Monday, November 28, 2011

The washing and the lemon tree

Children hiding, Jimena

Glade with horses, Jimena
Glade with cockerel
Quercus suber - Cork Tree.  The bark is harvested once every 9 years.

Donkey, Jimena. His front feet were tied together.
Goat, in distance on mountain top, Jimena
The goat you can't see above

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

" Convinced that the less labour a man did, the better for him and the community, Thoreau retired to the shore of Walden pond where he lived for two years in a hut of his own construction".

Introduction to 'Walden' by Henry David Thoreau

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Castillo de Castellar, Jan 12th 2011.

yesterday's mushrooms ( as yet unidentified)

cloud on the rock

washed up flip flop

rock near sea

sea near home

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Love Yoga

bending, stretching, contorting ourselves
into positions which will be
acceptable to each other


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Their Grandmothers

Old lady, standing outside the heavy metro doors at Rechnoi Voksal metro station in Moscow. It is  minus 4 celcius and she is holding two transparent plastic folders in her bare outstretched hand. . It could be a flower, it often is a flower, or a bunch of flowers. It could be a bunch of herbs, a jar of homemade jam, a pair of socks or something from the bottom of a long forgotten drawer that she thinks she might be able to sell. This dear old lady was selling two plastic folders. They cost 4 rubles in the shop, I had seen the  same ones just the day before at the Biblio Globus bookshop in Lubyanka. She is dressed in a grey coat, her face is white from the cold, she is stooped and shaking.  Where does she come from? Where does she live? Where does she go home to? Real charity, it's been said, is not giving when you can give, but sharing the last scrap of meat you have, when you are also hungry. Charity and giving from a position of wealth springs more from guilt than from love. And when it's real, the question isn't "how much can I give"? but "What should I do?".
She looked like all the blood had drained from her face and hands, she was ash white, shaking like a robin's feathers in the wind.
I put three ten ruble notes in her tiny white hand. ( about 80 pence). She says "no, it's 10 rubles for both". "No, I'm sure it's 30 rubles for one". She looks at me with the gratitude of a grandmother whose grandson had traveled from the other side of Russia to see her. I hear so many words bandied about, everywhere outside Russia. Like the word "heartbreaking". I have never heard Russians complain, about anything, and I have never heard them say, with a 'poor them' pitying tone "Ah, that's heartbreaking". It's a place where the broken heart has no name, where it isn't  called anything, or given a voice, but where it just is. In Russia, the words describing pain, and suffering, and love, go whispered on the breath, or as a deep hum underground, like the rumbling and groaning of plates as they grind together before an earthquake, and the angels go to heaven  unannounced, untainted by pity,  as innocent as Robins.

Love in a mask................(jk)

There is a boy with a spiderman mask in the  Moscow metro. He sits perched on the edge of his seat clutching his plastic sword, watching the Russians in their usual deep metro slumber. The boy feels the thrill of being different, standing out in his disguise, of being a superhero in the land of grey chameleons. The preying mantis can change his colour to blend in with his background, for survival. So can the Russian. Grey is the best colour to blend in with despair and humility. And here is our boy in his bright red spiderman mask, a bright red ship on a sea of grey. He watches them. They can hide themselves from each other, but they can't hide from spiderman.

Metro angel - (jk)

There is an old lady singing deep in the bowels Novokuznetskaya metro station. The tunnels carry the sound to your ears long before you see the singer or the instrument. The Moscow metro echoes with faint sounds drifting like prayers through the catacombs of an ancient underground cathedral. She is dressed from head to toe in black, with a black wide-rimmed theatrical bowler hat by her feet, inside which glistens a sediment of roubles and curled notes. About 70,  her face gently sagging, lips rouged, large wedgewood blue eyes glisten with a halo of tears, fingers interlocked and placed over her diaphragm.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

