Category Archives: Neighbourhood Cam

Neighbourhood Cam: International Children’s Day Blossoms

June 1st is celebrated as the International Children’s Day. In Russia, we traditionally pay much attention to this festival, as children are believed to be the future.

Volunteers in my district today handed out small chocolates to kids and organised an event for all children who were outside at around 4pm. I was sitting in the park reading some Art History books and listening to happy cries and music. On my way back I took some photos of the lavishly blossoming trees.

As for me, in 2016 I organised a special drawing competition among the children in my district. We asked them to illustrate the poems by the famous Soviet poet, Agniya Barto. See the gallery below; it is always touching to see how children see the characters of their favourite poems. Back in 2016, this competition marked both Barto’s 110th anniversary and the International Children’s Day.

Today I look at these images (and I’ve got many more) from a different angle. We must ensure that children, wherever they live, have the right to their basic freedoms. At its heart, the world is not as multifaceted as today’s political agenda proclaims. All children still need two parents of different genders, they need a family, they need access to education and medicine. Above all, they need security and peace to grow and later discover their potential.

More on Russia.

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Neighbourhood Cam: May Evening

may evening
May in my district in Moscow

May is blossoming slowly this year, and May evening is cold and dry. We haven’t had enough rain, so the leaves are taking time to appear.

I’m going to resurrect my Neighbourhood Cam and Moscow Cam rubrics to get you acquainted with my native places. I will also update some posts where the text was previously lacking, to make them more informative and enjoyable.

The place in the photo (which was actually taken in 2018) is within a 10-minute walk from my house, right opposite the place where I taught English and French for four years. In the vicinity are a few shops, many blocks of flats, a church, and two railway stations.

On May evenings like that in the picture one always wants to slow down. The sunset is about to begin, and, as the evening is cold, the sky is going to turn purple-red. The wind is getting chillier, the cars are few, and so are people. I usually take in this cool air and gaze on the horizon as if it were my personal Waterloo Sunset. I know I am in Paradise here, although it was only recently that my district has become resplendent and posh in some aspects. But I like it this way.

Epiphany 2022

January 19th is a fixed date in the Russian Orthodox calendar. On this day we celebrate Epiphany – the moment when Jesus came to be baptised by St John in the waters of the Jordan River.

You have likely seen the reports of people bathing in the cold water on Epiphany. Bearing in mind Russia’s climate and severe wintery frosts this bathing ritual is more of a popular tradition rather than a requirement endorsed by the Church. In other words, if one doesn’t bathe on Epiphany, there will be no negative implications for their soul.

I have never gone to a designated bathing place but I did take a shower at home at midnight on January 19th. Yet this year I chose to skip doing so, and turned out so did President Putin!

What I did do as usual was to go to my local church for the so-called holy water. This is your regular water that was blessed by the priest. There are usually crowds of people standing in long queues, so I tend to go there late in the evening.

This is what my parish church of St Nicholas looked like on the evening of Epiphany. I’ve just caught myself on a thought that, while I was studying the Tudor period, I was quite fascinated by the terms “parish” and “parishioners”. Even though I was quite irreligious in those days I evidently loved the idea of a community where a church was a perfect gathering place, where people sang hymns and attended sermons. And see, two decades later I’m a parishioner myself…

The Unexpected Comeback of the Soviet Spirit due to Pandemics

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.

Coming Soon

This is a brief note to say hello to my readers and subscribers! I’m delighted to learn that people are subscribing to LCJ. To let you know, I’ve been blogging since August 2006, and it was almost a non-stop entreprise until 2014, when I began teaching and there was less time to research. So please take your time to browse the calendar or the list of categories.

In the meantime, these are the views from a hospital window in Moscow where I have to spend this weekend. Apparently, it is necessary once in a while.

Neighbourhood Cam: Sunday Evening

As I grow older, I cherish Sundays more and more – especially this year when I finally don’t work on Sundays. I’m discovering the beauty of “taking time”: I don’t rush my breakfast, dog-walking, reading, doing something about the house, if I must. The feeling of prolonged time is so palpable on Sunday, yet there is also this special silence and relaxedness that is so characteristic of the fin de weekend. Whereas before I’d be thinking of what else to do for the next day, this time, this October, I’m just looking forward to the dog-walking and evening tea.

Over the years I’ve done so much and gone so far that I can’t help taking time and looking inside rather than collecting the impressions of the outer world. My religious views also suggest the inner work, the improvement of the inner vision and wisdom, and I am glad this is so. The year 2014 was a turning point in my religious outlook, and I’m glad to be among the faithful. I’ve never been an atheist, but the years of agnosticism or misconception of the role of the church are also firmly in the past.

Hence tonight, as I’m looking out of my window, I feel this immense warm gratitude to each and every person on my path that, knowingly or not, made me who I am now. As the city is sinking into the dusk, I’m catching the last glimpses of Sunday – to imbue the coming week with calm and joy.

Neighbourhood Cam: Mid-September Sunset

It may seem I live from sunset to sunset – so many of them have I captured in the last few years since I was back to Moscow. Each of them is truly spectacular. Occasionally, I think that I could move to the countryside, but one thing that would influence my decision is the opportunity to watch sunsets.

I worked with a guy whose parents lived in a house halfway between Cambridge and Chichester. From the front it was just another country house, but the back door led from the kitchen into the yard that overlooked the beautiful expanse of either rapeseed or rye framed on the horizon by the woods’ greenery and the azure sky. We visited his parents in the evening, it was summer, the sun was setting slowly, and the sky was lazily donning the darker blues, adding a tint of feminine pinks to its subdued countryside glamour.

So, if that could be the view from my backyard that I would get upon moving to the country, I probably wouldn’t give it a second thought. Meanwhile, I continue enjoying the captivating sunsets from my block of flats.

Neighbourhood Cam: Morning Flowers

I took this photo a couple of years ago during my morning walk. The bed of tulips caught the rising sun, creating a beautiful tapestry of subdued shades. This year the tulips season went almost unnoticed due to the lockdown, and the flowerbeds presently boast different kind of smaller garden flowers.

In my neighbourhood there are a lot of apple and pear trees, as well as cherries. The latter have already been eaten by kids and birds. But the apples and pears are ripe, and where they grow, the ground is covered with fallen fruit.

August is my second most favourite month, after December.

Neighbourhood Cam: The Peachy Sunset

As we often say, posting a picture taken by phone: “it doesn’t reflect the true colours”. The sun is setting at this precise moment in Moscow, and the beautiful peachy pastel shades have painted the sky.

I’ve had a very good day, if judged by 3 cones of ice cream that I ate. I wrote and read a lot, and now is the time to slow down and get ready for the night.

Other posts in Neighbourhood Cam.