Cannabis March in Malta (5th May 2012)

Legality status of this cute plant and its derivatives varies in different countries: from legal in a very few countries including Spain, Netherlandsand Czech republic to confirmed illegal in majority of others.

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Growing cannabis for personal use is legal in Russia since 18th November 2010. Although smoking it in public still remaining illegal.

In Astrakhan, my home town, Cannabis ruderalis  grows right on sidewalks, not to mention countryside where it grows in wild and feels perfectly fine. I remember we even made a herbarium of cannabis during university botany practice. Considering such availability of cannabis there it was pretty hard for authorities to enforce the illegal status.

Decriminalization of cannabis defiantly was a logical action but still far from return to its glorious status. Historically, in Russia cannabis was one of the most cultivated cereal grains, its fiber was used for hemp and textile manufacturing; status of cannabis was as high as of wheat and sunflower. In fact, you can see cannabis leaves right between wheat sheaves on the fountain of the International Friendship in Moscow.

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Everything changed in 1961 when USSR adopted UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, initiated in USA (weird enough that USSR adopted something initiated in USA but it was Khruschev´s “snowbreak” time). Nowadays cannabis is still cultivated on microscopic scale for agricultural purposes.

In Malta growing cannabis is illegal and there is nothing surprising about it. What would you expect if legalisation of divorce happened only a year ago? Although not everything is so clear: drug trafficking in Malta is as active as everywhere else and authorities do not try hard to wipe cocaine from the island: places of trade are known to many including police. On Saturday 5th May supporters of legalization of cannabis gathered in Valletta in front of the new Parliament building. The march was a pretty peaceful action, some even brought their children :).

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I do not believe cannabis is banned to protect us from any harm. Otherwise, how to explain the fact that alcohol and cigarets are available in such a broad variation? And even if so, if an adult person decides to harm himself, doesn’t he have the right to do so? There is a strange perception that “dangerous” things controlled only if banned, and their legalization would be a total disaster – everyone would be trapped by their power. Strange perception, isn’t it? Are all married Maltese in the process of divorce now?

I remember, in my teenagerhood we used to gather on the staircase in some block of apartments and some of my friends smoked cannabis. I know how it smells, I remember how they used to smile and laugh after. Something kept me from doing same thing, maybe I wanted to be different in the company of weed-smoking and heavy drinking still kids. Cannot recall any harm to anyone. Some became wonderful parents, some finished bad but cannabis did not have anything to do with it.

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The right for craziness

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons.

From the movie “Trainspotting”

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In consumerism era everything is labelled and branded including very private sides of our lives. Our emotions, personal and professional achievements, feelings have become objects of trade and promotion.

What’s success?!

Day by day we are bombarded by images of smiling, glamorous looking “successful” people encouraging us to buy more goods or to improve any possible sides of our life: career, physical appearance, sexual performance and psychological state of mind. These intrusive ads try to convince us: a modern person must be successful, financially stable and physically attractive. Can I wonder who decided it?

I’m becoming allergic to the very word “success”. What is success after all? Does it mean that an owner of an oil corporation whose income is billions of dollars is more successful than a school teacher or a single mother, or even a street dog? Do I understand it correctly that to be/to be known as (highlight the appropriate) successful one needs to dedicate his life to self-promotion, jumping over heads to reach his goal, then to eventually find him/herself on the top, observing his fame and wealth with a pleasant smile of satisfaction? A fool who for weird reasons refuses to strive for “success” is labelled as a loser. A loser can be easily spotted by some indicators: low paid job, a humble place to live in, constantly struggling for survival, or even worse, drinking and having no goal in life whatsoever. In other words, a loser has a low market value – cannot be sold for high and cannot consume a lot, he’s a trash.

Is it really as clear as it seems? Why should prosperous employers wonder about your goal in life and who you want to be by age of 40? In other words, is it so necessary to actually want to “be” someone at age of 40? Isn’t it enough to be yourself at age of 40 and why are we all expected to have a goal in life? If somebody deliberately does not want to live an American dream, does not want to become a top-manager of a transnational corporation or Hollywood actress, does it mean having a loser mentality?

What’s happiness?

