Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Modernity of Anna Krenina

So a while back ago we had the previliedge of sitting down and listening to the thrilling discussion on the idea of the Modernity of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Scholar Rosamund Bartlett gave the lecture as a focus on the idea of connectivity and relationship as well as infidelity and the breakdown of family. She wove the idea that trains symbolized these ideals as being a literal representation of the wrongness in society as seen by Tolstoy. Even Anna's ultimate suicide by train symbolizes Tolstoy's fear that society will suffer the same fate; modernize itself to death and degradation. Although repulsed by trains, Tolstoy cannot help but fascinate about them and the possibilities they bring.

I wish I would have read the book before the lecture, but Mrs. Bartlett still did a grand job for non-readers. I sincerely thank her and hope there will be more lectures of this nature soon to come.

Unit 9

Russia’s Victory Day celebration Great patriotic war, again

Vladimir Putin twists the memory of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazism to justify his struggle against the WestAdd this article to your reading list by clicking this button

ON MAY 9th 150 Russian military aircraft will streak across the Moscow sky, 16,000 troops will march through Red Square and three intercontinental ballistic missiles will be put on display, all in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. Vladimir Putin, the national leader with a fast-developing personality cult, will claim Russia’s ownership of the most important Soviet holidays. He will talk about Russia’s continuing struggle against fascism (in Ukraine) and attempts by its sponsor (America) to impose its dominance on the world.

The leaders of America, France, Britain and Germany will not be there. Mr Putin may be flanked by China’s Xi Jinping, but few other notables. As Andrei Zorin, a Russian cultural historian, says, Western leaders’ decision to abstain will be seen by Russians as confirmation of their continued struggle against the West.

The feelings of isolation and aggression stoked by the Kremlin in the build-up to Victory Day could hardly be more different from those that reigned in Moscow in the early hours of May 9th 1945, when thousands of people kissed and danced in the streets in a spontaneous outburst of joy and liberty, mixed with sorrow at the deaths of 27m compatriots. People waved American and British flags. Many went to the American embassy to embrace the allies. “Someone picked up an American sailor or soldier and lifted him in the air,” recalls Inna Solovyova, a Russian scholar who was 17 at the time. “It was a genuinely happy day. It was the victory of the people, of every one of us.” Fighting against fascism was a liberating experience for people who were terrorised by Stalin. The dictator himself, possessed by paranoia, was too scared to come out onto Red Square. In the evening a vast illuminated banner with his face appeared in the sky.

Stalin did not let the Russians enjoy their victory for long. A new wave of repression began a year later. In 1948 Victory Day celebrations were cancelled altogether. The feelings of freedom and compassion inspired by the victory were not to be encouraged. To avoid reminding people of the staggering losses, the limbless veterans who once dotted Moscow’s streets were shipped off to a former monastery on an island. Stalin feared victory celebrations would enhance the popularity of Soviet military commanders such as Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who signed Germany’s surrender along with the allies.

Official celebrations resumed only in 1965, a year after the fall of Nikita Khrushchev. By that time, most military commanders were too old to pose a challenge. Zhukov had been sidelined. The Soviet leaders who came to power as a result of the coup against Khrushchev used Victory Day to boost their legitimacy. It was the only unifying Soviet holiday that caused no disagreements between the people and their leaders. While the memory of the war was used by the Kremlin to assert Soviet power, it also served as a common denominator between the Soviet and American leaders who belonged to the war generation.

Mr Putin has appropriated the iconography of Victory Day, along with other Soviet symbols, to assert the dominance of the Russian state and its place in the world. Western leaders used to oblige him, taking part in celebrations meant to mark the country’s resurgence after the Soviet collapse. A decade later, the memory of the second world war was cynically exploited by the Kremlin as a pretext for the annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine.

During the second world war, Ukrainians ended up on both sides of the lines. Western Ukrainian nationalists who sought independence allied with Nazi Germany and fought against Ukrainians serving in the Soviet army. For much of Ukraine’s post-Soviet history these divides were dormant. But the failure of the Ukrainian government in the past quarter-century to build a nation-state has allowed the Kremlin to use history as a weapon.

Russian state television described the modern pro-European Ukrainians who ousted their corrupt and authoritarian president Viktor Yanukovych as nationalists and Nazi collaborators, planning to annihilate Russians in Crimea. It planted fake stories about Ukrainians crucifying children, while showing a Russian soldier in Crimea holding a small child in his arms—a reference to the giant statue of the Soviet Liberator Soldier erected in Berlin in 1949.

