Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My shirt is black NOT

In the park Neskuchny sad [literally, the "Not-Boring Garden"]
Architectural Folly: Monument to the 850 Anniversary of Moscow

Quickly on this guy: it's called a folly because that's the name for anything that's built to look like a Classical monument that's withstood the winds of time. Obviously, this was built in the middle of the 20th century, not by the Greeks. The thought is, nevertheless, build something in this strict Classical manner, stick in the middle of nowhere (this is DEEP within Neskuchny), and the first impression a person will have of it is "woah, check out this ancient monument." It's a common architectural, psychological game, to make the monument seem that much more important, that much cooler.

I actually like this bad boy. The exterior has bas-reliefs of Dolgoruky and other founders of the city, those who defended her from Tatar and Polish invaders. The interior, then, has images from the 1917 Revolution, and from World War II.

My gut reaction: "Typical Soviet, tying themselves back to the dawn of history, saying that there's nothing else important."
Quickly on the heels of that first thought: "Well, wait a second. How do I expect those who conceived of this monument to be able to choose the highlights of all of the years Moscow's stood?"

And then, looking at what it's meant to be - a monument to the 850 years of Moscow's existence, it makes sense to only show things from the founding and from the most recent time. It says: "This is a time capsule. This is what it was like when You, Forefathers, were at work; and now we, your potomki, have defended Her against all of these threats, real and perceived." Well. I guess the Whites were also real threats to the Bolsheviks. To Moscow - maybe not as much of a threat as the iconoclasts. Anyway. It's cool. We're friends, this folly and I.


potom - then, later
potomok, potomki (singular, plural) - descendant(s)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and Damned"

He was reminded of a fantastic romance he had lately read in which cities had been bombed from aerial trains, and for a moment he fancied that Washington Square had declared war on Central Park and that this was a north-bound menace loaded with battle and sudden death. But as it passed the illusion faded; it diminished to the faintest of drums - then to a far-away droning eagle.

Face Masks aren't Part of the Sexy Nurse Costume

I exaggerated earlier when I described the dorm through jet lag and culture shock. The scariest thing about it, really, is the kid down the hall, the lower half of whose face I’ve never seen because he’s always wearing one of those clinical masks that were so prevalent in the media photos from SARS.

It’s really, really, really creepy to see someone who’s not a medical practitioner of some kind wearing that thing. And likewise creepy to hear this godchild of Annabel Lee’s coughing up his lungs every so often.

And I was wondering why my antimicrobial soap seemed to be emptying so much quicker this time around.

In all honesty I’m not as scared of contracting a virus as I’m scared of the human response to perceived threats. It was not a pleasant half hour from the time we started our descent to Domodedovo and the pilot came on: “Oh and by the way, when we land, don’t get up from your seats. Medical officials will board the plane to check for swine flu” – through the time the officials did said sweep, which consisted of using a hand-held, radar-gun style thermometer to check every passenger. I have no idea what they would have done if someone had a temperature higher than the norm. Personal quarantine? Plane-wide quarantine?

They let us go before they had gotten all the way through economy class, so I was disembarking at the same time one of the officials returned. I kak? asked one of her compatriots. [And, so?]

She just shook her head. (She was also wearing one of the creepy sanitary masks.)

Ny, slava Bogu. [Praise the Lord.]

I’ll withhold my own praise until after getting through Christmas.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vinnie Pookh, They Call Him Here

Saturday, September 19
State Park-Museum "Tsaritsyno"
National Honey Festival

I bought a 150 g. tub for just under 200 rubles (about $6.60). I've been having green tea with honey cause my throat's been hurting, and then bread with honey for doesn't look like I've even touched it. Bueno.


miod - honey

PS. I know there is a new season of Top Chef. If anyone reveals a single detail about it to me before I get a chance to watch it, I will make you into honey. Or possibly a nice quiche. Capisce?

I keeeeeed I keeeeed

I don’t want you to get the wrong opinion about my language ability, what with my stories about not seeming like an American, just a Faustian foreigner (lovely alliteration). Already there have been many a time when I am thwarted by simplicities of Russian language, and even more...this time around I can feel the linguistic barrier teachers always talk about. I'm chilling here on the same level, and I know I can get to the next plateau, but I don't want to emerge myself completely in Russian. That way lies madness.

Plus, I don't think I need to; I think I just need to find a good friend who doesn't mind listening to my rambling in Russian. Look at the pretty bird it is flying flying in the sky like a...balloon...Did I say that phrase right? How would you say it? Anyway... Back to my bad Russian:

Last night at the produkty on the corner, for example. They have pre-made salads. I ask for one (this is, in case I’ve forgotten to say, in the style of Russian corner store where you can’t take anything for yourself. You have to ask the clerk for anything and everything. Everything.) and the clerk grabs it from behind the counter, no problem there.

But then I want a fork. I think, “I want this with a fork.” So I say: S velkoi, pozhalujsta. [With a fork, please.]

She squints her eyes at me. Shto? [What?] It’s still a polite question, like “maybe I didn’t hear you.”

Um…s velkoi, pozhalujsta?”

Now her head is tilted. Shto? It’s gone up an octave.

I start making frantic stabbing motions with my hands and nodding towards the salad. Mozhno…

She gets it, suddenly. OH. Velku. [Oh. A fork.]

I just needed to have said “GIVE ME A FORK” instead of “with a fork?” and it would have been ok. Le sigh.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I'll never be a teen model

It’s hard to be a researcher and a Romantic both; too many r-words, for one. For two, there are so many interpretive models (especially things like Paperny’s Kul’tury-2, especially apologists’ and revisionists’ models of history) that are beautiful, that are in keeping with a Romantic’s philosophy. But always the conversation in my head:
My Brain’s Left Hemisphere: That’s not the reason why.
Right Hemisphere: But it’s so romantic!
Left: Even more cause to believe that it’s not the explanation.

"You Should Read Aristotle"

I keep returning to a thrown-off remark from my research on prison histories, that diary keepers are a relatively rare breed. It seemed overwhelmingly untrue to me, at first.

But then I break it down…we humans are relatively rare who have the ability to do things like read and write, have the time and energy and willingness to do it outside of an academic or work setting; so there, already, I’ve thrown tons of people into the pile of “not diary keepers,” whether by choice, upbringing, location…it’s all the more selective.

Then there’s my personal and eternal woe, that so many thoughts, actions, events never make it to a blog, to a journal, and the corollary to that hypothesis, how much this is a subjective record of mental activity, and not external reality; how much this is like Mrs. Dalloway, only the slightest of off-hand comments about where I am when I’m writing, or random stories, or what is happening in the world. And all the rest is the crazy.

And then I think of a historian, trying to figure out the riddles of the 21st century American man, who stumbles upon this, of all things. It offers him nothing. And all of the minds, the vibrant lives I pass in the metro and on the streets every day, those hopes and dreams and moods and pleasures - how many of them have stories he’d really rather hear? And how many of them choose to be storytellers?

So I keep coming back to the hare-brain scheme of giving everyone I know a notebook and forcing them to write in it, if not everyday, then at least every so often. If not their deepest thoughts, then at least some entertaining anecdote they’ve heard, or something that seems, in that moment, momentous or monotonous or aggravating. Then journal writers would be less rare a breed. Then I – the future historian – for we are one – would better understand what goes on in the world today, would better see all of the figures, scattered through the landscape, picking up sand and ordering the granules into piles.

Maybe I’ll ask for a second of this…hypothetical…Faustian grant, later on in my existence, and try to do just that. Random journals to you, and to you, and to you. And we’ll all live in an “objective” world, and experience the same “objective” reality, and not a one of us will come to the same conclusion. Except that we will all hate Ayn Rand.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When your castles turn to sand

The Winner of Ukraine's Got Talent

Watch it. I'm not going to put too much commentary on it, except to say that even though it's Ukrainian the music is one of three: international/classical, Russian, or American (Metallica?). And the sentiment is exactly how those Russians with whom I've interacted also perceive and react to memory of the war.

