Ten years later I’m writing a post on the 60th anniversary of the first space flight.This year a Russian self-publishing platform, Litres.Samizdat, and Roskosmos, the Russian Space Agency, organised a contest of short stories. They had to be about space exploration, or dreaming about space, and to generally fall into the category of sci-fi stories. My story was short-listed for a book, but it was not about space exploration as such. It was about David Bowie’s composing Space Oddity, although it mentions the first space flight.
It is a well-known fact that Bowie struggled to break through onto the music scene. I was inspired to use it as a backdrop for my story, which came out to be a reflection on what Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight really meant for mankind. It wasn’t just a flight into space, overcoming the gravity; it was, quite literally, a flight in the face of all conventions and restrictions, especially social and economic. Gagarin, a son of a carpenter and a milkmaid, showed the working class that everyone had a chance for a break-through, no matter the background.
London, 1969. Psychedelics, hippies and space flights inspire a young musician who can’t compose his first hit song and is suffering from misunderstanding and loneliness. One day, in a pub, he meets a red-haired dockworker who, like him, is living a dream of space. From a single conversation Space Oddity, one of the main “cosmic” songs, is born.
It’s only available in Russian at the moment, so if you know the language, please read it here. If you wish to help me out with the English translation (and be credited for it), please, drop me a line.
Not only theatres and museums are suffering from the financial losses due to pandemic. Zoos are also in huge distress – and, as the Russian zoo workers state, not only because of the lack of money. Animals without people is a poor sight, too.
The zoo keepers in Kaliningrad, Voronezh and Yekaterinburg in Russia noted the animals’ astonishment at the absence of visitors. In Kaliningrad, the llamas were surprised to see no people on the first day of lockdown in spring 2020. Having waited for a few hours, they retired to the farthest corners of their cages. Tigers and monkeys, who are especially fond of people’s attention, all but succumbed to depression. And even fish – the koi – were upset to have no visitors.
I suppose it is easy to understand the animals. They realise they are in captivity, and people’s presence makes a very necessary “link” between the cage and the outer world. Without this link, the outer world becomes an unattainable dream. Indeed, animals without people are bound to find zoos unbearable.
Budgeting the Cause
The financial problems the zoos have faced are partly exacerbated by their place in the country’s budget. In Russia, for instance, the zoos are assisted by special charitable funds that come under the jurisdiction of the Culture Ministry. The Government tries to support all cultural institutions, although it has to single out the likes of the Hermitage and the Bolshoi Theatre. And, rightfully, the preservation of the Hermitage comes ahead of that of a zoo, especially a regional one.
Meanwhile, regional governments and visitors have been giving their little help to save the animals. A zoo in Novosibirsk received 27,5 mln rubles (~267K GBP) from the local government. And a zoo in Nizhny Novgorod collected nearly 300K rubles over an evening via the Internet (~1000 GBP).
The applications can be made for loans or grants up to £100,000 to pay for three months of animal care costs.
The fund for zoos and aquariums will close on March 10, while the conservation part of the fund will open for applications later this month.
Life Goes On
There is also a bright side to look at. A year ago, at the start of the pandemics, a zoo in Cordoba, Mexico welcomed three cubs – a tiger and two pumas – whom they named, respectively, Covid (male), Pandemia (female) and Cuarentena (male). Life continues at other zoos, too. And this is what one may find particularly striking. In spring 2020, we all contemplated the maleficent impact of a man when dolphins returned to the Venetian waters, and animals came back to the city streets. Yet in zoos animals cannot survive without the humans. So, animals without people and people without animals are equally in distress – and this is a truly good motivation to protect the Nature.
I don’t know what it feels like at your end, butI realized I needed some good rest after the world’s last year’s shenanigans. After a couple of relaxing days at the start of the month I caught the blues of an ever-so-tired professor. I was truly exhausted, and when it turned out I worked every single month of 2020, my spirits sank low and all I could think about was rest.
I do love my work, of course, but I also like to have rest once in a while. And in 2020 this “while” was a bit too long. I fell behind on my plans for January, but I guess it had to be so.