But after a year-long war against Russian aggression, Ukraine is fighting for its own right to celebrate the Soviet victory over fascism. A recent Ukrainian advert opens with a shot of a model Soviet plane in soft light. A phone rings. A boy at a modern-day military base calls to speak to his grandfather, a Soviet Red Army veteran. “Happy Victory Day, grandpa,” says the boy, who then dons his combat helmet and dashes onto a foggy battlefield. “Glory to Ukraine,” the grandfather replies, referring to Ukraine’s current struggle.

To reconcile Ukraine’s Soviet past with its European future, the president, Petro Poroshenko, announced that this year the country will honour both the Western victory celebration on May 8th and Soviet Victory Day on May 9th. The traditional Russian orange-and-black St George’s ribbon has been swapped for the British crimson poppy. Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, says Mr Putin’s “project” has destroyed any hope of a larger Russian world built on common memories. Even Alexander Lukashenko, the dictatorial president of Belarus, decided to celebrate Victory Day separately.

The display of Russia’s newest weapons is expected to be followed by a procession of 100,000 people holding photographs of those who died in the war. Yet the ideas propagated by the Kremlin seem eerily similar to the ones which Soviet soldiers defeated 70 years ago. Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s minister of culture, recently argued that Russia’s view of its own history does not have to be acceptable to “civilised humanity”. “Let me remind you: this ‘civilised humanity’ is only civilised to the extent that the Soviet people and the Soviet soldier forced it to be in 1945. It is time to formulate our own perception of ourselves as the descendants of a great, unique Russian civilisation.”

For all the uniqueness of Russian culture, the celebration of Victory Day, just like the war in Ukraine, has been packaged into patriotically-themed consumer entertainment. “Celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Victory with Wargaming,” advertises a maker of computer games. “The World of Tanks game allows you to virtually operate armoured vehicles and better remember the heroic deed of our people in the Great Patriotic War.”

Russia’s virtual wargames have real consequences. Alexei Levinson, a sociologist, writes that “under this light moral anaesthetic, the country is getting used to actions which only a short while ago seemed unthinkable and impossible.” Opinion polls show that 90% of Russians are prepared to discuss the possibility of nuclear war. While 57% of older Russians say that such a war cannot have any winners, 40% of younger people are convinced that Russia would defeat America and NATO. As Mr Levinson puts it, “A real war starts to look like a TV show or a computer game in which you have ten lives in reserve.”

Source: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21650177-vladimir-putin-twists-memory-soviet-unions-victory-over-nazism-justify-his-struggle?zid=307&ah=5e80419d1bc9821ebe173f4f0f060a07

Unit 10

Important Russian Summer Holidays, Customs and Traditions

 Semik, Parent's Saturday, The Trinity

The seventh week after Easter is a sacral period, especially 3 days of that week: Thursday ("Semik"), Saturday ("Parent's Saturday"), and Sunday (The Trinity), 50th day after Easter. The rituals connected with that period symbolize the change of spring by summer. The rituals center around the birch tree. The branches of the birch tree were used to decorate the houses and streets. People would be singing and dancing in a ring around the cut birch tree. They would also curl the branches of the birch trees singing ritual songs. Sometimes they would bend the tops of the birch trees to the ground and interlace them with grass. This was supposed to neutralize the two opposites ('up' and 'down'), to guarantee fertility. This is also connected with the male-female and live-dead origins. Binding the branches of the birch tree, man as if magically added vital energy from the upper world (the tree crown) to the lower world (the earth) and to himself. Another meaning of this binding was establishing close, ('binding') relationships. At the end of the ritual, they would unbind the tree and throw it into the river with lamentations. The unbound vital power was supposed to transfer magically into the future grain yield. Often times this ritual would take place on Monday after the Trinity - White Monday. It was believed that mermaids often get out of the water on the Trinity or on White Monday, start swinging on the trees trying to lure the passers-by into their arms to tickle them to death. People would beware of swimming that whole week, as well as passing alone through a sowed field. There was a way of protecting oneself from the mermaids' attack: one was supposed to draw a cross on the ground, and a circle around it. Standing in that circle was believed to give protection: the mermaids would not dare to approach anyone standing in that circle; they would be walking close to it and then hide away.

