St. Petersburg, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — Russia's second city mixes ornate magnificence and cruel poverty. Vyacheslav Rasner straddles the extremes — becoming an unexpectedly popular tour guide after surviving a decade of homelessness.
With his full white beard and head of messy hair, the 68-year-old Rasner looks like he could have stepped from one of Dostoevsky's accounts of St. Petersburg's lower depths. But his erudition and affection for the city shine through.
Each day, Rasner takes up his post outside the Admiralteiskaya subway station at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m., waiting for clients who want him to lead them around part of the city's main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt. Sometimes he gets as many as 30 people for a single tour.
Rasner's excursion mainly covers the detailed histories of about 15 lesser-known buildings next to each other along the avenue. It's a good education for visitors who have already seen the city's more-renowned sights. But many tourists who join Rasner's tours are mainly excited about his personal story.
Alexander Kazhayev, 28, who traveled to St. Petersburg from Penza, about 800 kilometers away, said he came to see the man whose trajectory has become well known to Russians via the internet.
"I am proud of that man, who is already a legend now, because he is not begging with an outstretched hand but instead makes his living while sharing his valuable knowledge with other people. All this tour experience is so unusual and emotional," Kazhayev said.
"Many people work as city guides, but this man really comes from underground. He is special, and it is obvious that he likes what he does," said another visitor, Viktoria Volosnova.
Rasner used to work as a geography and biology teacher, and freelanced on weekends as a city guide. Then, at age 57, he lost his space in a communal apartment due to a real estate scheme. For about 10 years after that, he lived at a deserted construction site in central St. Petersburg, also taking care of stray dogs and cats.
He said the most difficult part of that life was the long, cold winters and chilly springs. He didn't suffer much from hunger, because he says there were always kind people who helped with food.
At some point, Rasner decided to get back to his city-guide work experience, changing his situation both financially and socially.
"My idea is that I should share the knowledge about my city with other people," he told The Associated Press. "When people are in a hard situation, like they lose their home, they should still stay optimistic and they should act. Acting is life. They should invent something to change the situation."
Rasner's popularity as a guide grew after a volunteer at a private charity for the homeless, Nochlezhka (Night Shelter), created a social-media group about him on Vkontakte, Russia's popular analogue to Facebook.
About a year ago, a woman whom Rasner called his "fan" helped him find a home at a social services building.
Some habits from his homeless years seem to have lingered. Although he now has a spacious two-bedroom apartment that he shares with a neighbor and two cats, it is messy and malodorous.
At the same time, he seems almost obsessively punctual, sticking to a daily routine, including visits to the place where two kind women used to feed him for years, and still do.
Alexander Voronov, a social work expert at Nochlezhka, said Rasner's case helps counter negative stereotypes about the homeless.
"Usually, people think that homeless people are lazy, addicted to alcohol or drugs, have no education and are non-cultural. However, Rasner practices the creative work of a tourist guide, and has a lot of knowledge about the city and its architecture," Voronov said, adding that Nochlezhka's clients have also included former opera singers, writers, marketing experts and business executives.
People often can't imagine how vulnerable they are to the up and downs of fate, Voronov said.
"There are situations when everything collapses at one moment: People lose their job, lose their real estate property due to some deceit, lose their social ties. Their return to normal life is a matter of their psychological strength, ability to adapt and preferably help from outside," Voronov said.
Dhaka, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) - It’s no wonder salmon is one of the most popular fish. Its flesh is rich-tasting, thanks to high levels of heart-healthy oils, and it takes well to many treatments. The key is to avoid overcooking it, especially wild salmon, which is leaner than farmed.
Our hybrid roasting method solved this by heating the oven to 500 F before dropping the temperature to 275 F. The initial blast of heat firmed the exterior and rendered some fat while the fish gently cooked.
Salmon is often roasted in butter, but we wanted a healthier approach that would contrast with the fish’s richness. So we made a bright tangerine relish perked up with spicy ginger.
Skin-on salmon fillets hold together better during cooking. If you can’t find tangerines, you can use oranges. If your salmon is less than 1 inch thick, start checking for doneness early. If using farmed salmon, cook until thickest part of fillet registers 125 F.
OVEN-ROASTED SALMON WITH TANGERINE AND GINGER RELISH
Start to finish: 35 minutes
4 (4- to 6 ounce) skin-on wild-caught salmon fillets, 1 inch thick
1 teaspoon cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 tangerines, rind and pith removed and segments cut into 1/2 inch pieces (1 cup)
1 scallion, sliced thin
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
Salt and pepper
For the relish: Place tangerines in fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl and drain for 15 minutes.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon tangerine juice from bowl. Whisk in scallion, lemon juice, oil, and ginger. Stir in tangerines and season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the salmon: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 500 F. Pat salmon dry with paper towels, rub with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Once oven reaches 500 F, reduce oven temperature to 275 F. Remove sheet from oven and carefully place salmon, skin-side down, on hot sheet. Roast until center is still translucent when checked with tip of paring knife and registers 120 F (for medium-rare), 4 to 6 minutes.
