Saturday, October 31, 2009

From Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita"

Although the novel's setting is at Orthodox Easter, it seems more appropriate for Halloween, to me.

Я открыл дверцу, так что жар начал обжигать мне лицо и руки, и шептал:

— Догадайся, что со мною случилась беда... Приди, приди, приди!..

Но никто не шел. В печке ревел огонь, в окна хлестал дождь. Тогда случилось последнее. Я вынул из ящика стола тяжелые списки романа и черновые тетради и начал их жечь. Это страшно трудно делать, потому что исписанная бумага горит неохотно. Ломая ногти, я раздирал тетради, стоймя вкладывал их между поленьями и кочергой трепал листы. Пепел по временам одолевал меня, душил пламя, но я боролся с ним, и роман, упорно сопротивляясь, все же погибал. Знакомые слова мелькали передо мной, желтизна неудержимо поднималась снизу вверх по страницам, но слова все-таки проступали и на ней. Они пропадали лишь тогда, когда бумага чернела и я кочергой яростно добивал их.
I opened the fire-door so the fire might heat my face and my hands, and I whispered:

"Guess that some tragedy has befallen me...come to me, come, come!"

But no one came. In the stove the fire roared, and the rain whipped against the windows. And then it happened. I took the heavy manuscripts and handwritten notes of the novel out of the desk drawer and started to burn them. It was unsettlingly difficult to do, because paper written upon with ink does not burn easily. Breaking my fingernails, I tore apart the notebooks, stuffing them between the logs, and stoked the pages with the poker. The ash from time to time overpowered me, put out the flames, but I fought against it until the novel, fiercely struggling to the end, was destroyed. Familiar words flickered before me, the yellow flame licked at the pages from the bottom up, but the words survived through its onslaught. They disappeared only at the end, when the paper turned black and I had savagely beaten them with the poker.

Воланд повернулся к Маргарите, -- Итак, это не в счет, я ведь ничего не делал. Что вы хотите для себя?

Наступило молчание, и прервал его Коровьев, который зашептал в ухо Маргарите:

-- Алмазная донна, на сей раз советую вам быть поблагоразумнее! А то ведь фортуна может и ускользнуть!

-- Я хочу, чтобы мне сейчас же, сию секунду, вернули моего любовника, мастера, -- сказала Маргарита, и лицо ее исказилось судорогой.
The Devil turned to Margarita, "And so, that didn't count, since I didn't even do anything. What do you wish for yourself?"

A silence fell, a silence which Koroviev finally interrupted, whispering into Margarita's ear: "Madonna bellissima, this time I beg you to be more sensible! Or else your good fortune may well wear off."

"I wish that right now, at this very moment, you returned to me my lover, the master," said Margarita, and her face was distorted with emotion.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Tonight! Tonight! There's only you to--

Wait. No. DEFINITELY the wrong thing.

I's so excited!

I've been grinning like a maniac all day. Let's see if I can get myself backstage.

Thoughts in the cafe

At first I thought that I, perhaps, had forgotten to put on deodorant for the past week. Then I heard the man move behind me, walk around from hanging up his coat, and as he displaced more and more air molecules the stench got stronger and stronger. A consolation prize, to know that I am not the smelly party, but still to have a nose…

Seriously. And in the same vein - I’m not going to make a new rules of the metro post for this, but it deserves saying:

Dear Mr. Gross Old Man,

You know who you are. You, and all of your gross old man friends, need to please and thank you stop farting in rush hour metro traffic. It is very gross. And noxious. And I know that it’s not just me who’s bothered by it because there’s invariably an older woman standing near me who crinkles her nose and, I’m always scared, thinks that it was me who tooted.

(Seriously, though. I like to think that I’m not obviously a crazy person; one at least needs to wait until I’ve opened my mouth to know for certainty. Between me and the gross old man, you’re really going to try to blame that on me, Ms. Wearing-Three-Bottles-Of-Mascara-In-One-Day Lady?)


Frozen Icarus

PS – You’re not special enough to warrant the signature-graphic. So. *tongue sticking out*

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Banana phone!

I need a telephone that can call through time. How many people I could call! Walter Benjamin. My project would essentially be done after a series of interviews with my lovely architects: Shchusev, Zholtovsky, Alabian, etc., etc. Napoleon. Empress Maria Feodorovna. Dante. Lion-O.

But really, I’d only use it so I could call in to The Sandbox to participate in their phone queries. They’re always so funny!

Today, for example, I listened to the MEGAPHONE QUERY on public-service announcements. Most of the calls went something like this: “Nah, I don’t think PSA’s are ever worthwhile. But do you remember the one where—“ [insert story about Smokey Bear, the dog, the kid wearing a thousand t-shirts, the horribly graphic ones about texting while walking, etc.]

I would call and, à la all these people who didn’t actually answer the question, go on my own spiel. But instead of spielifying [Juicify Sarah! Juicify Sarah!] about a PSA, I’d take a jaunt to the cul-de-sac named Le boulevard de mémoire (formerly known as Memory Lane, but you know how stylish it is to give everything a French name these days: fois gras, l’histoire de longue durée, des lieux de mémoire, Julia Childs, etc.

I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but it was no later than fifth grade; likely earlier. Class field trip down to the Museum of Science in Boston. Let me backtrack – the chaperone to my group was none other than a narc officer for the DEA.

So. We’re with this guy (I remember thinking he was cool because I pictured his job to be something like James Bond on acid. Literally.) and have the run of the museum. He takes us in to the neurological section, near the panorama of the Big Dig (which was projected to end in 2000 or 2001. Heh heh. Hindsight makes corruption funny).

Cracked-up James Bond was standing near an image of two brains, and I went over to see what it was that had his attention. On the left was a picture with all sorts of fiery colors lighting up the brain every which way; on the right, a brain with some pale pinks and yellows in a couple of random places. The description: “Difference in CAT scan results between an individual who has never used [I forget which drug. Meth or LSD or something along those lines; one of the manufacture-miracle-cracks] and an individual who has been addicted for [x number of] years.” (I was a little kid, c’mon. I don’t have a photographic memory. If someone had said it, however…)
A girl in the bar: You have a really good memory!
Me: Only for hearing things; my friends say I have a telephonic memory.
Girl: Oh, that’s funny. I wish I had a photogenic memory!
Yes. That entertained me for days. And it still does today. Back to me being scared at the Museum of Science.

That, more than anything else, creeped me the very much out, and I decided I probably would stay away from whichever drug it was. I don’t know if I really would say that the display worked as a public-service announcement, however; the image has stuck in my brain, but not the name of the drug…so really, how will I know which one to look out for and which illicit drugs are safe to take?

And besides, the brain on the right had to be saving millions on their electricity bill. They switch to Geico and suddenly people are paying THEM. Genius.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vykhoda net.

I am having a Tough Day™. I think there’s a domovoy [essentially a Russian gremlin] nipping at my ankles.

I was trapped in my room. I had heard the door close weirdly behind me, but I wasn’t worried because it’s happened before; the gears in the latch seem a little worn, and if it closes improperly I have to jiggle the handle.

I jiggle the handle. It doesn’t move.

I tug at the handle. It doesn’t move.

I twist the handle, scared that I am feeling rubber-metal twisting and bending, and shake the door. It doesn’t move.

