One Russian New Year

Due to the absence of most grocery products in the 1990s in Russia, people had to develop quite remarkable culinary skills. One had to be truly inventive in order to come up with any interesting dishes, besides a piece of bread with butter (and even butter was at some point totally unavailable in the shops). I remember the period when we would eat either cabbage pies for weeks in a row, or spaghetti with minced meat for months in one go. One would get used, however, to such a simple life quite quickly: if there was nothing available, one had no choice but to adapt.

Being a teenager during that difficult period in the history of Russia, I wasn’t paying much attention to it, unless I was confronted with it directly, like when I had to buy floor and sugar with vouchers or think strategically about how to store bread in a freezer. Most of the time, I was preoccupied with other things, such as where to get a new book in the French language, how to get more tickets to my favourite theatre, and where our next escapade with my best friend would take in the city. Were there so many new things to discover in our native town adjusting itself to a new, very weird ideology, where all those who had been proclaiming ‘to each, according to their needs’, would suddenly become busy with setting up their new businesses, mostly small corner shops, which would start selling vodka but also an array of American goods, such as Cocal-Cola, Snickers, Mars, and Marlboro Light. It was strange to observe the sudden interest of my nation in all things American right when shops still stood empty of the goods most needed on a daily basis, like bread or milk.

But during one winter in Moscow, I had to learn how to be creative and inventive like the rest of the local population. One could fill oneself with Mars and Coca-Cola only to a certain extent. It lost its appeal and even flavour after a couple of months or so. After all it wasn’t what we had grown up with, and the taste was even disappointing after a while. Russian people are more used to a simpler taste, and their own selection of favourite dishes, that one starts to crave after some time passes. And then it comes to traditional festive period, Russian people have to have what they have been used to since years. On the eve of the New Year, which is the main festive day in Russia, one always expects to celebrate it with the traditional Russian dishes, such as venegret (a Russian salad), Olivier salad, roast, potatoes, Vodka and medovik (Russian honey cake).

In 1992 I was invited to attend the New Year celebration at a friend of my boyfriend then, who studied at the university of cinematography in Moscow. I never declined invitations coming from people studying at that prestigious place as these were the funniest and most outgoing bunch of people I’d ever met in my entire life. They were all studying acting and it reflected in how they were in real life. Something interesting was always happening in their lives, and the group where my boyfriend studied had the most remarkable characters. The oldest daughter of Nikita Mikhalkov was among the group, and while the current celebrity culture was totally absent then, I was still in awe. I was at the final years of secondary school then, and for me it was an outlet to a grown-up, much more interesting and exciting world.

I was always invited to all their events for also ulterior motives on the part of the group. I was extremely talented in making the cake Medovik, based on a secret, passed through generations of my step-mum recipe. Every time there was a party they would call me, and after asking me whether I was interested to join, add as an after-thought: “Ekaterina, do you think you can bring your cake, please, as well?” Despite the fact that the cake would take hours to make and had to be made the day before to acquire the melting taste, I never minded to deliver. It was fun to be among them, drinking like a grown-up, dancing till dawn, witnessing the improvised acting on a script written during the gathering.

In 1992 shops, while getting better (one could at least make a cake based on what was on offer), still stood empty of the products that were needed the most for a New Year’s party, such as sausages (necessary for salad Olivier), or even peas. But Andrei, the friend of my boyfriend, had procured the sausages for the part, and this was a task assigned to me for the party preparation. I had to cut them all for our planned salads. It would be actually our main dish (the salad), since we hadn’t managed to get any meat for the roast. That and my three Medovik cakes, that Andrei had hidden as soon as I arrived so that others wouldn’t eat it before the party would start. They really liked my cake. The secret ingredients were the chocolate topping and roasted nuts in the crème, plus, in reality, the recipe was absolutely different from all known medoviks on the market, but this fact I kept for myself. It was named ‘medovik’ and thus, stayed called so.

Andrei had a big dog who was affected by the absence of products like all of us. He was constantly starving and had to eat the cat food for a year or so, when shops suddenly got a big supply of Whiskas and of nothing else. It was a very friendly, outgoing creature, just constantly starving.

How could we have forgotten that fact, I still wonder today? How come we totally missed the dog in the picture of our party? Maybe because the dog was sleeping in the corner during our preparations, lurking, as if invisible, sniffing the delicious sausages, being cut for the main dish for twenty people or so.

It took me two hours to cut the sausages, and I deposited the huge bucket with them on the table when I was done and went for a cigarette break. Some other people stayed behind in the room. Maybe if it was just me, I would remember the dog in the corner. But we all forgot. Others had left the room shortly after me, and it was only ten minutes or so later that I heard a shriek from Andrei coming from the room:

“Where, the fuck, are the sausages???”

We all rushed to the room and stared into the bucket. It was empty. As in a slow movie we moved our heads to acknowledge the dog, not anymore sleeping, but leaking his paws with a satisfied grin. He was the culprit, but who could blame him really? It was New Year’s eve after all, and the dog had his best meal in years.

As to us, we had to improvise on the spot and prepare the salad without any meat. But we had enough of medovik cakes, and some vodka, and the story of the dog became the best joke we had for years.

It was, of course, one of the best parties in my life. Because it was around experience of fun and laughter and unexpectedness of life, sometimes, harsh, sometimes, better, and not around consumption, buying of useless stuff a year ahead, and expensive overpriced presents that no one really needs for a happy and cheerful life.

Best moments in life lie in their simplicity.

