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The First Day of Spring (and a Short Report of My Travels)

Sandro Botticelli, Primavera (1482)

My congratulations to all of you on the occasion of the first day of spring! Today, in fact, was a wonderful day: I learnt that two of my former colleagues have got engaged at the end of January. I am very, very happy for both of them, it’s wonderful news, and a great way to start the season often associated with Love. Sandro Botticelli knew this well when he painted his famous Primavera that apparently served as a wedding gift.

Manchester from my hotel
 North Wales from the Great Orme

Last week I briefly went to the UK. After a full year in Russia I thought I would be treated to something new, but no, things don’t change THAT quickly. Fair enough, there’s scaffolding on St. Ann’s church, and a new building has sprung at the corner of Tib St, but the rest was more of less the same (except that many shops in Stockport have been closing due to recession). I visited Leeds and Llandudno and had the most relaxing time, even though I had to do a lot. Unfortunately, once again I didn’t get the chance to visit Manchester Jewish Museum, but I nipped in and picked up a visitor guide and a fridge magnet, and had a brief conversation with Sarah about Russia, its history and people. I need this “inner” information for one of the stories I’m working on, so I’ll now have to get by with the Russian sources.

Otherwise, everything is going great, especially since I climbed the Great Orme in Llandudno. The pictures you see were taken at the summit.

After conquering the Great Orme…


Some Flickr Pointers

I noticed that Flickr link in my Lijit widget wasn’t working. I corrected it but I thought I’d use the opportunity to give you a peek at my “private” Flickr life.

I started using the site in 2007, partly because of Robin Hamman‘s paeans. I’ve loved photography already but as with blogging it took overcoming a certain inner hurdle to start putting the photos up for all to see.

I love Flickr; in May, during Futuresonic Festival, I even delivered a talk on Online Photography; and before then in January I wrote a lengthy article on how (not) to use Flickr. Working as a Social Media Manager, I notice, of course, that nobody uses Flickr as they “should”, myself including. But it’s good to strive to use it better.

Flickr is an ocean, deep, beautiful, and sometimes dangerous. They upped security and safety levels, and you can always ask to take you “to kittens” but chances are, you will keep looking. I don’t think it will be totally bad if a young person stumbles upon the imagery of sexual kind. My concern is whether or not there will be a sensible adult with them to explain things.

As for me, I was amazed when last year I got followed by the multitudes of leather fans. I love leather clothes, so this season I don’t even have to try to be fashionable. But to have your own self-portrait in leather pants and hand-made sweater accumulating views and comments was something different.

My experience of Flickr has been great, all the more so because for the second time a photo I took was included in Schmap City Guide. In 2007, one photo was featured in Schmap Liverpool Guide. In 2009, another photo (which you will not find in my personal photostream) got included in Schmap Manchester Guide. It was made at one of the events where I went as my company’s employee, and it is credited to the company.

So, by way of giving a few pointers to what you’re going to find if you visit my Flickr:

All sets, and particularly Knitting and Lake District

Carmarthen Cameos (South Wales)


Bolton (a Lancashire town in Greater Manchester county)


North Wales

Castles (only Welsh so far)

Museums, Art Galleries, Exhibitions (Beck’s Canvas, Liverpool Walker Art Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum)

Concert and Music Events (Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Toshio Iwai)

Russian Places (some of my childhood places)

York (I loved the city, will go again some time)

Yorkshire: Leeds and Scarborough

Lancashire: Oldham, Blackburn and Blackpool

Merseyside: Liverpool and Southport

Cheshire: Chester, Altrincham, Warrington, and Stockport

Midlands: Birmingham

Public Lectures (Slavoj Zizek rules!)

Festivals: Futuresonic, Manchester International Festival, Text Festival

The photo above is Cleopatra’s Needle from London 2004 set.

British Seaside and Holidays by Polnareff

It is absolutely true: my first ever sea was the Irish Sea. I saw it in 2002. When I told one of my friends about it, he pitied me. Indeed, how sad is that: to see your first sea in Blackpool?

This was in 2002. Between then and the late 2007 I visited Blackpool a few times. I rode past Conwy Bay in North Wales once or twice. But it was at the turn of 2007-2008 that I spent almost two weeks in North Wales. I was staying in Llandudno and taking day trips to Conwy, Caernarfon, Beaumaris. Most importantly, each day I was walking by the sea, breathing sea air and watching seagulls. Little did I know that the memories of staying in North Wales would be so strong that I would want to go to the seaside more and more often.

