Mike Vickers' Blog

November 29, 2016

An Impression of St Petersburg

Filed under: Europe, Music, St Petersburg, Travel, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:07 pm

The immediate impression on driving from the airport to the city centre is how many shop signs you recognise. This is buoyed up as soon as you start to walk round the centre; you might have confused St Petersburg for any Western City. On flying out you are required to go through the usual array of booths selling perfume, biscuits and booze.

But of course St Petersburg is not only a western city; it is a living museum to a great Russian Past; first established when Peter The Great wished for a seaport on the Baltic from where he could attach the then Swedish Empire which had plagued the North Western Russian Baltic coast. Peter also was an avid travel within Europe and wished to ‘westernise’ Russia. He built the city and then required his state officials to move from Moscow. Which of course they did, after all Peter was a Tsar, but moving into the outback was unthinkable; they brought their mansions with them and so you have the magnificent heritage which is St Petersburg. Of course St Petersburg was not built in a day; St Petersburg was taken forward by Catherine the Great, who had married a grandson of Peter and looks to have usurped the throne from him. You can find much more about St Petersburg on Wiki including the transfer of power from the Romanovs to the short lived Democratic Government to the Bolsheviks.

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Short-lived Democratic Government

Short-lived Democratic Government

Catherine The Great

Catherine The Great

But one point worth bring up is that the area occupied by St Petersburg was a swamp, cut into two by the Neva River, a great wide navigable river; the swampland was drained by canals and these together make a splendid feature of walking around the city; the canals and palazzi reminder one of Venice though all a lot colder.

Neva River

Neva River

Canals

Canals

To the glamour buildings and there plenty of them:

The Hermitage – a truly enormous set of rooms spread over three buildings: The Winter Palace, the Little Hermitage and the Large Hermitage, all sumptuously furnished that the guide books says will take three days to do justice to. We spent just 1/2 day

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The Clockwork Peacock

The Clockwork Peacock

The General Service Building across the Palace Square– now an art gallery containing art from the world over: more Rembrandts than the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, more French Impressionists and Post Impressionists than Pompidou Centre in Paris

The Palace Square

The Palace Square

The General Service BuildingThe General Service Building

 

 

The Church of the Spilt Blood – plastered from doom to floor in mosaics – no longer a Greek Orthodox Church, but the church is excellently preserved.

The Church of The Spilt Blood

The Church of The Spilt Blood

 A Church Tower Dome

A Church Tower Dome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marble Palace – Marble Rooms with immaculate parquet  and mosaics floors and near the top the most modern of modern art.

A Mosaic Floor

A Mosaic Floor

Just One of the other Churches

Just One of the other Churches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Russian Museum

The Russian Museum

The Citizens

The Citizens

A Sculpture

A Sculpture

The Russian Museum – set to rival the British Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

All well attended but we were there on a public holiday weekend – Celebration of The October Revolution and it seems clear to me that Russians are proud of their history; history even prior to the Communist Revolution. On The Peter and Paul Fortress, an island in the Neva River near the city centre is the Peter and Paul Cathedral where all the Tsars are buried; even Nicholas 2 who was assassinated by the Bolsheviks: he and this family were exhumed from their grave at Ekaterinburg.

Peter and Paul's Cathedral

Peter and Paul’s Cathedral

 

But to us, as splendidly glamorous as the main buildings are we were as interested to the Museum of Politics: it provides a history of the period up to the Communist revolution and from then up to the passing of power to Putin on January 2000. Yes, the displays do contain some propaganda but not all ‘sunny side up’. And this to me was a feature of St Petersburg itself striving to be a western city, but glorying in its Tsarist past and little sign of overarching or even any Government power. Yes, you do go through careful passport control at the airport but even that scrutiny is exercised more in acquiring a passport in the Edinburgh Visa office in Edinburgh. BTW if you do want to go to St Petersburg (other than on a cruise ship) you do need a visa and the easiest way to get one is to have your St Petersburg hotel to invite you with dates of residence.

