St. Vladimir

St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 958–15 July 1015), was the sixth Ryurikovich ruler of Kyivan Rus. He was the youngest son of Prince Svyatoslav and his servant-turned-wife Malusha.

In 969, Svyatoslav moved his capital to Pereyaslavets (modern-day Nufǎru, Romania). To his oldest son, Yaropolk, he gave Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod), and to Vladimir he gave Kyiv.

Svyatoslav was slain by Pechenegs in 972, and in 976, a fratricidal war erupted between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, Prince of the Drevlyans (an East Slavic tribe). After Yaropolk killed Oleg in battle, Vladimir fled to their relative Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s ruler.

Haakon sent many warriors to fight against Yaropolk. When Vladimir returned from Norway the next year, he marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kyiv, Vladimir sent ambassadors to Prince Rogvolod of Polatsk (an ancient East Slavic city) to sue for the hand of his daughter, Princess Rogneda (962–1002), who was engaged to Yaropolk.

When Rogneda refused, Vladimir attacked Polatsk, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, and murdered her parents and two of her brothers.

Vladimir secured both Polatsk and Smolensk, and took Kyiv in 978. Upon his conquest of the city, he invited Yaropolk to negotiations at which he was murdered.

Vladimir was proclaimed Grand Prince of all Kyivan Rus.

Vladimir expanded Kyivan Rus far beyond its former borders. He gained Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus), and the territories of the Yatvingians, Radimiches, and Volga Bulgars.

He had 800 concubines, and at least nine daughters and twelve sons from his seven legitimate wives.

Though Vladimir’s grandma Olga had converted to Christianity and begun Christianizing Kyivan Rus, Vladimir was an unrepentant pagan. He erected many statues and shrines to pagan deities, elevated thunder god Perun to supreme deity, instituted human sacrifices, destroyed many churches, and murdered many clergy.

When a Christian Varangian named Fyodor refused to give his son Ioann for sacrifice, a mob descended upon his house. Fyodor and Ioann, both seasoned soldiers, met the mob with weapons in hand.

The mob, realizing they’d be overpowered in a fair fight, smashed up the entire property, rushed at Fyodor and Ioann, and murdered them. They became Russia’s first recognized Christian martyrs.

Vladimir thought long and hard about this. In 987, he sent envoys to study the major religions and report back on their findings. The envoys also returned with representatives of these faiths.

Vladimir rejected Islam because he couldn’t give up pork or drinking, and didn’t want to be circumcised. He rejected Judaism because he felt the destruction of Jerusalem was “evidence” we’d been “abandoned” by God.

Vladimir found no beauty in Catholicism, but was very impressed by the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.

Vladimir agreed to become Orthodox in exchange for the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, sister of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. (Porphyrogenita, “born in the purple,” was an honorific for someone born to a Byzantine emperor after he’d taken the throne.)

Kyivan Rus and Byzantium were enemies, but after the wedding, Vladimir agreed to send 6,000 troops to protect Byzantium from a rebels’ siege. The revolt was put down.

Upon his return to Kyiv, Vladimir compelled his subjects into a mass baptism in the Dnepr River, and burnt all the pagan statues he’d erected.

After the mass conversion, Vladimir formed a great council from his boyars, gave his subject principalities to his twelve legitimate sons, founded the city of Belgorod (Bilhorod Kyivskyy), and embarked on a short-lived campaign against the White Croats.

Though his conversion was politically motivated, Vladimir nevertheless became very charitable towards the less fortunate. He gave them food and drink, and journeyed to those who couldn’t reach him.

He married one final time, to Otto the Great’s daughter (possibly Rechlinda Otona).

In 1014, he began gathering troops against his son Yaroslav the Wise. They’d long had a strained relationship, and when Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his brother Boris, heir apparent, it was the last straw.

Vladimir’s illness and death prevented a war. His dismembered body parts were distributed to his many sacred foundations and venerated as relics.

Several cities, schools, and churches in Russia and Ukraine are named for Vladimir. He also appears in many folk legends and ballads. His feast day is 15 July.

An ikon of St. Vladimir is one of the things my character Ivan Konev throws into a valise before he escapes into his root cellar to hide from vigilante Bolsheviks who’ve broken into his house in April 1917.

That ikon becomes very dear to Ivan and his future wife Lyuba. They believe Vladimir protected them during the Civil War. When their oldest son Fedya goes to fight in WWII, they lend him the ikon.

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The Umileniye ikon

The Umileniye (Tenderness) ikon is extremely unusual in Eastern Orthodoxy, in that it shows Mary alone. Almost all Orthodox Marian ikons depict Mary with Baby Jesus, in contrast to most Catholic images of Mary.