No idea, to be honest. We are merely sinking in the ocean of ready-made ideas and fast-food philosophy. Somebody decided that a human being must be happy and positive, and for this sake, must learn how to achieve it. If looking at this situation from a different angle, positive thinking is becoming a pure obsession: additionally to having a life ambition one must be positive. Happiness has become a good that is sold as happy-ending movies, books advising how to be a happy person. Every day TV and internet try to convince us that happiness is incomplete without a new iPhone or iPad; smile is an essential attribute of positive thinking obsession and has a high market value. Official banner of mass media is “Be positive, smile and you’ll reach your goal. Pessimism is an enemy of success”.

Of course, there would be nothing wrong to be wealthy and happy if it was not the only allowed option. Pessimists without ambitions seeing life in a dark light are considered a flaw of mass production. Somewhere there, at the factory of minds, an error occurred and these freaks came to life. And the worst thing is that these freaks do not want to buy happiness.

But not all is lost. Depressive and negative thoughts must be killed in an embryo by happiness pills and life planning books.

Well, it looks like we have no right to live the life how we want it. What if somebody might enjoy moral masochism? What if success is not about career and bank accounts ad happiness is not always about positivity and toothy smiles? Who can be a judge of success and happiness if not a person himself?

I am fed up of these suggestions how we need to live, look and feel. Emotions unlike cars cannot be standardised. Everyone deserves a right to be himself and feel how he wants without being labelled. Viva to all the freaks who do not give a shit about “Brave New World” that demands long-life planning, promotes growth of desires and unscrupulously kills the most charming thing – spontaneity. Giving it more thoughts, how can one burdened with ambitions, desires, and long-life plans be happy at the same time If I am to propose a definition of success I’d say “ability to stay yourself and do what you really want no matter whether it is prestigious or not”.

Three countries in a week or travel notes

Three countries in a week time:  Italy, Malta and Russia. Different impressions, different languages, different lifestyles.

Sicily. Only one and a half hours by catamaran away from Malta, there is a land where people speak only Italian – beautiful land of green hills and deep valleys. Unlike Malta, Sicily pleased my eye with smooth shapes and plenty of trees. Ragusa, especially its old part, resembles Malta very much: similar limestone buildings, same yellow street lights. Differences are also visible – traffic runs in the opposite direction, sloping roofs, higher blocks of appartments and green balconies. If Maltese hardly find a nice word for Arriva, local public transport operator, in Ragusa a bus is a very rare thing – only two buses I saw in two days.  Honestly, Ragusa Ibla is a charming place. Cannot say the same about local food, however. Not to mention that the restaurants did not even have chicken on their menu. One of most memorable details of my short stay in Ragusa – elegant gentlemen, when seeing an approaching young lady, take their heats off, slightly nod and say “Buonasera!”.

 Just a few hectic days in Malta and off to Russia for two weeks.

Russia. 1. Coincidence. I am a lucky person when it comes to adventures or funny incidents. And my trip to Russia continued this tradition. At the airport among many others waiting for check in, there was a guy who looked lost in space. He did not speak English, I immediately recognised a fellow-countryman. “Moscow is not my final  destination, will have to wait 12 hours until my next flight” – he said.  “Mine neither. And I also will be waiting for 12 hours”. “Where are you going?” we both asked same time. And same time replied – “Astrakhan!”.  Considering how vast Russia is, a person from a province city does not expect to meet a fellow-townsman in a small country like Malta. It turned out that we even lived quite close! Those 12 hours of waiting at the airport were not boring for a change – we exchanged impressions, life experiences. And, oh, yes! – lively, diverse, cutting-sharp Russian that he spoke sounded like the sweetest music to me! And if some my friends think that my way of describing personalities and physical appearances is too straight to the point and not very soft, than that guy was an absolute champion. I hardly can repeat adjectives and metaphores he used to describe his life in Malta, his colleagues (he spent 4 months on a Maltese boat as a mechanic), local food etc. By the way, we fully agreed with each other regarding local food J. Being just 30 years old, speaking very poor English, he had been around the world as a ship mechanic – Africa, Latin America, Northern Europe – and everywhere managed to be understood. He noticed quite a lot in Malta, like, for example, taxi drivers get actively involved in coccaine distribution and lots of people do not pay tax (just like Russians).

