Pellegrina's Notebook

"In art, as in love, instinct is enough."

Category: Journeying

At year’s end is the beginning

“Life is the game that must be played, this truth at least, good friends, we know; so live and laugh, nor be dismayed as one by one the phantoms go.” Arthur Rubenstein

I used one of those Facebook apps today to compile my year in a sum of statuses (stati?) – a stream of wisdom, irrelevance,  sometimes frustration, sometimes delight and just plain fun. This macro nostalgia made me think of the very real surprises, joys and disappointments of my life in the year past, which actually awoke a deep contentment in my spirit. For the year that is now burning out has been singularly replete with a joy I can barely describe, just as the year that preceded it was a year of shadow, doubt and sadness. In the first weeks of 2010 my spirit began to slowly resume its former poise and I was lifted through circumstances into the light again. I think I must have been karmically rewarded as I have no other explanation for such a contrast. As Rumi said – ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you’ and so the hollowness and loss I felt in January and February turned to enlightenment and joy.

Music and love did indeed return to my life and sit with me here as I write, and I thank love itself ultimately, for music can only shine most brilliantly through it.   But I must also thank  those special friends of old and the wonderful people new to my life who have been such a gift for me in learning to ‘keep the faith’. One especially…

Also today and very much related to this, Jess Duchen reminded me of the great romantic pianist Arthur Rubenstein, who upon a similar contrast of fate set upon a life of loving the world he created, for nothing brings about a miracle in time as much as unconditional love. His philosophy, as he attests above, was to live, laugh and play the game.

So I wish you all a new year of light and joy – but above all love life, for as AR promises, it will love you back!

Here is the man himself playing the exquisite Grieg concerto 2nd movement – a rare diamond in the snow.

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Gathering stardust and butterflies

Nice, a good while ago, on an orchestra/choir tour, abandoned in an abrupt and vicious manner by my boyfriend, a violinist friend comforting me, though he was a little tipsy (as was I, as well as incredibly tearful) said some unforgettable words which have marked me since.  I paraphrase slightly: “Barbara – when you give out so much love, one day, if not now, it will come back to you.” AB’s philosophy has come to my mind in the intervening years many times. It is the idea of ‘love karma’. But the memory also elicits the fact that we musicians are strange lot – wayward and romantic all of us, whether we think we are or not (I am a Leo so this is certain! ). Because there is not one note that moves the soul that was not written with a heart of fire, the music we issue drawing out all our desire and passion, stirring us sometimes into very unexpected journeys.

In the years since Nice (a particularly raucous ECYO tour with the Britten War Requiem), my life has spun and turned in this fashion all sorts of ways – the ‘love karma’ floating in, and sadly out. No stronger an example could I give than the past year. I don’t want to bore you with it, but it is almost exactly a year on since my life took on shades of explosive drama and intense emotional pain. I am bound to consider where I was then, and where I am now. In my earlier post in May  https://pellegrina4.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/gathering-stardust-%e2%80%93-living-with-spirit/ I spoke of my rebirth into hope –  my ‘love karma’ rewarding me with joy and perspective again. I also knew that my innate creativity, ostensibly musical – the sense of profound inner joy I receive from music was pulling me out of the listless loneliness I felt. I know that love and music are completely intertwined for me. Both are powerful forces of destiny, both give immutable pleasure and a reassurance that colours all of life.

Since I wrote that post, I have realised that not all is perfect but that I am still receiving my ‘love karma’ – what I have given and what I give now to the things and people that move me is refining my destiny. And my voice, well, my voice feels like it has arrived in a very good place indeed. I am brimming full of ideas and energy and I have hope that, though all is not as I would wish, I am going to find a happy place to be and share that with some special people and a special someone. I know I am. To celebrate this, and another birthday, I am getting a small, pretty tattoo – of a butterfly. The butterfly represents reinvention, reincarnation, the metamorphosis of dark to light. No other symbol so defines my journey to this place. Like the aria I quote in my earlier post  perhaps I should live by the mantra – Io sono l’amore! For as brim full of music I am, love is never far away. It always returns. My butterfly celebrates this hope. Let’s hope it doesn’t hurt too much – what a metaphor for love is that!

One hundred hours of forgetting – a thousand years of memory

We can all do this.  Maybe these moments are all that matter – maybe they form the soul. This is just an exercise in forgiving time for moving on, changing and changing us; for it really doesn’t matter when the exuberant or delicate pictures of our senses touched and moved mark the beginning and end of us. These moments are our immeasurable experience of a lively and sensual world and a reminder that we are born to be only our essence – disparate, passionate and free.