This is what has been happening since March 2009: whenever I had the chance, I tried to go and spend a day by the water. I visited Southport for the first time; then I went to Blackpool after a 3-year pause; and finally I visited Scarborough. I figured out that Scarborough would be the closest to Manchester town on the eastern coast which was unknown to me.

From all those trips I brough back some photos, and the most recent ones from Blackpool and Scarborough are still in the process of being uploaded to Flickr. But, looking at them recently, I realised that they can illustrate “Holidays” by Michel Polnareff. I have already written a post about this song in December 2006, although I include the English translation here again now. I arranged some of the photos to the “story” of Polnareff’s song; the photos were taken in places like Llandudno, Conwy, and Deganwy (North Wales), Blackpool and Southport (English west coast), and Scarborough (English east coast). Mr Polnareff is web-savvy, so I hope he likes my attempt at spreading the word about his work, if he sees this post or the video.

Holidays, oh holidays
It’s a plane that comes down from the sky
And the shadow of its wing
Covers a city below
How close is the ground

Holidays, oh holidays
Churches and council flats,
What is their beloved God doing?
He who lives in the space
How close is the ground

Holidays, oh holidays
The plane’s shadow covers the sea
The sea is like a preface
To the desert
How close is the sea

Holidays, oh holidays
So much sky and so many clouds
At your age you don’t know
That life is boring
How close is death

Holidays, oh holidays
It’s a plane that lives in the sky
You’re so beautiful, but don’t forget
That planes crash
And that the ground is close

Llandudno Diaries – 5

Those of you who followed my Flickr have undoubtedly noticed just what a surge in my passion for photography came from this trip to Wales. What I wanted to share in this chapter is one particular experience which fits the notion of “l’instant decisif”, or “decisive moment“, introduced to the world of photography by Henri Cartier-Bresson. To avoid being considered a show-off, I should note that Cartier-Bresson advised to only take a shot, literally, at that very decisive moment, whereas I took a picture of this shelter on Llandudno Promenade a few times before I got it right.

It all started when I was walking from the Grand Hotel towards Craig-y-Don. These shelters stand along the entire Promenade, and the first time I took a notice of it, the shelter was used in its proper way, as you can see on the left. I remember that I was actually attracted by a man who sat in the middle section of the shelter, for his manner of dialling or writing an SMS on his mobile was somewhat peculiar. But while taking the picture, I spotted the view from the shelter’s “windows”, which I tried to capture on the next two pictures (right and below).

Between and after these shots I was walking on the Promenade, I was taking pictures of pebbles, and eventually I even descended from the Promenade and was walking on the pavement. It was then that this lady and her dog appeared. The little white dog was wearing a tartan coat and evidently found something in me, as it kept stopping and starring at me, so I even had to pause and let the pair walk ahead. This little dog, I believe, was my White Rabbit, since eventually it stopped by the yet another shelter and spent enough time for me to catch up with them. I tenderly watched the dog for a few moments, and then I looked at the shelter. Next second I was reaching out for the camera, while praying for the pair to walk away as quickly as possible because the rain was starting. Off they walked, and I took the picture (below).

The reason I call it my “decisive moment” is because it was totally spontaneous in that I didn’t plan it. In the words of Cartier-Bresson, the act of taking a photograph is “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which gave that event its proper expression“. So far we’ve known that this is a simple shelter on Llandudno Promenade, but here, totally on its own, it seems to stand completely in the water or even to rise from the water. It is just an object, free from the presence of other objects. Naturally, one can imagine it floating between the two elements – water and air – but the precise lines of the shelter indicate that it is not about to be overturned. When I wrote about this picture in my Russian blog, I noted that the main carcass of the shelter (as well as the bench) is in the form of the letter “pi” (left) that can be interpreted as a symbol of strong will and victory, and this explains why the shelter has got this air of stability about it. At the same time, one can perhaps see two letters “T” join in the carcass (and in the bench), and this letter symbolises the union of two antagonistic forces. Indeed, the latter point is very true about this shelter: it is but a shelter, made of concrete, which can be properly used; however, seen from a different point of view, in the different atmosphere, this ordinary object becomes the subject of a photographic shot, thus being placed in the centre of a purely creative process.

