Archive | July, 2006

Banya

31 Jul

Tonight we had a traditional Russian banya (sauna). I’m not used to saunas being so hot, in fact Russians wear cloth hats to protect their heads from the intense heat. I kept pouring cold water over my body for some relief. When I got out – I hadn’t worn a hat – my head throbbed and all I wanted was to lie down.

It was nice being whacked with venik (leaves)….

Minnesotan evangelicals see the Bush-God hypocrisy

31 Jul

Is the tide finally turning against oxymoronic pro-war evangelical Christianity?

From The New York Times, link:

“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

Are your documents in order?…UPDATED

31 Jul

Novosibirsk, Siberia | 17:09 (11:09 GMT), July 31, 2006

Just trying to catch up on some writing today. It’s been a hectic few days, what with the zoo etc. We have also had a few problems with registering with the authorities, we seem to have got the wrong visa (as we are staying with relatives not in a hotel) and the day we went to register the offices were closed, so when we did go and it was open, we were past the 3-day limit. We have to pay a fine.

It’s not an overwhelming amount (about £40.00), but it’s still ridiculous. We also have to pay a nominal amount (1 rouble, about £0.02) for each day we spend here. The Russians actually charge you per-day to be in their country. How bizarre and Third World is that? I would expect something so weird in Uzbekistan or The Kingdom of Bhutan, but Russia, a supposedly G8 industrialised country?

But that wasn’t the worst of it. In the queue for the passport bureaucrats, we had some crazed Russian women who demanded she go before us all in the queue. She already had the papers she ranted (so did we) and stood rooted to the floor just outside the office door. Mrs. tyger and her uncle protested and another Brit-Russian couple did also. Of course I was livid. I demanded that Mrs. tyger explain the simple principle of queuing, and then pointed at her and then at a chair, “tell her, ‘there is a chair, use it!’” She was with a couple of other people, one of whom was English, and something was said between them and the women took the seat. Her English companion, a middle aged gent, came over to the other Brit-Russian couple and mumbled some semblance of an apology, clearly shaken. We went in next.

Inside the office, a mousy haired woman in an official uniform checked our documents and then asked for the proof-of-payment (for the fine), we thought we had to pay her. No, we must drive to a local official payment bank, pay our fine, and then return to the office for her to return our documents. And of course we must queue again. The Soviet Union may be dead, but the Russian penchant for wasteful bureaucracy clearly isn’t.

Rather than employing armies of paper-pushing bureaucrats, maybe the Kremlin should get some of the roads sorted out? Huge potholes cause vehicles to swerve and dart across the road, and in places the tires have left visible trenches along the road – two on each side of the road, like rail tracks. A lick of paint wouldn’t go amiss around the place also.

But I guess the elements make such aesthetics redundant. There is still, regardless of the officiousness of its bureaucracy, a lot to admire about the Siberian people as there is a certain harshness to life in Central Russia: the land is huge, rugged, and unforgiving. The weather, at will, uses every weapon in its arsenal. But when man is faced with adversity and hardship he falls back on his ingenuity and endeavour. And that is what impresses the cosseted westerner when he visits the Russian Steppe: resourcefulness and graft.

Novosibirsk is not Moscow; with its Gucci boutiques, French restaurants, and $10,000 per-sq-metre apartments. Siberia is functional. No gloss. No pretension.

I’m not going to pretend that Moscow isn’t the real Russia, because it certainly is. There are still millions, in and around the capital, who have not been touched by the new found wealth. People who are at the mercy of poverty and criminality, people who’s own experience of the “New Russia,” is one of disappearing savings and rampant inflation. Ask these people what capitalism and democracy has done for them, and be prepared for some blue language – tainted with bitterness and nostalgia. The bourgeoisie are back, and this time they’re wearing Prada.

It’s not a pretty city, Novosibirsk, yes there are impressive buildings and large, wide boulevards, but it has little of the grandiose pretence of Sankt Peterburg or Moscow. As I wrote, it’s functional. You just have to make sure you have the right permit.

I wrote yesterday that I would let you know a little bit more about Novosibirsk Zoo. Well it’s a very large site with loads of animals. Tigers (including a couple of rare white ones), lions, leopards (all the big cats basically, and all the medium ones such as cougars too), bears, a bazillion monkeys (Zoo’s, in tyger’s experience, always OTT on the primates), camels, bison, various marmots, birds, etc. However unlike most British zoos, it didn’t have any of the large African plain mammals (beside the lion of course), there were no elephants, hippos, zebras, or giraffes. I don’t know why, maybe they’re too difficult to look after in the harsh, long winters?