Agrafena Kupalnitsa's Day, Ivan Kupala's Day, Peter and Paul's Day

Among other summer holidays - Agrafena Kupalnitsa's Day (June 23/July 6), Ivan Kupala's Day (St. John Baptist's Day) - June 24/July 7, and Peter and Paul's Day (June 29/July 12.) One of the key rituals of this period was swimming with ritual singing. Beginning with Agrafena's Day, they would start swimming in rivers; they would go to bathhouses to sweat and wash themselves. Bath brooms would be made for the year ahead (broom-making was also accompanied by ritual songs.) On that day, they would wash their faces with the morning dew to stay healthy. Also, on Agrafena's Day herbs and plant roots would be gathered for medical and sorcery purposes. In this period, nights were filled with horror because all forces nourished by Chaos were believed to be activated- not only the forces favorable for fertility but also anti-sacral, dark, demonic forces. The popular belief was that the night before the Ivan Kupala's Day (St.John Baptist's Day) trees would move from place to place and talk among themselves; animals and even herbs would also talk to each other, because that night they would obtain magic power. To gain this power, people would gather herbs to be used for medicinal and sorcery purposes. Also, the plants were believed to be able to point to hidden treasures (in particular, the mythological fern flower); they were expected to protect from all sorts of troubles and to be good for making love potion. To make sure that the herbs had the magic and medicinal effect, it was important to gather them in the right place at the right time following all rituals including singing special songs.

Erotic symbolism was also typical of the Kupala holidays (it is not by chance that Kupala is being often compared to the Roman Cupid). Pouring water and mud over people of the opposite sex, followed by joint swimming of men and women was a trace of the pagan sexual freedom which was part of the fertility magic. Love motives are the main ones in the Kupala songs.

Not only water is an important part of the Kupala holidays, but also fire. The night before the Kupala's Day they would build fires, dance around them and jump above them. Those who could jump especially high were supposed to become happier.

The holiday was also associated with the sun; therefore, there existed a tradition of throwing from the hills the wheels covered with straw and put on fire (this used to be the ancient symbol of the sun.)

This cycle of holidays was ending with love songs and building night fires on Peter and Paul's Day (June 29/July 12), when they bid farewell to spring. The haymaking time would begin right after that. The short summer would follow.

Summer Kuzminki

Kuzminki (July 14) is a women's holiday. On that day women would visit friends, eat vegetables, drink beer and sing women's songs, full of mythological motives. Here is an example of a traditional women's song:


"When I was little, I didn't know the sorrow.

 Then I grew up and faced the sorrow:

 I married an old man

 An old and jealous man I married.

 He goes to bed not like a human,

 Not like a human, but like a fool,

 Like a fool, with his back facing me.

 A vicious snake is lying between us

 And at the head of the bed there is a snowdrift.

 You rise, the cloud, the thunderous cloud,

 You kill the vicious snake!

 Shine, gorgeous sun, shine!

 Heat that snowdrift, heat it!"


Here we can see the main mythological motives - a jealous husband (Perun-the thunderbearer was traditionally pictured as a bearded old man), his wife, and a snake that came between them (fighting the snake-enemy), thunderstorm, killing the snake, melting of the snowdrift leading to the final appearance of water in a myth. While the archaic folklore is mostly built on similar variations on mythological subjects, it does not mean that it is poor; on the contrary, the many ways of recreating the myth shows the richness of folklore.

Ilya's Day

Ilya's Day (July 20/August 2) - this date symbolized for the northern Russia the end of the summer. Ilya is a Christian version of thunderbearer. People believed that Ilya rides in the sky in a chariot or on a white horse and makes thunders. He is in charge of rains, thunderstorms, lightnings, and he sends fertility to the Earth. He is the master of the most frightful yet beneficent forces of nature. On the Ilya's Day, all the Evil spirits turn into various animals, trying to escape the fire arrows of Ilya the Prophet. The traditional enemy - the snake - cannot escape from his arrows even though he turns into a stone, a tree, an animal, etc.

Maria Magdalene's Day

Maria Magdalene's Day (July 22/Agust 4) is believed to be a "thunderstorm" day. Therefore, on that day traditionally no work was done in the fields by farmers for fear of being struck by the thunderstorm.

Assumption Day

Assumption Day (August 15/28) is known for its ancient tradition of "curling Ilya's or Nikola's beard" which symbolizes the end of harvest. The farmers would leave a few spikes on the field, and tie them with a ribbon repeating the following words: "Here is your beard, Ilya, bear us an abundant crop of rye and oats next summer!"

