Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From a land of ice and snow to a land and snow

Chechulin's High-rise (one of the Seven Sisters) on Kotel'nicheskaya Embankment. View from Kitai-gorod

With all luck I am on a jet plane to the homeland right now. Gooood. Gooood. Very goooood.

I don't know how much or what I might be writing on this blog while I'm home, this might be the last time we speak in the 2009 year.

If you get bored, head over to the blog of existential crises, Storm und Drunk, or check out something on the sidebar.

A final thought: An oft-quoted Mayakovsky poem is Lenin - zhil, Lenin - zhiviot, Lenin - budet zhit'. [Lenin lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin will lives]. Well, while Mayakovsky had Rodchenko as a photographer, I have Briullov - and I'm tempted to say Mayakovsky zhil, Mayakovsky zhiviot, Mayakovsky budet zhit'.


Meh. I don't know. Before I did the photo-combine it seemed like my picture was so angry. But compared to The Angry Futurist™ I look like a sunshiny day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where are the bears on unicycles?

I was told there would be bears on unicycles. Lies. All lies. I also must tell you that The Professor and his family were very tickled/offended by some comic they saw that depicted Moscow as Red Square, the Kremlin, and then forest. Remember, Moscow is a big city; a city of economic activity, crazy people, architectural fashion statements, and prostitutes. (That last is a lie, I didn't pay her anything.)

We went to Red Square! But there were no bears on unicycles.

Compulsory picture of St. Basil's (Russ: Pokrovsky sobor or Khram Vasiliia Blazhennogo)

And then we took pictures of ourselves! Thanks to Madame de Pompadour for the first set (they really are only awesome when we view them like comics panels). Look closely: guest appearance by The Mullet!

Then Madame came out from behind my camera. I honestly have no idea what caught Briullov's attention, or what we were saying to each other in the first set, but there you go.

Caption contest? The winner gets...something.

Click on any picture to expand.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Better than Bob's Furniture's Jingle

I wicked wanted sushi after the gym today. It was maybe half past four. I said hey! I want sushi. I can get pretty cheap sushi right here. Why not get sushi? I will get sushi!

I go down the street to the 24-hour joint on the corner. Not the highest quality shiz, but I have no palate anyway, so I was happy. I thought it tasted great.

Here’s the thing. I always feel like I’m ordering just a couple of things and I’m going to be hungry when I leave, but then when I get up I feel weird, in a sushi-has-made-me-drunk way, when I exit from whale mode. Is it the rice expanding in my stomach? Is it the miso soup, which is really crack-in-liquid-form? I don’t know.

Walking to the ‘tro from the sushi place I was singing a little song to myself:

Swim, swim, little fishies, swim!
Little fishies in my belly
Om nom, little fishies, nom nom nom.

It’ll work nicely as a sea shanty the next time you’re on a boat.

I still feel woozy, but I think it’s less from the sushi at this point and more from the FIVE KAJILLION cups of tea I’ve been drinking.

Because I’ve gone a little native I don’t want to drink cold water (it’ll make one have a sore throat) but I’m still very much crazy thirsty all the time. So I put a packet of tea (I’ve been working through a pack of Princess Nuri black with lemon, so good) in the cup, switch on the precious, and keep refilling with that same pack through the night. I’ve lost track on how many cups I’ve already drank. Om nom nom.

And this will have to be the end of this entry – I need to go to the bathroom.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Descendo minoratus!

Welcome to the funeral. Or, in the words of my favorite UNH Hockey pregame song:
The funeral is about to begin.
Tickets will cost $17.95, but you get in for free with a receipt verifying your purchase of Nabokov’s The Original of Laura.

I’ve mentioned this work in passing a couple of times. In fact my new quest item became an obsession after I read about how Nabokov wrote on index cards and I realized how helpful they would be if used correctly. And there are none in Moscow. This is a different story. The story of The Original of Laura:

As the story goes, Nabokov (Vladimir) had a pustoi rabochii stol [empty work desk] for the last years of his life, telling his wife and son that he had completed everything he wanted to, and it was only towards the end that the desk began to be cluttered, again, with new notes. He had plans for at least one novel, and I believe that he mentioned another work after The Original of Laura.

But then That One Who Makes the Totentanz Go ‘Round came to get him. Nabokov asked his wife to destroy the index cards (she didn’t) and for his son, Nabokov (Dmitrii), to ensure their destruction (he hasn’t). Allegedly, Nabokov (Dmitrii) was visited in a dream by his father (Vladimir), who told him that enough is enough and to just publish the index cards already, some thirty years after the author’s death.

This is essentially a long aside, a lot of backstory that will be involved in the program passed out at the doors of the adapted-for-the-stage version of this blogpost. We don’t have time or energy or desire to show it on stage. I know this is anathema, but I don’t particularly care for Nabokov’s writing, and I don’t want to discuss TOoL (what an amazing acronym for the piece) as a literary object. I just like the story behind its creation.

I originally wanted to compare this to the genius marketing behind Salinger’s refusal to publish for the past century, but I fear his crack squad of lawyers. I’ll take a different tact: there have been a lot of writers who have asked for their works to be destroyed. It is, especially in that constructed “Great Canon of Traditional Russian Literature,” quite a Big Thing™. I’ll just throw out two major posthumous works of which you might have heard: Gogol’s Mertvye Dushi [Dead Souls], Part II; Bulgakov’s Master i Margarita [The Master and Margarita].* Both of these, and TOoL as well, were subject to the author burning editions of the manuscript (rumor has it that Nabokov burnt the entirety of TOoL’s second tome, and we just have scattered notes to the first part).

* Don’t think this as a solely Russian tradition. Vergil’s dying request was for The Aeneid to burn.

Maybe I’m too much a cynic. Maybe. Probably. But I question how much of this is a genuine desire to see the work destroyed, and how much of it is an acknowledgement of what is accepted behavior for a belle-lettrist pri smerti [at the moment of death]. That is: are we not witnesses to a performance piece that ensures, even if the wish to destroy the work is fulfilled, the status of the author as a Creative Individual™?

If I start burning things, you’ll know why. And I’ll expect you all to start lobbying for Frozen Icarus to get a publication deal. Mwahaha.

But for real reals, speaking of my being a creative individual, Briullov and I have started an archive of pretentious thought. It’s gonna be A Thing™. It might wean some of the crazy out of this little guy, like poison from the wound. But then again it probably won’t.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cold cold cold

The weather the past couple days has dropped down to minus 20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit).

This is upsetting for multiple reasons.

The most important is that I no longer have a fridge. Instead, I have a freezer of that ancient type we find in our basements, with the heavy steel doors that lock you in, where there are treats left over from a ginormous block party from 1973, forgotten, somewhere, molded onto the shelves, where ice has formed such mass that we can no longer tell where asbestos-laden plastic shelves end and methane-ice begins.

And my tvorog is like ice cream! (I suppose it is a poetic enough fate for it, as an idle business-venture of mine is to start a syrok company in America and market this new “Russian ice cream.” To briefly explain: tvorog is a byproduct of milk curds, high in protein and found in everything from pastries to oatmeal to salads to etc. etc. “Syrok” is the name for any number of products that supersaturate tvorog with sugar, chemical flavors, usually involving a coating of chocolate…you understand, in brief, why I am enamored of it. Syrok is my Dunkin Donuts substitute.)

The yogurt shake I had in there along with the tvorog is solid ice. I tried pouring some boiled water in there to shake it up, but the water just froze. Haha. I am inept at life. I am tempted to throw my iceberg into the Moscow-River in the path of one of the cruise ships and watch the Titanic sink again.

A final food note, as I am scrambling to come up with a breakfast alternative and munch on the peanuts I bought. I just eat it with the peel on. Am I going to die? I’m not so sure that it would be a bad thing.

See why tomorrow in Death of an Artist! Mwahaha. Marketing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

One Post to Save the World

I like saying my opinion. You, readers dear, might have realized this by now. I like saying my opinion, but I don't care for politics; it is always a philosophical crisis when I want to give my opinion on something, but it that something is political. But seeing as there is only one day left in Copenhagen and it is looking doubtful any substantial decisions will be reached, I think it an appropriate time to open my mouth.

Really, world? Really? Was there a one who honestly thought that there would be overwhelming consent among 200 nations to accept new environmental measures? Particularly - is there any particular reason why developing countries (like China, India, etc.) who are now enjoying extraordinary growth of their economies (record-breaking GDP growth, etc.) but are exempt under the Kyoto Protocols - is there any particular reason why such countries would say: "Yes, let's take these new measures! Let's hinder ourselves for the good of the whole world!"

This, when "developed First World" countries (I know of a Certain World Leader in the Western Hempisphere guilty of this...) themselves do not all uphold the Kyoto Protocols.

Of course not! Copenhagen, in my mind, is a (hopefully one of the last) holdover(s) of the Great White European Man driving history and politics. This Great White Man says: "Um. We've kind of messed up, what with the Industrial Revolution and all. Would you mind, Construct-of-a-Person-Shaded-by-Exotic-Orientalism, helping us out?" He phrases it as a question because that's how he's been raised, but his true position is: "Agree with me or I will start another Opium War."

