Sorry about that. Life got a bit dull and British (though I have now moved house *again* – to London) and didn’t really feel like blogging about boring every day stuff that the interwebz is full of but noone is really that interested in. But now, I have more Eastern European excitement back in my life!
Back in November last year mum bought an apartment in Vilnius, which I always feel is my home, despite not being Lithuanian and only really living there full time for 3 years. Getting the flat finished has been quite an adventure, mum first deciding to knock all the walls down and completely redesign the place and has involved lots of skype and email conversations about bathroom tiles and light fittings, worrying about whether the floor would go with the persian carpets mum bought in georgia, and most excitingly, a long weekend in Helsinki buying sofas (long story involving lots of nostalgia). But anyway, just before Christmas the apartment was finally finished (more or less – still waiting for bookshelves and the tv is balancing on boxes) and we just had our first Christmas in our new home, after nomadically wandering around various rented accommodations around Europe for the past 10 or so years.
One of the best parts about this wandering has been that we’ve picked up all sorts of random traditions and foods from various countries and incorporated them into our version of Christmas. Lithuanian Christmas involves a feast of 12 non meat dishes on Christmas Eve, so, every year we struggle to come up with 12 dishes for the 3 of us to gorge on. Because we’re not very good at tradition though, these dishes are from all sorts of different countries and often quite random – one year nachos counted as the 12th dish, another year we had sushi. But some of the dishes are non negotiable. Firstly, селедка под шубой (herring in a fur coat) which is herring, egg, apple, beetroot and onion all with an obligatory Russian slathering of mayonnaise. Sounds disgusting, I know, but trust me it’s yummy. Various Greek meze sort of things and greek salad have also become compulsory, as a tribute to when we lived in Athens (where the food was about the only thing we enjoyed), khachapuri – though this year’s were utterly inedible due to us accidentally buying rye flour instead of white, and Badrijani – aka aubergine gunk, mushed aubergine and waluts with lots of spices in from Georgia. This year we also added keptu duona – fried bread and kuchiukai from Lithuania, baked fish with avgolemono, borsht, and finally chilli prawns and pasta from our new favourite Italian deli here.
Christmas day is then reserved for the more traditional British meal (though tradition also dictates that Bee has leftover herring for breakfast) with roast turkey, this year’s was named Roger (previous turkey names have included Colin, Humphrey and Bob), roast potatoes, parsnips, cranberry sauce etc, supplemented by red cabbage and other veggies. Since only mum likes Christmas cake, this year we went with chestnut cake, kindly supplied by aforementioned Italian deli.
The one thing missing though, was snow. Having spent the last few months in the UK, I was particularly looking forward to heading east again with the prospect of some proper snow for Christmas. It rained all of Christmas day. I feel particularly cheated by this having discovered from friends back in England, that it snowed in London.
I went for a walk around the old town and puttered into some churches, having failed to go to any carol services in England or midnight mass on Christmas eve. Not that I’m in any way Christian, just quite like Christmas churchy things. So I went to Napoleon’s favourite church in Vilnius, St Annes, which was very pretty and then went round the back to a second church, all done up with a tree and Lithuanian straw decorations with a nativity scene with real sheep and goats munching on apples in the vestibule.
The Christmas market on Didžioji was tiny, but included a stall with some really pretty carved wooden things, which reminded me that I have to come back for St Kazimir’s festival at the end of Feb where there’s an enormous craft fair, and, most excitingly, a stall confirming that Lithuania is indeed at the culinary forefront of doing exciting things with potatoes:
Anyway, merry christmas, happy new year and all that. Hopefully I’ll have something else worth blogging about soon.
Well after weeks of dreary weather in Edinburgh and long days at the office working on things I knew very little about…airport regulation in the UK, renewables in Macedonia, energy efficiency in Slovakia, electricity sector privatisation in Zambia, etc… I shall next week be starting a paper on gas dependency in Eastern Europe. Much more my area. Hopefully this will develop into a series of energy security papers and maybe even result in some relevent posts on this blog again, we’ll see. If not, my next anticipated trip to Moscow is not til January, though I am itching to get back since D, the friend who rescued me from homelessness back in January has just become a father and I’ve spent the afternoon grinning stupidly over the baby photos.
