Experiences of friendship

Dedicated to M.G.D, M.F. and Z.R 


Building relationships with other people is no easy matter. While some of us learn through experiences, others prefer to see them accidental, giving green light to potentially harmful communications that inevitably result in disappointments. How much of a relationship failure is rooted in our own behavior and perceptions and how much of it is affected by those of others?

Throughout my whole life I struggled to establish a lasting connection with creative and talented people I was particularly drawn to. In the majority of times I failed and, looking back at those failures, I can see how much they originated from my, at that time idealistic, perceptions of people. I am not the one to advice anybody on how to make lots of good friends – I haven’t reached that point of enlightenment and doubt I ever will. However, mistakes, observations and stories of the others have led to a few insights which in many ways helped me to build a circle of close friends I dreamt so much about. What took me so long to understand are, in fact, banalities from the Captain Obvious.

  1. Consumption preferences do not equal to personal values

In my younger years I had a habit of idealizing cultured people. I sincerely believed a well-read person must necessarily be deep, honest, considerate, and compassionate. How can a person so seemingly drawn to high culture be other than wonderful? How can a vegan yoga instructor who only consumes organic food and hand-made recycled clothes can be other than an angel on earth? They can be. It took me years to realize that consumption preferences are attributes of a particular social layer rather than indicators of the true depths of inner self.

  1. Awareness of something does not equal passion for it

Be it visual, performance or written, art is a language that is not spoken and understood by many. For long “books were the emblems of a secret brotherhood” to me. Until at some point it got clear that neither the number nor the titles of books, read or displayed, mean the reader treats them as dear friends. That number by itself, in regards to personal depths and values, is as valid as a number of sandwiches consumed for breakfast. The law of the transformation of quantity into quality does not necessarily apply here. While knowledge deserves respect of its own, it does not always translate into virtues. It takes time, attention and respect to individual human experiences to understand whether works of art have made an impact on one’s state of heart and mind. There are no shortcuts to figure that out.

  1. Admiration is not enough to be friends with everyone you admire

Communication with gifted people is inspiring. However, no matter how outstanding and beautiful is the world they create in their works, gifted people do not always possess the qualities to be our close friends. In other words, admiring a work of art does not have to extend to admiring its creator. Personal disagreements, on other hand,  should not prevent us from appreciating works of our opponents and vice versa, being friends with someone does not mean we ought to flatter and approve each other all the time.

  1. Intelligence and talent do not justify disrespect

A few years back, I believed intelligence and talent justify any kind of ill behavior towards others. Truly intelligent people, I thought, could not be evil. Thus, against all odds, I kept justifying disrespect, envy, arrogance as eccentric and inevitable side-effects of intelligence. I could not be more wrong. Arrogance and lack of respect is a choice and for that reason highly intelligent people have even fewer excuses than anyone else.

  1. Honesty and openness to individual human experiences are the core qualities of a genuine person

It is well-known that a lasting relationship needs a common ground to grow on. Our close friends do not oblige to be original, extra talented, enormously well-read, exceptionally culturally aware or entertaining. Having a strong interest in anything external to self unites people with different backgrounds and interests. With time I learnt that honesty, openness to unique human experiences and humility are among the rarest and most exceptional qualities one can possess. They might not manifest themselves in exquisite clothing style or shelves full of books. Although unmistakable, these qualities need attention and time to be recognized.

It is an utter banality to state once again that we all are imperfect, that we all deserve a true friend and that a unique connection takes time to grow roots. An even greater banality is to admit it is the way we treat one another that says most about who we are. It seems, truth disguise itself in banalities.


You are more than your Facebook profile

Likes is the new currency (image from http://www.dunnhumby.com/insigh/a-pictures-worth-a-thousand-likes)

In 2016 we are meeting people long before we do so in person or ever meet them at all. How often did you catch yourself on thinking that you’ve seen that face somewhere or that you met this stranger before? Was it at some friend’s party, bus or elsewhere? Most probably, you previously ‘met’ them on Facebook.

Scrolling down the Facebook timeline, checking out comments and authors of those comments has reached the level of a true addiction only a few do not possess. But is it a waste of time after all? Is learning a few things about people out there so unimportant? And, finally, why is it a lot more fun to ‘discover’ people on Facebook than, say, on the bus? Here are some hints:

  1. Quick assessment

Facebook gave the proverb “show me your friends and I will tell you who you are” a new meaning. Right after clicking on yet another name in the book of faces, first thing we look at is common friends. This gives an immediate indication of a social bubble and the associated with it major interests of the new unsuspecting acquaintance. Common friends is the best informal reference. Then we quickly proceed to the photos and the wall posts. A few moments later there arrives an impression of grasping a thing or two about that name on Facebook.

No doubt, your Facebook page is the present day’s CV and business card together. For others it serves as one of the key means of our personal and professional evaluation. Keeping that in mind, many excessively invest in their profile, decorating it with meaningful quotes, photos from various life events, achievements and so on, to give a vibrant impression to anyone curious out there. All quick means of personal evaluation are superficial and Facebook is not exception. However, one point is certainly true: Facebook allows a glimpse at our image we ourselves are willing to project. By sharing an article or a photo, we reveal our tastes, interests and matters we give importance to. From this perspective, sharing a photo of your latest nail artwork, or drunk and covered in feathers at a nightclub are not so subtle messages of how you’d like to be perceived by others out there.

