Category Archives: Travels

Attending a Service On the Russian Easter In Aldgate

 

It’s amazing what you can find in London! I stumbled upon a lovely church in Aldgate and went in for a “look”. I ended up attending a church service that coincided with the Russian Easter. A mere hour and a half before that I had attended an organ recital by Paul Dean at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was splendid.

At the church I was in for a few surprises. One, it was a Reformed Scottish church, and two, the service rested heavily on reading the Psalter and singing psalms. Last time I sang psalms was at the Advent service in Birmingham in 2008, where the text was projected on large screens. Here we each had a book of Psalms given before the sermon, and I had time to familiarise myself with the text of Psalm 122.
Along with several others, Psalm 122 constitutes the Book of Accents that pilgrims used to take with them, to read and sing during the pilgrimage. It is the story of joy of embracing Jerusalem and of dedication to praising it.
The preacher was one of a kind – slim, light ginger headed Scot, dressed in grey suit, accompanied with a tie with doggy print. I mean, on the tie dogs were printed. The manner was somewhat American, that coachy style of addressing the audience. I cannot say I disliked it, but my first question was if all Scottish Church preachers were like him. Apparently, he’s walking his own line in this.
Although I’m not religious as far as official church doctrines and rituals are concerned, I do like going into a church, either for a visit or even for a sermon. I must admit I prefer foreign churches for this, and as my experience here is by and large limited to Britain, British clergy and believers have always been very nice. They gladly break the ice and start a conversation. In a Russian church you sometimes feel like the building itself is making you a favour, not to mention people. As soon as the sermon finishes, the guards practically drive you out of the building. You will agree this is not the way to feel in what is supposed to be God’s home.
My childhood was marked by reading a book “The Bible for believers and non-believers”, written in late 1920s in the USSR and propagating the ideas, which gist you can easily imagine. In my youth I came across more books that questioned the Bible and various concepts relating to God. However, it was only in England that I began to reconsider certain ideas, and, as I said before, although I still remain outside a church or confession, I’m much more accommodating of an idea of the Higher Reason being involved in our lives. In doing so, I am more inclined to the Judaic concepts rather than Christian, insofar as the figure of God is concerned.  But as yet I don’t observe Saturday!
So, after the sermon I went for a walk around Islington, of which George Mikes wrote that all poor people migrated there and turned it into a fashionable district. I don’t know how “poor” Islington people are 50 years later, but the area is buzzing with building and development, so it certainly remains fashionable.
And near the church there was a fountain with some lovely inhabitants – see in the photo!

 

 

 

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!

The House Where Tsiolkovsky Created His Seminal Work

To visit Kaluga takes 3 hours by train from Moscow. It’s quicker on an express train which is predictably more expensive and sought-after.

I went to Kaluga during the Days of Europe event, previously celebrated in several other cities in Russia. I didn’t even try to follow the map of the event; instead I went to specifically attend the walk around the historic centre of the city. We were guided by an excellent guide Larisa who in the end walked me to a small blue wooden house where in 1902 the outstanding Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky composed his seminal work on rocket science. It is often assumed that it was composed at what is now his house-museum; in truth he only did editing work there, the writing happened in this little building opposite St. George Cathedral Church where a miraculous icon of Our Lady is stored.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky house

 

Tsiolkovsky’s first house in Kaluga stood opposite the blue one,
between the two houses in this photo

 

Tsiolkovsky lived in this house between August 1893 and March 1902

 

Yet another house opposite Tsiolkovsky’s

 

The Church of St. George Across the Top houses a miraculous icon of Our Lady

Kaluga Region Dancers (Video)

The video was recorded during the Moscow Autumn Tourism Industry Week. This annual event traditionally attracts professionals in the sphere of Luxury Travel, Spa and Hospitality services, with a special section on Moscow tourism. And in the video (which is 8mins long) you can see a dancing collective from Kaluga Region. Apart from watching the dance, you may also give some estimate to my filming skills. This year I took a course in film-making, so I hope I put zoom to a good use here.

Vietnamese Sights: Turquoise Orchids and Dragon Fruits

Blue orchids, Vietnam

A friend of mine has recently been to Vietnam. In the Soviet times you could see quite a lot of Vietnamese in Moscow, and even in my district there lived several families. I don’t know how the perestroika affected them, if they had grown old here, or had left for their native country. But Russians continue to like the idea of visiting Vietnam, and same goes for India and Cuba. My uncle who worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spent around 15 years in total living and working in India and Cuba, but as far as I know he’d never been to Vietnam.

 

Prenn Waterfall, Vietnam

So, a friend of mine and her husband went to the country and had the most wonderful two weeks of relaxing, visiting historic and tourist sites, swimming in the ocean, eating and sleeping. The usual stuff people do when they go on a holiday.

Yesterday she shared with us a wonderful species of fruit called Dragon Fruit. It’s actual name is Pitaya, and it comes as a wonderful fuscia-colour creation in the shape of a rugby ball, with yellow “fish fins”. It peels off easily, revealing the fresh white “flesh” with black seeds. It is similar to a kiwi fruit in taste, although without the kiwi’s tangy aftertaste. I experienced a real childhood glee, especially as I wondered how uncanny was my choice of yarn for a pullover I made years ago. It was pink and yellow, too. A Dragon Fruit pullover, you may say.

And out of all photos I particularly liked the blue orchids that apparently only grow at the premises of a Buddhist monastery, and the Prenn Waterfall in Da Lat.