What do you do on the first day of your long-awaited skiing holiday if your nose is running like Usain Bolt on a cocktail of steroids? *
Your head is nailed to the pillow, and an attentive group of medicines on the bedside table is listening to your snivel and sneezes, expecting you to need more of them with each sniff.
What do you do then?
I read the news.
It is universally acknowledged that clever people read news while wise people don’t. Wise people read clever books or meditate. Yet, when I’m sick, the parts of my brain that are responsible for emotions and thinking are stuffed with only one big feeling and that is Pity for Myself. Any book drowns in this pity without a hope for salvation, so there is no point in reading anything else, but news.
I usually go for art/culture news (well, I run an art blog, after all), and news from home.
Home being, in my case, The Empire of Russia.
Did you think just now that I shouldn’t strike out “the Empire of”?
Yeah. It is hard to be a Russian outside of Russia nowadays. Other nations assume you pray to Putin, speak North Korean, act Zimbabwean, and want to prod with nukes anyone who’s not handing over their gas/heating revenues, a half of Ukraine, and not accepting Russia as a moral compass.
Russians are generally seen as a threat, except in places like the French Alps, or Bond Street in London, where they have been a source of both income and headaches for the last twenty years, and thus have created a class of sympathetic populace. But even there some store owners believe euros spent by Russians should come tax free becase servicing Russians is rather taxing in itself.
I can understand where the fears come from. The international media feeds you the news about Russia that they believe is important. News like Crimea, Putin’s interview on powering up nuclear arms in the Ukrainian conflict, or the killing of an opposition leader a few hundred yards from the Kremlin can be quite disconcerting.
I’d think Russians were a menace myself if that was my only news menu.
Fortunately, there is “local” news back home that shows Moscow is far from becoming another Pnompenh. Look at my yesterday’s “catch of the day”.
A man wearing a kilt was arrested in the centre of Moscow. He was participating in the traditional St. Patrick’s day parade, impersonating a Scotsman. Police officers thought the kilt was a skirt, and with anti-homosexual propaganda laws hovering over Russians, they classified it as a grave affront to public morals. A witness reported the Miranda warning sounded like, “Wearing a skirt? You f*cking homos gone out of your f*cking minds”, following which the man was handcuffed and taken to the local police station.
I am sure the police let him out after they googled up “kilt” and discovered the brave old world of Scottish clans. They probably even had a laugh at the no-underwear rule.
North Korean, you say? Come on! If Russia was North Korea, the man would be accused of spying on important government buildings while trying to distract the guards by the irregularity of his costume, and sentenced to 10 years in a labour camp.
Call it stupid, or dumb, but it is not another North Korea.
Another bit of local news was about a man in Vorkuta, a legendary city in the North of the North of Russia (it is as far north as one can get before heading south). The guy was put on trial for torturing his wife with an electric iron out of jealousy, all the time begging her not to leave him.
Isn’t this incident a perfect illustration of the Russian policies towards Ukraine? Yes! Indeed! Russia is not cruel to other nations out of its inherent rudeness. It all happens out of love. Is it North Korea? Of course not. As twisted as it looks, it is still love, not some paranoid aggression.
Oh, the art news is best represented by a story from Novosibirsk (originally a city of scientists in – no surprise there – Siberia)
A local Orthodox bishop continues his attempts to ban a local production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser opera as in his opinion it desecrates the religious feelings of Orthodox Christians. The first court ruling was not in his favour, but the case is now put on appeal. In the meantime, a group of people whose feelings appear to be desecrated picket the theatre entrance branding visitors as devil’s supporters and traitors.
Is this a religious tyranny of the hardline ISIS or even the milder Gulf caliber? Surely, it is more of a parody on the latter. No one gets whipped or burnt at the stake.
The Russian news paradox is that crazy local news from Russia brings hope that behind all the madness of the recent times there is a layer of sanity.
Now, it’s time to start skiing, and writing about art appreciation again.
See you soon, and in the meantime, if you missed the crime documentary series about French art of the 15th century, it begins here.
* I don’t want to imply Usain Bolt is using prohibited substances: I just want you to imagine the inhuman power he’d be if he was, for instance, a member of the East German or Russian team.