Illustration from vk.com/gudim_public
  1. Anonymity

For some of us, other people are a constant source of curiosity, inspiration and ideas. Discovering people for an extravert is as delightful as a solitary walk in the countryside for an introverted nature-lover. Compared to staring at people on the bus or at a supermarket, Facebook has an advantage of anonymity. We can spend as much time as we like checking out the posts and the pictures without the other person realizing it. Moreover, Facebook encourages such curiosity: any information available here is for others to see, so nobody can be accused in stalking.

picture 2
Facebook inspires art: “Fragments”, an installation at St. James Cavalier (June 2015) exploring the interaction between life and social networks
  1. Shifting perceptions on human interaction

Not only Facebook allows a glimpse at a stranger’s life, it does affect the way we perceive interactions with others. For better or for worse, it often deprives us surprises when casually meeting a ‘new’ person. Many times, an introduction chat with a new acquaintance can begin with “Ah, yes, we have common friends on Facebook, you’re into climbing, right?”. There is nothing negative or wrong about knowing certain facts about others before actually meeting them, but, on the other hand, that affects the sensation of first impression. The ‘first impression’ now begins from Facebook profile. Deliberate users manifesting their ideas and reporting their every step on Facebook often leave little about them to discover in person.

Facebook motivates actions. New trips are performed, outfits – tried and pictures – taken often for a sole purpose of being uploaded on social media.

Facebook has established a new attention and approval currency – ‘like’. Pictures, ideas and eterprises are now evaluated in number of ‘likes’ which have a value of their own. ‘Likes’ cannot be exchanged for anything else, yet they mean world for many. Not only constant attention seekers are addicted to likes, even humble individuals find a significant number of thumbs-up and shares flattering.

Facebook customises emotions. Profile templates are supplied in a blink of an eye. Be it a same sex marriage law finally approved or the latest Paris terrorist attack, Facebook makes expression of solidarity easier than changing clothes. How significant this solidarity is still remains a question mark, however, everyone has an equal opportunity to seem aware and involved.


4. Attention to individuals

The coolest thing about Facebook is that it puts individuals under the spotlight. It splits a faceless crowd into singular names and faces, giving them all an equal value and an equal opportunity to speak for themselves. Even groups on Facebook are formed by not anonymous individuals whose thoughts and feelings, to a certain degree, are accessible to public. Behind every name on Facebook is a life that cannot be neglected. Groups in this virtual space might have not so virtual power because their members can indentify like-minders and their strength in numbers. Sure, social networks are not short of fake profiles and trolls but, hey, even the Sun has spots.

Although social networks have become engraved into our daily routine, the most important point to remember is that WE ARE MORE THAN FACEBOOK PROFILES. No matter how cool and convenient it is to communicate and to be ‘liked’ in virtual spaces, it does not compensate the warmth of real-life interaction.

A few things you do not know about residence permits in Malta

As every Maltese and many foreigners know, one can buy a Maltese passport for approximately €1M. The residence permit issuance racket got it to the local and international news a couple of months ago. According to Times of Malta and MaltaToday, 54% of all those willing to call themselves Maltese are from Russia and former Soviet Union countries. These are the stories and figures that make it to news, but what is left behind are the stories of individuals having to combat with the bureaucratic authorities for their right to reside here.

Source: Times of Malta

The very unbiased fact is: it is ultra difficult to get Maltese residence permit if one decides to follow all the requirements and use no shortcuts. Even after 6 years of working and feeling at home in Malta, my right to reside (my whole peaceful life) in the country depends on a number of permits and decisions. And this is the story I would like to be heard and shared.

The right to reside in Malta is granted to a foreigner from a non-EU part of the world upon a few reasons, such as marriage/partnership/family reunion, work, study and economic self-sufficiency. For many, marriage is the easiest way to acquire the residence permit. It is also the quickest way to obtain the Maltese citizenship (takes as long as 5 years being married to a Maltese citizen). However, not everyone sees marriage as a fix of their financial or/and citizenship issues (not all marry for those reasons, to be fair), some go the hard way by finding a job and applying for a work permit. The most unpleasant side of applying for the work permit is the constant change of requirements. Year after another, attempts are made to MAKE IT LOOK like there is a transparent selection process through which only qualified individuals are able to apply. These requirements complicate lives only of those who follow them. Just as locks protect against honest people only, these requirements DO NOT STOP a massive flow of far-from-qualified ones.

Applying for permits is, with no exaggeration, a stressful business. Applicants often start queuing up outside Identity Malta office as early as 5.30am. Many have been here for a number of days but their applications were rejected so they try again and again. Many slip to desperation and disrespect by trying to skip the queue and push others to the side (and all humiliation that follows). That’s not all. The attitude of many officers lacks not only basic politeness but basic understanding of benevolence.

Once all the documents are verified, fingerprints – scanned, fees – paid and the application finally accepted, an applicant is expected to wait for at least 6-8 weeks for the residence permit to be issued. It means that for these 6-8 weeks a non-EU applicant cannot travel outside of Malta. The residence permit on employment grounds is issued for a period of one year (3 years for spouses/partners of Maltese/EU citizens), which implies that 11 months later the nightmare has to be repeated. Some unforeseen situations might make your life even more difficult. One example is my stolen, still valid ID card/residence permit, took 3 months to be reprinted, and, correct, for all these months I could not travel. A couple of times I received a formal letter telling me to leave the country within 10 days, with no explanation. Apparently (and thankfully), both times it was somebody’s mistake.

