Thursday, July 30, 2020

Russian cemeteries, here and there

The Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie
The "old" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
 The Russian Orthodox Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie

I present to you three Russian cemeteries, one in Moscow (Novodevichy), one in St. Petersburg (Tikhvin), and one in Sitka, Alaska (the Russian Orthodox Cemetery), each a gem, each with its own distinct characteristics, each to welcome its existence and revealing histories filled with the characters who occupy the grounds. 

The overgrowth and abundant greenery in Sitka is romantic to some. Tikhvin's age and remarkable count of hundreds of buried artists capture hearts. My favorite though is Novodevichy, a calming place, a soothing application to mental spirits with its parklike setting and individually sculptured grave markers. 

It's easy to spend hours at the cemetery, a common pastime of Russians who wander amidst the paths, greenery, and tall pines, admiring the artworks, considering the lives of famous Russians, many who led turbulent lives, but now lay quiet.

Compare Novodevichy to Arlington National Cemetery and its uniformity. Novodevichy is graves gone wild!  

It has 27,000 plots, and unlike our cemeteries, it's "alive" with graves of hundreds of artists, writers (Gogol, Chekhov), politicians (Andre Gromyko, Boris Yeltsin, Nikita Khrushchev), military leaders, actors, composers (Shostakovich, Prokofiev), and the great and not-so-great like Joseph Stalin's wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva Stalina, who was 31 when she died. (Until I looked her up at "Find-A-Grave," I thought she was a suicide victim, but evidence points to her possible murder by... who else? Her husband who killed between six and 20 million of his own people. Where is her biography? Another story, one of many to be found in cemeteries.) (Why are Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Yeltsin not buried at the Kremlin?)

Here is a link to names of the dead in Novodevichy.

        Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow
The grave of the first president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, 1931-2007, Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018, near the entrance/Patricia Leslie  
The grave of Raisa Gorbacheva, 1932-1999, wife of Mikhail Gorbachev, Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
The grave of Premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971). (See his bust in the center,) Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  

Novodevichy's namesake is its neighbor, the Novodevichy Convent, on the other side of a "great wall" which separates the cemetery from the convent which was founded in 1524. It was the home of Eudoxia Fedorovna Lopukhina (1669-1731), first wife of Peter the Great (1669-1725), and Peter's half-sister, Sophia (1657-1704), both women whom Peter stashed in the convent to get rid of them. (Sophia plotted against Peter and died here.) 
Novodevichy Convent's wall borders the cemetery, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
Novodevichy Convent wall at the cemetery, near the confinement rooms of Sophia, Peter the Great's half-sister, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  
Grounds at Novodevichy Convent, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie  

Novodevichy Convent chapel, Moscow, 2018/Patricia Leslie 

          Tikhvim Cemetery, St. Petersburg
The entrance to Tikhvim Cemetery, St. Petersburg, where a small visitor's fee ($2, adults; 70 cents, children and students) is charged. (I often consider how much institutions rely on and appreciate these admission prices. Here, it 's well worth the "price of admission"!) On the left above is the "old" part of the cemetery and on the right, the "new" with the graves of TchaikovskyDostoevsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, Mussorgsky, and many more/Patricia Leslie

Tikhvim, called the "Necropolis of Masters of Arts," opened in 1823. During "Soviet times" in the 1930s, the bodies of many artists were exhumed from graves around St. Petersburg and re-buried here. It is part of the State Museum of Urban Sculpture.

The grave of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893, in the "new" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
The grave of Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881, in the "new" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
 In the "new" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
The grave of composer Mikail Ivanovich Glinka, 1804-1857, in the "new" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie

 In the "new" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
In the "new" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie

The "old" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
The "old" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
A child's tomb in the "old" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
The "old" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
The "old" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie
The "old" section of Tikhvin Cemetery, St. Petersburg, 2018/Patricia Leslie

