Category Archives: Experiences

My English Library Returns to Moscow

My library is finally back home. After I had moved and posted everything that needed to go before anything else, there only remained hardbacks and photocopies to be transported from Manchester to Moscow. That was the end of December, 2013.

In 2014, my grandma died, then the anti-Crimean sanctions struck, a little later, in the aftermath of the flood, we were faced with a complete makeover of the flat… The prospect of bringing the books and papers to Moscow was delaying with every passing month and year.

Then I made a resolution to have them all back to Moscow by the end of 2019. And when that didn’t work, I didn’t back down but instead adjusted the deadline. I suppose I was as determined as Cato the Elder when he professed the imminent destruction of Carthage. None of us knew exactly when this would happen but both of us were determined to live to the day. Well, I certainly was.

So, the books are finally here, and I have also been able to appreciate the long-term friendly ties that remain despite the boundaries and time. One friend helped to pack the boxes, another arranged the posting. Here in Moscow I had some books delivered by the courier; a few I picked up from my local post office; and one I had to collect from a remote post office in a taxi.

This weekend was spent putting the books on the shelves. The papers are still to be accommodated in their new abode. One thing I have already done was to look through my treasured Unseen Vogue and People in Vogue editions. In one of the pictures you can see Wallis Simpson and the former king Edward VIII, photographed by Cecil Beaton.

QR-codes in Moscow Are Introduced

We’re in the new week of quarantine, and QR-codes in Moscow are now necessary to obtain if you need to go to work. Officially, this is due to the Muscovites’ below-average observation of quarantine. Indeed, a lot of people, especially youngsters, still go out, so now they will have to order QR-codes in Moscow that will then track their movement and whereabouts.

As for me, I’m in yet another week of distant teaching. There are many advantages, and perhaps my dogs appreciate the sudden absence of people more than I do. The biggest disadvantage is the need to operate multiple devices. In the past, if we used a textbook, then I didn’t need either phone or the Internet. Today, I often use both a textbook and the Internet, and I conduct a session via a phone.

Other posts in #safeathomeinrussia

A Roman Bath Morning

Encircled by four-legged friends, it’s so tempting to stay in bed longer. But you still have to get up. Now, just about every visitor to this hall in the Louvre stops at this bath to admire it. I and a few tourists from Australia decided that we would happily accommodate this one at our houses. And so, the question: if indeed this bath were yours and you knew it was waiting for you, would it make you more eager to get up in the morning?

A Roman Hall at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France

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.