Category Archives: 2008 Xmas

Happy New Year!

Christmas Self 2Leather Trousers, Sweater, and Hat This year has been anything but uneventful. For me it was perhaps a great example of the ‘not all that glistens is gold’. It couldn’t start better: I spent the turn of 2007/2008 in Wales, surveying castles. I started a new job in March; I went to see Slavoj Zizek (yes, it is ‘an affair to remember’!) in Leeds; I relocated to Central Manchester in May; I attended a number of fantastic events in June-July, including Beck’s Canvas 2008 in London… and then I fell on my way to work and broke my ankle, my contract was terminated, and as the year 2008 draws to the close I still have not found a job (although there is a good chance that I will very soon). It was hard, and I am thankful to those who gave their support. Still, as Dr Johnson teaches us about sorrow, “all beyond the bursts of passion, or the forms of solemnity, is not only useless, but culpable; for we have no right to sacrifice, to the vain longings of affection, that time which providence allows us for the task of our station“. I decided to put everything that happened in July-August behind me, as, in the end, ‘what goes round, comes round’. I moved on. In September I travelled to York, which was a long-term dream, and in December – to Birmingham, which was another long-term dream. I started experimenting with advertising on the blog and different affiliate programs; I began to explore TypePad; I moved Los Cuadernos de Julia to its own domain; and I am still replying to a long trail of comments about the picture at the top of the post of me in leather trousers and the sweater and hat I knitted. Oh, of course, between August and December I was knitting that massive throw on my couch. And another self-portrait was made on Christmas Day, after I cooked that wonderful gammon – a proof that food is indeed inspiring. This also proves I can work with a tripod – although I’d only got it in November.

Yes, it was an eventful year, and the entire experience stands for my capability of ‘working under pressure’. This is a quality that many employers seek in their staff, whatever type of contract they have, so my resilience is well and truly proved after 2008.

One of my resolutions for the past few years has been to travel more. I still haven’t gone to the Continent (I had a good chance before that fatal fall) and I haven’t visited my home country. I haven’t been back in all time since September 2003, and I certainly wish myself to finally have time and resources to go there. If anything, I want to photograph my native city, post those pics to Flickr and tell you about them!

This is my recurring resolution. Another is to meet new people, far and wide, to work or to make friends. There are a few more such resolutions, but I somehow feel better if I keep them under wraps until I am sure they have stopped being a vague idea in my head. I will say, though, that there will be a regular feature on this blog next year, and I hope you find it interesting.

Last but not least, as I said above, I’m open to collaboration and/or any work projects in the Media, Arts and Humanities sectors, particularly involving research, writing, and foreign languages.

This year I decided not to draw the ‘Top 10 Posts and Categories’ list, but, as in previous years, I will post a traditional Russian New Year postcard. So, here is the Russian Father Frost bringing you a plenty of wonderful presents and gifts, taking away the woes of 2008, and giving you ‘the strength of a raging bull’ to use in 2009. Let it be a happy, prosperous, healthy and memorable (for all good things) New Year to you all! And thanks for being with me :-).

Have a Very Merry Christmas!


My dear readers and visitors,

I wish you a very merry Christmas! Wherever you are, I hope that you find peace and joy on this day, and take it with you to the next year!

With love and best wishes, Julia x

http://c.123g.us/flash/CardShell.swf

P.S. I’d like to thank all my friends for their lovely cards and presents. Special thanks to John Grundeken for the beautiful Dove of Peace card (left). The card on the right is from my family archive of old postcards. And thanks to 123Greetings.com for the awesome free ecard service!

 

Skiing in Moscow


Skiing in Moscow, originally uploaded by loscuadernosdejulia.

This picture tells many stories. It was taken by my mother in Moscow sometime between 1998 and 2001. I got the Salomon skies set for my birthday, if I am not mistaken.

I’ve always loved winter sports, much more so than the summer ones. The story goes that in 1982 during the Winter Olympics I was mesmerised by the figure skaters. My mother was walking with me in her hands to and fro in the room. The TV set stood at the window. When she walked to it, I’d cry. Once she turned and walked towards the wall, I’d calm down. It finally downed on her that I was watching the TV.

My own attempt at figure skating was rather ill-fated. Shortly after my 7th birthday in December, Father Frost (this is how Santa Claus is called in Russia) visited me and brought me a lovely pair of white skates. Alas, I couldn’t even stand on them or make a step, let alone skate. I used to be really passionate about figure skating, but, having come to England, I somehow lost the interest. I still feel, though, a bit of envy when I see those at ice rinks who effortlessly glide over the ice

I had skies when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I went to the Uni that I really got into skiing. Admittedly, I never went to ski on the slopes, and chances are, I’d be screaming like on the roller-coaster, if I did. However, I really love ski walking and a bit of ski running, although I never thought of competing in a skiing marathon. My stamina does have limitations.