November 5th, 2007 Moscow

November 5th (bonfire night) came and went like a damp firework. I threw the last cig of the night down the stairwell and as it flipped thorough the anti-suicide wire meshing placed across the well every three floors, orange sparks flew off in all directions. That was my fireworks for the night. The stubborn cold is dragging on, a cold sore has made a dramatic entrance stage left of my top lip and the voice only partially returns when black tea with honey is drunk. And yes this miracle cure does work.
This Kommunalka where I now live is better than the other one in Shabolovskaya, but I didn't foresee ending up back in one.
Two sixteen year old girls, Lena and Oxana, live in the flat opposite on the same floor. Their mother, who looks like a Soviet gym instructor, wears a red tracksuit and shouts even when you are stood close by. She wants her daughters to study English with me and I tell her I want to but that don't have much free time. She corners me in the lift with her giant intimidating breasts, with an implicit threat of suffocation, saying that their grammar is good but they need speaking practice. I agree to let them come to my flat for a quick test, but once released from the imposing breasts, resolve to find an excuse if they come. They do come, the next day, my resolution fails at the sight of their innocent breast-beaten faces. Empathising with these two spindly victims of the grotesque mastadon which had spawned them and heaved her heavy pendulums over since birth, I let them in and it transpired that 'good grammar' meant " Couldn't understand a thing". It was pre-beginner level, almost pre-language level, dating back to that time in adolescence when all meaning is expressed either by the absence of or presence of a blush. Their teacher had given them some cheap bad quality class books , intermediate level, and left them to get on with it. None of the exercises had been done. They said that he was often not in the class with them. He goes to walk and smoke around the school and leaves them alone. I gave them an exercise book, a CD and some homework exercises to do for next time, whenever that might be. Next time never came. During the next month, whenever I saw them in the lift I asked if they had done any homework for me, they just blushed and said nothing. Whenever I saw their mother, I was threatened with the heaving udders to explain why I had not invited her offspring for a second lesson. When I said that I had invited them but that they had never been, she began to snort like a bull. It seems they had been sent around to me for further lessons, but had never arrived at my room across the corridor. I feared for the girls safety that night and slept with one ear pricked for the muffled sounds of suffocation.

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 21st - 2010 (jk)

3rd flu of the year. Strange the Moscow virus, hardly any runny nose or sore throat, but painfully aching bones and dull heavy head, hurts to move the eyeballs. Well worth cancelling the Monday morning lesson for that bit of extra sleep. Back feels like it's been battered by hammers. "Terra Flu" helps to knock you out to sleep, not sure what else. No hot water for a month now, while Moscow "cleans its water pipes". Same old story. Not so bad now, bowl of kettle water, got the art of the strip wash down to a tee. No place to store the new Vespa. Wouldn't fit up the ramp outside the flat. The old concierge has promised to help, even offered to keep it in her little room for 10javascript:void(0)0rb a day. Get me to the seaside, Moscow is too hot and stuffy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three Russian Winters ago............(jk)

Three Winters ago I was living in a small rented room in Shabolvskaya in South Moscow. It was a Stalin building, built in 1951. It was a cold November night, outside it was -29.c. The windows are closed in winter and taped over with masking tape to stop draughts. Just the tiny little window at the top can be opened to let air in sometimes.
It was dark, I was lying on my bed watching the candle flicker and splutter. The neighbours were quiet. They must have been asleep or out.
I heard an unearthly screeching howling noise from outside. It was like a cat being mutilated.
My head just about fit through the small rectangular top window. Below in the snow I saw four dogs, each holding the leg of a black cat and pulling outwards, splaying it. The cat continued its black howl, but now seemed to be sobbing softly as it’s life dripped out of it’s thin ribs onto the snow. A fifth dog arrived, and bit the middle, I heard the crunch. There was a final sound like the last dregs of air seeping from a bagpipe, the dogs continued to hold the splayed cat, five black tails now wagging . They huddled together, snuffling slurping noises from the feast. Next morning I checked the snow but there were no traces, bones, nothing. Fresh white snow had fallen and covered the ground.

JK – 2009, Sept.


An old woman wearing a Tsarist service cap is trying to sell a ring with an emerald like a black cat’s eye ripped from its socket. An old general wearing a misty monocle and tattered mittens is selling a bottle of 1823 Madeira. The general’s face is as stupid and lifeless as a belly without a navel. A Jew with sagging cheeks is selling a white dress waistcoat and a flute. The flute has a sad air which suggests that it has never played anything but funeral march
Anatoly Mariengof – (Cynics).


“If we are to believe a venerable English diplomat, Ivan the Terrible attempted to teach my ancestors to smile by ordering that while he was out walking or riding “those he met should have their heads cut off if their faces did not please him”.
But even this decisive measure produced no results. We have remained gloomy by nature.
Anyone walking along with a cheerful expression on his face is pointed at – and the smile of love has split my features from ear to ear”

Anatoly Mariengof – (Cynics).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In Russian 'pips' are 'bones'

" These grapes are nice. They've got no bones in them".

Monday, September 14, 2009

Letter from P

"Dear Joe,

Nice to read a message from you. Well, I have different feelings aboutour army. I will write an essay because I think it will be a goodessay. Our lieutenants were quite strict but they were good guys. But
some evenings we passed on the place of arms studying how we should
walk together in a right way. The army structure is so stupid and not
effective. The army I have seen cannot protect this country. The
techniques, cars and arms are old. No soldier can shoot correctly.
Besides, cooking is ridiculous. I was punished to pass one day in the
"army kitchen". I went to the toilet after 22.00. Russian soldiers
have no right to do it)) My punishment was to wash all plates,
coppers. So, army gave me new skills which I could use in usual life
especially during the crisis)) I agree it made me stronger. I know how
to survive eating only one type of food during a month. It is crazy
but it is true. I don't imagine how soldiers can protect the country
if this country cannot give a food for them. It's make me unhappy."


