Happy Birthday to a Legend ~ Ms Hepburn


Happy Birthday to a Legend ~ Ms Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn, who was born on this date in 1929, won her best actress Oscar for the enchanting 1953’s “Roman Holiday,” starring opposite Gregory Peck. And here’s a photo from the film courtesy of AMC. (via Los Angeles Times)

Lost In Translation: Sergey Esenin

The Russian-to-English translator’s job is a tough one. They face a constant dilemma in transforming  melodic Russian verse into rigid English. It’s unfortunate, but many times a bad translation will make the most evocative Russian sentence sound flat and dull.

In my research of Russian literature, I have been reading about Sergey Esenin — one of the country’s most-loved lyrical poets. Born in the country, he moved to the city — Moscow, then Petrograd — and in 1918, formed the Imagist poetry group.The Revolution had an impact on Esenin; he found it hard to adjust to the new way of life, and alcohol and drugs furthered his disillusionment. Over the course of 30 years, Esenin wed four times (American dancer Isadora Duncan was his third wife), becoming a father through marriage and a romantic liaison. All this made for  moving and emotive verse that, while poignant, thrives on masterful composition.

So, what does this have to do with translation? While combing through copious amount of information, I came across a number of English translations of Esenin’s final poem. Stumped, I searched for the original and found no translation to be a match. They were all either too wordy, exaggerated, and/or neglected to honour the poet’s words. I ended up translating the eight lines myself and believe me, it’s hard to balance the literal and the melodious, yet that shouldn’t compromise the poem’s integrity.


Apparently, this final untitled poem was written in blood. Esenin, who was staying at the Hotel Angleterre in Leningrad, could not find any ink and used his lifeblood to complete the piece. The poem became public around the same time he was found in his hotel room, hanging from a radiator pipe. Whether Esenin committed suicide or not is undetermined. He had been mentally unstable and suffered from a drug addiction, though some attribute his death to the hands of the secret police. Politically, Esenin was out of favour as his “village” poetry clashed with the industrial theories of the Revolution.

Esenin left his legacy in the most beautiful of poetic works that continue to be devoured. I checked Twitter and found that the Russians love nothing more than to share a cup of coffee with Esenin in the spring.

Here’s my translation of this final poem. The original is below if you want to have a go of translating it yourself, or to at least compare with Google translate. If you come across wildly varied versions in either case, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye.

My dear, you are in my heart.

This predestined parting

Promises a meeting in time to come.


Goodbye, my friend, without a hand, without a word,

Don’t be sad and furrow your brow in sorrow, –

To die in this life is not new,

But to live, of course, is not newer.


До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья.
Милый мой, ты у меня в груди.
Предназначенное расставанье
Обещает встречу впереди.

До свиданья, друг мой, без руки, без слова,
Не грусти и не печаль бровей, —
В этой жизни умирать не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.


Esenin and Duncan

Esenin and Duncan



April 14: Remembering Mayakovsky

Our brains were numb; our fingertips, blue. It was past 4pm and getting dark — not unusual for winter in Moscow. Under the bleak sky and nearing the end of our tethers, mum and I were fast losing our sense of direction. We must have shuffled by Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol, and Nikolai Tchaikovsky a dozen times each while navigating pathways slicked with ice and snow. We weren’t about to give up though — we’re steadfast and pretty determined. Map or no map, eyes tearing from the cold, we sloughed through the freeze. Until finally — FINALLY! — we spotted it. The Cyrillic writing etched across the top of a red-faced tombstone that read: Vladimir Mayakovsky.

DSC_0186PSI don’t usually spend so much time in cemeteries but this day was different — I was on assignment to find the famous writer, playwright, and poet — Mayakovsky. The Novodevichy Cemetery is the resting place of many literary, cultural, and political figures including Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein, Soviet actress Marina Ladynina, and the first president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yelstin. Located adjacent to the 16th-century Novodevichy Convent, the grave site is one of the city’s top tourist attractions.

DSC_0177PSThe large red-and-black tombstone that forever honours Mayakovsky is deceptive, not only for its camouflaging abilities but because it stands for the Futurist artist who was ultimately shunned by a cause he was so vested in.

