My Moscow

Let’s make a break in psychiatry and return to Russia for a bit, my country, my native land.

I was born into a truly picturesque environment, I was born in Moscow. If you ever plan a trip to Russia, I really advise you NOT to miss that place. Moscow has the true Russian architecture, with its magnificent Kremlin, decorating the central space. There is also a mausoleum of Lenin there, something I never visited and never will, but let’s ignore a small negativity of the legacy of some Egyptian traditions to mummify a dead body, and move on towards the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed,  known as St. Basil Cathedral, and also as Pokrovsky Cathedral, built from 1551 to 1561 on the decree from Ivan the Terrible, to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.

The Cathedral is more than magnificent, it is truly, I feel, a symbol of Russia and of Russian Orthodox Christianity. It stands tall and proud across the Moscow river, and when you drive past it at night, you land up in a magical domain, once you see it illuminated, like a star in a beautiful night. It shines by its beauty, and it shines its Christianity. It is a partial museum now, and when on a visit there, I always felt that it should be restored as a proper church. I know that from 1991 Church services restarted there, which is a blessing, of course.

The grave of the Russian Saint, Saint Vasily is there, the Russian Holy Fool (read about holy foolishness on my post here), and it has a shape of a bonfire, a design that is totally unique and as Dimitry Shidkovsky, described in his book ‘Russian Architecture and the West’, “It is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to the fifteenth century…a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design.” (2007, p. 126).

Moscow is full of magical, unexpected places. It is a unique combination of old and new, where almost each corner presents something wonderful and unique, and is truly Russian. If I return to Russia as a tourist, I will start with Moscow, and then proceed to the golden ring, and definitely not miss Suzdal, a city full of churches, but let’s take a walk in Moscow first.

My favourite place to hang out was always the Old Arbat and then walking towards the Kremlin across the bridge, right down to the Oktiabriaskaya underground station. Or turn right after leaving the Arbat and walk through the boulevard park towards Ostozhenka, where the Linguistic University can be found (former Institute of Foreign Languages, where I studied for a year, before moving to Brussels to continue my other degree in languages there). The Old Arbat is a pedestrian street, favourite of the artists, and vagabonds. It always attracted weird crowds of people, and that’s maybe I loved it so much. I felt like a part of the crowd of interesting, unusual people, of artists, painters and performers. My other best friend, Sergei, would often take me there, and we would chat and drink with his friends of the University of Film and Cinema (BGIK) where he studied to become an actor.

The Old Arbat has many interesting cafes, where one can get a good impression of how Russian people eat. It is always a nice warm meal, very delicious, as how pancakes, pastries, delicious porridges, fresh bread from the oven, and the incredible influence we got as legacy from Georgia and Armenia, can not taste good? Tea is more popular than coffee, and drinking tea is a proper ritual. If you are invited for a tea to the Russian family, except a feast. People in Russia, and my native town, are extremely hospitable. You will need to go on a diet, I guarantee you that. Russian host will bring everything he or she has on the table. Last time I was back in Moscow, my best friend, Masha, prepared a table that an army could eat. She made me my favorite meatballs, numerous salads, pastries, and a cake. My other best friend, Anya, made for me a special chicken and a salad of shrimps under the mayonnaise, that is now my signature dish if I am hosting.

I used to love walking in Moscow. I would spend days on it. After finishing my classes at the University, I would walk towards the Park of Culture, and admire the tress, and the lake, and then walk towards the Crimea Bridge and admire my native city. From the Crimea bridge that connects the underground station of Park of Culture and Oktyabriaskaya, one can get a glimpse of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and see the House of Artist, where I used to attend lessons in drawing, and that always has interesting, unique expositions.

Moscow is huge, and as a whole, does reflect well the Russian culture. It has churches with bells, numerous parks, incredible underground station, and people that read. One of the most amazing book shops, called Dom Knigi stands proud on the New Arbat, and if you are lucky one day to travel on the Moscow’s underground station, you will get the impression that you travel in a moving library. Everyone reads. Rides are long to connect people who go to work or to study, and they use this time with wisdom: they read.

At night the center is illuminated and if you do believe in magic, you will notice, that you are indeed in a magical land. I left my native, my beloved city at the age of nineteen to study in French in Brussels, another city I fell in love with. But I will tell you more about Brussels in another post.

(a view of Moscow with my best friend, Masha)

P. Tchaikovsky – Pas de Deux (‘The Nutcracker’

A Peek Inside the Modern Asylum

The psychiatric hospital of today might appear as a foreign, scary object to the mind who has never visited the institution. It represents the unknown, the territory that one is terrified of, but at the same time attracted to with natural human curiosity. Let’s be frank here: we want to know what is inside and who is “hiding” there.

In the eighteenth century, in Europe, many mental institutions called “asylums” were open to the public. In exchange for some entrance money, interested visitors could have a peek: they could stroll in the corridors and observe the patients inside. It was a popular destination by all accounts. People found “madness”—or rather, what is assigned to the term—interesting and irresistible.

Michel Foucault wrote about it extensively, presenting a picture of a typical Sunday morning in Paris for a middle-age couple. They wake up, have breakfast, and then go for a visit to a local asylum for entertainment. Doors were open to the eager public, and the asylums never lacked in visitors. It is indeed interesting, and probably more attractive than going to a theatre or the modern cinema. People aren’t acting there, and they are real.

William Hogarth’s 1735 engraving depicts visitors gawking at patients at Bethlehem Hospital, also known as ‘Bedlam’ @The Trustees of the British Museum

Today, that same curiosity about manifestations of “madness” is satisfied via books or, more often, via movies. It isn’t by accident that such movies as Girl, Interrupted and A Beautiful Mind were such a big success: “madness” has always been fascinating, and will always attract and terrify the human mind at the same time.

But let’s look at the psychiatric institution of today. It isn’t by accident that doors to it are closed to the curious mind, and only those who are unlucky end up being inside, on the wrong side of the equation—being a patient. The psychiatrists are the ones who walk really free there, looking, observing, analyzing, and then administering the cocktail of modern drugs. We read some stories, we get some news, but it is all presented to us as “mental illness,” part of the bigger discourse on “mental health.”

These stories hide the truth of the modern psychiatric narrative: that real, nice people end up there, and the psychiatric experience is likely to ruin one’s life for good. The drugs they prescribe don’t help with anything, and the stigma which gets attached after one receives a label or diagnosis is forever a scarlet letter on one’s life CV.

I have been unfortunate enough to deal with the psychiatry from “inside” and thus, am an unfortunate witness to the horrors behind the machine. I am also an academic and thus, am interested in the narrative—how my own personal story becomes part of a bigger picture. My story is unique, as are many others, but we all become just statistics in the psychiatric tale. We are all “patients” and we are all “insane.”

