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At the beginning of December, I had a discussion with a friend about "fate" and "destiny". Many times these words are used interchangeably. However, they are not the same, and in fact you can believe in one and not the other. Fate - it is like a set order of events, something unavoidable or inevitable, and often with pessimistic overtones. All humans share the same fate - death, and possibly rebirth, depending on your beliefs.

Yet our destinies are different. Destiny - not preset, and arguably within your control on some level. We can change it, or others can come along and be the catalyst for our destiny to be altered.

The topic arose when I began to think about people in my life, those with whom I've allowed myself to get close outside of my family. Ex-boyfriends, friends, even some minor acquaintances, or brief exchanges with people on the street or during travels. Each teaching some lesson, a few of them quite painful, yet opening the pathway forward to another person or cornerstone in life...So, I would say you can choose your own destiny, but not your own fate. This is the main difference, at least to me.

Yesterday, I saw the film "Passengers", and there was an interesting line spoken by Jennifer Lawrence's charcter Aurora - "we are all passengers...we go where fate carries us." Something to think about as we head into 2017...Happy New Year! :)

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Disappearing acts - they happen often in life, and right here on LJ. People, love, pain, grief, sadness, elation - they can exist at various points and then disappear instantly, or gradually fade from existence over time. I believe it is the cycle of life for most humans. And it has happened to my post from yesterday - now gone, I suspect as a result of some updates to LJ last evening where the system was entirely disabled, and I awoke to see the text vanished. I'm too lazy to recreate it, but if you want to discuss anything, or suggest topics for other posts, you can write to me in the comments. I will take into consideration, as the travel posts take a really long time to write, and we need something to feel the void in between. Or, I can just stay will go on either way. :)
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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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Today is the same as most recent years on LJ. Some Russian speaking blogger publishes a post about the 9/11 attacks, and everyone jumps in the comments to discuss conspiracy theories or the evil U.S. government, paying absolutely no attention to all the selfless rescue workers, fire fighters and ordinary citizens who sacrificed their lives to save others on that day. It is really what I, as an American, remember most about 9/11. On this point, I read a very disgusting comment by one person - "Я испытала очень смешанные чувства, когда прочитала, как четверо пожарных погибли, спасая по лестнице ожиревшую неходячую гражданку. По мне так не стОило это их жизней."

Last year, I wrote a post about my recollections of this moment in American history, and I publish it again below for those who have not yet read. I don't know how I would have responded if I was on the scene that day. Would I have been selfless enough to sacrifice my life to save another? I don't know, but like to think so...

Originally posted by [ profile] peacetraveler22 at Нью-Йорк, 9/11

On this day, there's always a very somber mood in the USA. Absolutely everyone from my generation remembers where they were when they first heard the news of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Life in the USA was never the same again, even to this day. On the news this morning, I was reminded of how many years have passed - 14. It seems almost unimaginable that there's now a whole generation of kids who have no memories from that day. They were not even born, or were only small toddlers when the graphic images of the towers collapsing appeared on TV screens. Some of my readers who are in their early 20's probably only have vague recollections of this historic event also. But for others, including myself, there's no escaping these images or the fateful tragedies of so many lives that day.Read more... )
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It seems people have lost the ability to think. This is especially true here in the USA, where you will find signs like this everywhere. Even as a lawyer they annoy me, although I understand the purpose is to protect businesses from liability in the event of accidents. In most cases, the signs simply state dangers that should be obvious to someone with even a modicum of common sense. Like - "HAZARD: DO NOT STAND AT THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF." I saw such a warning in San Diego, California.

Recently, I went to a lovely sunflower farm by my house and before I even entered the serene landscape, I was greeted with all these rules and regulations. I rarely notice such signs during my travels in other countries, but a reader from Moscow recently sent me this photo...Read more... )
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For the first time, I watched someone die right before my eyes. Take her last breath, and fade from existence. The past few months for me have been very difficult and draining, a whirlwind of complex emotions that I couldn't process so easily. You will recall that I once wrote a post about how I felt guilty for being apathetic toward the terminally ill relative staying in our home in a hospice bed.

Over the past month, her condition deteriorated rapidly, and it became necessary to be a caretaker for her while I worked from home. I'm not a trained doctor or nurse, and my role was simply to change diapers, help her drink and eat through a straw, and simply provide some level of companionship and human warmth. During this time, my attitude completely changed and I began to feel such grief and sadness for her suffering. She died last Saturday, with her son holding her hand, and all of us gathered around her.

