#straysofmoldova, part 1 – Nameless

Articles, Photography

This can hardly be called a personal project, but I suppose, in a sense it became one.

You see, I’m one of those people that says hello to dogs. Any dogs. Stray dogs, pets… While I was still employed, on the weekends I’d go out to buy bones for the stray dogs that lived scattered around our Chisinau neighborhood. My mum once called me “a dog mummy”, even though I am by far doing much, much less than a lot of people I know or know of by animal protection groups.

The animals that I have managed to capture on my iPhone camera… most of them are already dead. I wish I could say they found a safe home and a loving family, but the harsh reality of the street life in Chisinau doesn’t leave me optimistic. Especially knowing that whole groups of my furry friends disappeared at the same time.

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10 things to expect: Outlander Season 2

Articles, Literature, Television

As the cruel reality of droughtlander starts to settle in, time to look forward to season two. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the season promises adventure, heartbreak and surprises. Major ones, if you’re new to the Outlander series universe. Here are the 10 things I would be looking forward to on Season 2.

Some spoilers behind the jump.

Ghosts of distant past: looking for relatives in 19th century Poland (Part I)

Articles, History, Personal

It’s almost midnight, and I’m supposed to be in bed, but my head is buzzing like a group of ravenous bumblebees because I found a picture of a graveyard monument. Yes, when you spend months holed up in a tiny room on the outskirts of Paris things could get even stranger. There, before my eyes, covered in green ivy, lay the tombstone of one 70-something Dimitry Bartniczuk, year of death 1912. My great-great-great-somebody from my mother’s side of the family. His grave was just at on the other side of the screen, and quite frankly, I was ecstatic about it.

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Dimitrii Bartniczuk, lived 78 years, died on January 28, 1912

Researching my Polish relatives became a personal question for two reasons. One – the fact that our family history – and the way people moved around countries – is not exactly the most common story you may hear. Blame it on the journalistic instincts, or the pure and enduring love of history, but the matter of people long dead yet not forgotten was too fascinating to let go. And the other…  The other reason shall remain not for print.

(Don’t you) Mind the Girls: Bias in Sports Reporting 

Articles, Sports

Originally published at International Sports Press Association (AIPS) website

Sports journalists are failing girls and women worldwide. No, I am not speaking of fellow female reporters here, as some of the readers may think. I will not go on a tirade on sexism, bias and disrespect me and my female colleagues may have faced over the years of their careers. I am speaking of athletes. We, sports journalists, are failing the athletes, and by that, we are failing thousands and thousands of girls, because some of us make it look like women’s sports just doesn’t matter.

5% important 

‘Wait… us? What do I have to do with this?  I like girls’ sports, I enjoy watching women run on the track, or participate in the Olympics…’  See, that’s just not enough. The coverage of women in sports goes up and down in cycles, spiking during the Olympic years and rolling downhill for the next four. The numbers published ahead of the London Games almost three years ago spoke wonders. Almost 95% of the sports coverage in the British media was devoted to men. The “enthusiasm” of the local press ahead of the big event seems quite astounding.

A research article, published in the Oxford Journal of Public Health in 2014 only reiterated the previous findings. Yet again, British newspapers were found to have published 4.5% of the articles about women ahead of the Games. Five months after the the Olympics the coverage went down to a 2.9% average. Roll forward to 2013, University of East Anglia report. Here, researchers give us 3.6% of articles, the average reviewed over two years, only 3.6% in a host-country where 36% of its 2012 Olympic medals were won by women.

Let’s jump the Atlantic now. An American study, spanning 20 years and countless television reports, undertaken by sociologists from University of Southern California and Purdue University. The situation in the US is not much better. American television channels dedicated less than 5% of their news reports to women in sports, for some of the networks the average came down to only 2%. Australian figures from a several years ago show 9% to 81% correlation, the other 10 being mixed sports.

