Monday, October 3, 2016

A Cat as a Natural Sleep Aid

The kitten we have found in the end of summer proved to be a fantastic asset. She is fearless, tireless, playful and cuddly. She purrs like a big caterpillar tractor despite her tiny size. She steals food and gets into every box and cabinet. We fight for the right to sleep with her as she is the most fantastic sleep aid, warm and purring. You hold her and feel the tension leave you... 

She might not be the most beautiful cat I have seen, but she has the most amazing personality and a very strong character. 

And she is the funniest cat ever, too. See her sleeping in a flower pot? She just loves it. I wanted to plant a new flower but maybe I should just keep it for Wing Chun as she likes it so much.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ivan Argunov. Portrait of an Unknown Woman in Peasant Dress

Just something I stumbled upon today and decided to share: a portrait that I love from the first sight, when I was a child. This is a "Portrait of an Unknown Woman in Peasant Dress" by Ivan Argunov dating back to 1784. It belongs to the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

I never thought her to be very beautiful, but always liked her mild Slavic features and open and friendly gaze. Her costume is very correct, fully in accordance with that time: a sarafan dress and a fine shirt, fit for a special occasion. Her headpiece is a beautiful kokoshnik with gold embroidery, and her necklace is made from large coral beads. I guess she was from a rich family.

There is not much else to say about the portrait, save for the fact that I find it lovely and the woman feels almost like an elder relative to me. I hope that you like the portrait as well. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Good Cat Grows Where Planted

You can take a cat our of a village, but you cannot take a village out of a cat.

Remember the kitten that we found in the end of the summer, far from the city? She probably misses the rustic life, because she consistently sleeps in the pot with the ficus Alii (Ficus maclellandii). This habit of hers is so sweet and funny, it does not even require commenting. I look at the photos and I feel like falling asleep together with the little Wing Chun... She is extremely good for my nerves, so soothing.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Uzbek Ceramics: Choose Wisely and Beware of Fakes

Uzbekistan has been traditionally famous for its ceramics. Pottery is an ancient art, and in this region it was very well developed thousands of years ago. Our museums hold fantastic pieces of art - a pleasure to behold - but I also feel very fortunate that we can use beautiful and authentic Uzbek pottery in real life.

This, for instance, is a large serving plate ("lyagan"), that I use every week. It is a very heavy, massive vintage plate that will last forever (you could kill an evil intruder with this piece of applied art!). Most likely, it was made at the Tashkent Ceramic Factory some years ago; as this is a very classic "dark pottery", it can be from 5 to 50 years old.

It is covered by a very thick glaze that looks like a layer of glass.

It will look a bit brighter in the sun. I like these very natural, earthy colours of soil, grass, leaves and wood.

When you look at the bottom, you see a very "healthy" dark red undyed ridge. You can see that it is well-baked, strong and smooth. It is neither underdone no overdone.

This is by no means a masterpiece, but definitely a solid and quality serving plate. I am not ashamed of serving some plov (pilav) to the guests in this plate.

Of course, I have other ceramic items at home, I just had photos of this one handy because I was showing them to ceramic experts several days ago. This plate just serves as a good example of Uzbek pottery.

What serves as a bad example is these plates from a Samarkand shop (you can see the whole article about the shop here).

These are cheap imitation of traditional Rishtan ceramics (Rishtan is a small town in Ferghana valley). They are strangely lightweight and feel "underbaked". In reality, an underbaked pottery is supposed to be somewhat heavier, but I do not have a better word to express my feelings about these. They are deficient. Somehow they do not feel right. My friend who is an expert in ceramics suspects that they add gypsum to the clay to reduce the costs. The ornament is a noisy mess. The colours are too bright so I suspect that they are not all ceramic colours but maybe some oil or acrylic under lacquer and then they are not safe for eating from them. They break easily. In two words - these are evil! I understand that as tourism is developing rapidly in our country, everyone wants to make some money on tourists, but I do not believe in fraud and fakes.

Below you can see two more examples of ceramics I have at home (I have just found some photos taken a while ago and decided to share them as well); the upper one is from Rishtan, the one below is made in Tashkent. You can see that they, too, have lots of blue, but the colours are natural, not "acidic", and the pattern is full  of harmony. They are also reasonably heavy, nice to the touch, and if you knock on them with your fingernails you will hear a clear sound.

When you buy ceramics for Uzbekistan, beware of those cheap fakes. They will not last. Good ceramics cannot be dirt cheap, even if it is made of clay; the materials, equipment, natural gas - all of them cost money; but, most importantly, creating a decent piece takes energy and time of the artist. They do invest themselves into every bowl, dish or teapot they make; it is not an automated soul-less process of stamping similar pieces for purely commercial purposes. Please, do look for beautiful and well-made pieces and do not expect to pay 2-3 dollars, it is not realistic. You cannot buy a good piece of art for that money. Find something nice to take home and pay a fair price - it will help Uzbek pottery artists and their families.

I am going to write more on Uzbek ceramics very soon as we are having a large exhibition in Tashkent and I expect to visit it and learn a lot. Please come back for updates!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Untold Legend of the Kenyan Princess Loingalani

This photo is entitled "Princess Loingalani" ( El Molo Bay, Lake Rudolf, Kenya, 1967, by Peter Beard). It has been popular in the Internet for quite a while, posted and reposted numerous times. Prints were sold for hefty amounts at the auctions, and people were debating at forums whether the actual Kenyan princess existed. "No, there has been no monarchy for quite a while, but the princess was there! Cannot you see that she is a real royalty?" - someone said.

I agree. The girl does look regal, with her cheetah-like slenderness, proud posture and, of course, her Goddess-worthy bust. She is standing half naked, and it looks very natural - no self-conscious stiffness that I can see; as natural as a beautiful wild animal. She looks reserved, somewhat distant from the outside world; I think I night even see some sadness in her eyes. What is she thinking about? I am inclined to think that she is reflecting on something related to her country and people - she is a princess, after all.

...A slightly more thorough Google search revealed to me that this was an aspiring young model named Fayell Tall, and the photo was taken in 1987 rather than in 1967, and she definitely was not a princess. Years later, she sued the photographer, claiming that she had never been compensated and never gave a model release allowing to use the photo. From what I know, there was a court case, she received some money and that was it. I do not want to go deeper in the details, you can find them yourself. But I really loved the untold legend of the Kenyan Princess Loingalani. I wish it were true, and the princess still lived somewhere in the remote area of Kenya or Tanzania, at a lakeside, in a green acacia forest, surrounded by tame cheetahs. She could ride a white Arab horse, hunt deer, and maybe weave rugs in the evenings (she is not a very rich princess, you see). And she would have no Internet access, so we would never learn about her human weaknesses, mistakes, wrinkles, any family scandals... no silly selfies... I think I can just as well keep imagining that she does live there.

Forgive me for my rambling, I am just procrastinating before photographing a huge bunch of Russian shawls for my Mulberry Whisper shop on Etsy. Talking to you and to myself is much more fun, but the shawls are not going to photograph themselves. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

We Have a New Pet! My Daughter's Rescue Kitten.

Just two days before going back to the city from the summer house in  a remote village, we found this creature. My daughter saw her at the beach and came to pet, and the kitten followed her. I thought it was our neighbours', but no - nobody claimed the poor thing. Nobody expressed the desire to take her, too.

Malnourished and dirty, but full of courage and incredibly cuddly - she starts purring before you start petting her - she won our hearts immediately. My daughter was very sad that someone could throw the baby cat away, she just could not believe someone could do it on purpose. "Most likely, she is just lost! Wandered away!". Of course, I don't believe a small kitten would have wandered away from her mother. Most likely, someone decided to get rid of her.

We just kept feeding her and cuddling with her to make her feel safe and protected. My daughter was hopeful that we could keep the kitten, but I had my doubts. We live in apartment in the city, no garden or yard, and we have a large dog. Can we keep the cat or her life would be deficient?

I do some volunteer work as a photographer for a rescue, and I know that it is not easy to find good families for kittens. There are just too many. Actually, I also know that I can adopt out almost any animal (without grave issues), but it takes time and promotion efforts. Sometimes it takes months. So, keeping or giving away?

We did keep her, after consulting between ourselves. She does not need much space or food; as for the boring life in the apartment, we will try to make up for that by frequent visits to the summer house and maybe some walks in the city parks later (the latter is dangerous, too much infection). Right now her life is not boring, she keeps exploring the flat and terrorising the dog. My Malinois with jaws of steel is extremely tolerant and clearly the kitten is safe with him.

We call her Wing Chun - Chinese martial art. She moves softly and strikes hard like Yip Man. In these photos, she is still very thin and her eyes are sad. She has gained weight now and looks much happier, I will share new photos soon.

I am quite happy about my daughter's behaviour. At 10, she already understands that pets need to be cared for, every day, consistently, and that a responsible and good person would never abandon a pet. She cleans the litter box and feeds her "baby"; they play and sleep together. So, probably keeping the kitten was not a bad idea. The dog's life is not boring, too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

So Tired and Sleepy that I Can't Sleep - Catch 22. My Tips for Healthy Sleep.

I feel exhausted today. I had to work at night - no night sleep at all  - which is an extremely thing to do. It does not happen often, maybe once or twice per year, or even less, and every time I feel  ruined afterwards. Now I just need to survive till 10 pm, feed the dog and go to sleep.

One possible problem with that is the difficulty with falling asleep when tired like this. I am not sure about you, but I tend to stay awake for hours in such cases; my nerves would not let me relax and switch off. The longer I try to fall asleep, the more fretful and upset I become. So, the situation aggravates further and I can well enough ruin my sleep routine and finally this might mean the need to take medication which is not desirable at all.

Of course, as this problem is not new to me, I have developed some solutions that work for me. They are very simple and I am sure everyone knows them but I need to kill some time before going to bed, so why not talk?

I stop using all gadgets at least 1 hour before going to sleep.

I consciously "slow down" all my activities at home. I don't do anything physical, nothing like moving a piece of furniture or doing some push-ups because I suddenly decided that was a good idea. No. It is not good.

I might do some relaxing yoga if I feel like it. This Yin Sequence by Yogi Nora is perfect; I virtually fall asleep while still in the pose. The good thing about this video is that it is perfect even for beginners; you can use pillows as props and you will feel comfortable and relaxed and will be stretching even is you are very inflexible (like me).

I might have a lukewarm bath with essential oils. The trick is to make sure the water temperature is neither too high or too low. Both are detrimental to good sleep. As for the oils, I routinely use a blend called "Peace" by Eden's Garden for this - it contains my favourite relaxing and calming oils such as Chamomile, Geranium, Jasmine, Lavender, Lavandin, Petitgrain, Tagetes and Vetiver. It has been renamed recently and now it is called "Quiet Time" but the composition is the same. Of course other oils can be used, depending on taste and availability.

Sometimes I drink a glass of warm milk with honey and a bit of nutmeg. This is a classic recipe to aid sleep.

Alternatively, I might have some herbal tea made from peppermint and thyme or other herbs with relaxing properties,

A good book before sleep is a good aid, too, It is better to read something I already know, so that there are no surprises, suspense and anxiety. For me, some poems work well.

There are some wonderful sounds that can aid sleep. I have ocean sounds on my mobile phone; I turn that MP3 on and put the phone a bit away from my bed, so that it is not too close but I can still hear it well. I know it is not desirable to keep the phone next to me when sleeping, but honestly I do not want to invest in the sleep machine, at least not now. I do not do that often, anyway.

I do feet massage with essential oils, it is a great way to ease the tension and relax; it is great for overall health, too.

These are just some very basic tips that work for me. I am sure I do other things as well but cannot think of them right now as I am so tired. However, even thinking of all these aids now makes me drowsy so writing this was a good idea. And what do you do to improve your sleep? I am sure there must be many other great ways to induce sleep and make it calmer and healthier.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Autumn is Here

“Still Life With Birds And Fruit, And A Cat” by Frans Snyders, Antwerp 1579 – 1657

I was in the mood to look at some works by old Flemish painters today. I think that this one, by Frans Snyders, is my favorite at this point - an epitome of ripe and mellow autumn. Note the cat on the right! I also made an Etsy Treasury today that reflects the same mood, even if the color match is not perfect. Still, the same colors, rich but subdued, and the poetry of an overgrown garden full of last autumn roses and overripe fruit. You can see the full version with active links here

Saturday, September 3, 2016

RIP Mr. President

Our President Islam Karimov is gone. Buried today in the beautiful city of Samarkand where he was born 78 years ago. To us, it is a big loss. I know everything that was said about him, all the criticism, but we respected and - yes - loved him. This is not an easy country to manage. Islam Karimov was a strong leader with a vision, and he did care about the people. He has achieved a considerable progress and growth, and all those years we had peace. We hope the peace lasts and the new president and his team build on what has already been done.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Back from Vacation!

We are back from vacation which was long and wonderful. We spent six weeks in a small village in the mountains, far from the city of Tashkent where we normally live, and it was really good for all of us, including the child and the dog.

We were walking for hours, exploring this very special place. It is called Bogiston village; it is very old, dating back to the 6th century, but very small nonetheless. People who live there are all Tajik, not Uzbek, and they speak Farsi (Persian) as a mother tongue. Fortunately for me, they speak Uzbek as well, or I would have difficulties communicating.

This is a very clean place, full of walnut trees, huge rocks, thyme and ice cold water. You can drink from any spring there, the water is delicious and definitely healthier than bottled one. At least I believe it is.

Before we left in the very end of August, the signs of autumn were already visible.

This was a small irrigation ditch, full of the same clear and cold water.

My Malinois Jager looking at the village from the hill.

Water in Uzbekistan is scarce; in the summer you can feel very clearly how special and valuable it is. After walking in the hot and dry mountains for hours, I am always very happy to find a lovely stream to drink from and wash my hands and face.

It is always difficult for me to resume my work after being away for weeks. I am bracing myself though. Took photos of a dozen of items today and will be listing them in my shop in the nearest days. Actually, I have already listed two beautiful vintage Russian shawls that you can see there. Moe to follow. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Uzbek Suzani Pillows in the Colours of Fruits and Flowers

If I could wear these suzani pillows on a necklace, I totally would. They might be the most beautiful pillows we have had to date. They are made from a very vintage suzani and I just love them. They truly convey the spirit of traditional Uzbek embroidery. The raised design and rich colours make them especially attractive. Their colour scheme makes me think of Uzbek fruits which are incredibly sweet and fragrant. 

It looks a bit like a hooked rug to me. Actually the technique is quite similar.

We thought that denim was a good addition to the suzani. It is so modest, a perfect frame for the ornate embroidery. These embroidered cushion covers will look amazing in a vintage or bohemian room adding a spicy accent. They look fantastic next to my Tabriz rug, too. And of course they are stunning when placed next to a Russian shawl!

As I now have a traditional Uzbek house in the countryside, I think I am keeping one pair of these. Another pair is on sale in our Etsy shop here.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Vintage Hand Block Printed Russian Shawl: A Must See

I know I have been away for ages, and I do have a lot of news (which is why I did not have time to write). I promise to correct this, but for now I will just show a very unique and vintage Russian shawl that we bought recently. It is new old stock with a tag, and it is at least 50 years old. It has a field of flowers on soft ivory background, and there are also the prettiest tiny branches and twigs which make the print very elegant.

Such delicate and airy print is not often found in Russian shawl. This shawl is like a fine china or elegant lace.

The fine and soft wool drapes like a dream.

And I am always fascinated by hand block printed shawls, because they are so alive. They seem to breath. All the small imperfections are very dear to my heart - you can see that the shawl was made by people, not by metal monsters spitting dyes.

This is a very old tag. The "Weaving and Decoration Factory Named in the Honor of 10 Years' Anniversary of the Red Army" was reorganised back in 1963, so the shawl dates at least to that year, making it 50 years old. However, we feel that it belongs more to the 1950s.

The shawl is available in our Etsy store here.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Black Cherry is Here!

I am happy to announce that the season for black cherry is officially open! It is sweet and lovely, and when it is served on vintage Uzbek pottery, I like it even more!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Very Unique Dress from Uzbek Silk

...We are having a very busy spring; kids have Taekwon-do competitions, we have a lot of work to do, and I also resumed running and working out with weights. I feel a bit guilty about not writing, but not overly so, as I decided that, when choosing between writing and sleeping, I must sleep.

However, this is something I want to share. A new dress fully designed and made by my mother is always a bit of a special event to me, and this one is a very unique dress. It is made from highly unusual Uzbek silk with a very wild ethnic print - I have only seen a similar fabric once. It is many years old, was stored in a chest for ages, and it looks amazing. All these designs are based on ancient rituals and beliefs and are said to incorporate symbols that protect from evil and grant health and prosperity.

The dress is voluminous, flowing and gleaming. It has a deep plunging v-neck and kimono sleeves. I really, really like it, and I am a bit jealous of someone who will buy it. I love both the fabric and the design. But, realistically, I do not wear black and white, so I could not have it to myself, anyway. I hope someone who buys it will wear and enjoy it a lot. I will ask my mother to make a similar dress for me, in colors that will look good on me. She loves working with Uzbek fabrics, as did her mother and aunt before her - both were well known fashion designers here in Uzbekistan.

The dress is for sale in our Etsy shop, Mulberry Whisper, and I do not expect it to last long. It fill fit Large and Extra large sizes.

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