Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blog fatigue

It seems that on many of the blogs I usually read, there is something that looks like a blog fatigue. There are by far not as many entries as there were some time ago, and for example Bureau Belgrado seems to have given up completely - regardless of their award last year.

I wonder what causes this. The change of seasons? Or is there something else?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


The last few days the whole city was turning red and white. In the Netherlands that would usually mean that some soccer team is playing an important match. Not on the Balkans (Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania). Here it is a pagan tradition related to the transformation from winter to spring. It is called Martenitsa in Bulgaria, and Mărţişor in Romania and Moldova. Friends give each other red and white dolls, bracelets or other tokens in red (sun, or Mars) and white (snow or peace) on 1 March.

The colours signify the fight between the snow and the sun. The transition from winter to spring. The tokens are meant to give luck and healh to the people wearing them.

Interestingly enough Sofia saw its first snow this season on 27 February. And it instantly disappeared. The temperature was rising above 10 degrees again today, the sun already seems to have won even before Martenitsa started.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Away, but feels like home

When I was flying to Sofia this morning, I read the following sentence in the inflight magazine: Човекът е човек, когато е на път, or a man is only a man when he is travelling. So travelling it is. I had never been here before, but somehow it seems all too familiar. The langauge, the customs, the way people react. Feels like many places I've been to recently. But still, it's the little differences.

I hope I'll be able to tell when I leave again from here in some days!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

(in)famous Dutch: who killed Pushkin?

According to the official version Alexander Pushkin was mortally wounded and died after he fought a duel with Georges d'Anthès, 170 years ago last week. Georges d'Anthès, aristocrat, was the protégée, fosterson and later heir of the Dutch ambassador Baron Van Heeckeren, after which he would call himself Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès.

Both the relationship between the Baron and his protégée and the reasons for the duel, have caused gossip. Last week Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted recent research into the matter. It says that the alleged reason for the duel, a meeting between d'Anthès and Pushkin's wife took place only after d'Anthès married the poet's sister-in-law.

The article suggests that instead a gay intrigue involving d'Anthès, Van Heeckeren and others led to the poet's death.

(thanks to Coen)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Russian Pride

(This entry is not about Moscow Pride - although that might also deserve attention in the blogosphere - but about the pride of the Russians.)

Yesterday an article appeared, in which 75% of Russians are quoted to find that Russia has its own way and almost 50% see the EU as a threat. Interesting quotes such as “benefits come from the West, but the Truth lives in Russia” are found there.

Another interesting finding is that “although it has been possible for Russians to go abroad for fifteen years, 42% of Russians would say The Netherlands and Holland are different countries”. Funny question to ask, it seems the investigators who made the survey had no access to Wikipedia.

The article explains Russian self-centeredness from long isolation. Themes pretty much confirmed in my 1909 guide book. It has an article on National Pride (Nationalstolz). That article makes a distinction between the higher social classes (said not to have a strong national pride) and the ordinary Russian (said to believe the Russians were blessed by God more than other peoples.) The latter group even believed that the Saints spoke Russian, and the book warns the Germans not to discuss the national origin of the national patron Saint Nicholas with ordinary farmers. Interestingly enough the book claims that St. Nicholas was an Italian. Wonder where they got that from. It even warns to stay away from discussions about the military or politics. Talking too much about that might have lead to being considered a spy a hundred years ago!

The article points to another article about Slavophilism, the movement thought to believe that Western civilisation was shaped around three themes: the Catholic church, ancient Roman culture and invasionist politics. The Russian peoples however submitted voluntarily to their overlords, the Varangians. This created a harmony between the different classes in society, the church and the Tsar. This harmony was destabilised by Peter the Great, who introduced Western ideas about nobility. The true Russian spirit was said to have survived amongst the commoners. They were the representatives of the true Russian spirit, as passed down from generation to generation. The spirit consists of spiritualism, trust in the government and obedience.

It would be interesting to see if the features described above made the Russians susceptible to Socialism. There should be at least some studies. I did not find much online, although my searches did yield some other interesting facts.

UPDATE: see what I mean?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

1909: Street Life

Try to imagine. A Russian city a hundred years ago. Streets are quiet – according to Western European standards. All that can be heard is the sound of shouting people: drivers asking passers-by to be careful, street vendors praising their wares. When reading these things, it seems close, but yet so far away. Time gone by.

The street vendors are still around today. But on the squares they generally no longer praise their wares – or at least not shouting. The products are the same, but some of the products mentioned are still exotic to the Western eye: pies, bliny, mushrooms. Some others are more common: ice cream, citrus fruits, flowers and newspapers. One category of vendors did not survive the changes made during the Russian Revolution: Tatars selling second hand clothes (interestingly enough they would praise them as "khalat").

Too bad they did not use Edison’s phonograph for recording the street sounds on Khreschatyk (picture left, source: around the turn of the twentieth century.

Das Leben und Treiben in den russischen Großstädten ist wenig lebhaft. Das Straßenbild bekommt nur Bewegung durch die sehr rasch fahrenden Droschken und Equipagen. Die Droschkenkutscher warnen die Vorübergehenden durch den Ruf берегись! Im Sommer sieht man auf den Strassen Verkäufer von Gefrorenem und Kwas die ihre Kübel und Glaskrüge auf dem Kopfe tragen. Die Eisverkäufer rufen ihre Ware laut aus: мороженое! Eine Eigentümlichkeit Rußlands bilden die wandernden Pastenbäcker, mit Pirogen und Bliny’. Zitronen- und Apfelsinenhändler sind in den Hauptstädten besonders häufig. Weit ertönt ihr Ruf: апельсины, лимоны хорошіе! In den Höfen erscheinen Blumenhändler, deren цвѣты, цвѣточки! lautet. Häufig hört man auch den Ruf грибы, грибочки! Händler mit alten Kleidern, die in Rußland meist Tataren sind, rufen халаты! In den Nachmittagsstunden laufen die Zeitungsträger die Straßen entlang und suchen einer dem andern zuvorzukommen. Laut ertönen ihre verschiedenartigen Rufe, mit denen sie die Käufer anzulocken suchen.

(Straßenrufe, Langenscheidts Land und Leute in Rußland, see here.)

UPDATE: this entry uses archaic Russian spelling. If you see a box, look here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Russia in 1909

A couple of years ago, I bought an interesting book: Langenscheidts Land und Leute in Rußland. It describes the Russian Empire just before it collapsed. It is a topical dictionary published in 1909 in Berlin by Langenscheidt. The book has articles on various aspects of Russian society: Land and People; State, Government and Rule of Law; Holidays; Religion; Spiritual Life; Agriculture; Nature and Cities; Social Affairs; The Russian; Transportation and other topics.

By far the chapters that describe the Russian soul are my favourite. The book is certainly not free from bias, but probably that is what makes it more interesting. It describes the Russians as seen through the eyes of contemporary Western Europeans. And it appears to be quite accurate in doing so.

I will try to share some of the chapters here with you. One problem is the language. It’s in German.

(on the painting: Marc Chagall, Russian Wedding (1909) - Sammlung Emil Bührle)