Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Moscow 6 - May They Rest in Peace!

So many great people in one, relatively small place!!

Moscow's prestigious cemetery Novodevichi 
is the resting place of who's who in russian politics, culture, science, military and other walks of life.

To mention just a few : Khrushchev, Yeltsin (politics), Chechov, Gogol (writers), Prokofiev, Shostakovich (composers), Oistrach (violonist), Rostropovich (cellist), Shaleapin (opera singer), Galina Ulanova (ballet dancer), Tupolev (scientist).

Nikita Khrushchev-  his bust                                                   Boris Yeltsin
surrounded by a black and white structure

  Anton Chechov                                                      Fedor Shaleapin

                                                                      Galina Ulanova

Two wives of famous politicians seemed to attract a lot of visitors: Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin's second wife ( committed suicide) and  Raisa Gorbachev, wife of Mikhail Gorbachev ( died in a german hospital after a 2-month struggle against leukemia).

Nadezhda  Alliluyeva

                                                                Raisa Gorbachev
              (A female statue is overlooking the grave; at the back- tiles that cover ashes in the wall).

The Novodevichi cemetery looks more like an exhibition of sculptures: bronze sculptures, marble sculptures, sculptures depicting accurately  the deceased and their profession; life size statues or just busts. A huge variety of styles, materials , colors.                   
Luckily, my knowledge of the russian alphabet helped me with reading  the names on the headstones.  At a certain point I also followed a guided group, and so I managed to visit most of the famous graves.

Many trees and bushes lining the alleys and the rows, as well as flowers near the graves - soften the rigidity of marble, bronze and stone  used in the building of the monuments. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Moscow 5 - Izmailovsky Market

'Izmailovsky' is  mostly  a weekend market, and it comprises several sections: souvenir section at the front; flea market, antiques, and art, at the back.  Like all markets, this one is also colorful and exciting, but not noisy; the lack of noise came as a pleasant surprise to me.

I wandered through all the sections, but since I was interested in buying some souvenirs, I naturally concentrated on the souvenir part of the market .

Besides the souvenir stalls,  there was a space (full of smoke) with meat stands, red tables and chairs, for people to have a barbeque meal.
Here's my meal (not cheap): grilled lamb (big bone, little meat), some vegs, a very delicious pita bread, a bottle of sparkling mineral water.

The souvenir part of Izmailovsky market is based mainly on two elements: matrioshka dolls and memorabilia, with some additional stalls and shops that sell T- shirts, russian fur hats with ear flaps woolen socks, shawls,  lacquer boxes, table coasters etc..As they say, there's something for everyone.

According to Wikipedia, matrioshka is  "a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other" .To put it simply - doll inside a doll, inside a doll, inside... The name 'matrioshka', as one understands,  refers to the mother figure of a big russian family.

I was utterly amazed at the huge variety of those dolls. They were of all shapes, colors, size, quality, hand-made or only hand-painted, with 3-5 and even more nested figures. Prices - accordingly.

As for Memorabilia items-  these include soviet era medals, pins, knives, coins, stamps, propaganda posters, busts of soviet leaders, and more.(Back, at the flea market , one could find  ' heavier' military stuff :rifles, helmets, uniforms, war masks).

The best part of my day was at the end of my visit at the market when I reached the metro station to go back to town. Outside the metro station called Partizanskaya, a trio from Colombia was performing rhytmical spanish songs and enchanting the audience. The russians seemed to be very generous with the money they put in the yellow box.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Moscow 4 - Within the Kremlin Walls

Once again I found myself in a long queue , actually two queues- one to buy a ticket , the other at the security checkpoint.

I knew touring the Kremlin ( Moscow's fortified complex overlooking the Red Square and the Moskva River) could be a matter of several hours and there was no place there to buy food or a drink, so I carried with me a bag containing a snack, some fruit and a bottle of water. The young man at the checking point wanted me, for some reason, to get rid of the bottle. It seemed crazy. I went to another checker who let me in without any problem.   

After entering the gates of the Kremlin  one gets into an  atmosphere heavily dominated by the great russian  spirit, history, architecture, religion, wealth.

