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Topics - Johnny

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Forum Announcements / Travel in Moscow and S.Petersburg
« on: July 17, 2008, 05:54:33 AM »
Hi guys,
First, I would like to apologize for having disappeared from the forum for such a long time. I did have major problems with my old computer, and with the new one which I bought a few months ago, I simply couldn't figure out how to log into our website. Well, the past is past and here I am.
Last Sunday I came back from a two-week trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Forum Administrator, please feel free to move my posting to a more appropriate location, since with this topic I would like to start a discussion over traveling to Russia and matters of safety. The other threads are limited to the Pushkin area alone. BTW, this will perhaps make many of us very happy that the name Tsarskoe Selo (Imperial Village) is making a come back in S. Petersburg. More and more people call Pushkin by its former name. I even read in a brochure that the two names are practically interchangeable in daily speech.
Unlike in 2001 when I went to Russia for the first time, this time (my second trip there) I felt quite safe. I also realized that people who are generally kidnapped or murdered are the extremely wealthy who themselves often lead shady lives. In short, most average people like us will face the same amount and type of mostly petty crime that we come across in other big European cities.
I found Moscow changed beyond recognition. A lot of new constructions, including monuments, in the city. I also noticed that many food stands and booths that one could see everywhere in 2001 including the area around the Bolshoi had all disappeared, which was a positive thing for me. The new houses of the rich and huge apartment complexes around the city center and in the suburbs were also astonishing.
In Saint Petersburg I was rather dismayed that the city center had practically not changed since 2001. Buildings still in bad shape, filthy and smelly staircases and broken doors and peeling facades. I had thought this would all be taken care of for the 2003 celebrations of the city. But that was not the case. However, there were isolated buildings here and there, mostly taken over businesses, banks, hotels or corporations which had been beautifully renovated. However some had taken the renovation process to an extreme to the point that the buildings looked just new, stripped of all the stucco and the historical stylistic things on the facades or inside. There were a number of horrendous, brand new buildings as well, including an office building right next to Rasputin's house on Gorokhovaya, and the new Mariinsky concert hall, which is right behind the old theater and is going to look like something like the LA Disney Hall. I don't know why they cannot keep these new buildings out of the city center, just like it is done in Rome. There is so much space, and so many relatively new or completely brand new neighborhoods around the historical city center which can accommodate these new projects. I personally found the new shopping mall on Sennaya Ploshad frightening. It was absolutely disgusting. By the way, unattractive foodstands and booths still dot the city and the underpasses.
On a positive note, the infrastructure outside the city has improved immensely. The roads are all in tiptop shape. Beautiful shopping centers alongside the roads and in the suburbs, like everywhere else in the world. And lots and lots of huge apartment projects, but really nice, nothing like the stupid Khrushchev blocks.
Overall, I had a much more positive view of Russia (at least the two cities that I visited). Moscow is expensive, and if you are staying in a grand luxury hotel, be prepared to get ripped off in the grand manner, too. Like the concierge trying to sell you a ballet ticket for 12 times more than the price of the actual ticket, or charging you $12 for an 80 cent bottle of water in your room, or the hotel taxi trying to charge you $90 for a 2 mile trip to the train station, all of which I managed to avoid. In SP I was staying in a more modest hotel, and the city overall is a lot less expensive than Moscow. However, unlike Moscow, there still have different theater and museum ticket prices for locals and foreigners. But even here the difference is a mere 50% which is nothing in comparison to 2001 when the difference was 8 to 10 folds. Needless to say, they did not lower the prices for the foreigners. it's the poor locals who have to pay a lot more now.


Rasputin / Bonch-Bruevich on Rasputin
« on: May 15, 2006, 11:54:35 AM »
Hi guys,

Brian Moynahan in his excellent "Rasputin, the Saint Who Sinned" quotes an amusing anecdote by Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich about Rasputin which had originally appeared in the no.10 issue of Voprosy Istorii printed in 1964 in Leningrad. Apparently there was also a Moscow version of the magazine.
The story is about Rasputin attending the salon of a famous hostess and art collector Varvara Ivanovna Iskul. As he walks into the house for the first time he looks around and says: "Why is it, mother, that you hang up so much on your walls, as if it were a museum? Perhaps five starving villages could be fed on this wall alone. Just look how they live while the muzhiks starve."

Some years ago I encountered the original Russian text in a book at Boston's public library. Unfortuantely I didn't take notes or mark that book and then I lost track of it and was never able to find the book or the article again. There are Russian translations of Moynahan's book. But all of them translate that particular passage from the English version. Basically what we have is the Russian translation of the English translation of an originally Russian text. All the translations seem to be rather heavy-handed and very artificial, whereas the original that was supposedly a direct quote from Rasputin by Bonch-Bruevich was in Rasputin's own words and quite amusing.

Does anyone have an idea where and how I could find the original text? Or if someone has it, can he/she either post it here or email it to me?


A new opera about Rasputin is opening this weekend in Helsinki. The composer, Einojuhani Rautavaara, is apparently one of the most respected contemporary Finnish composers. Needless to say, I hadn't heard of him until I heard about this opera. I did some research on the web and even came across some audio samples of some of his compositions. To my surprise, I found his music very engaging and entertaining, sort of a modern romanticism.  It was also interesting to read that he wrote the opera in Russian and not in Finnish.  I can't wait to see what the critics have to say.
Here's a link to get you started:;40;;2&tyyppi=1
For more information just do a search under his name and Rasputin. You will find a lot of stuff.

Having Fun! / Whom would you cast for an "Ella" movie
« on: April 18, 2005, 04:32:22 PM »
Don't you think it is about time for a movie about Ella. There have been so many semi-accurate to almost completely fiction movies about her more famous sister and her family. And practically all of them ignore the older sister completely. She practically doesn't exist, or perhaps is to profound for the movie directors. In many ways Ella is a so much more fascinating and more interesting character than Alix. I could never imagine a movie solely about Alexandra without also concentrating heavily on her husband, children and, of course, Rasputin and even Anna. Ella is, at least for me, a totally different story. A society beauty turning into a nun! In fact there is so much about her to be explored in a movie that you might even need a mini-series to do justice not just to the story of her life but , more importantly, to her complex and fascinating character, merits, flaws and all.
My candidate for the role of Ella would definitely be Nicole Kidman. There is certainly a resemblance, but they also share the same kind of stunning elegant beauty. A Grace Kelly could have been a wonderfully graceful Ella as well, although I would have a hard time imagining her both as a vivacious society lady, as Ella was in her younger days, and in a nun's habit. But I think Kidman could pull it off wonderfully.
Whom would you cast?
PS. Who would be your Sergei?

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