In this moment my mind flashes through the plot of Haunted and I worry that vykhoda net - there is no escape - and I will waste away into nothingness that the cockroaches will later consume. I'd forgotten how much I hate feeling trapped.*

One of the worker guys had been puttering about before, and I hear him cutting something in the hallway. In between the strokes of his saw, I try to modulate my voice at the right pitch so it doesn’t sound like I’m panicked, but it’s heard. He pauses a couple times but doesn’t do anything. I think that means he’s ignoring me.

Now I hear more voices. The voice of the dorm commandant. Louder: “Izvinite, pozhalujsta, a mozhet kto-to mne pomoshch’? U menia dver’ slomalas’. [Excuse me, could someone please help me? My door’s broken.]

I hear the worker man’s voice. “Is it locked?” He jiggles the handle.

“No, not locked,” I answer. Neither of us can open it.

Finally the teeth of my side’s gears click into place and it opens, no problem. I look at a group of people, like I’ve interrupted a scene in progress – welcome to epic theater, my name is Bert Brecht, I’ll be interpreting the interrupted action today – and, shamefacedly, I grab my things, lock the door behind me, and walk through the crowd.

I sent Briullov a text message about it. His response: “Amazing. Not very po-muzhsky, im afraid.”

Just now, in buying my cup of coffee, I knocked over three containers of syrup. I’m not sure if spitting over my left shoulder will get rid of this domovoy-bugger…

*Not wanting to interrupt the narrative, but to make it clear -- my fear of being trapped is different than claustrophobia. I'm fine with enclosed spaces, as long as I know I can leave said space. I would not be fine in a huge ball room where all of the doors were locked. Nor am I fine with the idea of having a set supply of oxygen. People who go into space or go diving are crazy people. The end.


po-muzhsky - See translation here.

Language Barrier, Part III

I’ve been talking about being ridiculous with the Russian language, but only in the context of how one can be more or less formal, particularly in a social situation like the open-air market.

There are a lot of other situations in which socially accepted norms are much stricter. Russian has, for example, the difference between ty and vy [singular, informal you versus plural you/formal you] much like any of the Romance languages do. Vos otros…

There’s a funny tier system to this.

1. “Natural” ty - Anyone markedly younger than you are, or about the same age as you, and you feel like you can introduce yourself to them in an informal way. (I had the impulse, for example, on the metro to say Ty vykhodish’? [Are you getting off] to a college-age guy in my way, instead of Vykhodite? [Are you-formal getting off?] I didn’t say anything in the end, but I think my intuition in this case is better than in the story I’ll tell in a second.)

2. “Developed” ty - Even if the individual’s not of the same age or younger as you, but you know them very well. Children to their parents, old friends, etc. Davaj na ty. [Let’s speak informally.]

3. Informal vy – maintaining a professional distance from the person. My host father in Petersburg was friends with a woman he first met at his job a good thirty years before, and they eat dinner at each other’s houses and talk on the telephone constantly, but still refer to each other on vy. I asked him about it, once, after she left, and he said: “There are some people you just always remain on vy with.”

4. Formal vy – always capitalized, no matter where it is in the sentence; addressing someone requires full name-patronymic. Depending on the situation this individual (this is anything from professional correspondence to a student referring to a professor, etc.) can respond in formal vy or use any of the other three forms.

I feel reasonably comfortable with the four tiers, but I still get a queasy feeling every time I’m talking to someone on formal vy and say Vy znaete… [You know] or any other sentence where I’m using Vy; again with my neuroses. I always have a moment where I ask myself, “Is it clear that I’m capitalizing that “v” in my head?” I’m sure it’s fine. But I’m a crazy person.

And then all sorts of problems come out of my insanity. Briullov and I met with an American professor the other day (a future professor of mine; an old family friend of Briullov’s) and a couple different times I addressed the professor, saying: “What do You think about…”

Every time I could hear there was a weird stress on the “You,” which came from me trying to use formal “vy” in English; I hope it didn’t come across as a different stress: “What do YOU [and not Briullov] think about this…” I’ve lost my capacity to communicate in English.

Then the story I promised, which some of you already know: when I first met Starik I spoke to him on informal vy because we were in a more-or-less professional situation and he’s seven years older than me. And he’s a professor, although not for any of the classes I was taking. He switched over to ty with me the next time we hung out but I mistook it for the variation I mentioned earlier, where the superior can address the inferior on ty and there’s the power imbalance. (To use sociological terms.)

Well, then I started getting mad as this continued for about a month, and every time we met I thought How come this guy can get off on calling me ty and is acting all stuffy and weird… Then I decided I would switch, without asking permission, onto ty as well.

It was like flicking a switch, to use the cliché. Suddenly we were talking favorite music, etc instead of talking art history. As I said before to those who’ve heard this story – the fault was all mine. Starik assumed I was being a jerk for still calling him on vy and maintaining professional distance when he wanted to be less formal.

I claim shenanigans, as a) he never said “Davay na ty,” b) he’s the native speaker! No fair to assume the foreigner has any linguistic competency!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Language Barrier, Part II

When we were walking away from Cookie Monter’s stall one time, I mentioned to Briullov that I loved practicing the genitive case there.

“What do you mean?” he said. (You are probably also saying this.)

But you mean different things. Your question first – you have to change the way the noun sounds when you’re saying “of X” instead of just X. (And not using it correctly sounds non-standard, much as it is non-standard English to say: “She am an independent woman” or “You makes the meatloaf now.”)

So I can say “I want an apple.” [Mne khochetsia iabloko] or “I want two apples” [Mne khochetsia dva iabloka] or “five apples” [piat’ iablok]. (This might have been a bad example; with numbers, like in French, you say Number word + “of X”).

Sluchai poluchenia Barackom Obama premii “Nobel Peace Prize” kazhetsia shutkoi mnozhestvu mira potomu, shto vozhd’ Ameriki uchastvuet v dvukh voinakh. I wrote that in the ridiculous literary style I talked about yesterday to give that many examples of genitive. And because it’s not as stuffy in Russian as it is in the translation [The occasion of the acceptance of the Nobel Peace prize by Barack Obama seems like a joke to the rest of the world because the leader of America is engaged in two wars.]

Briullov’s question, now: his version is more a “How so?”

“Because you can always throw whichever cookie you want into the genitive! Like today: I got dve pianoi vishni and vosem’ kartoshek.” [2 drunken cherries and 8 potatoes. Both pastries, not fruit/vegetables. And this I bought to last me a week, just so you don’t think I’m a pig.]

“Oh. I don’t do that, I say it like all the Russians do…”

Touché, Monsieur. Touché.

You see, kids, you can either go about the genitive the crazy person way that I do it to see if I can make myself understood and practice at the same time, or you can do it the real way, which goes like this: Mne, pozhaluista, dve shtuchki “Pianaya vishnia” i vosem’ shtuk “Kartoshka.” [ordering exactly what I got before.] Only this time the only thing put in the genitive is the word “thing.”

Boring. Let’s fight!

Continued in Part III tomorrow

Monday, October 26, 2009

Language barrier, Part I

I haven’t talked about the language barrier for a while.

Let’s, shall we?

Sometimes I get into trouble because I know there must be an easier way to go about doing whatever task I’m trying to accomplish, and I just don’t know the phrase. Or even a single word that would help me out. But I can think about how I might have read a similar phrase in a book, or written something down, which helps. Sometimes.

