ibidbroascele: (Default)

Olivia Manning – The Balkan Triligy

 

Much has changed in Bucharest since 1938 when this book is set, but a lot hasn’t. Olivia Manning I think was a woman with remarkable powers of observation, her writing has an almost forensic quality about it with each character dissected with almost forensic detail. The first moments of the book tell us almost all we need to know about the main players, Guy and Harriet, with Guy giving almost all he has to a refugee who has lost his papers while Harriet, sympathising, is more circumspect. Later, Harriet tells her husband she loves him, to which he responds ‘I know’.

I can’t decide whether this book is more remarkable for the details of daily life and descriptions of Bucharest and Athens (although the latter is less vivid for me, perhaps because I do not know it). I know all the places she describes and can imagine the peasants, the beggars and the spirits of dead Bucharest. She captures the fact that Bucharest has always been a city of big and grand dreams which never quite come to fruition, its grandiose ambitions and aspirations which somehow seem absurd rather than natural when she describes the characters such as Bella, Sophie and Sasha. But she is not kind to the Romanians, while describing the dark sides of the national character (which again I recognise) does not describe the warmth and humour of the people I have chosen. The Greeks are more sympathetically written of (which reminds me how one of the players in the book remarks that no one admires the Romanians and Manning certainly doesn’t).

Of the individuals Guy and Harriet are vivid but the others, although well drawn (especially the tragic yet cruel figure of Clarence and the toadying Toby) the others less so, I got especially irritated with Yakimov who is 2 dimensional and while such narrow figures exist in real life reading about them is tiresome. However the delicate interplay of Guy and Harriet is superb as each grows to know each other they realise that love is more than daydreams and that as they realise what the other is they will be disappointed. However where she does not have real experience the author is weaker, I would not describe her as a great imaginative novelist,I have no doubt she is describing her own marriage.

The real triumph of the books lies in describing events and nowhere more so than in describing what it is like to live in a place which may ver soon become a war zone where you don’t quite know what is going on. Gossip and rumour abound and there is only a sense that something bad will happen but you are powerless to do anything in reaction. Reading it I felt as though she were describing the shit that we are living through now as my emotions and Harriet’s are as one.

 

It was a good read and I look forward to the Levant Trilogy which I hope to get read this year.

Shakespeare on Toast - Ben Crystal.

I enjoy the videos Ben Crystal does with his Father (the wonderful and Erudite David) about Shakespeare and this little book is a nice introduction to what makes Shakespeare's stuff great, some elementary poetic and linguistic analysis for the non specialist and context of the theatre and performances. Good as a simple and easy to read intro on the bard.
 

ibidbroascele: (Jump)
Reviews

Kiss – Jaqueline Wilson

Children’s books are often the ones I return to again and again. They have a purity of story which adult fiction doesn’t. I hadn’t read any Jaqueline Wilson before but on the advice of Zed I read this and was not disappointed.

Sylvie loves Carl and wants to marry him, Carl loves glass and Sylvie but does not want to marry her because he loves Paul, who does not reciprocate to put it mildly… Paul fancies Miranda who is trying to turn ‘ickle Sylvie into a bad girl and it all comes to a head when Car is inadvertently outed and is made to suffer for his honesty.

It’s quite rare that a coming of age story has the main character keeping her innocence and Sylvie is drawn remarkably well, having that not quite child but definably not yet woman thing that young teenage has. She gains in wisdom but still keeps her essentially artless nature intact. Carl was also well drawn – I felt she caught the dilemma of being a sensitive young man in a macho environment in a realistic way. I felt Paul and Miranda were more crude, the latter especially being too much of the cliché of the spoilt little rich girl for me to find quite credible (also she’s a bint).

Nonetheless, a fine portrait of the trials of youth (I thank god I am not that age any more!) and coming to terms with the complexity of the outer, and perhaps more crucially for one’s sanity, the inner world.
Plus Wilson wears almost as many rings as I do which naturally disposes me to like her work!

The Making of Home – Judith Flanders

I find Flanders occasionally preachy when talking about the Victorians but there is no denying she writes extremely well and has that enviable trick of keeping many threads going simultaneously and making it seem effortless. It is a very easy to read work summarising some serious scholarship covering both historical and anthropological ideas of ‘home’.

She distinguishes between nations where house and home are distinguished and not (Germanic and Latin respectively) and the evolution of the concept of home. Among the distinctions are the more public nature of life in Romance lands. She also covers how the growth of wage labour created more of a distinction between pubic and private spheres (not altogether new to me as I have read Engels but I assume it is useful for those who eschew Marxism). What I found more interesting was the evolution of the layouts of houses, the really riveting chapter for me was about changing ideas of privacy and how corridors aided the growth of what we would understand by it (made sense having visited Marian’s cousins in the country. Their home does not have corridors and if you have to traverse different rooms to get to your destination you are not going to be fussy about it!). I was less interested in the origins of different things within the home, it seemed rather patchy and has been covered better by other writers imho.

Nonetheless I would say it is well worth a look as there is still a lot of interesting meat there.

Never Mind the Balkans – here’s Romania Mike Ormsby

Found this in the airport bookshop ( published by his Missis) before heading Ukwards and bought it in the hope that it might enlighten me a little more about this country.

It’s an entertaining series of vignettes written by a long term resident of that enchantingly maddening city which is Bucharest. and he deals with potentially difficult topics (nepotism, animal cruelty, the brain drain, the failure to move on from Communism) with few words and a light touch which nonetheless is illuminating about the country at this moment in time.
ibidbroascele: (Default)

In keeping with my new year’s resolution to keep track of what I have read:

 

The alabaster girl.

 

I am not the target audience of this work. As such I found it oft-times rather risible.

 

I have met them before, those men who love women, who are addicted to their company and delight in simply sitting in the same room as one even without talking. And I admit that the man who loves women is, for a straight female, good company. Even for a little bit more if you feel so inclined – and why not? Being lovers of women they are concerned that the encounter should be agreeable all round. But such men are unreliable for anything more than this, being in love with the woman as an archetype, the beautiful, the work of art; the human soul behind is sadly often obscured behind the ‘love’ for women in general. I find their company, although superficially pleasant, unsustaining for long and leaves me with the urge for real conversation about the real world.

 

This book was written by the self proclaimed ‘globally acknowledged authority in seduction’, a practitioner of the art of love, for those men who wish to have more success with the female of the species. It is intended as a (much needed admittedly) challenge to the pick-up artist movement which regards women as the barely sentient quarry for the satisfaction of male lust and vanity. The book notes that women need to be listened to, to be enjoyed as people in their own right. Men and women should live in a series of exquisite moments, enjoying the chase and culmination that comes with the union of masculine and feminine.

There is a lot to be liked about his advice, not least his insistence that men should actually talk to women and listen not just regard them as canvasses of their bragging- why is it that such a patently obvious things need to be reiterated?

However my complaint of this book (or the ideas behind it) is that it is written by a benevolent sexist who despite claiming to be responsive for the human desire for adventure, beauty and romance.

I agree these are necessary and at gloomy moments to have been given an admiring gaze has done me me more good than all the philosophy and planning in the world.

But the woman is not just an exquisitely beautiful thing to be enjoyed and then remembered fondly. We are organisms who fart and poo and have to leap out of bed after lovemaking to pee as a guard against UTIs (not talking from personal experience here tralalalala). The alabaster girl of the title is an archetype which may or may not chime with the experience of the individual in question. (I don’t even what to get started on how distressingly heteronormative the whole text is!)