Nikogda ne razgovarivat'...

More on the "I-seem-foreign-but-not-American" front: went in to look at guitars over by MKhAT-Gorky (the acronym, I've realized, is likely incomprehensible to most humans. Moskovsky khudozhestvenny teatr imeni Gorkogo - Moscow Art Theater named for Gorky -- to differentiate from the parent MKhAT, which is named after Chekhov). The store owner was this hysterical older man who was likely just excited to have someone in his store (I was the only customer, and seemed to have been for some hours.) He started by showing the selection to me, and then describing all of the different timbres and tones, and then trying to play guitar; at my slightly bemused face, he goes, "I don't actually play guitar. BUT I do play viola, and I've toured..." [and herein begins a listing of every major European country and many many musicians' names name-dropped.]

Then he paused. A vy otkuda? [We'll remember from Cookie Monster's Friend, that means: "And where are you from?"]

I know some people who lie, who say they're from Canada or England or whatnot. I don't. Iz Ameriki.

Ekh! His hands splayed out in front of his face in a cross as he backed away jokingly: I ne skazhi mne, shto zavtra pridut nashi sotrudniki FSB menia sprosit', pochemi ia shpionu dal stol'ko sekretov! [Don't tell me that tomorrow the FSB agents are going to come and interrogate me about the secrets I told the spy!]

...o...gitarakh? I riposted. []

He was awesome. The reaction especially was very comic, but in a cool, I-don't-think-he-was-anticipating-doing-it kind of way. In the end, instead of taking a couple of minutes to check instrument prices, I spoke to this guy for 45 minutes. Cross-cultural connections!

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Typical Russian Wedding

Saturday, September 19
the grounds of State Park-Museum "Tsaritsyno"

I wish I could say that this was ironic, or in some way's not.

I take that back. I would never wish for this. Russian fashion is amazing.

(Can I also take a moment to congratulate myself on the accidental composition here: the old man on the left, the smoking, emo girl on the right; the mullet on the 1/3 mark. So soon such shall be my haircut. So soon, Fashion Mullet, we shall be together. Soon, my love.)

Mob bosses, Babniki, and Kitty Litter

Briullov, Jude, and I went to see Nevesta liuboi tsenoi ["A Fiancee by Any Means" is the way Moscow Times translates it; I would've said "A Fiancee at Any Cost"]. It is roughly the equivalent of...I guess The Hangover is a good estimate. The opening scene is a rainy courtyard. The main character, Stas, played by Pavel Volia, says "Hello" into the camera before an arm [our collective arm, Doom-style] socks him in the eye. He stumbles to the ground. Bodyguards haul him to his feet. The sequence jumps: he's calling out, "My bride! My love! It's your Stas! I've come, as we promised...won't you come out and meet me?"

The person who punched Stas is cocking a pistol back. He starts towards Stas, raises the gun to his forehead, and Stas breaks the fourth wall to address us and take us back in time four days ago.

Turns out he, Stas, is a babnik (do you remember this ROD?) and takes his job very seriously. Long story short, he has sex with almost every woman he sees, including the girlfriend of the mob boss he's trying to get to buy shares in his kitty litter company. Which is how he ends up on the business end of the pistol. The premise of the film, and the reason why he's shouting in the courtyard; to create an alibi for himself, he tries to seduce every woman in the same apartment building, so he can prove to the mob boss that it was to her he had gone, not to the girlfiend.

A farce, in any case. I'm not going to try to interpret it in terms of kulturovedenie (have you noticed that new feature?) because it's not worth it.

My favorite part was that when he "thinks," Stas either consults pictures of himself, or a cat statue he has on his desk. I think this is a habit I want to start emulating. It is, at the very least, finally a reason to start collecting tchotkes.


fetish - fetish. With the same two meanings: 1) a sexual eccentricity; 2) a magical amulet of some kind. Like Stas's cat statue. I want the latter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


On Wednesday last I went to what is possibly my favorite Moscow theater, which is, to use its official title, The Moscow Theater of Drama and Comedy on the Taganka. In common parlance, it is the Taganka. This theater has a couple of claims to fame:
1. Its first production with the current director (who is 92 years old) was the late-1960s Good Man from Szechuan, applauded for its dissidence. This director, Liubimov, was exiled from the Soviet Union under Andropov for a couple of years, which, as with many forbidden things, made his return to the Moscow theatrical arena all the sweeter.
2. Until his death, the poet/musician Vladimir Vysotsky (Russian equivalent of Bob Dylan, but who is also a sex symbol) was the primo donno.
3. "Taganka" used to be the name of the city prison located at the same square. It's changed quite a bit in the past century. I may or may not be pursuing it as a possible location for special study on the 'evolving face of the Soviet city.' :D
The play I saw, Skazki [Fairytales] was a very Russian and only slightly postmodern interpretation of four different tales: Anderson's "The Little Mermaid," Wilde's "The Happy Prince," and Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" and "Cricket on the Hearth."

In the hopes of saving my breath and your patience with this blog, I'll just quote the arts critic Maria Sedykh (full article here to explain what Liubimov hoped to portray:
A few months ago I called Yury Petrovich to comment for this journal, “Itogi,” how the economic crisis has affected his theatrical process. He answered immediately: “I, as before, have created an anti-crisis play.” And the thought came to my mind that this is, of course, some kind of prepared public statement – “anti…” But Liubimov immediately continued: “We need to help people to live through a hard time.” Not to comfort, not to cast an “enchanted sleep.” To help. But how can the authors of “The Little Mermaid,” “The Happy Prince,” and “The Cricket on the Hearth,” Anderson, Wilde, and Dickens, help us? Again we remember that good will defeat evil…
For some reason Sedykh ignores A Christmas Carol in her description, but the sentiment remains the same.

Especially striking for me was inverted relationship between the realism in the story and the realism of its portrayal. You can see in the picture a floating violinist. They also had trampolines. In general, it was awesome because it combined two of my loves: pretentious theater and acrobatics. The more serious the storyline became (read as: as the stories progressed into the two Dickens pieces) the less narrative everything became. The less lines any actor had. All of a sudden, no one's even saying anything, it's just music, and a four-part dance; in one corner, John's going mad with jealousy, in another, the old man is revealing himself to be Edward in disguise (and "Americanized" [read as: putting on a tweed jacket and cowboy hat]); along the skirt a group is dancing, and on the thrust, an ancient actress who has been with Liubimov since the mid-60s is sitting in a chair as the Queen-Mother Mrs. Fielding.

The last line spoken of the entire play is Mr. Tackleton's acceptance of young May and Edward's love (he is something of a Scrooge character, for those not familiar with this less-popular story). That is - it ends on a downer. The whole company's on stage, and they're standing there silently, and the audience, one can tell, is waiting for just one person to start clapping, and then everyone will, and all of a sudden the company goes "OHP!" and starts dancing. Vysotsky (this one not related to the sex symbol, but having become himself a primo donno of sorts) and two other men start doing wild acrobatics on the trampolines. Everyone else is dancing and singing.

"OHP!" Then they start taking their bows. And then we're clapping, and they keep screaming "OHP!" as if hearing it enough times we'll come to our senses and be happy with our own pechal'nye skazki (doleful fairytales).

Bizarre. Anyway. I like this theater especially because - and this might be a whole post, later - there's a wide range in how people speak in Russia. Sometimes they're incomprehensible, even to other Russians, and sometimes their normal speaking voice is extremely nasal or with an extremely high glottis (like the voice kids use in school until a teacher catches them and tells them it's NOT OK to make fun of people with speech impediments). The actors here, with their trained phonetics and phonologies, are 1) relatively easy to understand 2) in possession of voices it's pleasant to listen to. Especially I enjoyed listening to Vysotsky (the narrator), Smirennov (Edward and Bob Cratchet), Riabushinskaya (the Sea Witch) and Khlestkina (the bird in "Happy Prince"). Those names mean nothing to anyone, I know. Too bad for you.

