Semipalatinsk: City With A Past

Kazakhstan is not only Astana or Almaty, it’s a huge country with innumerable cities and towns. Semey  is in the northeastern province of East Kazakhstan and in the Kazakhstan part of Siberia near the border with Russian Federation. Semey, during the Soviet Union era, was called Semipalatinsk and for sure isn’t a new brand city as Astana . It’s a city with past and a complicated one.  Very close to the city centre of Semey,  there is a small town “Kurchatov” one of the dozen “closed towns” of Soviet Union. They were known only for the post boxes. Kurchatov was Semipalatinsk-21. It was site of nuclear power. The Soviets use all the nuclear weapons in this site.

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Arriving in Semipalatinsk and stepping out from the airport hall there is a big label : “We are open for our friends”

Some years ago this area was closed. Movement in and out of the cities was restricted and entry was forbidden to foreigners.

“It was Lavrenti Beria, the ruthless head of Stalin’s secret police, who chose the location in the depths of Siberia for the Soviet Union’s nuclear testing programme and ordered the town of Kurchatov to be built-using gulag labour” to house its scientists. During a test of one particular powerful bomb, in 1953, the authorities evacuated villagers and livestock.But not everyone was evacuated. The Soviet scientists left a group of 40 men behind as human guinea pigs. Infant mortality increased four times of the level of the rest of the Soviet Union. Today, residents still have a life expectancy that is several years lower that in the rest of the country” Secret cities of the steppes, Jack Farchy, Ft weekend magazine, sept 6/7,2014.

 

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The park in the city centre of Semey.

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Abay museum, the national poet of Kazakhstan.

 

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City centre.  A war memorial.

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Semey, as part of Kazakhstan Siberia, is quite cold place, the temperature is around to -48 C during Winter but probably without Astana’s winds.

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The city has a major university.

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Binar hotel in the city centre. picmonkey_image

 

Semipalatinsk was the place of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s exile for five years and it was depicted in the various books of Dostoyevsky including  “The Brothers karamazov”

Personally, I had a lovely time there with my Kazakh friends and a major event, a veritable Kazakh wedding!

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Joseph O’Neill and Me : A Common Ground

Who would have thought that Joseph O’Neill and I share common ground? When some years ago, I read his best seller book “Netherland” which I found superb – every sentence was a quote – I visualised him as an Irish  golden boy, Cambridge graduate,  high flyer lawyer in New York and the cherry on top, global bestselleristas.

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When I met him at the presentation of his new book “the Dog”  my first thought was “here we are, my cousin Kostas from Greece has changed identity”. His black hair, an Irish characteristic as well but in combination with his average height  and his gestures  were more from my own part of the world than that of Anglo Saxons.

With the combination of what he said to the audience and the small talk I had with him I realised our similarities are more than what I was expecting. His mother is from the Black Sea region (Turkey), the same with my mother’s family and both of us we had moved around the globe so much – sometimes  perhaps we had overlapped somewhere between Athens, London, Bath, Dresden, Dublin, New York, Amsterdam, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Astana…  that we feel totally displaced and we enjoy it thoroughly! His last book “the Dog” is about Dubai the land of expats- the quintessential displaced people.

And in his own words – the interview he gave at Paris Review: “I’ve moved around so much and lived in so many different places that I don’t really belong to a particular place, and so I have little option but to seek out dramatic situations that I might have a chance of understanding. Hence Dubai: Dubai is an expat center…Before Netherland, I didn’t know how to approach that sense of chronic displacement. It took me a while to realize it was a huge story, the sense of not belonging, as you put it—of pretty much never being in a position to say, These people and I are the same. You could write a thousand novels about it and it wouldn’t get old, because it’s such an essential part of what it is to be human—that idea of where, if anywhere, you fit in, in the so-called scheme of things. And how does the world work? A lot of novels might inform you about how a character gets on with his Auntie, but they won’t necessarily tell you where the characters stand in relation to the world. I’m interested in putting characters in places where the world order is changing, and changing in a particular way. The word globalization grunts into view, here, along with post-nationalism, another brute.”

