Category Archives: PhotoFiles

#SafeathomeinRussia: Quarantine Shuts Moscow Down

As of March 30th nobody can leave the house in Moscow, unless a matter of urgency. Dental services have stopped working for a week, just as shopping malls, entertainment centres, cultural places and restaurants and cafés of sorts. People are advised not to walk in parks, therefore all major parks have been shut down. Only shops, pet shops, pharmacies, clinics, and municipal and state services remain operational.

Needless to say, this will cause a lot of damage to businesses; however, it will also reveal just to what extent these businesses are responsible and ethical. It’s one thing to report the growing profits but a totally different thing to consider the liabilities and a force major. It’s one thing to boast a team of people and another thing to avoid lay-offs at the time of an economic crisis.

The future will show what Russian businesses can withstand this frightening check on their skills. In the meantime, we’re all bracing up to a week off work… that may be extended, for all we know. I went shopping yesterday, so I’m going to stay at home mainly, except for short voyages to walk my dogs.

#SafeathomeinRussia: How We’re Getting Through

I’ve been working from home this week. It’s slightly challenging, delightfully novel and surprisingly wholesome. I start work in the morning and finish any time between 4.30pm and 8pm. And I still have time for other things.

I’m a bit concerned about the attitude of some new “divines” to coronavirus. They preach this is a great, albeit scary, way to “clear the planet”. Look, they say, dolphins are coming back to Venice, isn’t this amazing?! Sure, some people die, and still more will if they are too rigid. Be flexible, be liquid, learn to work online, and chances are, you’ll get through alright.

The reason these preachings perplex me slightly is because there is strong evidence of a new kind of biological weapon being tested. And as much as I’m glad for both Venice and dolphins, I feel anxious as to what the future holds.

However, I agree with the sages: we need to be flexible. In the time of great changes it’s futile to try and maintain status quo, ancien régime, the old order, you name it. I’ve just had a thought that this pandemic may hammer the nail in the EU’s coffin, perhaps penultimate yet. One of my students is going through his personal upheaval, and he’s managing it poorly, so I reason with him thus: everything that is yours will remain yours. Sadly, at time like this it is only us that remain ours; the rest may go.

I’ve been through these crises a few times already, and I’m grateful for the skills that will undoubtedly see me through. I’m grateful for my faith, my work, my talent. These are the things that will always remain mine.

I’ve just been through the posts I wrote in 2008 and 2009, and it’s wonderful to see how the above mentioned skills helped me then. Feel free to #readmyblog and find all the inspiration and support you need. And I’ll keep you updated on what’s happening in Russia (particularly Moscow) and how things are going for me this time.

Take care and #staysafeathome

Megxit, or Coat-hangers and Coat-bearers

Being a trained specialist in English history, I cannot avoid commenting on the recent scandal in the British Royal Family, poignantly called Megxit by the media. I didn’t want to engage in the hysteria of Harry’s exiting the family when the news had just broken out, and I now feel I can share my view of the situation.

Personally, I don’t sympathise with either Harry or Meghan. Even Kate Middleton didn’t instantly become the nation’s favourite, and she’d been in the public eye for much longer before her marriage than Meghan. Never mind the latter’s cinema career, I suppose few people had heard of her before she got engaged to Prince Harry. So, I cannot see why the public wouldn’t judge Meghan where it previously judged Kate, and the British mouth can blurt out some really scathing criticism. This had to be foreseen, obviously, and not just by the PR services but by Meghan and Harry, too.

So, I feel for Meghan for any misery she endured at the royal court but it was in the cards anyway. The monarchy has to maintain its public image, and it costs a lot – financially, as emotionally. If she thought that the BRF is no Hollywood and she could be herself here, it was a very silly thought indeed. I’ve never been to either place but it seems no Hollywood may be as restricting and false (to someone’s liking anyway), as a royal family of any country.

To portray Harry as a poor guy torn between the beloved Granny, the native country and the wife-and-child is also to do him no justice. He’s not a teen nor even a young adult. He’s the sixth in line to the throne, and even if he was unlikely to get there ever in his life it doesn’t change the main thing: he represents the British monarchy. I cannot imagine what it was that eventually prompted him to break the news on Instagram of all places, but it is clear that this was a thoughtful decision, not a fly of fancy. Of course, he’s got a historical precedent in the face of Edward VIII. However, there isn’t as much pressure on Prince Harry, for he simply decided to get rid of royal responsibilities that demanded the presence of his wife. It is in no way critical as King Edward’s abdication amidst the war.