Other times I come out with gems like Shto v sostave etoi shtuki? [What makes up the composition of this dish?] (This was one of the times Cookie Monster laughed at me.)

Another day a lady next to me was being served before me. A eto shto? [What’s this?] Cookie Monster gave the name of the cookie. A vnutri? [And inside?] (Cooke Monster listed the ingredients: mukha, sakhar, iaitsa, moloko… [flour, sugar, eggs, milk..]

So much easier. And it doesn’t sound like a textbook of chemical compounds... Honestly, a great majority of my mistakes (I’d say…83%? Anyone? Lawyered?) results from me falling into a language class mistake where I’m trying too hard to use full sentences and full verbs (because that’s what students are supposed to do to learn the language) when it’s much more natural to use three words. I think the other part of it, in addition to being Pavlov’s dog from language training, is that since I’m so self-consciousness about my accent, foreign appearance, grammatical mistakes, etc., etc., I overcompensate and try to make long, complex sentences to prove I can.

*facepalm*Stupid*facepalm*Stupid. (heh heh. Anyone watching the new Top Chef? Bueller?)

Continued tomorrow.

This is what I sound like; Joyce would be proud

I've discovered a wellspring of stream-of-consciousness narration. Quick! Get Joyce and Woolf on the phone! They can finally reconcile their differences...this is, without any additions or subtractions or exaggerations, exactly what I heard on our walk in to our in-country orientation.

Please make your passports available to the guards.

Welcome to American soil! Well, you know, we’re not actually in America, you understand; but because zees is the embassy you are back in America. Welcome home.

Zees is a statue to John Quincy Adams. Is dedicated to 200 year of internassional relation between our countries. Do you know, on the twitter, the journals of John Quincy Adams are being published! We have asked the youth to make the essays describing what diplomatic relations mean, and the winners get a prize.

Actually, I think that zees is best staircase in all of Russia. Any time I have the free moment I come out of my office and I stand here. You will notices that there are the fleurs all around the base. They are not real flowehhhhrs, but they are pretty. Sometimes I stop—[the stream of consciousness halts momentarily as she looks] – and try to decide which one is my favorite but today, today I think [another pause] yes, my favorite is the one weez the green and the orange. But – you can all choose which is the one you like the most.

And zees is one of the seven sister high-rise buildings built under Stalin. Do you know, they are built all over the city. It’s easy to remember: 2 apartment buildings, 2 administrative buildings, 2 hotels, and 1 university.

Alright, and zees is where I will leave you. It is called our Winter Gardens. Now, eef you need to go to the bathroom, please wait. You must be accompanied by someone weez the orange pass, even to the bathroom.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Running, Part II

While sometimes I engage myself in half-baked Lovecraftian plotlines involving a discolored brick while running, I do submit to the endless temptation of MTV Russia.

Which usually involves a lot of old Britney Spears and Beyonce videos, for some reason. Really; just from running after work outs, I think I can reproduce the “Oops I Did it Again” dance.

Ok, maybe not yet. But I’ve been practicing.

Every so often my favorite treadmill, Number Three from the Left (or Nutella for short), is occupied. Then I am a sad panda, and use a different machine. From this machine I can not see Beyonce or Britney or the Ancient One from one of the Deep Places.

Instead, I see the news. [this must be pronounced out of one corner of the mouth, like the sound of distaste ‘ew,’ just sandwiched between an ‘n’ and ‘s’]

Once I saw the n- ewwww – s of some French protests going on in Paris. I’m trying very hard to self-censor any inappropriate comment about socialism and France and the amount of official holidays and short work weeks, but such is hard. Instead of getting myself into trouble, let me skip the exposition and delve straight into description: riot police stand in a vague ring in the corners of a huge room or courtyard, it’s hard to tell. A bonfire flares in the cameraman’s face, and one of the Parisians throws paraphernalia into it. Others, all around him, laugh hysterically, or wave at the camera.

laugh hysterically, or wave at the camera.

Wait. What? Where is the angry mob? I was told there would be an angry mob!

I think that rioting has become so commonplace in Paris that it’s essentially subverted their equivalent of what, in America, is a personal day. [In Soviet Russia job work YOU.] Pierre Lepieux has a headache, can’t concentrate, so he walks away from his desk. Sofie and Jean-Paul notice, misinterpret (or perhaps interpret correctly?) and follow suit. Then the whole company’s left. And then the bonfire’s lit.

I wonder what the person next to me thought, watching such news. Probably, with the bonfire lit, they said: “Yes, this is bonfire, good, yes. And where is guitarist to play Vysotsky?”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

In Which I Hate My Life

I am, unfortunately, every so often the victim of migraine headaches. Most of the time I get the tell-tale aura splotches of corrupted vision and react accordingly: rush to the store, buy a Red Bull or three, sprint home, chug an ibuprofen per Red Bull, and lie down and try to sleep. As I discovered on Sunday, sometimes whatever chemical imbalance it is that causes migraines (I think the Man who Makes the Totentanz Go ‘Round and I are in contract negotiations, and that’s really why it happened, but anyway, sometimes --) the migraine doesn’t go according to plan.

We walked back to American Embassy 2.0 from a café (where I had tea, for once in my life; I wonder what would have happened if I had consumed caffeine in coffee form) and I felt a headache come on, thought that I might ask Briullov for something in drug form, even though I try not to overmedicate when it’s just a light headache. (I get pretty frequent headaches and think, in general, we overmedicate. Especially ADHD/badly-disciplined children. We don’t need no thought control. Another post entirely, surely, that.) By the time we got there I had forgotten.

Bad move number one. And then, [stupid stupid stupid] I wondered why it was that while we were watching Top Chef. every so often I felt my vision blur, or it felt a little bit like nausea in my abdomen.

And then I tried to read an article on my computer, and I almost threw up from the death pain that started throbbing in my head. The night blurs for me– it was around 10:45, and I knew drinking a Red Bull, while perhaps solving my headache woes temporarily, would destroy my soul with its Siren Song that would play at 1535237589 dB throughout the night in my skull, keeping me from sleep. The metro lights were too bright for me, and I remember seeing things through half-lidded eyes; I was scared I’d pass out if I closed them completely.

But the sounds. The sounds were so much more alive and present and throbbing. The screeching train brakes against the tracks, the hum of the fluorescent lights, the doors crashing open and shut like evil Satan anti-oceanic waves. One’s sense of smell, apparently, is also heightened (this must be what it’s like to be pregnant) and I had to sprint away from the trash and broken beer bottles at the metro entrance, from the usually-enticing late-night pyshki [Soviet-style donut] place at the corner.

Somehow I crawled into my bed and curled into the fetal position and fell asleep.

As I write this, back to being sane [relatively speaking, here] of mind and hale of body, I’m listening to a Sandbox podcast from mid-August and had a sad moment. They were playing a game to give away tickets to The Killers playing in Boston.

I blogged about that.

I missed that.



blin - pancake. Also: mild swear word.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Victory was near...

Gah. So excited.

If any of you recall the paintings I put on my laptop (based on the sketches of madman genius (because madman+oeuvre = genius) Salvador Dali), you might remember that on one side is the Dullita, the sensual woman of our dreams, her hair a halo behind which her face cannot be seen; on the other side, an interpretation of “Gala, mi victore” – an angelic woman, strutting and standing tall, pulling a slouched man by the hand.

