Saturday, September 15, 2018

Hung Around Saint Petersburg...

The next morning we were still mildly astonished that we had successfully navigated our way into the heart of a major city which was all in Cyrillic.  Our hotel room looked down on the extremely wide Neva River, which was only half of the Neva River, since we were situated on Vassilevsky Island.  As it turns out, St Petersburg was originally built from scratch on marshland, which explains why everything is so flat and minor rivers are so wide.

Peter the Great built it, then made it the capital of Russia, and thus it stayed until after the Revolution, when for strategic reasons the capital was moved back to Moscow.  This is why the city is just swarming with stately 18th and 19th Century buildings, all grand and low slung and clustered right across from the tip of Vassilevsky Island.  So walking down there, about a mile, was our first objective on our first day.

When we got to the tip, though, and before we crossed the river, I wanted Maureen to see the Zoological Museum, which I had run across back in '92.  Right when you enter there is this skeleton of a blue whale, which, as you may know, is the largest animal to ever have lived.  Even bigger than the biggest dinosaur.  Then the rest of the museum, which is basically 19th Century taxidermy gone wild.  Hundreds and hundreds of every animal imaginable, from the smallest to the largest, all mounted and stuffed and piled next to each other. 

The most amazing specimens, though, were the mammoths, including a baby which had been found with flesh and hair still un-decomposed.  Then there was the skeleton of this massive mammoth that must have been fifteen feet high at its shoulders.  I've had a giant wild elephant standing right next to me in Africa, and it would have been a small buddy of this thing.

Then across the bridge to the Hermitage, which next to the Louvre is the Queenest of the world's museums.  Maybe more so than the Louvre.  It's held (mostly) in the Winter Palace, which is this mint green Italian designed 18th Century building which had been the main center of Czardom.  We bought our tickets and started cruising the rooms.

But, like the Louvre, and most other museums that I've been to, after the initial excitement, and after about forty rooms, one starts to get museumed out.  Anyway, all the 19th Century Impressionist stuff was across the giant open plaza in another building.  So over there we went.  And it's much harder to get bored when one is trudging through rooms of Monets and Van Goghs.

Except that our bodies were not keeping up.  As in Moscow, literally pounding the pavement was not going well for my collapsed arches.  Especially since they were encased in bad shoes.  And Maureen's hip problems were even worse.  In fact, by the time we got to Picasso she was in incredible pain.  Especially when we had to walk all the way back through all of those rooms to get out of the place.

We finally found the sidewalk, though, and I deposited her at a place to sit in front of the buskers while I walked up a couple of blocks, found a Subway, and got a sandwich for us to share.  After about forty minutes enough feeling had returned to her leg that she was able to walk a bit.  So we hobbled over to St. Isaacs, which is this giant St Peter's dome church, not Russian looking or feeling at all.  Then they wanted 800 Rubles to enter.  I remembered from '92 that inside it was all Italian and rococo anyway, which I don't find spiritual in the slightest.  So we blew it off and walked back to a Metro station.

Now the station by the hotel is right across the river.  But, as I said, it's an extremely wide river, so I had thought that we would have to walk that additional quarter mile to get home.  Instead, though, there was one of those airport moving walkways which took you all the way across under the river.  Cool.  And there we were at the hotel.

Diminished bodies lead to diminished adventures.  Saturday morning we took the Metro 'downtown' and walked over to the Kazan Cathedral, kind of a mix of the Italianate and the Russian.  Afterwards, across the street at Starbuck's, I reflected upon the fact that if normal giggling teenage girls could afford Starbuck's prices, then the economy couldn't be all that back at all, now could it?

Then it was walking down one of the canals, of which St. Petersburg has many, and coming face to face with The Church of the Spilled Blood, finally truly Russian, and also truly amazing.  As spectacularly onion domed and inscribed outside and muraled within as any other example in the entire country.  Suitably satiated, we then strolled and park benched in several parks, found a Metro station, and traveled a few stops so to check off something else on Maureen's bucket list: Eating at a Russian Pizza Hut.  (To add to her list of Pizza Hut countries, which now extends to six continents.)
And if you're wondering why we weren't eating at more Russian restaurants, that's because Russians are into eating bear meat, boar meat, and just about anything else which is not vegetarian.