Finally at the end of the day the wonderful moments are fine, but I am sure that most of us also long for the deeper connection that comes from getting to know a real human who does the dishes and laughs at you when you fart. As a primer for dating you could probably do worse. But please actually talk to some real humans who identify as women lads!

 

The Dark Side of Love – Rafik Schami

 

“Damascus isn’t so much a city, a place named in an atlas, as a fairy tale clothed in houses and streets, stories, scents and rumours” (p317).

 

Although the year is young I think I can confidently say this is one of the best books I will read in 2017. It is wonderful.

 

At its heart is the often tragic love story of Farid and Rana (the scions of 2 warring families) but in the background we have family feuds, the turbulent history of 20th century Syria, murders, jokes and friendships. It begins with a murder mystery, who was the murderer of Mahdi Said? This we discover but not before excursions into the realm of the Arabian Nights with the history of the Mushtak family, founded when George Mushtak and his lover fled as her parents had already promised her to another man and his fateful rivalry with the Shahin family which has consequences which, in the way of the middle east, reverberate for decades to come. The mosaic reads like individual stories cobbled together to create one majestic whole and includes a whole host of episodes which could be cut yet you would not wish them to be for they are as dazzling as the wares of a souk and adds to the whole sensual experience of Damascus a city I now grieve for because I will never know it as it was.

As I read it, I heard about Assad and the war and now the whole catastrophe seems so much more vivid having read this. In the last part of the novel I read of the early experiences with dictatorship and torture and of men being arrested on whims and to satisfy bloodlusts began decades or even centuries prior. Somehow it made sense when read against the backdrop of the news.

 

But above all it is an absolutely thrilling family saga and a loving portrait of a country and a city which, despite its many dark sides, is obviously so longed for by the exile.

2016 meme

Jan. 1st, 2017 09:03 pm
ibidbroascele: (Wounded Angel)
  1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
    Got engaged, split up with and got back together with someone, seen a hoopoo, gone t Danube Delta, written for 16 hours, celebrated a birthday in Czech Republic and gatecrashed a 3 year old's birthday. Driven on the right, failed to pass a course first time, eaten rabbit.

    2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    1) No
    This year: Lose weight, keep track of spending, get the bloody DELTA done.

    3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    A few friends

    4. Did anyone close to you die?
    No but an acquaintace from uni died at 44 and the number of celeb deaths was terrifying

    5. What countries did you visit?
    UK, Romania, Moldova, Czechia

    6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
    The DELTA.

    7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

    Mid Feb, my chap announcing he would be moving to Denmark. This crushed me. 1st May, celebrating Easter in Tulcea and learning he was coming back and feeling amazed. 7th August, m birthday and having one day of rest in the middle of DELTA insanity. The last Monday, skiving off to visit the Zoo. 12th December, being on a mountain in Bucovina and receiving a proposal of marriage.

    8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Not totally dying after learning I had failed last DELTA assignment

    9. What was your biggest failure?
    Failing it. Not getting to grips with limba Romana

    10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Gum infection and cystitis and a diagnosis of periotendinitus

    11. What was the best thing you bought?
    Trips!!! Plane ticket home (in fairness this was reimbursed)

    12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    My chums :)

    13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
    52% of those who elected for Brexit, Theresa May, My fiance before he realised the error of his ways, Trump. Bigots.

    14. Where did most of your money go?
    books, travel, jewels

    15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    Finishing DELTA

    16. What song will always remind you of 2016?
    Toy soldiers

    17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
    a) Not as happy but not sad.
    b) Fatter
    c) Poorer but frankly it's worth it..

    18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
    Improving my mind, writing, learning

    19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
    Faffing

    20. How did you spend Christmas?
    Avec the fiance's family

    21. Did you fall in love in 2016?
    Not fell in love per se but realised I loved the man as I thought I was going to lose him.

    22. How many one-night stands?
    0

    23. What was your favourite TV program?
    Romanian cartoons which I have been watching/

    24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
    No

    25. What was the best book you read?
    Poisonwood Bible, The Ibis trilogy, Nick Clegg's autobiography, The Eyre Affair, Burial rites

    26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Not been a very musical year but I rediscovered Musica Populara

    27. What did you want and get?
    Love (or sex!), travel

    28. What did you want and not get?
    Passing the DELTA M2 first time

    29. What was your favourite film of this year?
    Fantastic beasts, Star wars, The Teacher, Jungle Book. How to be single (rubbish but it made me feel better).

    30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    35. I went with an old friend to visit Konopiste palace near Prague.

    31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    A victory for remain and Hilary Clinton.

    32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
    Garish! as usual.

    33. What kept you sane?
    Fighting.

    34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    None.

    35. What political issue stirred you the most?
    Refugees, Brexit, Trump, Syria, Putin......

    36. Who did you miss?
    The family, the man.

    37. Who was the best new person you met?
    Folks on the DELTA

    38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
    Fight.

    39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
    Everyday is like a battle.

    There will be trouble in the world this next year, and perhaps love will be what we need most.

 

I wrote that as a summation last year and I am impressed how prescient it was. The world seems to have lost its humour and its joy this year, bile reigns and I will look back on this and wonder how we got ourselves into this mess. How we would survive. My country is bitter and Torn, America will lose its soul in the next four years and we will look to China to defend us against Russia. IS will fall but leave viral traces in its wake.

 

And I will marry and settle. I will mourn my country but hope to build a life for myself in Romania. And hope to buy land, get a home together. Build our fortress.....

 

2015 Meme

Dec. 31st, 2015 09:59 am
ibidbroascele: (Default)
1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
Learned to Scuba dive, dived in a coral reef and in an icy palace (Silfra) and dipped in the dead sea, been terrified crossing a national border (Jordan/Israel), Been seeing someone for more than 2 months, got into serious trouble at work, rented an apartment for myself in a new country, spent more than one night in a tent, held a puffin, climbed a live volcano, had a heartbreak, been pecked by a bird, moved back to old familiar places (Edinburgh and Romania),

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
One I remember was to appreciate the people round me and I did keep to that.
This year: Don't waste money, eat more healthily, be more disciplined about sticking to your study timetable, spend half an hour to an hour studying Romanian, don't get stressed about things you can't change.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No

5. What countries did you visit?
UK (when I was living in Saudi), Jordan, Israel, Bahrain for an 8 hour stopover, Iceland, Moved to Romania and Moldova

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
More money. A plan.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Mid January, going home and being slightly shocked in Newcastle and miniskirted females openly grabbing their men. February, trips to go diving in the Red sea and seeing such prettiness I could hardly stand it, March, seeing displaced Palestinians in Israel. Finally getting the fuck out of Saudi, A great birthday in Edinburgh and 8th Sep, moving back to Romania. 13th Sep, meeting a couchsurfer who took a shine to me. We have been dating since.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Not being tempted by the money and getting the Hell out of a place I was really unhappy in.

9. What was your biggest failure?
 Spending too much, putting weight back on, failing to focus on study

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Gum infection and cystitis and an inflamed tendon

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Trips!!! Plane ticket home (in fairness this was reimbursed)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My chums :)

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Some people I thought had been my friends but weren't. Good luck to 'em. Bigots of all flavours, white, brown, Muslim and Christian.

