordinary Russians (way too many) are preparing for their summer vacation in Crimea. Even more prefer Turkey to both Russia and Ukraine, but that's a different story. Some will now feel safer to go to the Russian, not Ukrainian, Black Sea coast, after reading about unrest in Crimea. Stories about Yalta looking like a dump (Novyi Region, in Russian) are sure to keep a few more Russians and their money at home.


An aside on the Novyi Region news agency: I had so much fun yesterday, skimming through their 2004 election coverage, full of crazy stories like the one on how many Russians would've voted for Yanukovych in an Ural city (Ekaterinburg residents like Yanukovych better: if, for some weird reason, they hadn't been citizens of Russia, 39 percent would've voted for Yanukovych and 16 percent for Yushchenko)...
One thing I'm really scared of is lightning. And thunder, when it's too loud. Like ten minutes ago - the flash was so sudden and blindning, and so fucking close, and then the blast came, and my heart, along with everything else, almost jumped out of me, and what I did was I took my cell phone and went into the bathroom, and locked the door behind me, and spent the next five minutes sitting on the toilet with its lid down, enjoying the windowlessness, talking to Mishah. Mishah was laughing at me. When I finally forced myself back into the room, I decided to close the balcony door - and scared off a pigeon hiding from the thunderstorm on our balcony...

Before the lightning attack, I was reading this giving birth story, very funny and moving...
We've had a couple New Scientist issues lying around the place for a while, and I stumble over them every now and then, and read an article or two.

Today, it happened to be an interview with Kaisha Atakhanova, a biologist and environmental activist from Kazakhstan, who has recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize.

The interview, quite heartbreaking, is available online. Here're the parts that strike me most:

[...] Over 40 years there had been almost 500 nuclear tests there, in the air and underground. Together they were equivalent in strength to 20,000 Hiroshima bombs. When we first went, we found lots of old military machinery and equipment, planes and tanks that had been left out in the open during the tests to see how they were affected. Afterwards they were put into big dumps. We went past these dumps regularly and I saw that they were gradually getting smaller and smaller.

We found out that the locals were taking the radioactive material for scrap or to use in their houses or on farms. They took whatever they could. It was good quality, you see. We had a guide who was a local doctor. One day when we came across some telephone wire, she picked it up and said it was good quality, some general or colonel had probably used it. So she took it home and used it for her telephone.


Frogs were good for doing these tests because they absorbed the radiation and they have big chromosomes, so you can see the damage. I collected frogs on the testing grounds, especially from a nuclear lake that we found. This was where the largest nuclear explosion took place, in 1965 on the dry bed of the river Shagan. To prevent the nearby river Irtysh being contaminated with radioactive dust, the Shagan was dammed and a radioactive lake formed. The military put carp in the atomic lake. The fish grew really large and we carried out tests on the fish, lizards and frogs.

- Did anyone else know this nuclear lake existed?

The military knew about it, of course, but until we went no non-military scientists knew about it. The local people knew it was there, but they didn't know it was dangerous. They went fishing in it, even swam in it. When we started work, the people who lived in the villages near the Polygon knew nothing about the risks. They took their cattle and goats to feed on the pastures there.


- But you gave up research. Why?

After a while I felt we had got a lot of scientific information from the research. It showed that the population suffered from even small doses of radiation. But the people themselves felt like guinea pigs. For 70 years, as citizens of the Soviet Union, they had had pensions and social benefits from the state. They thought that now, with the Polygon closed and the discovery that their health had suffered, someone would come and treat them. Instead scientists came to test them and write scientific papers about them, but nothing actually changed in their lives. They had been poisoned and their social conditions were bad, but nobody helped them. So I started on public work to help people change their lives.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005 and another Russian news outlet, Novyi Region, are reporting (in Russian) that Ukraine's Interior Ministry's troops have been dispatched to Koktebel region of Crimea, where a group of Crimean Tatars allegedly seized land in an area that had recently been declared natural preserve by Crimea's parliament.

Both Russian sources emphasize that the Crimean Tatars' "unlawful actions" have "displeased" the peninsula's "Slavic population."

I haven't yet seen reports on the troops movement in any other, non-Russian, media, although the Crimean Kafa News did write briefly (in Russian) on the brewing conflict last month.

The situation doesn't look good at all, with or without the Interior Ministry's troops.
Karen Alkalay-Gut, a wonderful Israeli poet and writer, shares an amazing personal story about London and the Tube:

July 10, 2005


One of my favorite myths about myself is that I was conceived in Holborn Station, one of the central underground stations in London. The factual basis for this story of my origins is that my refugee parents did sleep there during the Blitz, and were issued passes delineating their space numbers. And because the buzz bombs began on the night of June 12th 1944, and I was born on the night of March 29, 1945, the night they ended, I must have spent every night of my incubation there. [...]

