Tuesday, 30 September 2008

from beyond the Ob

We travelled 23 hours to Novosibirsk on the banks of the vast Ob river. Our companion was Mikail, an ex-Army major, a charming man, 37, now working for a japanese firm. His schoolboy English blossomed with the hours, and together with Joanna's Russian, we were able to converse on English literature. Kipling, Charlotte Bronte, Conan Doyle,Walter Scott and many more - he knew them all, and we showed off our own knowledge of Russian literature, much more meagre. At midnight we rattled across the Ob and arrived here in a place that grew up around the Railway in the 1890,s and is now Russia's third city after Moscow and ST.Petersburg. More amazing Modernist buildings, a vast Opera House where tomorrow we go to see Coppelia. The Opera is on a huge square with a monumental Lenin statue. So many of these statues have been destroyed, or banished to corners of parks, like Gorky Park in Moscow, where two Stalins stand in a meadow with three Lenins, that its a pleasure and a shock to see them in situ, and to muse on the passage of time. Lenin's tomb in Moscow was amazing. The authorities cannot decide what to do with it and have deferred decisions until 2012. More of Lenin tomorrow - my time is running out, that is my Internet time!

love to all

Saturday, 27 September 2008

news from Ekatarinburg

Greetings from beyond the Urals. We have been 3 days in this city founded by Peter the Great in 1725, to exploit Siberian minerals. For 70 years the town was called Sverdlovsk, after the rogue who arrested and disposed of the Royal family. It reverted to Ekatarinburg in saner times in the 90's.(Saner, bar the Mafia, who were busy killing each other in immediate post-soviet days). From our hotel window we can see the new church, many-domed and golden, built only a few years ago, on the site of the merchant's house where in 1918 the Tsar and his family were held under house arrest. Here one grim night they were all murdered, and their bodies taken out of town to a desolate spot where they were consumed in acid and buried in a mineshaft.Yesterday we followed their route approximately in a Chrysler taxi, to find a whole nest of shrines and churches in the forest, and new ones springing up all around. The Romanovs have been canonised, and souvenirs confirm it in saintly postcards and prayer sheets. Much more moving are the old family photographs in a great display. Mostly they are informal, showing the family at play, smiling, relaxed. In one you see the shadow of the photographer, a woman with a slender waist! One of the princesses indulging her latest passion? I make an immediate bond with her across the decades - me the photographer, the catcher of the passing moment.
Leaving this moving shrine amongst the birches, we drive on to a paltry monument by the motorway which marks the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Newly-weds straddle the line in their finery, in the drizzle,for photographs. This dreary spot is enlivened by trees hung with coloured ribbons and empty champagne bottles.
The main Prospekt Lenina, back in town, is full of Modernist architectural masterpieces, and my camera clicks away in an ecstasy.
It took us 26 hours to get here from Moscow, in the company of a pleasant and neat Muslim gentleman in our four- berther, and tonight we leave after 11pm for our next destination, Novosibirsk.
This morning we had our first snow flurry, and wonder what awaits us further East.
People are much friendlier than I had imagined, although my paltry vocabulary does not get me far, but I have elicited smiles and chuckles, which melt away the FEAR of cold-war days.
We are all very well, and will repair now to our local Sherlock Holmes-themed restaurant for a late lunch. A bientot.

Monday, 22 September 2008

news from Moscow

Hello from sunny Moscow. We have been here four days in perfect anticyclone weather. Tomorrow we leave on the first stage of our Siberian adventure. This is my first ever blog from foreign parts, and I feel like a sputnik voyaging in virgin territory. Moscow is amazing. Enough said.

Our journey began in Chaos at St. Pancras following the Tunnel fire. We got their hours early, queued in an immense line snaking out to Euston road; suddenly we were rushed forward to take the last few seats on the Brussels train, upgraded to first class, and were soon quaffing complimentary wine and tucking in to a delicious free meal. Having arrived in the Flemish capital six hours earlier than expected, and rejoicing in our good fortune, we had beer and frites on the Grand'place, with its Renaissance splendours .

Our train to Berlin left at midnight, and we were soon having breakfast on the fabulous new Hauptbahnhof in that city, a stone's throw from the Reichstag.

More train all day to Krakow where we stayed two nights, and witnessed the opening of the new Buddhist centre in the Kazimierz quarter of that city by our teacher Sangharakshita. This is the old Jewish part of town. My father(not Jewish) was from Krakow, and my mother lived there for several years before the war before moving into a ghetto; having escaped from the ghetto as it began to be 'liquidated' , she moved back to Krakow on forged 'Aryan papers'. A year later she was arrested and taken to Auschwitz where she remained until the death marches out of the camp in January of 1945. She was shunted around the Reich in the last chaotic months of the war before being liberated in Mecklenburg. She made her way back to Krakow through the immediate post-war chaos that reigned in those parts. A year later, as no-one from her family returned, she came to London, and on her first evening met my father in Chelsea through a common acquaintance. My father had arrived in London as a refuge in 1940.

I've been very emotionally tied up with the founding of the Krakow Buddhist centre, and wish it well.
From Krakow we took the train to Warsaw, and then overnight to Moscow. Crossing the border into Byelorus our carriages are taken mysteriously into a huge shed where massive machines in the dead of night lift us into the air whilst the bogeys are changed beneath us to another guage. And then on to Moscow where we have been staying in a youth hostel. Yes 'youth'!

My travelling companions are David and Joanna, Buddhist friends from Bethnal Green.

We are all very well , and in good spirits .
Many many thanks, Ed, for setting up this blog for me! I feel as though I have belatedly arrived in the 21st century.

Best wishes to you all. x mahananda

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Pre-Siberia packing and blogging

Tomorrow we leave for Krakow and the opening of the new Buddhist centre there. Last minute Eurostar consternation as the Channel Tunnel was closed after a fire on Friday and services are much reduced but right now I'm much more worried about my first blog post!