I am very glad to announce a publication of a collection of original fairy tales, inspired by the world folklore, The Hammock for the Falling Stars. The project is at the finishing stage where the authors and all those who are interested are collecting the money to publish the book before Christmas. 17 female authors wrote over 30 tales that take the reader to all the four corners of the world. This hardback edition contains over 100 pages, it is lavishly illustrated and will surely make a superb gift for a Russian-reading child. I have already translated my tale, inspired by Welsh folklore, into English and will look to publish it separately. In the meantime, you can look at the beautiful illustrations to this wonderful, superb edition. If you know of someone who may be interested in this book, please feel free to share the post with them.
The Hammock for the Falling Stars can be purchased via this link: https://www.tinkoff.ru/sl/AxyL1HgRWHH. Please write your name and a social network name or email to be contacted for the book to be posted.
In my blog post on November 4th on occasion of the Day of National Unity I mentioned that Russia today is performing a balancing act due to multinational and multicultural character of the contemporary Russian society. In his address to the leaders and heads of religious organisations President Vladimir Putin also mentioned that, barring certain differences, all religions consider all people equal in front of God. Today we’ve learnt that this is not quite so. The Council of Ulema of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia has imposed the ban on mixed marriages.
“The Council of Ulema decided that Muslims should not marry representatives of other faiths, in particular Christians and Jews. Interfaith marriages are permissible only in certain cases with the permission of the local muftiat… Common values are important for people as close as husband and wife. The similarity of spouses in religion is the most important condition for a happy life”
The decision to ban mixed marriages can create certain problems. Since the Soviet times there have been a lot of mixed – and happy – marriages, so neglecting the question of faith is a long-term habit. Russian Orthodox priests are not particularly welcoming mixed marriages either, and when they have to explain, they also raise the topic of common values. However, the Ulema’s decision that has existed in theory since 2019 pioneers the formal prohibition of future marriages between the representatives of Islam, Christianity and Judaism – something that neither Christian nor Judaic organisations formally did, although similar recommendations against marriages with the unfaithful exist in those religions, too.
Here at this point many people, mainly atheists, shall raise their hands and deplore the ruin that religion causes to people’s lives. Meanwhile, the Ulema explains their decision not only by a lofty idea of a unity of values (faith included), but by a more practical reason. Russian and Jewish girls are known for their beauty, and Muslim men often leave their former Soviet Republics to work in Moscow and other Russian cities to earn money. There they predictably meet and marry non-Muslim girls, while the Muslim beauties (who traditionally must stay with the family) cannot find a man to marry.
So, in truth, this is about demographics, not God.
I always look for good things on such occasions. If anything else, the Ulema’s ban reminds us what family is really about. We’re raised on fairy tales about love at first sight (and I believe in it, too!) However, love at first sight means recognising your other half as the one your soul has been waiting to meet. The soul doesn’t recognise the sex appeal or the hair colour. It recognises values. In case with traditional religions, a particular set of rites is a cornerstone of life. For many others, faith itself is a cornerstone, even if we don’t religiously follow a particular tradition. Hence it is important to know your values and not to compromise on those that matter most. If we look at things from this point of view, the Ulema’s decision suddenly makes sense.
Roscosmos has initiated the registration of several historic and seminal signs as trademarks “to protect the state corporation from unfair competition”. Poekhali by Yuri Gagarin is to become a trademark – the world-famous word he said on his first flight to space, which means “let’s go”.
As we’re waiting to hear about further details, here’s a song about Yuri Gagarin, Do You Know What Man He Was, sung by Yuri Gulyaev. The video is a collage of Gagarin’s photos.
Nine years ago, when the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first manned Earth orbit, Anton Agarkov paid a visit to the Star City and shared lots of photos that I also featured on my blog. Read the article. To commemorate the same event, Attic Room Productions have made The First Orbit movie that you can watch below. It reconstructs Gagarin’s historic flight and helps to relive his experience – now almost 60 years on.
The new year is just around the corner, and I’m pleased to announce the availability of 2021 photographic calendars I’ve prepared for you.