Following the Megxit has led me to this observation. When it comes to joining a high-profile family, women apparently fall into 2 categories: coat-hangers and coat-bearers. Coat-hangers dream of nice clothes, family jewellery, publicity and other perks of an aristocratic dolce vita. So duties and not-always-nice-comments come as a surprise. Coat-bearers are more grounded. Being women, they certainly dream of the above, but they realise that to be a wife to a president, a king, a prince etc. means to carry the coat-of-arms of his country and his family.

Speaking of royal couples, the Spanish Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia have long been my favourite Royal family, for they both had successful public careers before getting married and ascending the throne. Princess Letizia reported from war zones and was an established professional in her own right. The image of a “normal” family that Prince William and his wife have adopted has made them popular but I cannot see them projecting the country to any new heights. They were so “normal” that they left practically no mark on this world prior to their marriage. Perhaps, the forward movement is no longer important after Brexit.

Having said that, Kate Middleton is certainly a coat-bearer. And there’s a good reason why she also is. She’s British. Whether she’s always dreamt of joining the Royal family or it happened by chance, she’s aware that she represents the country – hers as her husband’s. You may remind me of members of other European royalty and aristocracy whose wives or husbands are foreigners (The Netherlands and Monaco come to my mind). What we still see is that a spouse becomes a full member of the royal household, complete with all duties this entails.

In case with Meghan Markle, she comes from the country that abandoned monarchy from the very beginning of its political life. America has been the country of the people – at least, nominally. When you elect and re-elect presidents, it’s hard to force yourself to be a part of the family where you will have to work like a queen but never get the chance to sit on the throne. British Royal family is very undemocratic and has evidently made some impossible demands on the good, young American.

So, Meghan is a coat-bearer, too – but of her own country and interests. It’s hard to say whether her attempt at bearing the arms of Britain and the Windsor family was good enough or it was doomed from the start. Her appearances as a coat-hanger didn’t always impress the media. Being a brunette meant constant comparisons to Kate. Since William is more likely to get the throne than Harry, it’s more important for the media to keep Kate in the spotlight, than to let Meghan have her share thereof.

The result is that Prince Harry chose to altogether abandon the Royal family instead of withdrawing from the public eye for some time and helping Meghan to come to terms with her duties and a new lifestyle. Perhaps, Meghan decided that being married to a Prince is quite enough for her. And Prince Harry whose past behaviour occasionally outraged the public apparently thought that he could finally live his life on his own terms. Whatever the reports say, he’s always been the younger brother: always second, always in the shadow. Now he’s got the spotlight, and it remains to be seen what use Harry and Meghan will make of it.

Julia Shuvalova

Image is courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Van Gogh Goes Hipster: What Messages Photoshopped Art Sends Us

Mona Lisa used to be a makeover darling for many an artist. I was caught off guard by postcards of La Gioconda in sunglasses, with punk make-up on a stand opposite the Louvres in Paris. They looked weird because a stone-throw away was the real Gioconda. However, the image and all surrounding mysteries were so well-known that have become a commonplace, a household name, so some kind of rebellion against such omnipresence was almost welcome, also giving a fresh perspective.

Recently I’ve rediscovered Pinterest, and there I came across a few images that suggest that Vincent Van Gogh, the troubled Impressionist painter known for his haunting Sunflowers and self-mutilation, is the new Mona Lisa. In one photo he’s partying with Frida Kahlo and the famous Girl with the Pearl Earring. In another, La Gioconda consoles him. And in others he’s paired with the mentioned Vermeer’s model. Admittedly, they make a good couple: one cannot help remembering paparazzi images of Johnny Depp and Kate Moss.

Mona Lisa and Vincent
Vincent Van Gogh partying with Vermeer’s Girl and Frida Cahlo

What I always wonder about, thinking of these images, is their purpose. With Mona Lisa it was quite obvious: she was SO famous one couldn’t help trying to bring her down. Different, especially satirical takes on La Gioconda were the acts of rebellion against classical art, the Old Masters, as well as against the popular fascination thereof. It was so easy to love and copy the classics without ever asking what makes them good, important, etc. So, the funny images of Mona Lisa served the purpose of shaking the pedestal beneath the Old Masters. In this, they continued the tradition of revolts against classical art that started in the 19th century.