Source: http://www.oocities.org/tamareg/Holidays/HolidaysSummer.html

Unit 8

Forget Tanks. Russia’s Ruble Is Conquering Eastern Ukraine

As a wobbly cease-fire keeps eastern Ukraine’s warring factions apart, Russia’s ruble is conquering new territory across the breakaway republics.

In Donetsk, the conflict zone’s biggest city, supermarkets have opened ruble-only checkout counters to serve the fighters in camouflage lining up along pensioners. Bus and tram tickets come with a conversion from Ukraine’s hryvnia to the Russian currency. Gas-station workers are paid in rubles because that’s what their rebel customers use to fuel their armored jeeps.

“There are no problems in shops, they all accept rubles,” said Natalya, 36, a hairdresser buying groceries for her parents, who declined to give her surname for fear of reprisals. “They don’t always have small change, but they can give you chewing gum or a cigarette lighter instead.”

The ruble’s creeping advance shows how the troubled regions are slipping further from the government’s grasp, even as a peace accord brokered by Germany, France and Russia calls for the nation of more than 40 million to remain whole. Separatist officials haven’t yet made their currency plans clear. The precedent in ex-Soviet countries from Georgia to Moldova shows that similar shifts can help entrench pro-Russian insurgents.

“The increasing use of the ruble is yet another sign Russia’s going to keep de facto sovereignty over the territory it and the separatists control,” said Cliff Kupchan, Eurasia Group chairman in New York. “If the sides implement the latest truce, which is unlikely, perhaps both the hryvnia and the ruble will be used. If not, it will be all ruble.”


Insurgent Rubles

Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia has backed separatists for years, use the ruble as their main currency. Moldova’s rebel Transnistria enclave created its own ruble after rising up against the national government with help from Russian forces as the Soviet Union crumbled. Russia introduced the ruble in Crimea shortly after annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine last March.

Ukraine is the one place in the world where the ruble’s 46 percent plunge against the dollar in 2014 didn’t make it any less attractive, considering a 48 percent drop in the hryvnia, the world’s worst performer for the last two years. The Russian currency has staged a partial recovery in 2015, with April its best month on record. It advanced 1.9 percent on Tuesday.


Crimea Model

And the ruble has been welcomed in Donetsk, where most shops and businesses now accept it. Hryvnias are no longer available from cash machines in rebel-held territory, forcing locals to go to other parts of Ukraine to withdraw money.

The dearth of Ukrainian currency, exacerbated by travel curbs imposed by the government in Kiev, is one reason a new currency regime is needed, according to Andrei Purgin, a leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Rubles also help with the increasing demand for Russian goods, he said.

“We see Russian products replacing Ukrainian ones in shops in Donetsk,” Purgin said in an interview. “But the hryvnia won’t disappear completely because of the regional ties. People still go back and forth.”

Alexander Kofman, the DPR’s foreign minister, disagrees. He says the ruble is replacing the hryvnia and backs setting a timetable for a full switch, like in Crimea.

Russia’s central bank, which facilitated that transition, declined to answer e-mailed questions on the ruble’s rise in eastern Ukraine.


‘Jealousy, Rage’

In another show of faith in the Russian currency, the rebels started paying pensions in rubles to some Donetsk residents after the war cut off funds from the government. The cash comes from “external tranches,” the DPR’s press service said, declining to elaborate further on its origins.

“I don’t care that it’s in rubles,” said 67-year-old Fedor, who queued for five hours to get his money and refused to give his last name. “We haven’t received any money for 10 months, so we’re glad to get it in any currency.”

In the other rebel region, the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, 85 percent of payments are made in rubles, with the hryvnia accounting for 12 percent and the dollar making up the rest, Russia’s state-owned TASS news service reported Monday, citing Igor Plotnitskiy, the LPR’s leader.

Ukraine’s central bank says the hryvnia is the country’s only legal tender. And while rubles are widely accepted, and U.S. dollars are hoarded as the economy crumbles, the national currency still dominates in Donetsk for now.

“When I bought something with rubles in a small store, three cashiers ran over to look because they’d never seen them before,” said Dina Kopsova, 31, whose husband works in Russia. “When I’m in the supermarket, other shoppers look at me with either jealousy or rage because I’m alone in the ruble queue.”

Oleksandr Ilyin, who owns a photo-printing shop, estimates only one in 10 Donetsk residents uses rubles, mainly pensioners.

