Monday, March 24, 2008

Kyiv the Capital

I am free - that's the cry i woke up with two days ago. No more work, only play. And the first stop on my long travel spree to follow is Ukraine. Coming back home before another move, back to the roots. Not Ukraine, rather i should say Kyiv, as in France Ile de France is a country in itself, so is Kyiv in Ukraine. I have not been there for at least ten years, so it has been an interesting experience to discover the new level of life, rent that surpasses the one i pay in Belgium, and expensive coffee even for my European taste.

Nevertheless, i enjoyed myself and even managed to visit a couple of landmarks, such as the St Sophia Sobor and the Myhailivskuj Sobor in front of it. These two remind a lot of the St Sophia Mosque and the Blue Mosque facing each other in Istanbul, although our Myhailivskuj Sobor was reconstructed in the 1930ies after war destructions - numerous and devastating for Kyiv in the last century. St Sophia was built soon after Kijivska Rus' decided to become christian, in the 11th century, and is one of the most famous churches in Ukraine. Sobor means cathedral, orthodox style, - actually St Sophia was built before the schism between catholics and orthodox churches, it is thus a church recognized by all, at least ukrainian, christians - although now it is rather a museum anyway (picture below).

Most impressive about St Sophia are the fresquos and mosaics remaining from the 11th century original interior decoration. Oranta, the symbol of Kyiv and faith for most Ukrainians, is the Saint Virgin, hanging on the rear wall of the church, behind the altar piece, in the position of prayer for all of the mankind. It is said that as long as Oranta stands in St Sophia, Kyiv will stand - and it has been for over 10 centuries so far! Symbol or not, it is as impressive when considered as a work of art. Made with over 2 million pieces of mosaic, it has over 40 shades of blue and 26 of gold. It changes its appearance, depending if you look at it from the first floor, from the alter, or from different galleries of the second floor. Mary with red cheeks and happy figure from near-by becomes a strong woman-tower from the balcony, overhanging and protecting all the bugs crawling below.

St Sophia is definitely worth a visit for a couple of minutes or half a day if you want to really get impregnated into this old atmosphere, the remains of incense and myrrh in the yellow air, and the quire songs that still hang over the balcony. Do not forget to look up at the archangels, painted by Vrybel (except the one in blue, the only remaining original mosaic one) on the top of the cupola in front of the Oranta. The fresquos are worth a glimpse - if you are attentive enough, you can find a representation of Knaz' Volodumur and his family on the walls, as they were during the church opening ceremony. And to know more, read Zagrebelnuj's 'Duvo', meaning miracle, a great story about how this Ukrainian author imagined the process of St Sophia's building.

Thanks to my dear friends who made me feel welcome in this otherwise alien to me city - Andrij, Ira and Olja.

And to finish this post - without further comments, the contrast picture about Kyiv and Ukraine in general:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Raphael, the Russian call

Raphael became famous in France a couple of years ago, with his sweet, boyish voice fitting well into the French scene. I did not appreciate his songs more than that before this last one, Vent d'hiver, probably due to its melody reminding so much of Russian/Ukrainian/Gypsy violon play and melody. And - sure enough, Raph's father comes from Russia - more unusual, mother from Argentina.

His latest video here:

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Artemisia, the painter

Alexandra Lapierre is the latest author i have discovered by chance, stumbling upon her biography of William Petty, Voleur d'Eternié, in the Aubannes refuge on Wildhorn traverse this winter. Afterwards, I found the book in my belgian library, and was pleasantly surprised by its style of writing, plot, and historic content. As i just finished reading Diwo's biography of Rubens, and was not exactly pleasantly surprised in this case, Lapierre came as a reward. Exciting adventures, brilliant writing and enticing plot makes this a quick read for the lovers of historic novels who enjoy painting as a by-product.

To continue, I picked up her Artemisia book, even more interesting and compelling. It tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, who managed a career as a painter in the beginning of the flamboyant 17th century Rome. Aremisia's paintings that I have never seen or maybe noticed before, are impressive - starting with her auto-portrait below:

Following Caravaggio's naturalism and desplaying the depth of her feelings with her brush, Artemisia has nothing to envy from her contemporaries, such as Velasquez or Rembrandt:

So much in this world to explore, learn and see! A trip to Rome smells like another must at some point!