It becomes necessary in such times to seek places of refuge - it can be people you gravitate toward, or a place. For me, it was a tulip farm I discovered only a few minutes from my house. I spent many evenings there simply roaming the gardens and taking photos. So today, I'll just share some pictures to brighten the mood. I call these tulips "lollipops for the soul" - yes, they are delicious, fragrant and sweet. :)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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When we're constantly surrounded by negative energy, it becomes almost impossible to have calming moments. It's my nature to immediately detach from such situations or people in life, but now it's impossible. I'm staying with my sister, her husband's mother was diagnosed with lung cancer only a few months ago, and now she lies dying in the room beside me. She's been a very negative person her entire life, plagued with pessimism, four husbands have come and gone...I think you can easily see the picture of such a character.

I don't know how to handle this situation, and part of me feels guilty because I have no emotional attachment or connection to this woman, or sadness that she will soon fade away. As an extremely compassionate and loving human being, this feeling of apathy toward a dying person is unsettling. We can't force feelings in life, although many humans attempt to do it for various reasons. Connection - I have none to this woman's mentality or negative disposition. She could have chosen treatment, and in the beginning she did. It helped, but recently there was a downward shift in her attitude, and the cancer quickly returned. I truly believe the energy we project in life, is the energy that is returned to us. All of this hate, negativity, gloom - nothing good can come of it in the end. I compare her to my mom's oldest sister, who died a few years ago from lung issues. Doctors diagnosed her as terminal, yet she lived years after they predicted her death. A positive mind, attitude and light - these can be healing factors, which science and medicine cannot explain. I've seen it many times in life...while negativity, a rotting force from within.
Read more... )
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We often create illusions about others, mentally molding them into the person we wish them to be, rather than letting actual words and actions be the guide. In human relations, this can be a dangerous game. I was quite susceptible to it in youth, but now I simply take people at face value. I still get tricked on occasion, and snakes temporarily slither into my realm, if only for a brief moment in time. Soon these slimy creatures are sent back to the dark hole or forest from which they crawled, because people always reveal their true character in small ways, if you're perceptive enough to notice. Too many people prefer to hold on to the mirage, for it's far more beautiful than reality. This is the reason why we have all echoed the words "love is blind" to ourselves, or others. Right? :)

In travels, this game of illusions can be fun. You meet people, often for a fleeting moment. A short smile, a quick exchange of words, a passing glance...however, you know almost nothing about their lives. Sometimes only their name, or a brief fact about their existence. During all trips, I take the time to sit in a local cafe or market and simply watch people go by, snapping photos in the process. These are the results of the experiment in San Antonio, Texas, where I traveled last week for business.

All the photos were taken at the Mexican market, or a local cafe by the Majestic Theatre, where there was a stage production of Cinderella playing during my visit. This appeared to be the biggest event in the city, with princesses of all ages dressed in sparkly heels and fancy dresses, still clinging to the fairy tale dream of a prince and magic kingdom. There's no text with the photos that follow. I didn't speak to any of these people, except the man pictured here - Gilberto. He runs a small stall with hats and boots at the Mexican market. Charming, dashing and distinguished gentleman. :) Usually I'm the one telling you stories, but let's put your imagination to work. Certainly some of my readers must be creative enough to weave imaginary tales about the humans in these photos? So go on, tell me a story...Read more... )
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I once visited a refugee camp, and only once. Yet memories from the visit remain bright and vivid, with conflicting emotions that never seem to escape me in life. We can understand most human conflict is grounded in the following bases (1) divergent ideologies or viewpoints; (2) religion; and (3) the inability of people to see past stereotypes imposed by media, culture, or the environment in which they grew up. I was reminded of this visit yesterday, when an Israeli reader began to argue with me yet again about "scary" and "evil" Muslims. Given the current political climate in the U.S., and the escalating global situation with terror threats, now seems as good a time as any to share this story.Read more... )
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Today I was reminded of a unique phenomenon we call "resting bitch face" in English. I'm not sure if this expression is used in Russian, but it refers to people (mostly women) who always have an angry, annoyed or irritated expression on their face. The expression does not always correlate with the emotions of the particular moment, and there have been some psychological and physiological studies to determine whether resting bitch face is genetically inherent, or whether it's a true reflection of a person's mood or personality. There has been no conclusive answer. :) Normally, I'm a very cheerful, smiley person but lately it seems I probably have this resting bitch face expression too often. Do you know women, or men, who always have this look of displeasure or irritation on their face? There are several female celebrities who have notably been diagnosed as having resting bitch face - Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick, Victoria Beckham. Just look at photos of them online, and you will see it's true! Personally, I could never date or constantly be around someone who always looks like a sour puss! :)) A nice smile is immediately inviting, while a look like this screams "stay away!"

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American citizens have a long history of civil protest and disobedience, and one of the most prolific times was at the height of racial segregation. Yes, Americans once lynched blacks and it is a shameful part of our history which few forget, including me. It was shortly over 56 years ago, on 1 February 1960, that four black university students staged a sit-in at a local diner in Greensboro, North Carolina, by taking their seats at a whites-only lunch counter. This sit-in is often regarded as the spark that fueled the civil rights movement in the early 1960's, when ordinary black citizens began to protest unequal treatment and demand change.