Two of the Tomes the Czars

Two of the Tombs of the Czars

To other things:

The available music is great.

First night to see Puccini’s Tosca – as well a dressed performance as you would get anywhere in a western opera house and at less money.

The Opera House

The Opera House and Royal Box

A string concert in one of the rooms in the Large Hermitage – you need to get there early as the seats are unmarked and it is difficult to find the entrance – not the main one. One of the caretakers was very helpful in telling us the way

And finally the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra: three pieces finishing with Schubert’s Great C Major played with all the gusto of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 to the delight of the audience.

Just a couple more comments

  • Eating is cheap – we were set up when we found the Market Place – packed with students and great food
  • A café in the main street Nevsky Prospect which is up to any café in Vienna

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

  • Alexander Nevsky – the Russian hero who’s relics are buried in St Petersburg
  • The Singer Building – used to make sowing machine but now a book shop – that took me back what Foyles used thirty years ago before its splendid face lift
  • Pushka Inn where we stayed. Staff speak impeccable English – but so do most Russians who have anything to do with the tourists: English is the lingua franca – will it remain so after Brexit and Trump?

    Our hotel was on the right

    Our hotel was on the right

  • Is there any effect of Western Financial Clampdown.  Well some of the arcades are half finished but that could have started before the clampdown.

In Summary St Petersburg is an excellent place to visit even in November with an outside temperature of around -1 C in the daytime and a lot cold in the evening with winds blowing around the canals!

July 19, 2016

Back from walking on the Western Isles but it’s nothing like this

Filed under: Europe, History in the making, In Our Time, Politics, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:12 pm

https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/sep/10/we-walk-together-a-syrian-familys-journey-to-the-heart-of-europe-video?CMP=ema-3374

Surely these are the people who would rejuvenate this country?

June 29, 2016

A Real Reason for the EU continuing and going from Strength to Strength

Filed under: Europe, Personal, World Class — derryvickers @ 6:19 pm

I feel that this comment by Vytenis Andriukaitis, a Lithuanian MEP,  seated behind Farage in the photo that has gone viral, is worth going viral, but in the best way, too.

‘Yesterday, with my fellow EU Commissioners, I attended the extraordinary session in the European Parliament. Some photos – particularly that of my right hand – and videos have spread on social media. You will have seen me grimacing and trying to hide my despair while Nigel Farage spoke.

‘I have enjoyed reading the many comments and can confirm that I do indeed appreciate British humour. But as tweets were exchanged, I felt it was important to share some more serious thoughts on how I felt yesterday in the Parliament.

 

I was and still am fully with all the British people. I am with all those who voted against financial speculation uncovered in the ‘Panama papers’ and with those who voted against unemployment and decreasing standards of living. However, sadly, many votes will have been influenced by the lies spread by some representatives of the Leave campaign. 

I am also with those who voted to remain in the EU, who want to create a better future for their families, and who believe that it is possible together, united in diversity, to fight against corporate greed and fraud perpetrated by financial transnational capitalism.

Toxic untruths spread by Mr Farage and others, such as claims that money Britain contributes to the EU budget would be used for investments in healthcare, have now been revealed as lies.

 

In my heart, two symbols of this referendum remain – both of them are very different. One is the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox and the other is of Jonathan Hill.

Jo Cox was killed because of people instigating hate, chauvinism and phobias. These are brutal forces infecting our democracies, destroying sentiment of security and values that we hold so dearly in Europe.

Lord Hill was decisive and stepped down. This is an example of moral self-determination, taking responsibility and embracing the consequences. This is in stark contrast to the actions of some others who personify political hypocrisy.

 

Britain is changing. Young people in Scotland, Northern Ireland or London want to see a different future.

The EU is changing as well. For me its future lies in social justice and security. This is the way forward. And only together, with the EU Member States, with the European Parliament, and with a decisive European Council – avoiding the cacophony and constant bashing of Brussels – can we achieve this together.’

