Entries Tagged as 'travel & foreign lands'

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingtravel & foreign lands

Top ten reasons the Putins got divorced

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10. They were married for 30 years. Enough is enough!

9. Mrs. Putin was hoping, in the divorce settlement, she’d get half of Russia.

8. Edward Snowden leaked some photos of Vladimir in flagrante delicto with Russia gymnast Alina Kabaeva.

7. Vladimir was always ragging on Mrs. Putin for calling it “the Ukraine”.

6. During the Sochi Olympics, Vladimir finally realized how much he enjoys looking at Men’s Singles Figure Skaters.

5. Vladimir has been too upset to devote time to his marriage; in the last election, he only got 100% of the vote.

4. In Russia, you don’t enter into divorce; divorce enter into you. (What a country!)

3. Too much vodka.

2. Vladimir has seen so many shirtless photographs of himself, he finally decided that his body was the only one he needed.

1. Mrs. Putin caught Vladimir invading Georgia.
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

animalsends & odd

A passage through India

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I landed in New Delhi, inhaled, and immediately liked India. [Read more →]

travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

A very expensive fungus

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The other day I read that some Russian oligarch or other had paid $95,000 to a restaurateur in New York for a bit of fungus. Well, a fool and his money, as they say.

Alright, it wasn’t just any old bit of fungus. Apparently it was a “white alba truffle” – a special fungus that is quite difficult to find. And you can eat it. Meanwhile, this bit of fungus weighed about 4lb so it was quite heavy, for a fungus. According to Nello Balan, the man who says he sold the oligarch the fungus, it was the biggest such bit of fungus in the history of fungi, or something.

So there you go: Clearly this bit of fungus was [Read more →]

books & writingtravel & foreign lands

Vasily Grossman: from Stalingrad to toilet trouble

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In 1998 I stumbled upon a Russian novel called “Life and Fate.” I was surprised because I had never heard of it or its author Vasily Grossman, yet by its size, Tolstoy-echoing title and subject matter (the book was about Stalingrad) it was obviously supposed to be important.

I bought it and was soon drawn into Grossman’s world; I remember standing on crowded trams, unable to put down this imposing brick of a book. “Life and Fate” was excellent, a profound meditation on war, Stalin, and much else – and yet it was also totally obscure. This was bizarre. Was I wrong? Was it actually rubbish? [Read more →]
travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

Why do Russians hate Texas so much?

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Feodor Dostoevsky- there’s a town named after him in Texas- allegedly.

Recently I read that the population of people speaking Russian at home in the United States has quadrupled over the last thee decades. According to the US Census office, Russians – or rather Russian speakers – are now almost 1 million strong. That’s a lot of post-Soviet immigrants. And yet it seems there is at least one area in America that Russian speakers would rather avoid: my adopted state of Texas. [Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingtravel & foreign lands

Top ten signs you’re having a bad summer

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10. You’ve lost so much blood from mosquito bites, they’ve stopped biting you

9. Your neighborhood swimming pool has banned you, because of your weak bladder

8. The B&B you’re staying at evidently stands for ‘bed’ and ‘bugs’

7. Due to hard-of-hearing travel agent, instead of Cancun you wound up in Kabul

6. You caught crabs at the beach – but not the edible kind

5. You have no idea who Carlos is, but you woke up with his name tattooed on your upper arm

4. Your hair hasn’t grown back since that Fourth of July incident

3. Because of too much sun, your face is redder than the Disney executive who greenlighted The Lone Ranger

2. The lemonade stand you frequent was just raided by the Board of Health

1. First name ‘Paula’, last name ‘Deen’
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

When kings go incognito

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One of my favorite story motifs is of the king who travels incognito to learn what is really happening in his land. This idea shows up not only in folktales and fictions, but also in reality: Caliph Harun al-Rashid did it in 8th-century Iraq, while Turkmenbashi, the deceased leader of Turkmenistan, did it in his days as Soviet boss of that desert land. King Abdullah of Jordan also disguised himself and walked among his people shortly after he came to the throne.

But it’s not only Eastern potentates who like to walk among mortals on occasion. This week we can add to the list of incognito leaders a man I had never heard of until [Read more →]
books & writingtravel & foreign lands

Kim Jong-un declares admiration for Hitler: what could possibly go wrong?

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The bookstore is that way.”

The North Korean dissident website New Focus International carried an interesting story on Monday. According to insiders, Kim Jong-un is getting into Hitler. In fact, the tubby tyrant digs the Nazi dictator so much that he’s started gifting copies of “Mein Kampf” to his inner circle. Having emulated Stalin for decades, it’s time for the regime to embrace a new villain.