The mental health narrative of today is the continuation of the history of the psychiatry, beginning with the age they call “enlightenment,” when the doors were closed to the curious, and only the patients and treating “doctors” were allowed inside. I am not sure it was done out of good will, because it banned the witnesses of the injustices happening there. It is really taking the truth out of the terrifying tale hidden in the modern mental health narrative. People are often held against their will inside these institutions, though their only “crime” is that they dared to have weird thoughts or hear voices.

The modern mental health narrative is the recycling of the psychiatric song to present it to us as something innocent, mundane and even good. Yes, we should think about the sanity of our minds, take care of our bodies, sleep, eat well, and exercise our bodies and minds. However, this tale that appears innocent hides the fact that it simply scares people into a pattern of normality. A pattern where everyone should be the same, behave the same way, and do the same things as everyone else: think about which car to purchase, where to spend the next holiday, and whether to swipe left or right on Tinder. Once you start questioning the so-called normality of student loans, paying mortgages, marriage, kids, gym membership and the like, you will exhibit “abnormal” behavior, I can guarantee you that. You will start questioning things and stop and wonder: Why are there so many homeless people on the streets? Why is Africa so poor? How can I think of the next holiday when there is so much poverty in my otherwise rich land?

Your weird thoughts will scare you, and you might become what they call “depressed.” Depression is definitely not an illness, but it is a fact. It is nothing else but a natural reaction of a mind that wants more from life than the boring tale of “normality.” If you dig deeper, you might even get onto the scale of what they call “bipolar,” and if you embrace your weird thoughts with zeal, and voices finally reach you (the real spirit world hiding behind our “normality” narrative disguised as “the age of reason and enlightenment”), then you might get the label of “schizophrenic.”

All these labels are just words invented by the twisted tale of psychiatry to deceive our minds and prevent us from thinking and behaving differently. There is no mental illness, and there never was. People simply get unwell, and bad things happen in life.

But the psychiatric institution of modern times, with its closed doors, lingers on top of our minds as the forbidden bad fruit that no one should touch, terrifying us and scaring us, because let’s be frank and honest here: no one wants to end up there. And not because one is afraid to become “ill” (we are all prone to “madness,” let me assure you), but because of the narrative of mental health.

Trump demonstrated the scariness of the narrative to perfection when he condemned all “mentally-ill” people. He showed how strong the stigma is and that the slogan “mental illness is like physical illness” is just words into the air. Trump demonstrated the real attitude toward people with “mental illness.” He simply doesn’t know who they are, and what is really taking place—behavior and thought control by the psychiatric institution.

And only a few of us know and see the truth.

The psychiatric institution is mostly an abstract body hanging over our head, sort of a bad headmaster telling us what to do and how to act—a behavioral control manager. It terrifies us with its promise of inflicting a label on the innocent mind, but at the same time, lures us for a peek inside.

Today we don’t have the possibility for a peek inside, but we remain, nevertheless, very curious. We do wonder what is taking place inside, who is held inside, and what it looks like. Mental health patients are your biggest celebrity story, hidden behind the bars of the psychiatric system, which doesn’t want to reveal its badly written script.

I was once inside and thus, am inviting you to have a look. I will take your hand, and encourage you to join me, on an exploration of the inside of the psychiatric institution.

Let’s open the door.

Once we manage it (and it isn’t easy as the doors are really locked), we proceed along a corridor. Psychiatric hospitals operate according to the principle of the panopticon, as Michel Foucault describes in his brilliant book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. He tells us about the emergence of the modern prison system, operating according to the principle of surveillance. “He is seen, but he does not see; he is an object of information, never a subject in communication,” Foucault tells us, referring to the fact that in our current behavior surveillance system, we act like everyone else due to fear of being observed and punished if we do something wrong. The panopticon has a structure: you have a central vintage point through which you can see everything, scaring the subjects into compliance. The subject is always observed.

Modern psychiatry operates according to the same principle, and so do its facilities, such as mental health institutions. In each long corridor of its facilities you have a central point, where psychiatric nurses hold their watch. It is indeed a watch, and if you think that they provide care and show love, then you are wrong. Most of the time they write notes and if we glance inside the notes we will see the following: “Today M dressed more appropriately and was nice to the staff,” or “This morning G stopped his uncontrollable laughing and showed some insight into his behavior.”

Trust me, school is a piece of cake to pass in comparison to what is happening in the notes and observation techniques of the staff in psychiatric hospital, and none of them ever shows any insight or comprehension into their own idiocratic stance. They simply don’t know what they are doing and why, because of the system of the psychiatric establishment. Those who show any weird thought pattern or exhibit strange behavior should be put inside the mental health institution and be re-trained as to how to behave normally.

The nurses sit at their central point, visibly bored and annoyed. They don’t like the patients who come with constant demands, which are always the same and don’t change. “Can I go out, please?” “Can I have a bath?” “Can someone, please, take me on a walk?” “Can I call my friend R?” “When can I see the doctor?” “When will I be discharged?” These are the irritating demands of the patients, taking the attention of nurses away from their notes—and notes take most of their time and attention, because of someone out of their mind who invented psychiatry: it isn’t the patient that matters, but what is written about him/her in the notes. The notes are shown to the treating psychiatrist and stored on shelves, although no one will ever glance a second time into the books and volumes describing us, describing the behavior of those unfortunate enough to step outside the scales of normality.

But let’s move away from the central post and look at the room next to it. It is a room with a phone, where patients queue (when they are allowed) to make a call, and where the treating psychiatric consultant deals with the patients, if other rooms are occupied. It is a small, stinky room, with a closed window, where both the consultant and his patients feel suffocated and mal-at-ease. The doctor doesn’t want to be there, it is the patient who asks to see him again and again, with the same annoying demand as always: “When can I go home?” she asks.

You might think it is funny, but it isn’t funny at all for the patient on the wrong side of the equation. The power machine is firmly in the hands of the consultant psychiatrist and only he can decide on your fate. And it is indeed a fate: one day longer and the patient can be driven to such a despair that he will try to take his life. And if this happens, the cycle becomes much longer, because in that case, the patient is proclaimed as a risk to himself, and is kept behind the doors for much longer. Then it is just survival instinct that might save the patient and give her the strength to endure it all longer.

Let’s walk away from the room and have some fresh air—in the garden that is usually present (thank god) in the facilities. The garden is used for the patients to have a cigarette and to pray. It is here that most interesting conversations take place, away from the observational post of the nurses. It is here that they dare to quickly exchange their own thoughts, such as sharing the voices they hear and the visions they see. It is here that they also get advice from someone who is more advanced in their knowledge of the panopticon, such as, “Don’t say all this to the doctor.” One needs to comply, behave as normal as possible, and not reveal one’s mind to the psychiatrist. Following the rules also means being extra-nice to the nurses who are not nice back to you, wearing presentable clothes, and acting like you are at an office meeting, definitely not as if in the hospital, oh no. I feel much more relaxed in my working place than I ever was inside a psychiatric hospital.

The psychiatric hospital of today, to conclude my narrative, is a panopticon, a modern prison for the daring mind and for weird behavior. We had a small peek, but in reality, it is much more distressing for the one who is being observed. In some hospitals they have cameras in the rooms to supervise the “patient,” and in some establishments, there are people who stay there for years, injected with drugs against their will, losing all hope and desire for living.