Opening lines: Ia ne ponimaiu, pochemu nam nel'zia byt' schastlivym imenno seichas. "I don't understand why we can't be happy right now, at this moment."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fortuna rota volvitur

Let's see if I can set this story up so I can make myself understood.

In Russia, holidays are celebrated a little bit differently than in America. It is, for example, more acceptable for hordes of young Russian men to buy out the beer at the stores and roam around the streets chanting football slogans: "RUSSIA FOREVER" and "OLE OLE OLE" are Briullov and my favorites, as both are supposed to be nationalistic but neither use the Russian language.

There's also a strange dichotomy I won't go into here between those who buy into the newer holidays, like Den' goroda [City Days] and those who don't (for example, on City Day I said S prazdnikom [Happy holiday!] to a friendly clerk in a store as I was leaving. Her response: Eto ne moi prazdnik. [It's not a holiday for me.])

I've not been alive long enough, nor do I know enough about the peculiarities of Russian holiday-celebrating, to know if this is a deeper-running thing, or if a product of Soviet times, but the official rhetoric regarding the holiday is also over the top. On the same day, taking the metro escalator up to street-level: Moskva - eto nasha zhizn'. Pozdravlaiem, dorogie moskvichi! [Moscow - it's our life! Happy holiday, dear Muscovites!]

This is the same register as used in newspapers and official language, which uses many epithets. That is, it's not just "Dmitry Medvedev," it's always "President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev" (just in case the citizens have forgotten?) It's never "In Moscow..." it's: V nashem rodnom gorode, Moskve "In our native city, Moscow"

And the zenith of that officialese is best represented at the beginning of the Rammstein song, Mosvka, when Tatu screams: Moskva - eto samy prekrasny gorod V MIRE! [Moscow - it's the most gorgeous city IN THE WORLD!]

There's a lot of rhetoric and hyperbole at any mass gathering, from official politics to the beginning of concerts (for example, and rather humorously, in this case - when I went to the anniversary, all-day concert at Luzhniki, the announcer said: "And here we held the best summer Olympics in the world in 1980!" Let's remember that it's the year most of the West boycotted the Olympics because of Cold War tensions. Nevertheless...)

I can't tell you if Russians have acclimated to that level of speech, or if they buy into it. To my foreign ears it sounds strange and forced, and I'd expect they'd say the same publicly, even if privately it did mean something to them (at least the Russians with whom I hang out, who generally seem to keep their own opinion on politics, nationalism, and even aesthetic tastes to themselves - they love talking *about* the topic, but not about their own opinion on it).

Then in the metro today, I read over a girl's shoulder the news magazine she had open to an editorial: Postoronniaia Rossia [Peripheral Russia, or Strange's from the word meaning "to the side," but it can have different connotations.] It was about the economic crisis, and how even with the price of oil back up to a place where Russia's national economy isn't in panic-mode, the country is in the far back, pushed toward the wing, of the glittering flock of swans led by the prima ballerina European Union.

I think I can imagine Russians reading that article feeling down on themselves, especially where the official rhetoric is so high. I think I can empathize with them, too; instead of a thousand years of tsarist and Communist Empire, I still have had a childhood education full of the "America the Beautiful" history. It was much to Wounded at Broken Elbow's dismay when I said I didn't even know what the Trail of Tears was until 8th grade; I'm not sure how I understood the situation, but I think it was something like there were so few American Indians we were able to move westward...that got beside the point. After waging war on drugs and terrorism and Axes of Evil, to suddenly read in the newspaper, "Oh, and by the way - remember how the European Union's had the edge on your dollar for so long? Well, they've totally pulled ahead now, you are no longer a leader in anything."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On Gagarin Square

The monument to Yury Gagarin, first man in space, from the square in his name, just down the street from my dorm. I played with the glow and saturation of this a little bit to make it look like a Brezhnev-era movie poster...I can see it. Can you see it? Some tall, cursive letters screaming the title in a diagonal along the bottom left, and in the role of Gagarin himself, written in the branches above the statue's head, the main character's name...soon in a theater near you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In the Open-Air Market

Me: May I have one of those -- amerikanskoe? (The sign was for “American” cookies. I’m usually quite adventurous with Russian sweets, but about 60% of the time it’s not in keeping with my taste buds.) (Mozhno mne, pozhalujsta, odno…amerikanskoe?)

Not Cookie Monster (check the nickname section), but her friend from across the way: How prettily you speak Russian! (Kak krasivo vy govorite po-russky)

Me: Thanks. (Spasibo.)

Cookie Monster’s Friend: Where are you from? (A vy otkuda?)

Me: From America. (Iz Ameriki.)

[She looks at my cookie choice, in a “really? You’re in Russia and choosing that cookie?” way.] I continue: I…er…miss home? (Ia…er…skuchaiu po nej…)

[Cookie Monster and Friend both immediately change their postures and expressions.] No, no! You should not miss it! (Ne nado skuchat’!)

Two notes:

1) still feeling ambiguous about my Russian language skills. I have apparently ditched the American accent; at least, Russians can’t always tell, as is true in this case, that I’m from America, or even a native English speaker. She wasn’t anticipating that I’d answer “From America” to her open-ended question. Then again, she could tell, immediately, that I was a foreigner. As can most people. Except for when I get asked directions. I guess I’m turning into Woland.

2) that conversation continued for a while, and ended up with me giving my email address to CM’s Friend for her to pass on to some people that she knows. My interpretation – the charge of that hypothetical grant I might have received, to make cross-cultural connections…it doesn’t always have to be people with whom I’m going to be the best of friends, or with whom I’m presenting myself in a formal, academic environment; I’m ok with it being those people with whom I’m able to find a common tongue. Even if said people are the vendors in a rynok whose senses of motherly anxiety are awakened to the bedny i bledny amerikanets (poor and pale American) in front of them.

You’ve gotten enough ROD from the translated conversation. From the semiotician, Vygotsky:
Every higher function is divided between two people, is a mutual psychological process.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

All-Russian Exhibition Center

This photo looks like I stole it from a 1954, ’55 architectural journal, which is when the critics would have been photographing and commenting on this place, once the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Not so. I took it this Sunday. It was one of the few photographs that I took before I became too dispirited to even look for good art-d-bag pictures to take. It just is that the subject appears so much better in this nostalgic, retro view; it’s the only way to perceive the exhibition center.
Is there no other way?
Gandalf, is there no other way?
VDNKh, as it was then called, as the metro station still calls it, was once meant to be the display project of all display projects. This is Stalinist era. This is the philosophy: if we build it, they will come. Except the “they” is not one’s dearly departed. It’s not even the mass and crowd. The “they” is a state of being, the Homo Sovieticus, the new Soviet man. The ideology behind all of the architectural upheavals that I study all revolves around him, and around the belief that changing everything about society’s lifestyle, so that it will be more in keeping with the hoped-for Radiant Future, will make that future come about.

Soviet Russia, meet the definition of utopia.

The Palace of the Soviets was built to seat so many thousands of delegates not so that each republic could send over a hundred representatives, but so the apparatus would be in place when the entire world fell to Communism.

The Stalinist Sisters were, for the present, spires in the night sky resembling the Kremlin’s own walls, a little reminder that if one didn’t toe the line, no matter where in the city one was, one could get a long train ride to Siberia, or else a short time standing against a brick wall. “Ten years without the right to send letters” was the euphemism-sentence for those killed outright. Simultaneously, they were lighthouses leading the way to the future, preparing city-dwellers for the new face of the city, of the world.

