Category Archives: Surprising Life


Simple words possess magic powers, in much the same way that magic spells, actually, don’t. I will use a single word now to summon the attention of one particular individual, and, in the process, explain how the trick works.

What was your first thought, your most salient association when you read “stoned” at the top?

Was it the ugly habit of killing people by throwing stones that is still practiced in some cultures? Well then, you are either a conservative, whose sleep is disturbed by visions of ISIS fighters on your doorstep, or a liberal pundit fighting for women’s rights.

If you thought about a stoned drug addict, you are either a liberal with fond memories of this mind-numbing effect or a conservative who views all liberals as worthless hippies. It doesn’t mean I think conservatives have never zoned out, of course. Some of them are known for escapades that put iconic liberal hippies to shame.

If a fruit materialized in your mind, you must be British, because in Britain fruits (e.g.apricots) have stones while in the US fruits have pits.

If a stoned grave sprang to your mind, you must be – Bingo! – the one individual I promised to summon, my friend Igor (hello, Igor!) who went to see Chagall’s grave the other day and discovered it had been buried under a collection of stones left by his admirers.

You may think that with Igor venturing to a cemetery, it is going to be a fiction story. Nope. It’s real. My friend’s name is indeed Igor and he’s not a proverbial assistant of an evil villain, who decided resurrecting Chagall might not be such a bad idea, given the sad state of contemporary art. Although, if such a villain really existed he wouldn’t be all that evil, would he?

“Visiting stones” are part of an ancient Jewish tradition. If you visit a grave of someone you respect and remember, you leave a stone on it.


The only difference with Chagall is that in the classic tradition you leave an unmarked stone, like the ones on Oskar Schinder’s grave, which is visited now by 6000 people who are descendants of the 1200 souls he saved during the war:


Sometimes, people bring flowers, their own drawings, and unmarked stones to graves of artists (this is Modigliani’s tombstone):


My first reaction to Igor’s photos was… mixed. I though, “A heart shaped souvenir” with “I ♥ you” on it!? Is this the way to pay respect to an artist who has helped millions of people find happiness in their bleak and often horrible circumstances? Is this appropriate homage to a painter who has made the Bible look like a book of clever stories with a happy ending?

And then I thought I was being so snobbish it had blinded me to the obvious. Even if “I ♥ you” translates “I ♥ myself for being so culturally advanced that I’ve made a detour to see Chagall’s grave”, it works. Chagall makes people happy with themselves even from his grave. without lifting a finger. And, on the bright side, they have to bow to put the stone down. Even if the act of bowing does not consciously register as respect, there must be an unconscious level on which it does.

Is it a good tradition then? Well, it is competitive, that’s for sure. The more people remember you, the more stones your grave accumulates for everyone to see that you are remembered by a lot of people. I don’t know if pride or envy have any benefit for the dead, but this rocky equivalent of Facebook “Likes” must make the living think of doing something good for other people while they are still living.

The only problem with this tradition is its origin, or rather its most plausible explanation. It is, of course, the most improbable one at the same time, but scratch any religious tradition, and you’d find plenty of plausible improbability beneath.

This is the story:

Shui Haber. Halachic Researcher at Mir.
A story that happened in Jerusalem, retold in Sefer Ha’Todaah (Book of Our Heritage) by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov:

“Rabbi Kalonymus Baal Haness, who is buried at the foot of the Mount of Olives… was instrumental in saving the Jews of Jerusalem from the effects of a blood libel. The Ishmaelites had killed one of their own children and thrown him by night into the courtyard of the synagogue in an attempt to destroy their enemies the Jews. Although it was Shabbat, Rabbi Kalonymus wrote one of the sacred names of G-d on a piece of parchment and placed this on the forehead of the murdered child. Immediately the latter stood up and pointed an accusing finger at the true murderer. But Rabbi Kalonymus passed judgment on himself for having desecrated the Shabbat and commanded that after his death whoever passed by his grave should throw a stone thereon. The people of Jerusalem carried out his wishes, and it became the custom that whoever passed there added a stone to the heap on his grave.”

Yes, it goes back to the myth of Jews and their recipe of matzoh with blood of children. I am not sure supporting a tradition that lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict was something Chagall admirers, especially the ones of Ishmaelite descent, wanted to do or even thought of.

Perhaps, flowers will do next time you’re at the site.

What I am certain about is that Chagall didn’t feature a lot in this blog, and it’s time I put down a stone of my own. So, stay tuned, Chagall is coming soon.

In the meantime, please tell me what you like (or don’t like) about Chagall, what you understand, or don’t understand about his work, and which works are your favourite. This will be a great help for me!

PS No liberal or conservative was harmed in any way in the process of writing this post.


Portrait of mountain

I spent the last weekend in the mountains, in the Chamonix area in France, where I took a million pictures while doing my first hiking tour ever. A very good friend of mine, madly in love with mountains, glaciers, and art came up with an idea that painting a mountain is very much like painting a portrait. It is impossible to paint a mountain properly if the artist who embarks on the painting is not aware of the mountain’s origin, history, the way it has been maturing, etc. Getting to know a mountain is also about learning of its behaviour in different light, and weather. Mountains can have a very different view of humans depending on the time of year or the season.

Of course, it is always possible to trace a photograph onto a canvas, but what’s the point in in painting then?

As people generally love watching mountains, taking pictures of mountains, and remembering mountains, there is a horde of artists who churn out mountain images and even tell you about their secrets on YouTube. Do they add anything to the understanding of mountains, human infatuation with the huge rocky things, or the human character with all its strengths and weaknesses that manifest themselves when Man meets a Mountain? Erm. No.