Anyway, Sunday Maureen's body was feeling better.  So we walked from the hotel down to the Peter and Paul Fortress, which is this large historical area that is also across the river from 'downtown'.  Festive crowds and a very loud cannon boom at noon.  Then one of the thoroughly ubiquitous tour boats that take you through the canals and along the river.  Then it was a walk to the Metro, a quick trip to the big monastery in town, and another trip to Dostoevsky's church.  Compared to what we'd already seen on the Golden Ring, though, both were kind of diddly.  So we realized that we had pretty much 'done' St. Pete.  After all, we had seen the outer city pretty thoroughly on our drive in.  So back to center city, a meal at an Indian restaurant, then back to the good ol' hotel.  On the way marveling, as in Moscow, at the sheer throngs of normal Russians in festive spirit just out for a Sunday walk.

Monday morning it was time to close up all our bags and try to find our way back out of said city.  Which wasn't too hard, since we took  the newly constructed freeway that loops north and west on to a causeway across the Baltic Sea.  Midway across we exited to tour the small city of Kronstadt, home to the Russian fleet and also to another pretty impressive (not onion) domed church.  Also a chance for Maureen to dip her feet into the Baltic.  Although the weather had finally turned on us a bit, and it was a cold, damp day.  So she just pretended to.

Then there was an attempt to find Peterhof, another over the top Czarist castle.  But I got lost and time was running short.  So it was back to the Saint Petersburg beltway, and off of it to the M-10 and south towards Moscow.  The M-10 alternated between semi-congested and not too congested at all.  And three hours later we were in Novgorod, birthplace of Russia in the year 862, and the namesake of our Russian t-shirt business thirty years earlier.

Novgorod is mostly a smallish Soviet city.  But at its center is a brick kremlin (wall enclosure), and inside that old churches and buildings.  Our hotel was conveniently across the street from some old churches and a park which led to a footbridge across the river to the kremlin.  So we walked there on a perfect fall-ish afternoon.  I had been pushing to get there because the museum was open today but wouldn't be open tomorrow.  And it had the largest collection of icons in the entire country.
Now you may ask: Can someone ever get tired of Medieval Russian icons?  And the answer here is: Well, yes you can.  Especially when each room contained a Soviet-style lady warden, who got up and followed you suspiciously as you walked through, as if she thought you were going to try to steal one of the massive 4x6 icon paintings.

The first hundred or so, though, were pretty neat.  And we suitably took more photographs to go with the hundreds of church art photographs that we already had.  Then it was a stroll around the grounds, a stroll back across the footbridge, and then a stroll back through the park area and to a Russian restaurant, where the menu showed that they had bear meat and boar meat.  We got some mushroom soup and some potato pancakes.

Tuesday, after a final circumlocution of Medieval Russian churches, it was back on the road to Moscow.  After an hour or so on the M-10 it hooked up with the M-11, the half completed new toll road.  Which was as modern and well engineered as anything anywhere.  Although most travelers between the two cities use the new high speed train, which moves at 150 mph and only takes four hours to cover a distance greater than that between San Francisco and LA.  How is our Amtrak doing?

So as we cruise controlled along, it gave me time to reflect upon what we had just experienced.  The shabby, authoritarian Russia that is always portrayed in movies is twenty years out of date.  Nowadays they've all got their faces staring at their smart phones as much as anyone anywhere else.  Although the culture still feels homier and less overtly degenerate than in the West.  I suppose that some of that is because Russians have always thought of themselves as one big family.  A family that is often highly paranoid of each other, maybe.  But a family nonetheless.  And those 'family values' are no doubt why the Church has made such a roaring comeback after over 75 years of enforced atheism.

Also, politically speaking, there are just no politics to speak of.  Either positively or negatively.  I mean, nobody cares.  And in a good way.  After all, the government seems to be doing its best to fix the roads, keep the parks neat and clean, and spruce up the cities, even the minor ones which had previously been neglected.  Virtually no litter.  And the everyday Russians are not smilers, and certainly not enthusiastic back slappers.  But every interaction we had, whether in gas stations or hotels or stores, was friendly and polite.  Even though we spoke no Russian.

Oh, and since Putin got into power the mafia have been totally curbed.  Cops no longer demand bribes.  Average wages have gone up 600%.  We Americans tend to be oblivious to the fact that other peoples are patriotic, also.  And Putin has restored pride in a country which had been totally kicked around when it was down.  By us.  So no wonder the dude is popular.