Nevertheless, the appetite for rubles is growing, even if it’s hard for people like Natalya, the hairdresser, to adjust.

“It’s taking me a while to get used to this money -- the notes are like candy-bar wrappers to me,” she said. “But the older people are very happy.”

Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-04/forget-tanks-it-s-russia-s-ruble-that-s-conquering-east-ukraine

The Tale of Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird, and the Gray Wolf

While reading last night, I read that firebirds are legendary Russian creatures that send heroes on quests and adventures. I thought that that was an interesting and looked into the birds more. I stumbled on this tale of Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird, and the Gray Wolf.

The Tale of Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird, and the Gray Wolf

Once upon a time in a far away land, there lived a mighty tsar. The pride of the tsar's kingdom was a magnificent orchard, second to none. However every night a firebird, with golden feathers and eyes like crystal, would swoop down on the tsar's favorite apple tree, and fly off with a few golden apples. The tsar was very distressed at this and called in his three sons to help."My dear sons," he said, "to whichever one of you is able to catch this firebird and bring it back alive, I will give half of my kingdom now, and the other half when I die."
The three sons promised to do their best to catch the bird. The oldest son stood watch the first night, but he fell asleep and the firebird made off with a number of apples. The next night, the second oldest son camped out by the apple tree in hope of catching the bird but he, too, fell asleep, and the firebird stole a few more apples.
The third night the youngest son, Ivan Tsarevich, guarded the tree. One hour went by, then a second, and a third ... Ivan was sleepy but took his job seriously and managed to stay awake. Suddenly the whole orchard lit up, as if a thousand lights were shining on it - the firebird was making its entrance! As the bird began to pluck golden apples off the tree one-by-one, Ivan sneaked up and grabbed it by the tail. But the bird managed to wriggle out of Ivan's grasp, leaving the youth with only a bright red tail feather. The feather was so luminescent that if it were brought into a dark room, the room would glow, as if illuminated by the setting sun.
The firebird never came back to the orchard after this, but the tsar was so enchanted by the glowing feather that he sent his sons out again to find the bird and bring it back alive. The two older sons, filled with envy that their younger brother was able to bring back a feather from the bird, went off together on their search. Ivan left on his horse alone.
Ivan rode on and on until he reached a big stone standing in the middle of an open field. On the stone were the following words: "He who goes straight will be hungry and cold. He who passes to the right will be safe, but his horse shall die. He who passes to the left will be killed, but his horse will be safe." Choosing the lesser of three evils, Ivan decided to go to the right and rode for three days.
Suddenly a gray wolf appeared out of nowhere and devoured the horse. For a long time, Ivan wept and eventually continued his journey on foot. He walked for an entire day and became very tired. The gray wolf suddenly appeared again. "I'm sorry I killed your horse," the wolf said, "and making you go all this way on foot. But it was God's will. Jump on my back, though, and I'll take you where you want to go!" Ivan, for some reason, began to trust the wolf now and told the animal that he needed to find the firebird. He climbed on the wolf's back and they sped off like a flash.
After a short while, they reached a stone wall. "Climb over that wall, Ivan, and you will find the firebird sitting in a golden cage in a garden. Take the bird, but don't touch the cage or you will be caught."
Ivan did as the wolf instructed and had the bird in his hand, when he thought, Where am I going to put the bird if I don't take its cage? So he went back to get the golden cage and the minute he touched it, alarms went off and guards seized the lad. He was immediately taken to the tsar, who was furious and demanded an explanation. "I'm the son of Tsar Vislav" Ivan said, "and the firebird had been taking apples from my father's orchard every night. So he sent me to get the bird."
"Well, if you had just come and asked me, I would have given the bird to you," the tsar said. "But now you have disgraced yourself by thievery. However, there is something that you can do for me to redeem yourself. Go to the kingdom of Tsar Afron and bring back the horse with the golden mane. If you do this, I will forgive you and you can have the firebird."
Ivan left the tsar and told the wolf everything that had happened. He said he was very sorry that he had not listened to the wolf about not touching the golden cage.
"Well, what's done is done. Get up on my back and I will take you where you need to go," the wolf said.
Ivan got up on his back and the wolf took off like a bullet. It was hard to say whether it was a long time or a short time, but eventually they reached the kingdom of Tsar Afron. When they stood before the royal stables, the wolf told Ivan to take the horse with the golden mane, but not to touch the golden bridle hanging on the wall. Ivan went in and started leading the horse out. Then all of a sudden he saw the magnificent golden bridle. He was so attracted to it that he simply could not resist taking it. But the second he touched it, alarms went off and stable boys came running to seize the young man. They took him to Tsar Afron, who was furious and demanded an explanation. Ivan told him the whole story.
"Well, if you had just come and asked me, I would have given the horse to you! But now how will it look when I tell the whole kingdom what you've done? However, to get your honor back, there is something that you can do for me. Go to the Thrice Tenth Kingdom and bring back the princess Elena the Fair. I want her, but I have not found a way to get her here. If you do this, I will pardon you and will give you the golden bridle."
Ivan left the palace in tears and told the gray wolf everything. He apologized for again disobeying the wolf's instructions.