As a boy, Mayakovsky acted revolutionary: at 12, he led his classmates in a demonstration; by 15, he’d landed in jail from his association with an underground Bolshevik group, which is where he started to read widely, and write.

At the time of the Russian Revolution, Mayakovsky showed a lack of interest in the classics by Pushkin and Tolstoy, instead dedicating his efforts towards the creation of a New World. He found a voice through theatre, poetry, propaganda, and radio jingles, and went on to be celebrated as “the greatest poet of the Soviet era.” Yet, a decade later, his works seemed to polarize. Reviewers criticised his play, The Bath House, for its (humorous) critique of Soviet bureaucrats, while his artistic retrospective was avoided altogether by the intelligentsia. He feared arrest.

DSC_0189PSOn April 9, “Just five days before his death, Mayakovsky was condemned at a Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) meeting at which his critics demanded proof that he would still be read in 20 years.”* A year later, in 1931, writer Maxim Gorky would head the Writer’s Union, abolish the RAPP, and, with Stalin, formulate the doctrine of Socialist Realism, which embraced an old-world literary aesthetic. To add further fuel, it’s been speculated that Mayakovsky’s lover, Lily Brik, was an agent of Stalin’s secret police — the NKVD.

Mum and I stood shivering in our  boots at the foot of Mayakovsky’s grave, blanketed in snow and surrounded by plastic flowers and a wreath of blood-red roses. We admired Mayakovsky’s profile for a time. I wondered how such a head-strong, intelligent 36-year-old could terminate his life with a bullet? Didn’t he have more to say? Then again, perhaps he foresaw his fate.

Below is the reported suicide note, taken from an unfinished work, probably written in 1929:

As they say,

                     a bungled story.

Love’s boat


                  against existence.

And we are quits

                 with life.

                So why should we

idly reproach each other

              with pain and insults?

To those who remain — I wish happiness.

DSC_0193PSHere are pictures of the site in spring: http://novodevichye.com/mayakovsky/5/

*Natasha’s Dance, by Orlando Figes

Googling Gogol ~ Moscow, Russia

“162 years ago today, Nikolai Gogol burned most of the second part of his novel “Dead Souls” — a grave loss for world literature. Soon after that, Gogol took to bed, refused all food, and died in great pain.” ~ Moscow Times

Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) began to publish stories in 1828, and by the mid-1830s he had established himself in the literary world and been warmly praised by Pushkin. In 1836, his play The Inspector-General was attacked as immoral, and Gogol went abroad, where he remained for most of the next twelve years. During this time he wrote two of his best-known stories, “The Nose” and “The Overcoat,” and in 1842 he published the first part of his masterpiece Dead Souls. Gogol became ever more religious as the years passed, and in 1847 he fell under the sway of an Orthodox priest on whose advice he burned much of the second part of Dead Souls and soon gave up writing altogether. After undertaking a fast to purify his soul, he died at the age of forty-two. ~ Donald Rayfield is emeritus professor of Russian and Georgian at Queen Mary, University of London.

The photo below, Gogol’s statue, was taken at the Gogol House Museum during my recent trip to Moscow.



Inspired: Black and White Photography


How’s this for inspiration? An oldie but a goodie. Nothing beats a great selection of black and whites!

Originally posted on Marina Chetner:

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” ~ Elliott Erwitt

Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon, Venice, Italy, 1953 ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Every day inspiration can be sparked by so many things: a Warholian piece of art; a quote by Paulo Coelho; the dramatic lines of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Today, I was inspired by monochromatic images. I love when a photograph evokes a feeling, and black+whites have a knack of doing that.

Recently I have been paying attention to other elements too; composition, depth of field, lines, expressions, and angles. Reading images in this way encourages me to notice details that I may have otherwise overlooked.

I like this new change. It’s a reminder to look at the world with new eyes. Enjoy the inspiration!

A photograph is usually…

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Spreading the Love… ~ Africa

Scott Randall was one of the first bloggers I met when I set up my travel blog at the end of 2011. In this day and age, that makes us friends from way back, right?