There may be hundreds, there may be ten. Here are some of mine in no order, just as I feel them come back to me:

Chartres Cathedral. Aged six. The impact of stained glass. I wept.

Seeing the Hrad across the Charles Bridge in Prague for the first time, in moonlight.

Paddling in coral sand, aged seven, Connemara, Ireland.

The Bach Concerto for Two Violins. Largo. Always as if I would float away.

The scent of lilac.

Singing The Chorus Mysticus in Mahler 8, conducted by Klaus Tennstedt.

Under a lemon tree with a lover on Hydra.

My true ‘inner smile’ revisiting me, not that long ago, looking into the azure sky across the Thames,  listening to Chopin.

First day in Florence two years ago – breathing in liberty.

Discovering Beethoven piano sonatas, aged 12.

My mother’s embrace.

Evening in the Piazza Bra in Verona, after performing Rossini in the Arena.

Moments when I live inside the worlds I have created in my books. Knowing their colours, music and fragrance.

Sunset: pink, peach and refulgant, anywhere.

A voice – the most silken sounding rich voice.

The opera Garnier,  Paris. Always.

A beautiful head resting on me.

Ladurée macarons crumbling into my lap sitting on the Pont des Arts.

THE kiss… I’ll say no more…

~Et in Arcadia ego~



Gathering stardust – living with spirit

Fu in quel dolore
che a me venne l’amor!
Voce piena d’armonia e dice:
“Vivi ancora! Io son la vita!
Ne’ miei occhi è il tuo cielo!

It was then, in my grief,
that love came to me!
And murmured in a sweet, melodious voice
“You must live! I am life itself!
Heaven is in your eyes!

In the past few weeks I have experienced the reawakening of something that had remained elusive to me for the last few years as life pulled me into a difficult and traumatic personal situation. While I struggled to cope there were certainly moments of clarity and hope but until the curtain had been drawn on it I could not see what it really was. The immense sense of loss I felt for the great joy I had been given only to have it brutally taken away was as palpable as the death of someone very close well before their time.  This joy itself had been hard won after years of struggle and was then so appallingly lost. I had called it my ‘rose domino’ moment –  inspired by the sight of hundreds of toppling red dominoes I had seen once on French TV – the sense of release – the culmination of building something into a moment of intense spiritual unity, freedom and relief. But it was gone.

Day after day I keened for its return but nothing came back and I had to painfully turn the leaves of time and deal with the immense void its loss left. However, as this blog might occasionally testify, I did feel I had some form of spiritual strength growing inside of me.  It was only when I reached the strange culmination of events earlier this year that I realised that the journey had elicited in me strengths I did not know I possessed. The only challenge that remained to me was to trust my capacity for love and to trust once again in all those I would allow close.  For me, to close off the spirit of love is to close off life and that spirit is the same that allows words and music to flow through me. That was the difficult part. However, in the last few months  I have  begun to see the light that had withdrawn from me return through the unquiet of my own noisy spirit – through my creativity, through these words I write, in the notes I sing and I play, and my courage began to return.

I saw the film ‘I am Love’ recently, Tilda Swinton and Luca Guadagnino’s tribute to classic Italian cinema, and absorbed its theme of the rebirth of  a suppressed identity through memory, desire and love. It takes its title from the aria La Mamma Morta (some of the words of which are above) in Giordano’s opera Andrea Chenier. The Countess de Coigny recalls that in the darkest moments of her despair and grief the voice and spirit of love awakens her hope.  If I had not clung to this hope myself my victory might have been unnoticed but the truth is that nothing dies to us, it is only born again in a new form.  Nor is true happiness  found in outer success, material possessions, laurels and rewards  – some things I have, others I did and lost, and some I have not at all. Joy is the triumph of creative journeying with every step laced through with the spirit and hope of love.  There is no ‘art’ in itself, there is just the art of living with creative imagination and without love, and the hope of love,  that cannot breathe. My faith has already proven itself – I am my own joy and Heaven is in my eyes.

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

Jalal-al-Din Rumi

I want you to know

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

~Pablo Neruda~


It is that day when we honour an obscure Roman martyr who has little to do with the romantic love we all yearn for, but is attached to a clumsy, commercial holiday pervasively marked by vulgar pink clouds of hearts and cheap roses. However, we all know that romantic love deserves so much more than that and so I have edited this post to honour the day my way, with Pablo’s help.

This is my favourite love poem – it captures the memory of love as well as its warming hope, its succour, its aching poignancy, and most of all its truth. This poem is not sentimental in the least and will draw each one of us back to something we have felt for someone or still do. For me, I know I can say little here to you – you may not know me or the things of which I speak. I am marked forever by something – you need not understand how or why, nor need you accept it but that will never change me or it.  A piece of my soul is shot into a thousand pieces like stardust and goes out there and finds its home. That is its nature.  I cannot explain it to anyone – it just is. Only two people know what it is, and others who wrote books about such things, and they were true.

This is my Valentine to me, because where there was suffering, a thousand times over I still wouldn’t change a thing. True and unconditional love is the smile you cannot see – don’t look for it, let it sneek up behind you and kiss your stiff limbs and straighten your fears and you will be forever changed.  I hope it finds you,  if it hasn’t already.

The good you deserve…

“Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy.” Hannah Arendt

It stole into my soul and it has never left.

The breath would be cleaved from my body before it does, and even then it would try to sing.

It has dug into me and woken me up from long sleep to turn back and allow my soul to recognise itself.wordpress stats

Glenn Gould/Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5 in E Flat Major

Hope might not be so audacious…

Thanks to Sarah for reminding me of these beautiful words today – they always sing true. The U.S. President and myself almost share a birthday – we are both Leos with Aquarius rising, and I find it interesting how he titled his political biography/treatise ‘The Audacity of Hope’. It need not be audacious Mr President – it is just right.

suibokuga

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Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson

Sometimes, the words of another…

…are enough, when your own have grown a little tired.

Danae_Auguste_Rodin_

If you should ask me where I’ve been all this time
I have to say ‘ things happen’
I have to dwell on stones darkening the earth,
on the river ruined in it’s own duration:
I know nothing save things the birds have lost,
the sea I left behind , or my sister crying.
Why this abundance of places? Why does day lock with day?
Why the dark night swilling around in our mouths?
And why the dead?

Should you ask me where I come from, I must talk
with broken things
with fairly painful utensils,
with great beasts turned to dust as often as not
and my afflicted heart.

These are not memories that have passed each other
nor the yellowing pigeon in our forgetting;
these are tearful faces
and fingers down our throats
and whatever among leaves may fall to the ground:
the dark of a day gone by
grown fat on our grieving blood.

Here are violets, and here swallows,
all things we love and which inform
sweet messages seriatim
through which time passes and sweetness passes.

We don’t get far, though, beyond these teeth:
Why waste time gnawing at the husks of silence?
I know not what to answer:
There are so many dead,
and so many dikes the red sun breached,
and so many heads battering hulls
and so many hands that have closed over kisses
and so many things that I want to forget.

Pablo Neruda

Luxe, calme et volupté

Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble!
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
Si mystérieux
De tes traîtres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,

Luxe, calme et volupté.

—  Charles Baudelaire – from L’Invitation au Voyage

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Empty shop front (well, not quite), Place des Vosges, Paris 4e Arrt.

Not how one would expect a ‘swamp’ to be described, and that is the literal meaning of Le Marais, the centre of vieux Paris, but Baudelaire’s words conjure for me the allure of the indulgence and delight to be found in the neighbourhood that is my home from home.  Nestled around the languid grandeur of the Place des Vosges, formally place Royale, Le Marais is formed of a complex of ancient, labyrinthine streets of buildings and aristocratic maisons or ‘hôtels’ of 16th and 17th provenance, from Saint-Paul up to the Beaubourg (Centre de Georges Pompidou),  largely untouched by the emperor of the grands boulevards, Baron Haussmann.   I have loved it since I first found myself there years ago by trailing up rue St Antoine from the Opera at place de la Bastille on a grey April day.  As I said, it feels very much like my own quartier and I return often, so it was naturally going to be the setting for my novel ‘The Conductor’s Wife’.   Far from the exclusivity of the area, reputedly the most expensive place to live in Paris, it has a quirky bohemian feel that lends itself to its inclusive spirit – gay men with toy breed dogs attired in chic canine fashion may be seen on the same street as Orthodox Jewish jewellers carrying heavy cases bearing their wares.