If this is happening in the nations, where sport is a true part of the national identity and where athletes – both male and female – constantly bring home scores of medals from diverse World Championships and Olympic Games, what can we speak of the rest of the world? Studies on gender representations in sports coverage are not a complete novelty. There is clearly something very wrong about the way we, sports journalists, are doing our jobs, and the fact that the scholars are the ones to show it to us – is a disgrace.  The vicious circle was right in front of us.

Sports journalists don’t cover enough female sports and unfortunately that is a fact. It is also clear as day, that the disinterest, and in some cases, incompetence, of the media is affecting the very nature of sport and it’s image, it dashes the hopes and aspirations of future athletes and decreases their chances of a professionally and financially sustainable careers. Which, in turn, leaves us with weak sports, unable to interest neither the fans nor the athletes themselves.

She’s [pretty] talented: reporting and the image of sport 

The “twirl-gate” incident caused quite a stir at this year’s Australian Open. Victorious Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard was asked to do a twirl by the on-court interviewer to show-off her colorful outfit. Visibly embarrassed, Bouchard laughed the incident off. As Serena Williams has later commented, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal would not have been asked to do the same.

All too often, female athletes get judged – and described by journalists – by the way they look first, and by their talent only second. They tend to be represented as second-class athletes, weaker and less capable of showcasing exciting sportive prowess. Put simply, their are not interesting enough to be reported on and even the viewership figures are low. The question here is, how would women sports be known and liked, when women in sports do not even get a tenth of men’s coverage? How would sports develop and grow? Considering the difficulties girls face on their way to the podium, it is our responsibility to hail their exceptional talent, or at least, note their distinguished successes in a dignified way. Girls must know that what they do matters and quality reporting is paramount. Unfortunately, sometimes even the meagre sports coverage gets tainted by sexist undertones.

Of course, some of us may argue that their own articles on women in sport little to do with the gossip columns and swimsuit shots that may turn up in Sports Illustrated. That they do not contribute to the coverage that devalues feminine talent and grit. Yet, silence on the topic means consent. I write “we” because I accept that it is my responsibility as well, even though I am a woman, and even though female sports journalists are proven to be less likely to disrespect female athletes.

A sports journalist may comment on female body parts, new hairstyles, stylish uniforms and sexualized sports advertisements.  A odd reader may think it is ok. That is enough to make things snowball. The result? Type “sexy athletes” in Google image search and “enjoy” thousands and thousands of female athletes coming up on your screen. We are partly responsible for making it seem ok to ask top-rank athletes to do a twirl, because the outfit is pretty. We are also responsible for creating the image of the likes of Anna Kournikova – one of the most famous and most recognized tennis players who didn’t happen to win a single major tournament, but did start in quite a few revealing photoshoots… Some sports journalists help create a world where looks conquer talent, where sport is about sex and this is certainly not a negligible matter.

Sports, and the Olympics in particular, are the greatest celebration of diversity also in the sense that they celebrate women of all shapes and sizes, creating a legion of positive role models for girls. Are you tall? Bulky? Thin? Are you fast? Whoever you are – you are beautiful, you can be strong and you can be victorious. It is better to be a football player, than to have your life’s aspiration center about marrying one. Girls need to know that women in sports may be similar to them in appearance, that they have stories to tell and ultimately that female athletes are not some mythical creatures that reappear just in time for the Olympic games. They need somebody to tell them that being a girl in sports can be exciting, and that and that’s where sports journalists should come in.

No betting on the girls 

  Reporting affects the female athlete’s sponsorship opportunities in a major way. Reports and all the subsequent attention that come with it create exposure for sponsors, thus making their investment into athletes, teams and sports facilities worthwhile. The absence of sponsorship deprives of funding, hindering development and performance. The absence of coverage makes the sports seem less interesting, both for the spectators and the sponsors. One thing after another, and we are once again left at a standstill.

