Category Archives: Experiences

Liverpool: In Search of The Beatles Story 

The first time I visited Liverpool was in November 2002. The weather was typical of the English North-West in autumn: above the nil, wind and RAIN.
It should be noted that the trip was an act of appeasement of this Russian girl who was ready to love Manchester United FC provided that no one would stop her from adoring The Beatles. You see, Mancunians are peculiar people. In their view, all best things had happened – or are happening – in Manchester. Therefore, Liverpool, or London for that matter, is a nuisance that throws its shadow on the splendour of the red-brick city. (A note: Liverpudlians secretly giggle at, yet uphold, this ‘competition’). God knows what I had to listen about Liverpool! All people there stretch “i” sound, it’s raining there, Scousers keep outplaying MUFC in the Premier League and at various championships; and on top of that, there is an incomprehensible urban planning and roads that are impossible to navigate. However, as I was eager to even take the train, and my hosts couldn’t risk letting me go on my own, we eventually went by car. 
…and for some reason it was the day of our trip that the firemen trade union had chosen for their strike! To avoid strikebreaking and any incidents, the lifts were switched off throughout the country, communications with the firemen were aborted, hence anyone using electrical goods, shaving and cooking in microwaves was doing so at his or her own risk. We nevertheless went on our trip, but you surely do understand that Liverpool was the cause of it all?!

None of my company knew the city and had barely ever visited it, so we spent a long time searching for Albert Dock where The Beatles Story Museum was located. At first, we ended up at a car park which was at the opposite end of our destination, so we had to brave the rain and wind. In search for a parking space we had to go as high up as level 6 or 7. And whilst going downstairs wasn’t much trouble for any of us, walking back up the stairs presented a challenge even to the healthier ones, who didn’t suffer from asthma and had no problems with legs. The parking was located somewhere near the university, and, as I recall, it was the first time that I saw some tropical plants, like palms, fluttering pathetically in the wind. Later I would see many an unfortunate tree, like those ones, that somehow got settled in the English North-West and in Wales and were courageously soaking wet in the intermittent, cold local rain, the icy winds tearing apart their leaves. 

The road to The Beatles Story was long, though not winding. We had no idea where the museum was, so we took the direction in which everyone wagged and waved. We had to stop regularly because the adults had difficulty walking. We got hungry and popped into a cafe; I tried scrambled eggs with salmon for the first time. This part of the journey took about an hour and a half. Mancunians kept looking for ways to pick at Liverpool, but, apart from the weather (which hardly differed from Manchester), there was nothing to discuss.

After lunch we went on to search for The Beatles Story under the rain. The longer you live in England, the more you realise that the rain is accepted as an inseparable part of life, its absence denying life altogether. Or at least without the rain life becomes palpably incomplete. That time in Liverpool, looking for the museum, I also figured that it was under this perpetual rain the young Beatles had been gathering at each other’s houses, composing and rehearsing songs, and then going to the historical Cavern club to play a gig. They soaked to the bone and got cold but still went wherever the music was taking them. 

Finally, we almost reached our destination: we got to the other end of Albert Dock. Yet we were in Liverpool that evidently decided that those arrogant Mancunians had to get beans for their sharp tongues. On our right a wall was rising, in front of us the boats were floating, and on the left a small bridge was leading to the other bank of the dock. Unconsciously, instead of all this we expected to see some remarkable building with a running inscription, like the British Museum or the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, for shouldn’t Liverpool have been proud of its famous citizens? But alas, there was nothing of the kind. Looking around in despair, I saw two street-signs, one near the bridge, another next to us. Both had “The Beatles Story Museum” arrows pointing at each other. Where they intersected, stood a red Royal Mail post box pinned right in the middle of the little cobbled space where we stood. 
The epic journey was becoming unbearable. This magical mystery tour seemed to be endless but then we noticed a man with his young son. To our question he confidently waved towards the brick wall, and we turned around it and immediately stumbled on a green garbage bin and a sort of cabins painted in the style of the Beatles’ cartoons. And a little farther there was the museum building, with a running inscription, but the entrance led downstairs, rather than upstairs, and The Beatles Story was beginning with the very first steps…

From The City of Optimists by Julia Shuvalova 

On Becoming a Teacher

Autumn in Moscow

The school year is about to start. In Moscow, several schools located near the Grand Mosque will be closed this Friday, September 1st, because of a Muslim festival. As for me, I can’t wait to see my English and French students again. There’s so much to do this year!

