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It's very strange for a foreigner to see this statement repeated over and over again in the Russian blogosphere. It's like some type of brainwashing or programming in the minds of men and women there - that "ours" are simply the best, most beautiful! Almost all of my friends are men, many from different countries, and I have not heard any other male make such a proclamation that "Italian women are the best!", "American women are the best!", "German women are the best!"...nope, only Russians say this.

I see another post today on this topic, but there is never a discussion of WHY. In all my travels there, I didn't notice any high ratio of beauties in comparison to other countries in which I've traveled. Of course, "beauty" - it's such a subjective term that it seems almost pointless to discuss the theme with the masses. But I really wonder - why are Russian women "the best"? For what reasons...enlighten me. :)

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In the Ivanovo region sits a cozy little town called Ples. Full of bright colors, empty streets and lots of birch trees scattered through the forest areas, where walking paths are constructed at the top of the hill. I spent a few hours here at the end of winter last year, when there was still plenty of snow on the ground and the village was almost completely deserted. Only weak, old pensioners walked the icy streets, trying to maneuver through the slippery sidewalks without falling. Let's briefly explore this town through a few snapshots I took.Read more... )
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Going through old photos from Russia, I began to feel nostalgic. I can't say why really, but there is something about the Kostroma region that I really loved. I think this is one of the poorest regions in the country, yet there is a sense of rustic charm that's soulful, and in cities like Soligalich, houses are well-maintained and colorful for the most part. I think this is very important for the psyche, to not live in trash, or be surrounded by decaying or collapsing buildings. To have some bright visual stimulation to contrast against the constant grey winter skies.

This was one of the final stops on the last big road journey in Russia, and I arrived here in an unusual manner. After the wonderful experience in the village of Astashova, I awoke in a frozen state from my sleepless night alone in the forest house, and got in the car to learn we were taking a rather exotic route to the next stopping point. Yep, an off-road winter adventure through the remote Russian wilderness. :)Read more... )
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I don't know much about the Tatars, but I began to go through old photos I took in Kazan last year and noticed I have a lot of shots of locals walking the streets. I guess their appearance is highly unusual to me, even exotic to some extent. Here's just one example. About this girl (woman?), I know nothing, but find her intriguing. :)

What do I need to know about the Tatars, and this Republic of Russia? My host in this city spoke very little English, so it was difficult to learn a lot about the region from the native showing me around. Please share any interesting facts or insights. I struggle to understand why cities like Kazan are so much nicer than other parts of Russia? Is it because the region is rich in oil, and has more resources? Kazan is now my second favorite city, only Peter is more aesthetically pleasing. Both have very friendly locals, and Kazan has more English speakers than any other city I've visited. I guess because there are so many young students there, but it makes navigation in the city much easier for a foreign tourist like me...

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While editing photos from the last winter journey, I was reminded of a scene that plays out all over Russia in the brutal winter months. It doesn't matter where this photo was taken, because it's symbolic of almost every city I've driven through during all my visits to the country. Usually it's mothers struggling to push a stroller on unclear roads or sidewalks covered in snow, ice, and most often a combination of both. Or, they labor to carry a heavy stroller and child up or down steps in metro stations. I began to wonder whether the country in which you live matters when it comes to raising children?

I think so, for conditions everywhere aren't the same, though the motivation of any good parent around the globe is the well-being and development of their child. In the U.S., I rarely see situations like this and there are several reasons why. First, we're a lazy society, and elevators or escalators exist in almost all major shopping centers or transport hubs. Second, most people have cars, and aren't struggling to walk everywhere in bad weather conditions for basic chores or necessities in life. Outside of big cities, parking is rarely an issue, and even in big cities there are plenty of garages but you will pay a lot to park in them in places like Washington, DC (around $25/day), and in New York City the cost is even more astronomical. Finally, we're a heavily regulated society, with a lot of laws on both the Federal and State level.Read more... )
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During the last winter journey through Russia, I was haunted by this cute little bear while driving through the Kostroma and Vologda regions. He suddenly appeared at the most unexpected spots - on an abandoned and decaying bus stop in the middle of a deserted village, on old billboards, and in some small shops along the way. I didn't recognize the symbolism of the Olympic rings on the bear's belt, but later learned "Мишка" was the mascot of the 1980's Olympic Games in Moscow.