"Well, what's done is done. Get on my back and I'll take you where you need to go," the wolf said. Ivan jumped on the wolf's back and off they went.
When they reached Elena's kingdom, the wolf told Ivan to wait by a green oak tree. This time the wolf was going to do the job himself! When the princess was walking in her garden, the wolf grabbed her and they hurried back to the tree, where Ivan was waiting. Ivan climbed onto the wolf's back next to the beautiful princess and they headed back to the kingdom of Tsar Afron.
As fate would have it, Ivan and the princess fell in love on the wolf's back. Approaching the kingdom, Ivan was in tears. "My dear friend, the wolf, how can I not grieve? Elena and I are in love and now I have to return her to Tsar Afron, or else I will be held in disrepute throughout the kingdom."
"I have served you well," the wolf answered, "and I will help you again. This is what I will do: I will transform myself into the princess and you can take me to the tsar. He will think that I am Elena. Then, when you are riding back in the open field on the horse with the golden mane, and when I am allowed to go outside to walk with my ladies-in-waiting, think of me and I will appear."
Ivan liked the idea and, like magic, the wolf turned into the princess! Ivan led him to the tsar, who was overjoyed at seeing who he thought was the princess. Ivan was immediately given the horse with the golden mane and rode toward the kingdom of Dolmat (secretly picking up the real princess where he had left her). For several days, the two were so enchanted with each other that they completely forgot about the gray wolf. Then, on the fourth day, Ivan thought "What happened to my friend, the wolf?" It just so happened that this was the first day that the wolf was permitted to leave the tsar's palace so he could escape. And just as thoughts about the wolf entered Ivan's head, the wolf appeared there!
So Ivan, the princess, the wolf and the golden-maned horse began their journey to the kingdom of Dolmat. When they approached its border, Ivan said to the wolf, "Listen, my dear friend, you have done much for me, but could you do one more thing? I would love to have this golden-maned horse to bring back to my own kingdom. Could you turn yourself into a horse, and we'll do the same thing we did with the last tsar?"
Poof! The wolf turned into a golden-maned horse. Ivan presented him to the tsar, who was quite jubilant and they all sat down for a large feast which lasted two full days! On the third day, the tsar gave the firebird to Ivan. Ivan then left for the trip back home, picking up Elena and the real golden-maned horse along the way. It wasn't long before the tsar went out riding with his new horse (who, of course, was really the wolf). At an opportune time, the tsar was thrown off his mount and all he saw after that was tail end of the wolf running off into the distance!
With his speed, it didn't take the wolf long to catch up with Ivan and Elena the Fair. They traveled together until they reached the place where the wolf had eaten Ivan's first horse. "Now it's time to part," the wolf said. "You have a horse again and I can't be of any more service to you." The wolf ran off and Ivan shed many tears over the parting of his good friend and companion.
Ivan, the princess, the firebird and golden-maned horse headed home. They were still many miles away from the kingdom when they stopped to rest. They tied the horse to a tree and kept the bird beside them. If you remember, the tsar's two older sons, Dmitriy and Vasiliy, had also been looking for the firebird. They were returning to the kingdom themselves when they stumbled upon the sleeping Ivan and Elena. They were quite charmed by the golden-maned horse, the firebird, and Elena. Filled with envy, they decided to kill their brother. Dmitriy took out his sword and thrust it into the body of Ivan. Then they woke Elena, who saw the motionless body of her sweetheart and burst into tears. "You might have been called honorable knights if you fought and won a battle in an open field. But as it is, you killed someone who was sleeping and defenseless. What kind of respect could you possibly deserve?"
The brothers paid no attention and rode back to their kingdom with their treasures, including the lovely Elena. "One word of this to the tsar," they warned, "and you won't live to see another day!"
The slain Ivan lay for exactly thirty days on the spot where his brothers had left him. Then the gray wolf found him, recognizing the lad by his scent. He wanted to help his friend, but he didn't know what to do. When he saw a mother crow and her two babies circling and hungrily looking at Ivan, he waited until they landed and grabbed one of the babies.
"Please don't harm my child," the crow pleaded. "He's done nothing to you."
"Then go to the Thrice Tenth Kingdom and bring me back some magical life-and-death water. Your child will be safe if you do this," the wolf said. The crow agreed and flew off.
On the third day, the mother crow returned and brought two vials of water. Without warning, the wolf ripped into the flesh of the young crow he was holding, and tore it in two. Then he sprinkled some "water of death" on the young crow and the crow's wounds were healed. Next he sprinkled some "water of life" on him, and the young crow came to life, fluttered his wings, and flew off to his nest!
The wolf repeated the procedure with Ivan. Miraculously, the boy came to life, saying, "Oh, how long I've slept!" "Yes," the wolf said, "and you would have slept much longer had I not found you!" He told Ivan everything that had happened and that today Ivan's brother Vasiliy was about to marry Elena the Fair. The wolf told Ivan to climb on and in a flash they were off for the city.
Ivan arrived as the wedding feast was already in progress. Elena saw Ivan and jumped up from the table. "There is my dear fiance, not this coward sitting next to me!"
The tsar, confused at this turn of events, asked for an explanation and Elena gladly told him everything. The tsar, quite naturally, was furious with the brothers Dmitriy and Vasiliy and threw them in prison.
Ivan and Elena got married themselves and were so happy with each other that they never parted.