                                                     entering the Kremlin

The Kremlin grounds, surrounded by red walls and towers are well kept, with  a lot of pathways and gardens. There are five cathedrals, a huge bell (that never rang), a big cannon (that never fired), the headquarters of the President of Russia and his administration (not open to public), several museums.. .

                                                           walls and towers

I particularly liked the Cathedral Square with people going in and out of the churches, standing outside, chatting and taking pictures ( no photography inside). From the  pathway adjacent to the square, there's a good view of the Moskova river .

the cathedral square
Russian czars were crowned in the Assumption Cathedral  and burried in the Archangel Cathedral.  

The Archangel Cathedral has more than fifty royal graves, including that of Ivan the Terrible  &two sons, and those of the Romanov dynasty members.                                            

For many people, the highlight of the Kremlin tour is a visit to the 'armory'- the rooms that house the treasures of the czars. It is not allowed to take pictures inside , and words cannot do justice to what the eyes see there: superb royal carriages, items in gold, silver and precious gems given as presents by foreigners to the czars, coronation gowns, thrones, and then the jewelery chamber (the Diamond Fund for which one needs a separate ticket and going through security check).

                             heading to the armory entrance under sudden rain drops

When you see the treasures of the czars it's easy to understand the meaning of revolution. People were starving, and the czars were accumulating  exorbitant riches. The clash had to come sooner or later.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Moscow 3 - St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil's Cathedral in the Red Square is the most spectacular, incredible sight in Moscow mainly due to the  multi - colored, onion shaped domes of its nine turrets. Each turret  has a small chapel beneath it with  altar, decorations, and lots of religious artifacts on display.  

To enter the cathedral I had to stand in  line and buy a ticket; it was worth it. The interior was beautifully decorated  with frescoes, icons, bricks.  I  moved from one tiny room to another, taking pictures (without flash) , enjoying the richness of color, delicacy of shapes, and intricacy of details.  I felt like  I was in a fairytale castle, and I even managed to climb up  the steps of the narrow staircase and have a  look at the Red Square from the top.

To be able to 'absorb' all of the inside and outside beauty  of this religious and architectural masterpiece, one has to visit it more than once. Definitely. 
I was told that sometimes a male group of 4-5 singers, with angelic voices, perform in one of the chapels.  It didn't happen while I was there. So, hopefully next time.... 
                                                           on the back stairs

When I came back to the hotel, I suddenly became aware of the brick wall on the way to the room area; it  seemed to have been inspired by the ones within the cathedral. I liked that.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Moscow 2 - Lenin's Mausoleum

                 Lenin's portrait -  wall of metro station Biblioteka Lenina

The mausoleum  is situated in the Red Square, opposite the big, expensive GUM store. The father of communism in the same area with a symbol of capitalism !  Ironical. Across the mausoleum, people  at GUM (General Universal Magazine) are drinking coffee, licking ice-cream and... looking at the tomb of Lenin. A somewhat  weird scene.

Before entering  the mausoleum, you have to stand in a long queue; when you're in,  you start descending  narrow, black stairs you can hardly see because of the darkness around.  No handrail available. If it weren't for a japanese tourist couple who held me by my arms, perhaps I wouldn't have made it to the ground area.

Finally, a spot of light - it's Lenin. He looks quite well, like he is just asleep, with one fist clenched , the other open. The maintenance of his body is a combination of great art and science. Kudos to the russians for their skill and perseverence!

You are not allowed to take pictures or to stop; you have to keep moving  around the glass structure he's laid in, and then climb up and... out ( to the Kremlin wall necropolis where you pass by the graves of other prominent russian figures: Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov, Gagarin...).
I felt an urge to raise my hand in a salute both outside the mausoleum and inside ,while watching his embalmed body. Great Man, a real statesman, one that had shaped russian and world history.

There have been debates on the possibility of his burrial, after 90 years of display.  My personal opinion is that they won't do it, they can't do it. It has become a major "attraction" to the world. Each year, millions of people come to see him. The Red Square will not be the same without him. A visit to Moscow is meaningless without a visit to the mausoleum. I suppose, he will eventually be buried when his body will no longer properly respond to the preserving procedures.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Moscow 1 - Avtozavodskaya metro station

The little hotel I stayed at in Moscow some ten days ago, was located in a nice neighborhood, near the metro station called Avtozavodskaya. The name rang a bell, but I thought it was because lots of russian words have the suffix ..'.skaya'.