too am an 80's child. Being born in 1973, I experienced the 80's in full force, at the height of my teenage years. However, it's difficult to find a common thread when comparing American cultural symbols from the 80's and prior decades with the treasured symbols from the same Soviet periods. This is not surprising given that our nations were seen as political and strategic enemies at that point in history, and sadly even now to a certain extent. The bear played an integral role in the last place I visited during the journey, the "Museum of the Socialist Way of Life", located in Kazan. Let's take a look inside...Read more... )
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At times, I feel totally removed from my readers and the pressing news issues on which many of them are focused. For instance, yesterday I saw dozens of posts about the demolition of the trade pavilions in Moscow. Very long and detailed discussions of the topic in Facebook posts from Russian friends, yet I can't understand anything about the situation. Some people say the vendors had legal permits for the stalls, others say no. Many don't even care. They are glad the eye sores are removed, and the legality of the action is irrelevant. If the owners had proper permits for construction, how can the government just run a bulldozer over a business that is legally operating, destroy everything, and leave a person's life and income in ruins?

I remember seeing these vendors selling fruits, bread, vegetables and cheap clothing during my stays in the suburbs of Moscow near Mytishchi, where I frequently took the train. It appeared most of these people were immigrants, whether they are legal or illegal I have no idea and typically don't care. Because illegals, even in my own country, don't pose a problem for me provided they are working and contributing to the economy and society. Yes, I would rather have a Mexican or Central American immigrant who is working hard in my community than a white loser who sits on his or her ass all day collecting a welfare check...Please explain this situation to me. Do you support the destruction of these businesses? As a lawyer, I'm most interested in the legality of the government's action. Of course, in the U.S. there is no news about this story because our media is focused on domestic issues, spending hours and hours discussing and analyzing the upcoming presidential elections, which also is a circus show, but a different kind...:) 
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What does the Orthodox priest say to you, or he simply watches? I don't understand the rituals behind this Orthodox tradition, but the wonderful feeling of being half-naked in the snow, I know well. How refreshing to work up a sweat in the banya, and jump naked into the flurries, with your bare ass and breasts hugging the snow! Your body shivers, you see the vapors of your own breath swirling in the forest mist, and toes tingle! Probably one of the authentic Russian experiences I'll remember most from all my journeys. :) Do nonbelievers also partake in the Epiphany festivities? The spectacle seems entertaining to watch, although I'm certain many people view this behavior and tradition as foolish. 
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There are some words which have purely subjective meanings in my view, and "spirituality" is one of them. For me, this word has nothing to do with God or religion. As an agnostic, I'm not attached to any church or religious rituals, yet I still consider myself a spiritual person. This seems to be a key word in Russian media and culture, as discussions about "spirituality" are constantly thrown around on LJ and in comments, usually to insult the non-spiritual and decadent West. I saw it just this week when the pro-Kremlin blogger "politichanka" grew outraged at Varlamov's recent posts about bad Sevastopol, particularly his focus on all the trash in the city. The reason for all this shit on the ground? She claims that "Ukraine in 23 years failed to instill spiritual values in the youth. Therefore, young people behave like pigs and there is garbage everywhere." Of course, this is an absurd statement but I grew curious and decided to ask her what her definition of "spirituality" is. Her answer? "Actually I don't know."

I never use words I don't know or understand, especially when I'm insulting people. For me, spirituality is an aura, the energy and emotion that you evoke when encountering complete strangers, your charitable contributions to the overall good of humanity, a connection to something bigger than yourself, and an overall sense of openness and positivity toward the world and its inhabitants....and how about you? How does Russian culture define "spirituality," and why is the term so commonly used there? Help me understand. :)
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I don't understand why there is blackness in Crimea. What's going on? Is this some political game being played or really a problem with infrastructure? Meanwhile, I read the pro-Kremlin blog of Russian patriot [ profile] politichanka, who is very friendly even though we have completely different political views. I read her blog, and sometimes communicate with her. She's upset the TV news remains silent about the difficult situation in Crimea...focusing only on Erdogan, Syria, Bandera, Nazis...enemies all around, instead of discussing problems within. I saw some photos in other posts where Crimean children are gathered in public places where a TV is placed, and they too are staring at the face of Putin on the news rather than watching cartoons or other child friendly programming. Meanwhile, I haven't seen this situation covered at all on major U.S. news channels. As usual, we are focused on problems within - yet another shooting in Colorado from what appears to be a religious, right wing wacko opposed to abortion. So many of these religious conservatives are opposed to immigrants or refugees, failing to recognize that extremism comes in all forms, including from their beloved brethren.

What's really happening in Crimea? Help me understand.