On the picture you see me in my native disctrict; my house stood just across the road from this vast terrain of soil. The district was quite industial: to my left is a thermo-electric station; behind me, stretching to the right, would be a number of industrial sites; and farther to the right would be a market and a garbage-burning plant. The winters, however, were amazing, with plenty of snow, and it wasn’t unusual to see people coming from farther corners of the district, carrying their skiing equipment.

Personally, I’d always overlook the industrial “exterior”. As far as I was concerned, this vast terrain of snow was a great place. It was magical, atmospheric, and as I lived on the 5th floor, you’ve got to believe me that the sunsets I used to watch on those winter evenings in my district were really splendid.

In all of my time in England, these were the two things that I really missed: snow and sunsets. You might find this amusing: yes, there really isn’t much snow in England, but surely, there are sunsets! Alas, I haven’t lived above the 1st floor to see them. But who knows? The end of 2008 is only the beginning of 2009…

 

Riitta Ikonen Brings Snowflakes to Finland

I have lived for a long period of time in the countries as wide apart as Russia and England – particularly where climate is concerned. In the last couple of years, however, the picture has seemingly changed: English summers became hotter (something that we in Russia are very used to), and the Russian winter seems to be visiting England rather regularly. I observed the tendency earlier this year, and when I went to Birmingham earlier this month my heart was practically freezing both in cold and in glee as I looked at the snow-covered fields and rails (left).

In Russia this has been rather different. We’d usually have lots of snow, but last year, when browsing one of Russian social networks, I saw this collage of two photos: they document the precise spot in Moscow city centre in the month of January in 2006 and 2007. The inscription on the photo asks you to find ’10 differences’, which is easy, and the tendency continues this year. Unfortunately, I do not know the name of the photographer. The point, though, is that whilst here in England the winter is getting colder and whiter, Russia seems to have imported not only such traditional and long-standing British retailers as Marks&Spencer, Boots, and The Body Shop, but also the ‘typical’ English weather in the guise of rain.

Finland has been experiencing the same kind of problem, but one person there has stood firmly against the climate change. Riitta Ikonen, one of Beck’s Canvas 2008 artists, introduced the Snowflake project in December 2007 – by then Finland has not had snow for two years for Christmas. This prompted Riitta to start “an ongoing site-specific project looking at the effects of global warming“. The photographs are by Anni Koponen and more can be seen on the project’s page. On the right is Riitta at Beck’s Canvas (photographed by me) with two supporters dressed in costumes created by Riitta for Bird and Leaf project. Below is the artist’s Beck’s Canvas interview.

 

Christmas Safari (and King Solomon’s Mines)

This article is primarily about the 1950 MGM adaptation of Rider Haggard’s novel. For the news about the discovery of potentially authentic King Solomon’s Mines in Jordan in October 2008, skip to the end of the article.

Never mind cold, snow, and chilling winds – that coveted hot spot can surface at the place most unusual. Take Birmingham Christmas Market that resides between the Town Hall, the Museum and Art Gallery, and the old Post Office. These wooden safari ‘tropheys’ are hardly on the list of usual Xmas presents, let alone festive merchandise. But in the midst of the UK’s another multicultural city this kind of market stall takes you back to your summer memories…

…or perhaps even reminds you of that animal stampede scene in King Solomon’s Mines
where the protagonists are hiding behind the stones from what seems like the all-African sprint of zebras, antilopes, and giraffes. The 1950 film starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger was shot entirely on location in the former British colonies in Equatorial Africa, and in the Belgian Kongo. As Eric Harper of DVD Verdict remarks, “Haggard’s novel did more than any other work of fiction to entrench the mysteries of deepest Africa in the public mind. The movie version, more safari travelogue than coherent narrative, does much the same thing with the exotic animals of Africa… The wildlife footage is undeniably impressive, and must have been a treat on the big screen. The film is like a child’s picture book or Noah’s Ark set brought to life. The efforts involved in capturing such footage border on heroic. MGM sent their cast and crew on a 14,000 mile safari in temperatures in excess of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The filmmakers also faced rampant tropical diseases, insects, and poisonous snakes, as well as a violent encounter with several Masai extras who got a bit carried away performing traditional war rituals for the film”.

Another reviewer, Holly E. Ordway of DVD Talk notes that the film is “predictably sexist”, judging by such phrase as “any woman who wants to go on a safari must have something wrong with her”. I wouldn’t call this sexist, if applied to myself, because I would love to go on a safari, and there is nothing wrong with me as a woman. The very idea of a safari, however, implies that there should be something ‘wrong’ with the person, for why would we break out from our routines precisely in such an ‘outrageous’ way?

