June 1

My best wishes to all those of you who live in the northern hemisphere, in view of the onset of summer, and the inhabitants of the southern hemisphere (including my fellow Australians) – in view of the onset of winter. Both are wonderful seasons!

I also wish to remind you that June 1 is the International Day for Protection of Children. Special protection is required for gay children whose feelings and identities are often suppressed and oppressed by the family, school and society. We must fight to ensure that such children are free and can grow up as equal and happy people who are able to enjoy their sexuality fully, without fear and confusion!

Trip to Moscow (3)

Here’s the third bunch of my Moscow photos.

In addition to the pictures of Moscow, you will see two photos of my long-suffering mother, on one of which she appears with her granddaughter, my niece. At the end of May, the plaster will be removed, but for now her granddaughter is helping her.

My trip to Moscow this year was very unusual for me – so many things happened! I’m still partly over there. Am glad that I got connected with the general Russian culture and gay culture.

During my next trip I would like to go to St Petersburg: visit the Hermitage and the Russian Museum, take walks around this beautiful city, the second Russian capital, meet local gays, and in particular go to a local gay bar and gay sauna. My last visit to St Petersburg was long, long time ago …

I hope that my next trip to Moscow will be without broken limbs of my relatives and will be cloudless. I would like to get connected again with the Moscow gay culture: in gay clubs, gay-saunas and other places.

Here in Cairns, we have some kind of lull in gay activity. I mean that there is no such passion that had existed for several years before the adoption in Australia of the law on same-sex marriage at the end of last year. Now, we may say, LGBT people are enjoying the fruits of the recent victory. The LGBT Alliance has been silent, but the Alliance activists, with whom I talked at the Brendan’s celebration, said that soon it would change, and it should – we could always find interesting projects. Ahead of us is an LGBT film festival, parade, a week of the Tropical Pride Festival. Different LGBT groups are still there, doing interesting stuff. This Friday, within the framework of our gay group boyZout, we’ll have a movie night (with a new gay movie) with a dinner. It will be a good opportunity for us to socialise. QuAC, the unifying center for LGBT people, is still in operation. It is funded by the state government.

And now – photos. I would be grateful for the feedback. Please write to vvd9303@yahoo.com or vvd.ruag@gmail.com

Trip to Moscow (2)

Let me go on with my story about my recent Moscow trip and, in particular (and especially), about xl-spa.

First I’d like to clarify something. I visited the xl-spa website this morning and saw that 700 rubles (about US$11) are charged for entry on Friday and Saturday, and 500 on other days (but on Sunday it is 700 rubles from 6pm to 3am). It is free of charge always for guys aged 21 to 23. Apparently, persons under 21 years of age are not allowed in. But to be honest, I did not ask when I was there. I think that if this is so, then this is because of the draconian law on gay propaganda (although it forbids so-called gay propaganda only in relation to persons under 18). And what about boys aged 18 to 21? Direct discrimination, even in the light of the law on gay propaganda.

I’m not 18 or even 21, the prohibition and privilege did not apply to me, but I feel sorry for the guys under the age of 21, their rights are clearly violated.

However, now I am not going to elaborate on this hideous law on gay propaganda (I still hope that it will be abolished even under the current Kremlin regime). Let’s go on with my visit to xl-spa.

Another clarification about drag shows. They do not take place on Mondays and Tuesdays. But on Friday and Saturday it is a double show: at 10pm and at 12midnight. On Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday there are two drag queens, and on Friday and Saturday – three.

I went to xl-spa four (!) times. Twice I attended double shows, with three divas, and twice single ones, with two divas, – at 10pm only. They are “flexible” with the beginning and ending times, as it turned out, –  they never start on time. Usually it is 10 minutes later, and once we waited for almost half an hour! But if the queens are wired up, they can entertain an entire hour instead of the usual half an hour: this happened during my last visit, before my departure from Moscow. However, they seem to be wired up most of the time, and if it starts a bit slow for one of them, a bit later, believe me, they will catch up and will not leave you disappointed. But that last night they had a good sip of brandy before the public, so they were on fire, which we did not mind at all.

The constant participants of the shows are Gina Martin, a big girl indeed, and a tall and slim Blondie Bond. Both are talented and stylish actresses, with a sense of humor, picking on the audience and on each other, often using colourful language, and wearing extravagant dresses, shoes, makeup and wigs (although I not sure about Blondie Bond, that last night two other divas took off their wigs, exposing a man’s haircut, and Blondie Bond did not take anything off). By the way, some time ago I spoke to a local drag queen in Cairns (also an excellent artist, and a very big girl) and she turned out to be a gay guy who just likes this role. He said that drag queens could be many things: there are gay guys, straight guys, lesbians, straight ladies, and transgender people.

As I said before, in xl-spa there is a bar next to the stage. Bartenders – muscular guys, walk around in tight pants – to be admired, if you wish. They offer three brands of tap beer at the bar, and I invariably ordered the local Russian one “pshenichnoye (wheat beer)”. Rich flavour, which I enjoyed.