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Psychosis, Russia, Kashpirovsky and mass hypnosis

Before we launch fully into the phenomenon of what the psychiatrists define as ‘psychosis’, we need to set up a scene.

‘Psychosis’ as such as defined as ‘a loss of touch with reality’, but my aim (a humble one) is to demonstrate, eventually, that those who go into this state (naturally) often reach another reality, which is true, real, and magical.

To set the scene, we need to go back in time, and more specifically to Moscow in 1989. It was the time of ‘mass psychosis’, and my own ‘madness’ or rather questioning on my part but ‘what is really going on here?’ started exactly then.

In 1989 Kashpirovsky made his first appearance on a national Russian state TV. As I remember he would appear once a week, for a televised mass hypnosis. Yes, you read it correctly. The national TV (one of the two channels which existed at that time) would air a hypnotist for an hour or so, to hypnotize an entire nation. I am not making it up. Google ‘Kashpirovsky’ or check this article about him in The Guardian.

Kashpirovsky was a trained psychotherapist, a lecturer, and a self-proclaimed ‘psychic healer’. Provided you had a bottle of water in front of the TV (that was his requirement in his address to the nation), you would be healed of all your troubles, both physical and spiritual.

My engagement with Kashpirovsky happened at a very personal level, as I could see, with my proper eyes, that something was terribly wrong. Absolutely out of order.

I was reaching my years as a teenager at that time, and alternated between my dad’s family and my grandma, who lived on the same street, in the same house, but in a different apartment. I would often stay with her. She was an old, fragile lady, who had lost her beloved husband, and was struggling to adjust to the radical changes that my country was undergoing then. The regime and ideology were changing, and the majority of the population was at a loss about what was really going on.

Being still very young, I also didn’t know what was really happening, but one thing was clear: it was all wrong, and especially the appearance of mass hypnosis on the state TV. The word ‘psychic’ made me feel uneasy, and somehow suspicious. The whole nation was lost then on a spiritual level, and it seemed that all sorts of charlatans and fakes tried to feel the niche. This was taking place in parallel with the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church, and therefore, it was all terribly confusing. But wasn’t the ‘hypnosis’ on such a mass scale in total contradiction to the Christian teachings, I was asking myself?

My uneasiness was also based in seeing what Kashpirovsky was doing to my late grandma. As most people she would wait for Kashpirovsky on TV the whole day (streets would empty during his ‘séance’), put a bottle in front, and stay glued during the whole hypnosis.

I couldn’t watch it and tried to argue in vain with her that maybe it was all too far-fetched, and even dangerous. I was an avid reader by then, I was extremely curious, and from the scarce knowledge I had by that time, I had a nasty gut feeling that by ‘saying’ things on the state TV, and by channelling some kind of ‘energy’, one could indeed hypnotize an entire nation to death.  I also didn’t like the look of Kashpirovsky, and he didn’t strike me as someone one could trust.

Kashpirovsky didn’t heal the nation, and subsequent reports demonstrated the harm he had inflicted on numerous people. I could see what happened to my grandma after following his sessions. She developed diabetes, and on a spiritual level got lost even more. The promises of Kashpirovsky were all lies, as nothing was ‘calm’ anymore or would ‘get better’.

It all got worse, for the nation, for Russian people, and also for my own family for a long while.

But why do I give you the example of Kashpirfovsky, you might ask, to set the scene?

Well, mainly for two reasons.

First of all, it is to demonstrate that once someone puts a ‘psychotherapist’ or ‘psychiatrist’ in front of you, on a national level, it is often in order to exercise the power, and authority which can be misplaced, wrong and even not ethical. The UK government (and many other governments) are doing it now on a scale similar to mass hypnosis, by waiving their term of ‘mental illness’ and putting it on the same level as ‘any other physical illness’. As discussed by many survivors (check the open letter to the UK government by National Survivor User Network), it is nothing but an attempt to get rid of dealing with people experiencing distress on an individual level, and is in cooperation with Big Pharma. It all comes from the psychiatry, which is no longer a domain reserved to medicine, but a fifth estate, with the enormous power to regulate the entire population.

Secondly, it is to show that the general population often doesn’t see the obvious, even if the obvious is in front of you. Kashpirovsky and his hypnosis was a very obvious, and quite dangerous scam, happening so openly in front of the eyes of the entire population, that very few questioned its legitimacy. Indeed, why should we, if it is promoted by the government itself?

The point I am trying to make, is that ‘psychosis’ is not a matter of an individual only. The ‘loss of touch’ with reality is happening to all of us in the Western society, and those who see it are often proclaimed as ‘mad’, because they threaten the status quo of our society based in greediness, profit accumulation, and loss of moral values, where everything goes into making money, more money, and even more. In the UK we have the ‘psychosis’ of Brexit, in Russia we had Kashpirovsky and oligarchs, in the US they had September Eleven, which was a turning point for the direction in which we are all going now. Right after it happened, the stock markets all fell, and hedge funds made billions in money. I was working as a financial analyst of banks in Amsterdam then, and watched in stupor that such a massive human disaster was nothing but a matter of buying stocks on the stock market.

It also led to increase in distress among the general population, because of incomprehension as to how to process something totally incomprehensible, but as in Moscow in 1989, it led to the rise of psychiatric admissions and of treating human malaise with the psychiatric drugs, making profit for Pharma.

And the cycle goes on.

Being ‘mad’ is a cry of sanity in the world gone mad.

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