It isn’t funny, it isn’t entertaining, and it is bad.

But all who are lucky enough not to end up there march past this monstrosity, oblivious to the torture of the mind happening behind those walls.

(This article was first published by me on Mad in America website and can be found here.)

***

(Picture of me, taking a picture: I like to observe)

Waarom

Different ways of lives, different languages and cultures appeal to me from an early age.

I remember while being still small in Russia I was walking together with my mother towards the bus station. I can’t recall what was the reason of taking the bus but I clearly remember my state of mind during the march to the bus station

I was out of this world, engrossed totally in my own inner imaginative sphere and I was asking questions in my own head: why is the sky blue? Why should we assume that only the physical manifestations is what the world is about? The road, the bus station visible at a distance, people walking towards it from our Soviet style building where with my family we lived on the 16th floor.

Why are we rushing always towards perfection, my seven years old mind was asking God knows whom. Why do people get angry sometimes and why is the moon moving in cycles?

This sort of questions invaded my head from an early age and I applied a mode of ‘check out of reality’ to deal with all that. Life, according to me as a child, was supposed to be a constant stream of big celebrations: friends around to play and to talk, presents not reserved to just an event such as a birthday or New Year Eve. Cakes everyday, even if in small quantities, people singing on the streets. Children laughing, everywhere and always.

But instead I was confronted with a gruesome picture. Unhappy people queuing for the bus, sleep deprived children going to school, and everyone around playing some kind of normality. You behave, you follow the rules, you obey the existing structure.

My ‘check out’ technique helped me to process the grim reality by presenting me with a more colourful vision. In it lived a magician high in the sky, angels sung, and people danced. I had names for them, burrowed from numerous books I was always busy reading. Christian was a king of the birds, Olanda was a fire queen, while Patrick was a light keeper.

It was while living in the Netherlands that I found a better, much stronger version of a language to address my dilemma as to ‘why’. The Russian version ‘почему’ was too soft, more like a whisper rather than a question asking for an immediate answer. The French ‘pourquoi’ left the possibility of a reply with another question rather than an answer one seeks. To the French ‘Pourquoi’ there is always an option to answer ‘pourquoi pas’. It’s like talking in riddles while your questions still hang in your head.

But the Dutch language gifted me with a perfect word for what I am trying to describe in this post. It is Waarom- strict, precise and powerful sound pronunciation that in English can be spelled as ‘vaaroum’. A single word but holding in itself massive power. I even noticed that when someone asks me ‘Waarom’, I try to still provide some sort of answer even when I have absolutely no clue.

And so now, while I march in my daily reality I start my questions in my head with this powerful Dutch world:

Waarom have we so much poverty still?

Waarom did we have September 11?

Waarom there is still so much misery in our beautiful world?

Waarom there is so much sadness where I can hear so much crying?

And most importantly, waarom asking too many questions about humanity and the world we are living in, is considered as being too weird.

Waarom do we accept the ‘normality’ of this world where people mostly march with neglect and indifference to what’s happening in our beautiful planet, such as hunger in some countries, poverty in almost all countries, so much anger, so much disappointment, tears and sadness?

Waarom?

побег из больницы

Сбежала я из больницы через две недели, так как добровольно меня не отпускали. Типа, всё очень серьёзно, если загремел в психбольницу с психозом (как именно до больницы я доехала, я ещё расскажу – довезли меня туда мой босс с моей финансовой компании и моя коллега, и в том числе подруга, Лена).

Что в психушке всё очень строго мне сообщил мой врач. Я в палату свою, когда вернулась после посетителей, он сразу туда примчался, взглянул на мою запись на стене, что «Я – Будда», и сообщает:

«Девушка, у вас психоз, будем лечить.»

Ну а я ему отвечаю:

«Я выспалась (я там три дня проспала по приезду, после своей одиннадцатидневной бессонницы), и пора домой. Здесь с вашими цветочками я находиться не собираюсь!»

А он в ответ:

«Психоз – это очень серьёзно, сейчас выпишем лекарство, и вы находитесь в закрытом отделении. Выпишем, когда я разрешу.»

«А президента Буша тогда почему не лечите?» Я интересуюсь.

Ну врач как-то смутился и спрашивает:

«Причём тут Буш?»

«Ну а как же!» Я уточняю. «Вот ведь у кого настоящий психоз. Самая настоящая паранойя, я бы даже добавила! Везде мерещатся ему террористы!»

Ну врач смотрит на меня молча, не знает, что мне ответить.

«Ладно,» я говорю, «если я в вашей больнице, например соглашусь побыть, то сколько вы мне за это платить будете?»

А врач (назовём его доктор Тромп) почему-то бледнеет и переходит на голландский язык (до этого он говорил по-английски):

«Вы находитесь на территории Голландии! Мы за пребывание в больнице деньги не платим! Зато вы можете заказать себе любимое блюдо! Питание три раза в день, есть бассейн! Есть сад и занятия по йоге!» Разворачивается и уходит.

Мда, я задумалась. Похоже я попала! Кто бы мог подумать, что из больницы так легко не уйти? Посидела, посидела на кровати и пошла на разведку опять в зал. Решила проверить, чем в психушке можно заняться. Ну и решаю про себя, что есть неплохая возможность подучить голландский. В компании, где я работала в основном, говорили по-английски и друзья почти все иностранцы были в Амстердаме, а тут, я как бы попала в среду.

В зале, когда я пришла, сидела только женщина в тёмных очках. Та, что была в футболке с надписью «ПСИХИАТРИЯ – НА ХУЙ», куда-то ушла (там не особо-то можно было куда-то ходить, как я потом выяснила, так чисто из палаты в зал, и обратно, я там со скуки чуть не сдохла до своего побега).

Подхожу я к женщине, рядом сажусь и знакомлюсь:

«Я – Катя. Из России.»

Женщина голову только повернула (очки не сняла):

«Меня зовут Руф, я тут с депрессией.»

Ага, я думаю, тут так представляться надо! Но я решила не уточнять, зачем я в психушке, так как, и козлу было ясно, что попала я туда чисто случайно.

«Неужели бывает депрессия?» Спрашиваю я Руф. «У нас в России такой болезни не существует! Есть подруги, которым можно позвонить в два часа ночи, и водка!»

А Руф в слёзы! Очки сняла, глазки трёт, потом так зло на меня смотрит, встаёт и уходит из зала.

Побежала жаловаться, как вскоре выяснилось. Прибегает санитар, на вид, Индонезиец, высокий и даже красивый.

«Ты что в депрессию не веришь?» Смотрит на меня с укором.

«Верю, верю!» Отвечаю. «Откуда мне знать было, что есть такая болезнь? Я тут у вас новенькая, пообещали мне йогу и бассейн. Вот и покажи, где бассейн! Не телевизор же мне у вас тут смотреть!»