14. Where did most of your money go?
books, travel, jewels

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Travel! Leaving Saudi.

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Comme d'habitude.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
a) Happier!!!!!!
b) Fatter
c) Poorer but frankly it's worth it..

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Improving my mind, writing

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Faffing

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Looking after My sisters kids.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
Become very fond of someone but I don't know if I love him.

22. How many one-night stands?
0

23. What was your favourite TV program?
Romanian cartoons which I have been watching/

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No

25. What was the best book you read?
The Lacuna, Siberian Education, The Romanian, The Electric Michaelangelo

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Not been a very musical year but I rediscovered Musica Populara

27. What did you want and get?
Love (or sex!), travel

28. What did you want and not get?
Saving

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
Legend of Barney Johnson, Star Wars, remastering of the Third Man, Inside Out. Song of the Sea. Not been a terribly intellectual year folm wise!.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
34. worked but some friends came to visit and their effort was the best present and we had a great time.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having saved more and a clearer idea of what I want to achieve.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Garish! as usual.

33. What kept you sane?
Concentrating on a happier future.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
None.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The election, the refugee Crisis

36. Who did you miss?
The family.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Lots of new people in Edinburgh

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
Don't look back.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
The Best things in life are free.

I end this year in a better place by far than I did last year. I feel much calmer though I have a feeling there will be storms ahead, at least I have had some time to replenish my energy. I am going out with someone and while it is going well I have my doubts about it being long term. Nonetheless It is nice to feel appreciated and also to know that I am loved by my old friends and people who really matter. There will be trouble in the world this next year, and perhaps love will be what we need most.
ibidbroascele: (Default)
I lack the philosophical tools for this, but the case in France made me think.

The Charlie Hebdo murders were wrong. Absolutely wrong, there is no questions of that.

 

Yet my mind hasn't been on that,, but the more abstract notion of goodness. More specifically, does goodness exist in the abstract? What is it? Like pornography 'we know it when we see it', but can it be defined at all? Theologians talk about the problem of evil, but surely then there is a problem with good?

 

 

Evil, as the character Ikonnikov in Grossman's Life and Fate writes, is not done in the name of evil, but in the name of good. So what is this 'good'?

There is good, as found in everyday kindness, affection, family. There is the common good where we do things to benefit everyone. We all want to think of the things we do as being good. What are our first experiences of 'good?' Our Mummies and Daddies tell us it is good to do certain things and so we do them. The child is told to share, the be gentle, to help around the house and she/he is rewarded by approbation. Do these instincts come spontaneously? Perhaps, but the child is amoral and must be guided. We all know how obnoxious a spoilt child is. Goodness is something to be trained.

But the child is told not to lie, and when she is given a present she does not like and says so she is told she has not been good because she has been rude. A boy sees his sister getting bullied and he goes and hits the bully. He has been bad, but in the name of good – protecting his sister.

There are too many compromises for good. In my youth I admired Tolstoy's ideals, how he tried to live a vision of pure Christianity. It is easy to try this in the abstract, but can we? The Gospel of St Matthew rather surprised me when I first read it, for in chapter 10 we find ““Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn

“ ‘a man against his father,

a daughter against her mother,

a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’c

37“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Strong words, completely contradicting what we are told about the importance of family, of compromise and so called Christian values. People who are good, inflexible in their values and beliefs, are exhausting. Impossible to love everyone as I suppose we would like to do, we do what can can to maintain social harmony. A person who gave all of his or her worldly wealth we do not value as a disinterestedly good person, but as a bit of a nutter. The societal norms are not being met.

What is goodness, except a means of imposing order on a formless, amoral and ultimately lonely and frightening universe? And what if those rules are as arbitrary as the chaos it is supposed to combat?

Perhaps it is no wonder we may get confused. This morning I was listening to a French guy who works at the UN talking about the importance of liberal democracy (that which we in the enlightened west consider to be 'Good' and where we have caused much bloodshed in its name in the Middle East, in charitable moods I think the wagers of war truly believed in this 'good') saying words to the effect of 'our lives may be endangered, but our democracy must never be', and somehow that makes me shiver, is any ideology worth a human life? What abstract good is worth dying or killing for? What is the difference between being killed for another country's democracy or being killed for offending the Prophet of Islam?

I don't like the word tolerance. It is a cold word, a clinical word, lacking the warmth of phrases like kindless, love, brotherhood. But these can be difficult to maintain, so perhaps the muted neutrality of tolerance is the best we can hope for, the only universal 'good' we can agree on.


 


 

 

 

 



ibidbroascele: (Default)
Probably the biggest thing I dislike about this country is the goldfish bowl aspect. Except for going to the souk where one may people watch happily for hours(an activity alas which taxi fares prohibit too often) it's not really a culture for a westerner, certainly not a female, to walk around in.
http://www.thecultureist.com/2012/12/12/expat-women-in-saudi-arabia-compound/
 There is a most telling quote at then end of this article

"I thought back to the conversation I had with a fifteen-year old Russian girl in our compound, who was born in Jubail and has never left except for yearly holidays back to St. Petersburg. “I don’t like Russia,” she confided. “There are too many people, too many cars, and they are all scary. It’s not safe out there, you know?” She then excused herself to go to meet a friend, running down the street of this picturesque village, an ersatz version of safety, a mirage of the real world."

I don't know how much of it is cultural and how much is to do with wealth. Women have never played a public role in this society, even in public the veil is a visible reminder of the internal privacy in which they are kept. And as previously noted family and tribe are everything. Most people only socialise and have fun within the family sphere. When I talk to my girls about what they like about Riyadh, they answer 'it's safe'.
I suppose it is, crime is low and they never have to go outside, they have their cars and malls. They never have to deal with what I really want to deal with - life.
I miss Life. I miss seeing corpses on the metro in Moscow, I miss the pang of sympathy upon seeing the disabled beggers of Bucharest and the frisson of fear at the packs of dogs. I miss the grannies selling flowers all over Eastern Europe, I miss the markets of Japan, the bustle of the city. I even miss feeling annoyed at the drunks coming out of British pubs on Friday and Saturday! I miss just walking on the street without it being slightly taboo, fishing for change for the bus, avoiding dog poo. I miss dirt and hurly burly.
But it makes me reflect on wealth and why it has this deadening effect. Why is it when people get rich they want to isolate themselves. It makes me wonder when I see the nice identikit houses to which the middle classes of the UK aspire, although at least they are not gated, that is for the really rich. Why do the wealthy wish to keep life out? Obviously there are security elements but i simply cannot understand why someone would eschew real life for beige banality.

2014 meme

Dec. 28th, 2014 10:47 am
ibidbroascele: (Default)
1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
Went to a bunch of new nations, had a random guy give me his number, one night stand, lost friends due to politics, went to a camel show, flown on a 13 hour domestic flight, nearly got arrested at a political rally, stood for hours outside the Belorusian embassy in Moscow, visited a Buddhist temple, seriously considered jacking in a job with no notice, had jewellery custom made, worn a niqab, visited a death camp, visited Niagara falls, gambled, went to Tomsk, went to Kamchatka. I will be going to an embassy party!