The next day, however, I noticed on the inside wall of the station a granite plaque with names and a date on it - and it struck my memory. I remembered that in 2004 (precisely on 6 february, according to the commemorative plaque) a bomb had exploded in one of the metro train cars killing more than 40 passengers and wounding more than 120. Survivors had to walk a long distance through the dark tunnel to get rescued or to find a way out. How horrible!

                            entering  Avtozavodskaya metro station

I stood , for a while, in silence with my head bent, in recollection of those innocent people who were on their way to work, school, market, home - and never made it. They were the victims of a cruel, despicable act of terrorism.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Young Ones

A 27- year old german  co-pilot , Andreas Lubitz, was left alone in the cockpit of a jet for a few moments, and that had a tragic outcome : 150 dead bodies scattered over a mountain in the French Alps. It has been confirmed that he was suffering of severe depression, which probably led him to deliberately smash the plane into the mountain.

At the helm of North Korea  ( an east asian, isolated, impoverished nation) - the 30 year old Kim Jong- un. He looks and acts like a spoilt boy; the problem is,  his "toys" include missiles, nuclear weapons,  and he's constantly threatening his neighboring country of  South Korea, and the USA. He runs his country like a stalinist dictator; human rights are almost non-existing there.

Since his election, the new, charming 40 year old PM of Greece,  Alexis Tsipras, is shaking Europe, and has dragged his lovely country to the edge of an economic abyss. Greece,  ancient cradle of democracy, is fast running out of cash, unable to pay its debts. Only God knows what will become of this nation.

The world we live in worships youth. Perhaps, wherever and whenever possible, we should have second thoughts on appointing young people to lead the crowds above, in the sky, and those below, on the earth.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Lately, I've been reading about the indonesian divers struggling in the Java Sea to recover pieces of the Air Asia jet and dead bodies of the passengers and crew that were on that unfortunate plane crashed on 28 December 2014.

Java Sea is a shallow sea which lies beteen the indonesian islands  of Borneo, Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi.(see the blue contour in the above Web picture).
Historically, it is known for 'the Battle of Java Sea' in World War 2,  when the naval allied forces were defeated by the japanese( on February 1942).

The divers were (still are, as not all bodies have been recovered) struggling not only with bad weather conditions, but also with the sights of disaster and death. Their task was not merely to locate and retrieve objects and bodies , but also to assess possibilities and take hard decisions on the spot.
It is easy for us to say "someone has to do the job", but it's terrible for those who actually do it. It might traumatize their whole life.

Anyway, the divers' struggle with the sea and weather will in its end allow a decent burial to the the victims, bring closure to their families,  make it, perhaps, possible (through the analysis of the recovered  'black boxes'), to learn ways of preventing such catastrophies in the future.

These people- the divers, deserve our highest esteem and appreciation for their efforts.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rotschild Boulevard

'If I were a Rotschild... if I were a richman', sings Tevye , the poor jewish milkman in the famous musical  "Fiddler on the Roof".
Rotschild is a magic name,  the name of the well-known jewish banking dynasty which has always been associated with wealth and charity.

Rotschild Boulevard, named after the french Baron Edmond de Rotschild, is a lovely and popular boulevard in Tel-Aviv . I happened to be there two weeks ago; enjoyed a stroll and  took some pictures. While there, I thought about the stormy protest demonstrations that started on this very street, in July 2011.

pedestrian zone

A few details about the boulevard. The central, middle part of it, lined by trees , is a pedestrian zone.  It has walking / bike paths, and various recreational facilities : benches, small tables, spots for hiring as well as for parking bikes, kiosks selling sandwiches and beverages. 
The usual daily views include parents and children,  dog walkers, people resting on  benches watching the world go by,  bikers , friends sitting around a kiosk for a bite, drink and chat, etc..,

parenta and children

dog walker

chatting, eating and drinking

The street itself, which displays a blending of old and modern architecture,   houses cultural institutions (the national theater 'Habima' and the concert hall  'Mann' at its north end), culinary establishments (fine restaurants and cafes on both sides of the boulevard), and banking offices (headquarters of israeli and foreign banks :  Bank Hapoalim, HBSC, U Bank).

old (Bauhaus style) building

HSBC  bank offices

Ironical or not, the fact is that it was on this Rotschild boulevard where 'the rich and beautiful'  feel at home, that the Protest Movement for Social Justice broke out in Israel of July 2011. It expanded in August , and then faded away in September. People who saw themselves as middle class were protesting against the high cost of living (high prices of food, fuel, electricity, housing) and calling for social justice- which would mean higher taxes for the rich, reduction of indirect taxes, and the establishment of some sort of new social order.