Russian Orthodox Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska

A view of Sitka, Alaska from near the Russian Cemetery, 2019/Patricia Leslie

The Russians first came to Sitka, Alaska in 1741 but few have remained to take care of their 200-year-old cemetery with 1,500 to 1,600 graves,  most plots covered now by vegetation, trees, and weeds. A quick visual survey gives the impression that maybe 100 persons are buried in these creepy, hilly grounds which is romantic in its own way, but not a place for scaredy-cats like me, to spend Halloween or anytime here alone which is what I was at the cemetery that day. (Bear watch! Wherever you go in Alaska, bear warnings [and guns] are omnipresent, guns to ward off the bears. A museum employee told me he has wrangled with bears on shores over salmon he caught while standing to fish and with eyes turning constantly for...bear watch!) 
The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska with some headstones made from ballasts of Russian ships, according to Alaska.orgMost of the few visible headstones at the Sitka cemetery are broken and in disrepair/Patricia Leslie

Sitka is a beautiful community on an island along the outer coast of the Inside Passage, accessible only by plane, ship, or boat.  At Sitka you'll find the Fort Rousseau Causeway State Historical Parkthe World War II Japonski Island base, other islands and rental boats to row to extant bunkers, some where a machete would help weave a path through thick, five feet high weeds and still worth the effort to get there. (Budget cuts in 2015 led to Alaska's park service eliminating maintenance of a trail here.)

Some Sitka history: In the 1850s when Russian czar Alexander II needed money, the U.S. showed  interest in buying Alaska, but the U.S. was dealing with more important matters like the advent of the Civil War (1861-1865), and the death of a president before it could take a serious look at owning a territory about a fifth of the U.S.'s size then (375 million acres).  

But President Abraham Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, pursued the purchase, and in 1867, the U.S. bought Alaska for $7.2 million or about two pennies an acre.

Labeled "Johnson's Polar Bear Garden," and (you, no doubt remember from school days) "Seward's Folly," by a vote of only one or "by a wide margin" (based on the websites you visit), the U.S. Senate agreed to the treaty. 

In Sitka, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward represented the U.S. at the ceremony which is commemorated now with a hilltop memorial, flag, markers, and a wide viewing span of the town and waterways.

October 18, Alaska Day, is a state holiday to honor the purchase of the territory by the U.S. Every Alaska Day volunteers spend hours cleaning up the cemetery.  It needs it!
 The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie
 The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie
The grave of Earl Williams Sr., U.S. Marine Corps, 1939-2014, Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie
 The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie

 The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie
 The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019. What is that brown clump in the center?/Patricia Leslie
 The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie
 The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie
 The Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska, 2019/Patricia Leslie
Inside the white picket fence adjacent to Sitka's Russian Cemetery (on the right amidst the trees) is the grave of Princess Aglaida Ivanovina Maksoutoff (1834-1862), "wife of Second Rank," the last Russian governor, Dimitri Maksoutoff,/Patricia Leslie
 The grave of Princess Aglaida Ivanovina Maksoutoff (1834-1862) in the Lutheran Cemetery adjacent to the Russian Cemetery in the trees, Sitka, Alaska, 2019. You see how dark the cemetery is during the day/Patricia Leslie
The grave of Princess Aglaida Ivanovina Maksoutoff (1834-1862) in the Lutheran Cemetery adjacent to the Russian Cemetery, Sitka, Alaska. A historical marker outlines the care of the grave. In 1924 Foster Mills discovered the princess's grave which he and his wife, Louise, maintained for 25 years when their son, Russell, and his wife, Monica, took care of it until 1992 when the Sitka Lutheran Church assumed responsibility/Patricia Leslie

America's Russian cemetery is a fascinating place to visit which I highly recommend when you're in Sitka.  And the other cemeteries, too, when you travel to Russia.  None to miss!  I always wished I had had more time to explore these jewels of Earth.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

At the think tanks: Czar for life?

Vladimir Putin, Feb. 20, 2020/Wikimedia, Kremlin

A tour guide in Moscow laughed when I bought a magnet at a gift shop with Vladimir Putin on one side and Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president from 2008 to 2012, on the other side. With a gradual turning of the magnet, the pictures morphed into likenesses of each man.

"Putin will be premier for life," the tour guide joked. Seven years later, and it looks like she may be right.
Vladimir Putin meeting with permanent members of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, July 17, 2020/Kremlin

On July 1, 2020 Russian voters amended their constitution giving Putin the right to run for office in 2024 and extend his reign as Russia's president until 2036 when he'll be 84 years old.