Now February is almost here, and this is the final photo of January 2021. A few people are walking home on a frosty, snowy night. This was a good month, after all, so thank you.
Back in 2009, I wrote a Skiddle review of the first album by this prodigious Italian composer. I’ve just rediscovered his awesome track, so I decided to share both the review and the album list and, of course, the track. So, please welcome: Phonat – Learn to Recycle.
The debut album by the prodigious Florentine Michele Balduzzi, Phonat, is a collection of 12 genre-spanning tracks. It boasts 80s-styled vocals, signature delayed intros, and a unique mix of dance and electronic music with rock-inspired guitar riffs. The album being released at the end of September, the Christmas club fame is practically guaranteed.
Continental European musicians somehow tend to be more universal and almost more innovative. Learn to Recycle should be the name and the homage to this ability to blend all the impossible trends together into something rather tasteful , to break the ground, and to overwhelm with the sheer passion for music.
Learn to Recycle is a six-minute masterclass in exploring the endless possibilities of playing the same routine in different styles. Yet this feat of a track doesn’t come until the second half of the album. The previous seven tracks are exquisite antipasti. Early songs, like A Warm Welcome and Get Down My Dirty Street, feature the signature delayed intro. Set Me Free and Ghetto Burning are praised for their vocal arrangements and collaboration with Yolanda. Ho Visto Un Quadro Verde reminds of soundtracks from 1970s Italian police dramas. Learn to Recycle draws the line under all the previous experiments by giving a complete piece of daring, experimental dance music. And, to judge by Zombie Army, Phonat’s got a good sense of humour.
Apart from his gigantic height and passion for music, Phonat’s biggest asset is the good taste. The album’s structure and contents only confirm it. Where another artist would fall into banality and repetition, Phonat always stops short and changes direction – just enough to make a critic gasp for breath. In the album’s last song he asks if his mother would get to listen to this album. Sure, she will, and she will be proud.
January, 20 is celebrated as the World Museum Selfie Day. I’ve just made an Instagram post on the subject, but here I’d like to point you to two posts from 2008 that I wrote about taking photos in museums. Believe it or not, back then it was a bit of an issue for some museums whether to allow personal unintrusive photography or not. Some offered special forms to fill in, for example. I even crossed keyboards with Manchester Art Gallery explaining to them that there was more good to be done to their collection if visitors were allowed to take photos and post them online. Those were the early days of businesses and museums embracing the social media, and everyone was careful not to jump in with both feet. But already in 2009-2010 things had changed, and thereafter museums and art galleries have taken it fine if someone wanted to take photos of the collection. They only asked that we used non-professional equipment, and no flash was allowed. Most importantly, they increasingly stopped charging money for it, whereas before photography in museums was an important source of revenue for any art depository. Frankly speaking, I’ve always been interested in photographing the exhibits because I wanted to use them on my blog or because they struck a cord. Otherwise I have been OK even if I couldn’t take any photos, as this is the case with special exhibitions.
So, below are the posts, and I guess some points on taking photos in museums are still valid and topical. Feel free to leave comments here on in any of the posts.
I was going to tell about this, but tonight’s snowfall makes an ideal backdrop for my story.
I witnessed the final 11 years of the USSR. I was a child, so my memories don’t contain any grim episodes. Instead, I remember the Soviet period as a very quiet time, synonymous with such words as security, safety and peace.
And it was also the time when families were very close-knit and generally kind-hearted. Money was rarely an issue, for everyone was generally pleased with what they had.
Following the demise of the USSR, families began to fall apart. For the second time in the 20th century, after the Civil War of 1918-1922, fathers and sons opposed each other. The civil war didn’t break out this time, but money and the opportunities it provided became the bone of contention. I can’t help pointing out that this expression is a perfect, if sad, metaphor for the conflict that engulfed generations of Russian people.
There was one more important change, apart from money. Younger people began to drift away from their families and homes. Some headed abroad, others to nightclubs. Shops began to work till late, and very soon there appeared those that never closed their doors.