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Well, I worked hard and saved! But But then I spent it all. And I failed to read Das Kapital.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
A few friends

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Sergei Koshkovitch :(

5. What countries did you visit?
Russia and the UK (if they count), Spain, Belarus, Poland, Canada, the US, Saudi Arabia (I'm living there so I don't know if visit is the right word), Sri Lanka, Bahrain. It's been a record for new countries! And the airports at Doha and Beirut.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
More money, calm, a boyfriend

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
January, having fun with Mum in Barcelona, early March, when I was worried due to the invasion of Crimea and I saw my first arrest at a political rally and wondered what was with the Russia I loved. 22nd May, leaving Russia. End of August - Saudi.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Saving!

9. What was your biggest failure?
Losing students, Spending too much, putting weight back on

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Books and train tickets, a ticket to Sri Lanka and a trip to Bahrain.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My chums :)

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Politicians. People who I thought were my friends learning to dislike me because they thought because I didn't like Putin I hated Russia.

14. Where did most of your money go?
books, travel, jewels

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Travel!

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Family of the Year - Hero (for the delightful film Boyhood, and the rare feeling of optimism in the summer), Blixa Bargeld - what if

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
a) Sadder
b) Fatter
c) About the same.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Improving my mind, writing

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Faffing

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Marking and then in a car to Bahrain where I drank and danced the night away :)

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
I had my hopes up, but no.

22. How many one-night stands?
Two. One of which I had hoped wouldn't be...

23. What was your favourite TV program?
I didn't watch any tv. Game of Thrones I guess.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No

25. What was the best book you read?
Barracuda, The handmaid's tale, One Summer

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Discovering Blixa Bargeld's collaboration with Terho Teatro. The Kinks.

27. What did you want and get?
Money, travel

28. What did you want and not get?
Love

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
Calvary. Boyhood. Grand Budapest Hotel.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
33 I was working but I went for a curry with my friend in the evening.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Love, calmness.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Garish!.

33. What kept you sane?
Concentrating on a happier future.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Not saying.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Crimea, the Tory sell off of the NHS. Iron Dome and the Gaza shit.

36. Who did you miss?
The family.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
My new housemates here at the university.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
Take mental health over money.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Another year and then you'll be happy.

There have been a lot of highlights this year, but it's also been a year of emotional upheaval and bloody seismic shifts in my life.
My friendly, benevolent Russia showed her ugly side, I cannot say I like my new life in KSA much at all and I only hope I can last till June. I feel permanently on edge here and I hate the angry, sour person I am turning into. All my energy is concentrated on getting through the year.
I had some fun at a party in October with a guy but he has since been blowing cold so that's been a sadness lately.
One thankfulness is that my parents seem to be ok and my sister has a new job to enable her to spend more time with the kids. But I worry whenever I think of them.
Dreams of settling have seemed ever more elusive, I am gradually reconciling myself to the fact that stillness is going to be a pipe dream, maybe even forever and perhaps I should start looking at downsizing my life yet further.
I've got my beachball feeling again, where I am tossed on the waves and don't know what will happen - hoping only the sharks don't bite me nor the waves overpower and puncture me.
ibidbroascele: (Jump)
There are a lot of cats around our compound, although lately I have seen rather fewer of them.

I don't know who or what has done away with them but a chat with my flatmate this evening has made me reflect that it was certainly not curiosity.

In most countries I have been in, students ask me questions about my experiences in other countries, about me, what I think of their country. I really don't have conversations like that with my students. I will sometimes talk about the world outside and they might listen with interest. But as I have previously noted what I may talk about is tres limitee. A lot of the girls are obsessed with their phones, with their friends. One girl in my class reads (and in English) but books are in short supply and no one seems to mind.
Views are parroted. The other day I asked students what they liked about Riyadh, I was told 'because it is safe for women', no comment. As I normally don't wear a scarf when I go out I am frequently stared at by a lot of men and it's not a comfortable sensation. Someone tried to squeeze my mammary in the souk the other day. It's harassment such as could happen anywhere but I would certainly not describe this as a particularly safe place for a woman. i felt safer in Moscow. But because they have drivers and never walk how could it occur to them otherwise?
They also said because it is a good place for Muslims. I can understand that, many of my colleagues are Muslims and have opted to live here because they want to live in a Muslim nation. But it doesn't tend to foster critical thinking. I was fascinated the other day by my colleague, a Londoner of Yemani descent, talking about the gym and modesty. She was talking about how she didn't want to see flesh in the gym, how the body was a temple and we had to make sure not everyone has visual access to it. We must not incite desire and how showing flesh in the (all female gym) could potentially be alluring for lesbians (!) and then in the next sentence went on to say how she only wore subtle makeup - but why is she wearing make up in an all female university? why does she make an effort to dress nicely if she doesn't want to attract people? At least to me it was contradictory. Saudi girls are taught their Islam is the only correct way and regional differences are just plain wrong. According to this lady most schools spend a more than a quarter of school time teaching religion http://saudiwoman.me/category/education-2/
And then you get stuff like this http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/saudi-sharia-justice-1000-lashes-liberal-activist-bloggers.html#
Their faith is deeply held, but any questioning of any Saudi social more is considered questioning Islam.
I don't think it's entirely that. They are children after all and children don't question things. Indeed I would hate to be a thinking Saudi woman, I would be frustrated every day of my life.
ibidbroascele: (Princess)
I keep comparing the KSA, mostly unfavourably, to Russia. This is I think natural, I lived there for 3 years and I liked it, I do not like KSA. My job is absurd at best and I am counting down the 6 months till I can get the hell out of here.

But it has to be said they are not unalike in many ways.

1)Extreme weather. Extremes of heat and cold respectively.

2)A complete and utter inability to plan. In the Saudi instance, their history as desert people, nomads who did not know what one day would bring to the next. Their reliance was on the mercy of God. Even when I ask their students to bring their homework in it is always 'Inshallah'. Never definitely. Most of my colleagues interpret it as laziness. I feel it is a legacy of that time where who knew what the next day would bring. Unfortunately in a modern country which has developing infrastructure the ad hoc jigsaw approach isn't conducive to getting anything done. The whole country is being made up as it goes along as no one has ever before seen the need to think ahead.
For the Russians, living on hard land, they were at the mercy of God, the land owners, the Tsar or the state. poverty, and the despair of finding anything good in this life is etched deep in the Russian mentality. There is a veneer of prosperity but I think the events of this year will wipe it out. Why therefore plan and save? While this causes something I love about the Russians - a devil may care contempt for thinking about tomorrow, again this is not what we expect of a modern country. And I think it in part accounts for the mess they find themselves in atm.

3) A certain passivity, combined with a total lack of responsibility. This is related to the above point, taking charge of your own destiny? Playing an active role in the running of the country? Naaaah. let the wife/foreigner/Philippina maid/King/president deal with the crap.

4)A general contempt for the greater part of the population. Saudi society is deeply, deeply, deeply tribal. The saying is 'I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against the world'. If someone does something wrong their their tribe is impugned or even out and out insulted. Most people will marry their cousins, in the past it was a means of preserving resources. Now it's about honour. And woe betide anyone who offends honour! For the Russians, again the weight of history. No one has ever been quite sure who they would be able to trust, either in the village or round the table in a tiny Moscow kitchen. Liberals are justifiably rather terrified of their co nationals. And the government has always been very good at promoting divide and rule.