The overriding factor that is undermining attempts to save the world through ecopolitics is this idea that we need all nations, at once, to sign on to the same measures. Understanding the rationale behind that need is the crux - we want everyone in the same frying pan because we perceive pursuing eco-friendly measures as economically detrimental.

This is stupid. This is tantamount to any politician, sincerely desiring climate change, shooting his or her own kneecap.

Instead, I've come up with two options. I address them to the two bipolar powers of the twentieth century, as these options might spur some much-needed competition (instead of 'helpful' colonialism that the Certain World Leader in the Western Hemisphere I mentioned earlier is practicing):

1. Dear Russia. I read in the newspaper today that you are stylizing yourself as a leader in geo- and ecopolitics. Beautiful. This is how you can market it: pour money into a major constructive effort that rapidly develops the key infrastructure surrounding Moscow -- say, in a radius roughly the size of the Golden Ring. Put all of your crack teams of possibly-illegal workers into this, use all of the latest technologies, and for once ensure that there's no corruption and that you're using good building materials and techniques. Talk to the professors at MARKhI if you need some help figuring out what either of those are.

All of a sudden you'll find that you'll have a substructure that, in and of itself, encourages green activity. The way you will need to sell it is that a) you are saving the beautiful Russian climate b) you are positioning Russia as a world power c) if this does not happen the foxes and minxes and baby seals etc. etc. will all die out and then where will Russian women get their fur coats? We will thus play into the "shchedrost'" [generosity] of the (mythic) Russian soul, pretensions at world power, and fashion. Combine and conquer.

2. Dear US of A. Remember all of those billions of bail-out program dollars that Congress signed off on? Why not for to pour all of it into research and development and construction of top-of-the-line ecologically-friendly structures and mechanisms. Instead of following our current m.o. - which is kind of like how the Russian Empire kept sending troop support of cavalry units to the front during the Great War (we remember that WWI was trench warfare and gas warfare and bomb warfare...) - we can change our strategy to what we pursued during WWII and come up with a new technology that is a lovely trump card.

Except this time let's not come up with something that's denounced by every scientist who ever theorized or worked on it, shall we? Let's.

Because the bottom line is that whatever country realizes that going completely green and develops a technology that allows them to do this will suddenly hold a bargaining chip in world poltics far more powerful than guns, germs, or steel.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Without You, Mes Amis

I sit in my room.

I sit in my room, na krovati [on the bed -- there’s some good ROD for you later tonight YEAHHHH], laptop perched on one thunder thigh, thousands – nay – hundreds – nay, precisely ninety-five little strips of graph paper floating around everywhere else. Some are up my nose.

I make the strips into pretty piles. I make changes on the corresponding list on my computer.

I arrange new piles. More changes.

I try to collate piles. Remember the strips that have gone up nose. Retrieve said strips. Continue.

I have made a good list. I am pleased with the result.

I get up to make myself some tea with my previous quest item.

THERE IS A STRIP OF PAPER ON THE FLOOR. There should actually be ninety-six strips of paper!!!

In my mind I scream and kick and rage. I am good at bottling up emotions and saving them for a later time period, when I can express them in conducive ways to nature and society, through the widespread dissemination of the Frozen Icarus blog.

This is what you reduce me to, Moscow! This is what comes of your discriminatory, anti-index card politics! Shenanigans! I claim shenanigans! Exclamation point!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'm on a NEW Never-ending Quest

I’ve been compiling a list of what I call “modern vanities” – basic rules that govern the world. At least my world. I don’t know about yours. Take, for example, Modern Vanity™ No. 4: “There’s always a bigger fish.”

As in the cliché. There’s always a bigger, badder, more horriblerier boss in a video game, or bad guy in a comic book.

Or quest item in Moscow. Earlier I wrote about my quest and eventual success in finding a teapot.

Life continued for our hero in the land of the snow and troikas, until one day:

I want index cards! All I want. They are so ubiquitous in America that I’m suffering pretty horrible culture shock that there are NONE in the city. I’ve gone to different book stores, office supply stores, etc. Here’s what happens:

[/action: Frozen Icarus searches.

…You find nothing.


Frozen Icarus: Do you have any index cards? (Russ: kartotechnye kartochki)

Saleswoman: ???

Frozen Icarus: Kartotechnye kartochki.

Saleswoman: I understood. No. Why would you want them? Like a library? No.

[/show item: post-it notes


Frozen Icarus: Do you have any Post-its that don’t have adhesive? (Russ: bes kleia)

Saleswoman: …No. Everything we have is on display, here.

Frozen Icarus: Do you know –

Saleswoman: I have no idea where you could buy karty dlia kartoteki v gorode (cards for a card catalogue in this city).

I’ve never thought I’d say it – and Paddles, you should turn your eyes away, this will burn you** - I long for Staples.

(** - He worked for Staples and it his personal anti-Christ.)

Seriously! I can’t believe I have taken index cards for granted all these years of my life. All of those cards I wasted as flash cards…le sigh. Is ok. I will buy a couple thousand when I get to American shores in a week.

I’m surprised at how much Post-it notes have caught on here, comparatively. The display is like a rabbit cage of neon paper. Before my very eyes they propogate. POOF! (This is the noise of Post-its-women giving birth.) POOF! Green. POOF! Yellow. POOF! A-color-the-name-of-which-I-don’t-know. Is this puce?

The one good thing out of this situation is that I’ve finally solved the question: “Is Nabokov an American or a Russian author?” If you ever encounter this question in your life, readers dear, you need respond with just one statement to prove, once and for all, that he completely nationalized:

Nabokov wrote his novels on index cards.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Like the one in Central Perk

There’s been something not right (or in Russian: shto-to ne to - which I love for its literal translation: “what-that (is) not that”) in my life for the past couple of days.

I think. I ponder. I wonder.

I contemplate the snow. Picture everything that’s great about snow: how it hangs on tree branches, its great wide flakes caught upon your tongue, you frolick in it and play football that starts out as two-hand touch and quickly ends in “you’re not down until you’ve been tackled to the ground and had three-liquid-ounces-of-snow-down-your-shirt,” you go inside and have hot chocolate and wrap up in about fifty thousand wool blankets in front of a fireplace.

Ok, that last bit is just fantasy. Usually it’s in front of some Vh1 reality series rerun. If we’re lucky, we can switch to a Bravo Cirque or Top Chef marathon. And eat some Christmas cookies. Om nom nom nom.

Then I compare that ideal scenario to Moscow. I think about the general lack of trees in this industrial quarter of Moscow. But there are trees; I can get to parks very quickly. So that’s not what-that (is) not that.

I don’t really want to catch snowflakes on my tongue as…well. That’s usually a rare activity for me in America, too.

Football. This could actually be a promising candidate for that-what-not-that. I could also fix it if such were the case. I’m afraid, slightly, that those people I know who a) would be game b) are in Moscow are mostly like Jude and are about 135812397523 my size. And play sports semi-professionally. I can deal without the football, I guess.

And that leaves us with going inside and wrapping up in blankets. I have lovely warm blankets but they’re on my bed! And the bed is for sleeping and resting! Here we find the problem.

I need a couch. Yes. The couch. The couch is for sitting in warmth and heat and looking outside at the zombie rev—I mean snowfall.

I’ll ask some homeless people in the ‘tro today if they know where I can get a free couch.

Monday, December 14, 2009

SPEAKING of Demian...

For quite a long time (nearing about a year, now), the sound card on my computer has been fonky. Technical term, that. I read up the Nerd Forums that a google search of “dell laptop broken sound card” got me – turns out that it’s a relatively common problem when the external speakers go fonky, having to do with something about putting headphones in the jack and springs becoming too loose and blah blah blah.

I read it as: “You won’t be able to use external speakers until you man up and buy a new laptop because you’ve already tried to deal with Dell customer service and it is testamount to immediate entry to the seventh circle of hell (where they spit fireballs on you and everything).” Or maybe the sixth. I can’t remember. I think maybe the sixth is when you’ve committed suicide and have your treebranch limbs torn off by Harpies, but then again I think Dante was so high when he wrote l’Inferno that if he were alive today he wouldn’t be able to tell us clearly what each circle denoted.

In short, patience is a virtue. I had figured out that if I put a heavy, preferably musty-smelling book on top of the headphones, and the headphones were only partially in the jack, I could jigger the sound into coming out of the front speakers. Hurrah! I have, thus, lived in relative happiness for the past eight, nine, ten months.

But now I am perturbed. Today I jostled the computer and the headphones came out of the jack completely. And the Killers kept singing joyfully: Forget about what I said/The lights are gone and the party’s over/Forget about what I said/Forget about what I said

They were singing! On my external speakers!

This was not my initial reaction. My initial reaction was to throw my hands up into the air so I wouldn’t brush a single atom of the computer’s existence, and stare at it in equal measures of disbelief and distrust.

We shall see how long this new arrangement holds. I doubt it will survive the ‘tro ride over to the café for Interwebs.

BUT. I am now scared. This seems like one of the seals has broken. The apocalypse is nigh. (Read as: Death of this computer.) I’m knocking frantically on wood but it’s the polyfiber carbonate that is my work-food-stuff table. I don’t know how long that’ll last.
Forget about what I saidddddddddddddd
Note to self: buy a thousand more CDs from the 18 ruble CD person at the ‘tro so for to back up every file in existence.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I wonder what she thinks of ME, then

SO! I can’t remember if I told you, readers dear, just what it was that was keeping me away from the blog at the beginning of the month.