And this was one of the biggest departures from the Soviet times. In Soviet Russia shops used to close any time between 6 and 9pm. I cannot remember a shop that would remain open till 10pm or later. Obviously, there were a few “duty shops”, like the chemists, that would stay open but there’d be only a handful of them for the whole of Moscow.
We often consider any restriction as an encroachment on our freedom. On second thoughts, restrictions help to structure one’s life; without limitations and boundaries people are quite incapable of implementing even the simplest regime.
In Soviet times, when most people finished work at 6pm sharp, they had some three hours to do their shopping. It is true that there were queues at the cashiers, but it’s now clear, why: lots of people had to do their shopping before 9pm. They also had time to meet their friends, visit the theatres and cinemas, walk or attend evening classes and clubs before coming home and spending the evening with their family.
Then, when many shops began to work 24/7, it suddenly became possible to do any shopping at any time. Time with the family became not so important, or it was difficult to make time for them. When you work for yourself, as capitalism often demands, you make your own success and fortune. But, as we have plainly seen, very few people are capable of managing their time well. And, as much as those 24/7 shops were convenient, they also helped to devalue the time. Indeed, if you can do your shopping any time, it doesn’t matter when you actually get to do it.
“Thanks to” the pandemics, shops in Moscow currently work from 8 till 11pm. In the spring 2020, some of them even closed at 9pm or 10pm. Naturally, we had to plan a shopping trip, or we and our pets would be left without food. This added some pressure, but I suddenly realized that I enjoy the quietude of the streets after 11pm.
Before, the traffic never stopped whatever the weather. Tonight there are only few cars, mostly taxis, that snail through the snowfall. People are at home. I don’t think they all sleep, but most of them do.
We hear about different conspiracy theories, but, if my observations are anything to go by, the traitors of mankind may not quiet achieve their goals. By getting back to the normal regime, sleeping when one is expected to sleep, and shopping in the day people are likely to improve their life and perhaps even make it more harmonious.
In historical terms and in the Russian context, this may indeed be a U-turn to the Soviet past and the best it had to offer.
You’d likely want to know what we think here, in Russia, about the situation with the elections and Trump-Biden confrontation. Well, quite simply, we think this is the end of democracy in the USA.
Politics, Weapons and Enemies
The state of affairs between our countries is such that most Russians like the American people, nature, the best of American culture and values – but we are deeply aware that political elites hold Russia as one of America’s biggest enemies. The model of Realpolitik these elites have adhered to for decades dictates to always remember there is an enemy whose attack is imminent. You might say that Russia exists in the same paradigm. Not quite: in our case, this is the sad historical reality. Following the creation of the ancient Russian state in the 10th century and its “free” existence until the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, the only time Russia was not invaded by the belligerent enemy forces was in the 18th cc. I don’t need to tell you that things are different with the USA that has been waging wars here and there in various corners of the East since 1960s. And while Russia has to produce the arms to defend itself, the U.S. produce arms to “bring the democratic values” to uncivilised barbarians elsewhere in the world.
This introduction serves to explain that most people here in Russia are not “for” or “against” Trump, Clinton, Obama, Biden, or any other Democrat or Republican. We are for the politician that is least belligerent and more grounded. Such was Trump. His was the mindset of a good businessman: if it’s good for business, let’s do it. If not, forget it.
Democracy, Hypocrisy and Human Rights
I’ll explain now what problems I personally have with the liberal democratic agenda. Under the aegis of “human rights” liberals bring havoc and plague on all the houses in the neighbourhood. Before we knew it, every deviation under the sun has been considered normal, so that if you don’t discover any legally acknowledged deviation in yourself, you’re a freak. Any discussion becomes a minefield where you are bound to breach these or those rights. This makes any forward movement completely impossible. Instead of getting to the core of the problem and finding a solution, we’re beating around the bush fearing to offend somebody.