Now, three years later , all I remember of that event is that two of its three young leaders joined the Labor Party and got themselves seats in Parliament . In other words, the protesters became politicians.

The high prices are still here, social justice is still waiting to be rescued. It seems to me , that even the first mayor of the city sitting on his horse, looks dissappointed.

statue of first mayor of  Tel Aviv overlooking the boulevard

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Don't be right; Be smart !

I must confess I don't feel comfortable with USA's initiative of imposing sanctions on Russia. For one thing, it could escalate to something very bad for the world.

After all, Russia is not just another country; she's a superpower. It's  insulting to act as if Russia's some kind of naughty child who has to be punished.   Moreover, there was no obvious reason for sanctions,  as there was practically no invasion of Crimea, and no bloodshed. 

All the mistakes, all the wrong moves, including human casualties, were done by Ukrainean nationalists.
The latter have almost asked for trouble. They started to talk  about covering Ukraine's territory with Nato bases. Yes, Nato on the russian doorstep!.  And of course, there were  demonstrations  which brought about the overthrow of president Victor Yanukovich.

All this took place, while Russia was subsidising the gas she was selling to Ukraine and transferring a lot of cash to help its failing economy.

The strategic Crimean peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea,  with its historically significant  cities of Sevastopol and Yalta, was not originally part of Ukraine; it was given to her as a symbolic present in 1954. 
Its inhabitants are mostly russians. There was no need for Putin's soldiers to invade the peninsula,  as its residents  widely opened the borders and the doors to them.

Anyway, it's a regional conflict involving Russia and Ukraine over control of the Crimean Peninsula;  that is, it was - regional , until the americans decided they want some kind of "russian spring" after the so-called arab spring.

Maybe the americans and their western  followers thought they were right with imposing  sanctions.  I hardly think they were smart.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Following The Missing Jet

"Let's go back to horse and carriage, and no black boxes, please" suggested a talkbacker who called himself  'clever guy'...
Not a bad idea, I thought, considering  the chain of events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian jet,  flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Bejing on  March 8, 2014.
A lot of speculations since then; it is believed the plane has crashed into the southern part of the Indian Ocean,  but still no wreckage found, fate of passengers and crew not known.

"Look that plane up in Somalia"  came a suggestion in the first week after the disappearance.
Right. Maybe the somalians have switched roles  from ship pirates to plane hijackers.
"You better look it up in Yemen" wrote another.
Right again. Yemen, the birthplace of Osama bin Laden, founder of Al-Quaida fiercest terror net, seems quite a plausible location for a hijacked plane.

"The plane is sure in one of the -an suffix countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, getting ready for some huge terror mission, style 9/11"-  that's the prevailing theory so far.
Very tempting to agree to that, judging by the troubling background  of these countries.

" Bermuda Triangle strikes again" remarked some reader.
Could  be, could be that the notorious Bermuda triangle that had "swallowed up" a lot of ships and planes in the past, has a twin somewhere between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
It would sound like a more reasonable possibility than the one of muslims hijacking a plane from their malaysian muslim brothers,  which happens to have on board a lot of chinese, and... one doesn't do this sort of thing to China.

I approached the world map trying to look up all  the places mentioned in the news,including the american military base Diego Garcia which has become the theme of wildest conspiracy theories.

Sad way to learn geography; too tragic a situation to learn at all, as all thoughts are focused on the tragedy of the passengers and their families. 
There's one thing though I'm sure of - I'll always stick to my prayer to God for a safe journey before, during, and after flight.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Kalimera, Cyprus!

End of May 2013. My first time on the island of Cyprus, altough this place is only an hour flight from Tel Aviv. The wave of heat outside, and the  Mediterranean  beaches make me immediately feel at home.

