Thursday, January 31, 2008

I first read Anne Applebaum's column on the beautiful Russian women very quickly - so quickly that my only reaction was, "Oh, how nice it is to read something relatively apolitical and more or less positive about this part of the world."

Natalia Antonova's reading of Applebaum's piece was anything but superficial. Here's just one quote from her insightful and passionate response, posted at Global Comment:

I’m not against beauty culture. I do think it’s been, and continues to be, unfairly used against women - especially those who have no interest in participating. Applebaum’s piece has reminded me of the fact that beauty culture can also obscure the issues of traffickers and other exploiters.

I understand the sort of piece that Applebaum was trying to write. She was having fun. I like to have fun too - and get very irritated when pious wailing about Oppressors and Oppressed overwhelms me, because, not every single damn piece of writing has to be incredibly serious and somber and grave. If it was, we’d all shoot ourselves in the head and let the cockroaches take over.

Yet, if you’re going to rely on ridiculous generalizations, your piece is no longer fun. It’s merely tacky. And, quite possibly, damaging.

While in general I agree with Natalia on most points, I nevertheless have a slightly different take on Applebaum's piece, now that I've re-read it.

Applebaum's married to Poland's foreign minister Radek Sikorski, and knowing this, it's hard not to think of the Polish Plumber hype and other labor migration issues while reading her piece - and especially its last paragraph:

Beauty is a matter of luck, but the same could be said of many other talents. And what open markets do for beautiful women, they also do for other sorts of genius. So, cheer up the next time you see a Siberian blonde dominating male attention at the far end of the table: The same mechanisms that brought her to your dinner party might one day bring you the Ukrainian doctor who cures your cancer, or the Polish stockbroker who makes your fortune, too.

For all I know, Applebaum is doing part of her husband's job here, trying to persuade the folks in the West to be a little bit more optimistic about the recent Schengen Zone expansion.

Because, obviously, there's plenty of pessimism out there.

Take this piece by Mark Franchetti, which appeared in the Sunday Times on Jan. 20 - "Britain is target in Ukraine’s people smuggling bonanza. With most border controls in Eastern Europe now gone, people smuggling has become easy business in the Ukraine."

Here's the first paragraph, a description that, I hope, explains why I'd rather read a dozen pieces like Applebaum's:

Chewing slices of pork fat at his house less than two miles from the border with Slovakia, a Ukrainian people smuggler broke into a grin studded with gold teeth as he predicted a sharp increase in trade this year.

My Global Voices translation of some of the reactions to this piece is here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Russian Channel 1 (ORT) is so unbearably cute: according to their man in Kyiv, "85 Ukrainians" are opposed to joining NATO.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I'm not in Kyiv and I couldn't visit my father's grave when it was six months since his death. Instead, I took myself to Vagankovskoe Cemetery here today, to lay flowers to the graves of Vladimir Vysotsky and Rufina Nifontova (link in Russian), two people who, in different ways, have always meant a lot to our family, and so, in a way, I felt as if I got to spend some time with papa.

Actor Aleksandr Abdulov, who died of cancer on Jan. 3, is also buried there:

This picture of Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul appears in the beautiful new edition of Afisha's Istanbul guide. I took it in May 2007.

I'm so happy, and honored, even though when printed, the photo doesn't look as good - and they've also identified me as Veronica Smetana, instead of Veronica Khokhlova - a totally logical mistake, as they know I'm Mishah's wife, but have no idea I've kept my maiden name. It's a pleasant mistake, too, so much better than being misspelled 'Koklova' or 'Khoklova' all the time...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I originally posted the following as comments to the previous post - but now, in the morning, Mishah says it's too long and would probably look better in a post of its own, so here goes.


Thanks, Sasha, for posting these Svoboda Slova clips:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


Henadiy Moskal is unbelievable.

When a high-ranking official responsible for fighting corruption publicly accuses another high-ranking official of some pretty outrageous crimes, but then does nothing to prosecute him and instead announces that he's not scared of any slander lawsuits that Chernovetsky may file against him - that's crazy. No wonder the country's such a mess.

It's also very amusing to hear Moskal call those who run the country "amoral" - as if he's forgotten what year it is now and that he's a member of the government-forming parliamentary majority.

Oh, and calling the Lutsenko-Chernovetsky fight no big deal - "dva muzhyka povzdorili" - is brilliant, too.


I wrote the previous comment after watching the first clip, and now I've seen all three.

The second one isn't interesting, except for Teryokhin's rather dignified comment.

The third one's got Lutsenko in it - and I think Lutsenko should get himself an image coach, the way Yanukovych did after 2004, perhaps.

Someone who'd explain to him that it's wrong to interpret the "People's Self-Defense" thing so literally. Someone who'd explain to him that it's silly to allude to the "Sicilian Mafia" the way he does when he's talking about Chernovetsky's son and his alleged involvement in the housing construction scam:

I said, "Mr. Chernovetsky, I don't fight with children, that's my principle. This is inappropriate." I ordered Kyiv police to interrogate Mr. Stepan Chernovetsky, the son of today's mayor, after the election, so that it couldn't be used to further political confrontation. And when he today brutally used it against me, turned white into black, I was shocked. I said it was a lie. [Twenty minutes later, when the meeting of the National Security Council was over and the President thanked everyone and left], I approached Mr. Chernovetsky and told him that he was a liar, that he was mean ["brekhun" and "padlyuka"], and that normal people don't act like this. I had acted as a human being, knowing that even the Sicilian Mafia wouldn't fight with children, let alone the Ukrainian government. And for this, I got stabbed in the back [...]."