The latter picture, apparently, is the most accurate description of shopping for me in Russia. The next time that I’m searching for something, I’ll just call up a female friend and she’ll immediately lead me to the right destination.

I have the Muse album! And happiness is mine.

One final comment on that, before I leave the tale of that quest and leave it to rot in the forgotten catacombs beneath Leninka: It’s especially appropriate here in Moscow. When Bellamy sings in French he sings in an unapologetically atrocious accent. And the French still dig him. Think about how the crowd screams in Hullaboo Soundtrack! (for now we’ll ignore the woman screaming on her cell at the beginning of Screenager…) It makes me think that there is hope for me working with Russian for the rest of my life.

Verse-moi, verse-moi l'ivresse
Réponds à ma tendresse!
Réponds à ma tendresse!
Ah! verse-moi l'ivresse


Namnogo lushche, chem T-Pain. - A lot better than T-Pain.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Won't somebody help that poor boy?"

Photo courtesy of Briullov. You saw my version of the same scene earlier. Bridezilla vs. Hawk Nose of DOOM!™

Heh heh. It leads me, however, to ask a question. Why do I have such a problem with the way Russian women take pictures?

I ask myself this constantly. Why is this? What is it – not necessarily how they stand behind the camera and take the picture, but how they pose for a picture – that gives me the creeps? How do I differentiate what I see them doing from what I know to be true in America?

You can all picture what’s done by American men and women both, I’m sure – the cheerleader hands-on-hip pose a group of girls will do, or most men’s utter refusal to smile.
I immediately think of Dwight from The Office. “All I see is a scared chimpanzee…”
I have a couple portraits of my father, but for all I know they could be copies of the same photograph, as he has the same barely-distinguishable closed smile in every single picture.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a picture of Wer in which he hasn’t tried to show himself of a general IQ at least 50 points lower than his norm. Hopefully Wif is working on this before the wedding.

And I know I, myself, very rarely like a photograph of…myself. Too many reflexive pronouns in that sentence. Anyway. If I had my way, all pictures of me would be replaced by pictures of James Dean. And the world would be a much prettier place.

All that by way of saying – this is not a Russia-specific quandary. It just seems to be that in this country the process of posing for pictures has been perfected and refined to an extent I’ve never seen before. They’ve bred for a sixth sense that reacts to a camera anywhere within fifty meters. Quick, body – sprint to the nearest flowers and bury your face within! Or put one hand on your hip and point to the monument nearby with the other!
Hands on your hips
Stick out your tush
You’re doing the French mistake
And then Briullov loaned me Giorgio Agamben’s Profanations.

In one of the essays, he riffs on an idea Walter Benjamin first developed in Capitalism as Religion. What I want is to riff on just one idea of that one essay. If it intrigues you, you should read the whole thing. The end. Anyway. Benjamin introduced a new value of commodity to Marx’s previous definition (the latter had only explained use-value and exchange-value): exhibition-value.
It is a common experience that the face of a woman who feels she is being looked at becomes inexpressive. That is, the awareness of being exposed to the gaze creates a vacuum in consciousness and powerfully disrupts the expressive processes that usually animate the face. It is this brazen-faced indifference that fashion models, porn stars, and others whose profession it is to show themselves must learn to acquire: they show nothing but the showing itself (that is, one’s own absolute mediality).
Gah! With luck that quote translates without having to rehash the whole argument of the book. The "brazen-faced indifference" refers to their exhibition-value as people/objects. In the context he presents it, Agamben is arguing that capitalism strives to make the unprofanable. I don't feel like rehashing his whole thesis. Read the book. I mean only to describe what is so disturbing about Russian women and their perfection of posing for photography.

They’ve perfected the philosophy my great-something-grandmother believed, in her scowl for the camera – that the daguerreotype and all of its relatives were satanic and soul-stealing. Except instead of refusing to be part of the picture, or trying to give The Man Who Makes the Totentanz Go ‘Round the evil eye, they hide their souls.

I see no soul in the person with her face buried in the flowers, in the one with her arms splayed out against the wall. I didn’t know Briullov was taking a picture of me, but how similar is that picture to a pose many could have and have, indeed, already struck. We hide the soul, emphasize the physical, and make ourselves into commodities. No thank you.

I mentioned this post to Briullov himself a while ago, before I decided to put up his picture without permission. (pretty please?) He said: “Oh, I know what you’re talking about. I just walked past a guy taking this girl’s picture. He sets the camera down for a moment and says, ‘Show me the bag! Show me!’ She flips her purse around so the Coco Chanel label will be visible. He picks the camera back up.”

That kind of exhibition-value. That kind of commodity. That kind of soullessness.


Pokazhi mne sumku! - Show me the bag!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maybe He Can Projectile Vomit?

I’m sorry for being so behind the times, but I just barely listened to the Sandbox podcast from August 11 a day or two ago (remember how I was stockpiling them all summer so I wouldn’t miss them while I’m here). Apparently, as well, I didn’t listen to NEARLY enough radio this summer, because otherwise how did I miss…

T-Pain’s Miami Dolphin Fight Song.

Wow. Wow wow wow. I cannot think of a worse song, right now, to use. So bad, yet so hysterical.
Hey, hey, let’s go!
Miami has the Dolphins
The greatest football team
We take the ball from goal to goal
Like no one’s ever seen
We’re in the air, we’re on the ground
We’re always in control
And when you say ‘Miami,’
You’re talking Superbowl.
Miami Dolphins, Miami Dolphins, Miami Dolphins #1!
I’d transcribe the rest of the song; it has had me in hysterics – but I am reminded of horror movies. Just as one should not read out loud in Latin from a strange book if one is not fluent in Latin, transcribing the entirety of this song would call forth at least one of the riders of the apocalypse.

Maybe that’s being mean. But really – if a little group of pee-wee cheerleaders wrote this song, it’d be puke-worthy but cute. Since T-Payne’s written this song...I don’t even know what to call it. Disturbing isn’t the right word, but like the girl in The Exorcist, T-Payne has somehow found out all about me, and has just pronounced the most disturbing thing I could hear.

In honor of T-Payne, I now officially start a new feature (which has been going on in the background for quite a while): “Being Moscow’s Musical Worst” (BMMW. It sounds funny, but I get to riff on the company. Worth it.)

Here’s to you, Mr. Miami Dolphin Fight Song, the first official participant in Being Moscow’s Musical Worst!


Kogda govorish’ “Miami,” rech’ idyot o Superbowlye.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I was hoping for something more meditative

We lay, legs tensed, arms braced against the ground, holding most of our body in the air. Every muscle strained, every breath retained, beads of sweat glistened. I had counted upwards of 100.

"NYET! NYET!" she shrieked. Her minute body was upon me. Zhivot dolzhen byt' miagkim. MIAGKIM! [Your stomach should be relaxed. Relaxed!] From either side she jabbed at my abdomen, prodded at my buttocks back towards my thighs, and pulled at the corners of my shoulders. Eto ochen' vazhnyi moment, shto vy poniali menia. [It's very important than you understand me in this.]

The only comfort - that she was doing the same to Jude, to the grandmothers who were in the class with us.

We decided not to go back to yoga.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Northern River Station

Advertisement, inside the Northern River Station

This woman is apparently part of "The Best Show and Entertainment On Board" the cruise ships that float along the Moscow River.