5)A difficulty dealing with obscene wealth. the Saudis have something of an edge over the Russians, of 40 years or so. The country has externally modernised but people really have more money than they know what to do with. Saudis get paid 2500 rial a month for just being Saudi. Women can fly their hairdresser over from Paris for an hour and think nothing of it. The wealth of course does breed insensitivity. In Russia (or rather Moscow) there is wealth a plenty. If you can afford a flat in the centre of Moscow you are either a gangster or an ex one. But because of point 4 above, there is not much charity or kindness exhibited by the rich of either country. But then rich people are generally dicks anyway.

6)'I hate my country, even so it is the best in the world and you can't say anything against it. Foreigners are less important, are ignorant and not worth anything if they have brown skin'.
Saudis will criticise their country, because of the lack of freedom, because of the lack of things to do. But they are Muslims and are proud of the fiercely Muslim laws of the country. Their land contains Mecca and Medina and God rewarded them with oil and wealth. They are arrogant, they ostensibly hold to values of charity and mercy yet the mass ranks of foreign workers are treated like something that came from the back end of a dog.
Russians love Russia. they will attack it and wonder why you live there and are all trying to emigrate, but they will defend rodina to the death. Their religion bares more resemblance to romantic nationalism than to Christianity. Dare to offer a critique of Russia and you are automatically anti Russian (and God I got into some rows with people over my last year there!). It seems you cannot be anti Putin but pro Russian. And that is one reason I felt I had to leave.
I was also really put out by the rudeness of a young Russian woman on the platform of Colombo fort station. We were waiting for a train and a Sri Lankan chap began chatting. the Russian girl kept complaining about the train and at one point interrupted the (extremely nice) man with an idiotic remark about how under Stalin the person in charge of a late train would have been shot. I don't know if she thought about it but I did not dignify her with a reply and for the first time saw why people hate Russians - and I am always the person to defend them.

These are the main things. Others of course, both very patriarchal (though Russian women are allowed to exist independently, yet they are complicit in being kept down which makes it worse). The women of both nations live to be approved of by men. Both obsessed with sex (openly or covertly). Both chaotic nations (though in the light of Saudi Russia is like Switzerland).
There are more differences than similarities (the main one I miss is the Russian students actually have some respect for teachers and a genuine reverence for learning. and there is an anarchic streak to Russian culture which I miss) but it's funny how some of the fundamentals are the same between such different cultures.
ibidbroascele: (Default)
It is hard, working as I do at *insert name of extremely large female only university in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia* to avoid the conclusion that education is happening despite the young ladies in question attending tertiary education rather than because of it.

It is a matter of some debate as to whether the whole edifice was in fact set up as an impediment to the cause of feminine education. I don't know if I would go that far but to say that I believe the university is a long way from achieving the international accreditation it seeks is something of an understatement.

To start with, the University is vast. The student population is two thirds the size of my home town, you would have thought in this case that administrative efficiency would be paramount right?

Wrong.

The Oleagenous Oligarch's Daughters are admitted but no testing was done for some time. Classes seem to rise and fall with the waxing and waning of the moon. I have been teaching for coming up to 6 weeks now and I am already on my third class due to numerous cock ups, false starts and seemingly arbitrary decisions on the part of the Powers that Be. I am most excessively weary at the moment due to compulsory cover duty, there are not enough teachers to cover the numbers required. Apparently no one in charge thought to calculate numbers of staff required before the commencement of the academic year. Not all of the staff are even qualified or experienced.

Let's move onto impediments of teaching. The classrooms are equipped with expensive audio visual equipment to ensure a modern learning experience. Most of it doesn't actually work. The e-podiums are quixotic, I never quite know how to log into them and regrettably the university authorities have chosen materials which require a lot of singing and dancing technology, when we would be far better served by whiteboard markers and a cd player.
The university library is a vast edifice, having cost, I think. a sum running into the billions to build, it does not contain a single book. While I can appreciate that, owing to the peculiarities of the country I am in, books must be vetted I would have at least expected a trickle of books or at the very least a system Whereby only certain students can access certain texts (for example medical or art students). Naaaaah, Saudis don't read (actual quote from a student).
Another vexation is the amount of paperwork. I spend 20 minutes taking the register because I have to do the main copy as well as supervising the students signing their name in the official book. I have to ask girls who come in late to wait because I have to be careful about drawing a line at the bottom to mark latecomers. I am dreading getting the spreadsheets for marking as I fear this will also eat up time. However the admin must be done just so, or I will get fired. Never  mind that I am experienced and I got a good report for my observation, the admin is apparently more important than teaching and learning which I own I find somewhat trying.

There are cultural factors at play. One of the joys of my job is being able to have conversations about our different cultures. This is somewhat circumscribed at the moment, as I am working in a government institution I must abode by the law of the land. Politics and religion are Out as they would be anywhere, yet I am not allowed to answer a simple question about my religion of lack thereof. Topics such as festivals of different countries, including such international things as birthdays, are haram (non Islamic y'see, a teacher was fired last year when her students threw an impromptu birthday party for her...). I may not discuss music (as it's a distraction from God, a prohibition which the students themselves have no qualms whatsoever about ignoring), I don't draw on the board as I am not sure if stick men would break the ordinance on not showing the human image (but the King's portrait everywhere and on banknotes is ok for some reason which actually makes me rather angry - it is a direct violation of the rules). I am in another country as a guest and I must respect its rules, I am happy to - but when the rules are freely trampled on by the girls it does seem a little hard that I  have to be stricter in obeying them than they are. I don't like not being able to have a free discussion and open their horizons. I cannot speak of voting or driving and any anecdote talking of 'my friend' has to have female pronouns.
The final vexation comes from the fact I am teaching young women who are at best immature. An erudite - Saudi-  taxi driver last week told me that i have to take off 5 years of age from any Saudi, this means I am teaching a lot of 12 and 13 year olds with the equivalent behavior patterns. If I am explaining something I may well be interrupted by 'Teacher can I go bathroom'? even if I am explaining something. I am constantly being badgered to let them leave early. If students are a certain number of hours late then they are forbidden from taking their exams to allow them to proceed and a frequent inquiry is the number of absent hours so they can calculate how much they can bunk off (I refuse to divulge...). I regularly have to confiscate phones and other accouterments. And this is a higher level. At lower levels one student even told her teacher 'we don't come to learn, we come to see our friends'.

And yet I don't blame them. In a society where a woman is not a legal adult and is denied the opportunity to develop is it any wonder they are overgrown children? When their horizons have been so narrow it is natural for them to be obsessed with trivia.
When the alternative is being bored at home or waiting for Dad to arrange a marriage, who would not choose to take any opportunity to get out? Some are already married with kids (or expecting them) and it might be the only time they can get out. i supect also there is a finishing school element. If we are to believe Indian matchmakers men are increasingly after women with education (but not as much as men obviously) and so it would not surprise me if this is the case in the Arab world.

But I continue to be surprised. Before the break we were doing a project on the hopes and dreams of the Saudi people, most of the girls wrote essays leaving no doubt of their feelings - they had dreams. They wanted them and they wanted to play a part on building a bteer country. Most felt keenly that men often stopped them doing what they want and were unambiguous in decrying this.