It was a presentation I gave on The New Superman: Modern American TV Detectives

And/or an excuse to talk about three of my favorite shows (Psych, The Closer, Dexter).

And/or an excuse to practice giving a presentation to a rather hostile hall of listeners who came expecting (primarily because I falsely advertised it as such) to see video clips of said shows, and instead had to hear an interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes tradition as an extension of Carlyle’s Great Man/Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

Don’t worry, I’m skipping over that part for you guys.

What is still funny to me is that after the talk this woman hobbles up to me (literally. She had a cane.) and says: “I think you spoke about a man named Shawn?”

I say: “Yeah, his name is Shawn Spencer, he’s the main character in Psych.”

She presses her lips together and shakes her head. “You should not call him Superman. I do not like – he has ugly face. He is a monster.”

I just need to pause on that logic. (You can google image Shawn Spencer [or the actor, James Roday, to see him in different roles].) Anyway. The logic: ugliness = monstrosity. I would assume its converse (beauty = valor/heroism) is also true? In any case, the woman didn’t have any problem with the pictures of Dexter I was showing, although he was spattered in blood in all of them. Meh. Not his fault. (For those playing along at home: Dexter is about a serial-killer-blood-spatter-analyst. It’s like he does all the things it seems that goth girl in NCIS would do.) But no, it’s not his fault; that’s his victim’s ugly blood, anyway. But Shawn – Shawn’s ugly. His fault. Monster.

I wish I could go on a rampage about this being a “Russian” phenomenon, about the pictures of Putin with his shirt taken off and my old friend, $500-Scarf, who had a huge crush on him.

But then I think about the cult of personality that surrounds Barack Obama. It’s not really all that Russian, this jump in logic, I don’t think. Pretty people are t3h pretty. And for some reason we click “genetic freak” = “leader!” in our Chomsky-switch-riddled brains.

And with that I’m off to the gym.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

From Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

“…it’s necessary to see that part of the landscape, inseparable from it, which must be understood, is a figure in the middle of it, sorting sand into piles. To see the landscape without seeing this figure is not to see the landscape at all.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

I want to be a hand model on HSN

This is apparently turning into a music blog. I don’t want that to happen. I want this to be more a humanity blog - so I’ll bring it back around, soon enough.

Last week Susan Boyle’s debut CD pumped out over 700,000 copies, taking the cake by a wide margin. Apparently 80,000 of that number came from some home shopping network number she did. Genius.

Genius marketing, really, realizing that the majority of people who buy CDs these days are the same demographic as those people who would buy Susan Boyle are the same demographic as those people who watch home shopping.

But 700,000 copies! That’s the biggest female artist’s album debut in history! Perhaps if we weren’t so good at pirating music it wouldn’t be, but it is! Exclamation point!

I – like many many many – thought it was fascinating, really fascinating, quite interesting, really, how Boyle’s story was presented on Britain’s Got Talent: here’s a cat lady, a crazy bat, and we can laugh at her! Mwahaha. (Remember poor William Hung?) The audience was visibly hostile to her when she first came out on stage.

And then she opened her mouth, and they were all on their feet screaming her name by the end of the piece.

Once upon a time (this summer) I read the Wikipedia page (so I know it’s true) of Susan Boyle’s. The Wikipedia page had a quote (you can see it yourself, if you so desire) about how this type of talent show is a modern version of the Victorian freak show. We aren’t so much interested in pretty and talented people. We get enough of those from Hollywood. We’re more interested in the crazy people -- either because they’re crazy and don’t realize how poorly they sing, or because their physical appearance is nothing like their voice, or their skill at [insert instrument or talent here].

Which is really silly, isn’t it? Don’t lawyer me on this statistic, but it has to be over 95% of opera singers who are just. Plain. Butt. Ugly. Because it doesn’t matter what they look like! We’ve paid tickets to hear their voices, and they’re going to be in major costumes and pancaked on makeup anyway, so what’s it matter? What’s with the Victorian freak show?

I don’t know. And delo ne sovsem v tom (the thing’s not entirely in that). What I’m trying to talk about are 700,000 copies of a debut album in its first days of sale. This is a wildly successful figure for someone who has escaped the freak show. We already know what kind of voice she has, and what she looks like! And I think I saw somewhere that she might have gotten some kind of vague, matronly makeover – good for her!

So now she’s legit. And people are buying her records (or watching her on youtube, or finding her on some kind of torrenting site) because they want to hear her sing, regardless of looks. That makes me happy. Happy as a clam.

Or as the caviar I’m eating right now. Mwahahahahahahhaa.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Um, Kate? You Might Not Want to Go in There For a While

I have Made a Mix-Tape™.

Well. A Mix-CD™.

Well. A Mix-iTunes-playlist™, as I’ve currently not burnt any copies of it.

But I have a poignant-though-inspiring quote from Virginia Woolf to validate it. And I’ll give it a test-run in the car home from the airport in just over two weeks (hopefully. Depending on which car I am whisked away in from the airport, jet-lagged and inevitably-greasy-from-some-crazy-old-woman-next-to-me-inexplicably-making-my-entire-life-greasy head in one hand, CUP OF DUNKIN DONUTS ICED HAZELNUT in the other.) Maybe if Dad likes it I will make him one.

I have just realized that I’m not planning on bringing my laptop home, and thus will not be able to make Mix-iTunes-playlists™ become Mix-Cds™. I must stock up from the 18 ruble person by the ‘tro.

And then I will just have to find out who’ll be lucky enough to get my Virginia-Woolf-validated, coffee-stained, grease-covered mix-tapes. I mean –CDs™.

In other news, is that parenthetical about what I’ll have in my hands a misplaced modifier? I can’t tell if it’s ambiguous or not whether I’m talking about the I-getting-whisked-away or about the car when I describe the greasy hair and the cocaine-in-iced-hazelnut-liquid form. I think I did it correctly and it just sounds funny in an informal, passive register? Gahd. I suck at Russian AND at English.

Edited to add: Today is Thursday. Which means last night the finale of Top Chef aired. I will likely not be able to locate the episode illegally on youtube until tomorrow at the earliest, more likely on Saturday. I will massacre that one who spoils the winner to me in that individual's sleep. Just saying.

Actually, that seems too peaceful. I would construct an elaborate death trap while you were sleeping (so you could not escape) and then wake you up (so you could experience it). Cf. Battle Royale, Saw, other "torture porn" movies.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Like a Bridge over Troubled Water

Most Bogdana Khmel'nitskogo (Krasnoluzhskii most) (2001)
The Bogdan Khmel'nitsky (pedestrian) bridge, built over the old Krasnoluzhsky Bridge of the Moscow Railway System (originally built 1905)
Author: E. G. Konantsev

I'm sure this won't be true for much longer: right now, this is what it's like when it snows. The skies become black as night, eternally at the mercy of the wind and the sea, and where the road meets the sea let her wait where the road meets the seeeeaaaa we can see the snow as distortions on the photograph-memory-image but nowhere else.

I fear the day when the snow will fall for real real.

Edit: I prepped this post on Sunday. Monday we had snow for real real. Le sigh.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Musics-made-of-glass in an Exhibition-Cafe

Part two.

I wonder how many “one-hit wonders” haven’t stuck with us as the wonders they were when once we wondered at them. Like “That Thing You Do.” Sometimes I sing that song and people give me weird “what song are you referencing” looks. Then I describe the scene where the guy’s jumping meters and breaks himself and they remember.

Weird, what things stick in our memories. Like this throwback to 1970:

“I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” by The Glass Bottle. Some readers of Frozen Icarus (like my mom and dad) might know the song I’m talking about. It was relatively popular, once upon a time, but it is not classic rock – with the strict definition of “classic/al” being “withstanding the test of time.”

Or has it? Thanks, Moscow, for introducing me to random American songs I’ve never heard before. The only unfortunate bit is that the version I hear in the café is a mystical cover version that inexplicably does not exist on the interwebs. How can this be?!

Is ok. The original is good, too.

It doesn’t deserve a separate post, but only vaguely related: a song I have “re”discovered is Sonny and Cher’s “A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done.” I have no idea why I like it. It seems like it would be everything I hate in the world, all rolled in to one 3 minute and 12 second clip – but it’s not!

What is this world coming to!?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Musics at an Exhibition-Cafe

This is part one of two-part suite dedicated to the sometimes jaw-droppingly-awesome, sometimes startlingly-horrible music in the coffee shops.

I have a moment of panic.

This moment is different from the flocking plethora of other panic-moments because I am writing about it right now, right here. Get thee to a super soaker, nonetheless.

This is my problem. The lovelies on the Sandbox talked about Adam Lambert’s CD release. I was all ignoring them, sipping my coffee, when they let slip: “And here’s a clip of Lambert singing a song written by the frontman of one of our favorite bands, ever: Muse. Here’s Soaked [with what!?]” (They are very intolerant.) (And now you recognize the triple entendre I’ve made with the “super soaker” link above.)

I write down “Soaked - Adam Lambert” in my “list of things to do when I have interwebs” document. (Yes, I have such a thing. And that is exactly what the file name is.)