I can only quote from Wally Benjamin:
Before a child of our time finds his way clear to opening a book, his eyes have been exposed to such a blizzard of changing, colorful, conflicting letters that the chances of his penetrating the archaic stillness of the book are slight. Locust swarms of print, which already eclipse the sun of what is taken for intellect of city dwellers, will grow thicker with each succeeding year.
Yeah. He wrote that around 1920.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Center Cannot Hold

Due in part because all of the theoretical texts I’m reading right now have some aspect of childhood recollections, but also due to a little kid I was watching in the café the other day, and to a black cat that crossed my path earlier, I’ve been thinking about my own childhood.

I’m not sure which came first, the theory and the kid and the cat, or this conversation with Briullov, but another direction from which it’s been on my mind was this – we walked along Chistye Prudy [Clean Ponds, an oxymoron in more ways than one; the stories I could tell in this digression...later] back towards American Embassy 2.0 (which seems an appropriate name for their apartment, all of its Western gadgetry…)

We passed a kid on a ridiculous wooden horse (a 2x4 roughly hewn), and I tried to describe the barrel-drum rocking lion we had as kids. That was a very bad ass piece of carpentry. I am finding myself, more and more, desiring to learn wood carving. [Briullov mentioned a Brecht play in which the bourgeois husband character announces, at the outset, that he made all the furniture on stage. Throughout the action the furniture all breaks.]

And then I remembered Visa with the Napoleon hat fashioned out of a Fisher Price™ bridge, and the first clear memory of that horrible rhyme: “Step on a crack/Break your mother's back,” and how we gleefully jumped from one crack to the next down the promenade in the mall...

It was only the other day, sitting by a monument to Krylov [a 19th century folktale collector/writer] that I recalled a time, when I was seven or eight, perhaps, and the car broke down in Manchvegas, and my mother walked into a street sign. How funny I thought it was – for that was the part that stuck in my memory – what an adventure it was! We walked down the street from the garage, to the McDonalds, and had some greasy meal.

Only now, finally, have I figured out how worrisome it must have been to be there, without a car, with three little children (or more? I can’t remember the full cast of characters there involved) – and the little kids we were, no less. Luckily we didn’t pick a fight with one another.

What an adventure it was. How quickly things fall apart.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Amusement Park by the North River Station

There's something I like about abandoned amusement parks. It makes me think of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (as did the very beginning of the preview for the new movie, The Vampire's Assistant. Briullov and I were very excited, sitting in the theater for 9 - until the first ten seconds had passed. Then we were upset to be duped.) The picture didn't come out, but there was another ride that was like the Baby Park course in Mario Kart. And there was just one little boy, driving in a circle around and around and around. Here there were only swans, but no children. No one at all in sight, in fact. Just the pounding techno music.

Anyway. I also find it very poetic that the Classical example of impossibility really is possible, both in Australia and in rides. Take that, Aristotle!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Variations on a Theme

The Theme

First Variation

Keep the sound on so you can hear the music, but the language isn’t important. It’s a cartoon! You’ll get it.

Second Variation

I’ve been debating writing about this for a while, and will keep it relatively short. I have an existential crisis (get the squirtgun!) every time I hear about my logorrheic prolixity or hear the phrase: “I don’t understand anything you write on the blog.” That means I cannot communicate, which means that this blog is worthless.

Third Variation

But only from the point of view of it being a nastoiashchii [pure, true, “clean”] travel blog. Which brings me to another existential crisis – should I change my style to Hemingway to make the reader-construct happy? This would have two consequences:
1. I would have to stop my pretentious art-d-baggery posts.
2. My main slice, Hemingway, may write in a syntax that’s easier to understand than mine, but he doesn’t write about internal emotions, so if I write like him I will write nothing, as all I write are internal-state changes.
The first makes me decidedly unhappy, and the reader-construct inside my head dislikes the second corollary.

Fourth Variation

Please don’t ask me to stop writing and only to put up pictures. If I give up any part of this blog, it will be the travelogue part, which I find harder to write anyway.

Fifth Variation

Watch the Icarus cartoon again. It makes me happy. Two weeks until I see a different Icarus!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vhat to do, vhat to do?

Just to warn you, I don't have a stockpile of blog entries, so there might be radio silence for a couple of days. I know, I know, what will you do without your daily dose of Frozen'll be ok. I'll come up with some stories soon enough. Maybe even some pictures.

For now, here's a situation that seems important:

I’m sitting in a café, writing a couple of emails. The pair sitting next to me gets up to leave, and a couple minutes later I start to feel a cold draft. Along with multiple Russian patrons, most of whom are closer to the door, I look over, and see that it’s propped ajar in the exiting couple’s wake.

The Russians turned back to their coffee. After a minute, I got up from my corner, walked past all of them, and shut the door. Many sets of eyes watched me return to my seat. I couldn’t interpret the expression behind them. I don’t know what they, in turn, read in my expression.


”Shto delat’?” -- Delai shto-nibud’! “What is there to do?” – “Do anything!”

Monday, October 12, 2009

From Hesse's "Demian"

Another time Frau Eva told me a different story, concerning a lover whose love was unrequited. He withdrew completely within himself, believing his love would consume him. The world became lost to him, he no longer noticed blue sky and green woods, he no longer heard the brook murmur; his eyes had turned deaf to the notes of the harp: nothing mattered any more; he had become poor and wretched. Yet his love increased and he would rather have died or been ruined than renounce possessing this beautiful woman. Then he felt that his passion had consumed everything else within him and become so strong, so magnetic that the beautiful woman must follow. She came to him and he stood with outstretched arms ready to draw her to him. As she stood before him she was completely transformed and with awe he felt and saw that he had won back all he had previously lost. She stood before him and surrendered herself to him and sky, forest, and brook all came toward him in new and resplendent colors, belonged to him, and spoke to him in his own language. And instead of merely winning a woman he embraced the entire world and every star in heaven glowed within him and sparkled with joy in his soul.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some more laws of metro travel

Any destination is 30 minutes away.

-It is never faster to take the ring line.

-If it’s anytime before midnight and there’s a free bench, don’t go near it. I could list the possibilities why the entire bench would be free, but I’d rather leave it to your imaginations.

-“Please be courteous and give your seats up to retired people, old people, individuals with children, and pregnant women” is just the beginning. Next comes a period (usually half the distance to the next station) of convincing the old hobbled woman who almost fell over when the train started moving that you really do want to give her your seat and that you will be quite insulted if she refuses.

-The crowd in morning rush hour is very much more evil than the crowd going home.
I’m not entirely sure what causes that last one – lack of caffeine, the prospect of the long work day, needing to get to work on time. The list goes on. I just know it’s true.

Sometimes I forget it, and rush to get to the library right when it opens at 9 (usually I try to leave home by 9:45, which means I’m catching the tail end of rush hour, which is not bad at all). On these days I leave the ‘tro, as…I, alone…call the metro…with a bum leg and bruises from my hamstrings up to my sternum. The most vicious are, not surprising to me but possibly to some of you, Dear Readers, those same old ladies who refuse to let one give up a seat. They have places they need to be, and rather than try to rush fast enough that I’m not slowing them up, I try to keep to one side, let them go past, and then continue on my way. Alls I’m saying is it’s not by chance that in Bibliotekar’ the zombie-grandmothers are super-strong. It’s how they are to begin.