2. Nefertiti. It happened to be a pure accident, but from some time ago Nefertiti became my improvised test for general knowledge. When I am curious how well a person studied at school or how broad is education in his country, I ask him about Nefertiti. “Of course, I know!” he said. “ We studied it all at school, right? Moreover, in Astrakhan every sauna is called “Nefertiti!”. :D.

3. Good bye!  How many people I met travelling and it is always sad to think that, most probably, I will never see them again. Well,  who knows?.. We shook hands and said good bye at Astrakhan airport. Then I got in the taxi and it was the end of story.

4. Homophobia. First thing I noticed in Russia is homophobia. I turned on radio and heard very passionate discussions of the law, banning gay propoganda. As one speaker told, once he came in  Dior boutique and wanted to buy a jacket. The clothes were supposed to be for guys, but the jacket looked girlish. Then to prove his doubts, he asked whether it is a women or man thing and got a reply “It’s made for man, but it is of feminine style”. He got nervious and left. Others were quite intolerant to gays too. Russians are mostly intolerant to gay guys, but lesbians can sleep calmly. It is an ambiguous subject, however. Personally, I think it is a sexual deviation and it’s been proven a person’s sexuality is not a constant thing, our preferences can be influenced. This law is officially classified as “child abuse” and aims to restrict homosexual scenes shown to minors. Then I don’t understand why exposing a child to heterosexual scenes is not restricted at all! Trust my word, heterosexual and lesbian freedom in Russia is currently so absolute that it would make marquis de Sade blush. The problem is that men’s private sexual achievements became state heritage. The more women a man has the cooler he looks, the stronger is the country. Being faithful for a man is considered as a form of stupididy.

If you are a gay, better do not go to mother Russia for your own good. Or try to look bold and go with lots of girls – public respect is guaranteed.

5. Feelings in the air.  It is popular to leave notes on buildings’ walls. Some state “Natasha, I love you! Please marry me!”. Others declare “Death to jews!”.  Children play in yards (luckily, they got enough space where to play, unlike Malta where children have no space for their games). All boys play war games. With plastic Kalashnikovs.

7.  Vodka. “Beer. Vodka. 24 hours” – adverts like that are everywhere in the city. In the closests supermarket there are 30 sorts of vodka. As a result, most of men are either drunk or going to be.

8. Wild minis. After a day in Astrakhan I could not understand what was going on – all girls I met on street and supermarkets were wearing miniskirts. Very minimal mini. I’d even say they were dressed very slightly. And on crazy high heels! What happened? – Nothing. I came to my hometown that time “when girls wear skirts that more likely are wide belts” (quoting my favourite university lecturer). Oh, yes, legs are very OK as well as all the rest… Funny details – nowadays in Russia a normal lenght skirt attracts more attention than a super mini. Everybody got used to it, nothing surprising J. Those skirts are clear signs of spring though. Happy Spring, dear all!

Moscow: thoughts born inside the crowd

Foreboding

The smell of motherland I felt already at the airport. Short skirts, high hills, gloomy faces, arrogant, estimating looks and, finally, “Malta – Sheremetyevo” on the panel above check-in desks – told me all together: “Welcome back! You are on the right way!”. All the memories were revived immediately and the shadow of doubt lied upon my thoughts – “Do I really miss Russia?”. Russians have a bad habit: they (or we?) absolutely cannot keep physical distance between themselves and others. What means that standing in line people almost press on neighbors. Waiting for my turn to pass check-in I stood exactly on the yellow line and did not move any further. Such harmless absence of actions irritated the lady standing behind. “You are not moving forward” – she nervously noted. Her eyes were piercing and mouth resembled a narrow chink. I was not in mood to argue, expectancy of Russia coming towards, softened my, usually sharp, tongue. I peacefully replied that two steps forward wouldn’t speed up the check-in procedure. However, the lady did not give up. She poured on me streams of oratory and anger, blaming me in “keeping all the others behind waiting !!!”. God, god!.. Might think, the airplane would depart straight away as soon as this lady passes check-in and comes on board. It was a sincere “Welcome back!” of mother-Russia. Few hours after I was going to see millions of clones of the lady behind… It’s better to be prepared.

the Apocalypse
The flight was OK. The young age, absence of family and children eliminated any fear.