But, hey, this isn't a political blog.  And now we were back on the outskirts of Moscow, just outside of the airport.  And for once my maps, which showed an easy exit and ensuing airport layout, were totally inadequate.  Totally jangled and confused by all of the road spaghetti, we pulled into the first parking garage we could find.  Then I walked and walked through the massive terminal to find the car rental guy.  Who nicely walked back with me, took command of the car, and then even nicely-ier drove us to our hotel.  Which we would have never found the turnoff to on our own.

And then it was over.  Once again I had successfully so immersed myself into an alien world that I completely forgot about the cares of the normal one.  But now it was time to go back and face them one more time.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Layers Of The Onion Dome

So many myths to explode.  Like drunk Russians.  We've only seen one tipsy one so far.  Or that you're taking your life in your hands trying to cross a street.  As soon as a pedestrian even looks like they're entering a crosswalk, every car immediately and politely stops.

Or drivers being crazy and Russian roads being of a Fourth World quality.  Okay, there is a certain amount of controlled chaos, but in about an hour you're used to it.  Wackier than Canada, but a hell of a lot saner than Mexico.  And at least on the major and semi-major roads, the surface is smooth sailing.  A lot of new pavement, and usually four lanes when four lanes are called for.  Lots and lots of trucks, but, hey, like most of Europe most folks travel by train or plane when they want to go somewhere.

Not us, though.  Back in ABQ I had prepared for this by laboriously printing out page after page of Yandex maps for each and every leg and mini-leg of our journey.  So we tentatively eased ourselves out of the airport rental car slot and on to the MKAD, Moscow's ten lane beltway.  Just after rush hour, it was intense newcomer's stop and go until we got to our exit, M-7 East towards Nizhni Novgorod.  Still semi-intense four lane, after another twenty miles or so we were free of Moscow's outermost bands and on our way.  A quick stop at a small supermarket for car food, back on the highway, and a couple of hours later we entered the outskirts to Vladimir, our first stop on our tour of the Golden Ring, a string of places whose innards held remnants of Medieval Russia.

Vladimir is a place of around 250,000, and here was the first test to see if we could in and out of a Russian city.  To our relief the signage, though usually only in Cyrillic, would prove to be consistently excellent.  After about ten minutes we found ourselves in the center of town, and--oh my gosh--up on a small hill to the right was a humongous old Russian cathedral, what with onion domes out the wazoo.  Since we were about the only tourists in Russia, including Russians, traveling by car, we pulled up right in front of it, parked, and walked around the entire church/park area.  Then, suitably touristed, we got back in the car, continued through town, and successfully found the turnoff north towards the small town of Suzdal about fifteen miles away.

Suzdal is known as the gem of the Golden Ring, bypassed by modernity and oozing with charm and bunches of old monasteries.  We found it to be not all all jaw dropping amazing, but still quite pleasant nonetheless.  We also found it difficult to find/contact our small B&B for the night, being hardly cognizant of Russian cell phone technology and our cell phone being dead, Maureen having shot too many pictures.

But somehow we got it all to work, had a nice cozy room for the night, and visited various churches and monasteries.  And the next day around noon we were back on the road, which would remain only moderately trafficked for the next several days.  The weather, as for the rest of the trip so far, was blue sky to partly cloudy, with highs of 75 to 80.  We successfully maneuvered our way through the city of Ivanovo, and then about an hour or so later found the turnoff to Plyos, a small town made famous by certain Russian artists and millionaires in the 19th Century.  Still artistically shabby, it reminded me as to how unshabby the rest of non-Moscow had been so far.

Which is significant, because it is necessary for you to know in just how horrible a condition the country was in back in '92.  And how in '06 even though Moscow had been somewhat spiffed up, the rest of the boondocks had still been very badly falling down.  Now?  Well, it's not Switzerland.  But the country is still not remotely 3rd or even 2nd world looking.  Sometimes it seems like there's one gas station for every three cars on the road.  Again, roads are good and smooth, and so long as you always keep your eyes on all the mirrors, and are ready to engage in the ballet, it's pretty safe and predictable.