We’re starting with my photographic calendars available on Zazzle.com. One of them is dedicated to Wales and features my photos made there between 2009 and 2013. The photos were taken in North, Middle and South Wales, particularly in Caernarfon, Llandudno, Denbighshire. Exact places include Valle Crucis Abbey, Horseshoe Path, and a few others.
Another calendar consists of my London photos. The landmarks include a church in Aldgate, St. Pancras Railway Station, the church of St. Clements Danes, a few Bloomsbury and Soho streets. This is London you rarely see on postcards. While the Welsh 2021 photographic calendar is ideal for those who love the countryside, London 2021 photographic calendar will best suit those who like the subdued city vibe.
We celebrate the Day of National Unity in Russia today. It falls on the same day as the celebration of the Kazan Icon of Our Lady by the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, November 4th has been celebrated since the 17th c., after the Polish-Lithuanian intervention had been driven out of Russia by the Second Volunteer Army of Minin and Pozharsky. The occasion was first commemorated by Mikhail Romanov, the first ruler of the new dynasty on the Russian throne.
In recent years the civil holiday was widely celebrated by the parades and street performances, but naturally, this year such events were out of the question. On the contrary, the faithful flocked to churches this morning. Many Russian Orthodox churches traditionally serve two liturgies on big holidays like this one, to accommodate as many believers as possible. I, too, went to the church today, although I couldn’t stay for the service.
I’m drafting a big article on satyre, the mockery of religious beliefs and the impact it has on the world today. One thing I certainly find disturbing is that we are not serious enough about the really important things. We take politics very seriously; we take economy and money-making even more seriously; and expendables, like buckwheat and toilet paper, seem the end of it all. But our world is growing exponentially void of sympathy and respect. For is there really an explanation to the fact that, while the Act of Equal Opportunities demands employment to all despite their (dis)abilities, religious beliefs, sexuality and gender, the artists and journalists demand the right to mock faith and its most important aspects? Logically, this means 1) that a person outside the titular spectrum is given a competitive advantage based on their “difference” but at the time 2) in return for the titular population tolerating their “difference” they are made to tolerate the mockery of some very important aspects of their culture, namely, faith.
Christianity has undergone this hysteria during the Reformation, when zealous Protestants whitewashed the opulent Catholic frescoes and broke the statues of saints and prophets. There has long been a taciturn consensus between the different denominations within the Christian Church, whereby the Russian Orthodox Church remains faithful to the old Byzantine order, preserving the spirit of Christianity, while Catholic and Protestant Churches have moved on pastures new, admitting in women and gay priests. The thing is very different with Islam, as according to traditional Christian thought, Muhammad is a fake prophet, hence Islam is a sect, not a religion in its proper sense of the word. It has been accepted by the civil society, by the lay order, but in terms of religious culture, there has been no acceptance. The Western culture remains largely Christian, and if if chooses to drift anywhere, it is to yoga and Buddhism, not Islam. The Muslim culture doesn’t fit anywhere, so it literally has to fight for itself. Despite this, for nearly a decade European journalists have seen to aggravating the Muslim population by producing caricatures on Muhammad and, most recently, on President Erdogan, who seemingly aspires to resurrect the Ottoman Empire. Add to this the problem of the West “making up” the palatable East and not even attempting to understand the East on the latter’s own terms, and it becomes obvious just how really tragic these caricatures are, and how oblivious is President Macron or other leaders to the real state of things.
Admittedly, Russia today is also performing a balancing act today, following the demise of the USSR and the influx of the cheap labour force from the former Soviet republics. I wrote previously about the Day of National Unity in Russia and the attempt to relegate the revolutionary past into the void of History. However, it is legally prohibited to mock or satirize anyone’s religious beliefs, and I fully support this limitations. I know some call these satirical acts the manifestation of freedom. I strongly believe that freedom is not about how far we can go, but when we choose to stop.