VDNKh was the model for the city, a new, Soviet town; a Magnitogorsk svoego roda (of a type). It was meant to be propaganda, too – very (very very very) respected architects (like the man in charge of one of the Seven Sisters; like one of the authors of the Red Army Theater; like half of the pair (one had passed away) behind Leninka, the Russian equivalent of the Library of Congress) constructed different pavilions for different republics. The photograph is of the Main Pavilion, glorifying Russia-in-absentia (Russia itself did not get a separate pavilion so it’s assumed the main pavilion/the entire complex is meant to be in its honor), by Shchuko.

What a great idea! How nice it sounds on paper. I could stand behind that kind of hopeful ideology.

But the real VDNKh, or VVTs, the All-Russian Exhibition Center, as it’s now called, is not that glorious. Not glorious at all, in fact. Where even a parallel – a World Fair, even Epcott Center – has some kind of self-awareness and grandeur, VDNKh has none. To walk around it is as disturbing as to watch a pack of feral children herd down the street, one holding your girlfriend about the throat and shrieking, “OUTLANDER! WE HAVE YOUR WOMAN!” While the built environment was once a set of pristine and, no matter whose (from the top, solely, or with some popular support) utopian-dream-filled buildings, an ensemble that was meant to inspire one to become a better Communist, now it’s dragged into sludge by posters, posters, everywhere, and nor a drop to drink; thousands of signs for bazaars and shops and
BUY ME SOMETHING! Mama, I want some candy!
And then one realizes that at its best this was just a park of hollow façades. And then it gets creepier.

And all around the natives are rollerblading (it’s still cool here, as it is in Wisconsin) or taking strolls, or playing with their children, which would seem to make it better; at least no one is sobbing, no one is nostalgic, its old glory shall not be missed. But then…what? What is going on here? Why? Why not just continue to expand the amusement park located on its grounds all the way into it, so that a rollercoaster loops around the Main Buildings golden spire, and then all of the dichotomies will be fully embraced, and thus expurged.

A most famous statue, “The Worker and Collective Farm Woman,” (Vera Mukhina), which made its first debut on top of the Soviet pavilion at the Paris World Fair (which makes it 1937, I believe; I don’t have my notes open right in front of me) and later continued in glory as the icon for Mosfilm, the biggest film studio in the Soviet Union, and which stood at VDNKh until just a couple years ago, when it was completely dismantled, will soon be put back on its pedestal. Which means December 5 I need to return to VDNKh again.

For some reason, that thought fills me with despair.
“So we move down the empty road. I don’t want to own these prairies, or photograph them, or change them, or even stop or even keep going. We are just moving down the empty road.”-Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Someday I’ll explain how that quote fits into this entry.


Gandalf, drugovo prokhoda ne budet? – Gandalf, is there no other way?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dog with two bones?

Dania <3 Aniu i Lizu - Danny loves Annie and Liza.


babnik -- pimp

Nine is the....something-est....number

Earlier I got to riff off of Briullov's post on the Star Trek movie. Now it’s my turn to go first and Briullov will have the riposte. Le sigh.

Last Thursday Jude, Briullov, and I went to see the new film, Nine. Also known as 9. In some countries also filed under the moniker Девять.

Here’s the thing: this is the movie Shane Acker, one of Peter Jackson’s studio cronies, worked on in his free time. Tim Burton (of previous cartoony-awesomeness film fame such as…I, actually, don’t think I need to list them) and Timur Bekmambetov (best-known to audiences worldwide for Night Watch and Day Watch; probably better known in America for Wanted). I first saw a preview for the film, sitting in L’Artist’s dorm room, between classes. There may have been some Resident Evil or F.E.A.R. demo playing, as well.

My first impression of the film was, of course, that of shock and awe (I like using that phrase specifically because Sony failed to copyright it. Hahahaha!haha. It…needs the exclamation point so you can read the intonation and know that I’m copying Dr. Horrible. [Chop off the head. Of the human race?]
It’s not a…perfect…metaphor.
Nine’s preview had everything to make a Frozen Icarus proud:
1) An as-of-yet ambiguous quest structure (check)
2) post-apocalyptic setting (check)
3) Creepy creepy design (check)
4) possibly ambiguous backstory (I think the voice over said something about how 9 didn’t know why he was created) (check)
Seriously. Awesome stuff! So excited. But then I got bummed out because the release date was, “appropriately,” 9-09-09. Alright, Mr. Movie-sir? Enough with the dates-thing. Every time you do that I think of The Omen, 06-06-06, i.e. 666, i.e. the devil’s number, i.e. the scariest part of your movie was JULIA STILES ACTING.

I digress. It is, however, all for Damien. Perhaps I ought to include a Herman Hesse quote in the literary feature at some time. I’ll see what I can do. Let’s go back to 9, shall we?

Much of the movie matched and/or exceeded my expectations. There are some deliciously surreal-creepy moments: 9 first awakens tied by a string over his head, as if swinging from a poplar tree, and it’s not at first that we realize it’s his hand strung up, not his neck; he exits, stage left, into the post-apocalyptic desert (of a, presumably, German hamlet), and flips his shiz when he peeks inside a car that’s crashed and sees a blonde woman, baby clutched in her lap, dead inside. It’s ok, Frod-I mean 9 (Elijah Woods voice-acts in the non-Russian dubbed version), I freaked out a little bit too.

The visuals continue to astound throughout the movie, and there are some really nice moments. The fight scene “choreography” has an, again, surreal feel to it, because on the one hand the audience is ever-cognizant that it’s watching dolls, even if it’s slipped into the veil of suspending its disbelief – these are dolls that cannot feel pain, that can stitch up punctured hips and dislocated shoulders. On the other hand, the animators went for the realism, and every time the dolls get thrown about (it happens a lot) their necks and limbs shake with whiplash. Gruesome. But awesome.

But – and I’m sorry, Mr. Movie-maker-sir, I tried to keep the nice comments coming for as long as I could – but then there were systematic problems with it. I’m not even going to try to touch the reason why the antagonist’s political ranking had to be “Chancellor,” why the village had to have the feeling of a German hamlet (complete with Gothic cathedral and German Revival Church, just to try to make it match all the more). There are other nationalities capable of violence. I can think of quite a few, in fact, that have proven themselves in the years since World War II...that’s another post entirely.

The major systematic flaw that I see in Nine is a flaw that I see throughout cinema, throughout society. It is – and I’m sorry, I love you all dearly – the same flaw that I see with some of the comments left on this blog, for me to talk less and put up more eye candy.

That a movie – that a post I make – that any text created in this society should make the receptor think, puzzle out what the interlocutor is getting at, is not the problem that it’s made out to be. Last self-reflecting comment on the blog and then I’ll speak in more generalities – there are definitely problems with the interlocutor’s level of speaking in terms that are not awkward, but are, rather, beautiful. Touché on that one. I think Mr. Wer knows what I’m talking about when I reference “speaking awkwardly.”

BUT! But but but. What is up with the Paris-Hiltonification? I know I shouldn’t blame her, she is just the most recent in a long line of avatars…but just because something makes you think doesn’t mean that it is ponderously intellectual, that it is pretentious.

Now, I – and I’m sure all of you can as well – list a couple of films that are surely best listed under “ponderously intellectual” and/or “pretentious.” But they are so few compared to the number of films that are just awesome, and have a message, and don’t point exactly to “THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, GUYS!” I think Darren Aronofsky is one of the masters in this latter category. The Fountain? Mmmm. Gorgeous.

