Monday, April 28, 2008

London's Russian vogue

AOG, London

I have been here for a couple of days only. In these few days I have noticed that Russia is very much at the forefront of the British imagination. Not quite the fever pitch all things Russian acquired in Paris in the aftermath of WWI, but certainly something worth noticing.

The Royal Academy of Arts has just closed its "From Russia" exhibition. Itself
caught in the middle of the on-going diplomatic row between the UK and Russia regarding the death of an ex KGB agent in the UK by the, supposedly, Russian secret service, something Moscow strongly denies and which the exhibition has gone a long way in defusing- at least according to some. However, the hangover still is being felt. Here and there I saw posters of the exhibition still in place.

Perhaps it didn't last too long?

However, the vogue for Russia, in my experience, has gone a bit beyond that in London town. It is common knowledge that, for a few years now, Russia's nouveau riche have set up shop in London.

Something about the city's ambiance marries quite well with the Russian spirit. Perhaps it is that in Russia, as in Spain, it is commonly believed that, if it is the most expensive you can have, it is also the best one you can have. It does not matter if we are talking about books, homes, cars, clothes, horses or what have you.

Expense equals quality. And nowhere in Europe is as needlessly expensive as London. Perhaps that is the interest of the Russia's newfound Anglophilia.

And the Brits return the favor by favoring a certain a la russe state of affairs. My most tangible example was walking into Waterstones and finding a whole section dedicated to Russian literature.

Leo Tolstoy and his "Resurrection"

Dostoyevsky's "The brothers Karamazov"

Olga Grushin's "The dreamlife of Sukhanov"

Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We"

Andreï Makine's "A life's music"

Viktor Pelevin's "The life of insects"

Nabokov's 'Collected Stories'

Andrei Kurkov's "Death and the penguin" (a copy of which I purchased one day later at a second-hand book shop in Victoria)

Nikolai Leskov's "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk"

A collection of "Russian short stories from Pushkin to Buida" and a couple of Gogol titles.

In short, Russia is almost everywhere in London these days.

For some reason, we decided to celebrate my sister's birthday in BALTIC, London's top notch Russian and Eastern European restaurant.

I didn't choose it because of the Russophilia. Instead, I think a slight zeitgeist was at play here.

I for one am quite happy London is so Russia-friendly. I hope it lasts, for everyone's sakes.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hillary Clinton as Ceasar's wife...

AOG, Madrid

I remember listening in a radio interview in Spain a couple of years ago a quote which I agreed with wholeheartedly. Although in Spanish, it went along these lines:

"Ceasar's wife must not only be his wife, she also has to look like she is his wife"

The quote was a reference to a scandal which happened to Ceasar's second wife, Pompeia, whereby she was accused of doing something which brought great shame to Ceasar: a scandal that occurred during the rites of Bona Dea.

Although, as it turned out, she was innocent, nevertheless, the whole episode was used as ammunition to deliver a divorce veredict. It is from that court case that in the English-speaking world we say "Ceasar's wife must be above suspicion".

Caesar divorced Pompeia and an inquiry was held. Although several members of Caesar's family gave evidence, Caesar himself did not and the court asked him why he had demanded a divorce when so much uncertainty surrounded the incident. "Caesar's wife," he replied, "must be above suspicion."

I mention this because I have been paying a bit more attention to the Democratic primaries in the US. And in particular to Hillary Clinton.

On paper, she is a super candidate. She has (or claims to have), great experience. She certainly is intelligent and she has some good ideas to help the country.

But then, I look at her. How she speaks. How she moves. Her appearance. And then I don't buy it. Especially when compared to the package Mr. Obama sells.

When I listen to them debate, I often think I am witnessing a debate between a PTA Mom and a politician. Silly. Untrue. Unfounded, because they are both great candidates.


Ms. Clinton does not look the part. She does not look like the President of the US. He does. And so does McCain.

Am I the only one who thinks this? Surely not.

May the best person win, of course, but this will not be the case. The best person will not win. The person who most looks like the President of the US will win. Like Reagan did. Like Bush Sr. did. Like Gore did- although we all know what happened there. Like Bush did the second time around.

I am not for a second suggesting Ms. Clinton is not a great candidate. She is. And I would vote for her over McCain any day. But I would have trouble picturing her in the White House sitting as Madam President.

I guess we will have to wait and see.

Obama, despite Tuesday's 10-point defeat, appears all but certain to finish the primary season with more popular votes and more pledged delegates than Clinton.

And then, there's this:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Settling in

AOG, Madrid

Yesterday I was at Gran Via station in Madrid. Up until yesterday I always had to look which way to go and I was forever trying to find the exit sign.

But yesterday, I got out of the carriage and headed without giving it a second thought towards the outside.

Just before I got to the turnstiles, I realised I had not once looked up to find the exit sign. After 2 years and 4 months, I think I might be settling in Madrid.

I rememeber when I first moved to London. It took me almost 6 months to understand the Underground. All those lines passing through the same station; trains from the same line stopping here and there; trains and Underground stations all in one place.

Looking back, it all makes sense now. So much so that I wish Madrid's Metro had this station-sharing idea. But at the time, I used to get lost and frustrated a lot. Wrong train; wrong direction; wrong line.

I don't remember when it was that I finally settled in London. Maybe I never did. Perhaps that is why I left.