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Russia’s Literary Titans Loved Hanging Out in Crimea

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This article originally appeared at Russia & India Report


Summer in the early 20th century brought an outsized concentration of Russian intelligentsia, bohemians, artists and writers. Simply meandering around local beaches would have been a good way of spotting members of the country’s intellectul elite.

Yalta: Anton Chekhov’s dacha

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Chekhov’s dacha in Yalta, 2015. Source: Alamy/Legion-Media 

The first time that Anton Chekhov felt ill was in district court where he worked as a reporter for the “Peterburgskaya Gazeta” newspaper.

Chekhov had all of the symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis: he had blood in his sputum, a fever and felt weak.

However, for some reason he did not attempt to receive any treatment, even though he was not only a writer, but above all, a doctor.

Chekhov had to move to Crimea after his health worsened dramatically. He sold the rights for all of his prose works and with these proceeds built a small villa not far from Yalta (1276 kilometers from Moscow).

He planted saplings and flowers around his house and decorated everything according to his taste – modest, yet classy.

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A. Chekhov in his house in Yalta, 1901. Source: Ullstein Bild/Vostock-Photo

They say that the writer’s wife Olga Knipper-Chekhova, a famous 20th century stage actress, had a passion for wild parties. However, Chekhov was able to tune out the noise during parties and write his brilliant works in the corner of a crowded living room.

However, Chekhov’s wife did not visit him very often. He knew how important the job at the Moscow Art Theater run by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko was for her and he insisted that she stay in Moscow and keep her job.

Owing to the efforts of the writer’s sister Maria, the interiors of Chekhov’s dacha have kept their original form.

In the library where Chekhov wrote “Three Sisters” and “The Cherry Orchard,” plays that are still staged worldwide, it is possible to see the ornate conditions in which he worked. The library contains an antique telephone set, his writing desk and photographs of Leo Tolstoy and other contemporaries of the famous writer.

Anton Chekhov’s writing desk in his house in Yalta, 1968. Source: RIA Novosti/A.Givental 

I took a walk through the garden, embraced the big old trees that were planted by this extraordinary man and tears began to flow from my eyes – so emotional was the moment.

Koktebel: Maximilian Voloshin’s dacha

M. Voloshin’s house in Koktebel, 1983. Source: RIA Novosti/S. Prijmak

Up to 600 top creative intellectuals came to symbolist poet Maximilian Voloshin’s dacha in Koktebel (1433 kilometers from Moscow) every summer season.

Although he was not a rich man, Voloshin hosted all of them for free. Voloshin’s mother Elena managed housekeeping entirely by herself so that writers and painters could concentrate on their art and not be distracted by anything else.

Here the young poet Marina Tsvetaeva, whose father founded the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, met her future husband Sergei Efron.

Mikhail Bulgakov, whose “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” was recently adapted as a miniseries starring Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm, first read his unpublished works at this dacha. In Voloshin’s studio hang portraits of him painted by Diego Rivera, whom he met in Paris.

M. Voloshin in Koktebel, 1926. Source: RIA Novosti 

In bohemian circles Maximilian Voloshin was famous for his singularity: he loved to dress up in ethnic costumes and invent funny rituals for various occasions.

One charismatic tour guide from the Voloshin Museum told me that she, too, likes to wear ethnic costumes, as do many of the local residents in Koktebel.

Sevastopol: panorama of a war in which Leo Tolstoy fought

Tolstoy and his wife Sophia in Crimea, 1900s. Source: Ullstein Bild/Vostock-Photo

The world famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy participated in the battles of the Crimean War between 1853-1856. This was the largest of all 19th century European military campaigns with France, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia all fighting in opposition against the Russian Empire.

Tolstoy described the Siege of Sevastopol in 1854-55 in his “Sevastopol Sketches” after witnessing the events himself. The Siege of Sevastopol panorama, a large-scale work of art that depicts those dramatic events can be found in the Defense of Sevastopol Museum.

Sevastopol Defense Museum

With time this painting has become one of the city’s most-visited and spectacular attractions. This huge canvas is 115 x 14 meters and shows the heavy fighting of these events that made the idyllic seascapes of Sevastopol unrecognizable. The panorama is enhanced by a 1000 square meter recreation of the 19th-century military fortifications used in this battle. Currently, this is one of the 60 largest panoramas in the world.

Everything that Leo Tolstoy wrote about 150 years ago is somehow magically still in the air of Sevastopol. This is a city with a heroic atmosphere.

The only tour company for foreign visitors operating in Crimea at the moment is Southern Comfort. The company employs tour guides that speak English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese as well as other languages, and managers that can organize gastronomic, environmental and wine tours. They can also develop tailor-made routes based on a client’s wishes.

The easiest way to reach the peninsula is by plane. Russian airlines Aeroflot, Transaero, S7, Donavia and Utair, and the charter airline Vimavia fly there from all three Moscow airports.

The planes are often full, therefore it’s best to book your flight in advance, especially if you want a window seat or to sit together with your companion. The flight takes 2.5 hours. Roundtrip fares from Moscow start at 5,500 rubles (about $110). The cheapest plane tickets to Crimea can be found on jetradar.com.

RIR Editors’ note: A little more than a year has passed since a referendum was held on Crimea, which led to a treaty being signed between the peninsula and Russia.

This has been the source of enormous controversy between Russia, Ukraine and the West and many foreign embassies warn citizens against travel to the peninsula.

As a result of economic sanctions that were passed in response to this event, traveling is not easy in Crimea: practically no international airlines land here and visitors must bring fistfuls of cash with them. 

Bankcards and credit cards are not accepted anywhere, although it is possible to change foreign currency in banks.

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe

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Ireland is running low on loopers. If we don’t watch out, we could emerge from the pandemic with our reputation for wildness completely shredded. We are in danger of being exposed as the sanest people in Europe.

Vaccines go into the arm, but also into the brain. They are a kind of probe sent into the national consciousness. In Ireland’s case, the probe has discovered exciting evidence of intelligent life.

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six

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According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 



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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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