I listen.

I enjoy.

Enter moment of panic, stage left.

It’s Adam Lambert, pop superstar divao (the “a” is silent. Or is it the “o”? I am also very intolerant, it seems.)

But it’s also Matthew Bellamy! And it sounds like Muse! It sounds…it sounds like Tina Turner and Matthew Bellamy had some bizarre cloned lovechild that sings power ballads.

Is it bad that I came up with “Tina Turner” as a singer with a similar style but lower voice than Bellamy? Tee hee.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Damien Effect

My sister and her husband, Galinda and Scientist™ Joe, are expecting twins.

This statement is very out of the ordinary for the blog, which is an egotistical extension of my ego (hence…egotistic…you get it.) and subjective reality (which is why I was a relatively horrible uncle and mentioned all of my nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays in one fell swoop), but I must make an exception.

Because that statement is important for the egotistical and subjective explanation that follows.

Also, this post is important for two reasons.
1. Lady Ashley’s already yelled at me because I was a horrible horrible “BFF” and didn’t tell her as soon as I knew. Mea culpa, on that one. You can take this anonymous blogpost, anonymous readers dear, as me personally telling you, each and every one, now, that Fred and George Weasley will soon appear on this green earth. K. No more yelling at me for being a bad gossip (because in actuality I am a fantastic gossip. Tell me your secrets.)

2. There’s something about twins that’s always given me the heebie-jeebies that I need to get off my chest before my nephews are actually people and can take offense at it.

…There are so many things wrong with the rationale behind the previous sentence that I’m not even going to touch it, but just move on.
This is the thing. It’s nothing like old superstitions about twins – I believe they’re both going to have a full soul, I don’t think there’s anything creepy about mirror images (they can be a dual aerial act in Varekai!), and I look forward to seeing how they make their older sister run for her money.

But I get creeped out by THE DAMIEN EFFECT™.

For those of you, readers dear, who aren’t familiar with The Omen or its 6/6/06 remake (where the scariest part is Julia’s acting, blah blah blah, I’ve already referenced it multiple times) the premise is this: the anti-Christ is a little British (though technically American – though technically a citizen of Hell, and I’m not sure if they give dual citizenships there) boy who is the son of the American ambassador. Except he’s really the son of a jackal, and the babies were switched in the nursery where he was born. (For a more uplifting version of these events, cf. Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, available in your nearest bookstore.)

You see, this isn’t a question of whether Galinda and Joe are going to love one twin more than the other (categorically that answer is: yes – Grant is always going to lose in affection to Tecumseh) – but a question of which twin gets to be Grant and which gets to be Tecumseh. Let’s say that Baby #1 is born. This is Grant. Baby #2 is born. This is Tecumseh. Of the three children, Tecumseh is thus the “babyest,” and pampered, and loved. Ok.

But then the babies are switched in the nursery where they are born (perhaps multiple times?) and Tecumseh is now Grant! And Grant is Tecumseh! And their little eight-month-and-three-week bodies will have already experienced so many DNA transcriptions that there are bound to be some small osobennosti (see the ROD), but they haven’t grown up enough for a) us to tell them apart b) to understand which personality is their own.

For some reason I really need to have a one-name-one-ideal-one-physicality trinity. Maybe I need to think of it like the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics (although Einstein himself didn’t like that. GOD DOES NOT THROW DICE! …But the Devil throws babies into nurseries?)

Besides, maybe some time when they’re three or four months old it’ll turn out that “Grant” is happy-go-lucky and “Tecumseh” is colicky. All Galinda has to do is change the outfits Scientist Joe saw them in earlier that day and POOF! Tecumseh’s become so much better behaved, hasn’t he? There’s a reason he’s our favorite child…


osobennost’ (pl. osobennosti) - specialties, exceptions. When the trainer administering our entrance physical exam to the gym announced that Briullov, Jude, and I ALL had scoliosis she admitted “Well, it’s really just a minor osobennost’ of your spine, but I’m going to mark it down as scolios anyway.”

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I is BACK. Mwahahaha!

I just got an email from the Gingerbread Man, an old (both physically, and how long we've known each other, but mostly physically. heh heh) friend of mine, in which the G.M. says:
Icarus needs to stop his woe is me was his own fault he flew too close to the sun. He was like Curious George, but with wings. Curiosity killed the cat, yadda yadda yadda… he flew too close to the sun, got burned, died, now he was to live with it. Stupid Icarus.
Touche. I'm very excited about the Curious George reference, as well, because I LOVE CURIOUS GEORGE.

There are many things I could teach Curious George about how not to live life from the dorm, but here's just one lesson: George, food goes in the fridge, not the windowsill!

Unless you don't have a fridge. Then you can be creative. It stays at the cool temperature of 32, 33 Fahrenheit!

You can also see my plastic tablecloth-curtains and the "view" aka "reason why I usually keep the shades closed."


Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Sorry for neglecting the blog a bit. I have been busy. It doesn't make sense, but I'm actually more busy while The Professor is in Italy (I am trying to finish four different books before his return.)

I also just gave a presentation at the American Center (which is different from American Embassy 2.0) on American TV Detectives. So. Sorry for denying you your daily dose of Frozen Icarus. The drought'll continue for just a couple days more, I promise, and then we'll be back to normal.

For now,

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Maybe this has been said before, but just like there is torture porn - gratuitous violence à la The Saw, Hostel, etc., there must be such a genre as apocalypse porn. Do I need to list?
Demonic, scary, for-real-real apocalypse: The Omen 1 - 235879235, End of Days, [Insert here] of the Dead, Resident Evil, etc. etc.

“General” apocalypse: Day after Tomorrow, 2012, War of the Worlds, Mars Attacks, Metropolis, etc. etc.
Those are just the first things that came to mind in the last two minutes, as I am lazy – can you, can I, can anyone know the full extent of apocalyptic movies ever made? We’ll come back to this, but for now, here’s something completely different.

The reason that colleges pimp regimes of bystander-awareness rape and sexual assault prevention is because of the sociological principle of diffusion of responsibility: the more witnesses to a crime, the less likely any one of those witnesses will come to the victim’s aid. The bystander-awareness programs are supposed to help such witnesses learn what they can do so they won’t just stand by.

We need such a program for apocalypse porn – and I think, as well, for any kind of art form that argues for dissidence or rebellion against the standard regime. I was listening to the lovelies on the Sandbox, and while they were talking about that middle school teacher arrested in Boston back at the end of October, who became the most current avatar of Pure Evil™ in their minds, they played the following songs: M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, Green Day’s 21 Guns, Muse’s The Uprising…do I need to keep listing?

The question here isn’t “Why do we accept the fantasy-revolution in songs,” or something along the lines of “Did violent video games cause Columbine?” but, rather, “What effect are these fantasies having?”

It’d be completely different if we had a truly repressive, stagnant society. The bard-musicians in 1960s, 1970s Russia became reified and symbols of revolution (even though they were singing about love and campfires and nature, for the most part – I’m ignoring Vysotsky’s more pointed lyrics right now) because it was hard for the people to get to a dvor-concert or get their hands on bootleg, pre-cassette recordings. Forbidden fruit is essentially the easy mix powder form (Just add milk!) for artistic auras.

But for all that many aspects of our society are repressive, we are never oppressed in our status as consumers. Capitalism, in fact, loves it some good consumers. Musicians can sing about raging against the machine or about stand-offs with police or about a total apocalypse and exogenesis of human codes into the stars, and nothing will be repressed. We’re pushed to the opposite extreme – buy buy buy! Save the economy!

Our fantasy-revolutions have no real world counterparts. As the lovelies said, terrorist activity is t3h Pure Evil™. But, then, for what reason do we fantasize about revolutions, do we watch movies about apocalypses?
1. They are both fascinating concepts.
Neither apocalypse nor revolution are fun in a real life environment – they’re fascinating only as concepts. We want to experience both, but we don’t actually want to see the end of days, or see an upheaval. What would we do without Targeois?
2. Diffusion of apocalyptic responsibility.
Here’s a thought experiment – talk to someone about the time you were in kindergarten. See how many times you can say the word “kindergarten” in the conversation, in a speech-act, in a sentence. The more you say it, the more alien that combination of sounds becomes inside your mouth.

Repetition of an image – unless it has the marking of [+obsession] in an individual’s mind – does not make that image more powerful. Sorry, Dali, I know you wanted the world to be otherwise. Repetition leads to familiarity and regularity, normalizing the concepts; it doesn’t lead to critical paranoia.

So, in regards to apocalypse porn or the fantasie revolutionaire in alternative rock music, we actually have the opposite social effect of what one might originally think. We’re no longer scared of the apocalypse. We think, instead, that Cussack or Arnold or Milla will come save us. We look past the apocalypse and say “hm, how can we rebuild our society?” (which is very Norse. Make sure you clip your toenails before riding in to battle.) We fantasize about the revolution to release some steam - to take a load off, if you catch my drift – and then any real revolutionary thought we might have had has been mollified. Neutered.
like a cat. Tied to a stick. that's driven into. frozen winter shiz.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The one, the only -- (??)

Vera Mukhina’s Rabochii i kolkhoznitsa[Worker and Collective Farm Woman] has been in restoration for six years. Before that, as the wikipedia page describes, it was in prominent display at VDNKh, and served as the emblem for THE film studio of the Soviet Union, Mosfilm.