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After the tragic attacks in Paris last week, there was an outpouring of grief on social media. Immediately profile pictures on Facebook were changed to display the French flag in a symbol of solidarity and support for Parisians. Of course, this outraged many people on RuNet. I watched closely the outpouring of yellow headlines and anger that flowed over the weekend. So many nasty and angry posts questioning why foreigners didn't display the Russian flag on social media after the Sinai plane bombing. What about Beirut? How about Turkey! Both countries also were victims of terrorist attacks in the last few weeks, though on a much smaller scale. Even more outrage when LiveJournal displayed the French flag on the homepage for several days. As a foreigner and tourist to both France and Russia many times, the reasons for the disparate public reactions are quite obvious to me.Read more... )
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Несколько лет назад на олимпийских играх в Сочи ко мне подошла группа пожилых мужчин. Они были в праздничном настроении, несли флаг их города и махали им в тёплом в воздухе, который наполнял олимпийский парк в тот день. Они сразу заметили, что я иностранец и попросили меня подержать флаг так, чтобы они могли сфотографировать. Я сделала это без всяких колебаний. Не потому, что у меня есть какие-то связи или почтение к российскому флагу, а потому что это был момент простых человеческих отношений, где не было места политике и слов, создающих языковой барьер. Просто группа людей разных наций разделяет вместе приятный и короткий момент времени.

Со времени моего первого поста о России прошло много лет, люди постоянно называли меня русофобом. Но давайте поразмышляем над этим словом, которое состоит из части «фоб». Фобия — это иррациональный страх чего-либо, желание избежать это любой ценой. Тем не менее я продолжаю возвращаться в Россию год за годом и даже иногда много раз за один год. Это правда, что я не провожу время, бездельничая или изучая только самые наиболее популярные места в России — Москва, Петербург или Золотое кольцо. Нет, я ездила и в другие места, деревни, отдалённые города, даже путешествовала одна ночью в плацкарте. Рассказов очень много и они хорошо известны многим из вас, кто читает мой блог уже долгое время. Это не расслабляющий отдых, путешествовать в России не всегда комфортно и легко. Как юрист, зарабатывающий хорошие деньги, я могу позволить себе путешествовать в более изящные и роскошные места в мире. Поездки в Россию — это поиск понимания и изучения страны, которая мне была интересна ещё со времён учебы в университете. В любом поиске такого понимания должны быть заданы вопросы, и это то, что я делаю здесь, в моём блоге. Поиск разъяснений, понимания и различных точек зрения людей, которые раньше жили в России и те, которые провели там всю свою жизнь.

Read more... )
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We all have mentors growing up, people who inspire us to do great things in life or those who instill a sense of profound knowledge and insight. They make us better and more intelligent humans, and can turn an otherwise directionless life and place it back on course. Growing up, I had several teachers who were mentors, and especially during university when I met a young professor who encouraged me to continue writing poetry and other creative works. So you can imagine my horror when I received an email from a beautiful young girl I met during my visit to Ples. She lives in the town of Volgorechensk, and is very studious, speaking almost perfect English, with a dream to study or visit abroad. Completely interested and open to the world outside of Russia. She began to tell me about the things her teacher tells her and other students in the classroom...shock! )
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I closely study people at all times. Watching their faces, eyes and expressions. It's always a mental game, a type of creative intellectual stimulation to try to imagine their life story. How did they get to this place, has their life been privileged or difficult? Were they loved passionately or silently? The list of questions spinning in my mind is endless. I once wrote an entire post about this, showing random portraits of Americans from Tennessee and asking readers to weave their life tales in comments.

When I met this old woman walking in a Russian town, I didn't know whether to feel pity or admiration. It's difficult to imagine life in old age, no matter which country you call home. We never know what tragic or fortunate events await. Not in old age, nor day by day. I know only that in old age I'll be loved and taken care of. If not by a husband or lover, then by my immense family, which spans generations of all ages. Financially, I envision everything to be okay as well. I've saved in my own investments since I was 20 years old, so as to not rely only on a government pension in retirement.

How do you feel when you look at this woman? Do you envision a good life for yourself as a pensioner in Russia?

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Today, a rare exception in the blog and a search for understanding - politics! I've been closely watching reports about the Russian airstrikes, mostly from RT, which is one of the most anti-Western, Kremlin controlled media outlets. Please explain to me why it's okay for Russia to drop bombs on Syria, but not the U.S.? Do you support this military action? Reading the headlines on RT is enough to make my head spin. Complete glory and hysteria erupting over the great and powerful Russia, everyday tons of posts praising the military action, yet never missing a chance to say something wild and derogatory about the U.S. or Europe in the process. Just a few examples:

-  "Less talk, more action! Russian jets destroy ISIS HQ's, tanks and munitions - all in 1 week!!"
-  "Russia destroys ISIS command, U.S. destroys hospital"
-  "The F-35 death trap!: Pentagon jet's ejection seat could snap pilot's neck"

Russian bombs will not kill innocent civilians? Impossible. I find it scary that Russian and U.S. fighter jets are flying in the same airspace - a disaster waiting to happen?