Writes Oksana Antonenko in a report this month titled Winning the Referendum and Losing Legitimacy in Putin’s Russia:

"Once again [referring to the 1991 referendum], over 77 percent of voters (according to official results) voted in favour of the proposed package of 206 amendments. The large number of amendments was deliberately intended to disguise their true intent: to abolish the term limit for President Putin and to allow him to run again in 2024."*

Dr. Antonenko is a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Kennan Institute and based in Cambridge, U.K.

Last week at the Kennan in a Facebook live talk, scholars Eric Lohr from American University and Matthew Rojansky, Kennan director, discussed Mr. Putin's reign, What Two More Presidential Terms Mean for Putin’s Legacy.
Without a hint of sarcasm, they referred to Putin throughout the presentation as "czar" .

If Putin makes it to 2036, Dr. Rojansky said, he will have served as Russia's leader longer than Joseph Stalin and Catherine the Great. (Ivan the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, were named, too, in different contexts.)

Dr. Lohr laughed when Dr. Rojansky asked him to project the likelihood of Putin making it to 2036: A lot can happen between now and then, he said. Events have a way of "suddenly turning."

In its 1000 year history, only two Russian leaders have retired from office before they died. (Test: Who were they?**) "Counter-acting forces" Dr. Lohr hinted, will likely end Mr. Putin's reign before 2036.

Dr. Lohr described Russian youth as "pretty apolitical now," but the Russian scene can change quickly and this group can "become something very powerful."  

Dr. Lohr noted that in France Napoleon won the title of consulate for life, but things didn't exactly work out that way.

Putin is able to blame local governments for most problems in Russia, said Rojansky, since nothing bad happens because of the president (paraphrasing Putin's nuances), ensuring his tenure, at least, for the time being.

Lohr explained that Russia's oligarchs want to keep Putin in office since they rely on him for their wellbeing and who wants to start all over and train someone new?

“It’s not just Putin’s will that matters here: it’s those with wealth, the so-called oligarchs, around him. They have an enormous amount to lose if he were to go, because then someone new would come in and redistribute wealth and power and etcetera. So I think it’s just as important that they are unwilling to see him go, but divining what his true intentions are is something that is beyond I think the skills of any of us Kremlin watchers.”

There's not a legitimate means to transfer Putin's power.

Most Russians today, Dr. Lohr said, are not thinking too much about politics: They are thinking about their mortgages, their children's schooling, and the economy. (For the past two months, Russia has sold more gold than natural gas, a first.)

Putin is "riding the nationalist tiger," said Lohr, especially after the Crimean invasion. A "turning point" can ignite "a sudden turn" in the environment.

The most important lesson to be learned from 1917, the start of the Russian revolution, Dr. Lohr said: "Never do it again."

Past czars had tradition and religion "on their side" but Putin has neither.

Answering a question from a viewer, Lohr said it was difficult to know if Putin holds more assets and is the richest person in the world. One of the new constitutional amendments passed prohibits elected leaders from holding foreign bank accounts, but it is suspected that a lot of Putin's wealth is tied up in other names, accounts, groups, funds, etc.

Dr. Lohr noted the Russians were "angered" that Russia was not invited to the 75th anniversary of the D-Day commemoration last year.

According to Dr. Lohr, "violence is usually a last resort" that governments use since it is a sign of weakness, not strength. (Writer's note: Portland, Oregon.)

When asked to cite good books to read, Dr. Lohr laughed and said he likes to get away from politics because "it's so depressing," but he is reading great Russian literature again, specifically, The Brothers Karamazov, this time with his son.

*Proposed amendments included acknowledging God, enshrining a minimum wage, banning same sex marriage, strengthening the powers of the State Duma, and banning territorial concessions.

**Yeltsin and Khrushchev

The grave of Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971). See Khrushchev's  bust in the center of the tombstone. Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The grave of Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007) at Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Monday, July 13, 2020

Cherry blossoms return to Artechouse

A slow walk through Artechouse's cherry blossom trail takes visitors to a dream world, apart from harsh realities of outside space/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Theme on Matisse's Dance/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Japanese ocean consumes the huge screen with music to expand the sensations/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Children of all ages find wonder at Artechouse/Photo by Patricia Leslie

If you missed spring's cherry blossoms or want to see them again, trip on over to Artechouse, a great escape a few steps from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and not far from the Wharf in southwest D.C.   