If I am to be honest, I am here for the money and that is what stops me quitting this frankly ridiculous job. But I also try to focus on these on the whole likable young women, and reflect that I am a window to the world. Some of the young women I feel could be really remarkable characters, they have to be. They have to battle with so much more than I have ever had to, and if I can inspire even one girl to change this appalling country, well!
ibidbroascele: (Wounded Angel)
I must own I have been feeling a bit down this week. I don't know what I;m doing, nor do the students. I feel very restless and unsettled and I haven't really bonded with anyone. A lot of disperate personalities thrown together, last night there was an argument over semantics and that got uncomfortable quickly. I hate the restrictions on movement that I have and i haven't got used to it yet. I cannot say that I like this country. This half life.

And today, horrible news, my cat has been hit by a car and killed. No one's fault, the stupid cat never had much road sense but all of a sudden everything has come to the surface. I don't know what I was thinking coming to this stupid country (actually yes, money!). I feel lost and floating in a strange and vaguely hostile void. Actually, not hostile just profoundly indifferent and in its indifference, threatening. I don't know the language or the rules or have the influence to make them not matter. I still don't quite know whom I can trust here.Half of me thinks it has to get better, the other half just wants to do something stupid and deliberately get fired as a fuck you to the whole sodding place.

What now?
ibidbroascele: (Default)
Yesterday was a long, long day.
After the usual fitful and meloncholy last night I was dropped on the bus to London where I was sat with a group of youngsters who were full of plans for the bank holiday in London and discussing Richard Attenborough and coconut milk among other related topics.

Enjoyed a last cider at both Victoria and Heathrow (always best to be slightly drunk before a flight I feel) and set off via Lebanon.
Judging from my short stay at the airport I think I would like Lebanon. The pastries at the duty free looked ravishing and generally the area has a rich history of culture and elegance. And the airport bookshop sold both Richard Dawkins and a volume about the future of Zionism which considering the region astonished me.

The flight to Riyadh was mercifully boring considering we were flying over Syria. The airport was gracious with fountains and elegant windows resembling Islamic latticework. The bloke at the passport counter asked why I had bothered covering my hair at that stage! Then a long surreal journey along the motorway past petrol stations and half built Mosques with DESERT stretching out. Finally got to bed at 4 am!
ibidbroascele: (Default)
In a very few days, a new adventure awaits me. Saudi Arabia. i applied for a job on spec and I got it, and as the pay is good and it's only for 9 months and I got so sick of all the flap doodle applying for a job in Korea involved I took it.

To say I don't know what to expect is an understatement. I will not be able to go out and do as I please, I won't be able to get a drink where and when I want it (though realistically it's not going to do me an iota of harm!). Interacting with strangers will be even stranger than usual, I will be in the expat bubble and as ex pats are frequently a rather odd bunch (I speak from experience here...) this will I suspect be a mixed blessing.

As always, I am intensely amused by concerned friends and family urging me to be careful. Of what? I am not going to import porn, booze or pork, I always keep a low profile when away and while the middle east is mad, in Riyadh the only concern I have is all consuming boredom.
I will bring books and notebooks and films (I hope they don't want to look at all the hard drives!). I want to get on with some painting and writing. I trust there will be internet and vpns. I can call upon my own resources and I hope this will make up for the lack of physical freedom.

On the whole I don't have a bad feeling about it. I am actually looking forward to going to a country where few are allowed to venture and i hope and pray i will be able to explore the desert and see the stars. It'll be fascinating to be away from home and experience a ways of life so ostentatiously not on the pattern of the west. I am a little nervous but i do feel it's the right move at the moment. Let's see.
ibidbroascele: (Wounded Angel)
On my travels by bus and train, I generally wish I could alight at the pleasant and nondescript small towns and villages through which I pass. The small city of Osweicim in western Poland is one such place I would have liked to visit. It has many points of interest: a castle, many old churches, what looks to be a very attractive market place and a new shopping centre. I wanted to go because I did not want to go to the century old army barracks on the edge of town. Engaged as I am in the agreeable task of uploading my holiday snaps onto facebook, yet I wanted to write more of a commentary on Auschwitz for it is not a place of pretty pictures. I could have taken many more than I did yet I felt I simply couldn't bring myself to perform my usual touristic voyeurism. Weeks after going it haunts me. I would not have gone but my parents, with whom I was meeting in Krakow, suggested it so I agreed out of interest rather than desire. So we (my parents and I along with a Polish American family) drove in a comfy tour bus with our guide, a nice man who chatted with me about his upcoming trip to Scotland, watching a video about the place. The entrance was reassuringly bland, a car park, a visitor's centre with a few snack machines and even the gate to hell didn't look too threatening, my mother remarked how small it was in the flesh. The sickest joke in the world? The interior of the barracks was actually quite warm because of course they had been built to house soldiers, though certainly the bunks were narrow and the canvas sacking bedding looking none too comfy. In all the rooms the usual pictures of the descrimination against the Jews, the rounding up of the Roma, and a quite horrifying map showing how far the ghastly cattle trucks travelled. Painful geography In this room was an urn of ashes, all that was preserved of 1.1 million souls. A man with a yarmulke was rapt, he caressed it, touched with with his forehead, gazed longingly at it, he would have climbed in if he could. A whole room of mugshots, the earliest prisoners. The mother of the American family saw a photograph of a woman who shared a surname with her mother. For a moment I wondered if her ghost walked by. Upstairs were personal effects. Hundreds of suitcases, glasses, fashionable ladies' shoes. I found it almost unbearably poignant that someone had thought to pack a cheese grater. Most awful of all were the broken dolls and other toys, the sight of which caused me almost physical anguish and which make me shudder just thinking of it. Blurred suitcases Unused cups and plates In another room, a whole wall full of women's hair, all braided in the manner I usually do my own. The hair was sold for 50 pfennigs a kilo. 50 pfennigs for however many murders make up a kilo of hair. 50 Pfennigs. The hair was used to make cloth. Analysis of said cloth shows traces of Zyklon B. The dwelling of the Kapo We moved on to block 11. This was where torture and executions were carried out. It felt chilly in there, the decor remains unchanged from the 40s. I was glad that the place was so full we couldn't linger. Next door, block 10, was Mengele's lair. The windows are blocked off completely. It is closed to all, for which I am glad. Nothing would induce me to go in there. Nothing. The gate to the shooting area. Hell Bunks And so we made our way round, I began feeling more ghosts at my back. Perhaps it was my fancy, I am unconvinced at the existence of the supernatural but I am certain that suffering permeates the ground and bricks. I could hear lorries driving by and began to want to run back outside. Our last stop was the one remaining gas chamber - converted to be a bomb shelter just before liberation. Hoess was hanged right by it. As we walked in I allowed myself to pause and think of the gloomy atmosphere, and then in the chamber itself I looked up and felt a wave of utter, utter terror, a kind of sympathetic revelation of what the souls must have realised when they became aware that it wasn't water coming from the shower heads. I literally couldn't stay in there and I ran outside sobbing. Later at Birkenau I found I couldn't stand too close to the demolished crematoria there.Demolished crematoria mother meanwhile found it difficult to walk down the railway line The gate This would have been the last thing many people would ever have seen. Cattle truck My parents both have difficulty walking. Throughout the whole tour I had a vision of us arriving. Mum, Dad, sister and my 2 nieces would have been taken immediately for the 'shower', if my brother and I had been 'lucky' we would have been put to work, but probably only to die more slowly. Dad didn't join mum and me at Birkenau as he had found the walking too much and I wished with my heart I could have joined him. Birkenau is an evil place. The chimney stacks make it seem doubly frightening phantoms of barracks And the interior of each barrack was oppressive The shelves, the excuse for sleeping quarters The toilet block And so the tour ended. Dad was exchanging some pleasantries with the guide, who shed his serious face and became quite genial and we drove back to merciful normality. The following day we went home. in the evening I went for a walk and realised something. In the fields close to home there were some wild flowers and lots of bees, Birkenau is covered with clover, vetch and other tempting bee food yet I did not see or hear a single insect. Mother noted there were no birds nesting in the long grass.