Last night, I asked one reader how Russians feel about this situation, and his response was interesting: "I'm personally glad because I always want to restore the glory of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. I was born in a first-class country, a world power, a center of the world, and I cannot live and feel otherwise." How do you feel? From my perspective, all of this joy and enthusiasm over the Russian bombings is hypocritical, especially when so many people constantly climb into my comments shouting "Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan" over and over again, criticizing the U.S. for "dropping bombs" all over the world.

Please help me understand why so many Russians support this military action in Syria. I don't closely follow geopolitical relations, they're not of special interest to me, but it's a very interesting cultural dynamic to explore - the cult of war and militarism. Not in government, but among ordinary citizens of a nation.

I will read all your comments, but please be respectful to each other in the discussion.
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Where are the most well kept, colorful and orderly homes in Russia? I don't mean mansions or dachas, but ordinary houses that are the primary living space for the occupants. Over the weekend, I began to process a lot of photos from the last winter journey and it's difficult to pick the city with the most vibrant and charming homes. In recent posts, I've shown only a few depressing and grey towns from the last journey, namely, Vologda and Ivanovo. In the upcoming stories, you'll see the opposite. Vibrant life, cleaner roads, and beautiful winter landscapes that immediately delight the eyes. Why are some cities so clean and pleasant and others dirty and gloomy? Is it the residents that live there, the financial resources of the local administration, or something else? Each of these towns is dealing with the same weather conditions, the same snow and the same ice. Can you guess the town pictured here and in the photos after the cut?Read more... )
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When I think of brides, I envision romance, passion and vivid images. Ivanovo has long been known as the "city of brides" due to its historic textile industry, which brought 100's of thousands of female workers to the region. Yet all of these flowery, descriptive terms don't describe the emotions I felt in this city. Perhaps for men there's some intrigue in visiting a place that has a reputation for being filled with beautiful women yearning for male attention, who smile and flirt at the drop of a coin, or are more easily seduced by male charms. I think these stereotypes of the city are a bit outdated, and I read that the male/female ratio is now almost equal, especially for those under 30. Ivanovo to me is not really distinguishable from other larger cities we visited in March, except that the Soviet legacy seemed stronger here than in places like Vologda or Ples, which I'll write about next week. In some ways, it's a city of contrasts - the old, Soviet style mixed with more modern landscapes. Let's take a look.Read more... )
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Cult of personality. I believe it's a very dangerous thing, no matter the country. The further you travel into provincial Virginia, the greater the chances of seeing villages filled with rednecks, Confederate flags, and citizens who hate Obama for turning the USA into a socialist State. Yes, in America such people exist in multitudes, and there's no cult of personality for one particular leader. In the mountains of the Blue Ridge area, I entered a quaint antique shop and came across this roll of toilet paper, graced with Obama's face. A whole shelf full of them, for people who wish to wipe their asses with Obama's imprint. I frequently see posts here on LJ with all the patriotic t-shirts, even vending machines filled with shirts covered in Putin's portrait, slogans with glee over "our Crimea" and other hysteria. Who wears these items?Read more... )
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If time travel ever becomes possible, I would transport myself back to Moscow or the province in the 1970's or 80's to better understand the realities of life in Soviet times. Looking at old photos in books or online, I can hardly envision such a system of life where everything is so structured and predestined. This is the eternal debate amongst my older Russian friends and readers - the pros and cons of life in the USSR vs. modern day Russia. Tonight I read an article written by a man who was only nine years old when the Soviet Union collapsed. However, he claims this was long enough to form a strong enough opinion about life in the USSR to know that he never wishes to return. His observations seem a bit shallow and naive on the surface. He takes a few of the most commonly expressed strengths of the Soviet system, and explains why they are misconceptions. Please remember these are not my personal views, but the opinions of a former resident in the Soviet Union. Let's begin with education...Read more... )
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In the middle of a grey, depressing village on the River Volga, I found myself reliving a scene from the classic Alfred Hitchcock film "The Birds." Do you remember it? I stood alone in a deserted town square, trying to photograph a decaying old church, when I was suddenly attacked by a flock of angry Russian birds!! It was so unexpected that I began to scream out of shock, even though I have no fear of birds. Of course, my travel companion didn't run to my rescue, but instead snapped a photo from a distance. This is the natural reaction of a top travel blogger. :)Read more... )


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