I qualified as an historian and a History teacher 15 years ago, upon graduating from the MSU. Some of my unimates immediately went on to teach, and a few have shown spectacular results as tutors. My English friend Ian who I worked with at the BBC in Manchester asked me once if I thought about teaching. He was sure I would make a great teacher. I disagreed. At the time I was all about Journalism and Literature, but that wasn’t the reason why I refuted the idea then. I was convinced that my task as a teacher had to go beyond explaining the theory and giving a bit of practice. I didn’t feel I was ready to share the lessons of life or profession.

When I started teaching in 2013 (and at first I did teach History – in English!) it was a completely different thing. I work privately, both with small groups and individual students, which allows to provide attention to every single person. You see, it was never enough for me to just share my erudition. I have always thought of a teacher as a role model, and by 2013 I had felt ready to serve as one. Today it’s hugely pleasing to hear the students want to be like me, to know the languages like me, etc. However, this also increases my responsibility, and we thus depend on each other. We grow together. I suppose, if anyone manages to forge this kind of relationship with their students, he or she creates endless opportunities for both professional and personal growth.

With each passing year, though, the students become older, and eventually they leave. I have got a few school graduates this year, so I really hope I will be able to teach them something valuable (that is, apart from English!). It will be sad to see them go, but this is life. We have to let go of something to have the new doors open.

Ralph W. Emerson said that a teacher is someone who is capable of making difficult things easy. While I entirely agree with him, this isn’t about an actual subject of teaching. Students, both young and old, will always ask questions about life; or perhaps a question about learning will be, in fact, a life question. Today I know that I wasn’t ready to teach in 2006 because I hadn’t yet figured out how to make complex things in life easy. Now I do; that’s why I teach.

Viktor Frankl and His Famous 1972 Speech

A prominent 20th century psychologist Viktor Frankl was a survivor of Holocaust. He spent years in several concentration camps, and in each and every one of them he was able to continue his doctoral and academic practice. He found salvation in Love, and subsequently became a source of inspiration for humanistic psychologists. The video contains an extract from his lecture at one American university in 1972 in which he speaks of the importance of idealism as a path to true realism in life.

My mother knew nothing about Frankl, and neither did her mother-in-law. Still, they both brought up their children – me and my father, respectively – as people with a total belief in their ability to do something. Somehow I’ve also had a total lack of fear instilled in me – or so my mother and those who know me say.

As for me, I always, totally go out of my way, if only verbally, to encourage someone to do something they want to do but are afraid of doing. I’ve thought myself to be an incorrigible idealist, and indeed, this is so, but I’ve never seen a problem with it, and now, having watched Frankl’s video, I have no doubt this is the only way to be. It may be hard, and you may find that sometimes you play a glass bead game with someone who does not really need your encouragement, for they are entirely happy to follow a course of mediocrity and land miles away and off-course from the goal. But the beauty is that someone else, who is in a much greater need for what you have to say, will hear, be inspired and do something that will live forever.

One Night In… Riga

Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013
Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013
Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013
Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013Riga at night 2013

Riga 2013, a set on Flickr.

I went to Elton John concert in Tallinn last year. I chose to fly with AirBaltic that took me to Estonia’s capital via Riga, the capital of Latvia. On my way back I chose not to spend a night at a deserted airport but that rather have a wander around Riga’s city centre. I took a passenger van there, got dropped off opposite the National Opera, popped into McDonald’s for a quick bite to eat (as it was nearing midnight and I had no idea where to best go for a meal, plus I had a bag and a small suitcase, which wasn’t quite accommodating for visiting any eatery). While there, I diligently studied a map and then wandered off to look for the Black Cat’s building. Bearing in mind it was already dark I would probably never find, had it not been for a helpful Latvian guy who quickly pointed me in the right direction.

I sampled a bit of the city’s glam and history, although I long to return there in broad daylight (if only to finally take a decent pic of that famous cat!)

I managed to catch a bit of a peformance of Bee Bop a Lula at one of the outdoor restaurants. But all the while I was loitering around Riga’s city centre I was humming the melody of a famous Noktirne (Nocturno) by A. Kublinsky and J. Brejgis. It narrates the story of a person walking in Riga at night, waiting for his beloved.

A Motivational Bridge In Tallinn, Estonia

Over the last month I visited three different countries. This year, in general, I visited four different countries: France, Estonia, Latvia, and the UK. Scotland, for that matter, is sadly still a part of the UK, otherwise I’d count that as the fifth country. There were many instances of urban climbing (i.e. going up and down staircases in various domes, churches, and towers), park trailing, museum visiting, and I dare not say how many kilometres I thus walked. This doesn’t qualify me for the Olympics yet, but still. I even visited a car show and went camping for the first time in my life.