Let’s go back to Nine. For most of the film, I dig it. We have some inkling of what’s happened. The scientist’s opening monologue mentions something about saving the souls of all of those, including his wife and kids, whom he’s lost. There are posters that say “REVOLT! Against the machines,” and a dubious-looking factory in the distance, to which a prowler cat machine drags off one of the nine puppets, and there are dead humans everywhere…so it seems pretty easy to figure out that there was some kind of war between humans and machines, and the dolls have filled in the role of human for the species in absentia.

And then we meet the cast, and it’s beautiful, because they’re all archetypes.
1 is the Hierophant
2 The Adventurer
3&4 The Archivists*
5 For lack of a better word to describe the archetype, The Hufflepuff
6 The Holy Fool
7 The High Priestess
8 The Elephant
9 The Wanderer
*This is another post, again, but I love how modern artistic works are more and more often including idiot-savant type children as the keepers of knowledge, or as the gatekeepers, in general (thinking of Resident Evil). It sets up a beautiful and almost grotesque dichotomy between young body and lisping voice (thank you for that phrase, Frank Herbert) and wisdom that can, from such a physical being, have only other-worldly origin.

But then, ten minutes of the film left, we are subjected to a long exposition of back story better left unsaid, for the viewer to puzzle out, and then, with only three minutes left, a very long-winded, completely unnecessary, completely mood-destroying exposition-voiceover from Mr. Frodo himself, explaining just who every number’s real world referent was.

Briullov seemed less put-off by it than I was. “I just didn’t see it was necessary, I had already figured out that the dolls matched up by that point,” I believe his words were. I am, as that previous sentence implies, off-put by it. I am not a fan.

It says one of two things to me. Either: it was originally written without such exposition, and at some point in the editing process someone said, “No, we need to include it, so people won’t think that we’re being overly pretentious or pseudo-intellectual. They’ll black list our movie.” OR at whatever point it was in the organic writing process that it became part of the screenplay, that agent of change thought, “It’s too ambiguous as it is. We need to help people understand what’s gone on.” This latter is more odious to me, although it is likely the way things went.

There’s an internet joke phenomenon that lists how different authors and various famous people answer the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Hemingway’s response, per the joke site: “To die. Alone. In the rain.”

I disagree. Hemingway, who had taste, would have realized where to stop. He would have realized not even to ask a question when he knew the answer; he would have stopped at “the truest statement he knew.”

Hemingway: “The chicken crossed the road.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Today's ROD brought to you by Family Guy

Every so often someone at the gym will say: “Это нарушит правило,” which means “That’s breaking the rules.” It slips off their tongue like it’s jargon-of-the-work-place, but I haven’t figure out yet just what rules they mean. The first time I heard it was from the businesswoman who sold me my membership, and I’m pretty sure she was referring to something that, literally, was breaking the rules of the gym.

Then I heard it from the personal trainer they make clients see before their first workout, to check one’s physical status. “To go to the gym hungry – eto narushit pravilo.” This time? Is this a Planet Fitness bylaw? Or a medical recommendation?

The last time happened when I was talking to an employee on the floor. He had asked me how many times I planned on working out in a week. “3, 4 times,” I said.

“Only three times in the weight room. More – eto narushit pravilo.”

I explained that I included times when I just went to use a treadmill/bike, too. But really? What kind of rule – socially acceptable behavior? Of the gym itself?

Briullov and Jude go to the same gym, and also think it’s funny, the extent to which everything is clockwork. You must do this, then this, then this. NOT THAT – eto narushit pravilo! Also, we all three think it’s funny that we’re technically not supposed to run – ever – and maybe not even walk, because all three of us have scoliosis, according to that first “doctor” (we decided she played the chiropractor’s game, in which anyone’s back is messed up beyond belief if it is not perfectly symmetrical). I am a beautiful little tree. My branches are not symmetrical. They list slightly to the left.


My ego poteriali. –Net, on tam – on nemnogo porachivalsia sleva. We’ve lost him. No, there he is – he’s listed slightly to the left.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tips for behavior and understanding of the metro

For the American
1. Although these metro stations are designed to be underground palaces, under no circumstances should you stand at the base of the escalator, by the stairs, in a doorway, etc., where you’ll be in the way of the pressing crowd, and take pictures of the mosaics and details. In fact, don’t take pictures at all – it’s technically still against the law, although I’ve never seen anyone accosted by the police for doing so.

2. The breath you’re feeling on your neck is not cause for alarm. Body space is not an issue here. Well, for certain people it is not. If this tip rings a bell with you, I suppose it is an issue for you. Also, those individuals around you are not trying to push you out of the way because they hate you, nor are they appearing to cut you because they’ve targeted you as a foreigner. Most likely, your pace is either slower than the breakneck run that is Moscow norm, or, in the case of lines, you were not breathing down the neck of the person in front of you, non-verbal communication that you are not rushing, and are trying to be nice to those who are.

3. Likewise, the hand you are feeling in your pocket is not a pickpocket’s. Either you’ve misplaced your own, or you’ve forgotten you’re on a date, or someone is trying to skip the date and get straight to short stop…my point being – you’re not going to feel the pickpocket in the act. Cf. the pickpocketing act in Kooza (the first thing that came to mind wherein one can see a person legitimately getting robbed, not acting. Acting, all sorts of references, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Ocean’s Eleven). Any time I mention petty crimes being more prevalent in Europe to my American (and usually male) friends, I find the reaction is usually something along the lines of, “I’d notice the guy doing it and punch him in the face.” No you wouldn’t.

4. While hard to distinguish, even for the initiated, Russian staring is not always negative. If one’s physical appearance is in order, and, even better – if one is reading an interesting book, the stare might very well be of polite interest or intrigue. I…actually, no. I’ll leave Wounded at Broken Elbow to tell that story, if she so desires, ever. I will not.

5. On the topic of books. For a while I was paranoid to read in English on the metro. This was before I found the bestseller booklists at the bookstores Moskva and Dom Knigi. Now I read modern Russian fiction. When I want to mix it up and bring an English book, though, I have this to say: no one cares what one is reading. Probably architectural history texts are not good ideas, for the single reason that I have yet to find one that is not equivalent in size to the hardcover editions of The Bible priests read from, or to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That shiz is hard to read without a podium, or one of Wer’s laptop stand things.

6. Nevertheless, don’t scream in English on the metro. Nor should one speak in American-accented Russian too loudly. This isn’t even because of some kind of xenophobia; it’s more closely related to the development of the whisper as the normal speaking voice after puberty. Speak in whichever language you prefer, but quietly.

7. For those hoping to find a mail order Russian bride: never give her a dozen roses. See below.

For the Russian
1. One should sneeze into one’s shoulder, not into one’s hand. Definitely not into both of one’s hands. Cup your mouth with both hands like you are shouting. Now like you are sneezing. See this? This is you treating your germs like they are sound waves and spreading them to every far corner of the room.

2. The same goes for coughing.

3. The same goes, really, for any bodily function. One should not have liquid, secretion, or bodily fluid of any kind on one’s hands.

4. Just as no one cares if one is reading in English, no one cares if you are holding a bouquet of flowers, Mr. Suit-and-Fashion-Mullet Man. You don’t have to hold them upside down. We’ve all counted to make sure that you’re not holding an even number (which signifies mourning of some kind), and more than that, assume that you’re bringing them to your baba. It just is that you, Mr. SaFM-M, have a complex neurosis about what acceptable male behavior should be that you refuse to hold them petal-side up, for fear we would think you are appreciating their beauty.

Seriously. I think Briullov, WoundedatBrokenElbow, and I need to tri-author a collected dictionary of gender-coded behaviors, Man Laws, etc.


Grazhdanin Kostium-i-khvostik-muzhik - Mr. Suit-and-Fashion-Mullet Man

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It's True, I've Had to Dodge Them

Raise your hand if you’ve seen the second Bourne film, where Jason ends up in a car chase in Moscow.