The geometry of this shelter is rather interesting, in that the main lines remain unchanged even when one overturns the image. The most obvious interpretation of this picture would have to do with the place of a man in the world, face to face with the elements. As such, this shelter can be my alter ago, or it can be yours. But perhaps the really curious thing happens if we turn the picture on its head. Cartier-Bresson would perhaps advise against this, and of course, an overturned shelter begs for a different story. I did overturn the picture, however, if only to see what story it could then tell (right). Unexpectedly, the shelter now resembles a carcass of a house. The clouds from the original picture look like a stripe of grass at dusk. The sky resembles the snowy plain, or the white sand in twilight. And the sea is divided into the sea proper and the steel-coloured sky where the ghostly beams of the first floor disappear. Suddenly, the decisive moment appears to be not so much in capturing an object, but in capturing the creative potential of it.

Llandudno Diaries – 4

The Great Orme is the dramatic backdrop to Llandudno, as well as the starting point of the history of the place. Hardly anything can be more impressive than to walk in Mostyn St, the central thoroughfare of the town, and to have your eyes constantly find the awe-inspiring masses of stone. At night, when the part of the Great Orme just above the Grand Hotel is lit up, you catch yourself on a thought that you’re watching the Moon’s surface. The whole of Llandudno is impressive in such way: be that the Great Orme, the Little Orme (left) or mountains that rise in the distance (right), this is the place that seems to be forever sheltered and dominated by those giants.

The Great Orme is also known as the place where you can meet the real Kashmiri goats. On my first walk around the town I stopped at Waterstones, where I flicked through the pages of a book with unknown facts about Wales. The chapter on Llandudno informed me that on the slopes of the Great Orme one is likely to see the Kashmiri goats who may be the direct descendants of the pair presented to the Queen Victoria by the Persian Shah. As I later read, the so-called Windsor herd had come into being long before the Queen’s reign. It was in fact at the beginning of the 19th c. that Squire Christopher Tower from Essex purchased two Kashmiri goats from the number that had just been imported from India to France. His idea for a business turned out to be rather profitable, as he was eventually able to manufacture a cashmere shawl which was presented to George IV. The monarch, evidently impressed, accepted two goats from Squire Tower, and thus the Windsor herd was started. It is possible that the goats presented by the Shah were added to the existing herd, and later in the 19th c. two goats were brought to Wales.

However, the book I was flicking through made it appear as if one actually needed to go to the top of the Great Orme to see the goats. I did venture up the road until the first turn, but then I realised I wouldn’t be able to walk all the way up the mountain (granted I didn’t have suitable footwear). I decided to go back to the town, but little did I know that it would be on my way down the hill that I would virtually stumble upon the Kashmiri goats. The ones you see above were the very first on my way, and although I’ve seen and photographed a plenty of sheep, horses and cows, never before did I get the opportunity to take a picture of the goats. Admittedly, the models of the image above look regal enough to believe that they may indeed have the blue blood running in them. But before I turned my back on the Great Orme I was able to catch a glimpse of a larger herd (left). Both times I was quite startled, so much so that the second time I even paraphrased a stanza from a Russian poem about a lone pine tree that stands on the top of a certain Northern mountain, covered in snow. In my paraphrase, the goat stood on the top of the Great Orme, eating grass and covered in coat, as if it was a fir coat (I believe the unusually sharp December wind made me think of the really warm clothes).

Read more about the Great Orme Kashmiri Goats

To be continued…

Llandudno Diaries – 3

I arrived to Llandudno at about 5pm on Friday, 28th of December 2007. The wind and rain met me at the station, as well as two lines of taxis, with no drivers inside. Turned out, my train arrived earlier, and the drivers were all away to shops. I joined an elderly gentleman and a family couple at the taxi office. By the time I was on my own, we started talking with the lady in the reception. Turned out, she was quite familiar with Manchester: she was a part of the Jewish community who regularly travel from Llandudno to Salford. Then my taxi arrived, and a few minutes later I was in Craig-y-Don where I were to stay until January 6th 2008.