At the beginning of his explanation, Lutsenko mentions a few times that when he was telling the president of those outrageously illegal land deals, he didn't name any names, never pointed at Chernovetsky directly. And then he tells us how kind he was to Chernovetsky's son. And the general impression is that Lutsenko has been working so hard to protect Chernovetsky and his family - and now Chernovetsky has betrayed him.

It's disgusting to listen to Bogoslovskaya and Dovhyi, but it's as disgusting to realize that once again Yushchenko's team is doing everything to help their opponents to discredit them.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Finally, a political news report that doesn't leave me indifferent: interior minister Yuri Lutsenko has kicked Kyiv mayor Leonid Chernovetsky's ass!

Ukrainska Pravda's pieces (UKR) are here and here.

As a fellow human being, I can't blame Lutsenko. Not at all.

I wonder, however, whether this fight was spontaneous - or, perhaps, part of Lutsenko's intricate plan to bring us a new mayor, to carry through with his campaign "guarantee"...

I also wonder whether interior ministers in our country have more freedom to kick important asses than ordinary citizens do.
Marta and I, fooling around on January 17:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

And here's some Moscow on Jan. 15, one of those extremely rare sunny days:

I'm feeling very uninspired, and the only thing I'm good for now is sorting and uploading photos: I've added about 60 leftover ones from Istanbul to the Flickr photo set.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My father would have turned 75 today - if he hadn't disappeared exactly six months ago.

I've been dreading this date for months.


Here's papa at Wimbledon, sometime in the late 1970s:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Oh boy, I'm so glued to the New Yorker.

Martha Gellhorn, Hepatitis C, Gertrude Stein.

5:15 A.M.

It's like being back in the States, almost - floating around a college library, my idea of paradise.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I haven't been the happiest person since our return to Moscow yesterday, but things are getting better now that I have The Complete New Yorker DVD set - every issue from 1925 to 2005.

A miracle. Takes my breath away.

A birthday present from Mishah that arrived while we were gone.

Ah, thank you, Mishah, and please forgive me for being such a miserable pain in the ass these past few days.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

One day left here, and it's breaking my heart. I wish I could stay in Istanbul until I'm sick of it - the way I eventually get sick of Kyiv or Moscow or St. Pete.

Monday, January 07, 2008

It happens nearly every night: I feel I may actually sit down and write something, after Marta falls asleep, but then it takes hours to calm her down, and by the time she's finally dreaming her baby dreams, I'm so exhausted, I don't really have any languages left in my head.

She's a night owl - cranky in the morning, full of energy after sunset. I'm like that myself, so I pity her - because it's so much easier to be a morning person, so much more practical.

What makes it even worse for me is that Mishah has given me this beautiful Moleskine diary for New Year's - and I'm totally obsessed with all kinds of notebooks, I can never keep to just one, I have to write in at least half a dozen, it feels so awesome, even though it's hard to locate specific notes afterwards - but I've decided to write in this Moleskine diary every day, write anything, force myself to think of something cool to write about every single day, even if the day felt empty and not interesting, and if there's too much stuff, if it's overflowing, I've decided to use other notebooks for that, as many as I want, total freedom there, as long as I write in the Moleskine every day... Ah, but now I'm so tired, and yesterday I didn't write anything either, because, as I said, my birthday sucked and I don't want it to be remembered...

So anyway, here're some more Istanbul pictures that need no explaining, from that same Dec. 31 walk...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Turkish Flashback, by Trici Venola:


Click on the image to enlarge it.

For a 4000 x 940 copy, click here.

It's hanging on the wall at our hotel. There's more Trici's work there. And Trici herself is often there, too.

I photographed it and then went to Trici's website, to find an online copy of a better quality. Failed, but ended up spending an hour looking at Trici's other pieces.

So interesting, as if I'm seeing them for the first time (I'm not). Made me feel sad, because it's been almost nine years since we came to Istanbul for the first time, and so much has changed, everyone and everything.

And Trici's work is one of the things I remember so well from our first visit in August 1999, right before the earthquake...
In Ortaköy:

And - it turns out that one of my favorite Istanbul mosques - the Ortaköy Mosque - was designed in the mid-19th century by two ethnic Armenian architects - Garabet Amira Balyan and Nigoğayos Balyan - who belonged to a very prominent Ottoman architectural dynasty (more about their work - here):

My birthday sucked, but your greetings made it a little bit more of a joy it should have been, so - thank you!

Here're some pretty gloomy Istanbul pictures:

Saturday, January 05, 2008

I'm 34. Well, not until around 10 PM, which is in 18 hours or so, but that doesn't matter. I'm 34. Hard to believe.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A little bit of Istanbul, from my Dec. 31 walk. Photos that don't need any explanation - because right now I'm trying to recover from one of Marta's many temper tantrums, the one that was so catastrophic I almost threw a tantrum of my own.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

This has been the funniest New Year's I've had in a long time. We spent the last 30 minutes of 2007 climbing stairs at the hotel, up and down, with Marta. It's her newest hobby, to climb stairs, almost all by herself. She's a very stubborn girl. And so it was pure luck that at midnight we happened to be downstairs, where everyone else was. We all exchanged kisses and greetings, I finished my wine, and followed Marta upstairs again. Then she fell asleep. That's pretty much it - but somehow I totally loved it.

My mother, back home in Kyiv, opened the balcony door at the very end of 2007, to air that damn year out completely. She was wearing an overcoat when 2008 arrived.

Happy New Year to everyone!