Monday, September 7, 2009

Somewhere near Olga's

Somewhere near Olga's

I'm alive while Lyusha is smiling

Moscow river

Olga's garden

Olga's garden

Olga's garden

From inside Olga's

From inside Olga's

From inside Olga's

From inside Olga's

From inside Olga's

From inside Olga's

From inside Olga's

From inside olga's

From inside Olga's

From inside Olga's

From inside Olga's

Hiding under the table.............(jk)

The Patriotism of the Beaten Child

It isn't easy to write about Russia. It is like living with a big dysfunctional family with a scarred and tortured past but which has welcomed you into the home and treated you well. It is easy to simplify things and make archetypes, goodies on one side and baddies on the other, but it's much more complex. Any attempt to put Russia into words seems to come unstuck. You have a chunk of words which seem to make sense, which say exactly how you felt about something. But this chunk of words is like a snowball. You put it on the windowsill and it's solid and white, you made it with your own hands. But when you return a bit later it's gone, it's just a pool of water.

It has changed it's form , in the same way that emotions and ideas change their form and depend on the stance you take on a particular subject at one moment. Attempts to express anger, frustration at aspects of Russian life are inevitably followed by "the snowball effect", by a feeling of guilt or sadness that you have somehow tried to put the boot into a man who is already down and out for the count, badly beaten, and that what you thought you were angry about wasn't what it seemed. Usually it's something deep down in ourselves.

It was simply the way you chose to see it. Only a child would expect to put a snowball on a shelf and for it to still be there half an hour later. Adults should be aware of the more subtle ways the world around us and inside us is always shifting. Once, in France many years ago, I saw a man attacking his girlfriend. He had her pinned on a car boot and was punching her in the face. In such situations there should be some hesitation or doubt in a healthy mind about what to do. There should be a voice urging caution about intervening. That voice was there, but nevertheless, my legs in such situations seem to drift of their own free will, like an insticntive reaction, like a cat towards a mouse's tail. As I came close the woman screamed at me to "f*ck off" and mind my own business.

It's a lesson that William Burroughs spoke about when he said "Never interfere in a boy girl fight". The same could be said for domestic rows in the Russian family. Any inlaw who finds him or herself married to a person with a dysfunctional messed-up family, will know the dangers of getting involved in their arguments. It's as if you didn't marry the person you love, but a whole tribe of warring enemies. There are usually those in such families who hate the scenes and rows, the decent peaceful ones who just want life to be quiet and normal, who crave a small corner a million miles away to crawl into and escape the madness. But it is impossible to completely stand outside it. Such families are hyper-sensitive to outside criticism and will band together to defend themselves and attack the aggressor. The more they have suffered , the more they have been through together, the more they have hurt and hated and scarred each other, the more tightly they will band together to defend against anyone attacking from "outside", from "out there".

The Russian experience is something similar. There are many here who are crawling, or trying to crawl, away into the corners. So many young ambitious and usually talented Russians who don't want to start families here, want to leave to work and study in other countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, the USA, etc etc. Russia has been haemorrhageing her best people for many generations, and the flow has gushed more since it all fell apart.

Putin has exploited this "us us against them" mentality very well. There is a new kind of patriotism in Russia now which is based on a kind of desperate need to believe that things are not as bad as they seem, and will get better, if we just trust the great hero leader flexing his torso on a stallion with a rifle in his hand.
Russians are not complainers. To whom would they complain? About what? There aren't the structures or avenues for complaint that Western Europe has. Mr Angry is treated badly by a shop assistant in Wolverhampton, or there is a strange smell of sewage in his train station, so he gets home and writes a letter to some public organisation or watchdog or solicitor and some process of complaint is started which may or may not solve the problem, but will, Mr Angry thinks, at least be addressed. If not, he can go higher up, maybe down the legal road. One of my students is a solicitor in a prosecuting office in Moscow. She is very self-effacing, modest and intelligent. She told me: "One of the worst things that can happen to a Russian is to find himself caught up in the Russian legal system, because it isn't about laws or right or wrong or justice, only interests, power and money. You don't stand a chance".

It's like the son who's father came home drunk every night and beat him with a leather belt, but still loves him and protects him when the police come to investigate complaints from the neighbours about the screaming and crying. For children like this, the tears and the pain and the guilt and the pity are love. Their love. The only kind they ever knew.
There are different kinds of censorship in such environments, but the most powerful one is 'self-censorship'. There is no need for the State to apply a great deal of force and control to a population which already has the "beaten child" syndrome, and has already been conditioned not to look father in the eyes when he comes home drunk, that it's safer just to stay out of his way and hide under the table.