Category Archives: My not so ordinary life

Four days trip to UFA Science Festival

What a person from western Europe might think about Ufa, a city of two hours flight east of Moscow. It is a few hundred kilometres from the Ural mountains’ southern end.

The City centre is, actually, beautiful, with many lovely parks, also on the hills (at the centre) with nice views. Well, they said much was done before the BRICS Conference last summer.

Parks were even poetically beautiful. The city is also clean, even the toilets in the restaurants were clean. Of course, I visited only four restaurants for lunches and dinners at the city centre.

It also surprised me that the food was good (and nice portions), much better than what is usually met in many places in Russian cities and countryside.

It also so happened that the weather was, surprisingly this time of the year, really warm, mostly more than +20 or something. Even evenings were warm.

Autumn leaves on the street, yet a day like in hot summer weather …

People were really nice (also in a very literal meaning of the word) and they were friendly.

(In all, according to my experience people are frendlier in Russia than most westeners think. I noticed from the western media that in one rating covering many countries Moscow people was rated no 1 as a the most impolite and unfriendly city people. I don’t believe it. I think, this time politics has a say in this poll. However, one should not judge individuals because of their government or president.)

Hotel Atola was very comfortable, with nice and friendly reseption staff. Beautiful rooms. The breakfast was hmm quite plain, typical Russian hotel breakfast without niceties, not much fresh, salads or anything of the kind. Yet pirogis (quiches, pies, etc.) and Cappuccino were good.

In the evening this hotel restaurant turned out to be an excellent dinner restaurant, also with good service. I had two starters (green salad, fresh, good taste + aubergine rolls stuffed with something I can’t describe – but excellent, really good!), main course (whole quail, roasted, good + tasty (!) potato wedges) and a dessert (chokolate fondue) with tea (Japanese sencha with a taste of “strawberry with cream”, as it was put in the menu slightly confusingly). The red wine from Armenia, Arame (grand reserva, 2009), was a good wine, close to many full-bodied reds known and liked in western Europe. It was new for me, and I was surprised of it’s slightly mystical softness. A beauty, actually.

I really enjoyed my stay in Ufa.

Possibly I should try the next challenge: Ufa in the winter frost. I was told that it can easily be more than -40 (Celsius), even -50 and the record is -55 of something …


Welcome to My New Blog

Dear old and new readers, it is great that you found your way here! I have renewed my blog and home page – and it took a rather long time and more effort than I expected. However, I was heavily encouraged by the three (!) former readers who asked whether I have finished writing …

Nope, I have not. Later you will also find my old writings here. I am a man who loves books and reading, discussions, food and wines, art, music and theatre. I am also interested in history, esp. history of magic and witchcraft in Europe. Also, the economic and  cultural geography of Europe is a fascinating topic. Russian history and culture is just a hobby for me; I am not a specialist in that field.

As a historian, of course, practically all my work and hobbies – except food and wine – are related to history (as a discipline) and to various cultural issues. In addition to all that, I do some sport (but just for the utilitarian purposes; as working at the desk I need some excersice).

At the moment I am having my second – though not consecutive – sabbatical year in one of the world’s leading and one of the biggest city, Moscow. Yes, Moscow is big. Really big.

Before moving to Russia in summer 2012 I had been here twice – once during the Soviet time and once in the late 1990s.

What a change everytime I came!

Thom Moore and his odd minor key

It seems that there are two kind of westerners coming to live in Russia – the ones who want to go back home as soon as possible and the ones who want to come back to Russia as often as possible. Yes, of course I’m exaggerating; there are also those in between as well as those who never wants even to think about visiting Russia.

And then there’s a saying that you can leave Russia but it never quite leaves you, as Justin Lifflander put it in the Moscow Times 26.4.2013. He wrote about Thom Moore and his music, not known to me then and never known to many.

Thom Moore is not just a musician and folk singer; he worked as an interpreter in Russia and was part of the inspector team for the U.S.–the Soviet Union Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Therefore, starting from 1989 he worked three years at the rocket factory in Votkinsk, 1.000 kilometres from Moscow close to the Ural Mountains.