Fractions.

Apr. 16th, 2014 05:51 pm
ibidbroascele: (Horizon)
Today, I received horrible confirmation of what I have suspected for several weeks but had been hoping was just the light in the bathroom. Near my forehead, peeping out admit what I thought was an unbroken sheen of brown, were several grey hairs.
Ok it's not the end of the world and you can't really see them unless you are a) me or b) looking very closely but it is making me feel old.
Some weeks ago, I had to have passport photos taken for a visa. The last time these were done my face was full and lineless. This time, having lost quite a bit of weight and being some years older, lines were more clearly visible. I looked even worse than one generally does in these pictures.
I will be a third of a century old this year. It seems somehow more significant than 30, a rather meaningless fraction. A full third.
I will have been menstruating (therefore biologically adult) for 23 years. I will have been a wearer of glasses for 20. It will have been 15 years since leaving school. 15 years of being a legal adult, being able to vote, have a bank account, do what the hell I please. Half of my adult life has been spent lived outside the UK – soon probably to be more than that as I plan to teach in Korea for a year to earn muchos money before going back to Uni, that's the plan anyway. Though my plans never quite go where I want them to. Hell I have even lived in Russia for 3 years and it's a shock to realise that things I did in Edinburgh are almost a decade ago when it only seem like yesterday.

And what have I done with my life? I compare myself to people I know from my past lives (which seem so divorced from my current reality) and people whom I admire and what have I got to show? I don't have a home of my own. I have never been in love. I have fancied people and been very fond of some sure (and even had sex with 2 of them) but feeling as though I wanted to be with someone forever? No. I still don't quite know what I want to do with the rest of my life, everything I do seems to be a stepping stone for something else, and I do so want a final destination.
But then I have been craving that for a long time already. Even before I began to be old.
When I was 9, I began middle school in Bury. One Sunday, I went to the playground in my village which is near the primary school in Ixworth and even though I had only been at my new school for a week or two I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. I knew even then there were people whom I would in all likelihood only see a few times again, if ever at all. I had the sense of leaving my old life behind and being set on course for something rather uncontrollable, a little frightening but also utterly inexorable. Ok as a 9 year old I would not have thought of it even remotely in those terms but I do remember thinking vividly 'is this the world I left behind?'
Sometimes on the metro in the mornings when I am trapped at interesting angles between people I remember there will come a time when all this is as unreal as primary school, as the endless grey days of middle school (where I can never remember the sun shining), as university, as all of my past lives. And then I feel a pang for the endless metro rides even as I am on them, I suppose fundamentally I am nostalgic in temperament.
I don't know if I will ever stop, it is the age we live in where there are no certainties. Countless people are in no better a position than I so I am not such a freak as I would have been in my parents' day And for every day I wish I could be still I know full well there would be an equivalent day that, were I not moving, I would resent it bitterly.
At least I am growing old. I am in pretty good health. For the first time in my adult life I am solvent so I have a few options. And we live in an age of hair dye if those naughty hairs decide to change colour again.
On second thoughts it would be rather brilliant if my hair matched my silver jewellery...
ibidbroascele: (Wounded Angel)
Doubtless all my readers will have been awaiting with baited breath my commentary on the situation in Russia. Well hardly but I am going to write something anyway.

I was surprised when Putin went into the Crimea, perhaps foolishly because he has in the past called it effectively a Micky Mouse state but I thought the proximity to the EU would frighten him off. I was wrong.

2 weeks ago on Sunday 2nd March I went to the centre of Moscow. Why? Because there was a demonstration against the invasion. As my flatmate and I approached the square it was empty and we wondered if it had been called off. There were a few other folk but certainly no more than usual - but then I noticed the police vans and a woman with a Ukrainian flag in her coat. More people came in. I have been to a couple of demonstrations in Russia before but here there were no parties under a banner. Mostly the opposition in Russia is organised on party lines and people tend to stay with their tribe, chanting their own mantras during these things but here was a disperate mass of people who had only one simple thing to say 'no war'.
And for this people were arrested. I witnessed no violence, no behaviour among the peaceful protesters which would have outraged no one in calmer times. the police were swift and while not brutal, certainly not friendly.
There were light moments. At one point the police tried to arrest an elderly lady and NTV tried to record this but the crowd pushed them down.
About an hour in the crowd had grown so large that different groups started yelling and confounding the police who were going for people who were yelling  - but then they started targeting randoms instead. I had already been told once to go but when the cops grabbed a man who was just standing there not one metre away from me I got scared and left.

The Russian government has been selling the tale that they are there to protect the oppressed ethnic Russians of Ukraine and Crimea and the oppressed Russians of Russia have been buying the line. The Kremlin has been using the half truths in the way it does so well to justify its actions by emphasising the fact that many in the new cabinet are fascists (and certainly I am no fan of the new government and am convinced only of their determination to fuck up Ukraine without the Kremlin's help) and that the EU and US have been funding the opposition for years (no doubt true but what about Putin and Yanakovitch???.

Putin's actions have won him great popularity - not that he needed it riding high on the tide of the olympics. And yet, and yet the senseless arrests that I saw do not fit in with this. The arrests to me indicate the actions of a state desperate to cower people. Putin has long been a master of divide and rule - that there is no viable opposition in this country is testament to that. In this country fear has always been the means by which power is maintained.
But Russians must admit their role. Yesterday i was talking with a Russian friend and I said that in my opinion Russians were profoundly individualistic. For the most part they don't feel as though the rules don't apply to them and that there is always the sense that 'it is someone else's problem - I will not take responsibility' and she agreed. I know some people who honestly believe in the restoration of the monarchy. One of the things I love about Moscow - the devil may care sense that the world will end tomorrow so let's all have some fun - is not really the healthiest way to go.
Democracy, the social contract, relies on the willingness of the citizen to deal with rules and engage with the issues and I don't think most Russians are. Perhaps it's a defence mechanism, perhaps it is the national fatalism.
Perhaps it's simply due to the fact the country is too damn big. If a small country like mine can be divided into 2 nations then what about this one? Historically the Russian peasantry didn't really relate to Rodina but to their local community and the only unifying factor was the Tsar so perhaps it remains true. When it is completely unaffordable for many outside the capital to travel to the cities, when Muscovites would rather go on holiday to Turkey than Sochi because it's cheaper, is it any wonder there is a profound national dissonance? Is the KGB tsar the only thing to unify the people?

I am frightened about the current situation. I am worried about my savings and my status as a semi legal migrant worker. I am worried about a new cold war. But my strongest feeling is actually one of pain. Despite everything I love this country. I love the madness, the disorder, the stillness when the snow falls, the old women selling flowers at the metro, the cheeky guys in improvised lada taxis, the drunken abandon, my friends, (some of) my students, my colleagues, the chatty woman at the fruit stall who is convinced that despite all the evidence I know Russian. I love them, I love this.
And it hurts me to think people are having the truth distorted. It hurts me to think that the world is going to tar all Russians with the same brush - the exasperating but deeply lovable people I live among. It pains me to reflect that these are the ones who will bear the brunt of sanctions and boycotts rather than the rich fuckers who will get away with murder as ever. They deserve better.