Ordway goes on to highlight the animal deaths, but perhaps most importantly, the treatment of Africans in the film:

“The presentation of the native African characters is probably the best-handled part of the film. All the Africans speak in their own languages, whether amongst themselves or talking with Quartermain, who is portrayed as speaking several African languages. This is infinitely better than the sadly typical “foreigners speak in English with funny accents” approach, both in terms of being respectful and in terms of making a more exciting movie. This respectful style isn’t limited to the handling of dialogue, but extends throughout the film: we see Africans not just working as bearers (and even then it’s clear that Quartermain respects them as comrades) but also as warriors and kings. With the one exception of a ludicrous dance and combat at the very tail end of the film, the use of native African songs, dances, customs, and attire is very nicely done and certainly adds interest to the film.”

What all reviewers seem to agree about is the slow pace of the film and the practically total absence of a plot. David Chen writing for Chud.com observes on the impeccable hairstyles of actors even at the times when no hairstyle could be perfect (but this the 1950s Hollywood, after all!). As David’s parents were born after 1950 and he had grown up watching contemporary films, he admits that it is harder for him to appreciate the film for the same reasons as guided the 1950s audiences.

If you want more interesting details about the film, not mentioned in the abovementioned reviews, head to Jeremy Arnold’s article on TCM website. You will find out why the film had two directors; when and where the first ever film version of the celebrated novel had been made; not to mention the insight into technical and logistic struggles that might just put Star Wars in the shadow: “For example, 60,000 pounds of equipment had to be shipped to Mombasa, including seven specially constructed trucks and a snowplow, since some footage was to be shot on 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya”. Do remember, we are talking of 1950s…

As for me, I’d seen King Solomon’s Mines in 2006, and like many others, was left speechless by the animal stampede scene. Arnold stresses that acting was hardly mentioned in the press – the latter gave it all to the technical achievements, which are probably what continues bringing audiences to this film, even if it is too sexist or impeccable for the Noughties. In this, I must be that part of the audience that gets enchanted by the sight of Africa, very much like the author of The Rush Blog who fails to find any significant fault with the film.

Finally, here is the latest archaeological news that the coveted mines might have been found… and not in Africa, but in the Faynan region of Jordan. Better still, the fictional mines contained diamonds, gold and ivory: this very well explains why the late 19th c. explorers and hunters, fresh from the Golden Rush, would find the King Solomon’s Mines so attractive – or perhaps, this may explain why Haggard came up with his idea in the first place. But the real mines (which appear to date back to the 10th c. BC, the time when King Solomon ruled Israel) were seemingly providing the Israeli kingdom with copper. The team of archaeologists led by Thomas Levy of the University of California and Mohammad Najjar of Jordan’s Friends of Archaeology made the discovery at Khirbat en-Nahas (Arabic for “ruins of copper”). goes on to highlight the elucidating effect the discovery has had on Biblical studies. Since 1930s, the sight of Khirbat en-Nahas used to be linked to the Kingdom of Edom, but the statement was taken critically. Thanks to the recent discovery, however, we may be in for some serious rethinking.

To round this up, a few YouTube links: King Solomon’s Mines 1950 trailer and the University College of San Diego report about the discovery at Khirbat en-Nahas: “High Precision Carbon Dating and Historical Biblical Archaeology in Southern Jordan”.

Countdown to Festivals: Chestnut Christmas Tree

Many pleasant and unpleasant things are happening at the turn of 2008/2009. Unpleasant – credit crunch and recession are on. Pleasant (for me) – there was some snow in England. Last but not least, there is Christmas and New Year shopping, as well as markets and fairs with mulled wine, gingerbreads, and pretzels.

In my first year of blogging, 2006 that is, when I blogged practically every day in December, I created a 2006 Xmas label. I skipped 2007, but this year I thought I’d bring it back, and you may already have noticed it. We have 10 days till December 25 and half a month till January 1, and in these days I’ll be posting pictures and maybe short poems or texts on the festive subjects. I’ll be posting other articles, too, but 2008 Xmas label should be your destination if you are hoping to instill yourself with the Christmas spirit – and maybe even with ideas.

What I’d also like to happen, is to create the content of this label with your help. Wherever you are or going to be for Christmas and New Year, you can send me a picture from that place, and it will appear on the blog. It may be a photo of a New Year Tree in your locality, or the decorations you are preparing, the desserts you are cooking, etc. If there is a special custom you like observing for Christmas and New Year and don’t mind sharing it with us, you can send that, too. Understandably, the hard times we are surviving this year due to crisis and probably a host of other things may well be putting some of us off any kind of celebrations. As I’m caught up in this myself, my view is that we construct our own reality, and therefore, although there is no obligation to celebrate this particular Xmas or New Year, it would be too hard on ourselves not to try and be happy or at least joyful. Thus, let’s build the joy with our own hands.