It also occurs to me that the title of this blog is now sadly inappropriate. I’ll try and still keep writing about Russia anyway though
Apologies for the abysmally long wait since the last update… don’t really have an excuse, just was either feeling like there wasn’t much to report or was busy doing stuff so didn’t have time to report.
So, as most of you know, I’ve now left Moscow (physically, though my heart remains behind I think) and moved to Edinburgh a few weeks ago to start an internship at an energy consultancy here. Had mixed feelings about this, on the one hand was good to do something productive towards my career and actually get some work experience (not to mention money) coming in again… on the other hand, it meant going back to Britain, and not even to London where I know plenty of people, but up to Scotland where I’d never been before and didn’t know anyone. Anyway, lack of a better idea and the prospect of a new adventure into the unknown has led me up here after a very dull few weeks in oxford where I had no money and no life due to everyone being busy doing exams…
I arrived on possibly the nicest weekend in Scottish history, with the sun out and the temperature a whopping 25 degrees (work with me on this). In hindsight, this gave somewhat of a false impression of Edinburgh weather, but at the time, seemed to confirm what people had been telling me down South that the rain mostly falls on the west side of Scotland, and is all finished with by the time it gets over here. They lied. Its also windy *all* the time, so even when its not raining it’s still colder than it ought to be. Somehow this city also manages to be humid and windy at the same time, its got skills is all I can say… anyway, before this turns into a stereotypically british rant about the weather, Edinburgh is *lovely*. Nothing like I expected, but really pretty and green and surprisingly unhilly despite having a mountain range growing through the middle of it…
Anyway, so I’ve not really done anything much in terms of sightseeing or festivaling or anything since getting here since all my time has been consumed with work and househunting (again. I know. I really must find a different hobby) until the middle of last week. Not knowing anyone in Edinburgh who I could crash with myself, and not having enough money for hotels or even hostels to stay at, I’d managed to wangle a patch of floor in a box room of one of F’s friends, but this was far from ideal being in a student flat filled with student boys who, lets just say, weren’t that fond of cleaning. Househunting started approximately 3 hours after arrival, and at the second place I looked at I found the perfect flat with the perfect flatmate, an irish guy who was a total dude in a modern flat down by the docks where there’s loads of funky bars, about 30seconds walk to the water. Naturally this turned out too good to be true, as the landlady was away on holiday and wasn’t answering either the calls or emails of irish dude. So I carried on looking, and looking, and looking. And the places seemed to be getting worse the longer I looked, reaching a low point when I went to look round somewhere that turned out to be inhabited by a sleazy Nigerian guy who answered the door in his dressing gown and then stared at my arse as I looked round the flat before telling me that I didn’t need to pay council tax or have a contract from the landlord since he’d prefer the money in cash… Anyway, eventually, after having almost given up hope, I found an amazingly gorgeous really homey flat, right next to a massive park (and golf course for those of you who are into such things) sharing with an English guy and a Scottish girl who are both really sweet and it’s walking distance to work so that’s all good too.
Workwise everything is going well. The first few days I was working on quite a boring project, compiling data on energy production and consumption in south east Europe, but then a bit of a fight went on over who got to have me work for them, and I got transferred to a different department and found myself working with a really cool woman on a proposal for a massive project in Moldova, so that was really fun, culminating in a mad few days last week where I worked pretty long hours and the director kept coming down and changing major bits of what we’d just written every time we thought we were finished. But it all went out in the end and in between I helped put together some stuff for a project in India while my boss was in Brussels. This week has been slightly less exciting as I have mostly been spending hours and hours on ‘tinternet googling german engineering companies, emailing said companies, getting no response, then phoning said companies and being told that they don’t want to partner with us. Also was trying to locate some Mongolian lawyers for a different project with considerably more success. Next week is bidding on projects in Mongolia, Bulgaria, Serbia, the Nile Basin and a general project for the World Bank. So, pretty diverse stuff which keeps it interesting… Not had a chance to do any work on actual projects that we’ve won yet, but hopefully we will win some of these tenders and I’ll get to see what the second half of the business is like…
Having a life has not gone so well. Has been difficult not knowing anyone at all here and work takes up a lot of time, but there are some nice people in the office and we organised drinks and a dinner last week at a northern Chinese place which was pretty yummy and got to chat to some people… aside from that, there has been precious little doing, though did go out for a drink with housemates on Friday. Now that I’ve moved off the floor and into a room with a bed and a wardrobe (such luxury) next priority is to make some friends and do some sightseeing. I was really good about sightseeing in Moscow and got on it straight away. Here I only managed to identify the castle (nevermind go round it) a couple weeks ago, and I only realised what the royal mile was last week, much to the amusement and exasperation of housemates… this weekend allocated for that anyway so will hopefully have something interesting to report back on after that, and also some photos.