The long-term residence is one way to improve the situation. Yet do not imagine it is an easy path. The requirements include having at least 80% score in Maltese language level 2 (how many Maltese can brag about such a score?), a course on Maltese history (fair enough) and a course on living and working in Malta, all completed at least a year before the application. Add to it a good chance that, by the time an applicant has everything in hand, the requirements will change again.

No, do not take me wrong, I am not complaining nor I am exaggerating. I consider myself lucky for arriving here on a plane, not on an overcrowded boat. It is just a routine struggle the description of which was, in fact, smoothed. I have been living here for 6 years, I understand Maltese and able to communicate in it, have a great interest in local customs and respect the local lifestyle (and I am not the only foreign resident like this). Isn’t it justified to say I deserve my right to live here? I have become Mediterranean and I love every day under this bright sun. Yet termination of the employment contract can be enough to end my residence here. Now admit, it is not right and it is human-unfriendly. Unfortunately, that’s the world we created and are living in, the world that is so immersed in global scale events that gives no importance to lives of single individuals.

With no unnecessary moralizing, one final suggestion: before complaining about many outsiders of whichever origin and skin colour poring into the country, imagine the procedures they have to pass. Respect their courage and dedication to go that hard way to improve their lives. Please share this story.

Norway: a trip to the Elven Land

Whether you appreciate the beauty of northern nature or not, one thing is certain: those mountains, waterfalls and fjords cannot leave you untransformed. Secondly, if you do admire blonds, you might not even notice the landscapes.

After a few years in Malta, two weeks in Norway felt like an antidote to that Mediterranean bustle I had become part of. First in the chain of discoveries came the air filled with silence. First time in my life I experienced silence pouring into my ears, expanding there and filling me up. That incredible feeling when silence is loud. Even in a city like Bergen the loudest sounds were the seagulls’ screams. The culture that treats silence with respect deserves respect in return.

Reflections in the Oslo Opera House
Next discovery turned out to be the necessity to appreciate rain. “There is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes” Norwegians say yet, for the first few days, the saying failed to provide consolation. Instead, the saying should state “No weather is bad enough not to have an ice-cream” as, despite the chill and rain, many Norwegians enjoyed eating ice-cream outdoors. Rainy days soon taught me how to appreciate quick sunny moments. “One shot of a clear blue sky” and the world immediately fills up with joy. Together with that came a discovery of new light and colours. In sunshine, the colours of the fjords, the fields and the pretty Norwegian houses looked so bright and pure, as if they were painted acrylic on a broad canvas.

Aesthetics of Norwegian architecture deserves to be mentioned separately. Be it Tjuvholmen in Oslo, art-nouveau buildings in Alesund or traditional colourful wooden houses in Stavanger and Bergen, they all emit the ambiance of tranquility and freshness. Or should I just say they make you feel incredibly cozy? You enter a pretty coffee shop to seek escape from rain and its interior embraces you with emotional warmth – så koselig!

Next we learnt how deceiving the distances in Norway are. What looks “quite close, just the opposite side of the fjord” takes hours to drive to (along the most beautiful coastline). And again, together with this discovery came the feeling of remoteness and solitariness in this big world – a feeling rather satisfying than frustrating. Yet there still was a sense of connection too, owed to the ferries linking all the remote areas scattered around the fjords. Permanently on the move between the shores, they lace the isolated parts into one, just like a needle sews a dress from pieces of  fabric.

 IMG_3530-sel-edt  IMG_3516-sel-edt

Yet the most memorable discovery was still to come. In Trollstigen it found me staring in disbelief at the picturesque scenery dominated by waterfalls, mountains and green fields. The light was changing by the minute, from greyish to pure bright, drawing rainbows over the waterfalls. It was then I realized how tiny all of us, individual human beings, were on the scale of that, almost metaphoric, Elven land around us. The splendor of Trollstigen, Geiranger and other fjords truly puts you down to scale, it makes you feel your own insignificance and leaves you a role no other than of an observer.

Can you spot the two human figures?

Rather a reconfirmation than a discovery was spotting Norwegian eccentricities. Bergen was full of eccentricities that could be rather sensed than seen. Sharp graffiti, peculiar zebra crossing signs, funny and clever disclaimers signified strong presence of good sense of humour.

IMG_3173-edt-selBanality to say, I always believed two factors make a country worth visiting: its appreciation for art and its people. The trip to Norway did not come spontaneously either. It has been a few years since I learnt about Janteloven, the Scandinavian set of rules (Google it!) which encourages such concepts as equality, modesty and “good enough”. Many say it deprives talented individuals a chance to be praised for their talents but, on the other hand, it is such a powerful opposition to the wide-spread North-American idea of “compete, win and show them you’re the best!”. Norwegian nature itself encourages humility.

IMG_3190-sel IMG_4142-edt-sel

A trip to Norway could be a cure for anyone suffering from an inflated ego syndrome. You will suddenly realise that your selfie backdrop is much more outstanding than your own face (or any other body part). It will put you down to scale. And if this won’t help, the amount of beauties of both genders will inevitably make you question whether your own looks really are as good as you used to imagine :).

P.S. Sounds too sugary? Well, to balance it a little, I can also add that yes, Norway is a very expensive country, the variety of food (especially vegetarian) is not great and alcohol is mega expensive. But all of this is insignificant compared to the magic of the place.