At first glance, this is perplexing. What is there in “Mein Kampf” that has any relevance for the people of the “Hermit Kingdom”? Undoubtedly, Der Führer would have viewed the decidedly non-Aryan Kim as [Read more →]
ends & oddphotography

Glimpses of Syria 2009

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In the fall of 2009 I traveled to Jordan and Syria with a group organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  Since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, which to date has killed some 93,000 people, I’ve often thought back to the peaceful country I visited just a year and a half earlier.  I found a  landscape of green hills, desert and sea that in some ways resembles Oregon, cities full of friendly people and intriguing souks, and everywhere wonderful smells of fruit, spices, and flowers.  I think back on those scents and they return to me as an emblem of Syria’s beauty and a prayer for peace.  Here are a few photographs of my trip.

[Read more →]

art & entertainmenttravel & foreign lands

The curious Russian afterlife of Steven Seagal

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Judo expert and morbidly obese Hollywood Z-lister open martial arts center in Moscow

Long, long ago – for about 15 minutes – Steven Seagal was a big deal in Hollywood. His movie “Under Siege” made a lot of money. But that was pretty much it. Next came a string of big-budget flops followed by a lengthy and ongoing twilight spent in straight-to-video purgatory.

As for me, I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through a Seagal film. His stiff, tubby frame, extreme humorlessness and mystic posturing make it impossible for me to suspend disbelief. Here in the US he serves as a punch line, part of the flotsam and jetsam of trash culture. Steven Seagal – that’s the washed up ‘90s action movie guy who peddles an aftershave lotion named [Read more →]
race & culturetravel & foreign lands

First Impressions of Xi’an, China

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Xi’an, China is a big bustling city of over seven million people. It was a Chinese capital of ancient dynasties that thrived centuries ago, but today takes second stage to the prominent coastal megacities—Beijing and Shanghai and that more recent capitalist “import” to the mainland, Hong Kong. Beijing of course hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics while Hong Kong hosts some of the most amazing economic inequalities anywhere in the world (think ten million dollar penthouse suites while poor city residents rent cages to live in), but Xi’an’s seven million residents would easily make it a top-five city in the United States and the most populous city of a majority of countries in the world. By contrast, my native Philadelphia, America’s fifth largest metropolis according to the 2010 U.S. Census, has a population within city limits of about 1.5 million. [Read more →]

travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

Boris Berezovsky: death of an oligarch

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Boris Berezovsky

Who, me? (Pic by AFP/Carl de Souza)

I arrived in Russia in 1997, when Boris Berezovsky’s influence was at its height. The year before, he had managed to get Boris Yeltsin reelected, and we need not think too hard about how or why that was achieved. In those days Berezovsky was often in Chechnya, and I couldn’t keep up with how much stuff he owned. Then Putin became president, and shortly afterwards the “Godfather of the Kremlin” was out.

Sometime later I read a vehemently anti-Putin editorial in a major British newspaper, before such things were commonplace. Who wrote this? I wondered. And then I saw the byline:

Boris Berezovsky. I was stunned. Hadn’t the editor done a quick web search before paying this “Russian businessman” to write his screed? Evidently not, although I now understand that serial failure to grasp that not every opponent of Putin is a brave Solzhenitsyn is characteristic of the UK and US media.  [Read more →]

photographytravel & foreign lands

Coming Back

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PLEASE NOTE that the following words are penned in a distant land, far to the south and west of that arctic-like realm that is home to so many of you. 

It’s been cooler – even cold! – these last few months … and it’s been grayer, too, from clouds that block the sun, yet deliver no rain … and at times it’s been way too windy for me. Eh, winter!

But today, Spring is coming back. Today, I went out to the side yard of this place where we were staying, and was greeted not just with the head of the house’s septic tank system, and the assurance that all was well with said system … but by a bluebonnet, as well … my first bluebonnet of the new year!

Today, spring is coming back.

I’ve lived in West Texas long enough to appreciate that we seem to have only two seasons in our part of the Lone Star State … SUMMER, and NOT-QUITE-SUMMER.

But not today … for today, at least, SPRING is coming back … and I’m thinking that maybe there are ways I should be coming back, too. More on that later … but, for now, enjoy my bluebonnet.

art & entertainmenttravel & foreign lands

Iran vs. Hollywood

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Xerxes: awesome?

So anyway, apparently the Mullahs of Iran are not scary theocrats after all. They’re actually tender petals with exquisitely sensitive feelings. In fact, I hear they silently weep into their beards when nobody is looking.

