Both ‘Taxi-Blues’ and ‘The Island’ movies (refer to my post on holy-foolishness here, here, here, and here) acquire an additional meaning when one learns about the life of the main actor who played Lyosha and Anatoly, as one can rightly argue that in both movies the actor played himself.
As the character of the movies, Pyotr Mamonov had and has an unusual life, marked by extravagancy, creativity, unusual and weird behaviour, and a deep spiritual search for meaning and for Christian faith.
He was born in Moscow in 1951, and was expelled twice from a secondary school because he was constantly organising ‘a circus’. He loved dancing, music, and was showing quite remarkable talent in the way he danced. He came across some Western music, including the Beatles, and it marked him profoundly, pushing him to explore different musical genres and performance. While being considered a hippy, he used to distance himself from the group and would often find himself in a conflict or even a fight. In one of such fights he was very badly wounded by a knife, and almost died, but was saved by the doctors and recovered after spending days in a coma.
His behaviour was exuberant and bizarre, he could sometimes walk around with a handle from the toilette seat, or pretend that he would run at full speed and collude with a wall, just to lie down and watch people assembling around him.
His professional path was also very unusual, where in a matter of ten years he changed numerous jobs, and attended a university but without finishing it. He worked as a typist, as a corrector in a journal ‘Pioner’, as a massage therapist, elevator operator, moving man, as well as a translator of poetry from English, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish languages. He experienced moments of desperation and loneliness, when he would be without any job or any money. During sad periods of his life, he would write his own poetry, and would later use it for his songs.
In the 1983 Pyotr launched his music group, called ‘Zvuki Mu’, which immediately attracted controversy due to unusual, and often absurd lyrics, playfulness, and quite dramatic presence on the stage by Pyotr. He would dance, make weird gestures, exhibit eccentric, artistic behaviour. The fact that many of his songs seemed to reflect the absurdity of that times, the total chaos at the political and economic levels, only attracted more attention to the group. For instance, in his song and video clip ‘Coyz pechat’, Mamonov clearly makes fun of the political uncertainty then, but in a subtle, provocative way. He tells us about going to ‘Kiosk’, which could refer to both a small shop selling newspapers, but also to small shops which started to appear at that time, reflecting the ideological switch from socialism to capitalism, selling everything from Mars chocolate bars to cigarettes and spirits. He sings with a background of Saint Vasilii The Blessed Cathedral, as a sign of trying to find new meaning among instability and uncertainty of the years which preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union and immediately after. Interestingly enough, Mamonov, by positioning himself in the background of the most notorious Russian Orthodox Cathedral dedicated to the most famous Russian Holy Fool, foresaw how he would be perceived later in his life, where he is often referred to in Russia as a ‘holy fool’ (Ruvinsky, 2011).
In 1988 Mamonov made his first appearance in movies by playing a drug lord in ‘The Needle’ (Igla), which became a cult Soviet film. In 1990 he played Lyosha, the saxophonist in Taxi-Blues, where some parallels can be drawn with Mamonov’s real life. It was a turbulent period for former Soviet Union and its people, and ordinary people struggled to find meaning in the chaos of that time. As Mamonov, his character is unpredictable, slightly ‘mad’, talented, artistic and eccentric.
Following the dismantling of his music band, Mamonov had a long period of depression, which he managed to overcome by turning to Christianity and by finding an absolute faith in Jesus. He moved with his wife to a remote village in Moscow region, where he would spend his days on farming and praying, making only very rare appearance at public. He had to be convinced several times to appear as Anatoly in ‘The Island’, where, as it is commonly agreed, he played himself.
Whether we can call Pyotr Mamonov a ‘Holy Fool’ is, of course, embedded in the current discourse on madness and at how we look at eccentricity. Many Russian Orthodox sites themselves refer to him as a true representative of Russian holy-foolishness. Mamonov is a devoted Christian, who had a highly unusual life. As holy-fools in the past, he also battled with madness, having spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, due to his problems with alcohol. He had periods of deprivation, and sadness, and where, ultimately he turned to Christian faith to find his own personal meaning in life.