The four men were all students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. They planned the protest from their dorm room, simply because "we'd had was time to wake up and change the situation." Tired of being treated like second class citizens, they walked down the street, sat down and demanded to be served. They promised each other they would repeat the behavior daily until a plate of food was placed in front of them, no matter how long it took. There were reports that a black waitress admonished them, and two old white ladies stood and clapped, encouraging them along. The sit-in grew quickly, and other black students from local universities joined, as well as sympathetic white students who supported their cause. The men encountered resistance from KKK members who showed up and threw burning piles of newspapers under a counter seat. Yet the men were not deterred and the protest remained peaceful for the most part. Because of the swelling crowds and coverage by local media, Woolworth's was forced to close the lunch counter only a week after the four young men first arrived.Read more... )
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Visions of fairy tales, snowmen and twinkling lights dance in my head around the holidays. For me, this is a very joyous time of year, but for others a harsh reminder of isolation and loneliness. People who have no family, those who are estranged from loved ones, or live as loners on all other days of the year are suddenly faced with grim isolation while their co-workers and acquaintances run from one party and feast to another. I take my responsibility as a blogger very seriously. This is not a job for me, but an intellectual and artistic endeavor. A way to express myself, to continually learn from others and share my cultural experiences and social thoughts with thousands of strangers. However, sometimes the lines are blurred and I receive very strange messages. They are usually from men asking provocative or inappropriate questions, or someone who wishes to degrade me, my appearance or nationality. Yesterday something changed. I received a suicide note in my inbox, and I became very shaken and disturbed...Read more... )
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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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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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In this photo, my ideal man! Rugged, a bit nerdy, kind, intelligent, good with his hands and incredibly creative. It's a rare combination, difficult to find in one human. Sadly, he lives very far away. Next week, I'll tell you about him and the town in which he lives. What do you think? Is he handsome? :) Of course, there's no single definition of a "real man." To define a man in only one way is sexist! :) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes sexual chemistry comes when you least expect it. However, since university, I've always been attracted to men like this, rather than macho personas or businessmen flashing money and fancy cars...Can you guess where he lives? Do you have a certain "type" of man or woman to which you're attracted?

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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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"In the end only kindness matters." It's not merely a phrase or tag line for my blog. I care about humanity, and hope to leave a positive legacy and impact on the world during my lifetime, no matter how small. Almost everywhere I travel, I try to understand the humans I encounter, their place in the world, and how they got there. This was the case during my trip to Israel last year, where so many of my travel companions visited only holy sites. While in East Jerusalem, I left the group to visit a refugee camp. It wasn't filled with Syrians, of course, but Palestinians who basically live in dire circumstances, and garbage filled plots. This experience changed my life, and the emotions that overcame me during the visit will never be accurately conveyed in words. It was there I met the young girl pictured in this photo, and many others like her, who are basically born into chaos and instability. Perhaps I'll tell you their story later this week, but I just want to say a few words about the current refugee crisis.Read more... )
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We all know that some women age gracefully, and others do not. For me, this has absolutely nothing to do with appearance, sagging breasts, or how thick or thin an older female is. It's about the eyes, the soul and overall spirit in life. On a brutally hot day in May, I was walking around Old Town San Diego when I encountered a remarkable woman named Sonia. Immediately she captured my attention with her colorful brush strokes and vibrant paints sitting in tin foil. I sat down to take a rest, and we struck up a conversation. After only 15 minutes, I had a mental snapshot of her entire life.Read more... )
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Why do people hate anything "different"? Alternative ways of thinking, divergent lifestyles or even a unique manner of dress - for the weak and close-minded, anything outside the norm is viewed as a threat to their way of life. When everyone is the same, a population is much easier to manage and control, but for me this is the kiss of death. An existence filled with boredom and monotony! When I rolled through Middle America in December, I was pleased to encounter many unique Americans in Kansas. For me, Kansas is a very strange State, which I'll write more about later, but today I want to tell you about one of the craziest people I've met in all of my travels.

There are two types of crazy in the world - good crazy and bad crazy. Ron Lessman is the former. His thinking is on a completely different level, or maybe even another planet. :) He's mostly known for being the creator of the "Truckhenge" project, a collection of old trucks stored as "artistic" pieces throughout his farmland. Almost all of the trucks have some type of political slogan or conspiracy theory sprayed on the frames. According to Ron, "Rome didn't kill Jesus...bureaucracy did!" Many, many spelling errors in Ron's paintings. For those practicing English, don't use him as an example! Let's take a closer look at the life of my favorite Kansas redneck.
Read more... )


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