In fact one of my favourite things about Le Marais is the small Jewish district that developed here after Jewish emancipation in the early 1800’s (although it had been a Jewish area on and off for centuries), spreading out from rue de Rosiers, known in Yiddish as the Pletzl or little place.  Here you will find gorgeous pretzels and pastries in the many boulangeries in this petit quartier.   Otherwise, Le Marais tempts with many of Paris’ highly fashionable niche boutiques, my favourites of which are the charming handbag emporiums of designers Jamin Puech in rue Vielle du Temple and L’Echoppe à Sacs Ets Richard in rue Charlot.  A great place for window shopping too, if your purse cannot bear more promise!  I would as happily settle at my favourite café – au Petit Fer à Cheval in rue Vielle du Temple nursing drip-fed coffees (the waiters will know what I want before I have had the chance to say “un autre…”!)  I think I am still welcome there, even after a strange birthday celebration with my best friend, where we drank a lot of free champagne plied on us by a waspish Indochinois, who claimed to be a political journalist, and his peculiar chum, who dragged us off to Le Baiser salé for late night jazz and a subsequent mess in which were witness to said Indochinois and taxi driver having a fist fight in the 8e!   Au Petit Fer is a long time  favourite hang-out with young French actors Romain Duris and Louis Garrel.   I have never seen either of them there sadly, particularly in the case of le beau Louis!

au petit fer

A day’s roaming Le Marais must include a visit to the place des Vosges (the epicentre of my book) and one of Paris’ best museums – the wonderful Maison de Victor Hugo, where the author and activist lived before and after long exile, and wrote Les Misérables standing up!  In this large corner apartment house, the writer dedicated its rooms to opulent and grand comfort to entertain his friends such as his ally in romanticism and neighbour, Théophile Gautier.

Vivement, to conclude with dîner in Ma Bourgogne or the cute and more local le Royal Turenne, where Georges Simenon sent Maigret to retire with his pipe and cidre.

IMG_0631Le quotidien – vins, arts, philosophie

Speaking of Paris and the young French actors I mentioned, no less than the the Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo of today, makes me think of this cute tribute to the Nouvelle Vague – ‘Dans Paris’.  Recommended, apart from the slightly overlong singing on the phone scene, redolent of ‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg’.  Louis is completely charming, as usual.

Dans Paris


Leaves from red to green from Russia with love

Below are extracts from a diary written by a very much younger me on a trip to Russia in November 1990 over the cusp of seismic change, which were the last days of Gorbachev’s  interregnum.   They are still fascinating and contained somewhere in my youthful rapture is the esprit of the dying days of the Soviet mantle.  It was a delightful and often very amusing excursion into a fading world with all its concomitant paradoxes, predicated on supposed progress.

There is much more than I have written here – episodic capturing of risible and fleeting encounters, such as with the waitress in the only real Russian restaurant or ‘Bystro’ we entered.   (It is said that Russian cossacks in Paris during the Napoleonic wars  used to shout ‘bystro’ in restaurants, which means ‘quickly,’ and thus restaurants became so named!)  We asked what was on the menu and she replied: “Meat – hot meat, cold meat.”  It was neither and looked somewhat green.  From which animal it was sourced, we couldn’t quite tell.   She was just one of the many warm, eccentric and sometimes woebegone characters we met and maybe for moments through them we glimpsed the anachronistically beautiful dark Russian soul, held somewhere between the red shutters of the Communist past and the transition to the refulgant, neon-lit promises of the future.  Change for better or worse?

Moscow Metro

Commuters on the Moscow Metro – ‘Palaces for the people.’

Moscow

Day started early it seemed, after a late night.  Breakfast was a small affair, after which we organised tickets for the opera and changed money.

Our first sight of Moscow in daylight. Unfortunately, the weather is a bit dull and therefore the skyline is blurred and general impact dulled.  It is however, an amazing city – muscular and quite serene in an altogether Russian way. Seeing the city is like a reality turned on its head.  The abundance of the West hits you at the sight of food queues.  People here I think want to think as ‘westerners’ now but have had so many upheavals of late – ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ the buzzwords. They feel nothing can move fast enough and it will take so long to sift the wheat from the chaff in all this transformation.

Took lots of photographs in Red Square and of St Basil’s, the walls of the Kremlin and Spasky towers.  Kremlin means fortress – and looks like one.  Then a beautiful convent called Novordovichy I think or ‘new maidens’, glazed with brilliant gold cupolas.  Back to the Kockmock as we transliterate it! A very frugal lunch of a hard cheese sandwich!

Ira our guide, is a fascination!  Full of the absolute earnestness and profundity of most Russians we meet.  She gives us a running commentary on the bus, complete with her own cogitations! We laughed when Ira, spying a man jogging on a wide boulevard by the University, attired only in shorts and trainers on a very cold and dank November day, says –

“Oh, is this man not wearing a shirt!”