Now, maybe if it was from one of the airports inbound to the city, I could suspend my disbelief for the movie’s sake, or maybe if it was at midnight, or 5 in the morning (I’ve been in the pre-dawn gloom in Moscow, once. I do not want to go into the Twilight again) but walking up Tverskaya today (the equivalent of…oh…5th Ave, maybe?) and walking up Tverskaya at a decidedly faster pace than the cars all around me, I just couldn’t imagine that Bourne really could have gotten into a car chase sometime around 7 pm, as the movie depicts it, and sometime inside the MKAD, as it seems to take place.

The real chase would go something like this.

Bourne steals the car from where it is near the produkty. He tears off down the sidestreet, only to screech to a sudden halt at the nearest avenue, and inch into traffic.

Behind him, Eomer (something Urban. Karl? Kyle? Monosyllabic.) does the same, but it’s three cars that go by before he can enter traffic. They then stop and go and stop and inch forward and stop until finally one of them decides to go onto the sidewalk, which is the only way to get out of a traffic jam, it seems.


probka (pronounced propka) – traffic jam

Going Boldly Where

To be honest, going boldly where quite a few men have gone before. Nevertheless boldly. Nevertheless necessarily; I told Briullov that I’d respond to his contextualized review of Star Trek. [Most of you are probably just going to skip this entry. That’s fine. It’s here if you ever want to come back to it.]

A few definitions are in order. First up: Briullov’s conception of Star Trek. It is based on The Next Generation, a series I, admittedly, did not watch, but understand to have been less swashbuckling and more idealistic; Gene Roddenbury’s utopian scenario into which he could throw any problem of the modern age, for which to see how the citizens of Utopia would respond. Because of that definition, Briullov bemoans JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) for failing to respond to any of the challenges that have arisen in the world philosophies since TNG, let alone since the original Star Trek. Instead, the movie restates and reanimates the neuroses of 1960s white male supremacy, the racist, sexist, classist idea that the paragon of virtue, even of that future century, is the handsome white male.

I want to backtrack this next definition to the first series of Star Trek, to the quest of going “boldly where no man had gone before.” I think it’s better summarized in the trope of “handsome-male-protagonist-saves-day-gets-girl.” I have no idea what Number Myth that would be in the folklore-numbering schemes, but I’m sure it’s there. Even those of us too young to have watched the original series know its format, by reruns or by so many forms of mockery: the Evil Overlord’s Handbook, the gags about being a red-shirted ensign, Futurama, etc., etc. At the most collective the glories of the day were spread between Kirk’s physical intelligence, McCoy’s emotional, Spock’s logical, and maybe, to mix it up a bit, Scott’s mechanical. But, to paraphrase a movie critic lauding the Abrams movie for not resorting to this aspect of the original series, “it seemed that any problem could be solved by a pair of overweight men, either shirtless or in strange alien gear, grappling with one another in a sweaty avatar of Greek wrestling.”

I like throwing in something random to the mix
one of these things is not like the other
and in this case, that random definition is Cloverfield, the 2007 “American Godzilla” adventure JJ Abrams created. Cloverfield got right everything that the American remake of Godzilla (I forget the year, the one with Matthew Broderick) got wrong. Where Broderick had the know-how, and got inside Godzilla’s head, and saved the day, Cloverfield got into the psychosis of the American public and its fear of unstoppable forces. The monster is indomitable, all the more terrifying because it doesn’t seem to have purpose so much as general rage at anything and everything. It is horror, to think that there exist such enemies and forces as can’t be reasoned with, as can’t be leveled by bombs and firepower; politics and military might brought to nothingness. The end of the American man’s burden.

And now this readaptation, where I see not the blatant disavowal of the Western status quo Briullov may have wanted to see, nor even forward-thinking philosophies constituent to moderates of today’s political bodies. Instead, I see minute but systematic perversions of the original scheme: McCoy’s not in touch with emotions, he’s still haunted by divorce, an angry and poorly-functioning doctor; Spock is truly half-human, playing tonsil hockey with Uhura or letting PK Shitstorm loose on Kirk and the Romulans (as opposed to the original Spock, half-Vulcan, 35% robot, and 15% human when the writers needed him to have an emotional meltdown because they couldn’t think of a good alien backdrop). Uhura – well, she’s no longer chained to her post by a weird device in her ear, instead
1) initiating the Hero’s Journey
2) discovering the Bad Guys
3) proving to be highly intelligent, better at the communications job even as a student than the man assigned to the post is
4) highly forceful, demanding that Spock recognize that specialization (#3) that earned her a place on the Enterprise.
Uhura, it seems to me, pokes a hole in both Briullov’s and my own arguments, being a legitimately strong, female, black character on the screen. No return to the 1960s there, but no subtle perversions either. Let’s move on.

Central to my perception is Kirk, and his role in the plot. That is – to his non-role in the plot. A babe in the opening scenes, one must forgive him for not helping to fight the Romulans. Later: saved in the bar by the Captain, saved from expulsion by serendipity, saved by Sulu, saved by old!Spock, and, the coup de grace, in my mind, to the Kirk of old: saved by the Enterprise’s crew itself. All Spock and Kirk did by themselves would have been for nought if the Romulan’s bombs hit home, had it not been for the Enterprise appearing. It was a collective effort that saved them. It was Sulu and Chekhov and Scotty and Uhura, again, whose close-up shots proved that Abrams wanted us to pay attention to the fact that they were the agents of change, in this case.

These subtle perversions are how Abrams brought Star Trek up to speed. Introduce a fully Marxist society and the public starts seeing Red and screaming for Lists of Black. Need the reader remember this summer’s “rational,” “democratic” town meetings?

Even the green woman, who is lascivious and might have made me say something about feminism, proves to be a twisted allusion to the original green women. We see it in Uhura’s response to her, and, more so, we see the twist in its placement in the narrative, hardly thirty minutes in. We are not yet proud of Kirk at that moment. We stick with him because, in that part of our mind that’s not fully suspended disbelief, we know he’s going to be captain. That is, we’re pretty sure he’s going to be captain someday, in spite of strange sci-fi timelines, in spite of how poorly he functions as a young man at this point in the narrative. Someday he’ll straighten out. The indelible mark James Dean left on the American Dream.

Even that which originally upset me – that old!Spock got the final voice over, instead of the young Captain James T. Kirk, serves to distort the old. All is not as all was. If Kirk had received the voiceover, the message would have been, “There. Now everything of backstory that needed to be said was said; now we’re where the original series started.” No. Instead, that bit of the original series, like old!Spock himself, is just a remnant, a deus ex machina in the wings, strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage, signifying nothing.

To me this is all quiet dissidence. I compare it, in the subjective reality that is my mind, my memory, to the loud, kicking and screaming, slamming doors dissidence, that I saw in many of my compatriots prior to the presidential elections. The pronouncements, like from an acquaintance, Nietzsche, that “If McCain wins, I’m going to X Country.” I don’t know that Nietzsche could have outlined O’s campaign goals, truth be told. But that is another post.


Nam pridietsia ne obratit’ nekakoe vnimanie na eto soobshchenie. - We shouldn’t pay any attention to this post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A picture, finally!

I have a small backlog of pictures I want to upload. I'm limited in the number I can do at once by this wifi, which only allows me a certain number of mBs to upload/download.

This small park is at my metro stop, about 3 minutes from the dorm.

What am I Doing?

This is a good question. Sometimes I feel like I don’t rightly know, myself. Let me try to explain, nevertheless.

I’m researching the architecture that was built in Moscow under Stalin, between 1932 and 1954.

It’s architecture that refuted all of the aesthetic and ideological advances that Russia and the world had made. Up through the end of the 1920s, Russia was still at the forefront of the avant-garde, its leading Constructivists and Formalists and Suprematists all fighting for supremacy. But all of those –isms, which became legitimized because they all had to register as official groups, wielded dangerous power in the form of calling one another anti-Communist, pro-Western at a time when to be so was to be sent still farther Eastward, past the Urals. Until along came the sun that dried up all the rain, and collected all of the groups under one Union of Soviet Architects.