On Thanksgiving the first stage of its unveiling occurred when the frontal scaffolding was removed. It is scheduled to be restored to its position of prominence at the North Gate of VDNKh.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. There will likely be a post about it, soon, but for now, here are the questions I’m mulling over:
1. What is reality? Here, in the frame of asking which is more important, the image-myth surrounding Mukhina’s statue, or the physical sculpture itself?

2. What does this development mean in the context of VDNKh’s fall from whatever dubious glory it might have once had? (I didn’t believe the reconstruction would ever actually occur, up until just now, when I saw a photograph in the paper…)

3. I myself am excited to see the statue in person. What does that mean about professional distance from my research topic?
The one thing I can say definitively about Worker and Collective Farm Woman is that it was originally placed on top of the 1937 Parisian World Fair pavilion (designed by Boris Iofan). In all of the research I’ve done so far, every architect’s voice rings en masse to denounce Iofan as a Party man who maneuvered his way to win the competition for the Palace of the Soviets. Those same voices, with an equal solidarity in purpose, applaud Mukhina’s artistic creations. And yet Rabochii i Kolkhoznitsa is the pinnacle of Socialist Realism [read as: repression(?)] in sculpture.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Odi et amo?


I have roommates again.

These are very nice people – a Moroccan boy and his Russian girlfriend – but I have nevertheless been spoiled by the silence of having the entire block to myself (minus my friends the remonters).

We shall see how this situation plays out. I’ve already paid rent through the end of January to save myself a headache with trying to pay at the beginning of the month when it’s New Years (which is like Christmas, American New Years, and Animal House all rolled into one holiday). If I am an unhappy caged little bird, perhaps I will find myself a different apartment for the last few months of my engagement in the Russia.

Perhaps in this play Icarus should play the part of the evil roommate.

But it’s so hard when they invite me over to have tea and cake with them! Gah! You can’t invade where I’ve marked my colonialist territory and then be nice to me! Stop sending mixed signals!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pour some maple syrup on that, too

This post is in honor of the greatest celebration of overconsumption of the year. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

I’m not really a crazy person.

Am I?

Sometimes I yearn for something that’s right within my grasp, but I never let myself take it. Like dried pineapple, for example. (How does one dry fruit without making it stale or moldy, I wonder?) I stare at it and its brothers in their packet on the other side of the work-book pile-dinner table. It stares back at me. To put it in Platonic terms – the end of my art is to get work done, and the end of its art is to be eaten. (When two arts are in conflict, who will be the better to judge which shall win, the rabochii or the gourmand? Tee hee.)

Another example: since I had dinner at The Professor’s house a couple nights ago, I have been jonesing for loose leaf tea with fresh herbs in the mix (I think his wife measured a pound, roughly, into the pot). And it was delicious. Gimme gimme gimme.

A third: I’ve been wanting to go back to the Tretyakov and walk through the Vrubel’ gallery because I might have fallen in love with his daughter, Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel’, but I’ve been putting it off and off and off.

The longer I refuse to eat the pineapple, the longer I refuse to take the 3-stop ‘tro ride to the gallery, the more exciting it gets. It’s like bullet-time! (Except I have problems with bullet time as a dramatic device. That’s probably better in a different post, though).

So the temptation is there, but its aura doesn't dissolve when I refuse to partake of it - it increases! So give in to temptation! Take an extra slice of turkey! Place a stick of butter on that marshmallow-sweet potato mix, and wash it down with a can of premade cranberry sauce! This has been a year in the tempting, and you must, you must, you must increase your bust submit to capitalist urgings in food form! YAY! Exclamation point!

For my part, I bite into the pineapple ring. It is delicious.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Enigma Machine

I need to justify myself.

I always talk about the Sandbox, which, in my mind at least, leads to the impression that I spend a lot of time sitting at home, listening to the podcast, not going out into the community and not doing any work.

About two and one third of these statements are true.

A typical Sandbox podcast is just under an hour long. I listen to the first ten minutes of the lovelies over breakfast and coffee, and then turn to bureaucratic tasks for the rest of the show.

“Bureacuracy? What do you mean?” you ask.

Good question. One would think that you were an audience plant, with such a great question.

The truth is I have horrible handwriting. I know, right?! For most it’s completely illegible; I myself can only read it for a certain period of time before the individual characters lose any kind of constituent meaning. And whatever length of time I can understand English is cut in half when we’re talking Cyrillic.

The bureaucracy, then, is that while I’m listening to the morning show I look over my previous notes and plug them into an amazing computer program that runs through the web browser, which sounds like a masked, skirt-chasing maniac. Who’s not the Phantom of the Opera. Those descriptions can get a bit confusing…

I have a mountain of notes because I’d never gotten around to doing the same thing with the two full notebooks of scribbling I created last summer. I should upload a picture of it in the near future, if I remember when I have camera, notes, and computer all in the same place – working with them is kind of like looking at an Atlantean tablet washed up on Egyptian shores, annotated by a Ptolemaic scribe, and refashioned into a bracelet for his wife by a Frenchmen in Napoleon’s army. Without the help of the Rosetta Stone.

Then I go to the archives, and reading in Russian is like reading a children’s novel! (If only…)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I've been talking about my bathroom remont for a while so I thought I'd give you all some visuals! (This despite my jet-lagged and culture-shocked comment to the contrary.)

Don't worry, this is after the reconstruction began. I don't have a picture of the very very beginning. But here it is with some weird drywall preparative agent that looks like caviar.

One night I came home and was quite excited because I saw all of these tubs in the hallway. Progress! In my memory, that day has been deemed "the charge of the light brigade." Lord Tennyson must be proud. Or jealous. Or opening up an intellectual plagiarism suit against me.

Look look look! The return of art deco! And the ridiculously expensive shower curtain & rod (from Canada™)!

MJ's in Heaven, Now

I go to my friend, Masha’s, birthday party. Worried about the lack-of-present all the way down the metro (she lives at the end of one of the lines, about 45 minutes from my place; a solid hour away from the Kremlin), I finally decide to stop by one of the flower kiosks and buy some roses. I see some that are not too horrible ($2.50 a pop) and not too romantic (they had an orange-y tinge to them). “Can I have 5 of those, please?” I asked the lady. (You can only bring even numbers of flowers to funerals.)

“These? Why would you ever want that kind of rose? Look, you can get these crimson ones for the same price.”

There is a babushka who had been talking to the woman earlier. She mutters from my elbow: “Oh, yes, those are really nice roses, those are.”

“Sure, fine,” I answer the seller.

“Or you could go with these – these are probably the most romantic.” – “Oh, so romantic, romantic,” the senile old woman repeats. –

“Whatever you suggest is fine with me, really,” I tell the woman.

“Ok.” She picks some out. “Would you like to put them in a…whatever the thing is called…it’s just called a “packet” in Russian?” I nod. Get my roses and my change.

The old woman’s still muttering as I leave the kiosk: “Oh, such beautiful roses. So romantic. She’s going to be so happy. So romantic.”

I haven’t been to Masha’s since last summer, and I actually go into the wrong entrance to her building. It takes me until I knock on the door (which looks EXACTLY the same as hers) on the fifteenth floor and hear a strange man go “Who’s there?” that I realize my mistake. Finally I get to the right apartment, and sheepishly pass over the roses, and don my little Soviet Pioneer boy costume.

It was a costume party. And I was a six-year-old. With romantic roses.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's like a supermassive black hole

This is from that same trip to Kolomna that I've been sharing pictures of. At first I looked at this picture and thought it was nice, and pleasant, and that the woman and baby walking were cute. And then I looked at the upper half and started laughing.

Because in reality this chuch is perfectly well-built, if its cupolas are a little bit close together, and its verticality is undeniable. And perpendicular to the ground.

And this is Photography 101. What happens when I don't use a wide-angle lens.

Snowflakes, for real real

This is probably not a sentiment I shall continue to express through the next – what – four? five? months - six? For the moment, in this subjective reality that will have already changed by the start of the next sentence, I enjoy the snow.

I enjoy how silent it forces the world to become.

Suddenly all I can hear are my footsteps and my own breath.

Perhaps that’s God breathing, too, in the background.

[One and the same?]

The snow hangs on otherwise barren branches, it strokes poor Pushkin’s cheek, it settles as a shawl around Krupskaya’s shoulders. I enjoy it.

And I like enjoying things.

*N.B. – Pushkin was an early-19th century poet; Krupskaya was a feminist revolutionaire and Lenin’s loff. Eluding that they are statues to which I’m referring is a poetic device. :D

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blood-Colored Snowflakes

It was 1996. In a small, maloizvestnoe selo [unheard of village] named Foca, in the then-Yugoslavia, a squad of 8 soldiers, led by Commander Dragoljub Kunarac, raped at least twenty-five women (25 was the number of charges levied against the group). In an international tribune, in February of 2001, the squad was found guilty of rape – more precisely, of rape in wartime, which was made a crime against humanity with this case as a precedent. You can learn more about the case on the UN and Human Rights Watch websites. (Remember, this is from the same page in the Winter text that made me mad at America, too.)

I promised that this post would be about Russia, though. But the strands will all come back together, don’t worry.