I hope this is the beginning of the end for Putin. I wonder if he is going to overreach himself and if people will begin to question him, especially if sanctions bite. But being a pessimist i doubt it, so all I have to do is mourn for my beloved Russia which has been so good to me.

ibidbroascele: (Default)
1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?
Took a train from Tallinn to Moscow, Flown with an animal, Went freelance. Visited a bunch of places, it hasn't been that kind of year really

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Well, I worked hard and saved! But I failed to make any headway with Russian.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
A few friends

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No

5. What countries did you visit?
Russia (if that counts), the UK (if that counts!) France, Finland, Estonia

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
More money, calm, a boyfriend

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
May holidays, going to Kostroma, June, flying with the cat the the UK

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Saving! Losing quite a lot of weight

9. What was your biggest failure?
Losing students, Spending too much, eating too mush over xmas

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A cold, Banging my toe so badly the other day that it literally turned purple (it's ok now!)

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Books and train tickets and JEWELS!!!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My chums :)

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Politicians

14. Where did most of your money go?
books, travel, jewels

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Sergei Koshkovich Imbirov :D (the cat), TRAVEL!

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
Bloodflowers, (for then I was feeling really depressed in October), MeNaiset the Bride's Weeping for the clear and beautiful days in February

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
a) I don't knw if I am happier or sadder. I feel discontent but not really sad.
b) Thinner :)
c) Richer :)

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Improving my mind, writing

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Faffing

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I went to church, sang carols and spent the day with my family

21. Did you fall in love in 2013?
Nope.

22. How many one-night stands?
none

23. What was your favourite TV program?
Science club, Doctor who

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No

25. What was the best book you read?
North of the DMZ, The the mountains echoed, Comrade Pavlik, The lion sleeps tonight, My Traitor's Heart

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Rediscovering the Cure, Menaiset

27. What did you want and get?
Money

28. What did you want and not get?
Love

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
Nothing really stands out. 12 years a slave was very good.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
32, I ate fish and chips at Dunwich with my parents and then drank cider. Same as ever.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Love, calmness.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
The usual but more boring.

33. What kept you sane?
Reading, the internet, my cat and my friends.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Not saying.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The continued rape of the poor by the Tories. The massive discrimination of Caucasians based in Moscow. NSA

36. Who did you miss?
The family.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Tim, Katya, The people I met in Bristol were all awesome.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
Keep on moving.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
I've been working like a dog.

It hasn't been a bad year for me, though I know it has for a lot of my dear ones. I've felt stressed. I am slightly dreading next year as I must actually do something about the future, I really want to get out of ESL in the next 4-5 years but I'm scared to think about retraining and/or writing.
I'd like more time for study and improvement. But I have to earn and that must be my priority for now. It's like I can see a light at the end but it's a long way ahead. I have also felt lonely this autumn, this Christmas being with my family has been driving me mad and while I love them it's clear I can best stand them at a distance. I want my own family and since losing weight I have had more admiration but nothing much has come of it. I've been daydreaming about unattainable figures but not real people. I honestly don't know how people do it. I should give off less independent vibes! I suspect this year is also going to be a lonely one. Let's see, I can do nothing more.

Madiba

Dec. 6th, 2013 11:52 pm
ibidbroascele: (Wounded Angel)
Let me say first and foremost that I have the utmost admiration for Mandela. He fought bravely throughout his life,was a model of clemency upon victory and left the world a better place than he found it. Who among us will be able to boast as much upon our demise?
Nonetheless I am bracing myself for a lot of sentimental guff in the next few days and goodness only know what is going to happen in South Africa. The ANC has not exactly distinguished itself in recent years, with Jacob Zuma proving corrupt and Julius Malema's own racism threatening to undo all the good and trust that has been achieved. It has been eroding its moral capital for some time now but as the party of Mandela and the struggle it continues to have a hold over many South Africans. It could be argued that it is time for a period in opposition. But symbolism is a dangerous thing, facts can be forgotten and the ANC will legitimately use Mandela in its future campaigns.
Mandela showed great mercy and this must never be forgotten. Nonetheless he is relentlessly sentimentalised as a kind of secular Jesus/Gandhi/Angel hybrid however he was a man and like most me, well, pretty flawed actually. By all accounts he was a beast to his first wife, I am told would have got rid of a lot of the (white) civil service after his election but for agreements he made with FW De Klerk (which, to be fair, he kept to) and advocated the use of violence and terrorism in the apartheid struggle. This is a difficult one, for while I think I can comprehend the frustration and agony black South Africans had to go through (though as a middle class white Brit I would never presume 100% that I could) on principle I don't think violence is a good idea. It was bourne of desperation but in the end I think it merely hardened the attitude of many in power who might (though not definitely, definitely not definitely) might just have had a little sympathy, for apartheid was a doctrine of utter putrid folly and repugnance which anyone with half a brain cell or fragment of compassion should have repelled and rejected. On the whole terrorism merely plays into the hands of the people in power, enabling them to claim that 'x is evil because s/he uses violence. Therefore we are justified in oppressing them' (as can be seen among out glorious leaders vs Islamists today alas). And violence merely breeds violence. South Africa is an incredibly violent country, I believe the violence to be a result of poverty, fear and a lack of mobility but also due to the expectation of hostility which creates a defensive terror, a nation of cornered rats. The campaign of the 60s was symptomatic of this latter point but also I would argue helped to perpetuate it, continuing the bloody cycle which began when the Dutch landed and continues to this day.
What brought about the end of apartheid was the power of thought. The campaigns of the oppressed (and their friends) had an effect. They changed minds. De Klerk deserves credit for though he was reluctant to negotiate with the ANC he did it and did the right thing calling for free elections. I would argue it was Robbin Island that really made Mandela. It turned him into the symbol of oppression and earned the world's sympathy. It prepared him for his role and let's face it, who could have played it better? The fact that Mandela had imperfect humanity isn't noteworthy. What is is that, despite the awful conditions of prison, he kept it. I don't know how far I could keep my humanity if I were hated because of the amount of melanin in my skin, let alone make friends with my gaolors.
Today is a sad day. But what is sad is not the death of Madeba but that South Africa s still a mess. I hope attention will be paid to building on his legact rather than empty tribute.

Life

Nov. 20th, 2013 06:56 pm
ibidbroascele: (Default)
I keep wondering if I am a bad daughter and sister.

A big part of me wonders if I should go home and help with my sister's childcare. I am always exasperated with my sister and yet sympathise with her present plight and yet feel angry when she takes her anger out on our mother.

I really do not want to go back to the UK right now and I would hate not having regular work or income and it would drive me mad to be in the family circle all the time. But I know they are so stressed right now I almost feel it's my duty. I feel guilty about being the favoured child when I am far away and not there physically. Am I being selfish to put my own life first? Am I wrong for favouring my mother over my sister when in my head I know I simply cannot look at it objectively and there aren't really any sides to chose? Was I a bad kid for relishing my place as favourite child and hurting my siblings?
I know I am not responsible for their relationship, at least I keep telling myself that. I also keep telling myself that I mustn't waste my 30s as I did my 20s. But sometimes it really doesn't sink in.

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