Slide fish spatula along underside of fillets and transfer to individual plates or serving platter, leaving skin behind; discard skin. Top with relish and serve.
Westphalia, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — A historic rural Roman Catholic church that had served its surrounding Central Texas farming community for more than a century has burned to the ground.
Photos posted on the Austin Catholic diocesan Facebook page show the Church of the Visitation in Westphalia fully involved in flames Monday morning, being reduced to nothing more than ashes.
The parish has served the faithful of southwestern Falls County, many of them immigrants from the northwest German region of Westphalia, since 1883. The church building dated to 1895 and was said to be the largest all-wood church in the state. Its stained-glass windows, more than 20 in all, were shipped to Westphalia from Germany.
No injuries were reported. A statement from the diocese says the cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
Westphalia is a community of about 190 residents about 70 miles northeast of Austin. The Church of the Visitation has 244 members.
Sacramento, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — Three pharmaceutical companies collectively are agreeing to pay California nearly $70 million to settle allegations that they delayed drugs to keep prices high, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Monday.
The bulk of the money will come from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and its affiliates for paying to delay a generic narcolepsy drug, Provigil, from entering the market for nearly six years.
Teva is paying $69 million, which Becerra says is the largest pay-for-delay settlement received by any state.
Such agreements let the developer of brand name drugs keep their monopolies over the drugs after their patents expire, thereby letting them continue to charge consumers higher prices. The drug developer pays the generic manufacturer to keep the cheaper version of the drug from entering the marketplace for an agreed period of time.
Teva said the money will come from a pre-existing fund that was created in 2015 as part of the company's settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over similar claims, and it will not make any additional payments.
Becerra said such agreements can force consumers and the health care market to pay as much as 90% more than if there were generic alternatives. More than $25 million of the settlement will go to a consumer fund for California residents who purchased Provigil, Nuvigil or Modafinil between 2006 and 2012.
"No one in America should be forced to skip or ration doses of medicine that they need ... and certainly not because a drug company is colluding to keep the price of your drug artificially high even when cheaper options could be available. But that's what's happening," Becerra said.
The second, $760,000 settlement is with Teva, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Teikoku Pharma USA over keeping a genetic alternative to the pain patch Lidoderm from entering the market for nearly two years.
Teva said it is paying $200,000 to cover the state's legal costs after settling similar federal claims earlier this year. Neither Endo nor Teikoku responded to requests for comment.
Both settlements bar the companies from pay-for-delay agreements for several years. Teva is agreeing to not to enter any such agreements for 10 years, while Endo Pharmaceuticals has an eight-year agreement and Teikoku a 20-year injunction.
Teva said the restriction is identical to its federal consent decree.
Becerra also backed pending legislation, AB824 by Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood of Santa Rosa, that would ban such agreements.
The measure would require pharmaceutical companies to prove that their agreements are not anticompetitive. It passed the Assembly 56-0 in May and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
Pharmaceutical companies oppose the bill, arguing the Federal Trade Commission already does this monitoring.
Mexico City, Jul 29 (AP/UNB) — The contestants in the beauty pageant sashayed in red bathing suits, paraded across the stage in evening gowns with plunging necklines and answered questions about climate change and human rights.
After four hours, and a brief protest onstage by a losing contestant, a brunette from the western Mexico state of Colima took the crown. Ivanna Cázares flashed a smile as the announcer declared her Miss Trans Beauty Mexico 2019.
It was the second edition of the pageant, which was begun as part of an effort to make transgender women more visible and accepted in Mexican society. Mexico is one of the world's most dangerous countries for transgender people: 261 transgender women were killed from 2013 to 2018, according to a local LGBT rights group, Letra S.
The weekend event was full of glamour and glitz, with contestants sporting elaborate regional costumes and heavy makeup. Miss Colima modeled an indigenous-themed costume with leopard print and feathers, while Miss Baja California's costume featured grapes, inspired by her state's wine vineyards.
In all, 21 transgender beauty queens representing different Mexican states participated in the three-part competition. They were judged on bikini wear, regional dress and formal wear.
Cázares, 27, beat second-place Miss Baja California and third-place Miss Mexico City to win the crown.
Cázares said the most difficult part of her transition that began three years ago was gaining acceptance from others, although she always counted on support from her family. She has a communications degree and owns a beauty salon.
Now, with the pageant title, she sees herself as a spokeswoman for the transgender community.
"We want to bring a message to society of respect for the trans girls of Mexico," Cázares told The Associated Press while struggling to keep the towering crown on her head.