Of course, he met a woman – her name is Lyubov – and they got married. It was his second marriage. Later Moore taught English at the Udmurt State University in Izhevsk (a so called closed city famous for Kalashnikov rifles). He returned to Ireland with his wife in the 1995. All this is told in Justin Lifflander’s article.

Thom Moore had also served in the U.S. Navy as journalist. After that he moved to Ireland, then again back to the U.S. before moving to Russia in 1989. He first met Russians in Ethiopia in the early 1950s when his father was working there. At the university (after the Navy) he studied Russian language, “the only class that was even vaguely interesting”.

Naturally, I wanted to get to know his music which has “poetic intellect and charm”, as described in Lifflander’s article in the Moscow Times. And, indeed, some songs are really touching. I like “The Answer” (1991, Vot Otvet) very, very much. (You can find it from Youtube.) Sure, it’s about a woman and love. But it’s certainly different to anything I’ve encountered before. A Russian experience. I struggled a bit to understand the Russian part of the text. Even in English the allegories didn’t open to me at the first listening.

Thom Moore tells that people in the U.S.A. follow the style of the songs, not the substance, the idea of the text or anything of the kind. He says that the odd minor key in his music, the Russian tone, is definitely improper in Western pop-music. Well, there’s a difference.

On the 6th of December, the Finnish Independence Day, Thom Moore will be 70 years old. My congratulations from Russia (slightly beforehand)!

It’s Friday, 13th September (2013)

It is Friday, 13th September. I have learned that Russians are very superstitious, unlike, for example, Finnish and Swedish people. However, there’s no reliable evidence to show that Friday the 13th had had any importance in the history of traditional, archaic magic. The idiom seems to be younger than 150 years.

After a rather long (and sunny) period in Finland, I have been enjoying my time in Moscow. (Indeed, summer was nice and warm in Finland.) I do like this city. Yet I have no idea why. Some of my friends in Finland do not understand me on this issue.

Here and there people ask about Russia and her future. Eh, I am a historian, not a fortune-teller. I am not even a specialist of Russian history. When I tell them I like Russia, people ask whether I always accept what President Mr. Vladimir Putin does. That is not the point; I like the people and the country regardless of the politics. I do not always agree with my favourite politicians in Finland either.

Of course, some things worry me. My question is: Why does only one of Russia’s neighbouring countries see Russia as a good and appealing example of a civic society? The Baltic Countries, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, etc. do not follow Russian example (to say anything about Finland and Norway). The dictatorial Belarus is the only state where Russian style is admired – and even there not that much, as they seem to think that Russia, actually, is too soft towards her critics and democratic ideas. (China, close to Russian style in some matters, has her own way.)

The ideological power of the so-called West originate from the fact that people believe in personal freedom, welfare, social equality and fair legal system and personal security – that is, the branding of the image in the western world has been very successfull. In this sense Russia is light years behind the West. What does the youth of Europe think of Russia?

In history, there is a difference between the developments in Russian empire and Western Europe. Starting from the late Middle Ages more and more stress in Western Europe has been put on the freedom of individuals. Of course, the rich were the first, yet step by step the ordinary people got better chances as well.

If I may slightly exaggerate, in Russia the state (the Empire) and the very conservative Church have always been the most important elements of the society. That means there never was a civic society in the same sense as in Western Europe. Many reasons for the Russian developments have been listed; the Roman Law, Reformations, and the Enlightenment never took root in Russia (as I previously wrote here in my Russian diary). At one point it seemed that Russia would almost surpass the west: serfdom was abolished in Russia (1861/1863) before the slavery of black people was abolished in the USA (1863/1865). And as is well known, racial discrimination continued in the USA as a legal practice up until the 1960s!

However, in the 20th century Russia entirely lost the competition of people’s souls. I want to emphasise, though, that Russia is much, much more than just bad politics.

Slower than horse transport

Yesterday we got something from the post office. A packet. Yes, I think that’s a piece of news. A Christmas present, sent from Riga, Latvia. Postmarked 17 December (2012). Next postmark 12 February (2013), Moscow. A third 25 February, also Moscow. Opened from two corners, taped. And, finally, on Monday 4 March at us.

It took more than 2,5 months. It’s slower than horse transport (in the 17th century).

Anyway, we’re very happy it came. Yet some of my friends in Finland still wait for the letters I’ve sent to them …