While a new lockdown has been announced in several European countries, the Moscow Mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, hopes to avoid the drastic measures. To do so, the following measures have been implemented:
no public transport access for pupils aged 13 to 18, pregnant women, people over 65, and those who have disabilities or chronic illnesses;
shops’ working hours restricted to 7/8am till 11pm;
masks and gloves are mandatory in shops, on public transport and in crowded, busy places;
at least 30% of workers to work out-of-office, except those whose presence is critical;
leisure centres closed until the end of November;
night clubs and bars’ visitors must obtain and scan a QR-code (until the end of November);
if hospitalised, a person can only receive food packs from the relatives; personal visits not allowed.
We are waiting to hear about restrictions on visiting the places of worship. This Wednesday, when the Russian Orthodox people celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan, one of holy icons that played an important role in fighting the Polish and Lithuanian intervention in the 17th c. November 4th (the day of victory over the intervents) has been celebrated since the 17th c., minus a few decades when November 7th (the day of October Revolution) was celebrated instead. It is the day when Russian people traditionally visit churches. And this time, unlike the Great Lent, the faithful will be able to participate in the service, albeit in masks and gloves.
Moscow is obviously affected most, as it is bigger, and more businesses and people are located here. Incidentally, in Paris, people have been leaving the capital ahead of a new lockdown. This is unlikely to happen in Moscow, as a lot of famous dachas are not adapted to winter conditions.
I suggest we all keep in touch at this time, so please share your experience of living through the pandemia, suggest the topics we can discuss, or look at my brisk notes on the first wave of epidemics in spring this year.
For the second day running one of Russian radio broadcasters, VestiFM, is discussing a truly vital question:
How to make citizens wear a mask?!
The question sounds crazy because “to make” is to force someone to do something against their will. In the days of “we shan’t be slaves” a mask is called nothing but a “muzzle”. According to this logic, the task is, more or less, to make the Russian citizens wear muzzles.
A MASK: FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY
Since March 2020, just as you, I have been reading various opinions of the doctors as to whether a mask protects you, and how well, and if the demand to wear it at all times is really justified, and whether this runs against the Constitution and the civil rights, etc. Likewise, I cannot doubt that the virus exists, and people fall ill, among them – my friends and their relavites.
Add to this numerous publications about the “Illuminati conspiracy”, and I suspect that someone really wants to see all the craziest forecasts come true so we can witness “apocalypse now”. You see, the TV passions are no longer exciting, but a live catastrophe is just the right thing!
You know what I think? I think that the virus, the pandemics, and all related restrictions run a check on the degree of our inner freedom. We may call it Jesuitism and abuse, or look for the culprits. Or we can admit that the most aggravated are those who are in no way responsible for their lives. For them, to wear a mask is not a measure to protect oneself and everyone around; it is a pain because the inner restrictions (which sees no-one but you) are now coupled with the outer.
Believe me, this is one’s personal choice. It has nothing to do with the circumstances, place-and-time, or the “wrong” head of state. This is one’s own fear: to fail, to take responsibility, to make a decision, to choose. It is far easier to find a scapegoat and send it off to the desert, so one can sit back and keep fearing.
You may disagree and say that age is a factor, but let me disagree with you, too. Anxiety has nothing to do with age. It is a consequence of a person’s desire to control – especially if the object is out of one’s sphere of influence, in principle. Today we witness people who are ready to give their all just to prove that the mask is not necessary and can be done without.
A person who takes primary responsibility for their life is doing the following in the present conditions:
Wearing protective equipment;
Avoiding, if possible, busy places;
Looking after oneself, the near and dear, and friends.
And what do some people do instead? Anything, except looking after themselves. Still, if anyone is really awaiting the Doomsday, please remember the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Five wise virgins took with them the oil for lanterns, the foolish ones didn’t. Then the latter ran out of oil and couldn’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
To look after oneself and wear a mask in busy, crowded places is the task of the wise virgins. Yet Christianity respects one’s free will, so it is only a fine that can make “free citizens” wear masks. Meanwhile, my friend was attacked on the Moscow underground when one such citizen tried to rip the mask off her face.
WELL, WHAT IF ALL THIS IS TRUE?