Plyos is also on the Volga.  And for all my world travels, this was the first time that I had ever seen the river.  Which, even at this narrow point, was Upper Mississippi wide.  Besides the small town setting, though, this being the off season, there wasn't that much to see or do.  So then it was back to the main highway and onwards to Kostroma.

Kostroma is supposed to have a huge, amazing town square.  But we never got to see it.  Because on this late afternoon the road to the bridge into the center was dead stopped backed up. So we turned around and checked out a typical shopping mall in a typical provincial city.  Relentlessly middle class.  Stories about the Russian economy totally sucking are totally untrue.  Then it was out to a kind of motel on the outskirts.  Along with several Chinese bus tour groups, which would prove to be prevalent along the entire Golden Ring.

The next morning the bridge was still completely backed up, so we turned back around towards Yaroslavl, the largest city (500,000) on the Golden Ring, and, to us at least a quite pleasant surprise.  Besides the requisite old monastery, its Volga riverfront center was mostly taken up by a giant church surrounded by a giant riverfront Soviet monumental park.  Again, extremely easy to find a parking place and to walk around.

Now at this point you may well wonder, Isn't one 400-900 year old onion dome church just like all the others?  And the answer is; Most emphatically not.  All the domes are intricately different from all the others, and the other mosaics, etc., on the outsides of each building are constantly different.  And this was especially true of the really ancient church a few km from the center of town in Turchkovo.  Now surrounded by Soviet era belching factories, and somewhat difficult to find, particularly the tiny road to it, nonetheless it was incredibly worth the effort once we did find ourselves in front of it.  Most amazing was the interior: Floor to ceiling only slightly faded frescoes from around the 14th Century.  Truly old and jaw dropping.

And the church-o-rama didn't end there.  Because, back on the highway, a few hours later we were in the center of Rostov, now a town of around 10,000, but once the center of Russia.  And its church complex area might well have been the most beautiful so far.

Today was the day that I had been slightly dreading, since there was so much ground to cover.  So I was prepared to blow off Sergeiv Prosad, the last major stop on the Golden Ring.  But once I described it to Maureen she wanted to go for it.  Which we did.  And which, once we found our way into the middle of the city of 150,000 we were glad that we had.  For this is the modern day center of Russian Orthodox life, and its church complex was easily the largest and most jaw dropping of the lot.  What's more, at the main church there was a service going on, and the Russian choir music and the quiet but ornate spectacle would even make an atheist have their doubts.

Now, however, we were running late.  And Sergeiv Prosad is almost back to Moscow, our having looped back south from Yaroslavl.  So we continued west through somewhat heavy traffic to the city of Klim, which is on the main Moscow-St. Petersburg road.  And now we were on the dreaded M-10.

Well, it really wasn't nearly so bad at all.  Lots of trucks, for sure.  But lighted almost all the way.  And an average speed of almost 60.  Plus, once again, gas stations nearly every half mile.  In not much time we were on the Tver bypass, and then old M-10 up to the town of Torzhok, our stop for the night.

By now it was way past dark, and for the first time we got ourselves lost.  Actually, what happened was that we doubted a turn I made, and then we got ourselves lost.  After some confusion, however, and after talking to some guys who didn't speak any English, we did get to the center of the town and our hotel for the night.  Once again, a competent though not exciting room with ultra thin Russian twin beds, and we were in bed a little past 11.

Besides the requisite monastery, though, Torzhok didn't have a hell of a lot going for it.  So back to the highway.  M-10 was pleasant and easy enough, but after about 30 miles we came upon the just completed long section of M-11 the new ultramodern toll road that will soon connect Moscow and St. Pete.  Here the speed limit was 130 km per hour, and for a lot of the cars this was just a suggested speed limit.  Hardly any traffic at all.  So time to kick back and enjoy the scenery.

Actually, the scenery so far had been rather surprising in that there were hardly any fields, but lots and lots and lots of forest.  Kind of like northern Canada, with plentiful skinny birch and assorted skinny evergreens, although the trees were generally much taller than in Canada.  Also the forest was really, really thick.  It was difficult imagining walking leisurely through such a thicket.

So on we went, the kilometers clicking away by the hundreds.  At some point the new road ended and we were back on the M-10.  Which, again, was usually not that bad.  And when we were about 25 km short of St. Petersburg I had Maureen make a left into the town of Pushkin, so that we could have a gander at one of the area's big attraction, Catherine the Great's Summer Palace.