Turner was one of the greatest explorers of human character against the backdrop of a mountain ridge. Roerich established a spiritual link to Tibet via his shapes, colours, and mad beliefs in the Mother Earth (or something similarly crazy).

Raise your hand if you know someone else! I’d love to know more “mountain names”.

In the meantime, here are a few views that impressed me so much I got interested in finding more mountain portraiture painters!

UPDATEBoryana, a good friend of mine and an amazing artist suggested Cezanne and his 60 paintings of the mountain Sainte-Victoire as an “mountain artist name”. Of course! Especially in view of his own testimony: he wrote that needed to know the geology, and specifically the geology of Sainte-Victoire because it moved and improved him. I can’t stop wondering how Cezanne’s ideas resonate with those of the friend of mine who compared painting mountains to portraiture!

Deluge and delusion

The idea of a deluge has always fascinated people. Leonadro da Vinci wanted to paint it, and even wrote a story of the planned painting. A currently running exhibition of British history paintings at Tate Britain dedicates a whole room to the deluge theme. Why? Continue reading

Lubyanka Cellars, or why I was absent from my blog

This is the last photo I took on my prolonged vacation in the mountains, which ended in Geneva. This long holiday also explains why I’ve been vacationing off my blog.

This window is indeed in the basement of the Justice Palace in Geneva, and strangely is made me think of Moscow’s most “tallest” building, the former KGB (now rebranded into the FSB) at Lubyanka, 2.

It was jokingly referred to as “the tallest building”, because “one could see Siberia from its basement”. Indeed, the cellars housed a prison where people were tortured and executed for joking about Moscow’s tallest building, as well as other heinous crimes.

A business idea popped up immediately.

What if I could rent out a part of the basement there for a liquor store?

“Wines and Liquors from Lubyanka Cellars”, or “La Cave du Palais de KGB”.

With the after-sale slogan to be printed on the bill, “If you don’t come back we assume you didn’t like it here. We’ll find out why”.

I could run promotions like, “Buy two bottles of vodka, get standard-issue handcuffs free”. Though I am sure I won’t have to. I mean, who would refuse getting a specially designed bottle from the KGB cellar?! Imagine the touristic value of a vodka bottle bought at such an establishment, all the legends and stories the happy customer could share with his mates back home…

And, of course, there would be plenty of art. I talked about the art of war in my previous post, and I think it’s time to share the art of repressions in one of my next ones.

P. S. Any ideas on how to sell this plan to the FSB director? 


Fashion revolution begins now

Mannequins come in a variety of fashions: cheerful, sexy, haughty, and even thoughtful. Some don’t have faces to make their clothes stand out, while others are missing limbs: if you don’t sell shoes, feet are irrelevant. We may remember statues, but our mind never safekeeps human-form hangers: they are less important than the clothes they were given to wear.


Revolution begins here, in the cliff-hanging medieval town of Orvieto.


I took this photo from the neighbouring hill, where I lived in a 12th century monastery.

It starts from a boutique window on its shop-packed high street, which is the main conduit for visitors trudging to Orvieto’s main cathedral:

Continue reading

Cycling striptease as a survival strategy

I am not an avid window shopper, but I like throwing an occasional stone look into a well-dressed window hoping to see a reflection of local culture in its design.

This bicycle repair shop (while not technically a window) gives an interesting insight into Italian interpretation of the Dolce Vita phase of art history.


This image is an icon of a modern girl whose looks turn heads; it is reproduced live all over vacation hot spots in Italy.

These girls do turn heads and twist necks. The public response would usually include lust, envy, and disdain in roughly the 4:4:1 proportion.

I can understand lust and envy, for this is something very difficult to control by the mind. But scorn, pity, condescension?

These women are not escort girls trying to seduce a sugar daddy: they have already secured one, a proud summer resident of a Forte dei Marmi villa, whose only problem in life is tax police agents secretly recording Ferraris’ and Maserattis’ license plates to back-check if their owners’ tax forms show they can afford the luxury toys.

These bikers are dressed to kill, but murder is not on their mind. Their objective is to get an adrenaline boost when men look at them with desire, and other women go green with envy.

Arrogance towards them is wrong. Not because it is judgemental. Everything’s judgemental in this world. It would be UNKIND.

Come to think of it, what would you do if you realised your success is due to your young body and silky skin only? I mean it’s like feeling oneself to be a new luxury leather travel bag bought by a successful gentleman… So making people look at you, desire you, envy you – and not your/the bag’s owner – is the only way to stop being a leather bag, that is to get a purpose of existence.

It is emotional and moral SURVIVAL strategy in a society, caramelised by glamour, which in its turn is propagated by sophisticated men and women who then look upon their victims with contempt. Now, that’s UNFAIR.

My resume is, enjoy the show, and give them the looks they want, even though you may feel neither attraction nor envy.


Is Italy a dream destination to send feminist ideas on vacation? if you are Italian (and if you are not), and happen to read this blog, tell me what you think and feel about the cycling striptease trend.  

Plucking the berry of her innocence on a raspberry bush

Time’s getting slower,
My summer’s over.
I’m at my best:
Relaxed, sun-bathed.

A year of slaving
And daily shaving
Awaits, awaits,
awaits, awaits…

Thank God for digital photography that makes it possible to conserve summer the way my grandma conserved apples, strawberries, and black currants that were reminding all of my family there was a summer at times when freezing outdoor thermometers were knocking on their respective windows hoping their owners would let them inside.