5.00 am in Moscow, the bright sun was already high. By my heart and soul I hate Sheremetyevo, an absolutely horrible airport… One, two, three – I was counting hours before the bank opened, I could exchange some money and off from this place. Then an hour was spent in a mini bus which brought us to the closest metro station. Some 30 minutes in line to buy metro tickets. Another Russian bad habit is to skip a turn and to pass it as faster as possible. If one manages to outrun one in front of him – he fells proud like a hero. Of course, the fooled one shouldn’t have been a scatterbrain, he didn’t watch – his fault then. You say, Russians never smile. Just imagine them being on alert all the time! Would you smile on their place? Doubt so. A friendly, polite person is considered as strange or even suspicious. Ah, yes, forgot, “Laugh without a reason reveals your foolishness” Russian say.

Moscow doesn’t wait. It doesn’t stop for a minute to take a breath out and to look around. People run down and up escalator, saving seconds using every opportunity to outrun, to skip, to push but the main is not to stop even for a second. The underground of Moscow is probably the best in the world: it’s clean, beautifully decorated, very fast and efficient. Trains pass exactly in 1, maximum 2 minutes (I’m not joking). That’s why it’s totally out of my understanding why to run, pushing others, if another train will be there in a few moments. What is one minute in your life? Ok, the platform will be crowed again, but that’s Moscow. Does 1 minute worth pushing people away, offending by these stony faces? After a while you stop feeling these people as real. It feels like someone moves decorations but nothing changes around you. I’ve become a bit Mediterranean. Now I know: there is no worse time waste than chasing life. Why is such life needed if you miss everything nice in it? Ah, yes, no time to think. They must run into and out, the train’s doors stay open few seconds only…

Life in Moscow is a test for your humanity. It kills every seed of kindness. No, seriously, faces of passers-by scare. They can be attractive but always with absence of emotions, and with alertness in the eyes. They are mollusks pretending to be humans. From a very young age they have been growing these shells to hide inside. Weakness is prohibited. The material success is highly desired. Which means to get a public respect you should make a breathtaking career, be on the top of mainstream and demonstrate material, glamorous success. The ways of achieving it are up to you. You may go on heads straight to your aim, it won’t be disapproved. The rules correspond to the game. Unlimited opportunities сan make you drunk….

Moscow, heterogeneous, showy crowds… Everyone wants to stand out the crowd. To look original, unique and smart. There are so many ways how to highlight this “originality”: expensive clothes, posh cars, luxury jewels. Women dream to put themselves inside those cars, clothes, jewels… And some manage, speeding their Porsche, Mersedes or Ferrary, expensive bitches pretending to be queens of the modern world. The dream of many is sell themselves sd more expensive as possible.

No, guys, I disagree. It’s far more complex to save yourself, to rescue drying up seeds of kindness, not to let yourself chase delusive success. However, I’m afraid it’s not easy. It’s, probably, the main personal success one can achieve.

Story Salad

Whatever place I visit, I cannot believe there have been other places before and more will come to see. My minds stick to this shaky sense of reality. So every time I return to my home city it feels like I suddenly wake up, as if months spent in Malta and days in other places are not true and I never left this place. And I know, in Malta I will get the same feeling.

Four flights for the last week – four different places. Four different places: Sevilla, Malta, Moscow and Astrakhan. Now, seeing this grey scale world outside the window, alcoholics hiding between garages with a cherished bottle, I cannot believe there was Sevilla with its old brick roads, orange trees and handsome people with the flame in dark velvet eyes.

1. Airport accident

Short but memorable accident happened in Malta International Airport where we were going to have our flight to Sevilla. The security member suspected me, particularly, my boots. And asked me to take them off. “We are having lots of problems with Libya”, she explained. The request came unexpected. For a few moments I left my file with the passport, the boarding and money oversighted. Next few minutes boomed on my head: after passing through the frame I realized the file vanished! Some people are magnets for all sorts of adventures. Loss of passport together with money would make nervous whoever, even a person tempered with past adventures. Of course, nobody noticed anything suspicious (why the hell were they staying there?!). And the trip could not have happened if not a smiley man from North Africa, who brought the file and vanished as quickly as appeared. Big luck, if not the miracle!