I agree with every thing Vytenis Andriukaitis says – I would only add to ‘social justice and security’, peace in our time – which has largely been lost in the UK debate that the primary reason for the EEC (as was the EU at the time) being convened in the first place.

As a person now living in Scotland I hope that I may remain in Europe and the EU

December 5, 2015

It’s been a great week for Scottish Music

Filed under: Music, Personal, Sally Beamish, Scotland, World Class — derryvickers @ 7:31 am

NOISE (New Opera in Scotland Events) – not a very inspiring name for an opera company but last night at the Queens Hall they put on Hirda – wreckage / mess in Shetland dialect.  Certainly not a mess in an Opera – a performance that will live on in our memory .  You can read more at

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/29/hirda-review-noise-opera

But the story to me was past and present brought together in Shetland, the newly married couple and the prodigal brother and moderating sister with the background of a distant love affair where the ghost of woman left in Shetland by her whaler lover can’t rest till she finds her lost mitten.  And it all comes to an end on the moor with the newly wed wife almost on the point of death next the corpse of the women in a splendour of singing by all six of the cast (I need to cast my mind back to the finale of Rosenkavalier for an equivalent).

Music by fiddler maestro Chris Scott (last seen in a glorious concerto by Sally Beamish with Catriona McKay Scottish Harp) and Gareth Williams and libretto Sian Evans.  I just hope that the opera gets south of the border to show the sophisticated Londoners what Scotland can produce.  At least the review was by the Guardian so may be some small hope.

 

On Monday it was Red Notes – Noisy Notes (Noise again) with their excellent musicians playing music composed by young musicians, each piece being no more than 5 – 10 minutes in length.  Often in The Traverse but this night in an old Anatomy Theatre for vets – the theatre is small in the round and gives wonderful visibility of the players – no more than three or four players usually with a conductor John Harris conducting with what looked like a red ball point.  The session is usually split into two halves with space for the audience to come up in 10 minutes with an off the cuff piece.  This time it was no surprise that Sally Beamish in audience won the prize for the best piece but she did squeeze a couple of extra minutes before her score was prised away from her.

Anyway below is the team except the flutist was replaced by an Australian Accordionist who in one piece was almost a show on his own

RedNote

 

November 15, 2015

Operas and Vienna

Filed under: Music, Painting, Personal, World Class — derryvickers @ 9:40 pm

Four operas in the last 10 days: Carmen at the Festival Theatre by Scottish Opera, The Choir at the Glasgow Citizens, Cosi fan Tutte also by the Scottish Opera with a touring version around Scotland this time at the local Academy and lastly La Boheme at the Staatsoper in Vienna. All very familiar except for The Choir – a amateur choir who come together – fall out over the programme and eventually make up again – very joyous!

But to the Staatsoper – we were in a loge near the back but could see very well. The set was by Franco Zeffirelli so quite dated and the second act was with a cast of thousands on two levels. My wife didn’t rate the singing much up on the Scottish Opera. But we really went for the experience.

We also went to the Musikverein again for the sheer experience of being there – also in a loge but immediately above the orchestra with somewhat limited visibility of the orchestra – but it didn’t matter. It was an all-Beethoven night; Leonora 2, Symphony 2 and Symphony 5 conducted by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil. The performance, particularly the 5th, brought the House down but then its Beethoven in his adopted home town

As to Vienna, it was excellent, sunny with temperatures around 15 – 20. As my hearing aid consultant said before we went – Vienna oozes with Empire and he’s right – Vienna has come to grips with the fact it lost its empire and looks sumptuous in consequence – it’s a pity that London can’t recognise its loss of empire and settle down to be more like Vienna.
Another feature of Vienna is the almost absence of sky scrapers – and very good too.