Below you will find a selection of photos taken during the trip Oslo-Stavanger-Bergen – Geiranger (by Hurtigruten) – exploring Møre og Romsdal region while based in Vik, Tomrefjord – Alnes – Alesund – Oslo.

Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo at the Astrup Fearney Museum

Begren eccentricities Bergen eccentricities
A cute cafeteria in Stavanger IMG_3566-edt-sel IMG_3421-sel-edt

at Prejkestolen Alone with nature

IMG_3712-sel-edt IMG_3752-edt-sel

new Rødven church Alnes

Geiranger reflections on the ferry

Trollstigen Geirangerfjord

2014 in Pictures

Traditionally, the final post of the year is dedicated to a selection photos and the stories behind them. Many thanks to all the followers for their interest and shares! Happy New Year 2015!



On a cold windy Saturday a woman was selling narcissi at the farmer’s market. The contrast between the tender, sunlit flowers and the gloomy sales person was striking. She seemed absolutely uninterested in what was going on around her, not even paying attention to a few potential customers.



The Malta Experience

If Maltese population is to be described in two words, it would be ‘politicized’ and ‘segregated’ that fit best (https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/malta-lovely-yet-overly-politicized/). Truly, politics in Malta is a very sensitive topic, thus, in previous years poking fun at politicians in a direct manner at carnival was not allowed. This year, however, the taboo was finally abolished and politics became the central topic for the carnival in March 2014. Politicians caricatures were waving from the floats and walking down streets in Valletta – finally, Maltese got a permission for something they had been longing for. On the photo below, Nationalist party leader, Simon Busuttil, floats above the crowd of Labour supporters.

The Malta Experience
The Malta Experience


The First Feast of the Year

Passion for celebrations is another signature of Malta. Starting from St. Publius feast in Floariana, the country dives into enormous bustle of street celebrations, ‘bombi’ and fireworks (https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/malta-not-a-day-without-a-celebration/). To be fair, not everyone in Malta is a fan of fireworks yet sounds of blasts rolling from one shore to the other silence their disagreement.

The First Feast of the Year
The First Feast of the Year


Midsummer Evening

The view from the Hastings Gardens in Valletta is one of the best on the island, many came to enjoy it on the longest day of the year. I could see a group of teen-aged guys, jumping on the thick walls of the gardens – such a good shot! – yet missed the moment of the jump by a split second. Every missed good shot feels like a dream which will never come true. Thankfully, midsummer nights are filled with joy and leave little time to revisit moments of sadness.

Midsummer Evening
Midsummer Evening



BirdLife Malta organised a few boat trips for the public to admire colonies of Yelkouan shearwater, migratory species of birds that can be easily recognised by specific raucous cackling calls in the breeding season. When the boat came closer to the colony raft, most of the passengers reached the state of delight and euphoria, seeing the birds flying very close by. Cameras were clicking hundreds of times per minute, exclamations of excitement and wows dominated our little boat. I was standing there, in the middle of it, failing to share this passion and unable to feel that way, once again struck by the evidence of how many different passions there are in the human world. What possibly is the most exciting thing in the world for one might mean nothing to the other.



Fireworks of Mqabba

The little village of Mqabba in the south of Malta is renowned for it’s state-of-the art pyroshows. The show attracts thousands of visitors, Maltese and foreign, eager to see what is claimed to be the finest fireworks in the world.

Fireworks of Mqabba
Fireworks of Mqabba

The New Valletta Entrance

As has been mentioned above, in a simplified yet still realistic manner, the Maltese population is divisible into ‘Labour’ vs ‘Nationalist’, ‘pro-hunting’ vs ‘against-hunting’ and in 2014 it also became ‘Renzo Piano’s project fans’ vs ‘Renzo Piano’s project haters’. Whereas the new City Entrance is praised by some, it is passionately rejected and criticized by others. The Entrance and the New Parliament Building are often called an ‘eye-sore’ and a ‘pigeon house’. In my opinion, the Entrance is simply stunning with its clear lines and the beauty of architecture which calls for associations with Ancient and Medieval times. The new steps, however, unite the fans and the haters. Yes, I love them too!

The New Valletta Steps
The New Valletta Steps


One Funny Russian Wedding

Unlike the current Maltese wedding customs, Russian weddings are easy and informal. Frankly, most of Russians experience more than one wedding ceremony in their lifetime and keep it easy and informal. In Astrakhan (my hometown https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/astrakhan-where-east-meets-west-and-both-get-confused/)marriages are registered at the Wedding Palace the place where love oaths are part of every day routine. The formal wedding procedure does feel like routine: couples and their friends gather in front of the Palace, entering one by one, the continuation is standard: ‘I do’, signatures, kisses, a glass of champagne, walk out of the Palace on the path, covered with rose petals, a group photo. If you stay next to the Palace for longer, you would see a long line of couples walking in and out, taking the photo on those steps and you would also hear the elderly woman complaining about the mess (the petals) that she has to swipe after each and every couple. And off it all goes – couples drive away in cars, rose petals end up in garbage bags. Everything passes, love shall not :).

One Funny Russian Wedding
One Funny Russian Wedding

The Sun Worshiper

Mnajdra Temples in Malta are among the world’s most ancient man-made constructions, designed for the cult of equinox worship. On the 23rd September A broad range of audience gathered inside the walls of the Temples waiting for the first sunray. The misty sunrise almost ruined the scene leaving no trace of light on the altar. Slowly but surely, we all were becoming disappointed when at 7.30 am the sun finally managed to cut through the clouds and to light a path straight onto the altar. Greeting the sunrise at the ancient place over 5000 years old, where the mysterious civilization used to perform its cult, felt magical.

