Desiderata – great words everybody should read (at least)

My friend sent it to me and, although I generally don’t like these “wisdom” things it really got to me…

This  prose poem was written by by American writer Max Ehrmann and “desiderata” means “desired things” in Latin.

I really wish all of us read it and try and implement at least some of it in our lives. It would make them so much better…




Only in London – the city of surprises

Went to London on Saturday and this time my area of wondering was St James’s Park – a lovely piece of greenery roughly between the Parliament Square, Whitehall (the street where most of the government buildings are)  and Buckingham Palace.

st james's park

I  saw a lot of wonderful things – as usual, London never fails to fulfill my hopes and expectations.

But two sightings – at exactly the same spot, just three hours apart – made my day.

The first one was this:

2014-06-14 15.37.34

They were the the Queen’s Guards quietly galloping back after Trooping the Color event, the military parade hold in the Horse Guards Parade to celebrate the queen’s official birthday.

So far, so good. Very proper sight in the centre of London, near the Queen’s palace among other Royal palaces and parks.

And then, while I was enjoying a quiet moment in St James’s park, I heard strange noises coming from The Mall (wide thoroughfare at the side of the park) and saw a lot of people running towards the road. So I followed them.

This is what I saw:

2014-06-14 17.10.37

2014-06-14 17.11.05 2014-06-14 17.12.44

There were hundreds of them! All stark naked!! All laughing and waving to us!!!

God knows what they were riding for but it was just… hilarious.

Well, this is London for you 🙂



Hello, Mr Fox – how did you know?

I began my new project this week – making 3 cushion covers with different foxes but united with some common motif/design… Or that’s the idea anyway.

fox cushion in mking

And then guess what happened?

A fox started coming to my garden!

At first he ate some bread I left on the grass for the birds…

fox in graden

Now he comes regularly, twice a day, every day and expects me to feed him!

fox1 (2) fox 5 (2) fox 5 (1)

Which I obligingly do.

We named him Felix. He is so cute! He just comes into my garden and waits patiently for me to throw some food to him, then he leaves for a couple of minutes – presumably eating the food – and enters again! Until he is satisfied, lol.

Does he know that I am making those cushions or what? Is it like “you are using my images so pay for it”, something like royalties 🙂 ?

I think it is a bit mystic, don’t you? 🙂

Duke of Wellington? Hmmm…

Last week, when I went to London, I visited Apsley House,  also known as Number One, London. It is the London townhouse of the Dukes of Wellington and, although it is now a museum, the 8th Duke still uses some of it as a residence.



Of, course it is dedicated to the life of the first Duke, the one who defeated Napoleon, and is full of treasures and mementos, as well as enormous amount of art, which was collected by the Duke.

Two things were especially interesting for me.

One is on a serious note: I haven’t realized just HOW famous and celebrated the Duke of Wellington was. Literally, the whole Europe bowed to him and loved him for the freedom he bestowed on it by beating Napoleon.

The second one is on the humorous side and I encountered it when I went out from the museum to the Hyde Park. There, just opposite Apsley House, stood a monument. From afar it looks just like one of many other statures.


But when I came nearer I found out that it is actually Wellington’s! Seriously!


Now, compare:


Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

and this


wellington statue

What was it – flattery?

I found it incredibly funny – depicting a XIX century Georgian man (albeit a great one) as a Greek warrior!



Marina Tsvetaeva – one of the greatest Russian poets

I love poetry. Often at night just before falling asleep I inwardly recite my favourite poems  and the last poem I can’t stop thinking about led me to writing this post about  a great Russian poet MARINA TSVETAEVA.


She was a remarkable woman with a strange and tragic life.

Her life started fairly well. Perhaps it makes what happened to her later in life all the more dreadful…

Marina Tsvetaeva was born in 1892 in Moscow. Her father was a professor of Fine Art at the University of Moscow (he later founded the Alexander III Museum (known from 1937 as the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts). So, she and her siblings grew up in a cultured atmosphere and could enjoy literature, music and art from the early age.

Marina spent a lot of her life abroad. When she was 14, her mother got ill and the family went to Switzerland. There, away from the rigid constraints of a bourgeois Muscovite life, Tsvetaeva was able for the first time to run free, climb cliffs, and vent her imagination in childhood games. There Marina was sent to school and, because her family traveled a lot, she learned  the Italian, French, and German languages. She gave up the strict musical studies that her mother had imposed and turned to poetry. 


Aged 16, Marina studied literary history at the Sorbonne. During this time, a major revolutionary change was occurring within Russian poetry: the bloom of the Symbolist Movement, and this movement was to colour most of her later work. Her first book of poetry was published when she was 18 and was very well received and appraised by the leading Russian poets.


Marina in 1915


In the house of one of them (Maximilian Voloshin) Marina met her future husband, also a poet, Sergei Efron.