Ну а санитар садится рядом и давай мне правила объяснять. Что типа, у них в больнице порядок. Йога раз в неделю по средам. Бассейн – тоже по расписанию.

Санитар, кстати этот, меня потом после больницы нашёл и на свидание позвал. Влюбился по ходу дела в меня в больнице. Я на свидание пошла, он в больнице самый добрый был. Провёл меня один раз в бассейн не по расписанию, выводил на ночные прогулки в их сад, когда мне не спалось, дарил сигареты.

Но со свидания я через полчаса после его начала ушла. Повёл в индонезийский ресторан и как сразу выяснилось, с серьёзными намерениями. Начал говорить, что с мамой и папой познакомить хочет, про свои планы на жизнь, и что хочет больше двух детей. Ну а меня, если честно, то такие заявки всегда очень пугали. Сразу напрягала в башке картина, где я стою у плиты, груда посуды, и муж вдобавок, за которым надо носки подбирать. Мне такого счастья никогда не надо было, я всегда любила быть одна, встала я из-за стола после закуски, перед подачей главного блюда, сказала, что мне надо в туалет, а сама из ресторана убежала, и поехала, как помню к подруге вино пить (его в индонезийском ресторане не подавали).

Санитар мне потом ещё два года звонил, пока я телефон не поменяла, после того как меня сталкер там один достал. Но больше я с ним не виделась. С ним оказалось скучно.

В общем пока мне санитар рассказывал про правила, я для себя чётко решила.

Буду я отсюда бежать, если сами не выпустят через неделю.

Психушка в Голландии

Проснулась я когда в больнице после чая, то не сразу дошло до меня, где я. Глаза открываю и вижу: камера на стене! Прям на меня смотрит!

Ну я села на кровать и давай изучать в чём я одета. Про себя думаю: «похоже попала я в реалити тв!» Только вот как убей, не могу вспомнить, чтобы я туда когда-либо записывалась.

А одета я была в полосатую пижаму! Страшную и слишком на меня большую! Встала я с кровати злая, подошла к доске с мелом, отписалась, что «я- Будда», и выхожу из палаты вся на взводе. Ну думаю, пойду к продюсерам шоу буянить! Ишь как меня решили нарядить! Нет, не пойдет так дело! Уж если русскую женщину в «Старшего Брата» запустили, то будьте добры представить нас как есть! При каблучках и с помадой!

Выхожу в коридор, там тоже везде камеры и картины весёлые на стенах. Куда не посмотришь, везде цветочки. Напомнило мне это почему-то про детский сад в Москве. Тоже такого вод рода блеск в глаза. Вроде как должно стать весело, а мне всегда в саду хреново было. Хотелось быть при маме и папе, которые манную кашу на меня никогда не навязывали. А в саду навязывали! Приходилось мне эту кашу каждый раз под стол выкидывать. Воспитатели всё время орали и пытались найти виновника, но так никогда и не поняли, что виновником была я. Ну я девочка с виду была тихая и спокойная. Сидела всегда в первом ряду, типа воспитателя слушала, когда она книжки читала. Не ребёнок, а чудо. Про себя я сад ненавидела и воспитателей тоже. Книжки они интересно читать не умели.

В общем меня от картин с цветочками слегка затошнило, даже вкус манной каши во рту появился.

Буду обговаривать себе хороший контракт с продюсерами, решаю про себя. Если мне тут придется находиться с такими вот цветочками больше недели, то попрошу хорошие за это деньги! Плюс нормальный, адекватный гардероб.

Из коридора выхожу в зал. Комната такая большая, там телевизор, стол, диваны. И вижу, сидят там в уголке (и как-то странно на двух женщин, смотрящих телевизор, поглядывают) мой босс с моей финансовой компании, моя подруга Лена, и моя мама! Сидят все бледный и мрачные. Мама с платочком, типа плачет.

Неужели кто-то умер? Я испугалась!

Подбегаю к ним.

«Господи, что случилось?» спрашиваю.

А они все разом подскакивают и давай вокруг меня хороводы водить, громко при этом причитывая.

«Ой, ой, ой!»

«Мама-Миа!»

«Катюша, доченька моя, как ты?» Это уже мама спрашивает.

«Да нормально,» я говорю, а про себя начинаю соображать, что, что-то тут не то! С чего это вдруг, все переполошились? И вроде как, вспоминаю, что на реалити тв, посторонним нельзя.

«Катенька, доченька, мне позвонили, я сразу прилетела. Ну надо же, никогда, ни у кого в семье психоза не было! Что же случилось, деточка?» И смотрит на меня мама тоскливыми глазами. Босс мой на меня уставился тоже как-то грустно, а Лена (вместо того, чтобы поржать) всё на тех женщин, сидящих перед телевизором, косится. Ну я на них тоже решила обратить внимание и приглядываюсь. Ой, смотрю, одна сидит в футболке, на которой написано «ПСИХИАТРИЯ- НА ХУЙ», а другая сидит в тёмных очках, хотя вроде как телевизор смотрит.

Что-то тут явно не то, до меня наконец доходит. И почему я наряжена в полосатую пижаму?

«А где это я?» Спрашиваю я своих посетителей.

«Катюша, ты в больнице!» Мне отвечают.

Ну я себя осматриваю, и вроде как, помимо абсолютно жуткой пижамы, я окей. Руки и ноги похоже работают, и чувствую себя просто прекрасно (впервые в жизни так супер себя ощущала!).

«Что же это за больница такая?» Я интересуюсь, и ловлю себя на том, что тоже начинаю на женщин, сидящих перед телевизором, коситься всё больше и больше. Что-то тут СОВСЕМ не то! И правда, подозрительная такая картина!

«В психбольнице ты, Катя!» Мама говорит, и давай опять плакать. «Никто, никогда еще в роду, и на тебе, позорище!» И зарыдала в три ручья.

Ну я стояла до этого, а тут пришлось сесть, новость переварить. Они на меня втроём смотрят, ждут реакцию.

Ну а я про себя думаю, и правда, ведь позорище! Финансовый аналитик банков, портфельный менеджер акций в нехилой голландской компании, говорю на трёх языках (я голландский к тому времени ещё плохо знала), три диплома (плюс ещё квалификация профессионального инструктора по степ-аэробике), а сижу при этом в полосатой, неимоверно жуткой с виду пижаме! Такого позора действительно ещё у меня не было! Люблю я красивую одежду. Яркую и нарядную!

«Вы мне одежду принесли? НОРМАЛЬНУЮ?» спрашиваю я босса, Лену и маму.

А они пирожные шоколадные и бананы мне достают!

Одежду мне потом принесли, но не совсем, что надо было (притащили спортивные штаны и свитера!). Больница сама ничего так была. Если бы не мой психиатр, то настоящий курорт!