Do read the rest of this entry in Karen's Tel Aviv Journal.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

By now I seem to have a separate compartment in my head for things like the blasts in London. And I do all I can not to get stuck in there.

I've had this link for a long time - Going Underground, a blog about the Tube - but I only remembered about it now: because London Underground had never belonged in that special compartment in my head, and it just didn't occur to me there was any urgency to check it on July 7...

Well, it's a wonderful site, with lots of interesting Tube-related pictures and text - so much more than just the post-horror updates...


For some reason, it reminds me how, a few days before the Moscow subway blast of 2004, I was in a cab in Kyiv, describing to the driver my love for Moscow's subway. He wasn't getting it at all, I could see, even when I tried to explain the subway's beauty by emphasizing its convenience: very often, it's ten minutes underground vs. an hour and a half up above. But to the driver it all boiled down to "Moscow is a fucked-up city and it's impossible to live there."

Shortly after the blast took place (I was in St. Pete then), I could almost see the cab driver having beer with friends and telling them about a crazy girl who'd spent 20 minutes telling him how wonderful Moscow's subway was...

Friday, July 08, 2005

Today's (yesterday's) amusing news is of the upcoming wedding of our prime minister's daughter and a Yorkshire biker...

Here's what The Times has on it:

How a Leeds rocker's romance led to a new life in Ukraine - with the PM as his 'mama'

By Jack Malvern

He is a rottweiler-owning rock singer from Leeds, she is the daughter of the Ukrainian Prime Minister: they seem a mismatched couple whose unlikely romance would succeed only in fiction.

But Sean Carr, a cobbler and key cutter, is to wed Evgenia Tymoshenko, the daughter of the billionaire Ukrainian Prime Minister.


Mr Carr, a tattooed singer who plays in a heavy-metal band called Death Valley Screamers, closed his market stall in Leeds and moved to Ukraine after meeting his future wife in a bar in Egypt.

The improbable romance began when Miss Tymoshenko, 25, asked for Mr Carr’s number from his friend, who initially asked for payment in return. By the time he relented, Mr Carr had returned to Britain.

Miss Tymoshenko, who studied at the London School of Economics, sent Mr Carr, 36, a text message on her return to London and they arranged to meet at a biker festival. But it was only when Mr Carr visited her flat in London that he discovered that she was the heiress to a multibillion-pound fortune.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I still didn’t know about her mum, but she seemed to be living in an awful lot of luxury for a student.” Five months after they met and the Orange Revolution was at its height, Mr Carr visited Ukraine. Yuliya Tymoshenko was leading the opposition movement alongside Mr Yushchenko, who is now the President.

The day after Mr Carr arrived in Ukraine he stood on a stage in front of thousands of people as his future mother-in-law called for Mr Kuchma to resign. She was appointed Prime Minister six months ago.

Mr Carr said that he was initially terrified of his fiancée’s mother, but now calls her “Mama” and has moved his customised Harley-Davidson motorcycle and 11-stone rottweiler, Salem, to Ukraine.

“I know it’s mad,” he said. “I can’t really believe it myself. It’s just bizarre. It has been a big adjustment for me but I am making it. I am picking up some Ukrainian and have formed a rock band.”

Yuliya Tymoshenko said that she was delighted by her prospective son-in-law. “He is an excellent person,” she said.

The wedding will take place on November 2 and the venue is believed to be in Yorkshire.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Wow. I've just seen the fight they had at the Ukrainian parliament. Wow. So crazy it didn't really matter what the reason was.

The reason is the WTO, and the Communists seem to have run out of verbal arguments.

Despite the mess, they've managed to pass two WTO-related laws today.
Update: all of my London friends are safe, thank God!
I bought myself a red skirt yesterday - an outrageously red one. Outrageous in a gypsy kind of way, so I have to get used to it before I can wear it outside. For now, I'm totally happy to wear it at home.

I think I bought this skirt because I'm reading about Iran right now. I do love bright colors; I love to be surrounded by them more than I love to wear them, but, in any case, it's terrible to know that there are people out there who are deprived of a simple pleasure like that...

Here's what Azar Nafisi writes:

Manna had once written about a pair of pink socks for which she was reprimanded by the Muslim Students' Association. When she complained to a favorite professor, he started teasing her about how she had already ensnared and trapped her man, Nima, and did not need the pink socks to entrap him further.