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O’Neill as all the writers have an issue with publishing their books and sometimes it’s just perfect luck. He says about his book “Netherland” : “Then my luck changed. It could change again. That’s the way it is. My job is to keep writing.”

And our job is  to keep reading- isn’t it?

Bambi, A life In The Woods

A Sunday walk in the park with the deer! They are lovely companions when they don’t feel threatened! The latter can apply to everyone even to  humans!

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When Bambi has his first encounter with “He”—the animals’ term for humans— terrifies him. The man raises a firearm and aims at him; Bambi flees at top speed, joined by his mother.

 

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Bambi meets his Aunt Ena, and her twin fawns Faline and Gobo. They quickly become friends and share what they have learned about the forest.

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Bambi gets used to being alone at times.

 

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“When Bambi has grown gray and is “old”, the old Prince shows him that man is not all powerful by showing him the dead body of a man who was shot and killed by another man” -Bambi, a life in the woods.

 

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Have a great week !

 

We live in the Age of Simulacra

“The simulacrum* is never what hides the truth – it is truth that hides the fact that there is none. The simulacrum is true”   Ecclesiastes.

Have you noticed on your fb timeline, twitter, blogs, tumblr, pinterest … platforms,  how many times have you seen the same things, quotes, pictures, ideas and even moods to go around again and again by sharing, reblogging and copying? Sometimes by attempting to paraphrase the initial message  the meaning of the original has already been changed totally.  This game of sharing, copying, reblogging that we all play on social media reminds me the children’s game ‘Broken Telephone’ or ‘Chinese Whisper’.

On social media it’s not only the repetition of quotes, pictures or ideas but as well as  moods. It is quite surprising that there are days where a high percentage of my virtual friends share the same mood! Something about the therapists have a lot to say.   I’m totally convinced that we live in the age of simulacra and simulation.  As the philosopher Jean Baudrillard argues in his book with the same title “Simulacra and Simulation” : We live in a world of which there are simulations upon simulations, copies of copies of copies. This concept stems from the idea that when something is simulated, it is inevitable that the original will become extinct. As the word simulacra by itself explains the whole concept “simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original”*.

Nevertheless, the most interesting argument is that  humans are thriving when they are imitating each other. Karen Joy Fowler writes, in her short listed Booker Prize book ‘We are all completely beside ourselves’ :  “Humans are much more imitative that the other apes. If chimpa  watch a demonstration on how to get food out of a puzzle box, they, in their turn, skip any unnecessary steps, go straight to the treat.  Humans overimitate, reproducing each step regardless of its necessity”.

The same idea/argument has been reinforced in the film “Giver”,  the Giver (Jeff Bridges) says to the Receiver “there is a plan of sameness in this society”.

Perhaps,  the Golden Age has  taken off for humans and they have  the time of their lives! At last, their behaviour is mirrored in every way possible and the simulacrum is  the truth!

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P.S. : Sharing is carrying and copying is flattery! Somehow my quote can be justified.

William & Harry

William and Harry in action. The two princes took part in a polo match for charity reasons in Ascot during last May. I was quite lucky to be able to see both of them playing polo in professional way and at the same time having fun with each other! It seems to me that Harry was starting the jokes and William was following full hearted!

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Prince William.

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Prince Harry.

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William and Harry.

S for Spirit and Summer

“Art makes the impossible possible” I don’t remember who said this  but it was so spot on at that time when I went to see the exhibition about  The Lost Album of Dennis Hopper  at Royal Academy of Arts in London.  Watching the short imagesvideo/scene of his film “Easy Rider” where Peter Fonda is throwing  away his watch  and hitting the road  on his motorbike  with his mate (Dennis Hopper ) heading to the American desert, I fell overwhelmed and nostalgic about the sense of freedom that gives  you the motorbike riding. I was one of those who was riding motorbikes  for long time and  relatively a big one-Yamaha 125 cc. Still I remember this sense of immense freedom and exhilaration when I was riding it, mainly during the summer months, the speed and the air in my face were so uplifting!  I remember as well the constant shadow of fear that was accompanying me in every journey, until one day  it surrendered me and I ended up on a  4 wheel carrier.