“No!” We all say.

“No, he is not!” (Laugh)  “I like that, that is so nice.”  All delivered in her sustained, composed commentator’s tone over a mic.  She is prone to draw attention to various dogs she spots outside.

“Look at that dog, he’s carrying an umbrella.”  (Perhaps this, you would only see on the streets of Moscow).   Or “That dog looks very happy!” Before moving onto the usual – “The building on the left is…”

She seems anxious to tell us how hard life is in Moscow with the food shortages and queues for everything, everywhere. The woman is clearly proud of her city though – a true Muscovite.

In the afternoon we went to a ‘popular’ art museum.  Popular with whom!?  It consisted of what they would consider ‘pop’ art, pottery and crafts and hundreds of those ubiquitous little lacquered boxes.  There was a group of young Muscovites outside trying to trade with us, proffering dolls, military hats and ‘Perestroika’ watches, whatever they were!  One was quite charming.  I didn’t buy anything – no black market dollars.

Evening spent at the Bolshoi (big) Theatre.  Wonderful wedding cake building.  Watched a performance of ‘The Queen of Spades’ (Tchaikovsky), from the story by Pushkin.  Did not know this opera at all and found it was a difficult story to translate to opera; however, the music is sublime -pure Tchaikovsky.  I had almost wished it was one of the symphonies as I didn’t enjoy the singing very much.  The soprano who sang Lisa was vocally and physically too heavy and a bad actress.  She seemed to only have one facial expression and moved mechanically.  The Countess looked like the elderly Queen Victoria in a bath chair.  Lovely divertimenti performed by the ballet company.  There was one young soprano with a lovely voice.   I wished I knew the Pushkin story better – I would have enjoyed it more as there was no translation, obviously!  We shared a box with a small, suited man who slept through the entire opera.   He also wore a hat which was not removed.  May have been KGB.

Monday November 5th

Had a walk in a small market near the hotel up toward the Exhibition of Soviet Economic Achievement!  A very foggy day again.  Aoife and I attempted the metro but didn’t get far. We started by trying to enter the station through the ‘Out’ door (vchod) to the chagrin of Muscovite commuters! Also failed to make any sense of the Cyrillic map, even though I can read it.

Money is baffling here – the hotel is ‘hard’ currency only, no Roubles, so this means going through U.S dollars, Sterling and Deutschmark.  If they run out of the appropriate currency you are apt to be handed various currencies and/or chewing gum!

Later we went on the official Metro tour with Ira’s cohort, Natasha.  The city is much more attractive when it is lively and peopled and the (empty) shops are open.  The queues curl around blocks.  All the central Metro stations are beautifully ornate in a Stalin Baroque way!  Highly embellished and efficaciously designed – welcome change from the London tube.  For a start on the basics – cleaner quicker trains and escalators that are steep and go at amazing speed! Stalin wanted ‘palaces for the people’ and that’s what they got.  The Moscow rush hour just as frantic as London and you are apt to be snapped between the double doors on the stations and trains!

A few of us did some shopping in an ‘official’ shop – a bit rushed and frightfully confusing! All the prices in the Intourist shops are in Roubles but they wouldn’t take them off us!  In conversion we were at a disadvantage when we were told the equation was 1 Rouble – £1!! I found some scarves at 1.20 roubles so that was acceptable.  You order your goods and collect a ticket, go to another counter to hand over said ticket and receive goods then off to another counter to hand over another ticket as invoice and then finally to pay!!  Metro back to hotel and everyone but me seems to have gone to the circus.  So I take time to scribble all this as follows:

Call-girls in the hotel seemingly acceptable but Communist Party members are not allowed to use many of the facilities; except apparently at a premium – there was a separate charge for them at the pool.  English spoken pretty well by many Russians.  Strange things keep happening in the hotel, such as the ‘floor ladies’ as they are known, (chambermaids to the rest of us) banging on our door frequently asking for American cigarettes.  Have spare boxes of Marlboro ‘reds’ to give them for which they are wholly grateful – “spaseeba, spaseeba!”  A couple of people in our group are getting phone calls in their rooms at all hours of the night asking where they can buy wine!  Black marketeers in their rooms previously one supposes.  The KGB are in evidence watching the calls-girls in the lobby making their deals.  They wear anoraks, even indoors.  Lobby throngs all hours of the day and night with Intourist groups, and North Korean and East German businessmen.  Plenty of opportunities for the hookers!