One final thought, especially for those who love conspiracy theories. Suppose, all this is true: there is a conspiracy, the Masons and the Illuminati, the digital concentration camp, and so on. Suppose even you’ve had an epiphany, and now you are dead certain as to who is guilty of all this mess. To begin with, any such culprit is an illusion; the real masterminds remain behind the curtains, so you shouldn’t be too pleased with your guesses. Secondly, what’s next? Most likely, there’s nothing you can do. Are you planning to keep on living in spite of these terrible people’s ? Then remember that the main goal is to reduce the population of the Earth. Smart, free people are indispensable in the face of a pandemic: it is thanks to their irrepressible love of freedom and concern for others that the goal is achieved much easier.
This is a brief note to say hello to my readers and subscribers! I’m delighted to learn that people are subscribing to LCJ. To let you know, I’ve been blogging since August 2006, and it was almost a non-stop entreprise until 2014, when I began teaching and there was less time to research. So please take your time to browse the calendar or the list of categories.
In the meantime, these are the views from a hospital window in Moscow where I have to spend this weekend. Apparently, it is necessary once in a while.
I spoke to Dave McKean in March 2006 when he came to Manchester to the premiere of his film MirrorMask at the Cornerhouse. The film that received awards at the Locarno and Sarasota Film Festivals in 2005 is about Helena, a girl who lives and tours with her family’s circus but wishes – like all teenagers – that she could be able to break free into the ‘real’ world. What happens instead is that she finds herself on the journey into the Dark Lands, in quest for a powerful object, the MirrorMask, to save the Queen of Light. On her way she encounters sphinxes, monkeybirds, strange objects a-la Henry Moore sculptures, and the omnipotent and dangerous Queen of Darkness. As the film progresses, Helena’s task becomes not only to find the MirrorMask, but also to escape the Dark Lands.
MirrorMask is yet another fruit of a long-lasting collaboration between McKean and Neil Gaiman. The duo has been working together since the 1980s, enriching the world with one of the best-loved and original comic books, Sandman. McKean, a distinguished artist, has produced numerous works, among which are book illustrations, tarot cards and posters, promotional campaigns for brands, like Smirnoff and Sony, and films, like Sleepy Hollow (dir. Tim Burton). Although MirrorMask is his first feature, he made several shorts in the past, and, on top, he owns a jazz record label together with saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
MirrorMask may be one of the most original films of the recent years and at the very least is a compelling achievement on the part of McKean who wanted to transfer the surreal images, so often found in his drawings, on screen. There are several reasons for his opting for surrealist stylistics in the film’s cinematography. On the one hand, his own artwork has been influenced by this art movement; on the other, surrealist artists were dedicated explorers of the realm of dreams, and Helena’s journey, as we eventually find out, was also a dream.
The dream-like, phantasmagorical type of story was in part dictated by the Jim Hanson Company, who provided the budget for the film. But you wouldn’t expect anything too realistic from Gaiman&McKean.
“We ended up with a long email conversation and a kitchen table full of books, and CDs, and sketches, and bits of dialogue, and notes…I really wanted to build a city and wander round it, and Neil fancied doing something that was basically ‘The Prince and the Pauper’”.
In Dave’s words, he didn’t want to settle a film in one place, and, to add subtlety to the theme of dreamy peregrinations, a wandering circus thus became a metaphor for his vision. He does love circuses, both lavish performances of the Cirque du Soleil and little odd family troupes, travelling along the South Coast of England, where the artist lives. Some circuses or acts are the true gems, and finding them may be quite fascinating in itself. But whether big or small, these troupes of artists are always changing place, and their constant drifting in space and time was an inspiration for McKean.
The same sense of unsettledness is conveyed through the score composed by Iain Ballamy that intertwines Indian and Middle European music with tango, folk, and jazz. Fellini’s cinematic wanderings and Bunuel’s imagery also influenced the film to some extent. Ultimately, McKean’s goal was
‘to try and do some things that did not look literal. Most fantasy stories are sort of very realistic, and it’s great and extraordinary technical achievement, but… I wanted to do something that was non-literal and a bit more abstract’. It wasn’t difficult in some way, as McKean had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve: ‘Basically a lot of my work is collage, and making the film is a kind of collage as well… so in that respect it was easy’.
