Category Archives: On Russia

Belated Snowfall

A late January snowfall in Moscow

There’s a chance that Moscow people will enjoy some proper winter weather soon. The first sign is the snow which is well overdue but is nonetheless welcome. I may try to be funny and say that Britain with the Brexit has waved goodbye to Europe and various European organisations, like PAEC, by sending a heatwave that saw the warmest December and January in all Russian history. But no, things are getting back to normal here, while we’re yet to see what lies ahead for Great Britain.

Five Habits I Wish I Had Not Lost

One of my favourite pairs of shoes

Over the years I’ve waved goodbye to a few habits that I now wish I hadn’t lost. I cannot say the loss causes too much pain; however, it’d be better if I could regain the skills and renew the routines. So, as I’m sharing my trouble with you, will you please also let me know if you ever had a similar problem and what you did.

1.Wearing high-heels

I became very wary about heels after I’d hurt my ankle in 2008. Then in 2010 I worked in direct sales, we had to walk fast, so high-heels were not fit for purpose. I resumed wearing heels between late 2010 and 2013, but then I changed jobs. I started teaching, and in all four years of my working for a local community centre I had to walk and run once again, and flat footwear was best. I do love high-heels, and I’d love to get back into habit of wearing them regularly, but I’ve also got used to moving fast or philandering lazily, and 8cm heels are just not good for that.

2.Keeping abreast of all things social

Can you believe I used to be an SMM manager for nearly 4 years? Or that I used to run a very socmed friendly blog and, generally, was very active on many social channels? Some of them, like Klout, have since stopped existing; I still have accounts with others, but I’m not quite active there at all. I’m getting reaccustomed to the pleasure of sharing things on Reddit, Pinterest and Facebook, as much as reading up on SocMed trends. However, as my interests have firmly shifted to my own literary endeavours and teaching, every bit of new industry info feels like a huge information overload. I feel, though, that this is one of the most valuable habits I wish I had not lost.

3.Travelling far and wide

Whatever happened to those itchy feet? Admittedly, I needed some rest from my peregrinations. On the other hand, it now feels like an act of heroism to get myself out of the house and out and about. The main reason for my being sort of tied down is time: I can only go on day trips, and Russia is not England. There you can travel from Manchester to Edinburgh in 3 hours, and Scotland is almost like a different country (or so it may become after Brexit). Here in Russia you can only travel to smaller cities and towns, like Kaluga, Yaroslavl, Podolsk, Ivanovo and Tver, and, regardless of certain differences, it’s the same Central Russia as most people know it. It will take you 5 hours to get to St. Petersburg by train, and if you wish to travel to Kazan, Novgorod, Arkhangelsk, Yekaterinburg or Vladivostok, it’ll take you even more. I read and view travelogs, but it’s not the same as going somewhere.

4.Cooking at home

This is a difficult one. Living in Russia was not good for my kitchen abilities because my mother is a great cook. A small kitchen space didn’t help, either. I started cooking in England where I could have the whole kitchen to myself. Back in Moscow, I only cook now and again, and I do wish I could do it more often. Each time I gaze at the mouth-watering food photos on Pinterest I wish I could bake, fry and grill every single dish. Sadly, when we were redoing the kitchen following a terrible flood, we chose not to have an oven. Perhaps I will do something about it (or not).

5.Spending time online

I agree with those who say we need a break from the Internet. There are paper books to read, and someone like me is much better at writing on paper than using a typewriter or computer. Still, we need to be online, as life is happening there, too. There are things to which I don’t want to react, but there are others that certainly require my attention.

So, here are my 5 habits that I wish I had not lost and which I want to regain now. What about you? Have you lost any good or useful habits? Have you regained them or decided to part with them for good? Share your story in comments!

My Sunset Photo Is Published in a Local Newspaper

Hyperlocal news has taken off in Moscow in the last couple of years. And so this week I’m a contributor to My Neighbourhood newspaper with my photo of the sunset seen from my window. I’ve said previously that I’ve always watched breathtaking sunsets in Moscow. This was something that I terribly missed, while in England. It’s all the more pleasing that the local news paid attention to one of these splendid captures and has made it available to everyone to see.

Sketches to Portraits by Terentiy Travnik

Terentiy Travnik and Darya Khanedany’an, Sketches to Portraits. Translated into English, Spanish and French by Julia Shuvalova and Patrick Jackson.

One of the milestone events of this year for me is a publication of a book Sketches to Portraits with the aphorisms by Terentiy Travnik and illustrations by Darya Khanedany’an.

Terentiy Travnik is a poet, artist and musician, a native Muscovite. Darya Khanedanyan was also born in Moscow into a family of artists, however her own creative career started in Spain. I took part in making the book as a literary editor, an editor of the English translation of aphorisms, and a translator into French. I also translated the opening article into English.