On an unfortunate day when I had to take the ring line during morning rush hour (which means if I had left home at 9:45 and taken the radial lines to the center and switched lines there, I could probably have gotten to my destination quicker), I was in the sardine-press – which is something I’ve gotten used to. Then one of said old ladies materialized near me, and twisted her body a quarter turn, and her hand cupped a whole lot of Andrew.

Something I’m not so used to. I tried hard not to start laughing, as Smekh bez prichiny – priznak durachiny [Laughing without cause is a sign of idiocy], but it took her almost all the way to the next stop to realize just what she was touching and shift again. Or, perhaps equally plausible – she had earlier realized, but like me, was so packed in she couldn’t move until then.

Second base? She didn’t even ask my name.

ROD (A sample dialogue that might have been)

Zdravstvujte. –Hello.
Kak vas zovut? - What is your name?
Nadezhda Vsevolodovna, ochen’ priatno. - How nice to meet you, Nadezhda Vsevolodovna.
Izvinite za bespokojstvo, Nadezhda Vsevolodovna, a vy ne cmogli by perestat’ menia trogat’? - Excuse me for this interruption, Nadezhda Vsevolodovna, but you couldn’t possibly stop manhandling me, could you?
Spasibo. Thanks.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Running so far, and never going anywhere

[While I write this a remixed and oh so Eurotrash version of the James Bond theme, played on accordion, is the base track for a French rapper. Wow.]

Running on a treadmill is one of those things that is mind-numbingly boring, but just how boring it is I forget every time. Until I get back onto it. Then I remember. Here is what my brain is usually like, during such a run.

“Ready, and…come on, belt, get up to speed. There we go.” Run, run, run.

“Why, MTV, why – why, world, that such a band as one named ‘Sugababes’ can riff on ‘I’m Too Sexy,’—not only that, but can do so and be high up in the UK Top 40? They can’t even rhyme: ‘I’m too sexy in this club, so sexy in this club, so sexy it hurrrrrrrts.’ What?! I’m ashamed of you! Go walk 500 miles! Like I’m running, right now. Except this treadmill lies to me and after twenty minutes thinks I’ve gone only a kilometer. I claim shenanigans on it.

“Ooh, two cats! Two cats chasing each other! Run, cats! Hide!” Run, run, run.

I will stop in the middle of a run and move to a different treadmill if my favorite, the third from the left, becomes free. I’ve started naming the bricks in front of it, and I count the rows and bricks across while I’m going. “One-two-three ah ha ha ha. Three bricks!” Run run – I’ve named one of the bricks “The Scream,” and if I can ever sneak a camera in you’ll see why. Tritone block coloring of a contorted mouth and outsplayed hand. I come up with different stories about why someone would make that pose. Most involve Lovecraftian tentacles from the Ancient Ones arising from the Deep. Cthulhuuuuu.

“I’m tired, I’ll go another five minutes, until around forty, and then have…wait. What? ’12:35’?! I’ve been running for so much longer than that! Shenanigans! So bored.” Run run run.


bek (phonetically. Spelled “b-e-g”) – run. (What I do.)
Ty begi! Pobystree! - Run! Faster! (What I often tell myself.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

So Fresh, So Clean

I haven’t talked about the dorm for a while. I could have. There is, in fact, a story coming up underneath this paragraph, but I didn’t want to complain for the sake of complaining, without a compelling story to go along with it. Well. Now I have a story. You can tell me if it’s compelling or not.

Many moons ago (I honestly just sat at the computer staring at my September calendar, trying to remember which day it happened, and can’t remember exactly when) – approximately three and a half weeks ago I came home to two strange men in my blok [my personal hallway. Let me explain by drawing you into my room. We leave the elevator and walk down to the end of the hallway, to the “fire exit” (helpfully chained shut, which is normal in Russia). Open the last door on the right, and that’s my personal hallway (3’x4’, max). Clockwise from 9 o’clock: door to the other room (currently empty), my door, door to water closet, door to bathroom)]. It was in this personal hallway that I saw the two strange men. They chiseled away all of the paint and plaster on my bathroom walls and left me shower-less.

Technically, the dorm mother said, I could take a bath there. (In reality, I would never let more than the bottoms of my feet touch that tub. So I’ve been taking showers at Planet Fitness, or begging Briullov-Jude-Bill&Pete for their continued hospitality and water supply. It’s been vaguely uncomfortable, but could have been much worse.) She continued: “But when it’s all done it’ll be all the better! Prosto nado terpet’. [One just has to be patient.]

I probably said something along the lines of Da, da, nichego, vse normal’no -- terpliu. [Oh yeah, sure, it’s nothing – I can be patient.] Inside I was thinking something more like, “If I knew you also were without a bathroom I’d be able to agree with you on waiting more readily.”

When I left for the library today another two men were in, taking out the old tub and bringing in a new one. “Great!” I thought, excited, but still weary Russia-wise. “Progress! Now only a couple more weeks before I have a bathroom back! Exclamation point!”

I returned home and first thing opened the bathroom door to see what progress they’d made. The new tub was in, but I quickly realized that while there were pipes leading to the faucet, there were no longer any pipes leading to the drain. I also noticed a great many plaster panels on the ground, and couldn’t figure out where they came from. And then I noticed something that looked like the tank to my toilet. Suddenly I could think of where the other panels came from.

Cue sinking feeling to enter, stomach center. I opened the water closet door and saw just the lower portion of the toilet. No tank. Oh, and behind the toilet a gaping hole, like a Ghostbusters abyss had just opened up. Any time someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!

I thought: No, it’s ok, I can still make this work. Russia is like camping, after all. My mind already raced through a couple of possibilities for living, which I don’t feel are suitable to repeat in a public forum.

I turned next to enter my own room and saw a note to the handle of my door in the door mother’s handwriting. “Great,” I thought. “A quick note to say, ‘It’ll be that much better when it’s done! Nado terpet’

Oh, so excited. Oh, so much better. Endriu! U vas net vody. Polzuetes’ dushom v 505m bloke. [Andrew! You have no water. Use the shower in Room 505.] Attached is a key to the personal hallway across the hall.

Oh. Yes. Oh. I can take a shower in the morning! Oh, to shave at a sink! Oh, the humanity!


Ia v vostorge. I’m ecstatic. [Or, as I recall someone saying: “I’m on ecstasy!”]

Speaking of ecstasy, it cracks me up every time a Russian says narkotiki. They get this devilish gleam in their eye like they’re saying a naughty word. At the theater today an actor reciting a poem finished one line with the word: narkotiki, and blew a cloud of white powder out of his hand. The whole crowd teetered and tee-hee’ed as if presented with a risqué quadruple entendre.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

GBC: Russian Edition

I’ve got to return to the topic of food so I can ask – why are Russians such babies about spices? I have yet to hear a suitable explanation as to why this country, so close to so many rich gastronomical heritages, has such a bland collective palate.

Perhaps the winter is too cold for indigenous spices, and the home cooking of the country reflects those ingredients that can be found in such a climate? No. Why – we recall – did other European countries develop a taste for spices? Because one could salt one’s meat and it didn’t matter how rotten it had gotten. No, the question of home-grown spices doesn’t work.