What was not easy was, in particular, dealing with computers. The four Mackintoshes that the crew used for editing were named after the Beatles.
‘I was John’, says Dave, ‘and that was OK… But then we needed a fifth one, and our technical manager called it Yoko. And they all just refused to get on from then on. The Beatles broke up!’
From start till the end, MirrorMask is about connections and contradictions between ‘reality’ and ‘image’. The prevalence of one over another is frequently debated and never ceases to attract interest. For McKean, known for his darkish ethereal images, which he lavishly brought to screen in MirrorMask, this question must have been particularly intriguing. So, ‘what is more certain: reality or image?’ I ask Dave.
‘I think most of my work, and this film is as well’, he replies, ‘it’s about that connection between what is the present, what is right now. We’re now talking here, we actually know this… But everything else – what we just did, walking in through the door, and an hour ago, and five hours ago, this now doesn’t exist anymore. It only exists in our memories, and so as far as I’m concerned it’s already up for debate, and it’s already a fantasy. And what will happen in a few hours time is also a fantasy. And we’re surrounded by it, and we have dreams, we have thoughts, and you have interpretation of what is going on right now, and I have a different interpretation. So, we’re sort of surrounded by this ball of fantasy, and it’s basically a fantasy, or dream, or imagination, or interpretation, any of those things. And so, that’s interesting to me, exploring the link between this tiny little nucleus of reality in the centre, and this great ball of imagination around it’.
Nevertheless, McKean’s work has always been about real life, as we normally understand it. I asked him to describe the imaginary world that he has been creating as an artist.
‘My own world is just trying to make sense of the real world’, he says. ‘I don’t like the sort of science-fiction art and fantasy art that is just about goblins and fairies and spaceships. I don’t really see the point of that. It’s entertaining and it’s fine, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to be about people, people who I have to deal with every day, and that’s what I’m interested in, I’m interested in what people think and how they think, and the things that they believe in, and desire, and are frightened of. So I’m interested in that side of life, really. And then I’m trying to sort of look at those things from a different point of view, or from metaphor, or from dreams, or from these other angles, because I think these are just interesting ways of seeing things’.
The continuous evolution and change have been McKean’s stimuli throughout his career, and he utters that his favourite project is always the one that comes next:
‘I love learning new things, so trying to make a film is an immense learning curve. And I don’t think you ever stop learning… I love the differences between things. If I haven’t drawn for a while, and I’ve instead made some music, or written something, or done some filming, when I go back to drawing, it always seems to be stronger and informed by all those other things’.
As expected, taking a rest is not in McKean’s plans, and he has already been planning several other projects, because ‘they just take so long to set up’. In his turn, Neil Gaiman has been working on the script for a Hollywood adaptation of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, which will be released in 2007. It only remains to wait to see what this fruitful collaboration brings in future. One thing is certain – it will, as always, be surreal.
As I grow older, I cherish Sundays more and more – especially this year when I finally don’t work on Sundays. I’m discovering the beauty of “taking time”: I don’t rush my breakfast, dog-walking, reading, doing something about the house, if I must. The feeling of prolonged time is so palpable on Sunday, yet there is also this special silence and relaxedness that is so characteristic of the fin de weekend. Whereas before I’d be thinking of what else to do for the next day, this time, this October, I’m just looking forward to the dog-walking and evening tea.
Over the years I’ve done so much and gone so far that I can’t help taking time and looking inside rather than collecting the impressions of the outer world. My religious views also suggest the inner work, the improvement of the inner vision and wisdom, and I am glad this is so. The year 2014 was a turning point in my religious outlook, and I’m glad to be among the faithful. I’ve never been an atheist, but the years of agnosticism or misconception of the role of the church are also firmly in the past.
Hence tonight, as I’m looking out of my window, I feel this immense warm gratitude to each and every person on my path that, knowingly or not, made me who I am now. As the city is sinking into the dusk, I’m catching the last glimpses of Sunday – to imbue the coming week with calm and joy.
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