The Sun Worshiper
The Sun Worshiper


The Reflexion

This photo free from any stories and interpretations apart from the fact that it features Castille Place, the office of Prime Minister. Make your own, if you like.

The Reflexion
The Reflexion


Footprints on Sand

On one very sunny November day we ended up in Gozo for a field trip. The weather and the atmosphere was calling for an adventure (and it did come, not on that same day but later on). After a picnic, our group headed to Ramla bay, beautiful sandy beach in Gozo. Our footprints on the sand are now gone and we are not there but the memory of it survived.

The Footprints on the Sand
The Footprints on Sand

Big hugs, small kisses and best wishes! See you in 2015!

Becoming a fan of Norwegian TV (a confession of a TV know-nothing)

'Y Kveld med Ylvis'
‘I kveld med Ylvis’ (image from http://www.tvnorge.no/programmer/i-kveld-med-ylvis-live/ylvis-tilbake-p%C3%A5-skjermen-1.24707)

Never have I expected myself to write a post about TV, although, by all means, a discovery of the few Norwegian TV shows is among the coolest things that happened to me this year. I need to start by admitting that for the last eight years or so I have been as ignorant of any TV productions as one can be. It started long before my immigration to Malta, in my family’s apartment, when our Soviet dinosaur TV eventually died right in the middle of one of the “Lost” episodes and we decided not to spend money and time on such a useless furniture item. Since then my TV ignorance have been growing and flourishing. Every time a conversation turned onto discussing “The Borgias” or “Games of Thrones” I had nothing else to do but yawn and blush, embarrassed of my cluelessness (yes, that bad).

Another curious fact about becoming a fan of TV Norge’s shows is that I could not define myself as particularly knowledgeable about Norway, its traditions and mentality in general, let alone, its TV shows. Although Hamsun, Grieg, Munk were admired and my curiosity about Janteloven had reached a level of fascination, I used to picture modern Norway as an overly satisfied socialist paradise that has nothing exciting to offer. Fortunately, as in numerous times before, my categorical opinions based on little experience were proven wrong.

It all started from watching the hilarious prank “Intelevator” by two Norwegian brothers which I found simply striking. Such razor-sharp sense of humour is only possible if based on a solid cultural background, that’s why it was difficult not to pay more attention at their other pieces. I was then grateful to my curiosity for directing me into the few other videos by Ylvis (that’s what the duo is called) which left me delighted and thirsty for more. Finally, I was conquered by the “Fake trailers” series, particularly by “Jacues et Florine” –  genius satire on intellectual European films; and with the “swearing experiment” – the cherry on the cake – I have become a freshly baptised eager follower of TV Norge in general and Ylvis in particular. Since then, searching on YouTube for more “I kveld med Ylvis” (“Tonight with Ylvis”) shows have become a constant source of genuine laugh and discoveries about the mysterious northern nation.

Swearing experiment
The hilarious ‘swearing experiment’ is definitely a must-watch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73x3w3MGwTc)
Fake movie trailer 'Jaque et Florin', razor-sharp satire on European arthouse films
Fake movie trailer ‘Jacues et Florin’, razor-sharp satire on European arthouse films (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRC8UAQPsGs)

“Norges Herligste” was another exciting set of series produced by Ylvis for TV Norge in 2007-2008. These wildly funny series were dedicated to Norway’s ‘different’ people and (oh my!) never had I seen anything more genuine, hilarious, eccentric and straight-forward all at once. Instead of seeing the commonly stereotyped as being cold, proper and inhospitable Nordic people the screen revealed cranks of all types, both cute and easy. Add to it the wonderful serenity of Norwegian landscapes and the aesthetical pleasure from the TV hosts’ perfect, cut from stone, profiles that could have been an inspiration to Michelangelo.

"The Hermit", one of the Norges Herligste series
‘The Hermit’, one of the ‘Norges Herligste’ series (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h01y9TRyB2o)
"Tommen", the story about a 56-year old snowboarder with (ahem) rich life experience
‘Tommen’, a story about a 56-year old snowboarder with (ahem) rich life experience (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI-r3x3GQ00)
'Boxer-shorts-man' from Kristiansand and his songs about Christianity - one of the funniest 'Norges Herligste' sketches
‘Boxer-shorts-man’ from Kristiansand and his songs about Christianity – one of the funniest ‘Norges Herligste’ sketches (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3PoAdvKVds)
'DJ Helmet-on-Fire' - fun DJ interviewed by Ylvis in ""Norges Herligste" DJ Bakkeslett"
‘DJ Helmet-on-Fire’ – fun DJ interviewed by Ylvis in ‘Norges Herligste DJ Bakkeslett’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNqnffVE4ys)

I love the sound of Norsk but, unfortunately, my understanding of it is limited to a few words (mostly those you would not say in public). Thus, for talentless in languages poor fellows like me the only option is waiting for subtitles to be added, luckily most of the videos get subtitled quickly. The sparkly sense of humour, endless creativity, straight-forward use of foul language when applicable make ‘Norges Herligste’ and ‘I kveld med Ylvis’ beyond comparison for all who appreciate genuine things.

P.S. By developing a soft spot for Nordic fellows I probably have become more Maltese than ever.