Aaaaanyway, this has gone on a bit. I shall shut up now but may write some more later.
Tags: may day protests, russian communist party
So I had been expecting something interesting to happen today. May Day in Denmark was always a big opportunity for political demos (though most of the population of Copenhagen seemed to decamp to the park and drink beer in the sun), so I figured it was safe to assume that, as the only real organised opposition, the Communist party here would take the opportunity to organise a big protest against Putin and the fact that unemployment is still rising horrifically.
I was disappointed. Arriving at Red Square there were lots of people pottering about enjoying the public holiday, but no enormous crowd of people. Walking over to Ploshad Revolutsii I finally heard some chanting and wandered over. There I found a microscopic demonstration, around 5,000 people, mostly over 50s surrounded by fences and militsia.
The militsia were doing their usual 5 men per 1 demonstrator, with massive trucks behind the stage, and anyone wanting to go inside their cordon had to go through metal detectors and have their bags checked (this is normal for any gathering of people in Moscow though).
There was a stage with someone singing on it, and some people wandering round with leaflets, but that was about it. Lots of Cuban flags as well as Communist ones, but that’s fairly normal for any Communist demo, although Russians know far more about Cuba than Westnern Communists on account of lots of them having been there.
All in all, the whole thing was very uninspiring and if even the Communists can’t muster a big rally, there’s not much hope for opposition in Russia generally.
Tags: energy charter treaty, eternal remont, south stream
Sorry for not writing anything lately. Am busy running around saying goodbye to everyone, throwing/giving away most of my possessions and spending a lot of time queuing in moscow post offices. I’m moving back to Britain on Saturday, sadly, but I have a backlog of stuff about Moscow to write about so the blog won’t be defunct quite yet.
In the meantime, this is one of my favourite blogs, which updates far more regularly than me. Today’s post almost made me snort iced tea through my nose:
While today’s headline is clearly the Bulgaria – Russia South Stream deal, we have to give credit to our very own V. V. Putin for this month’s “New Achievment in Logic” award.
After announcing the South Stream deal, Putin added that he “saw no point in continuing to be a signatory to the European Energy Charter after it failed to regulate Moscow’s dispute with Ukraine over transit to Europe in January.”
Uh, failed to regulate?
1) Russia hasn’t even ratified the charter; 2) Putin doesn’t care what it says anyway; But 3) Russia cannot continue as a signatory because it didn’t ‘keep the Ukrainians in line’ (read: we shut off the gas in the first place)?
As each day passes, it is becoming harder to tell if Putin is one of the most amazing sophists to ever live, or he just lives in a happy Putin place where all of this makes sense.
Enjoy and I’ll be back soonish.
Tags: impact of economic crisis moscow, moscow homeless, volunteering in russia
Sorry, got distracted with stuff again.