Anyway, enough for today, I probably need a permit for extended Internet use. Take care, and be safe,

UPDATE: I am promised there are African plain animals, we just missed them somehow…hmmmm

Another great day.

30 Jul

More on this tomorrow, but we went to the Novosibirsk Zoo where we saw a White Siberian Tiger, we must remember there are probably about 130 known White Tigers in the world. I have pictures too. Wow. What a beast.

We had Sashlik and beer at a party, hence the briefness of this post.

Puzzling

29 Jul

I write to you from Russia somewhat drunk. We have had many bottles of Baltika, Sankt Peterburg’s finest beer. We have also consumed many sesame seeds, olives, much chicken and copious amounts of salty fish – as is tradition in Russia (but not the rotisserie chicken, that was my idea). Everyone is either out on the balcony gossiping or playing puzzles together on a laptop.

What is it with Russians and puzzles?

I spent the day inside writing today. It was nice with the blistering sunshine coming through the windows into the nice cool apartment. Tea flowed, as did the juices of creativity as I wrote a nasty little chapter about a house siege.

Here is an extract:

A punch from somewhere on Ajeti’s right crunched into his jaw. As his head rocked to the left a broken tooth and bursts of blood filled his mouth. He fell to the floor writhing in agony. A foot stamped down hard on his shoulder, the cracking of bone could be heard. A second foot into his stomach, from another goon, Ajeti screamed out. Now his wife was screaming, begging in English and broken Albanian to stop. Zani stood and grabbed her by the hair, thrusting her facedown into the sofa to muffle her screams. It worked, she relented, sobbing and crying.

Ajeti, spluttering blood with every word begged, “What do you want? What do you want?”
“We have what we came for.”

Zani stood up and walked towards Ajeti, now prone and crawling towards his crying wife. As Zani approached he looked down at Ajeti like a beaten dog. “Consider this your first warning.” Zani lifted his foot and stamped down on Ajeti’s head, and again all was dark.

It’s hard finding time to write, but I need to get the novel finished.

*Pls note, I am some 6-hours ahead of GMT here in Russia, so don’t think I am so drunk so early!

Bastards

29 Jul

From The Guardian, link:

Israel today rejected a United Nations request for a three-day ceasefire in Lebanon to allow aid through and civilians to leave the war zone.
The UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, requested the truce while warning that the deaths of four of its personnel would deter countries from contributing to a peacekeeping force.

The UN said that supplies in Lebanon are running out ‘very, very fast’ leaving children, the elderly and disabled stranded, amid concerns that continued fighting in Lebanon will hamper relief attempts.

More than 750,000 people have been made homeless since the war in the south started 18 days ago.

Israeli planes continued bombing targets in Lebanon this morning, destroying a bridge in a resort area near the Syrian border. Hizbollah guerrillas escalated their attacks, firing longer-range missiles deeper into Israel than ever before. Fighting near the Israel-Lebanon border also continued.

Don’t forget the Lebanese blog, Blogging the Middle East.

Bolton under the microscope

29 Jul

As much as my intuition warned me not to, I tentatively welcomed the appointment of John Bolton to the UN. I shouldn’t have, not then, not now.

The UN is a stuffy, corruptible, and languid organisation. The UN is hamstrung by the conflicting agendas of its membership and its overly bureaucratic structure. Even at its highest echelons, at the Security Council (UNSC), priorities and realpolitik muddy any chance of collective will and action.

The UN was in desperate need of reform and it had shown little evidence that it was changing.

Bolton was to be the fox in the coup, running around, basically upsetting people. The problem is, this is exactly what has happened, and the strategy has crashed and burned. One man can neither change the world, nor it seems the UN. Bolton was always a filthy neocon, with an insidious little agenda, but he only had a limited tenure and could possibly upset the clucking bureaucrats just enough to get the juices of reform flowing.

I suppose this may indeed happen. The G77 group of developing countries has emerged as a bulwark against the dominating politicking of the industrialised nations. Led by several African, Asian, and South American leaders, the G77 has demanded it be consulted in any future UN. However, to this point, the G77 has simply locked horns with the G8, and any restructuring has been stillborn.

One has to blame Bolton for some of this. His temper, conduct, and explicit contempt for the organisation and its membership, has simply put too many backs up. The fox has bitten off too many heads it seems. Like all of President Bush’s appointments, including now it seems Ben Bernanke, Bolton arrived with a show of bluster and the patting of backs, but has been exposed as a bungling baboon unfit for high office.

If America is to actually retain any of its respect in the global community, it must shed this moustachioed clown and appoint someone of actual worth. I would rather have no reform at the UN, than ‘bad reform,’ but with Bolton at the table its difficult to imagine progress would be possible even if the other diplomats played ball.

In a word, I was wrong.