Sergei Efron

Sergei Efron

They fell in love and got married. She was 19, he was 18.

marina and segei


Tsvetaeva and her husband spent summers in the Crimea until the revolution, and had two daughters: Ariadna and Irina. I do so believe that they were happy together at that time, because all this was about to change…

When the WW I started, in 1914, Efron volunteered for the front.  In 1917 the Russian revolution erupted. Marina was a close witness of it and rejected it straight away. On trains, she came into contact with ordinary Russian people and was shocked by the mood of anger and violence. After the 1917 Revolution, Efron joined the White Army (in opposition to the Revolution) and Marina returned to Moscow hoping to be reunited with her husband. She was trapped in Moscow for five years, where there was a terrible famine.

God, I can’t even imagine, what she had to endure!


Starvation and worry were to erode her looks. With no immediate family to turn to, she had no way to support herself or her daughters. In 1919, she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Ariadna became ill, and Marina took her away, but Irina died there of starvation… Her child’s death caused Tsvetaeva great grief and regret. In one letter, she wrote, “God punished me”..

In 1922, Marina and her survived daughter left the Soviet Union and were reunited with Efron in Berlin. For years and years in emigration Marina and her family lived in  poverty trying hard to earn their living…  But she was a poet! I think poets are especially vulnerable and sensitive, so it had to be additionally hard for Marina not only in the material sense but emotionally too… During this time her son Georgy was born.

marina and g=her beloved son Georgy

Marina and her beloved son Georgy

They were still together (just) with her husband but getting further and further apart, though they would say that they loved each other till the rest of his days.

In 1925, the family settled in Paris, where they would live for the next 14 years. Marina did not feel at all at home in Paris’s  ex-bourgeois circle of Russian émigré writers. Although she had written passionately pro-“White” poems during the Revolution, her fellow émigrés thought that she was insufficiently anti-Soviet, and that her criticism of the Soviet régime was altogether too hazy. She was increasingly unhappy. Poor Marina! She couldn’t find peace and/or happiness and she resented her exiled state deeply.


Meanwhile, Sergei Efron was developing Soviet sympathies and was homesick for the Soviet Union. Eventually, he began working for the NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB). Perhaps, he was trying to score some points in order to persuade the Soviet Government to forget his “White Army” years and convince them of his new loyalty? Who knows… Their daughter shared his views, and increasingly turned against her mother. In 1937, she returned to the Soviet Union. Later that year, Efron too had to return to USSR. Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.

WWII made Europe as unsafe and hostile as USSR. Marina wanted to be with her family and in 1939, she and her son returned to Moscow. It was to be the biggest mistake in her life.

In Stalin’s USSR, anyone who had lived abroad was a suspect, as was anyone who had been among the intelligentsia before the Revolution. Marina’s sister had been arrested before Marina’s return; although Anastasia survived the Stalin years, the sisters never saw each other again. Tsvetaeva found that all doors had closed to her. She got bits of work translating poetry, but otherwise the established Soviet writers refused to help her, and chose to ignore her situation,  fearful for their life and position.

Efron and their daughter were arrested for espionage. You know what? The daughter’s fiance was actually the KGB agent who had been assigned to spy on the family. How cynical was that?!  Efron was shot in 1941; the daughter served over eight years in prison. 

Now we are coming to the most tragic times…


In 1941, Marina and her son were evacuated to a small provincial town about 1000 km away from Moscow.  She had no work and no means to feed her son and herself. She actually  applied to the Soviet of Literature Fund asking for a job at the  canteen!

On 31 August 1941 Marina hanged herself. She was 48 years old…

 She left a note for her son: “Forgive me, but to go on would be worse. I am gravely ill, this is not me anymore. I love you passionately. Do understand that I could not live anymore. Tell Papa and Alya, if you ever see them, that I loved them to the last moment and explain to them that I found myself in a trap.”

There have always been rumours that Tsvetaeva’s death was not suicide. On the day of her death she was home alone and it is alleged that NKVD agents came to her house and forced her to commit suicide. But it was never proved. And what does it matter? Life and suffering of one of the greatest Russian poets came to an end.

Marina was buried in the local cemetery, but the exact location of her grave remains unknown. No trace is left of her on this earth.


Сenotaph to Marina Tsvetaeva in the place where she would be buried.

Now the poem I started my story with. Marina’s poetry is so diverse and she wrote both rhymed and blank verse poems and this particular one is of the latter kind. It was written in 1916


I would like to live with you

In a small town,

Where there is eternal twilight

And everlasting toll of bells.

And in a small wooden hotel –

Delicate tinkling

Of the old clock – like tiny drops of time.

And sometimes in the evening from some mansard –

A sound of flute

And the flutist’s silhouette in the window.

And perhaps you wouldn’t even love me…

In the middle of the room – a huge tiled stove,

On each tile – a picture:

A rose – a heart – a ship.

And in the only window –

Snow, snow, snow.