For once the signage wasn't clear, and it took us a bit to find the right area.  Then it turned out that easy parking was next to impossible, and the palace itself was surrounded by a gigantic thickly treed park.  Well, I never liked Catherine the Great anyway.  So I decided to punt, and to head on over towards Peterhof, the other huge suburban tourist attraction.

But we made a couple of wrong turns, the afternoon was quickly ending, and I had to call an audible: Head into the city.  So I studied one of our map pages as best I could, and decided to bypass the freeway bypasses and to go straight up a major street right into the center of town.  Which we proceeded to do.

Now if you had asked me a few days previously about such an attempt, I would have thought it madness.  But there we were, smoothly going up block after block.  Then when the road dead ended I successfully navigated us to the left, then a sharp left, then a sharp right.  Now we were smack dab in the middle of town.  We then proceeded to figure out how to get over a major bridge, go along another river for a km or so, successfully make a legal left turn, and voila: Against all odds we had somehow found ourselves in front of our hotel.

I'm still amazed that we were able to do it.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Between The 'R' And the 'M' In 'Normal'

First, the nuts and bolts.

Since one can't hail cabs on the street, a nice young Russian lady telephoned for an Uber for us on the train in from the airport.  Then helped us find it.  So we got to the hotel with minimum chaos.  Since my daughter works for Marriott, we got a high end room at a medium end price.  Surrounded by Gucci and Prada and blah, blah, blah other high end places.

It was also only two blocks from Red Square.  So, it still being only about 9 pm I thought to take Maureen over there. Our first experience with how long Moscow blocks are.   When we got there hundreds and hundreds of Russians were lazily sauntering around on a summer's night.  It turned out that Red Square was closed, but everything else was lit up in fairyland colors.  Said colors continued on the side streets as we made our way back.

Next morning we walked those long blocks again, were passed through a lackluster security line, and entered Red Square.  Since the big empty square is such an amazing sight, I was waiting for that same look of wonderment on Maureen's face as when she first saw the arc de Triomphe.

Except...  It turned out that this week Red Square was completely filled up with their equivalent of a county fair.  Complete with souvenir stalls, refreshment stands, a dirt covered rodeo setup, and a larger arena with bleaches going up to the sky.  Oh, and several construction cranes.  Poor St. Basil's at the far end poked out from the mess, it with its own problems of way too many tour groups.  Spanish and Italians, yes, but mostly mobs and mobs and mobs of Chinese.  Get used to it, world.

It turned out that it was Moscow's yearly festival, and that usually Red Square is open and empty and security guardless.  Oh well.  Off to the new Zaradnye Park across the street.  Except that the trees had just been planted and there was no shade and it was hot. and the exhibits weren't really open.  So back all the way around the fair to the front, over to the Kremlin wall, and wait in line for Lenin's tomb.  Except that now it was 1:05 and the tomb closed at 1.

Okay, around to the other side of the Kremlin wall, through the park there, and up to the gate where you start the Kremlin tour.  Except that the Kremlin is closed on Thursday.  By this point our old, tired feet are finding out that pounding the pavement really hurts old, tired feet.  Exhausted, we head back to the large, modern underground shopping mall right next to Red Square, get something at the food court, and wander back to the hotel.

Friday we're up and over to the line for Lenin's Tomb again.  To find out that Lenin's Tomb is closed on Friday.  Okay, back over to the Kremlin.  Now 'kremlin' in Russian just means 'fort'.  And the Kremlin is the 10-20 acres contained in the original Medieval Moscow fort.  Nowadays the north end has government buildings, the south end is park, and the middle contains a complex of 5 or 6 churches.  Strangely, I couldn't find the ticket stall that used to be at the entrance.  Even stranger, they just let everybody in.  Maybe it's a world cup thing or a festival thing, I thought.  Except that to get into the churches you needed a ticket.  Well, one lady let us in anyway, so that Maureen could see how Russian churches are covered floor to ceiling in gorgeous Medieval icons.  And, since all the churches are like that, for now all we needed was one.