A whole lot of new experiences. I wouldn’t know where to start telling about any one of them.

Work-wise, I was pleasantly inundated with various translation projects. I’m very pleased to mention that in autumn visitors to the Russian IKEA will be reading my translation of new additions and some collection descriptions. I’ve proved myself over and over again, delivering great work to tight deadlines, which on two occasions I did either on the plane or at the airport.

But I had to give up something, as well, and for a good reason (I hope) it was blogging. I could not possibly log all my peregrinations as they were happening, not least because I did not always have reliable (if any) Internet connection. In the last week I had one of the projects prepared for a launch, which also required effort and time. Either way, the good news is that I am back and ready to show a plenty of photos and share stories.

In the spirit of the abovewritten, let’s start with a video I made in Tallinn. By the Toompea Hill (that houses the Government residence and a few historic monuments, including the Dome Church and St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, reportedly erected on the grave of the Estonian national hero) there is small bridge. Generally speaking, it is more of a lovely feature because the entire river flows by the bridge and doesn’t seem to go under it (unless via a collector). But just look at what fantastic use it has been put! Both rails read a message from the wind, telling you exactly what you need to hear. I admit that since moving back to Russia I have been doing exactly what the wind inscribed on this Tallinn bridge. And just in case it’s a bit difficult to view the video (connection ect.) here is what the wind has to tell the Tallinn visitors.

Do what you like, and like what you do. 
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. 
Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes just be an illusion. 
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. 
Whatever you are, be happy.
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
Be the change that you wish to see in the world. 
Never stop dreaming. 
Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. 

The New Temporal Philosophy

There was a discussion in one of the Philosophy groups on Facebook concerning the amount of time we spend doing things, both trivial and not. The suggestion is to concentrate, to spend more time thinking, speaking, or even shitting. My response was, as follows:

“This sounds somewhat Taoist to me: we need to become what we do, whether it is speaking, chatting or, well, shitting. Not that I disagree, especially because “fast” often means “half-done”.”
And I do really agree that we need to dedicate more time – along with effort, emotion, and thought – to whatever it is that we need to do at any given moment. The present time, with its conveyor belt method of production that expanded onto the Internet, doesn’t give a chance to thought and reflection. We move on from “project” to “project”, be that an IT project, a book, or a baby. The speed increases, as does the pressure and, consequently, periods of exhaustion.
I’ve been through these burnouts a few times, and invariably they were caused by me having to allocate 80% of my time and effort to something that produced 20% of results and compensation. This is another consequence of high-speed production when projects come in heaps, some interesting, some not, and we have to deal with them, regardless of how much value they have for us both in short and long run.
So, slowing down is often a missing key to happiness or at least that level of satisfaction when you enjoy doing what you are doing.
Slowing down also allows to choose words and expressions that help to better convey the meaning or describe things. Our modern language and syntax suffer incredibly from this fast thinking that takes the most readily available words and sticks them randomly into the narrative. Again, the only way to combat this is to think and express yourself slowly.
By doing so we may come to reassess the Time. On the one hand, we may discover that Time is boundless in that we can dedicate any amount of it to those of our actions that make us feel happy and fulfilled. In this respect the length of Time is ambiguous, it is our own construct, and we decide how long it lasts. On another hand, Time, being seen in terms of Pareto Principle, will bring us to see how we can extend or squeeze the Time, and that both extension and squeeze are relative. You can forever extend the Time doing what you like doing and hence squeeze a lot of “projects” into the given time. Or you will extend the length of one annoying thing over 80% of the time, only to squeeze out the measly 20%.

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) Is Under Threat of Closure

Like many other Mancunians, I have been unpleasantly surprised to hear the latest news.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester’s Castlefield may be closed.

SIGN THE PETITION TO PROTECT THE MOSI!

As it happens in England, the North-South struggle is on again. The closure may come as a way to keep London-based Science Museum open, Manchester Evening News reports. The National Science Group is said to be considering plans to cut funding to Manchester-based venue. BBC has more details.

