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Wondrous Rostov Veliky (the Great): The Soul of Russia



Finding myself stuck in the midst of a creative crisis I decided to follow advice I had read about in “The Artist’s Way”  by Julia CameronWhen your inner artist is exhausted, said Cameron, you need to go to a calm and serene place, switch off from the daily grind and your mobile phone, and listen to your inner self. So I jumped into my car and drove off to Rostov Veliky, barely three hours away from Moscow, to recharge my drained creative batteries.

The most Russian town

My trip coincided with the fun and delicious Rostov Veliky Ukha Soup Festival. The town’s main square was filled with groups of people from different regions of Russia. They were all cooking “ukha,” Russia’s most popular fish soup, using local, regional recipes. While soup was being served up, several authors of children’s books came to the town square to meet their little readers. At another end, a few charity organizations collected money for their various causes. The ‘Ukha’ jury went from one pot to another, scooped up the soup with large spoons and tasted all the regional variations of the soup. They were evaluating the quality based on three criteria: the broth, the fish and the dish as a whole.

The festival was a lot of fun, but since the aim of my little journey was to spend some time with myself, I ate a bowl of delicious Tatar fish soup and escaped from the crowd. I went for a walk around Rostov Veliky.

The impressions I got from this small Russian town are comparable to those I had after visiting Venice in Italy or Toamasina in Madagascar. I saw authentic Russian exoticism up close for the first time in Rostov Veliky, despite having been born in Russia and lived my whole life here. People often and rightly say that Moscow is not the “real” Russia.

Rostov Veliky is undoubtedly a must-see place for Muscovites, Peterburgers and residents of large cities from around the world. It paints a different picture of life than one sees in Russia’s largest cities and gives you the opportunity to put your own life into perspective. One of Russia’s most ancient cities is quite rough around the edges and desolate with the exception of its beautiful Kremlin, which is the town’s main enterprise. In a wonderful way all of this goes hand in hand with the pride and dignity of Rostov Veliky.

It was my first visit to this town, yet I strolled along the streets with a strange sense of familiarity, as if the paint chipping on every corner and every pothole in the street were somehow known to me. I just hadn’t seen them in a long while.

My exhausted inner artist was enjoying the walk and interacting with a type of melancholy that you can only find in Russia, when suddenly I was interrupted by a phone call. It was my father. He asked if I had arrived safely and told me that my great grandfather had worked as a horse cab driver in Rostov before the Russian Revolution of 1917. Every morning he attached a cart to his horse and drove passengers all day long, similar to Russian émigré writer Gaito Gazdanov in Paris many years later.

I hung up, switched off my phone and got to thinking: was it a coincidence or does genetic memory really exist?

The route of an artistic person

Legend says that in the old days the holiness of Rostov Veliky was so undisputable that its residents didn’t even consider building fortress banks or other protective constructions around it. Even the suspicious Ivan the Terrible came here to hide when he felt unsafe. However in the Time of Troubles (1598 – 1613) the city was attacked and all of the inhabitants were slaughtered. There wasn’t a single person left alive to bury the bodies.  

Only two steps away from the Kremlin (well, everything in town is a frog’s leap from the fortress) is a hotel for visiting artists who arrive to paint life in a typical Russian town. These visitors can enjoy freshly baked bread from the monastery and stroll along the embankment. If only there were wooden platforms on the banks of Lake Nero, this place would be perfect for yoga: the sun rises directly over the picturesque lake.

The Kremlin itself has a hotel on its premises, so it is possible to spend a night in the sacred old chambers. On the next day foreign guests can book a guided tour in English or take a master class in how to ring church bells. After the Kremlin tour and some rest by the nearby lake take a walk around this small town. You will find the old Dutch fortress bank, which was built after the Time of Troubles (1598-1613), and today overgrown with nettle, burdock and dandelions; a section of town featuring buildings constructed during the rule of Catherine the Great; and old wooden houses with carved window frames.

The streets are surrealistically empty – there is hardly anybody outside, as many have left looking for a better life. It is a perfect location for filming, a fact not lost on Soviet and Russian filmmakers who have shot many projects here over the years. This town has always attracted artistic people.

Any doubts I had about Rostov Veliky ‘s unique mission disappeared when I reached the bank of the gigantic, mysterious and incredibly blue Lake Nero, which came into existence before the Ice Age. One can spend hours sitting on its banks, looking at the sky’s dome reflecting in the lake or through binoculars at churches on the other side. They say that a person with good eyesight could count as many as 30 churches before the Revolution in 1917. Many of them remain today.

On the banks of Lake Nero, like it or not you may enter a meditative state. The artist in you wants to play again and is ready to give you fresh unconventional ideas. Rostov Veliky is a tiny Russian town with a very strong energy and it can rescue even the most fatigued person in the world from any artistic crisis they might be experiencing. 

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe



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



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



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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