Then it was time to buy a subway (Metro) pass and start galavanting around.  First we went to the top of Arbat Street, which back in Soviet times was the artsy area.  Now it's just a tourist street, although low key and a pedestrian walkway.  From here we went to Pobedy Park.  Now as you may know, Moscow subway stations are hundreds of feet below ground, and this particular station happens to have the longest escalator in the world.  The park itself was overrun with white tents and hastily constructed stages for the big festival weekend, so that many of the heroic monuments to World War II were kind of lost in the shuffle.  By now our feet and legs were wearing out, so we limped our way back to the hotel and took turns taking long, hot baths.

Now have I mentioned about the distances in Moscow, how it's impossible to just hail some sort of transport, how Russians just walk and walk and walk, and how lazy, old Americans can get so easily wiped out?  Well, Saturday morning we were up bright and early to go to the Ismaiylovo flea market.  And I have to say that it was one of the most creative flea market setups ever.  What they've done is construct a Potemkin Disneyland village of twenty different styles  of fake turrets and towers and gazebos and whatever.  Anyway, after walking and walking we found some suitable Soviet trinkets and such to take home with us.

Then it was over to the NVDK, a Soviet era celebration of Soviet life.  Which twelve years ago had fallen on hard times, but now, like everything else in Moscow, had been totally spiffed up.  And, it being festival weekend, there were just hordes and hordes of Muscovites walking towards and through it.  Now back in Soviet times there was no entertainment other than walking and walking through a park.  But now, even though virtually all other traces of soviet life are gone, walking and walking through parks seems to be Russians' favorite pastime.

Well, it was certainly exhausting poor old us, especially in the hot sun.  So once again we barely limped our way back to the hotel. Although on the way we managed to stop and ooh and ahh at a bunch of the Metro stations.  Since, as you may also already know, most are done up in marble, and many also have statues, murals, stained glass, etc., all glorifying just about any and all aspects of Socialist effort and utopia.

Sunday morning was our third attempt on Lenin's Tomb.  And this time they let us in.  We walked past the markers for Stalin, Breshnev, and the rest, were shushed into the darkened inner sanctum, and there under the floodlights was Vladmir, all waxy and shiny.  Then we were shushed out into the bright sunlight.

Next a Metro ride and a long walk to a famous graveyard, where everyone from Checkhov to Yeltsin is buried.  Then another Metro ride and another long walk to Gorky Park, so that Maureen could say that she had seen it.  Then back to the hotel and dinner at a hippie vegetarian restaurant around the corner from it.

Because now it's time to talk a little bit about the Moscow vibe.  As Maureen put it, it's kind of like Disneyland without the rides.  Yes, I know that it was festival week.  But, for instance, for all the Chanel and Dior stores in our hotel neighborhood, no one was really shopping in them.   Instead zillions of totally middle class Muscovites were strolling around and frequenting all of the reasonably priced restaurants which also permeated the area.  To the extent that the fantasy of super rich oligarchs driving around in Mercedes and owning the city was ever true, it certainly no longer is.  The reality is that Moscow is crime free and incredibly comfortable to move around in.

And here's something else: Back in '92 I noted that Central Casting had made a huge mistake in declaring Russkies as the enemy.  These people are about as hellbent on world domination as is a small town pharmacist in Iowa.  Always remember that they were the ones always desperately trying to play catch up to all of our latest weapons.

Although up until my last visit their reputation for surliness and suspiciousness had been well earned.  Now it was surprising the level of at least some knowledge of English.  And the poker faces still existed, but usually folks turned out to even go out of their way to be helpful.

What's more, there was nothing even remotely political in the air.  As for Putin, there seems to be a bemused ironic attachment to him.  After all, he doesn't scare them.  And if he scares the rest of the world, well, they feel with somewhat reason that the rest of the world hasn't been all that very nice to them recently anyway.

It's not like that they've found some new alternate path.  There are probably more KFCs and Burger Kings here than in the U.S.  It's just that, even though they have a few tattooed rockers and derivative Russian rap, there's a certain innocence to it all.  Maureen kept noting how much more modestly the women dress, kind of like life was not supposed to be a meat market after all.  So that, hypothetically speaking, if some new path were presented to these people, there's at least a ghost of a chance that they might be receptive to it.

As opposed to the toilet that we all seem to have been flushed down.

But, hey, no negativity here! Just travel.  And now we had to stuff everything back into our luggage and prepare for our automotive adventure into the heartland.  Since throughout Russia's history Moscow has never been like the rest of the country, the slate was suitably blank in my mind.  Here would be the chance to fill it in.