Source: http://stpetersburg-guide.com/folk/swolf.shtml

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rake's Progress Returns

Just yesterday an article from the Huffington Post was released stating that Stravinsky's Rake's Progress returns back to the Met. The article states "Jonathan Miller's 1997 production of The Rake's Progress, revived at the Metropolitan Opera House for the first time since 2003, and around for only two additional performances, eschews the look. As designed by Peter J. Davidson, it goes for something entirely different. The opening scene of a tall house with treetops for a roof, and standing against a blue sky with a couple stationary clouds, is reminiscent not of Hogarth, but of René Magritte." 

This video is one of the most famous arias from this particular opera sung by Dawn Upshaw.
As of recently during one of my studies I accidently came acorss Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto.  This particular concerto, although sounds really good, there is one moment that makes the piece for me.  About six minutes in the theme that was played thirty seconds earlier but this time the left hand and right hand are misplaced. Thus creating a real nice effect.

Russian Piano Technique

I studied with a Russian teacher almost all of my life that studied in Moscow Conservatory. I believe I found a good article that I feel like shows how Russians teach. 

Russian traditional way:

I call it “ aggressive” way. It is extremely demanding and almost threatening way. After such learning experiences many students stop to play piano at all.
In Russia (old USSR) we do not use the word “fun” regarding learning process( actually we do not use that word at all, there is no translation for “fun” in Russian language) . The piano lesson sound was nothing to do with “fun”. It was  strictly intellectual, more art-like activity for kids. We were very lucky back in USSR: almost every kid had opportunity to learn the piano at the local music school ( seven years of study).And it was  affordable for “middle class” family. Please keep in mind that I am talking about my experience until 1999. The country Russia is changed now and the way of teaching  and school and educational system changed too.
After many hours of practice (mostly pushed by parents) students forget what the meaning of the word “music” is. They question, “what piano playing  has to do with the music?”
While working in the Music school in Moscow, I got  a student  transferred from another teacher who was 7th grader and it was her last graduating year. When we met at the first time, Masha have stated: I will do my best to go through final exam, I will receive the diploma, I will present that diploma to my parents and after that I will never ever play piano again!  It was very very sad.. I am glad that I could help her. At the end of the year her attitude changed and after her graduation she thanked me with tears that I helped her to regain her love for piano again. It was very touching and rewording.
Here, in US, a few people (when they learn that I am Russian Piano teacher) jokingly asked : are you hitting your student’s hands with a stick?
I never faced or hear about such things myself back in Russia.. Also a few parents of my students would bring their memories about their piano teachers, when they were kids. Teachers were Russians, trained by Russians or from other European countries: Germany, England. Those teachers  used to hit hands with rulers. Again I never heard such stories from any of my friends, classmates, and colleagues while living in Russia (USSR) until 1999. So, if it was true, I can only say those teachers had no idea about pedagogy, child sociology, patience and compaction and they should not be teaching.

