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 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.
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.
I’m sure you’re interested in what safety measures are undertaken in Russia for New Year Night 2021. Here’s a short digest:
shops close at 10pm;
restaurants shut down at 11pm;
ice rinks close at 7pm;
no official street festivities;
New Year fireworks can be watched in the city centre but people have to have hot drinks on them, as no cafes or street vendors work;
underground and public transport work all night;
Red Square in Moscow is shut down for visitors for the night.
New Year in Russia, just as Christmas in the UK, has always been a family holiday. Two or three generations sat down to one table to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new. With time, youngsters began to get together for huge celebrations at the restaurants and regional hotels. Due to virus, the tradition is back, although some families have to celebrate New Year separately for health reasons. My Instagram friend had a baby this October, and then her parents fell ill. So, she is meeting New Year with her husband and their baby daughter. But their New Year Night 2021 will be truly blissful.
We’ve had some sleet today, and some local folks are setting off fireworks already. I’m off to walk my dogs, and then I plan to go out to snap a few photos of the year 2020 as it is drawing to a close. I’m very happy as I’m on the verge of great changes, and I sincerely wish all of us to find happiness and faith, whatever happens in the world.
I’ve been looking through my posts here in which I tried to draw a line under the previous year. It was good to see for myself what experiences got me well prepared for the year 2020.
Back in the Day
There was a marriage break-up in 2006, a loss of job in 2008, yet another one in 2009, lots of travelling in 2010 and various events in 2011, more travelling and events in 2012-2013. In 2013, I started teaching. In 2014 my grandma died, the pound sterling rate doubled, and I found myself in a bit of jeopardy because I couldn’t get my books and academic photocopies back in the next six years. I rarely mentioned my extensive translation work here, except when it was literary translation. At the end of 2015 the neighbour upstairs got everyone below him severely flooded, so until 2018 I had to deal with a complete makeover of my flat. I was also an editor-in-chief, then a head of the department, and I started to perform as a singer. I couldn’t always maintain my blogging, so between 2015 and 2017 LCJ was offline. All these experiences, however unexpected and unwelcome, taught me to stay calm amidst any kind of storm, to be agile and flexible, to rely on myself but also to trust others, and to be patient.
My Year 2020
This explains why in 2020, when people were going mad because of distant work and learning, constant home living, and all sorts of restrictions, I was in the position when I could actually give them advice and provide help. I followed my heart, and it always brought me more good.
Some great things that happened to me in 2020:
I translated 4 books, due out in 2021;
I had 5 books published, 1 electronic and 4 printed, The Hammock for the Falling Stars I mentioned before;
starting from summer 2019, I listened to 9 online courses on finance and psychology;
I translated and voiced a course on front-edge technology for aesthetic medicine, orthopedics, dentistry etc.;
thanks to the above, and also my friends Adrian and Marco, I was finally able to get all my books and papers back to Moscow (here’s the mention).
I didn’t travel much, but I happily resorted to following a few Instagram accounts of people who live in countries as different as Bali and Italy and tell us about their everyday life.
Thoughts on Year 2020
Overall, I’ve had a fantastic year 2020. I realise this sounds ridiculous to some of you, so I’ll explain. I’ve had my best results in all my life when I took a complete responsibility for every action. I made my own choices, I followed my decisions, and I put myself first. Now, as far as I know, “I” for many people include their relatives, at the least, if not also friends, job, country and mankind. And this is the problem: we cannot be responsible for the mankind. We can be only responsible for ourselves as a part thereof. We cannot be responsible for our relatives, except for how we interact with them. It’s a totally different subject, but basically, if another person is unable to be happy, we cannot and shouldn’t make them happy at the expense of our own happiness.
My Wishes for Year 2021
For the year 2021, I want to wish us all to be patient and flexible. If it’s true that the virus is here to stay until 2023, then the new year will come “equipped” with more instability and danger. There will be more restrictions, more pressure, and more uncertainty. So I pray that we all stay calm and faithful. This storm is also of spiritual nature, it especially hits control freaks who are very fearful deep inside. As it is quite clear that the events are out of our control, please don’t fear what you don’t know. Instead, build on your strengths and find faith. With faith, we are unconquerable.
In my blog post on November 4th on occasion of the Day of National Unity I mentioned that Russia today is performing a balancing act due to multinational and multicultural character of the contemporary Russian society. In his address to the leaders and heads of religious organisations President Vladimir Putin also mentioned that, barring certain differences, all religions consider all people equal in front of God. Today we’ve learnt that this is not quite so. The Council of Ulema of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia has imposed the ban on mixed marriages.
“The Council of Ulema decided that Muslims should not marry representatives of other faiths, in particular Christians and Jews. Interfaith marriages are permissible only in certain cases with the permission of the local muftiat… Common values are important for people as close as husband and wife. The similarity of spouses in religion is the most important condition for a happy life”
The decision to ban mixed marriages can create certain problems. Since the Soviet times there have been a lot of mixed – and happy – marriages, so neglecting the question of faith is a long-term habit. Russian Orthodox priests are not particularly welcoming mixed marriages either, and when they have to explain, they also raise the topic of common values. However, the Ulema’s decision that has existed in theory since 2019 pioneers the formal prohibition of future marriages between the representatives of Islam, Christianity and Judaism – something that neither Christian nor Judaic organisations formally did, although similar recommendations against marriages with the unfaithful exist in those religions, too.
Here at this point many people, mainly atheists, shall raise their hands and deplore the ruin that religion causes to people’s lives. Meanwhile, the Ulema explains their decision not only by a lofty idea of a unity of values (faith included), but by a more practical reason. Russian and Jewish girls are known for their beauty, and Muslim men often leave their former Soviet Republics to work in Moscow and other Russian cities to earn money. There they predictably meet and marry non-Muslim girls, while the Muslim beauties (who traditionally must stay with the family) cannot find a man to marry.
So, in truth, this is about demographics, not God.
I always look for good things on such occasions. If anything else, the Ulema’s ban reminds us what family is really about. We’re raised on fairy tales about love at first sight (and I believe in it, too!) However, love at first sight means recognising your other half as the one your soul has been waiting to meet. The soul doesn’t recognise the sex appeal or the hair colour. It recognises values. In case with traditional religions, a particular set of rites is a cornerstone of life. For many others, faith itself is a cornerstone, even if we don’t religiously follow a particular tradition. Hence it is important to know your values and not to compromise on those that matter most. If we look at things from this point of view, the Ulema’s decision suddenly makes sense.
Roscosmos has initiated the registration of several historic and seminal signs as trademarks “to protect the state corporation from unfair competition”. Poekhali by Yuri Gagarin is to become a trademark – the world-famous word he said on his first flight to space, which means “let’s go”.
As we’re waiting to hear about further details, here’s a song about Yuri Gagarin, Do You Know What Man He Was, sung by Yuri Gulyaev. The video is a collage of Gagarin’s photos.
Nine years ago, when the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first manned Earth orbit, Anton Agarkov paid a visit to the Star City and shared lots of photos that I also featured on my blog. Read the article. To commemorate the same event, Attic Room Productions have made The First Orbit movie that you can watch below. It reconstructs Gagarin’s historic flight and helps to relive his experience – now almost 60 years on.