At this hi-tech light and sound show, manmade flowers hang and surround a cherry blossom lane in a whim of fantasy only on view two days before coronavirus shut it down early in March.

But, the blossoms are back to help restore some sense of "normalcy" (we hope) to the nation's capital amidst disease outbreak.
He changes cherry blossoms with a wave of arms at Artechouse/Photo by Patricia Leslie
He's going to skip his way down to Cherry Blossom Lane at Artechouse/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 This  world is mine!/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Artechouse is a make-believe, interactive world ("way down below") of lights, music, and art which invites guests to "let loose" and hang out your mojo, have a good time and forget about what's outside..

Not that Artechouse has forgotten coronavirus and what's happening. Social distancing practice and masks are required here with plenty of hand sanitizers stationed throughout the galleries which the staff constantly cleans in an unobtrusive way.
Artechouse's Hanami invites guests to drift, roam, escape/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Soaring on pink clouds!/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Another gallery at Artechouse features Ms. Shimizu's lights and mirrors /Photo by Patricia Leslie
A fun house at the fair!/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Arms are the wind to direct cherry blossoms at Artechouse/Photo by Patricia Leslie
I want to leap and touch them!/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A gallery of lanterns light up if someone will touch the taiko drums/Photo by Patricia Leslie
With a light touch on the drum, he summons "kami" to replace bad spirits with good spirits /Photo by Patricia Leslie
Without a drummer, the lights go out and it's time to exit Artechouse's last gallery/Photo by Patricia Leslie

This is 3-D space where no one needs to don special glasses since waving limbs and open minds command  floating images which respond to human movements and more. (You may stick arms and legs out, hokey pokey style, if anyone in this mostly 30-somethings age group knows what that is.)
The exhibit is called Hanami: Beyond the Blooms created by New York Japanese illustrator Yuko Shimizu   
who juxtaposes science, technology, and art in her show. 

Hanami to Japanese is the week-long flowering and enjoyment of the short-lived beauty of nature's world. Japan's annual celebration of this springtime splendor has been celebrated for centuries with feast, festivals and big parties. 

The designers have digitized Ms. Shimizu's ink drawings to replicate them on huge floor-to-ceiling screens. Lidar technology interacts with visitor movements to swirl and answer with creations which follow human direction. Guests create and participate in their own fantastical worlds, wherever minds may soar.

Artechouse has four galleries for the exhibition with one devoted to taiko drums, a Japanese tradition which calls forth kami "the divine beings that ward away evil spirits," (several doses are helpful) that when touched, light up. (Kind of like people.) 

Ms. Shimizu, the author of several books whose works are found in collections around the world, teaches at New York's School of Visual Arts and was chosen by Newsweek Japan to its list of "100 Japanese People the World Respects."

According to Sandro Kereselidze, co-founder and chief creative officer of Artechouse: "Art, we feel, is truly essential right now. It can provide a respite from the chaos that surrounds us, inspire us, transport us. We hope Hanami can help our audiences experience joy and inspiration as we enter this new phase of reopening."

Many nations celebrate hanami, including Finland, Italy, the Phillipines, China, Taiwan, and Korea, and American cities like, besides Washington, Macon, Georgia, Newark, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York which host cherry blossom festivals, too.

What: Hanami: Beyond the Blooms

When:  Now through Sept. 7, 2020. Monday - Thursday, 12 - 8 p.m. (with last session at 7 p.m.) Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.- 10 p.m. (last session at 9 p.m.)

Where: Artechouse, 1238 Maryland Ave., S.W. Washington, D.C. 20024, between the Smithsonian and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stations; a few steps from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Admission: Adults, $19(online), $24 (onsite); students, seniors, and military, $15/$20; children, $12/$17; families (two parents, two children), $45. Reserve at

Smithsonian Metro station: Exit 12th and Independence Avenue; walk 10 minutes (.3 mile).

For more information:  No telephone number found. Email: