From Russia with Love

Interior, Chiesa Ortodossa Russa, Sanremo

The domes of La Chiesa di Cristo Salvatore, Santa Caterina Martire e San Serafino di Sarov (Church of Christ the Savior, St. Catherine the Martyr and St. Serafin de Sarov) are its most beautiful and distinctive attributes.  They featured fleetingly in the 2009 movie Io Sono L’amore (I am Love), whose heroine, Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) passes the church enroute to an unexpected – and life-changing – encounter with her son’s best friend.

Domes, Chiesa Russa Ortodossa, Sanremo
Chiesa Russa, Sanremo

The movie’s main theme, that of identity and self, finds expression in a number of key scenes.  Recchi, Russian by birth, has lost her cultural identity in a cold and sexless marriage to an Italian plutocrat: “When I moved to Milan, I learned to be Italian.”

As she walks through Sanremo, she  looks up to the roof of the Russian church, and a shaft of sunlight breaks through from behind the domes. This prefigures the coming plot point at which Recchi meets the man who will awaken yet other aspects of her self, cut her hair, and cook for her a peculiarly revolting (and deadly) fish soup.


Near Imperia, Liguria: the view across the valley from Bellissimi

Palondromic primes, like today’s date, are said to be auspicious for new beginnings and also to represent the cyclic nature of existence .

Here, in the olive groves of Imperia, Liguria, the fruit is famous for its sweetness, and is handpicked to prevent bruising, (the oil becomes bitter if the fruit is hurt).

The olive branch has, since pre-Christian times, symbolised peace and goodwill, and is featured on the Great Seal of the United States, whose eagle grasps in its talon a stem bearing 13 olives.

The Masons are mad about it.

Oooooh Vienna! Halloween im Wien – pumpkins, every witch way

Witch, pumpkin, Naschmarkt
Naschmarkt, Vienna – a contemplative witch among the pumpkins

In Vienna, Halloween is about pumpkins. If you’re a fan, it’s the perfect place to be – what Austrians can’t do with pumpkins simply can’t be done.

If you get a chance to lay your hands on a bottle of Kürbiskernölpumpkin seed oil, grab it and run. Delicious in soups, as a salad dressing, or even on ice cream (with crushed walnuts or pecans), it’s also rumoured to make you live longer. This may be true – like many visitors to Austria, I was truly amazed by the age of some of the locals, who looked for all the world like mummies, unwrapped and reanimated. For Halloween.

The sweet taste of Halloween

American Halloween is about, yes, all things American; pumpkins and parades, Trick or Treat, getting dressed-up and getting made-up.

In the UK, Halloween is about importing all things American, but isn’t nearly as much fun…

…and in Belgium, where life is sweet, Halloween is all about…chocolate.

Victim Support? Say it with flowers instead

Tulips, Narcissus

Here in the UK, we have this thing called Victim Support. (I’m not going to credit it with any kind of gravitas by using ‘ we have a service’). Think ambulance-chasers, dishing out lukewarm sympathy rather than the promise of compensation.

This Saturday morning, at 9:30 BST, I was roused by the sound of a call to my land line. You will, modern reader, know how rarely the ‘home phone’ rings these days, with the mobile phone having long since eclipsed it as our chief means of communication. So, the phone rarely rings, and when it does, it’s usually a very close friend or family. It was, however, no such thing.

All my fault, I guess. I’d not anticipated that, when reporting to the police last Monday’s picked pocket in Prêt a Manger (yes, say that when pissed), I’d be receiving a call other than to say “Mr S, we have good news — we’ve found your £100, credit cards, leather wallet and innumerable bits of paper with notes and phone numbers on them”. Nope, no such luck.

Instead, a rather hesitant voice, chosen specifically for its blandness, asked querulously if I were who I am.

“Err – hello, is that Simon Saunders?”.

“Yes, it is. Can I help?”

“Err, yes. This is Clive [not his real name, but as good as] from Victim Support. I understand you were pick-pocketed on Monday of last week.”

“Yes, that’s right, I was. In Prêt a Manger on Euston Rd.” I realised that the police had passed them my number. I hadn’t, of course, been asked.

“The police passed us your number. I’m calling to see how you are”.

My eyes widened slightly. Calling to see how I am? “I’m just fine, thank you”, I replied. Other, of course, than having been got out bed by some wally at 9:30 on a Saturday morning. “My wallet, however, is gone forever, and I’ve spent hours, this past week, in police stations, various banks and the Kings Cross branch of Prêt a Manger. CCTV footage isn’t available in the café, only for collection by the police at some as yet unknown future date.”

“Err” said Clive. “Were the police helpful?” This was definitely, unquestionably the wrong question.

“No, actually, they weren’t. After I’d waited 20 minutes at West End Central police station, I spent another 50 minutes having my crime report taken by a policewoman whose dead slow, hunt ‘n peck typing was rendered almost stationary by banter with a cute colleague.” Somehow, I knew Clive wasn’t really interested in this detail. “Are you taking notes?” I said this politely.

“No — this isn’t part of our job, to record complaints about the police.” Clive’s delivery was swift, unerring.

“So why did you ask if the police were helpful?” I could feel my blood starting to heat up.

“Err….I was just asking. There’s actually nothing we can do.”

The red rag.”Exactly. There’s nothing you can do. So why have you called?”

“Err”, said Clive. “I think we should end this call now.” Upon which he hung up.

Victim Support, eh? Weirdly, I was less annoyed at having my pocket picked — within a minute of paying for an expensive bread-free sandwich (yup, it’s true), and an equally exorbitant soy latte — than I was by the attentions of the witless Clive.

As I tried to say to him shortly before he hung up, Victim Support is a really great way of putting people off reporting anything whatsoever to the police, n’est-ce pas?

Karma Cinema

The Dharmachakra, or "Wheel of Law" is one of Buddhism's Eight Auspicious Symbols, and represents both the transformative nature of its teachings and samsara, or cyclic existence.


In 2004, released a series of short films under the brand Amazon Theater, each of which was a different take on the theme of karma. I’ve since discovered them on YouTube:-

Shades of the Beguine

Chimneys, rooftops, the Beguinages, Bruge

Bruges is a strangely sinister little town, with deep houses and twitching net curtains.

As the sun sets, shadows lengthen and night begins to fall, a strong sense of the gothic creeps across the town.

An Airy citadel: Bruges

"The points…on which the Spider begins her work are few…she fills the Air with a beautiful circuiting" Keats

As a child, I was terrified of spiders. Photographing them has helped with this, and even though I’ll probably never get to the point where I’d let a tarantula take a walk across my face, I can comfortably catch one with a glass and piece of card and liberate it in the back yard, rather than yelling for help.

This photo was taken on a bridge in Bruges, the spider silhouetted against a distant traffic light.