The reason I’ve been feeling better lately is that I’ve finally finally gotten to do some volunteering. I’d been trying to arrange this since january, but the concept is not well developed here and finding something actually useful to do had been difficult. My first attempt got me an offer of going to a children’s hospital and giving *the staff* english lessons, which just seemed to miss the point entirely…
anyway, so I finally arranged through the international womens club to work in a project that focuses on helping the homeless, since i already had plenty of experience with that in oxford, and started the week i got back from georgia. On thursdays I go to the north of moscow, to a night shelter/halfway house for exprisoners. during the day on thursdays other volunteers do activities with them but my classes dont finish in time for me to do this as well…
When i get there, I sit in a tiny office and around 4 of us make 250 ham sandwiches and pack them into bags. Although the state donated the building and a minibus to this project, it gives no money so there are virtually no resources at all (funding mostly provided by Caritas apparently). No kitchen severely limits the food options, and the lack of prepation space (along with an apparently hostile director) prevents any real expansion of the project. After the sandwiches are all packed up, we get driven with 3 security guards to one of the main train stations in moscow to hand them out, along with cups of tea… S, the woman from the IWC had spent a long time worrying about me and whether id be ok with this project and everyone kept warning me that it would be scary due to the fact that the crowd is so big, and most expat women seem to expect volunteering to be something along the lines of rocking cute orphan babies…S even told me that one japanese woman had shown up in a full Chanel suit and heels with an apron on under her coat and had been deeply cross that feeding the homeless ‘hadn’t been what she’d expected’…
Anyway, so it’s been really nice getting to know the women who work at this place and some of the reasons why they do it (also v. good practice for my russian since only one of them speaks a bit of english and the rest of them nothing)… Most of them seem to be fairly religous, and theres a lot of singing grace over the food before we leave, saying prayers in the bus on the way there for ourselves and the people, and generally hoping god will assist. This is all interesting to me in an abstract way, but i struggle to identify.. last week when i went, the director of the night shelter (who seems to be less than philanthropic in nature and much disliked by everyone else in the place) had felt unwell and had taken the driver of the minibus to drive him back to his house on the other side of moscow, meaning that we were stuck without a driver (who had already been paid for the driving he was supposed to do to the station) and several tons of sandwiches. lots of praying was done to find a solution to this and eventually a taxi was called and paid for with personal money and the rest of us took the metro.. Also new to me is the fact that a lot of the people staying at the night shelter are long term residents and that they are also volunteers in the project, helping make sandwiches and providing the security at the station..
Apparently since the economic crisis the problem of homelessness in moscow has dramatically increased… the woman running the project told me that before last autumn there were between 50 and 100 people waiting outside the station for food, now, the numbers are more like 300… The first week I went, there was also a german journalist doing interviews and taking photos for an article on the impact of the crisis. I’ve been told that most of the homeless people in moscow are those who have immigrated from other parts of russia without documents (you need a special invitation to work and live in moscow, regardless of whether you are russian or a foreigner, more crazy bureaucracy) and couldnt find work but are unable or unwilling to go home a failure and have become alcoholics instead… the vast majority of homeless people therefore are youngish/middle aged men who would be capable of work which seems like a ridiculous situation but one that the state doesnt seem willing to do anything about…
The project im involved in only does this once a week, and only manages to give out a tiny amount of food compared to the thousands of homeless in moscow, and the speed at which everything gets given out means that theres very little opportunity to actually stop and talk to people and find out much about them, which is a big change from gatehouse where you could chat to people for ages sitting down in a warm room rather than standing at night in a cold square handing out food in a conveyer belt to a never ending queue of people.. mind you, trying to understand normal spoken russian is difficult for me at the best of times, understanding drunk people with no teeth has proved nigh on impossible so maybe im being overambitious in wanting to actually have conversations…
anywho, thats the news for now.
Spoke too soon. It snowed again yesterday and temperatures back down to around 0 predicted for next week. Sigh.
Tags: moscow winter
I JUST WENT OUTSIDE WITHOUT MY COAT ON!!!
Spring has been a long time coming, even last week it was below zero during the day, but finally it seems like the temperatures have caught up with the sunshine…
Tags: April 9th, georgia protests, saakashvili
While I was in Georgia everyone seemed to be talking about April 9th. The opposition is making an attempt at unity calling for Saakashvili’s resignation and demonstrations have been coordinated. Noone seems to be able to guess what the outcome of the protests will be though. It seems extremely unlikely that Saakashvili will be able to get away with the methods employed to break up protests in November. Also hard to believe is the idea that people will demonstrate peacefully then go home again, leaving the status quo intact. The main problem, however, seems to be the very tenuous opposition alliance. Whether they can hold it together long enough to achieve anything will be interesting to see. Either way, D(emonstration) Day looms… detailed updates available on Civil.ge