This ikon was very precious to St. Serafim of Sarov, one of the most beloved of all Russian saints. He was very fond of praying before this ikon. The oil from the lamp he kept burning in front of it was used to anoint the sick and bless visitors who came to make confession.

It was the last thing he saw in that lifetime, as he died while in prayer by it. He called this ikon “Joy of All Joys.”

In 1903, the year Serafim was canonized, Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Aleksandra went to the Sarov monastery to desperately pray for a son. Since so many miracles had been attributed to him, they felt he surely would answer their prayers.

They finally got their boy, but not in the way they’d expected. Their prayers were answered differently, more challengingly.

The Umileniye is believed to show Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, when she was told she’d have a child and humbly accepted this mission, with the reply, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

The Slavonic words around her halo say, “Rejoice, O Virgin Bride,” which is the refrain of the much-beloved Akathist Hymn.

Though some people think the ikon may have been inspired by Catholic art, it’s very common for the holy doors of an ikonostasis to depict Mary at the moment of Annunciation.

Today, the ikon is housed in the home of Patriarch Kirill of Moskva. A copy was left with the Trinity Cathedral of the Serafim-Diveyevskiy Monastery, a nunnery in the Nizhniy Novgorod district of Diveyevo.

On feast days, the original ikon is often brought out for public veneration.

Near the end of his life, St. Serafim gave the nuns of Diveyo 1,000 rubles to create an appropriate place for this precious ikon. After his death, the abbot of Sarov gave the ikon over to them. Presently, the sisters honored it with a silver riza.

A riza, which means “robe” in Russian, is a covering which protects ikons from damage by candle wax, incense smoke, and oil.

In 1903, after Serafim’s canonization, Tsar Nicholas II donated precious stones to make the ikon even more beautiful.

The Diveyevskiy Monastery has written this prayer to offer before the Umileniye:

My character Inga Savvina is very drawn to the Umileniye (and Theotokos [Mary] of Tolga) when she stays by her best friend and penpal Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov’s family’s summer home on Vancouver Island in the summer of 1947. She’s seen many ikons in her paternal relatives’ homes, but this is new to her.

Klarisa, the older of Yuriy’s two little sisters, tells Inga Mary is everyone’s mother, and that she’s very special to people without mothers. She suggests when Inga misses her real mother (who’s serving twenty years in Siberia), she can talk to Mary.

Though Inga has been raised an atheist, and resisted all religion during her five years in America, her unexplainable pull towards these ikons continues. She sees Mary as a loving, universal mother figure who’ll always support and listen to her, and eventually begins praying to her.

Yuriy performs an emergency baptism of Inga just before she falls unconscious from polio in August, and after she recovers enough to leave the hospital and marry Yuriy, she agrees to be chrismated by a priest.

Inga’s Orthodox conversion isn’t motivated by genuine spiritual awakening or religious belief, but she makes a genuine effort to grow into real belief. Along with her baptismal cross, she always wears a necklace with a miniature of the Umileniye, and continues building her relationship with Mary.

Riverdale, Toronto

Aerial shot of Riverdale, 31 December 1941

Riverdale is a large neighbourhood of Toronto. Its boundaries are Lake Shore Blvd. (south), the Don River Valley (west), Greektown and Danforth Ave. (north), and the Jones Ave. section of the Canadian National Railway and GO Transit tracks in Leslieville (east).

It was annexed to Toronto in 1884, and has long been known as very multicultural. This was a neighbourhood many immigrants came to—Irish, Greek, Russian, Italian, German, Polish, Finnish, Ukrainian, British, Chinese.

Many Riverdale houses are Victorian and Edwardian, having started life as boarding houses for the proletariat in the 19th century. Sadly, since gentrification has struck, many long-time residents have been priced out and replaced by hipsters and the bourgeoisie.

Lower Riverdale contains the neighbourhood’s six original houses on the west end of Simpson Ave. They’re known as The Six Sisters.