And secondly, I really despise these boss-servant relations when a boss comes across as your best friend. This is never the case. Liberalism is all about supporting the weak, it seems. In truth, it’s about weakening the weak, to make them powerless, dependant and therefore more docile and compliant. More often than not the boss takes the servant for a drink not to talk about life, but to learn the weaknesses of the employee. And then he disposes of the servant if necessary, and the latter cannot even understand why the boss had to be so ruthless. They always had a good chat and a pint on Friday afternoon…
The End of Democracy in the USA
First, there has indeed been proof of Democrats’ forging the elections. Interestingly, they used the same method of which they’ve been accusing Russia since 2011: they threw in fake bulletins. And now we see Twitter “forever banning” Trump. The meaning thereof is VERY simple. The Fourth and Fifth Estate in America is the real power; their owners and investors own the country. What the recent American election has shown, is that people no longer have any power or right. You may vote because the Constitution says you can, but you don’t decide who becomes the president. The owners of the media and social networks do. Officially, the last popular president, i.e. elected by the people, was Donald Trump.
This is certainly the end of democracy in the USA. This is also a revival of oligarchy in its worst form yet. Its power is entirely virtual, including the money, but extremely strong and omnipresent.
What’s Next for America?
I don’t for a second support those (rare) voices who claim they will enjoy watching the USA plunging into the civil war. For all the bad things the American politicians have done since the 20th c., the American people don’t deserve to experience the horror of an inner military conflict. Yet I can well imagine it happening. Just as there is a shadow state, there is a shadow national spirit that exists besides the social networks and television. It is supported by the values that we call traditional and that have been mocked or distorted in the recent years. But they still exist: family, children, faith, national independence, national culture, a healthy business competition. Republicans and those who share their values have a lot to fight for.
Links to other articles on Politics and History on LCJ
The Orthodox Christmas Eve is called “sochelnik” after a special meal cooked on this day. In Orthodox tradition, Christmas Day ends the so-called Christmas Lent that lasts from the end of November until January 7th. This Lent, similarly to the Assumption Lent in August, has fixed dates, as opposed to the Great Lent in spring and St. Peter’s Lent in June.
According to tradition, the faithful are not allowed to eat any food on Christmas Eve, except for “sochivo” – a mix of cooked wheat and honey, sometimes with the added dried fruits. I must admit I’ve never cooked it yet, and in fact, the last week of Lent was difficult to fast because my body demanded that I enjoyed the festive time.
The faithful have been asked not to visit the churches this year, and the service at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour can be attended only by special invitation. I suppose one may express their surprise, if not anger, with these facts. So, let’s remember that Jesus was also born outside the city and laid with the animals. We are in the same cradle this year, as Jesus, so let us focus on the essence of this holiday. A Child is born in cold and poverty to become the King. So we in our homes and in different state of being welcome the Light of the World to change our lives for the better.
Dance while the music still goes on – we can all sing this ABBA song, for as long as the music plays, everything is possible. Yet tonight I want to bring you another dancing song, Raffaella Carra Ballo Ballo, the famous Italian singer and dancer. While most Italians went for dramatic performances where they mostly had to stand still – think of Milva, Mina, Mia, Patti Pravo and others, – donna Raffaella preferred the songs to which she could dance. And could she dance indeed! I’ve just tried to repeat the legs-and-arms sequence from this song, and it was no small feat! So… if you are in the mood for dancing (or romancing, or just trying to lose some Xmas kilos), do put Raffaella Carra Ballo Ballo on repeat – and enjoy!
PS – The Beatles fans will be pleased (or surprised) to hear a bit of Eleanor Rigby in the lead to the verse.
I used to visit the famous Biryulyovo Arboretum in summer but never in spring, autumn or winter. But there’s always a space for a miracle! On January 2nd, 2021 I added some wintry views to my collection of photos! Join my walking in the alley of pines, which I renamed into The Trail of Smiling Pines (by analogy to The Trail of the Lonesome Pine film). I was walking in the Biryulyovo Arboretum from 1.30pm to 5.30pm. The last 2 videos were made at dusk, around 4pm, when I moved from the pine alley to that of deciduous trees. Then I made a very short video of a starting snowfall. It was magical walking in the Biryulyovo Arboretum in winter, and I hope you take time to walk there with me.