According to Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation data, British women athletes only get about 0.5% of sponsorships contracts. John Antil and Matthew Robinson in their study on sports sponsorship published in Journal of Brand Strategy suggest that it is the visibility of female athletes, or rather the lack thereof, that hinders their sponsorship chances. That is why sponsorship contracts also spike around the period of the Olympic games, when potential hopefuls and recent medalist are in the spotlight. Then, as the coverage wanes, so does the money…

Sponsorship is about recognition, when there is none, female faces are less profitable. Moreover, when the sponsor bets on the wrong female athlete, it could spectacularly backfire. The tendency to over sexualize female athletes does not help the sales, as women like to see an accomplished, relatable athlete, rather than a beautiful face and a hot body.

Some competitions also offer prize-money, and once again, the male-female rivalry gets in the way of decency. A 2014 BBC sports study on the 35 global sports that pay prize money has found that 10 sports, or 30%, still do not do so equally. A Times columnist, in his piece on the findings of the study, stated that the female tennis player are simply “snaffling money from men”…

Girls matter too. Embrace it. 

  The myths about women and sports are quite common, but myths can be debunked if one is willing to only look. Women like sports. Women watch sports. The number of female athletes is growing.  The ranks of female reporters are growing. Female athletes are able to compete on the same level, some do so by swimming past men’s records from 30 years ago, some, like ski jumper Lindsey Van in 2010 , by jumping farther than most men can (obviously, not to be confused with ski racer Lindsey Vonn)… Like it or not, women sports are here to stay. Like it or not, what you report and how you report, the disinterest and disrespect you show today may one day discourage your daughter from developing her natural talent. So, now, I address my male colleagues – for men represent an overwhelming majority in sports media worldwide. For years, sports press has been letting women in sport down by not giving them their voice and staying silent about their successes. This has to stop.

Something digital this way come: on joys and perils of reading

Articles, Literature

Something digital this way comes.

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It is a truth (almost) universally acknowledged, that book stores are some of the most calming of places. Okay, okay, maybe I am one of the selected adepts of book therapy, yet the whole debate that digital libraries will soon take over leaves me and many bookworms quite plainly irritated.

Books smell of adventures, and memories, and the passing of time, people that you used to know and ways you used to be, and every day, they say, real books – and their understanding – are menaced by the advent of digital publishing. Kindles and Kobos top the Christmas wish lists, books are downloaded and self-published online by the millions, while the screens give modern children an addiction, which most bookworms would call positively frightening. So where will we, humble compulsive readers stand in the next few years? And are things really all that simple?

Anatomy of cruelty

Articles, Personal

They were running when they heard the shots, my mum said. Some sort of PE class outside of school. Chisinau city workers were shooting stray dogs with rifles, in the open, in daylight and in front of children. That was in the 1970s, sadly, over 40 years on when it comes to stray dogs on the streets of the Moldovan capital, the only thing that changed is the weapon of choice. Now, the penalty for barking, distrust of humans and a rare attempts to snap is poison, or an iron club that would smash the head in and make the tail stop wagging. That’s what happens at home. 

I spent almost half of my childhood at my grandparent’s place. They still live in one of those typical Soviet five-storey buildings that you so often see in the cities of former USSR. Those were the days of rooftops, park adventures and dogs. You don’t ask where they come from, I suppose. Back home, we had a Rottweiler, Sabrina. I loved her dearly. There was my Saba and the other dogs. Back in the day I made no difference.

In gran’s yard there lived Tobik, a bearded beige fellow. Baby – a pincher with shiny jet-black fur and and I-love-you-all-to-bits temperament. There was Red, a furry stray constantly limping around and not letting people close. Somebody broke her paw and it never really grew back together. She was constantly afraid of all moving things. I managed to pet her once, I think she even licked my hand – before she disappeared forever. And finally, there was Palkan. The staffie cross with “tiger” stripes and piercing yellow eyes. Almost everyone in the building thought him dangerous. I thought him strange and magnetic. That’s how our friendship began.