The pronounced Iberian facial traits is obviously a hommage to Spain; Travnik’s aphorisms retain their Russian heritage in form as in the intellectual depth. A harmonious combination of words and images is therefore all the more striking, strengthened by artistic editing by Travnik himself. The vibrant colours, ethnic rhythms and avant-garde stylisation all bring out a truly cosmic dimension in Sketches to Portraits.

The aphorisms by Terentiy Travnik deserve a special mention. One of his best-known books, A Splinter, that has seen 4 editions since it was first published in 1990s, is a collection of aphorisms that embrace practically all spheres of human life. One can note here a loyalty to the tradition of La Bruyère, Schopenhauer and other philosophers who found endless creative possibilities in the concise and succinct form of an aphorism. Ever after A Splinter Travnik’s work has been marked by the mentioned qualities (e.g. Tabulas, 49 Tabulas etc.).

Sketches to Portraits by Terentiy Travnik includes 41 aphorisms translated into English, Spanish and French languages. Great happiness matures slowly; There is a lot of grass in the field, but we can only remember the flower; Time does everything on the go; Touch the roots, and the crown will blossom; To do a foolish thing and to make a mistake are two different things; Wisdom does not take money; Education is the path from authority to truth; Treat the fatigue of the body with rest and the fatigue of the soul with work. This is but a little part of what the author invites the reader to think about. Perhaps, this openness to the dialogue is the most remarkable trait of these aphorisms. Nowadays the Internet is saturated with many an interesting and deep quote, but the most popular are those presented in a mentoring or affirmative voice. Do this; don’t do that; the meaning of that is this. Terentiy Travnik’s aphorisms, while speaking directly to the reader, don’t insist on their ultimate truth. Their deceptive simplicity disguises some really deep reflections.

Terentiy Travnik’s website

Other posts in Julia Shuvalova: Poetry and Prose archives

The 75th Anniversary of the End of Leningrad’s Blockade (1944-2019)

January 27th, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of Leningrad’s Blockade (1944-2019).
It’s been a few years now that some folk in Russia are wondering as to why this date is still being marked. They have gone as far as to state that the Blockade was instigated by Stalin to kill as many civilians as possible, while in fact the Fascist troops were never going to destroy the city or its people. Never mind that there are German sources that prove the opposite intentions of Hitler and Co. As if the mere instance of such view was not enough, what I personally find disgustingly amazing is that this view is often expressed by the Jewish people. The very co-nationals of those who would be completely annihilated, had Herr Hitler had his way. 

Last year millions of Russian people, myself included, were outraged when one Russian teenager gave a speech at Berlin’s Reichstag. The speech was claimed to have been his own research into the hardships of a young German soldier who fought on the Fascist side and died of wounds during the Stalingrad Battle. The boy’s speech sounded apologetic of the soldier’s sad fate; he expressed compassion and a hope that such war would never happen again. Of course, for the sake of poor invaders who’d have to face the brutal Russians once more. 

This year some Germans have voiced their surprise: how much longer will they have to apologise to the Russians for the massacres of the Second World War? More precisely, what’s that thing about the heroes of Leningrad’s Blockade? They are not heroes, no way.

Indeed, given that most European countries gave in to Fascist regimes in weeks, if not days, after the invasion of each of them, it must be really hard to get a European head around the fact that it was possible to stay in a city for nearly four years, enduring hunger, cold and air raids, watching your friends and relatives die, and never wishing to leave it or to surrender. The more I follow these morone blurts of contemporary Europeans, the more I am inclined to believe that in 1939-45 in Continental Europe one could either collaborate, if he was a European, or die, if he was a Jew. A small proportion who weren’t prepared to do either joined various Resistance movements. They could still die, but at least their conscience was clear.

Ever since Hitler’s watercolours surfaced in early 2000s and art historians have taken a keen interest in them, I felt it wasn’t long before we’d hear that this great dictator who is duly loathed by every sane person was a really nice chap. A good fella who had the misfortune to lead Germany in that terrible war against the USSR under that tyrant, Stalin. 

And surprise! We only had to wait until the Ukrainian Maidan to hear it all: that Fascist demonstrations should be allowed in a progressive democratic society; that it was the USSR that invaded Germany and Ukraine (they don’t mention that Ukraine was the Soviet Republic at that time); and that the Russians should stop being so touchy about their casualties. Shortly before 2014 we had heard that Leningrad should have been given up instead of enduring the Blockade. For at least a decade there have been torrents of criticism of the annual Victory parades and, more recently, of the Immortal Regiment movement. And finally, last year “the voice of the progressive Russian youth”, Nikolay from Novy Urengoy, sympathized for the young German invader whose life so sadly ended somewhere in Stalingrad.

Add the fact that a European school curriculum is either ambiguous or altogether taciturn about the role of Russia (formerly the USSR) in the Second World War, and it is clear that the anti-Soviet propaganda has been working to mask, downplay and perverse the Soviet effort and victory practically since May 9th, 1945. And now it has come to Germany asking, how much longer it has to remember its atrocities against the Russian people in that war.