Craig-y-Don means “rock by the water”, and Dave Thompson tells us in his illustrated book about Llandudno that this area became popular with residents after the First World War. On the first walk “into town” when I don’t actually know yet where to go, the place seems to be quite far away from the town centre. But as you get to discover all the different ways to get from Craig-y-Don Parade to Trinity Church in Mostyn St, you’ll soon realise that it doesn’t actually take that long.

Llandudno itself boasts a remarkable history. The origins of the place date back as early as the Bronze Age, and the remains of the Bronze Age Copper Mines located on the Great Orme is a great tourist attraction, allowing you to explore 250ft below the surface. There, on the Great Orme, is also the church of St Tudno. The church takes its name from the site of a small monastic community founded by the Welsh Christian missionary in the 6th c. AD. I haven’t visited it, but Thompson notes that the church “still has some ancient features within it including a splendid twelfth-century font”.

The fate of Llandudno was apparently determined by the Liverpool Architect Owen Williams in 1840s. The image on the left is that of The King’s Head where Williams reportedly remarked that this bay area would make an ideal watering place. His words were related to The Hon. Edward Mostyn MP who had already had plans to exploit the area of Llandudno as a potential summer resort. Some time before Williams’s prophetic remark Lord Mostyn, with the support of the Bishop of Bangor, was able to obtain through the Parliament “the sole rights to develop the low isthmus between the north and west shores”. Williams was commissioned with the survey which, when completed, presented Llandudno as a lovely seaside town, “shaped with a grid of spacious thoroughfares and a sweeping promenade”.

Although it wasn’t Williams who undertook the final planning and building, the progress of Llandudno was compelling, given its unrivalled popularity with the masses, the royalty, and the men-of-arts. It is still disputed whether or not Lewis Carroll visited Llandudno, but even without him there are enough names among Llandudno’s patrons to make any other town of its caliber blush with envy: Napoleon III, Disraeli, Gladstone, Bismarck, to name but a few. The Queen Elizabeth of Roumania, who wrote under the pen name of Carmen Sylva (commemorated in the name of one of the streets in Craig-y-Don), stayed here for five weeks in 1890. Buffalo Bill came here with his Wild West Show in 1904. The Beatles performed at The Odeon in Llandudno in 1963, and the last person to ever appear on the Odeon’s stage was Billy Connolly in 1986.

For references, I am indebted to Dave Thompson’s Llandudno (Images of Wales series, Tempus, 2005).

To be continued…

Llandudno Diaries – 2

This stay in Llandudno was a good break from the city’s hustle and bustle, and some of you may already have checked my Flickr albums. Richard over at the BBC Manchester Blog was wondering what I would be doing in Llandudno for quite a long period of time. Indeed, I arrived on December 28th and was planning to leave on January 6th, which I did, only instead of taking a train to Manchester I went to Deganwy and stayed for another two nights at Deganwy Castle Hotel. I did a plenty of sightseeing in Llandudno but, being a peregrinating type, I did day trips to Conwy, Caernarfon, and Beaumaris. In case if Richard and all of you are wondering further, I don’t have a car, so my pilgrimages were assisted to a degree by buses, which means, I suppose, that on occasion my eye has caught something I would’ve overlooked, if sitting in the car. On the other hand, not having a car restricts your freedom, so hopefully next time I go to Wales either I’ll be driving myself or I’ll have a car and a driver.

Flickr sets:
I finally made it to Manchester on January 8th, but if I am totally honest with myself and with you, I didn’t want to leave. I had to return to Manchester, not least because I accepted the invitation to a friend’s housewarming party. Richard is absolutely right that there isn’t much to do in Llandudno, but it’s what outside Llandudno that makes the whole journey purposeful. And I don’t even have to mention castles – I can only mention Llandudno Bay and the Great Orme, which look different every time you see them. The houses on the slopes of the Great Orme, when lit up in the evening, reminded me of one image Henry Miller evoked in The Colossus of Maroussi: a Greek valley where stood houses in which windows the lights were coming up was like a bowl with cherries. And it was this bowl that I was thinking of every evening when I looked at the Great Orme from my hotel lounge where I sat uploading photographs to Flickr.