 A little kindness and Palkan started following me around everywhere. He started to live by my grandmother’s door, curling up on the rug for the night by the 4th floor apartment. Not everyone liked him there, even though the most trouble he’d get into would be an occasional squabble with the staffordshire from the 5th and barks at drunkards that used to wonder in sometimes. Us, my family, he’d sense us coming up the stairs just as we entered the building. He’d poke his head between the rails and wait… Palkan had this hilarious habit of greeting you with the front of his body lying down on the side, and his bum in the air, tail waging ferociously… About three years of wonderful moments with the dog I never owned, until he disappeared too. He’d wonder off sometimes, for days, but would always come back. Until he just didn’t. Once, a car tried to run the both of us over, because he dared to bark at the driver. My grandmother’s neighbor from two floors down was known to feed stray dogs with meet laced with poison and sometimes – sewing needles. Gran looked for him around the neighborhood and went to the dog pound, hoping that he wasn’t yet butchered like all of the other dogs that ended up there. We never saw Palkan again, until one day I met his spitting image one year later, a female stray which must have been his sister. I almost cried of shock seeing the resemblance….

Palkan was one of the thousands of dogs that fell victim to the cruelty of Moldovan street life. I’ve been living abroad for quite some time, and each time I return to Chisinau one thing is blatantly evident – there are less and less dogs in the streets, but you barely ever see stray dogs as pets. So, what happens to all of the puppies and their parents and grandparents? They are simply killed in a manner that would have revolted any civilized society, not to mention a country with pretension to enter the European Union.

Animal cruelty is an inherent problem in Moldovan society. By all means, as a dog owner throughout my whole life and a friend of many people who can’t imagine life without a furry friend, I don’t brand all of my compatriots cruel and abusive. On the contrary, quite a few people in Chisinau can’t stand seeing starving animals in their yards and in their streets. Yet, the problem is big and it’s impossible to ignore.

Where do these dogs come from? A lot of them are thrown out. Untrained, eating too much, becoming a baggage after the death of an elderly owner… you name it. Some – consider the dogs a commodity, nothing better than a piece of furniture. Some dogs run off from their callous owners. It’s quite common to see a stray with a German shepherd or Staffordshire terrier traits. Some despicable owners allow their male dogs to breed with strays, as they watch. Just like that, breeding more miserable dogs just because they think their pure-breed boy needs some “entertainment”. In some extreme cases, you could see dog fur belts and dog fat being sold, because according to some – there’s no better remedy….

In the end, thanks to a handful of very common issues Chisinau was left with thousands of unattended pets. And what has been done about them? Organized murder. In Chisinau, there’s a place called the Necropolis, where all caught stays are butchered by city worker. They used to use electricity, now it’s mostly smashing the dog’s head in. The photographs taken near the place over the years are some of the most gruesome things you’d see in your life. Cut off heads and paws, skinned dogs, puppies burned in the fire… There’s no end to it.  The most horrifying thing is that these workers who commit such atrocities, they don’t go around streets looking for dogs – they are called. Barely anyone asks questions or bothers to think what happens with the dogs afterwards. Sometimes, dogs are poisoned by ordinary people. Just because. Admittedly, some packs grow to be dangerous, but on and on, dogs that have been fed by half of the building, neutered and loved by the local children get killed. Sometimes, just in front of the children they play with. 

Adoption is rare. Some of the dogs that have been picked up on the streets end up there again in a while. There are several shelters, none founded by the government. A number of those receive funding from charity organizations in Germany, a few others exist on the mere enthusiasm of its workers and occasional donations from the locals and animal lovers from abroad. One of these shelter, “Live” has a neuter program, aiming to release the dogs and thus help reduce their population. Numerous international animal protection organizations whom Moldovan campaigners have addressed have offered no tangible help or recommendation whatsoever. Animal rights activists received numerous replies stating no interest, inability to help (even with campaign recommendations). Last one of those, stated that that particular international organization helped Romanian stray dogs only. All strays need help, everywhere, yet a blunt refusal to provide even informational council or an attempt to pressure our government and city officials – in the light of all the factual proof, photographs and testimonies that Moldovan animal protection organization can provide – that’s abandonment. With the absence of funding, government support (no animal protection laws!) and the dangers of the streets it’s a fight that’d  last for dozens of years to come.