First off, is this fantastic idea for a Christmas tree from Tatiana Afonina from Russia, whose Easter creations you could see earlier this year. Finally, chestnuts are of more use that just to be eaten: you can glue them together, creating a conic shape, and then you paint them gold. If you don’t care about having a dazzling Chestmas tree, then you can opt for a less glamorous but sweeter version – in the proper sense of the word: instead of glue you can use caramel, and in this case you will be able to ‘recycle’ the tree with no damage to Nature or your conscience, simply by eating it. Whatever you choose to do, remember that these days are all about protecting the environment. If this is something that concerns you, then definitely follow in to Tatiana’s footsteps, and your Christmas could hardly be greener.

 

Birmingham – The City of 2009?

Liverpool has been the European capital of culture in 2008. But astrologically, the year 2008 was the year of Rat. I never actually checked if any world city has had a rat as its symbol. Having visited Birmingham recently for the first time, and seen this lovely sculpture at the Bull Ring Shopping Centre, I think I have found my symbol (and definitely a city to come back to) for the year ahead.

You see, back in Russia I have got a collection of soft toys, all in the guise of one or another character of the Chinese calendar. There is a pretty pair of Sheep, a faithfully looking Dog, an impressively pinky Pig, and a very old and blind Lion, among others (the Lion is the same age as me, and has lost both his green eyes to the Time).

I don’t have this collection with me now, and generally I have done well without it all this time. However, 2008 being a lean year and not entirely enjoyable one for me, I am hoping to brace myself well for 2009 with the help of this ox that looks very determined. Instead of drinking potions offered by MacCartney and Jackson in their famous video, I will look at this photo in the hope that the sculpture will give me “the strength of a raging bull”.

…I can just hear Sir Paul pronouncing “the strength of a raging bull” in that video. What? You don’t know which one?? Oh don’t say, say, say!..

A Tiramisu Expert, or A Dinner at Villagio

Villaggio - Tiramisu Yes, I think I am becoming a tiramisu expert. I love this dessert so much that whenever I visit an Italian restaurant I order it. And even if I am tempted to order something else, I still see myself ordering a tiramisu. Why? Why does Art influence us? Nobody can explain, and such is also the mystery of tiramisu. To be indulgent and delicious, it has to awaken the sublest senses of your tongue, it has to please the eye, and above all, it has to melt in your mouth, leaving you wanting more. Having once had two tiramisus, I now try to bridle my seemingly well-developed gastronomic faculties. But nothing can stop us from enjoying Art, especially when it is the art of making a perfect tiramisu.

I have just found out, in fact, that tiramisu as a “standard” recipe is not too old, and it may even be younger than yours truly. The Washington Post 2007 article on the trail of tiramisu tries to age the recipe by dating it back to the First World War, but the Italian authors claim that the first documented mentions of this recipe appear possibly in the 1970s, but most probably already in the 1980s. At any rate, the story of this layered cake still seems to be in the making, and the good testimony to that are the numerous reverberations on the standard recipe theme. There is a traditional recipe from Heston Blumenthal @ The Times Online; then there is a Lemon Tiramisu from the BBC Recipes… and then is a Beeramisu, an intriguing twist on the traditional recipe, found at 101 Cookbooks. If you want to know my opinion, I’d go with Beeramisu: not only is it still quite new, but there is also a good chance to try and use some of those continental beers that you can buy at a Christmas Market. So, instead of drinking those beers from plastic glasses in the cold, see if you can buy enough to cook a beeramisu at home.

And… back to our sheep. Villaggio, the Italian restaurant in Manchester’s Canal Street, has long been recommended to me as a good place to eat, but I have only very recently visited it – to my great pleasure. Thanks to the regular clientele, the restaurant is getting by even during the credit crunch, although like many other venues in the Gay Village it has felt the impact. The good news is that the crunch did not seem to have impacted the quality of food. The food (without drinks, but including a dessert) is likely to be about £20, to which you can add a glass or a bottle of wine, and a liquer coffee. I will not go into more detail on what I had at Villaggio, because you can see and read short descriptions from the menu in Villaggio’s Flickr set. The venue is located on two floors, and on the ground floor you are to be seated either in a compact bar area, or in a trendy lounge, entertained by modern music and colour lighting.

Most importanly, I had a delicious tiramisu there. With a brandy coffee. Recommended.

 

Birmingham – Mr Fish at the Indoor Market

OK, this isn’t the most regular image from me, but I admit, this was the first time on my memory that I came face to face with the game (poultry, that is). I was impressed, although I couldn’t find enough courage to photograph a dead goose that hang at the corner, its severed head being wrapped up in a cellophane bag, resting on the stall’s surface. Apart from a plenty of people on Saturday’s afternoon, this was one of the biggest impressions of visiting Birmingham.