Бассейн, уроки рисования, кормили тоже неплохо. Котлеты, диетические супы, и неплохие десерты. Они меня даже спросили, что бы я хотела отдельно ещё получать (там можно было любимое блюдо заказать). Я попросила шампанское, но не дали, сказали нельзя. Пришлось тогда шампанское перезаказать на чёрную икру. Икры не оказалось, согласилась я на французский кофе. По утрам с чашечкой кофе сидела я у окна и наблюдала за птицами в саду.

Всё хорошо было, но психиатр оказался полный урод и через две недели мне там надоело.

Я решила сбежать.

What happened to my country? What happened to Russia? What happened to this beautiful world?

I was born in a beautiful world, in a beautiful country, in Russia. The country that saved the world at some point in human history. It is sad that it isn’t mentioned enough in history books, while it should be the case, of course, all the time. If you don’t know about it, I will tell you. It was during the Second World War, during the fight with the fascists.

My grand-parents fought in that war, and so many people suffered, too many. An incomprehensible number for a true human mind. 56 MILLION. The Jewish, the different, the Slavic race, and other beautiful souls. How could it have ever happened, is a question that I do ask myself each day, because history does matter, and it does matter to KNOW.

My family was absolutely amazing. I had a loving, very curious mum, a wonderful farther, and beautiful set of grand-parents on each side of my charming parents. I spent my summers in a Cossack village, because I have beautiful Cossack genes from my farther, and I travelled to St-Petersburg, called Leningrad at that time, with my mother, who came from aristocracy ancestors (a real catastrophe, that most of them they killed, but some of them survived, thanks GOD). She showed me beautiful museums and powerful paintings, and taught me history and maths. Maths wasn’t my favourite subject, but thanks to my mother I kind of survived the test nightmare of algebra and the like they impose on children in our modern schools.

The idyllic picture of my childhood was broken when something bad happened in my land. We can blame the capitalism (and easy prey), or we can skip all that critical thinking analysis and simply aim at the truth: bad people got greedy, and sold their souls to deprive my Russia from its true meaning: an amazing land, guided by goodness and God. Jesus watches this land, and so do I.

Gorbachev, the kind, beautiful man, tried to create something even more beautiful. He announced some important changes: freedom of speech (extremely important), Perestroika (I still struggle to translate this dilemma), etc, etc, etc. He wanted more good, he had a vision of communism, a term that we started to believe to fear, but in simple language, it just means: everyone is equal, everyone has the same rights, everyone should receive free medical care, have food on the table and receive education for free, and isn’t it wonderful?

Gorbachev wanted even more: he wanted to wake up people and show them that everyone can enjoy theirs jobs: be you a cleaner, a clerk, or a president. It doesn’t matter WHAT you do, what matters is that you enjoy what you are doing. With my extra superiors efforts in this life to survive, I think I deserve more money than a bad-mouthing former ‘neighbour’ who learned to envy success, but it means that I have even a better vision than Gorbachev,more in the lines of Tolstoy, our beautiful Russian writer. Leo Tolstoy, was a true aristocrat, a philanthropist, who wanted to see beautiful Russia, where kindness would rule, and everyone would have food on the table, and lead meaningful lives. If you haven’t yet read his books, I strongly advise you to correct this mistake rather urgently, and start with his diaries, and only after proceed to Anna Karenina, and leave ‘War and Peace’ till the end, once your master your French. It’s a read I successfully skipped at my literature lessons at school, because I didn’t speak French yet properly, and the rest what was left in Russian (‘War and Peace” is written in both Russian and French), told us about long war narratives, that I found boring. But the love story was amazing, and I read all parts related to that, and passed my literature exam with outmost distinction. At nights I was absorbing his diaries though,-  beautiful notes, that I discovered by accident as it seemed, but of course, it wasn’t an accident, because good books always find their reader.

The dilemma of Perestroika resulted in a brain-damage. That’s the only term in English I can find to describe what happened next to my beautiful, unique country. But I will try to explain it in more accessible words.

There were kiosks at first, ugly corner shops selling Coca-Cola (the only nice thing), snickers, and cigarettes. My best friend and I, bought our first cigarettes there when we were just thirteen. No one was checking for age, and no one cared, as long as you had money and you could pay.

Then,  even bigger things happened. Vouchers came out from the state companies for ordinary people to get their chance to own some assets in their own country. But the country was starving, because Boris Yeltsin was in power, having chased Gorbachev out of the regime, and out of Russia. I want to know how it could happen, and I tried, because I was watching what was happening to my country with a disbelief of a twelve, and then fourteen, and then fifteen, sixteen years-old mind, and I was watching how Kashpirovsky was allowed to go on the state TV and hypnotise the entire nation via a live transmission. I tried to warn my grand-mother, who, as many others, was watching that nonsense, an act of black magic, coming directly from those in power then. Kashpirovsky was telling: ‘everyone will be fine, and everyone won’t be fine’, confusing the entire beautiful land, and how this was allowed is beyond my beautiful mind, but I want to know how it was even possible. I want to KNOW the truth. Because history DOES matter, and we can never forget, in order not to repeat the mistakes of the humanity.

My grand-mother got gangrene after watching it, and died in pain and suffering some years later. That was the moment, outside the church when we said goodbye to her, that I run out and shouted to the sky, to God: ‘’what the fuck? How is it possible? Where are YOU?’’

But of course, God was watching, as he always does, because at the end of the day, goodness always prevails, otherwise, it isn’t possible to continue living, and the universe is doomed. And this simply can’t happen.

The vouchers were immediately bought back by what you know now as OLIGARCHS. Everyone was starving, no one had enough food. There was some promise of American food aid, that they send sometimes to deprived troops in the army, and we got it at school. I tried the sausages and dry milk, and it was disgusting. But it helped to live.  I brought all my ‘American’ packages to my grand-mum, because she was starving, and she had sold her voucher back to the oligarchs because she didn’t have any money, as the rest of the nice, not that ordinary Russian population, for a penny.

Oligarchs were made, together with parlours of bad witches. It was all around Moscow, you have to believe me. Everywhere you looked, there was some advertisement: ‘a curse to ban your enemies’’, ‘I will help you to make even more money’, ‘I will bring you your lover back’. That was the moment when I vomited from my first cigarette, because it was the only thing that could help me to cope, with what was happening to Russia. People were shouting and people were crying. And I was shouted at and I was crying. My beautiful mother was in Italy then, because of some strange set of circumstances. I rejoined her when I went to study in Brussels, in French, at the age of nineteen.

Christian churches were opened though, including my favourite church, and it should be amazing and it should be unique, but money was being made on them too, and I almost stopped to believe, but I am not allowed, because God doesn’t let me. And I want to believe, because the idea to the contrary can’t be processed by my inquisitive mind. People were dying then in Russia, and everyone was miserable and upset, and it seemed like a fog, had embraced my beautiful land. Everyone was after apartments, where to get what one wanted, they were ready to put their relatives inside the psychiatric hospital. It was a legal procedure: you pay the ‘doctor”, he signs the letter, and then the poor distressed individual (usually an older relative) is driven inside a psychiatric hospital to disappear. Other schemes were created, and it was all about money, it was all about how to get even more rich.