The MOSI grew out of the old Science Museum and the Manchester Air and Space Museum, both were merged in 1986. The MOSI encompasses several buildings, including the 1830 Warehouse, where a part of exposition was dedicated to the Irish migration to Manchester during 19th c. I went to the museum many times, and it was often used as a venue for various events. In 2005 I was there with a BBC Bus and my old friend Paul as a story gatherer on People’s War campaign for the Beeb, in 2006 I went there for the opening of my first FutureSonic festival, and the first Social Technologies Summit, along with a few exhibitions, took place at the mentioned Warehouse. I did interviews with the artists there, and at one time a gallery assistant suggested us to use a baby changing room that was a part of a female toilet, although I was going to talk to a man. The last memorable exhibition I went to was The Body Worlds by the German Professor Gunther von Hagens. I could not make it to The Da Vinci Genius exhibition, but it was very actively prepared and promoted with the help of Social Media and Networks. On top of it all, this is a good place to practise photography 😉

The figures have it that the MOSI is visited by 830,000 people annually, which is no small number, considering that the majority of overseas tourists still gear towards London. One of my friends also mentioned on Facebook that her friend regularly brings school children from France to visit Manchester and always takes them to the MOSI. The museum is conveniently located towards the edge of the city centre, with a free shuttle bus going past it every 10 mins. Among the closests attractions are the Granada TV Studios, the Roman fort, the Beetham Tower and G-Mex, and the “Deansgate Mile”, as well as the fashionable Spinningfields area with the Guardian offices on Deansgate side and the People’s History Museum on the River Irwell’s bank in Bridge St. Oh, and don’t forget the Opera House in Quay St. St. John’s Garden is practically opposite the museum’s main entrance, having previously belonged to the church built by the Byrom family whose will ensured that the land was never to be built upon.

I don’t even begin to mention the amount of cafes, restaurants and pubs around the area. Suffices to say, there are plenty of things to do, prior or after visiting the MOSI. It has long been one of the main Manchester attractions that did not struggle to attract both adults and children. The story of Manchester scientific and industrial leap in the 18-19th cc. is mesmerising, but there is more we need to consider, than justs costs of running such museum.

Because I fear this is not the only victim of the funding cuts up North. For a literary piece that was loosely inspired by my visit to Heaton Hall and Park in spring 2009 I needed to pay another visit to the place. So when I went there this May I found that the Hall was not just closed for winter – it was entirely shut down. “Closed for the public” is not just the splendid mansion where restoration works helped to restore some of its bygone splendour. “Closed” are a floor-to-ceiling organ by Samuel Green from 1789, the only remaining set of paintings by the Polish architect Michael Novosielski (1750-1795), when he was yet a painter, a set of furniture by Gillows of Lancaster, and a magnificent suite of furniture that previously belonged to the Duke of Wellington who used to visit Heaton Hall and was very fond of its housemistress, Lady Wilton.

This is more than just an old building closing its doors – this is a whole part of history of the English North West, a resource that sheds tons of light on the tastes and habits of its people. Quite important is the fact that the Hall is a part of Europe’s largest municipal park and easy to visit: the metrolink tram station is exactly opposite the park entrance, and so are the bus stops to and from Bury. I did not investigate the reasons why the Hall was closed, but I would not be surprised if it was also due to “funding cuts”.

The MOSI is not in Prestwich, which may only be known in London if you are Jewish. It is in Manchester’s city centre and, as we saw above, attracts many foreign visitors, including children. As much as I love Arts and am not quite a techie person, I would be unconsolable if we lost the opportunity to study the technical and scientific progress of our nation close to our home. The MOSI surely provides this opportunity for the entire North of England, and this is what the London bosses might be trying to tap into. Perhaps, they think that, if the MOSI is closed down and its collection is moved down south, then people from Scotland and the North of England come to London more often. Of course, I assume that Manchester collection would not just be abandoned or sold by piece. But… it’s silly to think that this would increase a visitor flow to London museums. The costs of going and staying in the capital at the time of severe economic downturn are not going to be taken up by many, if any, Northern families.

And at the same time closing one of prominent Northern museums would severely impact the educational prospects. As a venue and a cradle of information and objects that can inspire future engineers and inventors, the MOSI is indispensable. With less things to learn and do, children are more likely to spend time in the streets, getting involved in gangs, drug abuse, and “anti-social behaviour” of all kinds. Instead of a Northern Rutherford or its female “version” we will get yet another drugged Salford guy with a pregnant teenage girlfriend, applying for benefits and living in a run-down council flat that can be taken away from them at any moment. And when this happens we as the society will shake our heads and wonder, at exactly what point the former glory of Britain went to the dogs.