It’s important, first, to date the actors involved. I’m twenty-two. Just how old are those men whom I see in Leninka, the Russian State Library, their backs arched over countless “reveal-all” tomes on Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voina [The Great Fatherland War] – the Eastern front of the European arena in World war II? I think we must start with them to answer why (as I posed earlier, talking about an art exhibit and a contest winner) this culture can’t get past the war.

Are they so old that they fought? Perhaps a few, but not all. Were they just a couple years too young, and have survivor’s guilt? Perhaps, again, a few, but I don’t think it’s the majority. After all, my St. Petersburg host father was 14 when he was evacuated from the city, and he is an Ancient One among the Philosophical Hierophants of this aeon.

I think we’re already in the era where these elders are at an age where they remember a WWII they experienced from the safety of their mother’s arms, like a cat startled by a thunderclap; and they remember a father-cousin-older brother who fought and died– but it’s all in a haze, and the cult of the dead still reigns.

The entr’acte: sometimes I start wondering if I’m not too hard on Russians. Besides, what right do I have to critique the way their society deals with the war? No one could ask Jewish individuals to forget the Holocaust, and the Slavs were thought of as a servant race in the Fascist world view – if not subject to final solutions, then to subjugation. But I can’t begin to argue that one group or another suffered more or less. War is war is war, to bastardize the Gertrude Stein cliché.

Nor can I stop the way I feel. A sick feeling always arises in the back of my throat when I encounter the ways the war keeps coming up. Picture that aunt who sees you only once every three or four years, who always mentions some horribly embarrassing aspect from your past. Except it’s the exact opposite: if they stop talking about how well the Soviet Union acted in the war, then they’d have to come to terms with other atrocities, perhaps with atrocities they themselves committed; if they stop comparing their current leadership to the most brutal men of the short twentieth century, admissions might have to start pouring out that some still in power are quite really-not-nice men. It’s all a matter of perspective.

But I hate politics and I can’t believe I’m on day three of talking about it. I don’t want to think of that as the reason that there’s still a cult of the dead. I think another explanation is located in the old men in the library themselves. Think about it – a senior citizen’s interest in the past is really not a rarity; we have our own old men who sit in consignment shops and back porches and even places that aren’t stereotypical blue-collar backwaters who are fascinated with past military action. But in America there’s a great amount of resentment to the old. Here’s a different situation.
1. There are no hospices to throw octogenarians into. Grandparents are cared for by the family, or they’re on the streets.
2. There is not such a crush on welfare as we have from the Baby Boomers because so many have died.
3. This is a strongly patriarchal society.
4. So [+age] and [+male] are trump cards.
5. Those people who are [+age, +male] are, therefore, the Philosophical Hierophants of the age, and they are the ones obsessed with WWII.
So even though there are so few of them (or perhaps because; it’s, after all, harder for so few to organize into different sects), the whole culture can’t escape the cult of the dead. Whose dream is in control – who is choosing the “Master Dream,” to put it in the words of an Albanian novelist? The old men. While they have the spotlight, we must kowtow to them.

And who are the people they, themselves, bow to, but those same men who marched on Berlin and raped and pillaged as they went? But what is their response to such a line of inquiry – “How dare you accuse my [insert male family member] of raping and pillaging the Germans on the road to Berlin? It was the Teutonic Nazi who was at fault, I tell you; Eisenstein has told me so, as have all of these nationalist books specifically approved by their CEOs, the board of Putin & Co…”

I can’t differentiate who suffered more. I can’t understand how there can be a differentiation between rape-in-wartime and rape in a time of peace. Rape is rape is rape…

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Poison Snowflakes in the Sky

This is Part II of a major diatribe that makes me happy I have yet to specify exactly what grant I may or may not have received.

Let me sidetrack a moment, though. Why did I just say that it makes me happy? Because I’m speaking out against what I perceive to be poor stewardship of my country and my planet? Well, that’s stupid. Freedom of speech and all that. Plus, and this is something I’ve been trying to do work on in my day-to-day interactions – I keep telling myself that I need to stop being ashamed of being American. No, I don’t identify with many things that most stereotypical Americans hold dear. But I am still an American, am I not? When I speak English, I speak with mainstream American accent, only every so often forgetting an –r or adding one where one should not be; when I speak Russian, it’s tainted by that native tongue.

So take this for your cross-cultural enlightenment, Mr. Sir-Who-Makes-The-Totentanz-Go-Round. Some Americans are crazy people. I am one of them.

We were talking about American “exceptionalism” and how it poisons the policy-makers’ logic, particularly in regards to the still-unsigned Kyoto Protocols.
“…the negotiations [on global warming] that they’re having now on Capital Hill, at the UN, they’re not between, fundamentally, the US and China and whatever – they’re fundamentally between human beings on the one hand and physics and chemistry on the other, and that’s a tough negotiation because physics and chemistry don’t haggle, they don’t compromise, they don’t go: ‘Sorry your economy is in a tough spot, let’s suspend the laws of nature for a couple decades until you’re back on your feet’…” –Bill McKibben, author, activist. (read more at
Let’s imagine a conversation. (I’ve been reading The Republic.)
Frozen Icarus: We should sign the Kyoto Protocols.

American Senator: But we would lose some of our national independence, of that independence that makes ours the greatest nation on earth!

FI: I’m more than fine with that. I’d love to strengthen the Geneva Conventions, too, and neuter our military proliferations, and while we’re at it, do some relief in the poorest of the ghettos in our own country, before we try to fix all of the world’s problems.

AS: So you don’t like freedom? Well, fine, then – but if we lose our national self-determination we’ll lose our rights. You won’t be able to write in your blog any more.

FI: Submitting in part to a lawful, supranational body (especially something as weak as a watchdog like the Kyoto Protocols) doesn’t entail a disavowal of all personal liberties.

AS: Agree to disagree.
This is my problem. This is what makes me mad. An impenetrable fog, some corner of the maya curtain of this world settles between me and a “politically-minded” individual any time I try to speak on my politics, because I have never heard a convincing argument against saving our own planet, and because as soon as any question of betraying American “exceptionality” comes into play all sorts of ridiculous hyperbole comes out of his or her mouth. It’s like there’s a game of telephone hanging in the air between my vocal cords and that individual’s ear drums, and no matter what I say, it enters their brain as “BLAH! America Sucks! Hippie Student Culture RULZ!” and anything they say enters mine as “MONEY MONEY MONEY EXCEPTIONALITY MONEY MONEY.”

I had a whole series of Socratic dialectic samples prepared, but that gets tiresome pretty quickly. I’ll shorten the rest of this post by quoting Brett (Lady Ashley), my “BFF:”
All logic and rationalities aside, I support gay marriage because I look back at what kind of stance my grandparents took in the Civil Rights Movement, and I wonder how my grandchildren will look at me. When everyone’s allowed to get married, I want my grandchildren to see that I stood on the side of acceptance.”
That’s enough about American politics for one day.

Part III tomorrow. And don’t worry, Russia. Tomorrow belongs to you.

(An all-organic, sustainable square of grass to anyone who knows the song reference. It’s ironic, in its own way.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beautiful and Unique Snowflakes

(In case you’ve forgotten what I’m doing or by what means, read these first. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then continue.)

You knew this was coming.

You…feel me coming? A new vibration? From afar you’ll see me? I’m a…sensation?

At the very least you suspected it. Too long-(this is you thinking)-too long has this blog been carefree. Too many posts have passed us by, like the wind through the wings of the Angelus Novus, without philosophical Storm unt Drunk, there’s something about this I don’t quite like…

Oh, you quite don’t like-d correctly. Feel free to blame it on (one of) my (scholarly) mancrush(es), Dr. Jay Winter, un artist extraordinaire des explications de l’histoire, whose works I first read because they had to deal with nostalgia and emotional relations to national and military monuments and architecture and I was writing my senior thesis on said topic. Then I moved on to a different aspect of architecture under Stalin, and one of the things interesting to me has been the utopian, fantastical aspect of the projects. What book do I find, at this point, but Winter’s 2006 title, Dreams of Peace and Freedom.

Gah! Cut me some slack! All I ask for are some laser-wielding dolphins (I actually quite fear this, seeing what dolphins can do on their own, thank you very much: we give them laser technology and soon they’ll not only para-evolve us, but murder us as well. And they will not thank us for the fish.

These comments are neither here nor there, nor what made me mad. In fact, I have to give Winter credit, because he made me mad both at America and at Russia, all in one page. Today is dedicated to the first. He’s talking about the minor utopian visions of “global citizenship” that have appeared in various forms since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Nothing has happened since that year [1919, Wilson’s “ship-wrecked” plan for a League of Nations] to diminish the commitment of American politicians to defend American ‘exceptionalism’ and to defy international opinion and agreements on global warming, or on protecting the ozone layer (179).
Now, when I look at some things that Russians do, like when they walk the streets and sing nationalistic slogans that are half-Russian, half-English, I think that’s a bad thing, and I think you agree. Look at any medium’s mockery of rednecks or blue collars or any other stereotypical “low class” group, and what do you find? If they’re a minority, the fact of that minority will be picked upon; if they’re white-male-land-owning, their patriotism will be the object of debate. And we’ll make fun of it. So if we look at “exceptionalism” as it relates to other cultures, or to non-dominating elements of society (that awkward phrase because I hesitate to call them “subaltern”), we think it’s a bad thing.