Mona Lisa takes to the streets with Vincent

Hence, the hipster images of Van Gogh seemingly run in the same vein. Except for one thing: it’s not the modernity that alters the portrait of the artist. We see something different: an artist’s head leaves the body and takes to the modern-day streets. Whereas we instantly recognise Mona Lisa, whatever the makeover, the gingerhaired dude is likely to be familiar only to those who know his art. To others, he’s a guy-next-door, evidently a regular at all the city bars, sporting the fashionable five-o-clock beard and wearing an ethereal girlfriend on his arm.

I’m prompted to see these images as an attempt of contemporary artists to show how difficult it’s become to embed oneself in history. Perhaps, they don’t regard their work as such, but their opinion doesn’t change the fact: if you do something publicly, you want it to be noticed. And there’s a lot to be noticed and contemplated. For instance, why precisely it is Van Gogh who’s become the new Raphael and his art is both famous and yet common. Monet’s Waterlilies are too simple yet pretentious for today’s interiors, Degas is too complex, Picasso and Dali are too famous, and Vincent’s contemporary, the ravishing Gauguin, is probably too daring for the otherwise tolerant society.

Or, why it is Van Gogh who’s been chosen by the new generation of “creative people” who’ve got the misfortune of living in the shadow of both the classics and the better known contemporaries, when self-mutilation suddenly becomes a publicity act to illustrate the artist’s impotence. Not to mention his mental state, the work of Van Gogh lacked the languid tenderness of Monet or Gauguin’s exotic vitality. Van Gogh is halfway between these two emotions, and again this may be what makes him so popular today. Artists and the public want to enjoy the steady bourgeois life but the thirst for change and the ennui (as a by-product of that very steadiness) push them far and wide. They settle on Van Gogh as a troubled soul with peculiar landscape paintings, starry skies, potato-eaters, sunflowers and irises, who’s quite exotic and simple and thus doesn’t challenge the status quo. So contemporary art doesn’t challenge the capitalist status quo. There seems to be a truce between capitalism and art today: art can criticise capitalism as long as it doesn’t attempt to erode its basis. Van Gogh serves better purpose here, as he’s never left the capitalist, bourgeois setting, unlike Gauguin.

Finally, as a society we’re still fascinated with the troubled genii who didn’t live to see the fame that befell their work. And this is again where Van Gogh fits so well. This fame and success thing belongs to the same class of unattainable values, as, say, money. It is argued that money is everywhere, yet why so few people get comfortably well-off? There are many reasons, from poor thinking to some objective factors, like the time and place of living, yet ultimately they all serve the purpose to explain why you’ve not got money now AND give you hope that one day you may be a rich man, too. Today artists are subjected to such fierce competition that you’ve got to be inspired by someone who remained faithful to his path and eventually received his delayed gratification. Van Gogh is an excellent example: not too notorious, not too political, a typical shy genius.

So when Vincent takes to the streets in those images there are several messages we receive. This may be a homage the contemporary art and indeed life itself pay the bygone times by bringing them into the 21st century. I mean, do you see similar takes on the work of David, Ingres, Degas, Gauguin? Nothing instantly springs to mind, which means that incorporating Van Gogh into modern-day discourse is a sign that he belongs here and now.

This may be an attempt of contemporary art to trace itself back to some period in Art History with which it’d like to be associated. Regardless of artistic value of Van Gogh’s work (which I don’t dispute), the reason contemporary artists may wish to be close to Van Gogh is a peculiar combination of avant-garde and mainstream in his work, which is neither too challenging, nor boring.

Finally, contemporary life itself wants to find a historical setting to which it belongs — or, alternatively, to destroy the value of any historical tradition. Lost in between capitalism and socialism, today’s “young adults” are very much like the troubled Vincent. They need to know that there’s hope, that the past has preserved the images of people both similar and familiar to them. Van Gogh lived at the time when the notion of art was only beginning to undergo revision. I guess he’d be completely lost today when your local graffiti, a dead shark and Leonardo are all considered “art”. So his hipster images are a link between the fin-de-siecle and the first half of the 21st century. And it’s kind of good, except for the sinister side. Van Gogh serves to justify the artistic impotence, the second-hand artistic practice and spending life in a fleeting hope for fame and success. Nobody cares for his mental state nor views on art. His distorted face is placed in all sorts of settings, from bars to film posters, to make him as common as Mona Lisa has become. This devaluation works very cleverly, equalling a great artist to his unfortunate paragons and further distorting the notion of art, which in the end isn’t about Beauty but about Labour of Love for Beauty.