We did the main sites; the Belvedere, the Hofburg and two contemporary art museums, the MUMOK (truly modern) and the Leopold and walked around the centre within the Ringstrasse – really quite small. I also went to the Albertine to see an exhibition of Munch woodcuts and lithographics – very good if you like Munch – which I do. But Vienna is dominated by Klimt – everywhere you go – even in our hotel room – I’m not a great fan and after so much in Vienna even less so – but in contrast Schiele is much less familiar to UK art goers but so much more interesting – the Leopold had a whole floor to him. But what was also interesting is that there are whole gamut of Austrian and German painters I have never before come across who are clearly very good.

May 22, 2015

Dunkirk Anniversary

Filed under: Europe, Personal, War, World Class — derryvickers @ 9:36 am

As a kid at primary school in Congleton, Cheshire I well remember morning lessons being held up with a news broadcast on the radio giving live commentary from the D Day landing – June 1944.

However as I think over WW2 I have long held the belief that the two crucial events of WW2 are the Evacuation from Dunkirk and the battle for Stalingrad.  The first saved so many thousands troops to fight on and Stalingrad proved that Germany was far from being invincible, the real turning point of the war (Of course Napoleon suffered the same fate in 1812)

It is therefore with real pleasure that the 75th  anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation is now being celebrated.  I only hope that the Allies will join with Russia to celebrate the 75th anniversary of battle for Stalingrad in August 2017.

DunkirkAnniversary

March 19, 2015

Filed under: Education, History in the making, Poetry, Travel, USA, World Class — derryvickers @ 12:27 pm

Which of these eight women put forward in the New York Times to appear on the 20 dollar bill in place of Andrew Jackson –

Sojourner Truth, Susan Anthony, Rachel Carson, Margaret Sanger, Emma Lazarus, Frances Perkins, Wilma Mankiller, Harriet Beecher Stowe

do you know.?

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/03/18/putting-a-woman-on-the-20-bill

I admit I had heard only of two of them.

Emma Lazarus, a poet, who supported the immigrant cause penned the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. I had not known or had forgotten the inscription:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

An inscription that all of us in the UK should revere in the period up to the May election.

February 10, 2015

Tim Benton – Can we do it sustainably

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Sustainability, World Class — derryvickers @ 5:28 pm

A lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 9th February 2015

Tom Benton is Global Food Security Champion He made a number of critical points on world growth and how and if it could be sustainable

  1. There are 805 million in the world hungry; there are 1 million people in the UK in food poverty
  2. All of us eat the wrong food. 2/3 of the food eaten is wheat, rice and maize; if we include sugar, barley, soya, palm oil and potato we get up to 86%
  3. The world population will increase from the current 7 billion to 10 billion by 2050
  4. Food for Europe comes through the Suez Canal – an interruption in flow and Europe would be in crisis – there aren’t enough ships to go via the Cape
  5. The World will be 4* hotter; it’s not the average temperature that matters to growing plants it’s the maximums which could 6* or 7* above the average – at 35*C maize will not grow
  6. 70% of water used for agriculture; 1 kg meat takes 10/12 tons of water for production; a green bean from Kenya takes 1 gallon of water
  7. Eat local food , it saves water and carbon
  8. After continuous increase in crop yields now starting to drop off
  9. Need to reduce demand for food
  10. 1/3 of food wasted – 3 for 1 but best by today.
    1. The need for supermarkets to always have food available requires that they have 200% resilience
    2. Our food laws have stopped recycling of waste
  11. Health cost is £2,500 per person per year in the UK
  12. 50% of Chinese heading for diabetes
  13. In 2050 we will be eating more than the World has produced so far; needed 120% more water 40% more crop land 10% less forest
  14. Loss of biodiversity
  15. Agriculture produces more carbon than cars
  16. A plea for more horticultural research
  17. Food sales dominated by Marketing and supermarkets. Remember that supermarkets provide the food that we want to buy. The answer is a change in us not the supermarkets – if we change our eating habits then supermarkets will change what they sell.  A bottom up approach is needed
  18. During WW2 we got it right

January 24, 2015

Nous Sommes Charlie – a Riddoch pod of two weeks past

Filed under: economics, Journalism, Lesley Riddoch, Politics, Scottish Independence, World Class — derryvickers @ 11:18 am

The pod can be found at:

http://www.lesleyriddoch.com/2015/01/no.html

Far too late to get anything on the web site so just a few thoughts.