29 July 1931, looking north on Carlaw Ave. at Gerrard St.

18 October 1912, Danforth Ave. at Don Mills Rd. (now Broadview Ave.), looking west

7 July 1913, northwest corner of Danforth Ave. and Don Mills Rd. (now Broadview Ave.)

Riverdale contains many sub-neighbourhoods:

Lower Riverdale (the oldest section, with many original houses)
Upper Riverdale (most likely to have modern, renovated houses)
East Chinatown (Toronto’s next-largest Chinatown)
Badgerow (contains a Sikh temple, the legendary Maple Leaf tavern, a Jewish cemetery, Gerrard Square’s shopping mall, and a Turkish cultural centre)
Studio District (southern area of South Riverdale, with many vintage Victorian houses; a major film, TV, and arts district)
Riverside (a.k.a. Queen Broadview Village) (in South Riverdale, with many historic buildings and cultural landmarks; now undergoing gentrification and becoming known as a district of restaurants, food and furniture retailers, and independent designers)
Blake-Jones (houses built from the 1870s–1930s, rather affordable but seeing an uptick in crime and unemployment)
The Pocket (located within Blake-Jones; said to feel like a village, and undergoing more gentrification)

29 February 1932, Danforth Ave. at Logan Ave., looking east

1 January 1930, southwest corner of Danforth Ave. and Logan Ave., Tony Greco and mother’s fruit stand

Riverdale contains many schools, including Riverdale Collegiate Institute, a high school founded in 1907 as Riverdale Technical School. Another historic school is Holy Name Catholic School, founded in 1913 by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Parks include Withrow Park (with an ice rink, soccer field, and two baseball diamonds); Riverdale Park (with a running track, ice rink, swimming pool, three baseball diamonds, and tennis courts); Jimmy Simpson Park (with a community centre and tennis courts); the Royal Canadian Curling Club; Hubbard Park; and Kempton Howard Park (formerly East View Park).

Riverdale Park, looking south, Copyright Inkey

Detail of reconstructed Broadview Hotel, Copyright JasonParis; Source

Broadview Hotel in 1945

Other landmarks include The Opera House (opened 1909); Bridgepoint Health (founded 1875 and  going through many names); the Ralph Thornton Community Centre (opened 1913); Don Jail (opened 1864); the Cranfield House (built 1902); and St. John’s Presbyterian Church.

Don Jail, Copyright Nadiatalent

My characters Lena Yeltsina and Antonina Petrova settle in Riverdale with their newfound surrogate mother Sonya Gorbachëva when they escape Russia in 1920. Lena is soon reunited with her young son Yuriy, who’s been languishing in a Manhattan orphanage, and takes him back to Toronto under the ruse of Sonya being the mother.

In 1921, Lena’s little sister Natalya comes to America, and joins her in Canada as soon as possible. When their mother and two much-older sisters arrive in New York in January 1924, Lena explains their life is in Canada now, and that after so many years of separation, Natalya doesn’t know them.

Lena and Natalya stay in close touch with their mother and older sisters, and create a very happy life in Toronto. In 1927, they’re joined by Sonya’s niece, Naina Yezhova, and her best friend Katya Chernomyrdina, the daughter of Sonya’s own best friend.

Hamilton Heights and Hotel Kämp

Copyright The Fixers; Source Wikis Take Manhattan 2009

Hamilton Heights is an uptown Manhattan neighborhood which used to have a heavily Russian flavor. Its borders are 155th Street (north), 135th Street (south), Edgecombe Avenue (east), and Riverside Dr. (west). Within Hamilton Heights is the sub-neighborhood Sugar Hill.

It takes its name from Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who lived his last two years there. His mansion, Hamilton Grange in St. Nicholas Park, is a reminder of a bygone era when NYC was mostly farmland, with detached houses.

Hamilton Grange, Copyright olekinderhook; Source

Mount Cavalry United Methodist Church

Much of the housing dates from the late 19th and early 20th century. As beautiful as this architecture was, it became less desirable to white residents in the 1930s and 1940s because many African–Americans had begun moving in. At the time, they were just as affluent as the white residents.

In the wake of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, and again after WWII, many White Russian émigrés, Poles, and Ukrainians called Hamilton Heights home. The neighborhood was home to Russian churches, bakeries, groceries, bookstores, theatres, and delis, a library, and a Russian House.

Today, only the Holy Fathers Church is left.

Holy Fathers Russian Church, Copyright Beyond My Ken

Church of St. Catherine of Genoa, Copyright Beyond My Ken

Today, most of the residents are Hispanic, African–American, and West Indian. Many African–Americans in the eastern section are professionals.

Like just about every other Manhattan neighborhood, Hamilton Heights too has been taken over by gentrification and hipsters. Many of today’s non-Hispanic white residents are artists, actors, teachers, and other professionals.

Trinity Church Cemetery

Landmarks include St. Nicholas Park, Riverbank State Park, Riverside Park, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Trinity Cemetery, the former High School of Music & Art, the Audubon Mural Project (depicting the birds painted by John James Audubon in the early 19th century), the City College of New York, and the Harlem School of the Arts.