But when politicians (an imprecise umbrella term) use “exceptionalism” as a basis of their reasoning: against the League of Nations, against the Kyoto Protocols, against American national self-determination, against anti-American sentiment all the world over – then it’s applauded.

And…really? Exceptionality? Have you looked at the strength of the dollar recently? When I got here it was $1 – 30.5 rubles. Today it was down to $1 – 28.5. Compare that to 1 Euro – 42.8 r. We certainly are on top of the world, my friends.

Continued tomorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Money makes the world go 'round

This struck me the other day. Let’s consider:

Reasonable lunch at the library or institute (small salad, ½ cup of soup, meat&side dish and/or tvorog [a sweet, non-lumpy farmer’s cheese, if you will] cake) – 150 rubles. Roughly $5.
All the kartoshki and other cookies I could ever want for the week – 150 rubles.
Metro card for the month – 255 rubles (around $9.15)
A ½ liter (I don’t know quite the conversion – roughly a pint and a third) of draft beer – 150-250 rubles (depending on import/export, etc. You understand how beer pricing differs)
The price of a drawing pad, extra notebook of yellow legal pad (the cheapest one in the store) and eraser -194 rubles
Ticket to a pretty nice seat at the famous Teatr na Taganke, depending on the show – 150-500 (only the very most famouses of their shows or premiers get up to about 1000 r. for good seats)

What determines the costs of goods and services here is beyond me. Some things (like the shower rod and curtain I had to buy for 700 r. because there was nothing imported from a country closer than Canada) have prices that are reasonably jacked up because of importation. Still. I could have bought that same curtain and rod at Wal-Mart – maybe even something of higher quality – for around $3.50.

I don’t know why I put the “could” there – I speak from experience. This must be what “transition economy” signifies – the basics (which, apparently, includes tickets to those theaters that give the older populace nostalgia for the days of “good ol’ dissidence against the Soviet man” [it’s much harder to be dissident against capitalism, especially when you have to buy a t-shirt to participate in the picketing…]) are at prices even a hard-pressed pensioner could afford.

But as soon as it gets into questions of erasers and notebooks and other unnecessary, frivolous, ridiculous materials for “educateds” (‘you literary types,’ as I’ve [true story] heard it spat through clenched teeth with almost as much vehemence as any other slur) – oh, no, milk those for all they’re worth! I could buy three loaves of bread to feed my family, or an eraser…

…I must be missing something.

Edit: Speaking of materialism, I have but one thing on my Christmas list: a bad ass leather jacket with feathers sprouting from its shoulders. It is B.Flow and Frozen Icarus IN ONE! Gah! So much angst! So far to fall from the sky to the sea! Such pelagic depths await!

I’m a crazy person.

Edit, part II: Third time, now, I've tried to finish this post. I was browsing at amazon, trying to come up with good gifts for people. I happen to look at the right hand portion of the screen, where it tells me I can express pay out with a certain phrase. The phrase it gives me? "Icarus's bureaucratic rivals."

I started laughing in the middle of the cafe. Because? Wait for it -

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Call a Builder, Part II

Pay attention less to the scary pigeon flock and more to the gate in the background.

Close-up of this same gate. Just like in my previous post, this is for real-real

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Besides, it wasn't Spearmint

Dear Readers,

Neither you nor I should be surprised that there is no lack of crazy people
1. in the world
2. in a major metropolitan area like Moscow.
And yet, especially since the majority of the time I’ve spent here in Russia is relatively peaceful and crazy-person-less, it does seem indeed surprising when I encounter a crazy person.

Like in this situation. (You’ll forgive me that I don’t feel like transcribing and translating the Russian.)

I’m riding the metro home at the end of the day. It’s around 11 o’clock at night – late, but not horribly so. I’m reading Tabletka [the pill], a postmodern bestseller. We get to metro station Teatral’naya. (I am on this green line train until Novokuznetskaya, and then I switch to the orange line.

A man sits next to me. “What’s the station?” he asks.

This makes sense neither in English nor in Russian. I guess he means "next" station. “Novokuznetskaya.”

“No,” he replies. “What’s the last station?”


“Ok. Do you want a piece of gum?”

I make a noncommittal noise, shaking my head, and turn a page.

He begins to fish around in his pockets for quite a few minutes. It involves a lot of writhing; he is digging deep into those front pockets. Finally his hands emerge with a half-opened pack of gum. He tears away the upper part and holds it out to me.

“No thanks,” I say.

He motions again.

“No, I’d rather not.”

He grabs my arm (in the Russian “friendly” style, not “scary-forceful”) and I remove it from his grip, again saying: “No, I don’t want any.”

I get up and stand by the door. We’re about thirty seconds away from reaching Novokuznetskaya. I see him out of the corner of my eye: his arms are spread out in a “what?” motion, he’s shaking his head, he’s popping a piece of gum into his own mouth. He can’t understand why the guy who told him which direction the train is going in wouldn’t want a piece of gum.

I look behind my shoulder three separate times when I’m walking to the orange line to make sure he’s not following me.


shchedry, no stranny chelovek - a generous, but strange person

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'm as sad as if I *WAS* listening to them!


I have no The Fray!

I thought the Fray had survived the massive music and television destruction of September.

I bite at my lip and pull my hair and rend my clothing.

I just wanted everything to go over my head, heaven forbid, that’d be dead wrong; how could that save a life? All at once the ideas fall away – and nothing will look after you (me), trust me, this is a little house with a hundred windows, so far from Vienna.

Seriously. This lack of Pandora, this lack of music stockpile, this lack of 21st century humanity

Fine, world. I reopen my homework and study the presidents.

Looks like it’s back to you, Coldplay.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I want to memorize things.

I’ve downloaded lists of the presidents in order, with dates of their term(s) in office, vice president(s), and political party; the states in alphabetical order with their capitals, all of the military’s call signals for individual letters (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie…), and still some other charts. All thanks to Wikipedia. So I know they’re true.

I must become a Man-Who-Makes-the-Totentanz-Go-Round at trivia. Give me more subjects for lists to memorize. I’m thinking baseball greats’ statistics will be next. Or French emperors. Maybe genealogical charts of the House of Windsor.

YOU respond, Blogosphere!

[I realize it would be better to tell you that I spend all of my homework time studying vocabulary lists of random Russian swear words. Don’t worry, I have a separate notebook for that. No, really.]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I think he made eye contact with me, which makes it worse

Happy birthday, Grampa. Don't read this post.

Much as Good-Ol'-Abe and I joke (quite frequently) about dragging Wer of Wer&Wif fame to a strip club for his bachelor party, I very much do not want to. Not just because I swore up, down, and sideways to Wif that I wouldn't.

I've never set foot in a strip club, although, truth be told, that admission doesn't shame me; my mental construct of "strip club" doesn't have any connotations of "forbidden fruit," just as I'm really quite fine with having restricted access to highly radioactive areas, warzones, and any area where mass amounts of bodily fluids may possibly erupt at any moment, areas where a warning sign lets you know when you're crossing the threshold. Perhaps if there were hazmat suits at the door...

I've never set foot in a strip club, but I've heard the rules: placing a dollar bill in specific areas is the most exciting anything can get. Otherwise, it's look but don't touch.

We'll come back to strip clubs. First a word on PDA in Russia.

It's amateur foreigners who look at people holding hands or hugging or making out or even getting to second base in public. That's just gonna happen, and the sense of what is acceptable in public spaces is much different. And even though I think photography here is weird, it doesn't creep me out.

Even I have my limits, though. I just hope that if I were to bring it up to one of my Russian friends they would also find it disturbing - I'm not sure. This is the deal - when I'm sitting in a cafe and notice that a woman's sprawled in a much older man's lap, and that she is clutching him and kissing his lips and his neck like he's an Orthodox ikon of some creepy looking Virgin Mary holding a deformed sweet&sour and she's a scary Russian babushka, and he makes no attempt to touch her or to kiss her back or to show any emotion: not hate, not love, not fear, annoyance, stress, not NOTHING -- that's when I get creeped out by Russian PDA.

Because then it's "look but don't touch." Then he's transformed his girlfriend into a sex object, as something for all the world to see that he's bought, not that he cares for. And then I feel like I somehow missed the warning sign...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Is this -- silence?

I have…er…smote? Smitten? – destroyed, in any case – mine enemy! Mwahaha! Don’t wag your finger at me, Muse, I’m speaking, right now. Oh, I have a seed in my teeth? Thanks. It’s because I have opened the jar of pickles. And I eat the pickles. Om nom nom nom.

…I’m just now realizing how Freudian this all sounds. I have, indeed, made myself blush a most crimson red color. Well. Let’s move on.

I’m scared even to write this.

What if it’s true? I’m scared.

And what if it’s false? I’m scared.

I’m scared, but I’ll say it: I think they’ve finally finished the bathroom remont in my room. Huzzah!

I came home a couple days ago to find a distinct lack of construction tools in my entryway, which now looks sufficiently barren. I remembered the woman painting when I left: “Today you still shouldn’t go into the bathroom.”

Suddenly the Russian construction she used to say “Today…still…” made way more sense.