I want to know how did it happen, and I want to know who was behind all that, and what was said, and understand the incomprehensible dilemma of oligarchs now ruling the world, from their perspectives of offshore brands, stealing money from innocent people, stealing properties from other countries, stealing all the goodness what is still left in this world.

They call it Psychosis. That’s how my quest, my incomprehension about what happened to Russia, and as a result, to the rest of the world, is defined in medical, psychiatric terms. It struck me shortly after September 11, right when I landed working as a financial analyst of banks in a beautiful company in Amsterdam. I saw the image of crushing planes when I was at my gym. I even tried to go to my step class like some other members. But I couldn’t stay there. Instead I run outside and I vomited, and then I watched how stock markets made billions on the sake of the human distress, because I worked in finances, and it was in front of my eyes. And I remember thinking: ‘but that’s exactly what happened back in Russia’, and it was hard to process, and I couldn’t understand how people could laugh, and continue living, and not just cry, like I was doing after that day. I, obviously, couldn’t return to the gym after that day either. I hate all the gyms now.

You know what happened next: Saddam Hussein was publicly executed on a stage. Apparently you could even ‘enjoy’ a place on a stage to watch that awful act. Apparently, it was even filmed, like some sort of Big Brother, that is presented to us as something that we should enjoy and be entertained with, as if it is normal. Amelie Nothomb, my favourite Belgian writer wrote about a similar story in ‘Sulphuric Acid’. I read it in French, but you can get it in English. All her books are more than amazing, they are unique. If you haven’t read her yet, I urgently advise you to do so. Start with ‘Stupeur et Tremblements’ – a beautiful, enjoyable read, a comedy, and then move to her other books, in the order that she wrote them, like I do.

One day, when I came back to Brussels, after my spell in the Amsterdam city for good seven years, I woke up in one of my lucid dreaming, crying. I was standing in front of Saint Basil Cathedral in Moscow, one of the most beautiful churches, the real, and I was crying and I was in terrible pain.

And now I know, I was crying for Russia, and I was crying for my beautiful land, and I was crying for what happened to Jesus, and I was crying to what had happened on our planet earth.

But they call it psychosis, because some people tell you that you should just be happy and enjoy your life.

And of course, one should be happy and enjoy one’s life. But I don’t know how to be happy when such terrible things happen on this earth.

How is it even possible, can someone explain??? How can one dare to feel happy when so many other beautiful people are in so much pain?

Born in Russia: Somebody that I used to know

We never forget about our first love, do we? Some of us are lucky and their first love is the love of their lives (the story of my grand-parents), but most of us either search for the one (real love with sparkles), or settle for the mediocrity, such as ‘settling’ with someone for the sake of being settled, or looking for someone who can provide (women) or clean the house (men).


I will never forget my first love because he was a very interesting guy, and I can’t forget him because he gave me confidence. Confidence that I wasn’t that bad-looking, was ‘datable’, and could get the best guy on earth if only I wouldn’t ruin it, like I did with him, something which, unfortunately, stayed with me till the day. 
Present me with ‘the one’, and I will find a reason to ruin it.
Misha wasn’t the best guy on earth but he was definitely the most popular guy at our school. I was fourteen when I met him, he was sixteen, joining our school to finish final year after having lived on the other side of Moscow. His mother was our teacher in chemistry.
He soon became the talk of the whole school, among both girls and boys alike. Not only he was very good-looking, funny and smart, he was also different from everyone else. Like, for instance, he didn’t give a damn about any rules and would smoke a cigarette right at the entrance to the school, where his mother was giving classes and where he was supposed to study. I didn’t pay any attention to him (apart from making a mental note that I should dare an act of smoking right in front of the school when I reached my final year, instead of hiding behind the entrance at the back at that time), because there was no chance he would ever notice me. Why should he? I was two years younger, in a class that older boys usually ignored (too studious, etc…not me and my best friend, but he wouldn’t know), with pimples, having a weird hair-do, wearing terrible clothes, and not the prettiest girl in the school. Probably, the opposite.

(me at that time)
But it was me he addressed once we approached the entrance of the school with my best friend.“Got any lighter?” he asked me, and I was so shocked by the request (more like by the fact that he was talking to me) that I answered the first thing which came into my mind, which should be a lesson to hold my tongue in the future…to no avail.
“Not on me at this moment, unless I try to push it out of me”.
I, obviously, thought about my reply for the rest of the day, and days after, because I couldn’t believe that I could be so stupid. I also reckoned that I had turned totally red when I had spoken, which was another disaster. It wasn’t anymore about just paying attention to Misha, it was about thinking about him all the bloody time from that moment on. Soon it became the talk of the whole school, Misha and me. Girls from my class would run to me and whisper into my ear: “We heard Misha discussing with other boys whether Ekaterina should become his girlfriend!”Misha himself would come into our class, for some reason during maths, when the whole class was waiting in fear for the appearance of our scary teacher in maths, with on one occasion, his own mum, a teacher in chemistry, coming in, in order to drag him out back into the corridor.

I became the best pupil in chemistry. Well, I had to, since I fancied the son of the teacher. It took me a month of sleepless nights but I arrived. The teacher (the mum) was so impressed that she didn’t drag Misha from our class in maths next time, once she saw that Misha was chatting to me, with the whole class (mostly girls) watching the scene in total bewilderment.
All nice and rosy until Misha invited me on a date. The idea was to spend the Easter together. It was weird, but never mind. After that, I find it boring when someone offers a normal date. A dinner and a drink? Thank you very much but I rather spend a night marching five kilometres in Moscow. That’s what we did, with Misha. We met in the centre and just walked and walked until we reached my apartment, five kilometres further, where my step-mother was pouring my dad some vodka, keeping him away in the kitchen, so that he doesn’t kill Misha the moment he meets him. At two o’clock in the morning. We went to the living room. My step-mum brought us some cakes, tea and other treats, closing the door behind and managing to continue calming my dad. Misha was supposed to sleep where I was, in the same room, not that anyone would sleep with each other, which was the main concern of my dad, and he made sure to visit the toilette every five minutes for the rest of the night, making sure that no one would get any sleep in any case. In retrospect I realise now that it was a perfect moment for me to loose my virginity, with a guy with whom I was in love and who fancied me back. But no, I pretended to be an idiot. The moment when we finally ended up in the room together, I became so shy that for some reason I decided to ransack one of my cupboards and drag out my collection of barbies (two dolls) and show them to Misha. I still remember the reaction on his face. It was that unclear stare, a stage in between ‘shall I laugh, or run home?’ All transport was sleeping with the rest of Moscow’s population, making running impossible. But he should have laughed. He didn’t.

He then kissed me good-night, asking whether he could kiss me on the forehead. I said yes, without kissing him back on the lips. I was waiting for him to fall asleep for the rest of the night, but he never did, and we both lay there awake, regretting the lost opportunity. 
Misha dropped the talk about the possibility of me becoming his girlfriend after that night, and maybe for a good reason. Last time I checked he is now a spiritual yogi somewhere in India. Great, but I prefer more comfort in my daily life.