Customers were having drinks – beer, wine, brandy, vodka, energy drinks, tea, coffee, etc. – either at the bar counter or at the tables – there were lots of them in the hall. (Some ordered dinner – there is a kitchen there, it’s a bar-cafe.) They would watch the show from their places, “dressed” in towels, but there was one guy in panties, and another one other in a dressing gown.

On Wednesday and Sunday it’s themed nights. On Wednesday – XL Lotto, and on Sunday – Aqua show. XL Lotto is a bingo: the participants (anybody from the public) are given three boards and chips, the queens announce numbers, which they take out of a bag, and you have to fill the squares on the boards with the numbers. Three competitions, and three winners. The main prize is for the person who filled all three boards first. A bottle of champagne. And in between – lots of jokes. And songs before and after the lotto. Aqua show means that they install a shower on the stage behind a glass transparent wall and a naked guy, an actor, is taking a shower, with his back turned to the public. Volunteers from the public are invited, and they join him and also demonstrate their beautiful bodies from behind, sometimes, however, from the front – supposedly by accident. There were four volunteers who wanted to have a good time and entertain us. It was eye candy. Before and after the Aqua show, the queens would perform their fiery numbers.

This sauna is a wonderful establishment, I will never forget it and am even feeling nostalgic.

Now to other things. I liked my visit to the huge expo – VDNKh (Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy). It is a permanent general purpose trade show and amusement park. Currently renovation and repair works are being conducted there in many places, so it is somewhat chaotic. Still, no regrets. A fine, sunny day, relaxed visitors, a lot of handsome guys…

I liked the “cosmos/outer space complex” next to VDNKh: an alley of cosmonauts (astronauts), a monument to outer space heroes…

In a bookstore in the centre, I attended an interesting lecture about cosmos on the occasion of the Cosmonautics Day on April 12.

I enjoyed my visit to the Tretyakov Gallery – you’ve seen the photos already. It is a Russian art museum. In my today’s photo collection you will see some paintings and sculptures of the main exposition (non-Russian art) of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, and in my final, third collection, paintings and sculptures of the second part of the Pushkin Museum (non-Russian art of the 19-20th centuries).

I did a lot of walking in Moscow, and visited several parks and recreation zones.

Of course I visited the Red Square and the Kremlin: breathtaking views. I also walked along two famous streets: new and old Arbat, impressive indeed.

And, as I said before, I attended two theatre performances: a lovely musical in the Operetta Theatre and an inspiring flamenco show in the Kremlin Palace.

And now, back to Cairns.

We had a sad event yesterday – celebration of Brendan’s life. He was a gay activist and employee of QAHC (Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (now QuAC – Queensland AIDS Council), and even a drag queen in his younger years (top class, by the way). For a few years before passing away, he worked as a community relations officer in a local council. He died suddenly from a clot in the lungs at the age of 51. He was a fine, kind person. Everyone loved him. He did not have any enemies. His partner, David, with whom Brendan lived for 13 years, made a heart-felt speech. There were a lot of people there. Tea, coffee, sandwiches were offered. A monitor was playing a slide-show of Brendan, often shown with his relatives, friends and colleagues. I knew Brendan quite well, he was always friendly and nice, with a big smile on his face. The last two photos of today’s collection are an image of Brendan and a picture of David, who spoke before us remembering his late partner.

I met quite a few friends and acquaintances there, and had a chat with some of them. I spoke to David too, of course.

And here’s the second collection of my Moscow photos and two pictures dedicated to Brendan.

In the next few days, I will publish my third Moscow collection.

Trip to Moscow

As I said before, in April I visited Moscow, the city where I grew up and where my main relatives live. The main purpose of the trip was to visit my mother. She is 84. She still lives in the apartment from which I would go out and walk to school and go to uni. It is near the Riga railway station, between two metro stations.

In Moscow, I intended to spend two weeks, mainly talking with my mother and helping her in different ways. This was going to be my annual trip, which I usually do in March or April.

I was at my final destination almost at midnight. A couple of hours later I went to bed, after talking with my mother and two other relatives. And then suddenly I heard my mother screaming, pleading for help – she had a fall and hurt her arm. We called an ambulance, they gave her a painkiller injection and offered to take her to hospital. However, my mother was too weak to go somewhere in the middle of the night, so we decided to wait until later in the morning. The ambulance staff, a young female and a young male (we are so grateful to them for helping us, and by the way, they arrived very quickly), said that we should definitely go to hospital emergency for an x-ray. At about 11 am we came to hospital emergency, where my mother was thoroughly examined. They made an X-ray and found a few broken bones inside her arm which was put in plaster. They said she should stay in hospital for a few days. Eventually, my mother stayed there for 9 days. I visited her regularly.

It turned out that during these 9 days other people were taking care of my mother – hospital staff. They did a good job, so there was not much to worry about. My mother was even reluctant to go.