Dennis Hopper’s exhibition triggered something inside me, a feeling of rebellion to do something different as the song’s lyrics in the Easy Rider say “…But I’ve never touched nothing’ That my spirit couldn’t kill…”

Still there is a spirit somewhere inside me and perhaps this Summer I will try again to do something different, something out of the norms. Perhaps, I will switch off all the social media, which I believe are a constant source of information recycling  and full of fear for doing something different and out of the box, and I will go for a ride on a motorbike to feel again the sense of freedom and a kind of rebellion against the daily routine of fabricated or not bad news, either these are about the economic crisis or about terrorism all over the world.

And I’m proposing to you to do the same, try something that you have never done before or in my case, something that it is quite exciting. Deactivate your accounts in every social and working environment and feel this freedom of a motorbike rider heading to somewhere without destination and try to dig up your hidden spirit.

Have a great Summer !

 

Abu Dhabi Revisited

Visiting a place that you have lived for long time with the identity of a tourist is quite a strange thing, let alone your homeland.  This time it wasn’t my homeland but another place where I lived for long enough  in order to feel somehow at ‘home’.  So when I revisited Abu Dhabi some time ago,  it was a nice break and  triggered some  strong emotions and nostalgia. I realised how much missed the place, how much missed the heat, the shy smiles  of the local women under their scarfs, the softness  and simultaneously the sense of careless in the expression of the local men.  I missed my friends, whom I didn’t manage to see all of them due to my short stay, but had the opportunity to take a taste of the latest changes in the city.

Abu Dhabi is one of those ‘oily’ cities that are changing in unprecedented way, fast and impressive.  Arriving at the airport, the first novelty was the black huge 6 seats taxi waiting for us. Abu Dhabi defines itself with a steady pace as a luxurious holiday resort. Despite all the Cassandras’s predictions ” it’s a bubble, soon or later it will collapse  bla,bla…” Abu Dhabi’s infrastructure has taken  a quantum leap. New buildings, malls, palaces, hotels are coming up in a fast way and  creating  an impressive skyline. I stayed in my old neighbourhood for the obvious reasons, familiarity with the place. Of course, I don’t know how much familiar could be, since in this area, the Corniche, there are some new constructions, a huge mall  with very interesting shops and brands and a nice new beach club- a boat design- opposite to it.

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The Corniche area.

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The new mall in the Corniche.

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Nice shops with nice decoration on the walls. The new mall looks very promising!

 

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The new beach club in the Corniche. The boat design is its signature.

 

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My favourite buildings, Etihad towers, with a new copper tower next to them! I’m not sure about the latter but the lego approach is a common practice out there!
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At the rear of the Emirates Palace.
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The new palaces will be 6 in total in order to accommodate all the Seikhs from the rest 6 Emirates (7 in total: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain).

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I visited once more  the restaurant BBQ Al Qasr at the beach of the Emirates Palace, which for me is the best restaurant in Abu Dhabi in terms of service firstly and food secondly. Service in the developing countries is a sensitive term,  since it doesn’t have the same meaning as in the western world!

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The beach of the Emirates Palace is really magnificent.

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But again, this is my favourite place in Abu Dhabi, Monte-Carlo Beach Club. Especially this small pavillion at the beach for coffee and drinks and if you are lucky you can spot  sea turtles in the surrounding area with the bushes.! How exciting is that? It reminds me so much the Hamptons and I think this was exactly its purpose!

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One of its restaurants, the Deck , good for brunch. The food is feast in the eyes, different kind of charcuterie, sea food, desserts…
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But the most glamorous bit is ‘a la piscine’,
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and afterwards resting in the gorgeous spa, reading magazines, watching tv, having some massage.

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going to Turkish bath after the sauna,P1090443or  going to Jaccuzi for fun.

 

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Bye bye Abu Dhabi, see you soon! I will be always ready to be impressed by you and actually, this is what you really want!