Still, while Misha looked exactly like that singer Gotye, he isn’t just ‘Somebody that I used to know’ (which is, ironically, a favourite song of my dad). I named my son after him. As they say it, first love never dies.

Born in Russia: my summers in a Cossack village

I had beautiful summers in Russia. Children are quite lucky in Russia as they get three months off during summer months! It is a nightmare for the parents, but total delight for the kids. Three full months of fun, three full months of the joy of childhood, freedom and exploration!
I was sent each summer to my grand-parents in the south of Russia, right at the border with Ukraine. It was a small Cossack village, quiet, remote, and oh my god, so peaceful! One could go out at night and hear only the sound of an owl, and see the stars far away in the sky.
My grand-parents had a farm, and it was the best farm in the village. Both of them survived the hardship of the area of Stalin, both of them returned to the house which had been confiscated by Bolsheviks at some point, and rebuilt everything from scratch. 
They built two houses instead of one, created a bathhouse, planted a vineyard, had three cows, several chickens, and lots of fruits and vegetables in a big garden. We even had watermelons.
My grand-parents would wake up at five in the morning and go around with their tasks. My grand-dad would milk the cows, while my grand-mum would make breakfast. It was a feast every day, especially when we, the children (numerous cousins) would come for the summer.
Pancakes, pastries, cakes, we would devour it in the morning before proceeding to help around the farm. It was organised to perfection. We had to do several tasks, each of us in the morning, before getting free time till the rest of the day.
My cousin Olga (same age as I) and I would usually take out the weed. We would work around the field of strawberries, sing songs, eat some strawberries, spot occasional snakes in the grass.
At twelve we would have lunch, usually some soup and a salad, sitting around a big cheerful table in the garden with apple trees. After lunch my grand-mum would take out some sweets and give one to each of us. We never had more than two sweets a day. It was hard to get them in the shops, and eating too many sweets wasn’t encouraged. Instead, we would get lots of fruits, and fresh milk from the cow.
In the afternoon, Olga and I would go down to the river. Calling it a river is perhaps a big word, it was a tiny, narrow, patch of water, surrounding the village on one side, with vipers liking it as much as us. But as children, we weren’t afraid of the snakes and would dare to go for a swim. We would build castles out of stones, run around the river, meet with other children of the village, play games. We would go back to the farm for the dinner (potatoes, eggs, vegetables, and chicken once a week), and then would go out again for the night. It was a party in the park every night.
Boys would bring their guitars, we would make a fire, and sing till late at night, usually with my grand-mum coming to fetch us, to send us to bed.We would return to the house, drink some milk and eat some fresh bread, and fall deeply asleep, to wake up the next morning to another beautiful day.
If I think of happiness, I always have the image of my summers in Russia. It was pure happiness, because it was so simple.

my younger cousin and me

Belgium and her delicious food

But let’s stay in Brussels for a while and explore little bit of Belgium.

How do we judge a country? How do we make of it a definite impression? What is it what comes on our mind when we think of our travels to a particular destination? Architecture? Museums? People?

And how do we remember a country when one happened to spend in it good 6 years in total? Not as a tourist, but as an integrated citizen, as a part of local culture, as a person who fell in love with the local culture totally, absolutely and with no remaining reservations?

What kind of special memories come into the mind?

I went to Brussels when I was 19. An option was presented for me to study in my favourite language, French, and I took it, even if I had everything going on for me in Moscow, my home town.

At that age I was open to different possibilities, for the adventure in life, and since the French language was the love of my life (together with George Michael and Wham), I thought: ‘why not?’ ‘Why not to go and explore?’

Having located Belgium on the map I was also apprehensive of my relocation there. After all I was used to Moscow and its vastness, to big large streets and the openness of the mind and the soul. I was used to long philosophical discussions about everything and nothing, to friends for life, and the stability of the security that only living in the ‘home’ country can bring, when you know the culture, the hidden rules, and how to navigate the local bureaucracy.

Would I ever feel at home, at ease in a different land?

I knew I ended up in a country with humour, as soon as I met my new landlord.

“You know, I had two Russian ladies staying in the room in which you are going to live, right before you,” the landlord was telling me, and I thought that he would comment on their Russianness, on something which would stand out as a cultural characteristic. Instead, he carried on:

“Both were as thin as you when they arrived, but were, how to put it, ladies with curves, when they left,” and he started to laugh, in that deep Belgian mode, when life is good, and is there to enjoy it to the fullest.

I think I also produced a chuckle, not to appear as rude in the camaraderie making, but inside of me, I obviously, dismissed the thought as ridiculous. No way was I putting on any weight, and why should I?

I had no idea at that point that landlord had presented me with the absolute truth of the Belgian nation, one of its basic cores: Belgians and their food, total love for it, unshameful consumption of it as one of the biggest pleasures in life, its presentation in the most tempting mode, the beauty of it as a given, as a must, as part of life if you are in Belgium.

We don’t know about this fact as tourists, do we really? French, the neighbours of Belgians, are, of course, known much more for their food, and are presented to us as connoisseurs, as the masters of that particular domain. Belgians are less known for their food, but I started to suspect while living there, that it isn’t just the humbleness of Belgian nation which is behind, it is also some sort of guarded secret, something about which they don’t shout out in order not to spoil it, to preserve it, to enjoy it among the loved ones, among friends.

The morning after I woke up in my student room I was confronted almost at once with the beauty of local food, with a temptation that I had never experienced before and haven’t seen anywhere else since. You stroll on the street and you see different bakeries, and bakeries are not like anywhere else. They have some mysterious beauty behind each window, the sweetness of presentation that asks you to come in, to buy a cake, return home, realise that it’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your entire life, run back, buy more, and then end up buying several cakes at once, as a reserve of a never ending pleasure.

And it isn’t, of course, just the cakes and the bakeries that make the enjoyment of food so amazing in Belgium. It is everywhere, the beauty of food experience, literally on every corner. Even such a simple fact as ordering a sandwich for lunch is never really simple in Belgium. It becomes an art, an art of ordering a sandwich.

I remember how, when I worked in one Belgian company as a recruiter, we would spend at least twenty minutes with colleagues of thinking what we should have for lunch. Sandwiches don’t come up as just sandwiches when your order them from a local deli. They have special fillings. Coronation chicken being the most boring choice. In Belgium they have crevettes, crevettes with tomatoes and special mayo sauce, or chicken in spices coming in home-made sauce, or sandwich filled with something called ‘chicken a la provincale’ and when it comes, and you taste it, it is absolutely delicious and melting in the mouth. And it is all wrapped, of course, in a delicious bread, usually la baguette, always fresh, made in the morning.