I still haven’t explained why I chose Llandudno. Back in October, I visualised some of the scenes and was convinced that the story would take place somewhere at the seaside. The choice had more to do with how much I actually knew the British seaside towns and cities. The fact is that I know them very poorly. If I am to be very honest, I think my knowledge is currently divided between two “pools”: Blackpool and Liverpool. From either “pool” I couldn’t think of a spot to pull out where I’d want my characters to find themselves. Suddenly I remembered about my short walk along Llandudno Promenade, and then I vividly imagined the wintery bay and the winds. I looked up some photos on Flickr and was convinced that this was the place to set up the story.

But then I began to research further, and I realised that there may have been another reason for why I chose Llandudno for my story, although it only came up during research. It’s been years since I watched a Russian cartoon after Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and read both books. It was in Llandudno that the Liddell family used to stay, and there are still speculations about whether or not Carroll himself visited the Liddells in Llandudno. There are also speculations on the nature of his relationship with Alice Liddell who was the inspiration for both stories. My view on this occasion is that it probably doesn’t matter much whether or not Carroll went to Llandudno. If he did, his imagination would be assisted by personal experience. If he didn’t, his genius, as it dazzles us in two books about Alice, shines even brighter.

What cannot be denied is that both books are, as one often calls it, the labour of love. And it is significant for me that both these books are fairy tales. They could be love poems, of course, and then we might have had something of a Victorian equivalent of The Divine Comedy. They could be novellas or a novel. But they are fairy tales. Without going too much in depth about my story, I can say that it explores this connection between love and a fairy tale, childhood and adulthood and the possibility to move between the two. There are other examples, of course, of similar kind of writing for children, and J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan may be the first to come to mind. Ultimately, one of the questions the story is asking is why fairy tales may be so important even when one seems old enough to get by without them; and what it takes to be able to tell a fairy tale.

To be continued…

Llandudno Diaries – 1

I went to Llandudno to explore the place because I want to set a story there. Last February I came up with an idea, which I actually explored in a short story in March, but then I put it aside to see if I may come up with something else. Indeed, sometime by October the original idea evolved, and I left for Llandudno, having written a few opening chapters and with the view of how the story would go.

Why Llandudno? I’ve been there in the summer of 2004, and it was a weird visit. In a company of four we checked into this hotel which had a tremendous view of Colwyn Bay, but our rooms were located on the top floor, the parking space which was expected to fit 11 cars looked too small even for 5, there was no elevator, and the prospect of staying in such place for a week was anything but pleasant. So we left the hotel, and it was then that we decided to drive to Llandudno. It was August, and naturally we didn’t find any vacancies in the hotels along the Promenade, and we didn’t venture further into town. But I had just enough time to take a short walk on the Promenade, where the elderly couples were strolling up and down the Victorian stones. I think what impressed me most at the time and which I remembered now when I began to write the story was Llandudno’s beach. I’ve never been a beach person myself, and at the time the only other place in England that I could compare to Llandudno was Blackpool. Blackpool had its own promenade and the beach, but there was a wall to actually protect the pedestrian path from the waves of the Irish sea.

There is no such wall in Llandudno. In fact, one evening the tide was away, and I was able to walk on the jetty (see left) very far into the bay. And this has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I was totally alone, and I cannot swim. It was very dark, there were no people around, and the only help, had I needed it, would have come from The Grand Hotel, which stood to my right. It certainly helped that there was no wind. So I stood on this jetty, surrounded by complete darkness. Underneath me there were the dark cold waters of Llandudno Bay, and above me there was a nightly January sky. And suddenly the stars began to appear and sparkle. I am sure it was the first time I was able to recognise some constellations. Eventually some stars were becoming brighter, and it was then that I just started to recite aloud this famous poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky:


if stars are lit
it means – there is someone who needs it.
It means – someone wants them to be,
that someone deems those specks of spit
And overwrought,
in the swirls of afternoon dust,
he bursts in on God,
afraid he might be already late.
In tears,
he kisses God’s sinewy hand
and begs him to guarantee
that there will definitely be a star.
He swears
he won’t be able to stand that starless ordeal.
He wanders around, worried,
but outwardly calm.
And to everyone else, he says:
it’s all right.
You are no longer afraid,
are you?’
if stars are lit,
it means – there is someone who needs it.
It means it is essential
that every evening
at least one star should ascend
over the crest of the building.
To be continued…

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