No, really: according to The Guardian, the regime has just hired a French lawyer named Isabelle Coutant-Peyre to take the directors and producers of Hollywood to court for something they call “Iranophobia.” Speaking this Monday at the intriguingly titled “The Hoax of Hollywood” conference, Coutant-Peyre said: “I’ll be defending Iran against films that have been made by Hollywood to distort the country’s image, such as ‘Argo.’” [Read more →]
travel & foreign landstrusted media & news

Don’t tear down this wall

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File:Berlinermauer.jpg

Communism: it sucked.

The Berlin Wall was a powerful symbol for me of the rottenness of Marxist regimes as I grew up in the 1980s. After all, no country in the capitalist West ever built a wall to keep its inhabitants from escaping. Thus when I first visited the city in the late 1990s, one of the first things I did was visit the East Side Gallery of graffiti art, sprayed on a surviving stretch of the Wall.

I remember being surprised by two things: how bad a lot of the art was and the terrible condition it was in. Even the famous images by Keith Haring, Gerald Scarfe and that picture of Leonid Brezhnev kissing Erich Honecker were peeling away. “Hell,” I thought, “even if the Germans want to forget the DDR, they should at least take care of the Wall to keep the tourist dollars flowing in…”

Still, I never thought I’d see a news report about a developer trying to tear down a chunk of the Wall so that he could build some apartments for rich people. But that’s what happened last week, until a crowd of protestors showed up to stop it from happening. [Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingtravel & foreign lands

Top ten new slogans for Carnival Cruise Lines

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10. Where the Ship Hits the Fan!

9. The Greatest Tow on Earth!

8. Drifting Along for Over 40 Years!

7. When You Need to Go, We Give You a Choice: Paper or Plastic

6. The Ship of Stools!

5. Less Port of Call! More Porta-Potty!

4. We Put the ‘Poop’ Back in ‘Poop Deck’!

3. Come for the Buffet! Stay for the Dysentery!

2. The Titanic with Shuffleboard!

1. Ship Happens!
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

fashion & clothingtravel & foreign lands

Who are the hair police?

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Whip my hair

This week, ifeng.com, a website run by Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV network, reported that there are 28 officially acceptable haircuts in North Korea – 10 styles for men and 18 for women. Unsurprisingly, the styles are pretty conservative – dye jobs are out; nothing spiky is permitted (nothing too long either, even on women) and definitely NO MOHAWKS. [Read more →]

art & entertainmentbooks & writing

The good Stalinist

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Àíäðåé Ïëàòîíîâ

“Hm? What? Stalin? Yeah, I kind of dig him…”

As a fan of Soviet literature, one of my great frustrations is the lack of good writing from a pro-Stalin perspective. There is no shortage of books about the evils of Stalin and the system he created- Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov and Bulgakov all spring to mind- but what about those writers who actually believed in his vision for the USSR? [Read more →]

animalstravel & foreign lands

Of Iranian monkeys and other space invaders

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“Space,” as 1970s prog-rock legends Hawkwind once told us, “is deep.” But that’s not all, for as Yuri Gagarin also informed us, it can be a disappointing place for religious believers.

You see, the first cosmonaut apparently took a peek out of the porthole while he was in orbit to see if the Deity was floating about. When he didn’t see an old man with a white beard anywhere nearby, he allegedly declared: “I don’t see any God up here.”

I was thinking about Gagarin’s ultra-scientific observation this week when I read about the Iranian space monkey that the mullahs reportedly shot into the cosmos a few days ago. What did our terrified primate friend see up there as he looked out the window? If he told his theocratic bosses there’s no Allah, then he’d be headed for the chop. On the other hand, since it is strictly forbidden for Muslims to depict Allah, there’s no way the monkey could have recognized his Creator in the first place. [Read more →]
animalstravel & foreign lands

Meanwhile, in Russia…

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…it looks like 56-year-old Russian shepherdess Aishat Maksudova, a grandmother, recently killed a wolf with her bare hands.

Writes an unidentified reporter at Metro.co.uk:

Aishat Maksudova said she was tending to her cattle and flock of sheep when the wolf attacked in the village of Novo Biryuzyak, Dagestan.

The 56-year-old managed to save the calf but the wolf then turned its attention to her, clamping its jaws on to her hand.

Speaking from hospital with her hand bandaged, Mrs Maksudova said she was “not even frightened” during the wolf attack.

“With an open mouth, the wolf suddenly jumped on me,” she said.

“The wolf clawed into my leg and when I raised my arm up the wolf was just holding my hand; trying to claw my hand.”

Mrs Maksudova explained she wanted to throttle the wolf to death but was forced to reach for her axe when she could not prise the animal’s jaws open.

“So I just left my hand, and the wolf was just clawing into it, pulling on it, pulling away like this,” she said.

“And then I took the axe and hit him on the head.”

The bar has been raised, America. What have you done with your weak, flabby hands?

(h/t Adam Orbit)

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