The year was 1932. Some architectural historians try to argue that the changes that then took place, the refutation of functionalism and the turn to monumentalism, was an entirely natural evolution (my mentor, in class last Friday, labeled gigantomania as one of the leading identifiable characteristics of Moscow architecture. The formula: take any world architectural motif, make it 3 times as big, and you have an ornament fit for Muscovite consumption). Others believe that “architects are prostitutes,” selling their soul to the highest bidder (I wish I was paraphrasing, but that is a direct quote), and in this case, the “head architect,” of any project, was Stalin himself.

I’m looking into what projects were built, and how they were conceived. So the first perspective is that of architect -> project. Jaded prostitutes or fervent Communists?

At the same time, I am tackling the prospect of discovering how deep the viewpoints of official culture went. For a long time, historians thought that everything came top-down, in the form of do-it-or-die orders from Stalin and other Party officials. Then a set of revisionists came along, asking if there were not masks that citizens wore, so that their public façade was in support of the regime, and when they retired home, the mask hanging on a hook by the door, they despised what they were doing. And then another wave of revisionists came, asking if the general populace, already a generation into the Soviet Union, might actually believe in the Party rhetoric; that the official façade was not just a mask, but was indeed a fervor felt in the blood.

As in many things, I don’t know that it can ever be answered with 100% certainty. I don’t think there can be just “it was Stalin who said this,” every time, or “it was the populace who wanted this,” every time. There’s no denying it was an autocratic society, but I do think that there was more wiggle room than is sometimes believed. How much? Hopefully I will better answer that question in 9 months.

Foucault looked at history as it affected the present. I don’t completely agree with where he continued that line of reasoning, but I do think the present-day attitudes towards Stalinism are interesting, and although it’s not officially in my project guidelines, it’s something I’m trying to keep an eye on. It’s riddled with dichotomies and inconsistencies: the Seven Sisters are beacons in the modern night sky, both filled with the fires of hell, and the guiding light of lighthouses towards the radiant future. Those same sisters, and other iconic, “Stalinist” constructions, are in a Gothic revival – a style born in Europe, revitalized in America, yet somehow, here, distorted into a purely Russian, nationalistic cast.

And there’s currently a love-hate, remembrance-forgetfulness relationship to Stalinism. It’s already not nostalgia --
A Svetlana Boym quote, in GRE form (a special shout-out to Wer. How’s the studying going, buddy?) Nostalgia:Memory::_________:Art

a) folk revival
b) iconoclasm
c) kitsch
d) babies dressed up as vegetables and/or playing instruments
-- not nostalgia, that is, because those of whom I speak right now are too young to miss that past – but a different kind of feeling. A strange attitude of looking “backwards to the future!”


nazad k budushchem -- Back to the future

Monday, September 14, 2009

Better than space monkeys, anyway

This might not be something I want to admit, especially remembering the Faustian contract…but I have to share, anyway. An old friend of mine, from the first time I went to St. Petersburg, teaches at the state university.

Incidentally, one time he told me a humorous story: this was in the late-90s/early this century. He got a job as a bartender in a bar near to Gostiny Dvor. First day on the job, the New Russian (think Great Gatsby, minus the green light) owner came in, asked, “Who’s that guy?” and walked back out. My friend also walked out that night, never to return to the bar.

I thought it was funny when he told it, anyway. So, to my Starik, who now teaches English language pedagogy (that is, he instructs future teachers of English how to do their job), I got an etymological dictionary of all words and phrases related to the f-bomb, appropriately called The F Word.

Maybe not the cross-cultural connections I should be building, but all’s I’m saying is that hanging out for Starik and me usually consisted of a jaunt around some part of downtown St. Petersburg – which means that we have seen stranger things and heard much worse language. All I’m saying.

I’ve been reading the book every so often, for shiz and giggles. I particularly love this entry, either for the image, or maybe the alliteration, or just because it is something that is going to enter my own vernacular. Earliest known reference: P. Tauber’s 1968 Sunshine Soldiers, pg. 117.
“You look like a monkey f***ing a football.”

Ty pokhozh na obez'ianu, unichtozhaushchuju miach.

I don't think I need to translate that, do I?
Also, 'unichtozhaushchuju'!? Gerunds are fun in Russian!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A "Soviet Paradise Penthouse," as They Call It

Sitting in Jude and Briullov's apartment, macking on their wifi. This place is so different from my home. Just now, Jude lifted up a remote control, pressed a button, and was greeted with a resultant "ping."

I stared at him, and he back at me. "What was that?"

"I just turned...the air conditioner off?"

And then I realized that I had just experienced culture shock, sitting in a Russian home but confronting such a Western device therein.

It's More than a Feeling

A bit of an impasse on the culturo-linguistic front. Much as I try to break through this plateau/barrier that’s arisen in my own head
and it’s all in my head
But she’s touching his chest – now -
I am still finding that I am thinking in English when I’m in the city, and translating, and when I’m back at the dorm, even when I’m trying to write in English, I’m thinking in Russian and translating back into English.

It’s all a very strange, weird, backward system, my brain.

The impasse becomes physical, interpersonal, when I come against bilingual Russians. For example, at the gym, the girls in the office are very proud of the fact that they can speak English, and initiate conversations with me in English. I have a gut reaction I can trace back (almost to the day) to St. Petersburg, that states
Input: Russian speaks to you in English
Output: Respond in Russian.
I don’t know if it’s to prove something, or stubbornness…or…what.

As the movie title goes, something has to give. It’s about fifty-fifty, from what I can immediately recollect, sometimes devolving into English, sometimes into Russian.

The impasse continues on the cultural front. I don’t consider myself to look Russian, do not want to become or, as the borrowed verb in Russian goes, pretendovat’ at being Russian (this weird mixture of pro- and anti-American sentiment, flavored with Wanderlust and homesickness, is an entirely different post) yet all of this aside, I apparently pass reasonably well at appearing to be at home in Moscow, if not from Moscow. Every day I’m getting stopped more and more on my walk to the library, to the gym, back to the dorm, so people can ask if I know where things are.

It’s a great feeling when I can give them clear directions. It doesn’t always happen. Yesterday I told a woman to wait until she saw a church on the right that gave her a Spanish feeling, and then turn left. I should probably find out the name of that church, just in case someone asks me the same question again. Else I should learn how to describe the details that make up an Art Nouveau building, because that adjective is not in the vocabulary of normal people.

This whole asking-me-questions thing is weird, though. I never approach men, no matter what age, to ask the time. I usually go for middle-aged to older women, who not only are knowledgeable but are usually nice (according to Russian standards of stranger-danger niceness) as well.

Today’s ROD
Ona voznikaet u vas ispanskoe chuvstvo. It’ll make a Spanish feeling arise in you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

GBC: Not the gumdrop buttons!

I still haven't completely figured out the interwebs situation, but I HAVE figured out a way to give you a Daily Dose of Frozen Icarus™!

Just don't drink it too quickly, now, or you'll get an ice cream headache.

I've written a couple of posts as they've occurred to me, and scheduled them to go one-a-day, so you won't miss me.

Now, to resolve the last post: I searched three more stores around the dorm, and didn't think I'd ever find a chainik. I then entered the dorm, met a Swedish girl who is also studying at MARKhI, told her my problem, and she promptly took me to where I needed to go -- a Russian variation on the theme of IKEA, wherein I got a chainik for 500 r. (divide by 32 for dollars, I'm feeling lazy). AWESOME.

I realized that really...I tell no one anything.
You talk so much, and yet you never say anything.
You know what - that's a seriously important quote in my life. A for real-real gift to someone who gets it. No cheating with google searches, now. Well. Maybe after a couple of days.