Then I thought perhaps it’s because Russia is so far north. The Silk Road passed it by. The second part is true, at least; all of the paths went through Turkey. BUT -- let’s think about where Russia got Russian Orthodoxy and almost every feature of its native folk architecture. I say this with authority when I answer my own question: From Constantinople. Seems to me spices are just as easy to ship up as icons and priests and stones and masons and architectural plans.

Different strokes? Again, maybe, but an entire populace, for generations, has collectively refused to eat anything spicy for so long that it has become some bizarre aspect of natural selection (only the gastronomically cowardly survived?)?! I highly doubt it. First of all, I don’t think that’s how evolution really works (that is, pardon me, your ancestors aren’t monkeys, no. The world’s only been around for three thousand years and we’ve only got three more to go) and second – I don’t buy the concept of collective taste. I’m pretty sure it’s a Law of Society:
For any population of x (where x is greater than or equal to 2) there shall always be a minimum of 1 Jan Brady.
Or Meg Griffin, if your pop culture tastes don’t have tendrils extending far enough back to know the Brady Bunch. Mine just barely do.

As an “experiment,” I’ve catalogued every space that I consumed today. In order of prevalence:
That’s it. And it’s not like I chose the wimpiest dishes available! Live dangerously! What is going on?

Also, speaking of tendrils, I’m reminded of the Neil Gaiman short story in which he writes a Sherlock Holmes story in a Lovecraftian universe. The way he meshes the two is genius. It somewhat inspires me to pursue something derivative, but with Virginia Woolf and Lovecraft. Or perhaps Hemingway and the latter. What say you?


otkazat’sia ot vkusnoi edy - to decline delicious food

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I remember when "dirty librarian" had a different meaning

Briullov and I have decided to have a book club. (If we can get Jude, Bill-and-Pete, and Madame de Pompadour to join, maybe it’ll become more like the Finer Things Club…heh heh. Right now, though, it’s just a book club.)

The first book we chose was the 2008 winner of the Russky Buker award, which appears to be a rather prestigious award for fiction or poetry anthologies. The 2008 winner was Mikhail Elizarov’s Bibliotekar’ [The Librarian].

The description from the back talks about an unheard-of Soviet writer who produced several novels before he died. His novels met the ideal fate of a typical mainstream Soviet writer – that is, no one read them, they were packaged on to books people actually wanted to read for 5, 10 kopeeks, and booksellers generally tried to figure out how to get rid of the single publishing run of them, short of burning. Manuscripts don’t burn.

Fast forward to perestroika-era through the turn of the century, when the main events transpire. A few people randomly decide to read this writer, Gromov’s, books, and discover that they have magical powers. One is the Book of Strength, another of Memory, of Power, of Clarity, etc. etc. Library-clans form so Night Watch-style street fighting can take place. They search for the books people have thrown away or have lost in their libraries and attics and basements, and quest for a legendary Seventh Book.

A very interesting premise, and a plot that got me through about the first half of the novel before I got bored (the main antagonists, who consist of zombie-grandmothers – at least, that’s what I call them – a horde of old women in a nursing home who’ve gotten their hands on a Book of Strength and use it to rejuvenate, except it doesn’t always work on their minds as much on their bodies…were especially helpful in keeping my interest) but then it started to get ridiculous. Yes. After the zombie-grandmothers, it started to get ridiculous. Whatever. I finished it.

In lieu of coming up with some massive post about its societal impact, I’m just going to quote the section that made me have a “Wha-wha-wha?!” moment or three, and then you’ll see, perhaps. If you’ve been following post-Soviet and Russian-Ukrainian politics, I think you’ll understand why. Here, our protagonist, the nostalgic-among-nostalgics, Aleksei, has to make a drastic choice and has a long internal monologue.
Ведь и в моем настоящем детстве я свято верил, что воспетое в книгах, фильмах и песнях государство и есть реальность, в которой я живу...

Даже когда ненависть к собственной стране и ее прошлому считалась в обществе признаком хорошего тона, я интуитивно сторонился разоблачительных романов, орущих прожорливыми голосами чаек о всяких гулговских детях Арбата, идущих в белых одеждах. Меня смущала литературная полуправда...Пoвзрослевший, я любил Союз не за то, каким он был, а за то, каким он мог стать, если бы по-другому сложились обстоятельства...

И был еще один ключевой момент, важность и парадоксальность которого я осознал лишь через годы. Союз знал, как сделать из Украины Родину. А вот Украина без союза так и не смогла ею остаться...
[After all in my childhood I piously believed that the government so glorified in books, films, and songs led, in reality, the country in which I lived…

Even when hatred against one’s country and its past became a societal marker of good taste, I intuitively shunned those “unmasking” novels, shouting in the voracious voices of seagulls of all the Gulag’s Children of the Arbat*, strutting in their white clothing. Their literary half-truths disturbed me ….Having grown up a little, I loved the USSR not for what it was, but for what it was able to become, if only societal developments were built up a little differently...

And there was still one more important point, the importance and paradox of which I realized only after years had passed. The USSR understood how to make a Motherland out of Ukraine. And – yup – Ukraine without the USSR just can’t seem to retain any sense of Motherland…]

*Note – he’s riffing on a famous title of just such a book.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

But where’s Olivia Newton-John?

I have yet to get someone else to verify this report, so it could be as hallucinogenic as Man Uggz but it would appear that, at least among the male student-architects, it has become popular to dress up as a greaser.

I’m talking full-out greaser: light denim jeans, white t-shirt, black leather jacket, oily oily hair. At first I thought there was only one, which was still cool in and of itself, but today I saw one, his bangs so tightly curled around each other he could jump a shark no problem, and then a second, his bangs not left to glue to one another all night, but stylized more like James Dean.

Really. What? I have a few hypotheses but no answers (and no pictures):
1. This is a result of the retro-greaser-coolness experienced in America right now. Cf. “A Dustland Fairytale” music video. Vaguely understandable, but implausible. Although The Killers sound like they fit into the British-European scene, they are not very popular over here.
2. This is independent of the American return but is following the same irrational nostalgia for all things Americana, and to try to figure it out is to stare directly into the Time Vortex.
3. This actually has a perverted rationality of its own.
Smotri [Look] – Let’s take women’s fashion as the base of our analysis. I’d peg that as America, mid-80s to early 90s. Lots of bright, flashy colors. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were certain colors for every season, too (walking down Kuznetsky Most today, every single store window greeted me in shades of poisonous green).

Next, we have men’s (and some women’s, if they have feathers and/or braiding) fashion, which was tight skinny jeans and mullets à la Dima Bilan. Late-70s to mid-80s.

And now we have the greasers. What does this say to us other than Grease? Nostalgia-for-the-nostalgic-mid-70s, people! We’re just going retro. Next we’ll see people putting on prosthetic Brezhnev eyebrows that’d make Vulcans jealous, and after that it’ll be the fro, all day, every day. Elton John is coming to town soon, “straight from Las Vegas,” anyway.

It’s only a matter of time before Russian Woodstock.

I wonder how long this’ll all last, too, and how far back it’ll go. I just hope I’m in town when it becomes vogue to wear woolen overcoats again. Ekh ekh, bez kresta! TRA-TA-TA


smotri - Look, Check it out, See here…
nasledniki - inheritors, followers
khvostik - little tail; mullet; rat tail
moda - fashion. Usually…not…to my tastes.
Ekh ekh - a repeated line from Blok’s poem, “The Twelve”

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's time for ART D-BAGGERY!