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.

Reiner Maria Rilke – Verkundigung

Sandro Botticelli – Annunciation

Die Worte des Engels

Du bist nicht näher an Gott als wir;

wir sind ihm alle weit.

Aber wunderbar sind dir

die Hände benedeit.

So reifen sie bei keiner Frau,

so schimmernd aus dem Saum:

ich bin der Tag, ich bin der Tau,

du aber bist der Baum.

Ich bin jetzt matt, mein Weg war weit,

vergieb mir, ich vergaß,

was Er, der groß in Goldgeschmeid

wie in der Sonne saß,

dir künden ließ, du Sinnende,

(verwirrt hat mich der Raum).

Sieh: ich bin das Beginnende,

du aber bist der Baum.

Ich spannte meine Schwingen aus

und wurde seltsam weit;

jetzt überfließt dein kleines Haus

von meinem großen Kleid.

Und dennoch bist du so allein

wie nie und schaust mich kaum;

das macht: ich bin ein Hauch im Hain,

du aber bist der Baum.

Die Engel alle bangen so,

lassen einander los:

noch nie war das Verlangen so,

so ungewiß und groß.

Vielleicht, daß Etwas bald geschieht,

das du im Traum begreifst.

Gegrüßt sei, meine Seele sieht:

du bist bereit und reifst.

Du bist ein großes, hohes Tor,

und aufgehn wirst du bald.

Du, meines Liedes liebstes Ohr,

jetzt fühle ich: mein Wort verlor

sich in dir wie im Wald.

So kam ich und vollendete

dir tausendeinen Traum.

Gott sah mich an; er blendete…

Du aber bist der Baum.

Playcasts to My Poetry

The beauty of the social media and web publishing is in the opportunity to see how your content is being used and possibly interpreted. Although I own copyright on my works, I do not strive to publish them on every available web resource, thus restricting myself to Stihi.ru, which is registered as the actual printed edition. I republished certain poems previously on my blogs, but at no point did I expect some of the poems to become a source of inspirations to the creators of playcasts.

A playcast, as the website www.playcast.ru tells me, is the latest form of a postcard. The technique is fairly simple: you choose an image, a poem, and a piece of music, arrange them together nicely, and voila, the playcast is ready. Perhaps, the only issue I can have with the whole thing is that I only find out about it if I do a bit of ego-surfing. At the same time, since none of the authors of these playcasts did any wrong to my work, I am happy to accept theirs.

One of the poems, “Kiss”, happened to be particularly popular, and was used twice in playcasts. I’ll write about it in another post, however, because both playcasts focus on the story of the poem. There is an image behind it, as well, which deserves some attention. Another poem, called L’Amour des Saisons, is also a love poem, composed in the form of a song, possibly in the genre of Russian romance (somewhat similar to the French chanson). But as you’ll see if you follow through to the playcast, the author used a song by Mylene Farmer. As you might guess, knowing about my francophilia, I don’t mind such song in the slightest.


From what I’ve already said it is quite clear that me and the authors of playcasts see both poems differently. This is where we can get back to the advantages of the social media and the web. It is great for me as an author to be able to follow the interpretations of my work almost in real time. Online publishing on this occasion enables me to see almost immediately what the readers find interesting or important for themselves in my work. I cannot agree that the authorial voice has totally disappeared in the postmodern age. I think this is often simply a matter of the public voice featuring more prominently than before, mainly due to the various channels of communication. On the other hand, the variety of interpretations or a constant possibility of misinterpretation doesn’t mean that the author should not have their own clear vision, which they express in their work. What makes the social media and the Internet important for the author is the opportunity to see how the idea you’ve conceived of is being accepted, disputed, criticised, marvelled at, applauded, re-interpreted in different media, without having to organise reading tours, etc. Needless to say, those very (mis)/(re) interpretations can be a source of inspiration in themselves, or at least can provide much food for thought.

Images, from left to right: playcasts by Nelya, Alexander, and Eva.

Links:
Poems in Russian: Kiss, and L’Amour des Saisons
Playcast by Nelya
Playcast by Alexander
Playcast by Eva