You would be lying – how I love you:

Lazy, aloof, carefree.

From time to time a sharp crack of a match.

You cigarette  burns and goes out,

And for a very long time

A short grey column of ash trembles on its end.

You are too lazy to even shake it off –

And the whole cigarette flies into the fire.


PS: Sorry for unprofessional translation


Remarkable art… a remarkable woman

I was looking through my favourite paintings the other day and I thought it would be interesting to share with you.

Karl Brullov. The famous Russian painter of the Age of Romanticism.


Karl Bruilov. Self-portrait

He was born in Italy in 1799, and came to Russia with his father–a sculptor named Briullo whose last name was Russified to Briullov. He studied in the Imperial Academy of Art in St Petersburg. His probably most famous painting is “The Last Day of Pompeii”, a picture of the destruction of Pompeii in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  It is huge!


Karl Brullov “The Last Day of Pompeii”

When “The Last Day of Pompeii” (1830-33) was finished, the Italian press hailed it as a masterpiece and Briullov became famous. Public enthusiasm is easy to understand, as Briullov offered something for every taste: he gave a melodramatic treatment of a classical subject with a wealth of realistic detail. 

When he returned to Russia in 1841 Briullov was saluted as the greatest master of the day. He never did produce anything on this scale, but created many portraits and they were just beautiful.

Mary A Bek

Portrait of Princess A.A.Bagration.

italian afternoon

Karl Brullov died in 1852 age 53 and was buried in his beloved Italy.

But one of his models especially captivated me. What an extraordinary woman! Her name was Countess Julia Samoilova. Not only was she extraordinarily beautiful, but  fiercely independent, artistic and… well… very unusual.

Here is the first portrait of her by Brullov

Portrait of Countess Samoilova with (Giovanina) Amacilia Pacini and black boy

Julia was born in 1804. She was the last scion of Skavronskiy family (a very influential and immensely rich family of the Polish origin). She was made a lady-in waiting and, aged 21, married count Nikolay Samoilov

Nikolai Samoylov by Mitoire

Emperor Alexander I blessed their wedding but it turned out not very happy. Julia and Nikolai’s arguments were legendary. The young count had an unfortunate addiction to binge drinking and gambling.

In two years time the couple separated. Samoilov turned out to be a noble person, he returned Julia’s dowry ( remember, she was immensely rich) and stayed friends with her. But the scandal in the society was quite serious, even Julia’s own grandmother refused seeing her at some point.

What I find so remarkable about this woman (apart from her beauty ) is that she was so unconventional. Remember, we are talking about 19th century! So, she was ostracized in the high society of St Petersburg –  what did she do? She went back to Italy. Simples!

In Milan she became a grand dame of the local society, surrounded herself with artists, composers, poets (among her friends were Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini), became the patron of artists and musicians.

There she met Karl Brullov. They fell in love and were there till his death in 1852. Julia outlived him for 23 years. Karl painted several portraits of his muse but only a few still exist.

K. Brullov Countess Yulia Samoilova Retiring from the Ball

K. Brullov Rider

After Julia’s grandmother died and left her more riches she returned to Russia. She hired Karl’s elder brother, an architect, to rebuild one of her newly acquired manors near St.Petersburg. According to her contemporaries, it was “a treasure, so elegant and wonderful, full of art”.

She kept entertaining there as she used to do it in Italy: invited musicians and poets, organized masquerades and balls. The atmosphere was free and informal. Julia was extremely independent (well, she could afford to be :)). She shocked the society with her extravagance and, in the end, the Emperor Nikolay I “gave her his royal permission to leave Russia”. Hint-hint!

Oh, well, never mind.  Julia went to Italy again.

By that time Karl Brullov had married and divorced (after just two months), Julia’s husband had died, nothing kept them in Russia any more. Both loved Italy anyway so they lived happily at her villa. Unfortunately, not for ever after.

In 1845 Julia decided to break with Brullov and next year she, quite unexpectedly, married a young Italian tenor Perri, who was very handsome! But the new marriage bliss was not to last, alas…Next year Perri died of consumption in Venice. He was buried in Paris, at Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Juia Samoylova by Mitoire

Apparently, the loss of the Countess title was very upsetting for Juia. For about 15 years she was missing it greatly. So, at the age of 60 she decided to marry again, this time  a French aristocrat Count Charles de Mornes (not sure this is the correct spelling, sorry!). She received her title, he received a huge maintenance and they parted their ways.

Her life was quite sad in the end. Her adoptive daughters (she adopted two girls in 1830-s, they were allegedly the daughters of a poor Italian composer) were suing her (!) for money she had promised them and that wretched alimony she was paying to  her third husband practically bankrupted her…

Julia died in Paris aged 71 and was buried next to her second husband.

In his painting “The Last Day of Pompeii” Karl Brullov painted her thrice: next to the painter with a pitcher on her head, fallen on the ground and as a mother hugging her two daughters…

last day