I wonder if right now, at this moment, I were to turn to the people sitting next to me in this café in a country that is not Iran and talk to them about life in Tehran, how they would react. Would they condemn the totures, the executions and the extreme acts of aggression? I think they would. But what about the acts of transgression on our ordinary lives, like the desire to wear pink socks?
Updates on the explosions from online friends: A Fistful of Euros, Europhobia, SiberianLight and The Yorkshire Ranter.

I'm so sad it's happened in London...

Haven't heard back from two London friends yet - but I hope it's just because they are away from their computers right now.

Before I learned about the explosions, I ran into a book set in London (Brick Lane, by Monica Ali) and bought it, and then thought about a London friend I haven't written to in a very long time...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The village is called Kayalar - 'the rocks.' It's a 20-minute ride from Assos, and a 10-minute ride to the sea, down a serpentine mountain road. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to the sea, down a rocky donkey path winding through the olive groves.

Thanks to our wonderful friends, we spent nine amazing days living right above Kayalar.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Istanbul is a wondrous city, enormous, endless, and I always feel desperate about leaving it - my last few days in the city are always a torture.

This time, I have walked what seems like half the city in two days - though, of course, I've probably just covered one or two percent of Istanbul... On the last evening, I literally couldn't stop walking, promising myself I'd take a bus back at the next stop and then walking past it, and on, and on, and on; I ran out of money on my cell phone, and Mishah was about to go to the police when I finally showed up at the hotel around 9 pm...

I really hoped that, through so much walking, I'd get used to Istanbul to an extent that it would become slightly boring, a bit too familiar - and I wouldn't miss it so much when I leave. But I'd need a year for that, at least, not two days.


I had nothing to do one afternoon, so I counted the days we've spent in Turkey over the past six years: nine trips and 70 days. Seems too little and too long at the same time, somehow.


Anyway, here're two more pictures, from my two last days in Istanbul - one was taken on July 1 in Eyüp, the other on July 2 just off Istiklal:

Another striking passage from Nafisi's book...

Later, Nima told us that the son of one of his friends, a ten-year-old, had awakened his parents in horror telling them he had been having an "illegal dream." He had been dreaming that he was at the seaside with some men and women who were kissing, and he did not know what to do. He kept repeating to his parents that he was having illegal dreams.

Monday, July 04, 2005

In Istanbul, I bought Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, and, so far, I'm really enjoying it.

The post-1979 Iran and the Soviet Union have much in common, and although it seems pointless to try to decide which system is more evil, it's probably safe to say that the amounts of the absurd dumped on the citizens by their brainless rulers has been more or less the same in the two countries. The kind of the absurd that makes you feel so helpless you want to cry; the bullshitting that fills you up with hatred.

Consider this paragraph:

Teaching in the Islamic Republic, like any other vocation, was subservient to politics and subject to arbitrary rules. Always, the joy of teaching was marred by diversions and considerations forced on us by the regime - how well could one teach when the main concern of university officials was not the quality of one's work but the color of one's lips, the subversive potential of a single strand of hair? Could one really concentrate on one's job when what preoccupied the faculty was how to excise the word wine from a Hemingway story, when they decided not to teach Emily Brontë because she appeared to condone adultery?

It reminded me of how I was reading A Moveable Feast back in 1994: I was switching between the English-language original and a Russian translation. The English book, a Penguin paperback, its edges painted red, was my father's treasure, which he had acquired God knows where, most likely not in the Soviet Union, and I must've been the first person actually reading the volume, since no one in my family knows English. I read from it, mainly, but referred to the Russian-language text when I was curious about how one would translate this or that, slang and other such things.

Two passages made me raise my eyebrows, sort of: one mentioned a prostitute swallowing her client's semen, and the other talked about Hemingway taking F. Scott Fitzgerald to the bathroom and ordering him to take off his pants, in order to determine whether Zelda had been right blaming her husband for not being manly enough; Hemingway found Scott Fitzgerald's dick absolutely normal and proclaimed Zelda wrong.

How on earth could the Soviets translate this?!?

Turned out they didn't - not in my 1961 translation anyway: the two passages were completely missing from the text.

I still find it hard to believe - though I find it as hard to imagine the puritanical Soviet authorities allowing the masses to read such adult stuff AND worship the author the way everyone did...
I didn't have internet access for nine days, believe it or not. It felt awesome.

I also didn't have access to the English-language Turkish Daily News, and didn't really feel like asking our friends to translate the news from the Turkish-language papers they were buying.

At times, I wondered if the world was still there, and I also wanted to know how things were going at Wimbledon.

Back home, it seems like everything is more or less the same...
We're back from Turkey and very sad about it - had an amazing time there, as always.

I'll be running around for the next few days, I'm afraid, but here's my favorite photo from the trip - of a nomad woman in Ayvacik on Friday, the market day. I took it from a car that was moving pretty fast - a miracle...