Western business coming in appears in the form of the newly opened McDonalds and a Pizza Hut.  Queues outside which are inevitably very long.  Natasha says the packaging interests Muscovites more than the food!

Kids outside the hotel trying to sell us badges for chewing gum – all things American of course.

One can’t seem to meet Russians our age anywhere apart from the occasional student vying for hard currency in the dusty streets.  Feel like we’re very much on the perimeter of life here – I suppose we can’t be anything else really.  We are just fodder for the Russians to sell to, victims of their greed for hard currency and the craving for things American/Western.  Met a young guy yesterday who said he could earn in a week racketeering what he’d earn in a month for the state as long as the KGB stay away from him.  He was peculiarly vague when asked what he did of an evening.

Muscovites are very pro-Yeltsin.  He speaks for them they say, Gorbachev is only good for international affairs, not domestic.  Nothing moves fast enough for them.  Food is allowed to rot in storage and one could queue for hours to find nothing at the end. With hard currency for us everything is (fairly) plentiful. Beer is $1 a can.  There are shops everywhere in Moscow stocking only a very small amount of poor quality anything.

BMR by the Moskva River Nov. 1990

By the Moskva River dressed for the Russian winter, imagining myself as ‘Anna Karenina’ sans troika or snow for that matter – oh youth!

Leningrad

Revolution Day

While I remember, we were talking about the Hotel Kosmos being a den of iniquity last night.  For last night in the bar we overhead a transaction between a call-girl and a Korean guy taking place. She asked for $100, he haggled and they eventually, after a lot of shouting, agreed on another sum (chewing gum and a pair of shoes perhaps!).  The entire hotel is apparently run off the profits of the black market and these very ‘transactions’.   The ones in power one never sees, only their minions.  The attractive ‘key lady’ we met, who held the keys to a cornucopia of Matroischka dolls and lacquered goods, was undoubtedly the girlfriend of one of them.   Natasha, as she was called,  disappeared very quickly after our business and wrote down everything she sold and what she was paid.  She was very fragrant.

When we boarded the bus outside the hotel, there were many of these guys selling their wares – rabbit hats, Perestroika watches (?) etc… Ira says that materialism will not make them happy – surely she is right.   She added that the “younger ones are the lowest of the low” and that it really depresses her.  One gets an impression however, that they are well educated and very bright.  We actually spotted a ‘bust’ when the police encountered one such group of racketeers and each had to pay a 25 rouble fine, which the leader of the gang collected from each of them and handed over.  However, this was we were told by Ira, just for show – for the tourists.  They have to pay the police to keep their patch anyway…

Hotel not as smart as Kosmos and the water comes out of the taps brown! Plumbing is extremely noisy and it sounds like a bath is being run constantly overhead amplified!  Have had though, a good breakfast in an elaborately muralled room with gaudy chandeliers.  Quite tasty and substantial for post-alcohol dehydration.  Comrades in the group are gone off to the revolution celebrations and demo.  There are two factions– the Communist Party Russian Federation celebrations and the Yeltsinite pro-capitalist counter-attack!

Waiters who served us breakfast did a neat line in caviar on the side!!  The business however, doesn’t seem as well organised as it was at the Cosmos!

Ira tells us later that she hates Gorbachev, and Russians despise Raisa in particular for being “materialistic, poorly educated and bossy.”   I must have a (brown) bath as there is a tour of the city at 2pm.  When the taps are on it’s a hell of a racket and the room shakes.  Toilet takes two hours to flush!  Bath like pig swill!

Rest gives time to observe that modern Russia/USSR is a mix of confusion, sadness, weirdness, beauty, history, many races across the plains, fantastic mineral wealth/resources but great material poverty.  This amounts to a nation in transition and chaos. There are immense shortages of food, civil war in the Republics, no hard cash and of course huge debt.  Yet there is so much here to offer the world – it was once brave new world, unlike any other in modern times.   There is a bravery – it accepts it is perpetually learning and adapting – unlike its sister in power, the U.S.  Glasnost and Perestroika are not just buzz words, small elements of the zeitgeist – they really mean something to these people.   They are shaping up to form the second revolution they have had this century and not the last, surely.  Federalisation is happening and is the next stage.

It is the 73rd anniversary of the storming of the Winter Palace.  We watch fireworks over the river Neva – quite spectacular, standing by a small jetty with a boatman called Mischa.