Outlander: Sassenach

Articles, Literature, Reviews, Television

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?

The first episode of Outlander is finally here, and as an excited fangirl I can barely hide my contentment. I have been waiting ten years to see the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s masterpiece, the most loyal fans have stuck with the series for almost as long as I walk this earth, cause it’s just that good. Here’s a spoiler-free review for all the folks that might be tuning in next week.

H Roosvelt

First-off, the first episode of the show is really faithful to the book. And I mean it. Of course there are minor alterations (steamy Claire/Frank scenes in the castle leaves no objections), changes of dialogue and actual scenes that were mentioned in the book as a passing flashback, but it doesn’t matter. Starz set off to adapt one of the most epic novels of the last 25 years and the beginning of the season looks more than promising.

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Favorite scenes aside from all the Jamie and Claire smolder?  The ghost. One of my favorite scenes from the whole book; and the dance of the druids. Gives you goose bumps.

Outlander druid dance scene]

The cinematography is glorious. Outlander crew has managed to capture Scotland’s landscape and spirit so beautifully, it takes your breath away. Feels like the trailers didn’t even remotely give the show’s beauty justice. Besides, the show has probably the most amazing opening sequence ever.

Gaelic. Ladies and gentlemen, no subtitles here. It’s a pleasure to hear the language of the Scottish Highlands on screen and it is hilarious to realize that I have been pronouncing it all wrong.every.time.

The cast just walked off the pages of the book. Fairly speaking a lot of Outlander fans seemed not much convinced about the casting, specifically Sam Heughan who plays Jamie Fraiser. I wasn’t either, but after the episode – well, I’ll be damned. Diana Gabaldon was very convinced, and so should be you. Caitrona Balfe playing Claire brilliantly portrays all the complexity of her character, her confusion and disbelief as she falls through the stones and her fierce spirit. The Claire/Jamie chemistry oozes off the screen. Tobias Menzies’ as Frank Randall is really good, but it’s Captain “Black” Jack Randall that captivates the viewers with his dangerous presence.

Jamie Claire

Readers from the US, you can check out the first episode of the show on YouTube here.

Masterpieces, digitalized

Art, Articles, Culture, History

New York’s Museum of Modern Art has recently joined the ranks of the world’s most famous cultural institutions that made their collections available to the grand public… on the web. Here are the top 3 museums that allow you to download some of the world’s finest art – free of charge and in high resolution, as long as you don’t put the masterpieces to commercial use.

Bolin & the Tsars: the other Court Jeweler

Articles, Culture, History, Jewelry

      Believe it, or not, the jewelry making masterpieces of the Russian court were not limited to the notoriously-beautiful creations of Peter Fabergé and the mythical Imperial Easter eggs some of which still make treasure-hunters dream. The House of Bolin has an extraordinary jewelry-making story to tell. Still owned by the founding family, Bolin has served as Court Jeweler to five Russian Tsars and three kings of Sweden.

J-L Gérôme’s colors of the Eastern wind

Art, Articles, Culture

“The stories are woven
And fortunes are told
The truth is measured by the weight of your gold
The magic lies scattered
On rugs on the ground
Faith is conjured in the night market’s sound”

Have you ever seen a scene painted in colors so vivid that it seems surreal? A mesmerizing creation of a talent so great it takes your breath away, when all you can do is stare at the painting in awe, trying to imprint the painting in your memories and bring it home? I have been a devoted admirer of art for many years, but then came the fateful evening when by chance, I came to see an exposition of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s paintings at Parisian Musee d’Orsay. The encounter became an inspiring awakening, an event that made me fall in love with art all over again.