Can you imagine Germany asking how much longer it will have to hold various Holocaust Memorial Days? Can you imagine anyone asking when the Holocaust as a theme will stop being a sure guarantee for either an Oscar or a Nobel Prize in Literature? Just a reminder of that Austrian professor who’s had the misfortune to deny the Holocaust and was persecuted for it, and it’s clear what the answer to the above questions is. Never. Never will the Holocaust cease to be the scare and an opportunity for fame in either Europe or America. I’m looking at it from the point of various propagandist efforts, I’m not denying anyone’s personal sentiments.

Just for the record: according to what we know from existing documents, Hitler didn’t really distinguish between Russians and Jews. For him and his financiers both peoples were to be disposed of. Apart from the affluent few, Russians and Jews were too populous, too poor, and too grounded – historically. One could tell tales about the superior Aryan race to the fellow Europeans, but not Russians or Jews. Besides, despite the differences, both nations would never subscribe to the Protestant ethics, as professed by the Fascists. And therefore they both had to be driven to extinction. 
Nowadays Europe wants to remember only about the Jewish genocide. Perhaps, it’s easier (in various sense) to contemplate the murder of some 6 mln people. Even if we include non-Jews and the figure rises to 17 mln, it is still easier to stomach, given that in both cases the number is spread across much of Europe. It’s different when you are left to swallow the unbelievable 28 mln dying in Russia alone. It’s different when, instead of an orderly sequence of “arrest-detention-transportation to a camp-death in a gas chamber”, you are faced with war-time footage of the Nazis shooting Russian toddlers, hanging the women soldiers, and destroying the entire villages and cities. The uncivilized Russians defended their country and caused the Fascists to kill 28 million of people (the search for the unknown victims of war continues, and the figure is now approaching 30 mln).

So, yes, it’s easier to remember the Holocaust; it’s “only” 6 mln, and it was so “civilized”.

I’ve been monitoring these morons both in Europe and Russia for years, and whenever it was appropriate I have never shun from expressing my opinion. So, while I don’t deny the Holocaust (which has been marked separately in the last few years in Russia), my sense of patriotism and historical fairness proposes the following suggestion on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of Leningrad’s Blockade:

— Europe and America stop apologizing for and otherwise remembering the Holocaust, and we stop reminding the world about 30 million dead Soviet citizens (Jews included) and of who really won the Second World War.

In the unlikely event of the Holocaust Memorial Days being erased from European and American calendars in the upcoming years, our Victory Day on May 9th will, too, become just another day when we remember the heroes of our history, rich in defensive wars. Cue in Borodino Battle, the Battle in Kulikovo Field, or the Battle on the Ice. 
You should realise, of course, that the above suggestion is proposed with a great deal of bitter irony. The way history is going, however, the Victory Day we celebrate now may be changed by another of its kind one day too soon. As much as most of us don’t want it, it can only happen in the event when that unbelievable quid pro quo comes to life. For, the moment we stop being sorry about either 6 mln, or 30 mln, the new catastrophe will explode.

2018 Xmas: The Terrifying Beauty of Industrialisation

This was the view from my window a few days ago. I wrote once that I had always been presented with a difficult choice between some lovely scenery of my district and the ugly industrial sites overshadowing it.

Looking at this photo that came out rather well made me recall George Orwell’s admitting that industry can, in fact, be designed to look beautiful, in order to conceal everything that is unwholesome about it. And indeed, many plants and factories today are built to be pleasing to the eye. They are no longer those terrifying gigantic blocks of brick or steel; instead, they are often light in both colour and shape to look elegant and inviting. To the younger generations industry has nothing to do with unhealthy vapours, low pay and child labour. 

The picture thus illustrates my favourite topic of what we choose to focus on. Considering this is the view I am most likely to see from my window, the question is: what do I look at? Do I look at the thermal electric station in the distance and pity myself, or do I look at the trees, the vast terrain and the sunset and enjoy the natural beauty? 

I am pretty sure you know my answer.

The Revolutionary Smolny Telephone

In Russia, when you cannot get through a certain number, you say that the number is engaged ‘like at the Smolny’. The Smolny Palace was built by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1806-08 to house the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, Russia’s first institution for women’s education. However, in 1917 the Smolny Institute was moved out of Petersburg, and between October 1917 and March 1918 the building served as the headquarters for the Bolshevik Government. Vladimir Lenin resided here, and several revolutionary decrees got passed here in November 1917, including the Decree on Peace and Decree on Land. Naturally, the phone line must have been engaged most of the time, due to a high activity of the Bolshevik government, and so the abovementioned expression originated.

The Museum of Contemporary History in Moscow’s Tverskaya St. has tweeted a picture of the phone that was used by the Military Revolutionary Committee in Vassilevsky Island to keep in touch with the Bolshevik headquarters at the Smolny.