As a result, I had a lot of time for myself. I decided to use it well: walked around familiar places, visited three museums, went to a huge expo (VDNKh), attended a flamenco show in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses (now the State Kremlin Palace) and the musical Anna Karenina at the Operetta Theatre.

And … decided to visit a gay sauna. You see, I had never been to a Russian gay sauna before and was curious to see what it was like. I thought that even if I had no sex there (although, of course, I secretly hoped that something good would happen), then just having a look would be worth it. I found on Google a sauna near the metro station “Taganskaya”. The name is “Voda (Water)”. It was not easy to find it, even with my iPhone GPS. The signage was bad and confusing, and moreover, there was no sign on the establishment (however, for obvious reasons – because of the hideous law on gay propaganda), but my instincts helped in the end.

It was a decent sauna, world class. Moreover, there was a muscular go-go guy, semi-naked, dancing on the stage, opposite the bar and the spa. I had a chat at the bar counter with one nice guy. However, not much was happening there for me, and so I left, almost empty-handed. Nevertheless, I was not upset, as I achieved my main goal – I found out that there is a gay sauna there indeed, and it’s world class. However, since I found it a bit boring, I decided to try another one.

The second sauna is called “xl-spa” and is located near the Kursk railway station. My iPhone successfully showed me the way. There were no signs on the building either, but my instincts helped there too. The entry fee is 700 rubles on weekends and 600 on weekdays. It is a large establishment. It has several floors, of which three are actively used, and two are in reserve (I’m sure a bright future is awaiting them : -)). Also, world class – clean, neat and diverse. The customers were nice guys, quite active – I did not miss the opportunity to get to know them better. However, the main thing is that they hold drag shows almost every night. It happens on the first floor, where there is a bar-café. There is a nice stage there where these funny creatures – drag queens – perform, actively involving the public. But let me talk about this in my next Moscow blog post.

And here’s my first Moscow photo collection. The last two pictures show “xl-spa” outside.

Visit to Qatar (2)

Here’s the second set of my Doha photos.

Please take note of a series of photo portraits. The author is Shirin Neshat. She explores the relationship between ancient history and the politics of the present. Her work is narrated through a strong visual language that references the primal concepts of violence, passion, and love in universal history. In the series ‘Our House Is On Fire’ (2013) large photograph portraits tell the stories of those who lost their family in the Egyptian revolution of 2011.

The last two pictures were taken by me from the plane when we were crossing the Caucasian ridge.

Visit to Qatar

Recently, in April, I went to Moscow to visit my elderly mother, other relatives, see familiar places, connect with the Russian culture, both past and present.

My trip from Australia that time ran through Qatar and I did not want to miss the opportunity to get to know this Gulf country. I spent almost four days in its capital, Doha. It has a combination of Middle Eastern traditional exotics and modernity. Qatar has enormous reserves of gas, which it exports in liquefied form to many countries. They have lots of money, and over a few decades its capital city turned into a modern, beautiful, dynamic metropolis with skyscrapers and good infrastructure, retaining at the same time some old areas.

Doha, in many ways, resembles two other miracle cities in the desert: Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I visited several museums in Doha, got acquainted with very interesting modern Arabic visual art, saw various expositions.

The indigenous population of this 2-million city is small: about 200 thousand people. The rest are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc., who come here to work. With their earnings in Qatar they help relatives back home. There are also immigrants from different republics of the former USSR: Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, etc. People in Doha are friendly and hospitable. Of course, one should not forget that this is a Muslim country, and must respect its laws and traditions. However, Qatar wants to be a part of the modern world, it is in a constant movement, many things are changing here. I believe that the situation for gays both in Qatar and throughout the Muslim world will gradually improve.

And here’s the first set of my Doha photos.

Victory Day

Celebrating this great Victory Day, I wish to pay tribute to all the participants in the war on the side of the anti-Hitler coalition: soldiers, sailors, servicemen in general, doctors, railway workers, etc., as well as civilians who were subjected to incredible hardship. I wish to pay homage to the dead and wounded, prisoners of concentration camps. People of different nationalities.

Today I wish to pay tribute to the gays who lived in those years. They deserve special mention. Both the Hitler’s regime (an Axis member) and Stalin’s regime (an Allies’ member) persecuted them severely if it became known that they were gay. They were humiliated, beaten, tortured, put in concentration camps and prisons, executed. Even the heroes of the front were not spared. Gays were treated as subhuman beings. Most gays, therefore, were hiding their sexual orientation, and were subjected to additional suffering. Nevertheless, they made a great contribution to the victory over the terrible enemy – the Nazis and the Axis countries as a whole. This must not be forgotten, as we must not forget that persecution of people because of their sexual orientation is inadmissible. I wish to pay tribute to all gays: in the (former) USSR, Germany, UK, USA, France, Italy, Japan and other countries involved in the Second World War. Both servicemen, and civilians. Your life and destiny deeply move and touch us.

Historic reference:
* The Allies of World War II (often called anti-Hitler coalition) were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression. They included such countries as the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, USA, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc.
** The Axis powers, also known as the Axis and the Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis, were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allied forces.