Finishing now, I do not want this piece to come across as yet another helpless outcry. I think we should consider what measures we can take to save the MOSI. I am sure there are many people throughout Manchester who would gladly volunteer to help at the museum, if it struggles to maintain the staff. And if this means bringing the payment back for the time being, then why not? Just make sure it goes to the MOSI coffers, not elsewhere. I think of it this way: if it costs 4 quid to buy a bus ticket that is valid all day, then how much more can you afford to pay on top of that for a single museum visit that can last all day? And there may also be a family ticket, and an option for a child up to a certain age to go in for free, and maybe even a “frequent visitor ticket” or a “weekend visitor ticket”. It’s not something that we’d like to do, of course. However, I have come to believe that, whatever alleviations the government of any country is prepared to give to its citizens, people must not stop helping themselves, including financial help, be that for art venues, civil initiatives, or something else that directly affects their lives.

In the meantime, SIGN THE PETITION TO PROTECT THE MOSI!

To finish off, here are some of the photos I took between 2007 and 2010 related to the MOSI and the surrounding area.

MOSI - Transport then and now
MOSI – Transport then and now

 

MOSI in the Streets
MOSI in the street

 

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Entrance to the MOSI

 

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Another view of the MOSI entrance

Les Notes Parisiennes

Et bon, mes chers lecteurs, enfin j’ai visite Paris. Pardonnez-moi l’absence des articles, mais il n’y a pas de langue francaise a mon telephone.

Those of you who have been reading the blog for a while will know that this was a very long-lasting dream that has finally come true. According to the French themselves, I speak their language very well, although this was the first time I really had to converse with native speakers. I managed to keep my writing skills up, while living in the UK, but I was quite fearful for the spoken language. Thankfully, there is nothing to fear about any longer.

I’ve only had two days, so I somehow chose to visit the Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the Pere Lachese cemetery, and the Louvre. Maybe I should have made a different choice, but the positive impressions abound anyway. In addition to visiting these great sites, I ate at various lovely places where there was always good food and good service, both at good value. The majority thought I was English, if I had to “switch” the language to better express myself. I took buses and metro, I climbed 300 stairs up the Sacre Coeur to see the unforgettable Parisian panorama in broad daylight. Naturally, I chose to use the ascenseur (elevator) to visit la Tour Eiffel, for otherwise I’d overdo climbing for the day. I was still rewarded with spectacular views of Paris by night and a short illumination.

The French were generally very helpful – perhaps because they sensed the chance to practise their English. As soon as I arrived and was trying to figure out where to go, a map in my hand, a lovely French lady came up and offered me help. I always do this kind of thing in Moscow, so it looks like this was the instance of “the good you do comes back to you“.

And then there were two funny situations, both at the Eiffel Tower. First, I saw two security guards studying a small bottle of champagne they confiscated from someone. The conversation went thus:

I: “Are you going to give it back, if they ask?”
Guard: “Me? This is going to cost!” – and he made a gesture with his fingers, hinting at the money they’d have to pay to get the bottle back.

Obviously, this was a joke.

A better one followed during my own security check before going for the elevator. Our conversation:

Guard: Knives? Pistols?
I: Of course, not!
Guard: A bomb?
I: Well, I haven’t thought about it.

At one of the bistros where I stopped we had a pleasant conversation with a gentleman from Biarritz. Eventually, we arrived to a conclusion that Biarritz was even more expensive than Nice because of its exclusivity. In return, I explained the meaning of the word “issue”, and how it can be used in English language.

Prior to going to Paris I read Villa “Amalia” by Pascal Quignard. It was a Russian translation, a moving story of a woman-artist. I remember trying to read Dance, Dance, Dance by Mourakami in English years ago, and I couldn’t even wade through it because it felt like I was “reading” a film by some Asian director, Wong Kar-wai or something. As much as I love Kar-wai’s films, “reading” it in another author’s novel was too much. I didn’t get past a few opening chapters.

With Villa “Amalia” there was also a feeling that it was a very cinematographic novel, I could easily see it being adapted to the screen, and the little parts, into which the bigger chapters are broken, may in fact be separate scenes in a feature. Thanks to this, the novel is every bit a French film at its best: rich yet succinct, and always with a good “afterthought”, as in “aftertaste”. Isabelle Huppert could certainly play Anna Hidden. I guess this plainly shows me as a huge French cinema fan.

In the story, as well, “Hidden” is a pseudonym. The protagonist is half-Jewish, she took the pseudo after a suggestion from her lover, but her father has spent a lifetime escaping various things, family included. Anna herself “hides” from relationships and, at some point, from people, while retaining her privacy. And as she is not widely known by face, she remains “hidden”. Apart from everything else in the novel, this is a beautiful play on words from another language, to portray a character.

And on the way back from Paris I was again reading Les Champs Magnetiques by A. Breton and Ph. Soupault.

Donc, a bientot!