Wif's post about Dos Amigos made me seriously miss their $5 burrito Mondays, in which I took great pleasure participating.

To reassure you against the negative stereotypes about Russian cooking, and for the general good of humanity, striving for greater education for all (the "39 Step Plan" of Obama's, one might say...tee hee), I present: Gourmet Bachelor Chow IN RUSSIA!

(Think: "Pigs in SPACE (space space space)")


If I'm heading over towards Tverskaya (which isn't entirely out of my way, but to which I usually only head if I'm hanging out with some of the other possible recipients of the grant, who live nearby, or going to the gym, then I'll go Kofe Haus. They have a good deal, there: for 125 r. one receives an Americano, an orange juice, and a rather large croissant with chocolate syrup on top. For some reason this KH does not have the three breakfast options that are in their menu...I really want bliny...

Otherwise I've been getting Chudo, which is a cross between a yogurt smoothie and a gogurt. 36 r. Very filling.

Or I'll have leftovers from the night before. Cf. DINNER


I go to the stolovaya (dining hall) of either the Institute, if I'm on that side of the center, or of Leninka (the Russian State library). The former is very slightly cheaper than the latter, but both offer the same: a small salad, some kind of chicken breast in a mushroom/cheese sauce or else a hamburger patty (kotlet) with a side dish of pasta or kasha or what-have-one. (I guess that's a situation where one really needs to say 'you,' isn't it.)

Lunch has some good variation. Today, for example, I had a very delicious meal of salat Oliv'ie (a potato-based salad with ham and peas and mayonaisse, dill for flavor) and borshch po-ukrainski (beet soup with hamburger and vegetables). Sometimes I get weird looks when I have such meals because I'm not eating a "full" meal. Really, I should be getting a salad, a soup, and then the meat/side dish combo described above. I get even weirder looks when I only order the pasta. Today's lunch, which I got with tea, was 76 r. Usually it's somewhere around 125-175 r.


Dinner is interesting because it's the most fluid (in structure, not content - breakfast definitely wins the latter, if it were a competition). Sometimes I'm eating v gosti at someone's house, which means it resembles LUNCH; other times I'll have a hankering for bliny (crepes, of a sort, which I usually get with cheese and ham) from Teremok, or some other kind of quick food; else I go to the produkty by the dorm and get a one-shot and/or non-perishable deal (I don't have a fridge). Yesterday, for example, I had a handsome dinner of a -- I actually forget the word, now. It's a type of white bread from the Caucasus, which I had as the base of an open sandwich with cheese and turkey breast. Those food stuffs, and a nectarine - 156 r. If I get a lot of bread and/or cheese, I'll eat the rest the next morning (it gets cold at night. I'm not worried about food poisoning, at least from that practice, and neither should you!), as I mentioned in BREAKFAST. Again, usually dinner's about 125-175 r.

A food group close to my heart that I haven't mentioned is COFFEE, which gets a separate section all to itself.

Again, it's best if I'm at Leninka or MARKhI, because there I can get a "cappuccino," "americano," or "kofe" for 15-20 r. Kofe Haus also has a pretty decent americano for 125 r., which, coupled with the buy 1-get-1-free offer, is worthwhile. I use the quotes, however, because as I'm drinking them in my head I have to think:

"This isn't a cappuccino, it's hot chocolate." It's Nescafe - which means that the recipe is something like this:
50% sugar
40% water
5% espresso
5% other flavorings and/or crack
Usually I get by with only wasting another 30-50 r. on caffeinated beverages. Sometimes on tea.

So this is supposedly a blog about what life is like for me in Russia, and about what I'm doing here. I welcome questions, because otherwise I might not think to describe something that is otherwise incomprehensible.

ROD (Russian Of Day - which seems appropriately poorly translated):

Mozhno kofe bez sakhara? -- May I have coffee, no sugar?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ive-us-gay our essings-blay

I go to a Planet Fitness uptown from my apartment (I like using New York terminology for Moscow). I distract myself so easily -- I just started thinking about How I Met Your Mother. Anyway.

This Planet Fitness is located next door to a small church with an active membership; I always see veruiushchie babushki coming and going and crossing themselves, and from its loudspeakers an Orthodox chant pretty constantly emits.

Every time I hear it, a different song starts in my head.

Eeee-yeyyyy-yeeeeezzzzuuuuu doooooomine -- donnnaaa eis requiiieeeem THWAP

Russian Word of the day:

veruiushchaia babushka - religious grandma

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Never-ending Quest to Save My Girlfriend!

I'm sick of gold stars. Let's give a sickle to whoever knows the titular quote. Heh heh. I said titular.

Before I do that - I've been requested to have a Russian word of the day. It's hard for me to think of good, or funny ones, but I'll do my best.

My own quest reminds me of a Soviet story, The Twelve Chairs, in which an adventurist (Russian: avantiurist) searches for a set of (you guessed it) twelve chairs, taken from an old aristocrat's palace, in one of which the family jewels (laugh all you want) are hidden. The quest takes Ostap Bender and his compatriot throughout Russia, Bender gets married, they try to buy chairs at an auction but don't have enough money, they try to fill a ravine in the south, Bender dies, there's a cannibal who speaks a grand total of 30 words...

It's a quest. My quest, equally hard, apparently, is to find a single electric teapot (I could buy a teapot and boil water in the small kitchen in the dorm, but such is admitting defeat). IT IS IMPOSSIBLE. I have gone to every mall and department store (univermag) within the circle line (well, that's a lie, but I have been to quite a few) as well as to every place my mentor's family has recommended to me; none. Not a one. I don't understand it, because this is something that every familyi has! Surely this isn't something that was mass produced at perestroika, and no longer...

Russian word of the day:

elektrichny chainik: electric teapot, as in: U vas ne budet elektrichnogo chainika? (Might there be any electric teapots here?)
-Niet. (No.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

You see this? I'm opening up my own hotel!

The wifi I'm using isn't allowing me to respond to comments. So -- sorry. I'm not ignoring you; I just can't respond. I am indeed sad to be missing 5/6ths of my nieces' and nephews' birthdays...I included the On the Road quote for the writerly part, not the Deanerly...and I was being melodramatic yesterday. We all have a role to play, and this actor tends towards the melodrama of the Russian Epic Theatre tradition.

Pretty soon I'll be playing the role of fanboy rather well: one of the professors with whom I'm working is the granddaughter of a Stalinist architect, his sole inheritrix, and has a grand collection of his notes, correspondence, and memoirs.

I also went out to my favorite, the Theater on the Taganka, and got tickets for a couple of their upcoming premieres.

I do miss New Hampshire, and I miss the ocean; watching oil swirl in puddles isn't quite the same as watching the waves, but it's good to be back in town.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Travels and Travails in Moscow"

Heh. I just mentioned that in an email as a possible secondary blog title. I'm writing quickly from an internet cafe. Jet-lagged. I refuse to describe my hostel to anyone, nor to take any pictures of it; for one, because my mother would probably cry, but also because then when I describe it in later works of fiction I don't want people to say "you didn't make that up, you have no artistic integrity."

At least I don't want them to be saying that for this specific reason.

As I mentioned to ma soeur on the phone before I left: I'll try to keep these posts more human, less "severely intelligent." No comment. And no promises, either. Alright, I have ten minutes left and a couple things yet to figure out. Au revoir.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

From Kerouac's "On the Road"

A western kinsman of the sun, Dean. Although my aunt warned me that he would get me in trouble, I cold hear a new call and see a new horizon, and believe it at my young age; and a little bit of trouble or even Dean's eventual rejection of me as a buddy, putting me down, as he would later, on starving sidewalks and sickbeds - what did it matter? I was a young writer and I wanted to take off.
As am I off, en route to Moscow.