Mamonov, when he makes his rare public appearances, remains a controversial figure. When he talks about faith, he often uses the same lyrical language he used in his songs. When he received the Russia’s award for best actor following his role as Anatoly, the Christian hermit in ‘The Island’, he came to the ceremony dressed in jeans, an odd cardigan, and sneakers, and proceeded to tell the public that it failed to address real problems in Russia:
“Do you expect Putin to solve these problems? Putin is a wimp, an intelligence officer, what can he do? We should do it ourselves.” (Ruvinsky, 2011).
Understanding Mamonov as a modern holy fool requires understanding of the Russian culture, and its long tradition of the unique phenomenon of holy-foolishness. Russia always looked at manifestations of weirdness and eccentricity as an obligatory trait of national character. Russian culture always had a penchant for the grotesque, for the unusual, embedded in the history which has never been linear, but characterised by changes of regimes, revolution, political and economic uncertainty. Russian people tried to find answers in searching for the meaning, where laughter and weirdness provided a respite from daily problems, gave hope and a new perspective. Ivan the Fool, positioned in Russian folklore, is one of such characters, giving us hope, but also making us laugh, but also Holy Fools, real personalities in Russian history, gave people the possibility of a different interpretation of reality, by using bizarre behaviour and talk in order to highlight the problems of the society and ruling class. The resurrection of Christian faith in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, gave a new justification and reverence for the phenomenon of the Holy Fool.
Mamonov is very popular in Russia today because he is a typical example of someone who overcame the difficulties of the change in regime and political ideology. As many other Russian people, he had difficult moments in his life, where he also experienced deprivation and periods of total hopelessness. He resorted to Christian faith as many other Russian people, to find new meaning and hope, and uses his popularity and fame in order to tell others about God, while also using his influence to point to the short-coming of the government.
In this respect, we can argue that holy-foolishness is embedded In Russian character and culture, where it is a recognised Christian phenomenon, positioned outside the mental health discourse on madness. Mamonov could be considered as ‘mad’, but because he is Russian, where ‘madness’ is accepted as eccentricity, he managed to channel his eccentricity into a higher purpose, where his madness is used to cherish artistic talent, and educate others about faith.
As Mamonov tells us himself:
“We all choose byways. In this respect, I am a very good example; I often choose the longest way round. Thanks to God, He led me to the right spring….” (Ruvinsky, 2011).
The Holy Fool, to remind you (please, refer to part one), was a person who became mad for the sake of Christ. It was a well-known, recognized phenomenon in the old Russia. It was a man or a woman who would often wander the streets of old Rus and remind people to live their lives based in Christian values. They would often appear as ‘mad’, as ‘insane’, but several of these Holy Fools were recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church as saints, with one of the most famous Holy Fool being Saint Vasilii the Blessed. It was after him that the most famous Russian Cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Vasilii The Blessed (Saint Basil) was named.
From the beginning the character of the Holy Fool has fascinated Russian writers and we can find this personage in several writing and also paintings. Behind it, is the interest in the unexplainable, in the grotesque, in the spiritual domain, but where things always remain mysterious. It is the fascination with unpredictability, as long as good outweighs the evil, Russian people have been driven to explore the human soul, and the human misery, throughout the history, which can be seen in literature and art.
For example, Nikolai Leskov (1831-95), based his character in ‘Deathless Golovan’ on holy-fool, where the main protagonist is a simple man who takes care of those affected by a plague, despite danger for his own health. He also gives milk to a Jewish man, stupefying his neighbours. In his other writing, ‘Singlethought’ (1879), the main character, a police officer based in a provincial town, becomes slightly ‘mad’ after reading scriptures of the Bible. The reading has such a profound impact on him, that he starts to behave strangely, such as refusing bribes and gifts at his job, as was the custom then. The story highlighted the corruption of the power at that time, but also raised the more important spiritual questions. Who is really a fool here? A simple man who refuses to be corrupted, or the society as such, driven by corruption? And shouldn’t we rather abide by Christian, moral values in our daily life? As in holy-foolishness, the story also contains many grotesque, ‘hilarious’ moments, such as then Ryzhov, the main character, forces the mean Governor of the town to bow in front of the icons in the Church.