Then it was the weekend, so I couldn’t test my hypothesis, but today is Monday. And this morning I saw the workers doing remont in other bathrooms. But they didn’t come into my room.

Could it be…could I have…yes? Words, don’t fail me now…

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Have the Power to End This!

I have a new enemy.

Like all good archenemies, it had been my friend before we became enemies. But now – O, Time! O, History! O, Muse (Greek goddess, not awesome rock band)! Let my fingers feel the curve of this Cinderella pearl, let my voice tell the story, lest my blogosphere-friends be equally swayed by the Evil Wiles of dread Pickle Jar of DOOM™.

Yes – I bought this jar of pickles at the corner market by the ‘tro on my way home. I should have realized that there was a reason it was cheaper than the other jars. Should have.

Instead, I congratulated on myself on the astoundingly Russian dinner I was planning of pickles, instacoffee, and some kolbasa [sausage – note how close it is to the Polish word, “kielbasa”] I had cooked over at American Embassy 2.0 yesterday. (A note – my “fridge” [the space between the two panes of window glass] is indeed at a cold enough temperature that meat does not spoil! Hurray!)

Kolbasa and pickles – a lovely dinner for a Russian single man. Truly, I play the part too well...but I like garnering the sympathy of the women who cook for me when I go over to their house, and I have to describe what I usually eat, and I don’t even have to lie…

I walked through the night, humming “I think I’m turning Japanese” under my breath. I wondered how I might make “Russian” fit into the same rhythm. I think the answer is “I think I’m turning the Russian,” which would fit well with stereotypical accents and everything.

Got home. Pulled the sausage from the refrigerator. Took the jar of pickles to ope—to ope—what, are my hands greasy? Wipe them off –to open it—gah! What’s wrong with this thing? To open—nope. Maybe with my tie…still too slippery – whack it? Nope. To open – nope. Other folk remedies…turn it the opposite direction first? Nope…

NOT to open the jar of pickles, my enemy most foul.

My arch nemesis stands opposite me on my work table. I don’t know why I call it work table – I only have one table, and it’s also my “piles of notes” and “dinner” table. Oh well. That’s where the jar stands.

I glare at it from time to time. It sticks its tongue out at me.

I threaten it with a drop from my five-story window. It tempts me with its marinated goodness.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I count down to Friday


This might cause some confusion, because I have only thought about my eternal sadness, and never written it.

Once upon a time there was a dream that was Rome – I mean Cookie Monster. She was awesome and laughed at me and gave me cookies.

And then she disappeared. A new version of her appeared, but this woman looked more like Elmo. And then the open-air market went away so I could only buy cookies on the weekends.

Then Elmo disappeared! Exclamation point! A new woman took her place but she didn’t deserve a nickname.

And then, O most wonderful day, I walked past the rynok and saw that Cookie Monster had returned! Earlier, Briullov sent me a text that he’d already gotten cookies for our English High Tea, but I couldn’t stop myself. I leapt over the archaeological dig (all 20 meters of the fence) and bound over to her booth, a huge grin on my face.

Zdrazdvstvujte. [Hello], she said.

Zdra-Vstvuj-Te! I answered. Tak davno ne videlis’! [It’s been so long!]

And then I bought a lot of cookies.

Even if they are only a sometimes food.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Thought Police, They're Watching

You might remember, dear readers, that in an earlier post I addressed Mr. Suit-and-Fashion-Mullet-Man, and told him that he didn’t have to worry, no one cared if he was carrying flowers or not.

I should be telling myself something similar, but I don’t.

Some mornings I sit in the dorm room for a couple of hours. I have my electric teapot, and my instacoffee (Maxwell House, not Nescafe! It’s not BNG, but it’s something…), and some books that The Professor loans me, and I get work done. As I’ve said before, I don’t like being in the morning rush hour on the ‘tro.

Every time I hear the construction workers, though, the neurosia starts. I wonder what they think about me; I hear fragments of their conversation “still here in the middle of the day” and think they’re talking about me, only later realizing that they’re talking about a colleague who still hasn’t arrived by the middle of the day. Maybe it would be better, if exponentially more expensive, if I got an apartment.

Such is always my problem with living spaces, though. My mental construct of living/eating/sleeping space separates it from work space (which is something I JUST read about but I can’t remember where. It must have been in Benjamin. Anyway. Insert some Marxist comment about capitalist society here). I think that constructed binary has always strained my relationship with roomates: Mymy thought I didn’t like him; that, among some other things, would explain why those who lived in the Gallows don’t speak to me anymore; and I think even Wer&Wif sometimes misinterpreted why I’d peace out to Prescott Park for hours before going to BNG.

It was never because I disliked hanging out at home. It was specifically because of that – any time I was at home, I felt like I was hanging out. Even when I have concrete evidence – in the form of notes, of a paper, of anything accomplished – I still feel like I’ve been wasting time for no other reason than because I’ve been sitting at home. Welcome to Neurosia land.

Alright, back to work.

Monday, November 9, 2009

American Rhapsody

I ride the metro. A game of the footy has just finished. I wouldn’t normally be able to tell such a fact, but there are many red scarfs and scarlet cheeks and burst blood vessels in my compatriots’ noses. I am glad they have had a good time.

I wish they knew their time was over. Instead, they are still chanting, “ole ole ole!”

I think they have mistaken the moving ‘tro for the athletes running up and down the pitch.

I remember, with a touch of shame, returning home from the engagement party for Wer&Wif. We ride as four (well, three): Wer&Wif, me, and Good-Ol’-Abe.

Good-Ol’-Abe is a great friend of ours, but for whatever reason has not been mentioned too much in this blog. Usually because we do not do things with Good-Ol’-Abe that I’d like my grandmother to read, and I don’t know how many people my mother’s told about this blog.

I’m not too sure I’d like to have my Mom read the things we’ve done with Good-ol’-Abe. Primarily Trivia. Yup. Trivia. And random walks into South Mill Pond (the bathtub smelt of Sea for quite a long while…) And I’m still waiting for that youtube video the man at Gilley’s promised us.

Well. Anyway. We ride as four/three. Sometimes I can’t tell with the singularity. They comment separately, though, so I suppose we are four. Poor Wif i driving, and hadn’t drunk. Wer had been on company behavior (wanting to put on a good show for the in-laws-to-be) and Good-Ol’-Abe and I had done the “I-will-chug-this-beer-because-I-feel-slightly-awkward-and-I’m-a-groomsman-to-be-so-you-think-nothing-better-of-me.”

This might be a slight exaggeration. We seemed to be a big hit with the various friends and family members. The appetizers they had all prepared were definitely big hits with me.

We ride as four. Suddenly Good-Ol’-Abe and I think it will be a great time to screech the entirety of Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of our lungs. Except we can’t quite remember how to finish the second verse, so we keep looping around. Finally we make it through, and there’s a brief musical interlude that we are humming under our breaths.

“Guys, I don’t want to be mean, but could you…please…” Wif is very nice, but very clear.

We are quiet for a little while.

We ride as four across the NH border.

“Oh mamma mia let me go,” says Good-Ol’-Abe.


Oh, poor Wif. We continue to ride.

From Paul Celan's "Death Fugue"

On the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht.

He shouts
       jab this earth deeper you lot there
       you others sing up and play
he grabs at the rod in his belt
       he swings it
       his eyes are so blue
jab your spades deeper
       you lot there
       you others play on for the dancing

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My age, my beast...

A Most Ancient™ church in Kolumna

According to my tour guide, no one knows exactly what this beast is supposed to represent. It's not a type of stone graffiti, it's part of the original architecture, but there are no documents to explain its symbolism. Explanations have ranged from dragons to Statan to Jesus-as-Aslan, etc...

Have a guess? Leave a comment.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Can't Touch This?

I must be a crazy person. There is no other way to explain why I feel so uncomfortable, so often, at the amount I’m touched by random strangers on the street. I must be crazy. I must not understand how to construct some boundary that says “Hey. Please don’t touch me.”

I wish I could put this down as an aspect of culture shock, but it’s something that bothers me in Amuhrica as well. I could bore you with a list, but I’d rather not remember all the times strangers have, for no apparent reason, touched me on the shoulder or held me by my upper arm or patted me.

Am I dog? Is it because – perhaps out of some strange kind of fear of insulting the individual – since I don’t flinch, it seems like something that’s ok? I don’t understand.

Today on my walk to the café where I would have most glorious access to the World Wide Interwebs I found myself having to walk around two guys who were exiting a store. One stares at me and starts talking. Bankomat, nam nuzhen bankomat. [An ATM, we need an ATM.]

By this point I had walked past him, and I looked at him over my shoulder. He’s still staring at me, but now it’s in a “What’re you looking at?” way. His friend starts to describe where to get to the nearest ATM. I walk faster.

That was, to put it lightly, awkward. Seriously, though; of course I’m going to look at you if you stare at me while you’re saying something. I understood what you said; I was wondering if you meant to ask me directions. I could have told you, especially in that part of town: “Walk in any direction for a maximum of one block. You’ll find an ATM.”

Not physical touch this time around. But still.


Eto ne trogaite. - Don’t touch this. (If you want to be MC, say Nel’zia eto trogat’. - Can’t touch this.) MY MY MY MY!