Russian Women's Trampolining

This is a video of two Russian gymnasts competing in the Women's Synchronized Trampoline.

Trampolining is another type of gymnastics. It is my favourite type of gymnastics, and last year I was able to learn many skills on the trampoline. Here is a video of when I had just learned how to do a forward somersault (forwards flip).


When I was at home in Sarasota, I went to a store selling Russian food products. It was really interesting to see the different food items and to look at the packages in Russian.
I ended up buying this:

гречиха (каша)

This is a recipe for гречихa каша. 
These are the ingredients:
1 cup toasted buckwheat groats
1 3/4 cups filtered water
1-2 Tbsp butter, to taste (I used unsalted butter)
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste (I used sea salt)

And here is the recipe 


This is a recipe for налесники (a Russian pancake with a cheese filling).
Here are the ingredients:
Ingredients for crepes:½ cup lukewarm water
1 cup milk
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted. Plus more to sauté.
1 cup all-purpose flour (you can use 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup all-purpose)
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of Salt

Ingredients for cheese filling:
8 oz package cream cheese, at room temperature
16 oz small curd cottage cheese
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup raisins
Powdered sugar for serving (optional)

And the recipe can be found here

Котлета по-киевски

This is a recipe for Котлета по-киевски (chicken kiev), which is considered to be a Ukrainian dish.
These are the ingredients:
Chicken Kiev Ingredients:
4 Chicken Breasts
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup flour
1 ½ cups fine dry white bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper to taste
Kiev Butter: (if you don’t have some of the spices, just omit them, Really!)
8 Tbsp Butter, at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
The recipe can be found here

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Dried fish snacks

 I went to the Russian district near Miami with some family friends from Russia. I saw that many of the grocery stores I visited had a large selection of dried fish in packages. My friends told me that they were a snack that most Russians and Ukrainians ate with beer or alcohol. They said that most bars in Russia offered these fish as drinking snacks like bars in America offer pretzels or nuts. They are made from many kinds of fish. The most popular type of fish is Vobla, also known as the Caspian Roach fish. The fish are salted and dried. The package I purchased is labeled “Gold Fish” with the ingredient “Bigeyes Snapper”. I saved my packet of fish for the Super Bowl. They taste like a very salty fish bubblegum.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Jewish Population of Imperial Russia

Jews were arguably the most discriminated against ethnic group in the entire Russian Empire. After the partitions of Poland, the newly Russian Jews were forced to live in the Pale of Settlement beginning in 1791, under Catherine the Great. This almost 500,000 square mile stretch of land bordered the Kingdom of Prussia and Austria-Hungary. 

Besides being forced to live in this area, Russian Jews were also subject to abuse by military units. During the Great War (World War One), many Jewish villages were ransacked and thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were murdered. Anti-Semitism was a norm during this time so the officer corps of the Russian army did nothing to stop these actions and were often extremely anti-Sematic themselves. 

Additionally, Jews were all but completely barred from joining the military. Some officers refused to allow potential Jewish soldiers into their ranks, while others were more lenient and willing to create special Jewish divisions. About a half million Jews were able to serve in the Great War. Clearly, Jews in Imperial Russia faced an extreme amount of discrimination and persecution. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

кисель - A versatile dish

Kisel is a fruit drink, or sometimes a dessert, that consists of a sweetened juice thickened with potatoe, cornstarch or sometimes even arrow roots with an optional addition of wine and/or  fruits. Depending on the amount of starch used it is either drunk, used as a sort of syrup to placed on icecream and/or pancakes, or it becomes a sort of pudding/jello!

Vegan Kissel Recipe (Fruity Russian Drink)
Jam or fruit preservative 1 jar
Arrowroot/Tapioca/Potato powder/starch 3-5 Tbsp
1. Blend or whisk one jar of fruit jam of your choice (for making a drink it’s better to use jam without whole fruits or berries) with water to get it smooth.
2. Bring it to boil.
3. Mix the powder/starch of your choice in a glass of cold water (the thicker you want the more starch is used).
4. Slowly pour starch solution into boiling fruit water and stir it at the same time. Keep stirring until thickened.
5. Turn off fire and wait a few minutes before serving hot or let it cool for a cold dessert.

(Recipe copied from: http://www.peacefuldumpling.com/traditional-russian-food-kissel-recipe)