Other Russian writers explored the theme of ‘holy-foolishness’ either basing their character directly on holy-fool, or by building a story around the theme of holy-foolishness, where madness always takes on an additional meaning. It is never an ‘illness’, but something deeper, a battle of one’s soul, where the hero, while being ‘mad’, is more connected with God and spiritual aspects of life, than the laypeople, preoccupied with the material sides of things. Gorki explored the theme in ‘A Confession’, Chekov built his short story ‘Ward No. 6’ around holy-foolishness, where both protagonists, a long-time staying psychiatric inmate and his treating psychiatrist share remarkable traits with holy-fools, but also Bulgakov, it can be argued, based his ‘Master and Margarita’ on the motifs of holy-foolishness. The main character, the master, who ends up disillusioned by this world, is a modern ‘holy fool’, but unlike in the Moscovite Rus, he has problems to adjust and adapt to the requirements of the modern world, which in the Soviet Union, was characterised by omnipresent bureaucracy, corruption, ridiculous rules, and greediness, despite the fact that one of the slogans of the socialist regime was an equal society. The story of the Master runs in parallel with the story of Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth), and some obvious conclusions can be drawn from the novel. There is a deep spiritual need nascent in all humanity, but it is often compromised by scepticism and inability to think outside the box, because of being under too much influence of materialistic world. Many ridiculous, hilarious scenes in the Soviet Moscow of Bulgakov draw a direct parallel with the weirdness and ‘laughter’ of holy-fools.
The image of Holy Fool can be also encountered in numerous paintings, where painters depicted the fascination and also certain reverence towards the character. He can be seen on numerous paintings of Nesterov, and also Syrikov, showing his firm place among laypeople, and not just being a character of Christian writings.
For a Russian culture, the holy fool has a deep meaning. It shows the possibilities of a spiritual domain, reinforces one’s faith, and reassures one that good will always outweigh the evil. Thus, the character of Holy Fool is deeply embedded in Russian culture and tradition.
Being mad is liberating. Well, at least with practice and determination, because, let’s face it, being mental (with a confirmed diagnosis) is not a high status on the scale of popularity in our society, defined as it is by the standards of normality.
My own sense of liberation came around two years ago when I was sitting on a bench in the park. A man literally materialised himself on the same bench a minute later, smoking a cigar in a leisured manner. I didn’t see him approaching and his whole appearance was slightly bizarre: mismatched glasses, dirty trousers and an expensive red tie.
It didn’t take me long to start thinking that it might be the Devil, a character I met in all of my psychoses. After an initial deliberation about whether I was experiencing a hallucination (unlikely since the man kept on sitting where he was even after I blinked several times in a row) or a delusion (an explanation more probable than the first), I dismissed these probabilities firmly from my head. I knew that I wasn’t psychotic, helped by the fact that I was on a low dose of quetiapine, and that while I had no proof that the man might be the Devil, he also could be, even if according to the psychiatrists, seeing the character and all other bizarre occurrences belong to the domain of insanity.
I walked away from the bench as fast as I could, because to be honest, I try to avoid the Devil in all his manifestations, but this experience got me thinking. What if the things that mad people see and hear are real? What if there is this tiny possibility that the truth indeed lies in madness and not in what is projected to us by the society as being normal?
I have to admit that simultaneously writing a Ph.D. thesis on how Facebook collects its data helped me in the matter of thinking about my own madness and the madness of others. You see, Facebook and all other Internet companies as well as grocery shops (via their loyalty cards) store everything that comes on their radar. They know all about your daily habits, your friends, what you like having for your breakfast and whether you are single or not. This is in line with what the majority of mad people believe – that we are constantly being watched. Tell this to a psychiatrist? He will answer that you are mental, despite the evidence to the contrary. We are being watched, every single moment of our day and night.
The presence of the Devil is obviously harder to prove and it is not something that I am planning to discuss with psychiatrists in any point of my remaining life. But in an unlikely event that it might happen, I already know their answer. The Devil will be put into the basket of hallucinations or delusions, despite the fact that almost all religions of the world admit his existence.
Here’s a question that has been bothering me for a while: Why is it that while there are considerably more people who are mental than there are psychiatrists, it is the mad who are called being stupid (but in a politically correct way)?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against psychiatrists as such. Most of them do try to help, and I met a couple among them who turned out to be brilliant and fun people. I do take their medication even if I learned from experience that unless I am ready to live like a zombie, I should administer my own dose and not the one they prescribe.
No, it is a lack of a dialogue with psychiatrists that annoys me the most. We know, of course, that psychiatry is an establishment, discussed in length and depth by those willing to sacrifice themselves to the cause. Michel Foucault was perhaps the most prominent scholar in the field and he pointed quite correctly to the fact that psychiatry simply fits into the trend of growing medicalization, where everything that falls outside normality should be treated immediately with some miraculous pills. And usually this is done with such an attitude of arrogance that even those who had no problem in the first place start believing that they are terminally ill.