People, labels, boxes

Has it ever happened to you, when being introduced to someone non-glamorously dressed and with a determined look, that your train of thought quickly goes “Anti-globalist, leftist/anarchist, against consumerism, pro-environment, stands for animal’s, gay’s, woman’s rights, weed legalisation, into artisan stuff and, high chance, vegetarian”? If yes, you are very lucky to be among (rather a minority of) like-minded people who will treat your senses with care. Although, you are likely to spend the rest of conversation nodding and counting “I knew it” and “I thought so”. “Present-day educational system is in crisis and unhealthy for our mind?” – a nod and one more count.  Spending most of time with “non-mainstream” dudes you might learn how to quickly identify “pro-environment” followers, “science, Dawkins, smart-technology-will-save-the-world” guys, “spiritualism & find-your-path-to-fulfilment” witnesses, “fantasy, games, manga & other comics” fans, “vintage clothes, arthouse films, modern art & literature” charmers etc. At some point, especially if your eye-sight is far from perfect, you almost believe you have met your new acquaintance already (how else would you know what his/her favourite pastime, bar and dietary preferences are?). In other words, déjà vu. At the end of the day, guessing on what a person is about before even getting acquainted reaches a level of a bad habit and, against your own will, you make a bet that this one is into Murakami’s books and that one is going to preach about how veganism will save the world.

“People in boxes” by Yrsa Roca Fannberg http://yrsarocafannberg.net/drawings.html

Why, in the first place, these label-like expectations pop up in the head with an annoying persistence? Traditionally, the best answer is to blame social media and the way it influences our perceptions. With another shared quote and picture, subscribing to an existing point of view without creating our own content, we define our “domain” for all others out there. As a result, acquaintances are often seen as a fragmentized set of statements and pictures, often clone-similar to someone else’s. Perhaps, this approach is projected onto real life communications almost automatically, together with a need for associations.

The other thing is, no matter how many times you tell yourself that sorting people into boxes is wrong, there certainly is some factual justification. It is, of course, based on a very superficial layer of personality – as deep as an introductory conversation allows to discover. Once again a conversation with charming and interesting people turns into something very familiar and you cannot escape the impression that you have heard exactly same arguments many times before. How have interests, ideas, views and arguments become so clusterized in times of a great variety of uncensored options? It seems that non-mainstream options are also supplied in packages to which we fully or partially subscribe instead of building a system/lack of it/ of our own. Certainly, views co-evolve in parallel and organize themselves in a system yet it still feels strange that we often choose to introduce ourselves through a fixed set of ready concepts, making a flow of conversation so predictable. Why do we choose to define ourselves as “vegan”, “environmentalist”, “atheist”, “spiritualist” or give it all away with hipster clothes, as if they fully reflect the rest of personality? Awaiting for surprises and intriguing ideas from new acquintances is one of most enjoyable life pleasures and, by sticking to clichés, we deprive each other of it.

Perhaps, even non-mass-produced inevitably becomes a cliché with time or it’s a matter of intellectual survival in clusters (read “boxes”) in order to withstand the great pressure of vanilla-glamorous consumerist mainstream.

P.S. As a resident of one of the boxes described, I hope this article does not seem offensive to anyone.

Train Stories

Trains, how much I miss them. Especially long routed ones, with a brass boiler and berths, crossing vast Russian ghostly spaces. It is often said the world became smaller due to air travelling; airlines connected distant corners of the world and placed them all within reach. Undeniably, planes have facilitated travelling with speed and comfort yet hardly have brought distant places together. A collective term “world” still remains an abstraction, used to describe a great number of realities, sharing common space and coexisting in time though still remote from one another. Every time, arriving to a destination only a few hours away from a starting point, it is so awkward for the mind to accustom to the suddenly changed reality. Air travelling feels like moving through a set of diverse rooms, with no corridors and staircases and where doors connect and isolate at the same time. Trains provide the missing corridor and erase borders, binding together travellers and spaces.

Twenty-nine hours – this is how long it takes to arrive from Astrakhan to Moscow by train; by plane – it’s two and a half. How unfortunate it is to sacrifice those twenty-nine hours for two and a half in order to “save time”! Time does not exist in trains. There is nowhere to rush. It’s time for books, long conversations, staring at the slowly changing landscape and consuming an impressive amount of food supplies. Yes, trains must be a nightmare for introverts and diet freaks. Although, there is an escape – upper berth, where one can just stare at the sky through a dusty window right above the head.


After sunset, the view is swallowed by darkness, rarely interrupted by other trains heading from the opposite direction. More jokes, more food sharing, more stories. Someone would be completely drunk by then – Russian distances also encourage the national sport. The upper light in the wagon goes off, but conversations still continue in whispers. Someone is preparing to leave – to dive into that tick darkness outside the window at a tiny station in the middle of nowhere.

Night at trains is surreal and annoying at once. Falling asleep to a lullaby of monotonous “choog-choog, choog-choog”, you are very likely to be soon woken up by newly arrived passengers, loud snoring of a neighbour, drunk as skunk, or by thunder of an oncoming train. Slumber, tinkle of a teaspoon in a glass, crush of luggage, whispers, choog-choog, the dusty smell of the pillow, rhythmic swaying of the wagon… Moving forward at full speed while being asleep to wake up in another town – that’s train for you.