Anyway, Scott takes amazing photos of wildlife, and today his photo captured my heart. Whether it was the look on the lion’s face, or the painterly effect… or maybe it’s because I am a Leo. Whatever it was, I had the immediate desire to spread the beauty of this image. Luckily, Scott gave me permission. And how apropos that it is Valentine’s Day.

It was hard for me to believe that Scott only started dabbling in photography a few years ago; he’d retired from a 32-year stint working in the Department of the Navy when he started learning the skill. To me, he’s a pro and meeting people like him makes me grateful for having joined the blogosphere.

Here’s Scott’s blog that was posted today on scottseyephotos.wordpress.com. Enjoy!

One of the things I love about photography is that you never know where or if you will find a treasured image – one that recalls the experience you had, the magic of the moment or the splendor of the subject.  Even in a place like Africa where the opportunities are endless, you never know if you will get that one “keeper”.  Even after you go through your photos a couple of times that treasure may still elude you.  

That kind of happened to me as I went through my Africa portfolio – there are MANY that I think are good photos and capture the moment well but I was hoping to get at least one that I could have printed professionally to put in our own living room.  It wasn’t until I started doing a first cut of post- processing on some of the photos that I stumbled upon this one that I really liked.

I had taken a photo of a male lion sitting in the grass of the Serengeti – the light wasn’t great and he wasn’t doing much but he had this very wispy mane that I liked.  I decided to see what it would be like as a simulated oil painting using some of the photoshop tools and came up with the image below.  I love the expression in the lion’s face and the way his mane translates into brush strokes…….  I  have sent this away to be printed and am anxiously awaiting its return – hopefully to become a treasured part of our living room decor.

Fantastical Mari Vanna ~ Melrose Place, Los Angeles

Let me take you on a journey…

DSC_0085PSOn a quiet stretch of Melrose, under the shade of a bay fig tree, you’ll find the restaurant, Mari Vanna. Its white-washed, shabby-chic exterior stands out on a street of sleek brand-name storefronts including Monique Lhuillier and Oscar de la Renta. Reminiscent of a dacha (Russian country home), the façade is decorated with intricate woodwork and floral folkart. The front entrance is lined with an assortment of terracotta pots, wooden planters, and colourful blooms – pass through the double doors and you’ll be transported into a whimsical scene. Wooden birdcages of all shapes adorn two ten-foot-tall olive trees; Russian samovars set into brick trickle a never-ending stream of chai; ceramic birds sit puffed-up atop wooden tables (these tchotckes double up as salt and pepper shakers).

Mari_Vanna_Outside2Inside, the design of the dining area is more eclectic. It’s as if Mary Poppins emptied her bag in babushka’s house, at which point Mari Vanna– a fairy godmother — magically appeared and transformed the space with the whoosh of her wand. Stacks of Russian novels balance alongside matryoshka dolls in the bar, vintage Victorian lampshades hang from the ceiling of the main dining room, and an arrangement of watering cans and kettles make something of a feature of the sun room’s back wall. It’s all rather mismatched yet it feels strangely familiar. Even the brunch crowd — kids, parents, Russian-speaking grandparents, and Los Angeles’ fashionistas – feels like your boisterous extended family.

DSC_0080PSIndulging on such a heady feast of aesthetics means the menu plays a supporting role. The Russian fare is simple and traditional, inspiring nostalgia for the home-cooked meals from childhood. The brunch menu includes options like handmade veal pelmeni (dumplings), vinegret (beetroot salad), mayonnaise-laden salat Olivier, and chicken kotletki (rissoles), along with an all-you-can-fit-in dessert buffet including a constantly-replenished platter of sirniki (ricotta cheese patties), bowls of sour cream and jam, cream-filled flaky pastries, and heaps of Red October chocolate. It’s as good an initiation to Russian food as you’ll get outside of the native country.

DSC_0081PSAt Mari Vanna, the spirit of the fairytale godmother is palpable throughout, and she can rest assured that a good Russian meal will be prepared for all those hungry for a fantastical experience.