My character Mrs. Viktoriya Yeltsina and her two oldest daughters, Valya and Zina, settle in Hamilton Heights after they escape to the U.S. in January 1924. They ran boarding houses in Moskva and Tver, so it’s only natural they establish a boarding house in Hamilton Heights.

Their boarding house serves the Russian community, and they have their own spacious apartment within it. When Valya finally marries at 39 (to a man thirteen years her junior), she stays in Hamilton Heights to raise her family and run a Russian gifts boutique.

Hotel Kämp was designed by prolific Helsinki architect Carl Theodor Höljer, and built in Neo-Renaissance style by restaurateur Carl Kämp. After its grand opening in October 1887, it quickly gained a reputation as Helsinki’s grandest, most luxurious hotel.

The hotel had 24 gas lamps, 25 electric lamps, 75 rooms, a beer house in the cellar, a street café (débuted summer 1891), a French-style roof (sadly lost after 1914 renovations increasing the hotel’s height), and its own horse-drawn transport from the depot and port. It was also Finland’s very first hotel with an elevator.

Many famous artists, singers, musicians, composers, writers, intellectuals celebrities, and royalty stayed by Hotel Kämp, or met in its café. The newspaper Päivälehti (now Helsingin Sanomat) began its publication from the café.

As it originally looked

After the 1918 Finnish Civil War, the occupying Germans used Hotel Kämp as their HQ. During the Winter War of 1939–40, the hotel was used again by foreign occupiers. Many Finnish and foreign diplomats and politicians also stayed by the hotel during WWII.

Over the years, the hotel lost its former glittery prestige, and closed in 1965, among many protests. The historic building was razed, with a new hotel taking its place in 1969.

Since 1999, the hotel has once more become Finland’s grandest.

Pre-demolition interior

Copyright Kämp Collection Hotels; Source

Copyright Mikkoau

My character Pyotr Litvinov often stays by Hotel Kämp during his Finnish holidays. As the son of a high-ranking Party member, he has more leeway for travelling abroad than many others.

In June 1940, Pyotr takes an enormous risk by bringing his baby sister Yaroslava on his annual summer holiday. Pyotr has been planning to defect for some time, but his plans are hastened when Yaroslava, under suspicion as a “social parasite,” begs him to help her escape.

They spend one night in Hotel Kämp, and after a late, long, leisurely breakfast by the café, they set off for Sweden and defect.

18 April 1918, Copyright Gunnar Lönnqvist

IWSG—A plethora of progress

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

I love stepping back in time to another world which now lives only in memory, like 1840s Boston, 1890s St. Petersburg, or 1940s Manhattan, with all the bygone fashions, demographics, architecture, cost of living, cars, films, streetcars, social movements, technologies, etc.

I finished the surprise two new chapters and epilogue for the book formerly known as The Very First. Not counting front and back matter, it’s about 90K. The hot mess of a first draft was only 38K. I’m really proud of the work I did on this radical rewrite and restructuring.

Coupled with the fact that the book formerly known as The Very Next went from 25K to 75K, after another radical rewrite and restructuring, I’ve started thinking maybe my Atlantic City books aren’t meant to be as short as I thought they were.

Granted, by my standards, 75–90K is still pretty damn short!

Ignore the obviously non-Russian names like Amy and Leon, and the pretentious use of accent marks. I was only 21 when I made these notes.

I was inspired to type up synopses for my planned future sixth Russian novel, along with both of the prequels. (You can now find them on the About My Russian Novels page, either in the drop-down menu or the page itself.)

I also came up with titles for all three, and started pulling ideas together for the seventh book, to be set from 1966–sometime in the Seventies. Lastly, I finally typed up the Cast of Characters section for the second prequel, from the handwritten family-by-family pages I made at 21.

The Wrangels are now the Vrangels

Finally, I finished the hiatused Chapter 33, “Quintuple New Leaves,” of my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. It clocked it at my longest of this book so far, at 17,282 words. Prior, my longest chapter was the 17,247-word “Union with a Snake” of The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks.

Pages counts hyphenated words, like twenty-two, as two words, so I know the wordcount is slightly higher than it really is.

Chapter 34, “False Paradise,” is going very quickly and easily. I think I’ll have an easier time from this point out, though I also still need to get back to my alternative history for a 17 July release date.

I’m confident I can finish writing and editing it in time if I approach it very strategically. Part I is done, Part II is 99% done, Part III is at least 85% done, and Part IV is maybe 25% done.

This beautiful little boy is counting on me to give him the happy ending he was cruelly denied in real life. I have an obligation more pressing than merely finishing what I started already.