Morning greets with another station, gleaming by the window, new faces and queues to lavatory. The atmosphere is no longer careless and fun – it’s the arrival day. All plans and urgent matters jump back to mind, discussions turn to practical issues. “Why are you going to Moscow? For how long? Transit?! – Luckyyy!”. Remains of food are finished in a rush, bags – all packed, mattresses – rolled and placed on upper berths. Dust particles shine in the sunlight.

Half an hour is left until arrival and facial expressions become concentrated, impatient, longing. Soon all of them, who once were so close, will disappear from your life as randomly as they walked in. The giant megalopolis will absorb them together with their secrets, leaving no trace – it feeds on people. Final goodbyes, gnashing of breaks and, a few moments after, then-friends and now-strangers roll away as quickly, as peas scattered on the floor – each one to a different direction.



Alone in the snow

It was a gloomy winter day, the train was crawling through the endless fields powdered with snow – the same view for hours. “Next stop is for two minutes only. Stay inside please!”, warns the conductor. We stop in the middle of nowhere (literally), the station consists of a one-story building with one window and a kiosk nearby. “I will only buy cigarettes! I’ll be quick, will be back in no time!”, one of the passengers, a man in his 30s, quickly ventures out of the wagon, wearing bed slippers and light jacket. Two minutes pass as a finger click, the doors are closed and the train is gaining speed. There he is, our careless fellow, trying to catch up with the train, running on the snow with snow-white bed slippers, shaking his hands, screaming something. “Let’s stop the train! Please pull the break, pull the break!!!”. “Are you insane? She wants to stop the train! We’ll end up in such a trouble! What time we arrive then?!”. You fuss about strangers left in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Russian winter only when you’re 24. Others, older and more experienced in life, do not have time to waste and Moscow does not wait.

Bearded late night visitor

Late night train, 30th December 2008. Right after checking in and saying hello, me and three other passengers (a middle-aged woman and a young couple) prepare our berths in a cosy modern compartment. Lights go off and someone mumbles something about locking the door before falling asleep – something that everyone knows. Sleep refuses to come and I decide to spend some time in the corridor. Memories of Malta and of waves, crushing on the shore in Sliema Surfside, are still so vivid. I wholeheartedly hate to return to the frozen desert and want to weep. After a walk from one wagon to another, I return to the compartment and try to fall asleep. Ten minutes later, the door opens and one of my fellow travellers walks in, locking the door behind. I realize someone is sitting on my berth and is going to lay down. “Oh, please, I am not in mood for jokes!”, I whisper, not seeing a thing in pitch darkness. Not saying a word, the interrupter of my dreams starts climbing on the upper berth. In a few moments that same someone gets down again and climbs on the upper berth on the other side. “Man, who are you?!”, I hear next. Someone switches on the lights and we see a bearded man on the upper berth with our male fellow traveler. All becomes clear: the stranger simply entered a wrong compartment and, since drunk (New Year celebrations had started), he could not remember what berth was his. He apologizes and leaves quickly. The accident amuses us all.

– When he sat on my bed I though it was Raisa!

– When he sat on mine I thought it was Sergey!

thought it was my dear boy, so I did not notice anything wrong!

I thought it was my dear girl, I hugged her and was about to kiss her … then I felt the beard!

Have to admit, It was my fault – I should have locked the door behind me.

The couple leaves the train in the morning. “I bet, she’s his mistress, not wife”, my only remaining fellow traveller is in mood to gossip. “He is cheating on his wife, I smell these things”. I shrug shoulders. Well, trains must be paradise for swingers.

Malta: lovely yet overly politicized

When politics is not about ideology.  ~5 minutes read~

Maltese politicians game-1
Politicks, the card game created by Log Hob Games was a smashing success on crowd-funding site Indiegogo. The game finally gave Malta a chance to play with politicians.

What would you call Malta’s signature trait, a specialty that can be experienced only here? Besides its relaxed and life-appreciating lifestyle, it is the extremely polarised and passionate political involvement that makes Malta so exiting to witness. With its two-party system, Malta is divided into Laburisti (red) and Nazzjonalisti (blue) with a [growing] pinch of liberal-minded citizens. It was utterly surprising to me as foreigner to discover that almost every Maltese above 30 has a strong political opinion and is assigned to either one of the political parties. Politics literally infiltrates every aspect of life in the country. Everything here – from universal concerns such as environmental conservation and development to personal preferences like the colour of car and dressing style – might be seen as political.

To even bigger surprise, I learnt that political views are often inherited from family members. Open support for one of the parties eventually becomes a label, strongly associated with the rest of personality and is often used as description. A phrase like “He is Labour” or “She is Nationalist” is a piece of information, sufficient for indictment. Members of the two clusters support their party’s decisions with near religious fanaticism, at times bordering with complete intolerance towards the other party’s members. To liberal-minded Maltese and outsiders, numerous examples of such passionate devotion look similar to fights between football fans during big championships. Not only such association comes to mind from direct observations of supporters’ delirious performance but also they result from a failure to logically comprehend the reasons behind such fanaticism with a touch of serfdom.

Steve Bonello
Sometimes it is hard to tell whether politics inspire carnival satire or the opposite is true. Cartoon by Steve Bonello.

What is the difference between the two confronting ideologies? Are they ideologies at all? It would be unjustified to say that one represents the interest of underprivileged while the other stands for more established citizens. So, if not ideology, what makes one Labour or Nationalist? After a few years of wondering, I have come to a conclusion it is [hopes for] personal benefits for oneself and his/her family or paying off for the benefits/lack of them in the past. In a nutshell, it is gratitude or rancor. To be fair, not everyone in Malta is enthusiastic about the two-party system. There are a number of independent thinkers siding with Alternattiva Democratika, and those utterly skeptical about politicians as a class, labeling them all immature.

