Wednesday, 29 May 2013

What I Learned About Russians as an Au Pair

(Published by the Moscow Times 20th May 2013)

People's first question when they hear that I've just returned from a winter in Moscow is usually: "What on earth drove you to go there?" The answer is not an easy one. I landed at Sheremetyevo Airport in January with dreams of balalaikas, samovars and golden domed churches. It did not take me long to realize that living in Moscow was less about folklore and literary romanticisms and more about surviving a harsh climate and an arduous routine.

When I contacted Dasha, a 30-something interpreter and family friend, looking for work, she instantly wrote back saying that her family would love to take me on as an au pair. Their dream is to immigrate to Australia within the next few years. "Life is safer there" she once told me "I don't want my children growing up in a society racked by drug and alcohol abuse. I want them to walk alone on the streets, free from danger."

But to adhere to the rigorous immigration laws, Dasha's husband Valera, an IT specialist, would have to pass an English language exam. So for 3,000 rubles ($100) a week, I was to care for her children, Sonya, 3, and Lyova, 2, and teach Valera English.

The family sleep in one bed in a tiny apartment in Zheleznodorozhny, an industrial town 21 kilometers east of Moscow. The apartment is also home to Dasha's 23-year-old brother Pasha, and his friends, a dog and a rabbit. The place is never quiet, and there's certainly no room for secrets. The lack of peace and bleak, unforgiving surroundings are enough to draw anyone into a deep depression...

Monday, 4 February 2013

Living in Toulouse: the many faces of la ville rose

Published article for Yuppee Magazine 04/02/2013

Picture this. It's 6 o'clock on a Sunday evening. In a gloomy suburb of Toulouse stands a red-roofed chartreuse. The landlady claims the structure is more than 100 years old - she whispers, with a mysterious wind, that it's VERY authentic, VERY toulousain. Inside, wrapped up in a duvet, a girl is reading Les Fleurs du Mal aided by the flicker of a lighter...

Click here to read the rest...

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Making war, not love: Moscow's "Kissing Day" turns violent

Russia's internal struggle over gay rights continues. Today, 30 LGBT protesters staged a "kissing day" outside Moscow's Duma: same-sex couples posed for cameras in an act of definance against the proposed ban of "homosexual propoganda" in Moscow. The demonstration was interrupted when protesters were attacked by a group of Militant Orthodox activists. The activists tried to break into the event and LGBT members were assaulted with eggs and obscenities. This is not unusual, nor is it an isolated case.

The bill would ban the promotion of gay rights, such as gay pride parades, in Moscow. A similar law has been passed in St Petersburg (November 2011) and in regions such as Arkhangelsk and Ryazan. It was under this ruling that Lady Gaga was unsuccessfully sued by Vitaly Milonov, a deputy in the St Petersburg assembly and United Russia member, for allegedly promoting gay rights to minors during her tour in Russia.

Lady Gaga on trial: the singer and gay rights activist was aware of the "propoganda" law but said she was not afraid to go to jail as her fans would undoubtedly bail her out

Homosexual acts were decriminalised in 1993 (gender change was made legal in 1997), however, homophobia remains strong. Indeed, nearly 44% of Russians support the re-criminalisation of homosexual acts. No action has been made to prevent the harrassment or discrimination of LGBT persons and, as illustrated at today's event, this has led to a lot of tension within Russian society. 

There is no official recognition of same-sex relationships in Russia - whilst Europeans are wrapped up in the controversy of gay marriage, Russia is a long way away from even accepting the concept of homosexual partnerships. Homosexuality was only offically removed from the list of mental illnesses in 1999 and the law against "homosexual propoganda" classes homosexualism, bisexualism and transgenderism in the same category as pedophilia: the love for another human-being is considered the same as an abominable crime. 

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A note for Gainsbourg

I realise that I am taking a liberty by putting up this brief, completely meaningless post. I apologise to those who don't understand: part of the reason I keep this blog is to express myself. It's not always coherent, necessary or inclusive.

On this fateful day, I'd like to take the opportunity to pay hommage to my principal source of inspiration: the brilliant and scandalous Serge Gainsbourg. Last year I conducted a research project on his life and work. I am fascinated by the way he provoked his contempories in France throughout his career. If you've never heard of him before I suggest you wikipedia him NOW. Right this second.

So, today has been one of the happiest days of my life and I know that he is spiritually responsible. Yes, you can laugh but thanks to the screen that separates you and me I can neither hear nor see you! So laugh away my good people!

Serge, wherever you are (probably entertaining the mighty Woland) I want to say thank you. You actually were my Angel of the Odd. We did it my friend, we actually DID IT!!!!

Serge, je ne sais pas ou tu es (j'éstime que tu fasses la fête avec le magnificent Woland) mais je veux te dire merci. Tu étais vraiment mon ange du hasard. Nous avons réussi 

mon ami, nous avons vraiment réussi!!!

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog