Quotes: Lake Baikal

“As usual, the strictness of our laws is compensated by the fact that following them is optional. Money is being allocated but it gets stolen.”

Photos: At top you can see the Trans-Siberian railroad hugging the shore in the center of the photo. Second, the eastern shore of Lake Baikal framed by a sailboat. Behind the camera is Irkutsk Oblast and the mountains straight ahead are in the Buryat Republic. Bottom two photos: Listvyanka, the main lakeside tourist town near Irkutsk. Click ’em to enlarge.

Read Crossing Lake Baikal here, from Common Sense and Whiskey, the book.

Arctic Photo Essay

This is nice. A whole other world.

Lost in Translation

Published at the beginning of this year in the U.S., The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain, by the British writer Tim Moore, tells the story of his bicycle trip from the top of Europe, 400 kilometers above the Arctic Circle in Kirkines, Norway, all the way down to the Black Sea, in Varna, Bulgaria. En route he passes through a slice of Russia, skirting the Baltic Sea between the Finnish and Estonian borders, and finds himself outside St. Petersburg, ordering dinner in the town of Гостилицы, aka Gostilitsy.

I hope Mr. Moore won’t mind my excerpting this episode at some length. This passage by itself is worth the price of the book:

“The ordering process was memorably conducted by Tatiana, who dictated the Russian menu into a translation app on her phone. With the halting, toneless authority of a digitised train announcer, this device then offered me suggestions it was very difficult to listen to politely.

‘Meat Beach Gardens.’

‘Children’s Alexander.’

‘Tea Pork with JW Boils.’

‘The Sultan Episode.’

Tatiana’s enthusiasm for this technology did not ease the ordeal; battling my features into respectability, I looked up at her open, expectant face and falteringly ordered support beef with titles of mushroom. She smiled and scribbled, then spoke once more into her phone.

‘What is not a drink?’ it mused in response.

Pivo,’ I said.

With a flustered look she shook her head and a free hand, then held the phone to my mouth promptingly.

Pivo,’I told it.

The device said something in Russian that seemed to disappoint her. She pressed the screen a number of times then showed me its suggestions, translated back into English:

‘You knew. Pencil case. Peugeot.’

We tried again.

‘Beer,’ I said.

‘Bill,’ offered the phone. Then: ‘Pace of the warp.’

‘Heineken!’ I blurted, launching into a strident roll-call of ales that began with Champions League-grade ubiquities and very very sharply downwards, ‘Amstel, Budweiser … Skol … Carling Black La-’

‘Ah, piva.’

•••••

Reminds me of an experience in Tibet, recounted in Common Sense and Whiskey. At the end of another bone-jarring day-long ride we pulled up at the town of Lhaze, at a no-name hotel that wouldn’t have power until 8:00 that night.

“Not much use being there unable to see, so we found a restaurant across the street where there was power, and talked with some men from Guangdong on their way to China’s Everest base camp for holiday.

We asked for cold beer and one of the guys tried to translate. The waitress looked puzzled, was gone too long, then came back smiling triumphantly, buckling under a big metal tub of raw meat. Thought we asked for ‘cold beef.'”

 

Weekend Reading

Here is a selection of fine reading material on which to muse this weekend:

The Fate of Earth by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker
Russia’s House of Shadows by Joshua Yaffa in The New Yorker
A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas by Adam Rutherford in The Atlantic
Here’s What Would Happen If Donald Trump Nuked North Korea by Greg Fish at Rantt.com
Citizens of anywhere by Matthew Valencia at 1843magazine.com
Ça va un peu by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books, reviewing Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck

If You Know the Words Zapad & Suwalki…

… you’ll enjoy the photographic essay, Inside the Suwalki Gap by Timothy Fadek at RoadsandKingdoms.com. It’s a nice orientation to the region where the quadrennial Zapad (“west” in Russian) Russia/Belarus military exercise has been underway for two days now.

The photo above is Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. The only border between the Baltic states and another NATO country is the 64 mile wide Suwalki Gap, where Lithuania touches Poland. See more Poland and Lithuania photos at EarthPhotos.com.

And Then, a Night at the Opera

After their cruise yesterday, Presidents Niinistö and Putin joined us at the Savonlinna Opera Festival for the Bolshoi Theatre’s performance of Pytor Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta.

It was an authentic treat to hear the The Bolshoi Theatre Choir and Orchestra play Tchaikovsky, but the presidents and their retinues kept largely to themselves.

Russian President Visits Finland

Presidents Niinistö and Putin from my vantage point yesterday on the dock at Savonlinna, Finland. After official talks the presidents took a short tour of the lakes of Eastern Savo before a night at the opera.

Visit with Presidents Niinistö and Putin


We’ll be heading an hour or so up the road to the lovely little town of Savonlinna, Finland, this afternoon for opera with the Presidents of Finland and Russia. This year President Putin attends the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival  to mark Finland’s centennial anniversary, celebrating 100 years from it’s 1917 declaration of independence from … oh … whoever.

The performance, and dinner for dignitaries beforehand, will be held in this castle:

As we are no dignitaries, we will not be dining. Maybe just some maalaisperunalastu in the car over (they’re mighty good). We are just hopeful the tickets we bought online several weeks ago will get us into the same room as the Great Men.

Looks like the Russian and Finnish armies have pretty well taken over Savonlinna:

Quotes:

According to the President’s Office, Putin and Niinistö are not in sight in the Savonlinna region. President’s spouse Jenni Haukio is not involved in the visit. Presidents do not meet the ordinary people at any stage.

and: the police of Eastern Finland have distributed a newsletter where residents are asked to avoid staying on the balcony and opening the windows between 15.30 – 17 and 20 to 24 (on 27 July). The residents have been told these two slots.

  • From Itä-Savo, the local paper

We’ll be back here tomorrow to report.

Lithuania Prepares for War with Russia

Screen grab from a photo essay in The New Republic by photojournalist Mattia Vacca.

More Vintage Moscow: Fun with Soviet Signs

The early Gorbachev era brought the Soviet Union, still alive and flailing, from the era of the dead men, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko, into Glasnost and Perestroika. Maybe you had to be there.

I was actually, a wee little bit. I visited in 1986. The latter days of Soviet atrophy, like the early days of the Russian rebirth, were barren and painful for the consumer. That trip in 1986 they handed me a menu at a pizzeria right downtown in the capital. As I remember, it had a dozen choices. The wait staff eased me through all the nyets until finally they only had this one pizza.

I came back proclaiming to anybody who would listen, this is what we’ve been afraid of!?

I’ve found these photos from that trip. First, the elevator regulations from the state owned Moscow Hotel opposite Red Square, now renovated as the Four Seasons.

Here is advice to Soviet Man in GUM the department Store. How to tie a tie.

There were no commercial billboards in 1986. This translates, if I’ve got it right, as something like, “USSR, pillar of peace.”