All these observations are quite unbelievable for a Russian person. At the beginning, Malta’s political realities were incomprehensible for a citizen of the country with a very low, almost non-existent, trust in the political elite whichever side it represents. Yes, despite the ever-alarming political and economic situation in the country, Russians do not believe their vote would make any difference or that it has any power at all – that is why the political climate in Malta was a whole new experience.

Red vs Blue. Cartoon published on MaltaToday in 6th January 2016. The original is available here.

Even though at times Maltese political scene looks like a verbal gang fight, there are still some undeniably positive facts about it – facts regular for the Maltese and incredible for foreigners. Politicians here are very close to their electorate – they literally are part of the crowd. You are very likely to meet them on streets, at restaurants or on the ferry. A minister might be living just a few doors away and a Member of Parliament might hang at your bar. The powerful guys are just one handshake away and they do remember to whom they owe their power. The very fact that reaching for the Prime Minister’s hand in Malta is quite realistic is already surreal to me. Living in a nearly totalitarian country, I got used to the fact that politicians exist in some parallel universe, completely isolated from mortals with high fences and protected by armed guards. While  Russia’s leaders might well be virtual remote characters or realistic game-generated images, in Malta they are mere humans made of flesh and bones. And that alone gives the public a very powerful mechanism of controlling them.

Politics in Malta is a very delicate personal issue. Personal, because by declaring their vote to one party or another, the Maltese very often follow practical, not ideological, interests: contracts, job promotions, boathouses, customised business offers, little treats for the party clubs and so on. At the end of the day, an outsider understands there is a lot more sense in overwhelming political involvement of the Maltese than it seemed at the beginning. Behind the curtain of fanaticism, there is a very logical desire to be well-connected. Whereas in many other countries voting for ideas will get you nowhere, in Malta a vote can transform into a very feasible matter and the gang can eventually throw a bone or two.

Votes are Malta’s priciest currency. Cartoon published in MaltaToday on 6th January 2016. The original is here.

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2013 in Pictures

The photos selected for this post capture moments of daily life, important events on the island of Malta and just curious accidents. I thank all my followers for supporting the blog, for their interest, and hope not to disappoint them in the future. Wishing you all Happy New Year!

Hidden Danger

On Janury 22nd the field outside of Chemistry Building (University of Malta) was no longer the same – a bulldozer arrived on the field full of green grass and poppies. It mercilessly passed over the flowers, dipping its bucket into the soil. In a matter of hours the blossom was gone from the field. Almost a year later there are offices for the university staff instead of flowers and weeds. Functional necessity won over beauty.


Faces of the Street

Via Cavana in Trieste is a paradise for street photographers. Mysterios portraits on the old building’s wall watch over passers-by as if they were guards of the street.


Red for the Labour

On the 10th March Malta’s Opposition Labour Party won a general election for the first time in 15 years. Party’s supporters organized an improvised march, celebrating the victory. The scale of these celebrating activities was vast, exotic and unprecedented for a foreigner. A girl waving the Labour Party flag from the top of her parent’s car is just an example of the total mass euphoria on that day.


Three Men for St. Publius

On April 14th St. Publius feast was celebrated in the town of Floriana. The feast opens the long-going season of feasts which brings galore of fireworks and street celebrations to Malta in summer. The photo tells nothing about the feast itself but shows three man, separated from one another yet still connected in some invisible manner – a symbolic picture in my opinion.


March against Monsanto

March against Monsanto held on May 25 in Valletta gathered a crowd of protesters against food monopolization in general and MONSANTO corporation in particular. The youngest protesters were among the most active ones.


Silence of the Doves

L-Imnarja Feast in Buskett garden on the June 29 celebrated two very important Saints in Maltese religious lore. It is one of the oldest feasts on the islands. Buskett garden was turned into a tradition fair with fruits and vegetables from local farmers, yummy food and folk music. The caged animals, however, did not seem to enjoy the celebration.


Malta Jazz Festival

Malta Jazz Festival is an annual event and a treat for all true music admirers. Still under the impression of Chano Dominquez’ performance last year, I was not equally delighted by Michel Camilo’s Trio. The photo features Lincoln Giones (bass) from Michel Camilo Trio.


Meeting with Big Friday and His Friends

August was an unforgettable month because I met Big Friday, a wonderful horse from Gozo. This glorious and tender animal wins races and cherishes friendship of those who care for him.


New Face of Aeroflot

Another discovery in the month of August was Aeroflot (its new image, to be precise), the Russian company at the stage of re-inventing itself and improving its service.


Old Astrakhan

In September I paid a visit to my home town, Astrakhan. The city, a unique oriental character of which was sacrificed for modernization, is sinking into alcoholism and drug addiction. This photo signifies hope for the place to resurrect in its former glory.


Sails for Two

On October 30th both, locals and visitors, witnessed a spectacular show of the 34th Rolex Middle Sea Race. One by one boats were leaving the Grand Harbour, opening their sails of all colours to the wind, in order to return in a few days.


Bethlehem in Gozo 

Christmas is taken very seriously on the island of Gozo. Bethlehem Village takes visitors two millennia back to the town where Christ was born. The festive atmosphere was infused with warmth of mulled wine, children’s laugh and enthusiasm.


Happy New Year!