2. The dog who minded photography

In Sevilla, while others went to see the Museum of Corrida, I continued hanging around with the growing sense of curiosity. And there was this gorgeous dog, big fluffy Chow-chow, lying on the balcony. His head was between the rods, he looked pleased with life, watching the word passing by. Nothing revealed his arrogance (because he actually was an arrogant and stubborn dog!). As soon as I aimed him in my viewfinder and took some time to arrange the focus, he stood up and went hiding inside the room. First, I thought it was a coincidence. So when in 10 minutes time the dog appeared on the balcony again, I repeated my attempts. With the same result! Seeing me with the camera, dog barked a couple of times, expressing his deep dislike and disapproval. Hiding behind a tree was an old trick and the dog got to the core of it. The tree did not help me to take a shot either. Failure! Obviously, this fluffy malicious creature minded me taking a photo of him. Could be he was a local celebrity and hated paparazzi. Or maybe, he did not consider himself modeling to a newbie. Anyway, his reason will always remain a mystery…

3. A friend of Pedro Almodovar

The day was perfectly nice: warm, windless, sunny. Plaza de España greatly impressed me with its special sophistication. Nice photos had already been captured and I could rest quietly on one of those colourful tile benches until a man interrupted my peace. “Puede asacar mi foto?” he asked politely. Of course, I could take a picture of him and I did. The conversation started from nothing and unexpectedly turned into an interesting one. My company looked like a plumpish version of young Bruce Willis and almost did not speak English. Using a mix of his very limited English, my very limited Spanish and hands we managed to talk about so many things, including philosophy, morality and religion. Often ideas get twisted when translated into words, something gets lost and something unnecessary adds. But absence of common language did not disturb us, or maybe even it was an advantage, helping to filter the pure meaning from everything unnecessary. He asked about my job and I had to show interest in his. It appeared that he was involved into a film-making industry and worked with Pedro Almodovar. And I was so much in my distrustful thoughts regarding his job and close collaboration with Pedro Almodovar, that even did not think of asking him for an autograph…

4. Place of no return

Trip to (and back from) Sevilla was my first experience of flying with Ryanair. After landing in Malta we enter the airport through a boarding gate. And immediately got confused: never before I had not returned from the boarding zone to the airport. The only way out I knew was the way in. But very soon it turned out: at the airport ways in and ways out cannot be the same.

5. Curious immigration security officer

Aiports again. This time I had a flight to Moscow, Domodedovo. Moterland welcomed us with the grey sky, little rain and long queue to passport check desks. When my turn came and I gave my passport for the check, a security officer smiled (!) and said “Ah, you came from Malta as well. So how is it in Malta?”. Must say, from my whole experience of flights there never was even one case like this: smiley officer asks a question not related to a passport issues or any other official subject. Thus, it was a reason for my minds to get lost. I did not find anything better than to say “Too much of religion. And they have no right to divorce!”. The officer opened his mouth and asked with a surprise “No divorce???”. Everything would have promised a good conversation if not the strict airport conditions and angry looks of the queue. “I would tell you more, but people are waiting”, and I pointed my hand to the queue.

“Is it good for tourism at least?”. “Yes, but not in winter. My passport please. Thanks!”.

Probably, it was most unusual accident in my life. Who could think that those people in uniform with metallic suspicious look might smile? Miracles do happen sometimes!

6. Footprints in cement

This story happened not with me, with a Russian friend of mine. Once he stayed at work till late, needed to finalize a report or some important task. Exactly that day was chosen for maintenance of the entrance of the building where he worked. Administration of the institution could not expect there were people able to stay at work till late and did not find a reason to make a sign “Caution! Mind the steps!”. To be more precise, there were no steps at all: all old steps had been removed and instead, a few new ones were in the process of forming out of a wooden frame filled with cement. Our friend did not expect any adventure when exiting the building… and found himself stuck in the bloody cement! Swearing aloud, he hardly managed to get out. Next morning administration was searching the pest who left deep foot prints in the fresh cement of new stair.

“How right you were!” – he told me. Few years ago I told him “In this city every single morning leaving home I am prepared for adventures. And if a brick decides to land on my head, I will not be surprised at all”. “But adventures came to me from underneath, not from above” – he resumed.