Even shopping for groceries becomes a pleasure in Belgium. Nowhere else had I seen such a choice of food. It is tempting, because each shelf has some delicacies on it. Famous Belgian chocolate, waffles in all kinds of shapes and with all kinds of fillings, different breads, the most exotic yogurts. If Danone produces a new coconut yogurt and pulls it out of some markets because of lack of adventure on the part of local population, you can be sure to find this yogurt in Belgian supermarkets. When I go to Brussels, even if I stay in a hotel, I make sure I buy this yogurt and I even took several packages of it back to the UK, where I used to live.

Restaurant experience is indeed an experience in Belgium. It isn’t just going out for a meal, it is a special trip, a well-planned and so much anticipated adventure. Most restaurants are closed on Monday evening, and even Sunday evening, they really need this time off for all the pleasure of gastronomy they offer on other days.

In Belgium they serve the quality of best French (actually better!) cuisine, with much bigger portions and much cheaper! Belgium has some traditional dishes, of course, which hint at the character of the nation. It is warm, with a twist, leaving room for imagination. There is waterzooi, which is either fish or chicken stew, so pleasant to eat on a cold day. There are ‘moules’ (mussels) which come from the North sea, larger and tastier than in any other country.

The Belgian fries are a delicious treat that can be found for a snack at the corner shops, but are also served as a tasty side dish in the poshest restaurants, even though it is hard to describe any restaurant in Brussels as posh! They are all cosy and friendly, where owners stop for a chat with customers, everyone laughs and shares stories among friends. Belgian people are very welcoming and friendly.

Then there is ‘stoemp’, mashed potatoes blended with all kinds of vegetables, it can either be served on its own, or as a side dish, a real treat with a twist when you want something different as accompaniment to the main dish.

Chocolate, the best of it, comes, of course, from Belgium. Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhaus, my first additional five kilos (which started to pile up on the next day of my arrival to the country) came just from chocolate, the delicious Belgian pralines.

Drinks are also made with a twist, it isn’t just cider or prosecco, it comes as ‘kir royale’, some sparkling wine served with a syrup, with a cherry or strawberry on top.

If you are invited to someone’s else house for dinner, you really need to make sure not to eat the whole day in advance, because it is physically hard to leave a table full of food, served with wine, laughter, and that Belgian ‘esprit de bonvivance’ (a spirit of fun, benevolence). Even foreign cuisine has something ‘extra’ in Belgium. The Greek food becomes the best Greek food, German dishes become best German dishes, and even Italians don’t complain about the quality of pizzas in Belgium.

While French keep quiet, and might have many jokes about Belgians, they don’t really comment about Belgian food. They do know that it is their biggest competitor in a battle that if presented to a real judge, might not even lead to a victory! And they can’t compete with the amount of beers which can be found in Belgium, and they can’t compete in the domain of ‘cosiness’. If I am really hungry, I would prefer to end up in a Belgian restaurant, as I am sure that I will get enough food!

After a year of my life in Brussels I was totally and absolutely in love with the city and Belgian way of life. I was also in love with the local food, something which was clearly showing in my extra ten kilos I had managed to gain. I ended up avoiding my landlord all together, to escape his jokes, and at some point I was obliged to go on a diet and learn to adapt. Yes, food is so good in Belgium that one has to learn how to control the craving!

I love Belgian food and I love Belgium.

(me in Brussels when I was 20 years old, with my additional ten kilos)

The Abbey in Brussels and the devil next to it

It was while I was living in Brussels that I couldn’t enter the abbey.

The abbey in Brussels is a truly beautiful view. It is spread on top of the lakes, called ‘Les Etangs d’Ixelles’, a really impressive construction, consisting of several amazing buildings, a church, and a beautiful park. I always wondered as to why not that many people walked on the grounds, but now I feel that maybe there was a reason. The abbey is meant only for those who truly seek, and so are her stunning grounds.

I had bought an apartment in Brussels, which was almost overlooking the abbey. One could see it from my balcony and it was a minute of walk away, across the ‘Avenue Louise’ with its posh shops and fancy restaurants. It is among my favorite areas in Brussels, a city where all together I spent six years in total, first as a student, and then as a headhunter in a really nice and good company which would find candidates for jobs that no one else could.

The apartment turned out to be a rather sad affair. There were constantly some problems with the structure of the whole building, with pipes bursting, and strange sounds coming at night. I also had there quite weird dreams, and once I moved to the apartment, construction works started to take place on my street, but this is something I seem to attract in my life. Once I move somewhere and try to call it home, big, complicated works follow my place of residence.

Tired of all the works and constant sounds I run one day out of my house, literally seeking some help. It was logical in my mind that a place of respite should be the abbey, and that I could do with staying there for a while, and the church is a nice place to be, for which my soul constantly cries in my sleeps and also my daily reality. Once I moved to Brussels I had a terrible dream with my soul longing to be in The Cathedral of Saint Vasily the Blessed in Moscow, and it was devastating to wake up and realise that I was, geographically speaking, too far away, and that there was something, or rather someone preventing me from entering the church. That someone is the evil or maybe just a bad person, who knows? But it wasn’t the devil, as depicted in the scary Christian narratives. He looked more like a man, who, by some terrible mistake, got in charge of a church, while he shouldn’t. Little but like the Vatican, which is, of course, a terrible truth to admit.

saint vassili

I took my bag from the apartment and precipitated towards the abbey. I was aiming at the church directly, but now I think that maybe instead, I should have knocked at the door of one of the abbey’s buildings and asked for immediate help. But I started to run towards the church and when I reached its doors, there was an angry man in front, with a dog next to him, and to whom he was throwing peaces of bread.

“Here, take it, take it!” the man was shouting at the dog and I pitied the dog as it seemed that the creature was under some sort of a nasty spell.

The dog run towards me when he saw me, licking my hand and obviously, wanting to stay next to me, but the man summoned the dog back towards him, and remained standing, guarding the doors to the church and swearing at me.

“You – dirty woman!!!” He shouted at me again and again, and I couldn’t proceed to the doors, enter the church and ask for help, while I was struggling and there was no one around and even birds stopped singing at that moment. It was just me, and the evil man with the poor dog next to the church. And for a brief second I felt that this was an entrance to the Vatican metaphorically speaking, hidden in the alley in Brussels. Brussels is a complicated city, with different languages and cultures, and where the administration of the European Union takes the whole geographical area, with a train travelling from Brussels to Starbucks transporting the employees for some sort of a meeting, on a regular basis and on enormous budget. The corridors of the administration of the European Union are not an easy task to grasp for any mind, and if I would compare it to a book, a novel of Agatha Christie comes to mind, or maybe Proust’s ‘A La recherché du temps perdu.” It is a long, complicated read, similar to the administration of the European Union, even if, of course, it is a cause for good, and it was created to avoid another world war.

Who was the man, I still wonder? There was such a strong negativity around him that there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t pass him and was stopped from entering the church, a beautiful, quiet space, hidden on the grounds of the abbey. Desolated and scared I walked away like a bitten dog, and proceeded to march towards the lake, and then up towards la rue d’Ixelles, and my soul was crying and so was I.

la cambre abbey Brussels

(La Cambre abbey in Brussels)