I did have a problem when I was admitted to the hospital with an acute psychosis for the first time. I didn’t sleep for ten days brought about by the stress of life. I was working for two years as a financial analyst of banks, and as financial crises demonstrate quite clearly, working in finances can drive anyone mad.
The thought pattern after a prolonged insomnia does perhaps belong to the realm of insanity, but among the chaos I was demonstrating to the medical staff who admitted me to the hospital near the city of Amsterdam, there were glimpses of what was really happening with me (besides boring explanations which can be found in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.)
“I am Buddha,” I told to my doctor and this is exactly how I was feeling at that time. I was feeling light, happy, full of life. Banks under my analysis could go and fuck themselves and I, Ekaterina from Russia, was ready to enter into a higher vintage point.
The doctor didn’t share my wishes towards happiness. He didn’t even smile (or laugh, which would be even more appropriate) and instead of congratulating me on the fact that I finally started to see the truth, that I was on some road of enlightenment and should abandon my job in finances once and for all, he declared with a solemnly serious face,
“I think you are mad.”
In retrospect, the only mad thing I did was share my thoughts with the doctors. Was I Buddha really? No, I wasn’t, even if it is entirely possible that I was one in my past life. No, my state of Buddhahood was pointing towards the general dilemma experienced by our society. I wanted to be out of the system based on accumulation, statuses and endless consumption. I wanted to be free.
But this is the problem with most psychiatrists, in my opinion. They don’t have a broad vision of life. Their focus is on details, on something that treats manifestations and not the underlying cause. They simply don’t understand the madness, because in order to understand it, one has to be mad himself. How can you treat something when you don’t see or hear the same thing?
As Nietzsche once said, “Why does man not see things? He is himself standing in the way. He conceals things.” Funnily enough, he described in this way the state of psychiatry today. Psychiatry conceals things.
But because of the weight that the whole establishment carries on its shoulders, we are obliged to obey and if we don’t, we are forced to. My path towards enlightenment was cut short after that doctor put me on a killing dose of risperidone and suggested that I might suffer from schizophrenia. The only thing I could think of after the treatment was how nice it would be to die.
More diagnoses followed later, more hospitalisations (it is normal that one stops a medication that can potentially kill) and more tears. It was only enormous determination on my part, as well as simple curiosity, that finally helped me to get away from those psychiatrists. I haven’t seen them now for five years, I said goodbye to their claws even if the diagnosis of bipolar hangs firmly above my head.
But I don’t mind, because this diagnosis gives me the opportunity to speak. It shows that I’ve been there, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the sad faces of patients who are told day after day that they are mad.
But what is madness exactly? Psychiatry describes it as a loss of touch with reality, as foolish behaviour, as insanity. It is amazing that we take their definitions seriously, considering that those who do see things, outnumber the ones who don’t.
Michel Foucault describes it as a discourse. Somewhere by someone it was decided that those who are more powerful should mistreat those who are weak, and while we see the rise of fight on behalf of other groups who have been discriminated against in the past, this rise towards freedom and equality from the mad is a slow process. This, I believe, is because of stigma, because they are afraid to speak, and because society is scared of anything that points to the fact that there might be another reality.
After that walk in the park, I admitted to myself for the first time that what I see is real. I see angels and fairies, I believe in the afterlife, I talk with animals and I know all about my past lives. And yes, I did meet the Devil. His numerous appearances helped me to realise that madness can also be a battle for one’s soul. I am a firm Christian as a result.
Am I being mad? Probably. But this is what I like in my life. If, on that day I was admitted to the hospital for the first time, someone asked me whether I would like to become normal again and forget about everything that happened to me, I would say a definite no. Because I remember how I was, sitting in a boring job day after day and believing that life was about my next salary, a useless trip to the gym and which diet to follow.
No, life is not about that, I’ve realized. Life is about discovery and madness, and seeing it this way is a sure way to get it right. I am finally free.
(This article was first published on Mad in America in 2015, but I asked to remove it, due to stigma.)
Here is the link to the original article.
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.
P. Tchaikovsky – Pas de Deux (‘The Nutcracker’
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?
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?
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.
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 in Brussels)