This little island country has lately been in the world news because of financial restrictions imposed on its citizens. Like  other western or semi-western countries, Cyprus has a lot of rich people, but the country's money bag seems to be empty. How so?

Well, the usual triangle of bankers, politicians, Media . This triangle  generates  financial manipulations which lead to corruption,  and ultimately to the country's high debt and the need for austere measures to prevent collapse. Familiar, isn't it?

There are a lot of foreigners here and  they appear to be doing well, especially the brits and the russians. It seems they have found here, most of the distant world  "paradises" : Canada without the fierce cold, USA without the tornadoes and hurricanes, Australia without its 'end of the world'  location.

Cyprus is a member of the European Union, and the old continent of Europe with all its giant problems is still considered by many the heart and brains of the world.

Cyprus is known for its fine lace and handwork,  best olive oil,  exquisite wines. Also for its beautiful songs and talented singers that participate  at the  annual Eurovision contest. 

However,its most famous icon is the late archibishop Makarios who was the first president of the Republic of Cyprus, a great political and religious personality. Major streets were named after  him, statues erected in his memory.

Nicosia, the capital city, is the last divided capital in Europe. It's divided between  turkish cypriots and greek cypriots. The 'border' crossing in Nicosia between the two parts of the city, located at the end of the pedestrian shopping street, Ledra,  looks kind of strange in the eyes of a tourist.  The impressive Monument, though, near the police station on the greek side of the crossing, is  definitely worth a visit to the spot.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Belarus, of all the places

He was in a critical condition; he urgently needed a liver transplant. He appealed , using his best connections, to hospitals in USA, Germany, India, but no luck. The first two required a long wait for a liver, and the third one , so they say, refused to perform surgery on him because of the nature of his former job .  Those in his homeland, Israel, refused to even put him on the waiting list as he didn't qualify for their age criterion (age up to 65).  

In the end, Mr. Meir Dagan, 67, former head of the israeli Secret Service ,the Mossad, was  admitted to an hospital in Belarus (October 2012) where he successfully underwent a liver transplant.

Meir Dagan after transplant

The Republic of Belarus, with its capital city Minsk, is a landlocked country bordered by five countries:  Russia (in the north and east), Ukraine (south), Poland(west), Lithuania and Latvia (north).

Belarus,  considered by many analysts "Europe's last dictatorship" has a relatively decent health  system , but is certainly not among the world's leading providers of health care.

President of  Belarus, Mr. Alexander Lukashenko has used this liver transplant case to make quite a publicity to himself, and to his country's surgeons, humanity, hospitality. Well, why not?

I've learnt two things from this dramatic story:

1.   No matter how important you once were for your country, you might nevertheless find out one day, while  facing death, that she considers you a regular citizen  and will  only  'play by the book'.

2.  Never underestimate a small, modest, country in East Europe. Belarus, of all the countries in the world  "did it"and did it well.

(* above photos - taken from the Web.)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

From Chechnya with ..Soccer

Chechnya, a small country in the Caucasus area of the Russian Federation, has been in the news lately;  the two bombers in the Boston marathon tragedy are originally from that part of the world.

In Israel, two chechen football players (Dzhabrail Kadaiyev and Zaur Sadayev) were the passive protagonists of a big drama at the beginning of this year. And this is the story:

The owner of a major football club in Jerusalem (Beitar club), a russian-israeli oligarch, decided to hire two muslim football players from Chechnya despite the strong objection of the team' s supporters.. Motive: the team needed reinforcement, and the two players , he believed, will do a good job.

 Beitar fans, anti-arab oriented, stated they would not have a muslim player wear the club's uniform. The arrival of the two chechen players (see the above photo with the two in Beitar uniform) sparked a series of provocative actions by the Beitar  hardcore fans:  harassment of the chechens, protests (including racist banners), cursing, and even torching of the club's offices.

The atmosphere became so "hot" that the PM, the President, the Mayor of Jerusalem, and other political and cultural personalities  in the country stood up to condemn the highly provocative attitude displayed by Beitar supporters  towards the two football players from Chechnya.There were also some arrests  carried out among those fans.

I don't know much about sports, but it seems football can bring out the worst in people.