The West is fighting militant Islam but this is nothing compared to what is being fought out between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

Yes we all take more note of what is going on around us and ignore, other than from a newsworthy point of view, as to what is going on in Africa.

And we in the West are far from squeaky clean – drones in Afghanistan – torture in Iraq.

No mention of the massacre in Norway by Breivik (BTW what has happened to him?) and how the Norwegian government has coped.

I am not a believer in total free speech in religion – the Pope is reported to have said (and of course he is not independent in this matter) that one should be careful of unlimited freedom in religious matters. Politicians are fair game but religion is not – it is far too sensitive and always has been and it ain’t going to change soon.

Sorry I did not listen to anymore of the pod except the comments on Jim Murphy and the interminable battle between Labour and SNP – just ignore the economy it is not newsworthy enough. As to the oil price – it will go but how quickly is anyone’s guess – the growth of economy in the West is far to sluggish – but that raises a separate question – why is the only measure of prosperity in a western capitalist society the rate of growth – and that takes us back to Charlie and Lesley’s point that Charlie is next door and what about the poor in India and Africa – don’t they deserve of a slice of the cake to catch up even if we stagnate a little. Incidentally we were skiing in the French Alps last week at Courchevel and while we were in a modestly priced chalet, the town is full of shops Chanel, Dior etc along with Estate Agents and up market ski shops and the prices were out of this world.

And I got to thinking – we here in the West are said to live in the Capitialist society. Increasingly this is getting further from the truth; we are increasingly living in a totalitarian society, only that the tyrants are now the global corporates rather than the national tyrants.

December 19, 2014

Michael Ignatieff – Liberal Democracy and Authoritarian Capitalism

Filed under: economics, Politics, World Class — derryvickers @ 4:30 pm

Liberal Democracy and Authoritarian Capitalism at the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Ignatieff is now a Harvard Professor but has been the leader of the Canadian Liberal party and very briefly the Canadian Prime Minister and his grandparents came out of Russia.

Primarily he talked about the Authoritarian Capitalism in both China and Russia.

His thesis is that both now provide Capital Freedom but not Political Freedom; but both allow a degree of Private Freedom ie the people have, for instance, freedom of movement to other countries – this is new; neither have any longer the brutal mass gulags.

Because there is no political freedom both potentially suffer from corruption; the Chinese in particular recognise this – the current President, Xi Jinping, on coming to power made the eradication of corruption his first priority.

Both retain their ruling position by the stability of their Capital success – the Chinese Government in particular needs to be successful in the global capital markets to keep its burgeoning middle class politically content. In this respect both China and Russia have no desire for the Global Capitalist system to falter. Putin despite threats to do so cannot cut off gas to Europe. A new Cold War is unlikely. BTW Russia is a signatory to the European Court of Human Rights.

Both countries feel they are being encircled and losing their sphere of influence. Both are failing back on their religious history – China to Confucianism and Russia to the Greek Orthodox Church.

So what about the Liberal Democracies – they are still popular destinations for immigrants – no one immigrates to either Russia or China. Open societies are more innovative. We have the Rule of Law – private property is honoured.

To the Questions

China is a meritocracy, its leaders are very intelligent – is fast at doing things – such high speed rail yet are not innovative (neither is Russia). Power is transferred very 10 years with little revolution – transition is the key to legitimacy.

Neither Russia nor China exercise the Rule of Law – it will be interesting to see whether China moves to instigate the Rule of Law during this century.

Africa could be a breeding ground for Chinese Capitalism

Putin has not got over the loss of the Russian empire in 1989 – hence his incursion into the Ukraine.

The fall in the Rubble is not good either for Russia or the West.

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