(Also known, herein, as kul’turovedenie, to use a less offensive term.)

On a day last week, just which day I no longer remember, but it was a rainy day, to be sure, and cold -- I was bundled in a scarf, and Briullov had on his woolen cap, and Joyce’s ghost is dictating that I should put in another hyphen right about here – we set off to see part of the 3rd Moscow Biennale, located on the grounds of Winzavod [Soviet term – “wine factory” from vino and zavod. The acronym and the shortening were the word-coining tools of the era: NARKOMTIAZhPROM is probably my favorite].

If you can navigate through to the correct section, Briullov talks about most of the stuff we saw at his website, if you’re inclined to see.

I’m just going to talk about one exhibit, although it is the only exhibit at Winzavod to be featured in the popular arts journal Afisha as one of the top five exhibits in the city right now. Ladies and not-ladies, may I present Aleksandr Brodsky’s “The Night Before The Attack” [ «Ночь перед выступлением» Александра Бродского]

This gallery is located in the old wine cellar, deep underground, and the descent builds into the suspense of anticipation. The stairwell treads go round, those entering the gallery go down, until finally, on the bottom landing, one enters a large hall, lit only in part by bright fluorescent lights. There are a few tents of a see-through fabric, small sculptures huddled within, and circular “campfire” units whir within the depths.

No matter which route one takes, the light quickly dissolves into omnipresent and omnipotent darkness. The height of the walls is just barely seen in the gloom; reflective tape marks uneven ground that would otherwise be unseeable. All is darkness, except for the timid light of green and orange and yellow of the statues’ campfires.

In the words of the exhibit description available, Brodsky wanted to emphasize his favorite and most important themes (he is a famous artist and architect; he has work simultaneously on display at the Tretiakovsky Gallery, etc…):
the instable balance between comfort and entropy, the blurry boundary between the concept of a building and its physical form.
In this he surely succeeded; to enter and to examine the exhibit is to participate in it. One immediately begins to feel a deep, emotional understanding – perhaps never fully articulated – a dialectic of attack-umbrage, power-weakness, knowledge-fear. At certain points throughout the black abyss one can climb onto a viewing platform and pretend to be as Napoleon over the camp, Kutuzov before Paris. The more time spent in the darkness, the longer and harder the glances at the little soldiers in their tents – surely that one didn’t just move? Has a one shown the signs of being unsettled, as the viewers have themselves become?

Those statues are mass-produced, huddled forms, abstract – garden gnome variants on the Chinese terracotta army – and looking over them I wondered if they were meant to be fokusy for a magic trick, or if the association with their Chinese cousins was accidental – were the soldiers of a Russian army or an invading force? Is the feeling of foreboding within the deep that of a soldier before the bombs’ shrieking, or of the villager before the slaughter?

I can’t answer that. I can only pose more questions. Why do those things that seem to be “the best” at evoking an emotional response, those that are winning competitions (like Ukraine’s Got Talent) and are lauded as the exhibits to see around town (like this) all return to the question of war, to total war, to the undeniable presentiment that everything is going to be destroyed?

It’s a question to continue to ponder, even in my own work, because the architecture of post-war Stalinism was meant to uplift the soul. Prof F., I recall, once mused: “It seems all of the nations most greatly affected by the war, including the Germans, and the Russians, and the Japanese, returned to the deepest communal memories and traditions to deal with their grief.” Post-war architecture returned to the Deep Architecture of folk and popular history, and would catapult the Soviet survivors of the war out of the darkness, into the svetloe budushchee.

Did that return to folk architecture fail so horribly that what I’m witnessing, this preoccupation with war and destruction (I touch upon another source in an upcoming review of the 2008 Russky-Buker Award-Winning Novel, Bibliotekar’), is all an extension of the fear remaining from World War II? It doesn’t seem that it could be from the Cold War; after all, in that conflict there were at least two sides, and I don’t imagine the American populace as scared of a fabled Soviet doomsday device in Siberia as the Russians were petrified of Bush’s ridiculous strategy of Czech missiles directed over Moscow skies.

What is keeping the threat of imminent and total destruction so present in creative Russians’ minds? Why has total war and total victimization trumped all other mode of artistic expression? Is it possible to tell a narrative without returning to that war? How can one move past it? “Never forgive, never forget” – but always to remember, without interruption, is neither healthy nor behooving.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

An "Open Letter"

Dear Mr.-and-Mrs.-Copyright-Infringement-Person-Dude,

I understand your job, and I empathize with the task that you have in front of you, trying to tame the wild internet-jungle and all of the myriad forces that are gathered against you, primarily in the guise of youtube users.

However, I would like to thank you for failing to find all of the songs from Muse’s new album on youtube before I had a chance to listen to them. I love them. It’s weird and, in keeping with my general theme, most dichotomous, because I feel mildly mollified, maybe molested, more musically-modified my-my-my more monotonous mmmmm-well-fed; that is, without alliteration, I feel less frantic about purchasing it. Simultaneously, I know now that I need (see how it’s moved on to the ‘n’ sound? Yes. So did I.) to buy the album, so in fact, the presence of these copyright infringements are actually going to inspire me to buy this album. As soon as it comes out of defitsit.

Jude: “Why don’t you just buy it on iTunes?”

It is a fair question. It has three answers.
1. I am a tactile learner at times, and buying shiny objects is, I have recently discovered, one of those times.
2. See below for my discussion on my external hard drive. I’ve always been a bit leery about the prospect that all of my documents-photographs-music-life exists primarily in digital form, and that neurosis has only been strengthened in recent days.
3. Ever since an ancient friend (ancient in the time we’ve known each other, not in how old he is himself – subjective, not objective, let’s remember), Jamie Lynn, inexplicably became blocked on my facebook while I was in Piter and using the Interweb-cafes for my doings, I’ve had a paranoiac-psychotic-anti-establishment fear of sending any kind of information over the Russian global village interface. Really, I should only be scared of using coffee shops, but irrationality is irrational. Who knew.
What’s more, listening to these songs is exciting because, for once, I am enjoying them on the first go-round. Usually it takes much longer for music to grow on me. The Killer’s Sam’s Town took three years. I remember when I first started listening to Muse – thanks, I don’t remember now, to Aynristotle, or to Paddles, or to Wer, or to the Brit – and kept them because I enjoyed the odd song out. And now they are the favoriteses.

It would appear that The Resistance is soon to join the ranks of their previous albums. From what I’ve heard already, it is full of fantastic 80’s throwbacks. Something like
I want to reconcile the violence in your heart
I want to recognize your beauty’s not just a mask
I want to exorcise the demons from your past
I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart
could very well be an alternate version of a Madonna sonata, and I’m pretty sure I can hear Freddie Mercury singing background vocals to “United States of Eurasia.” “Brilliant,” in the words of another British cultural icon.

So, to reiterate: Merci, Mr. and Mrs. CIPD. With loff, whalesong, and an emo-single-feather from a waterlogged wing,

Available, for a short time only, shaken, not stirred. That’ll be $3.50.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Is the Sphinx a bird or beast?

Ah, how quickly the times do change; how many songs the little songbird knows; for now I love the way the wind doth taste; for now the heater is on, if just a bit. It’ll take far longer for it to get to the point where I’ll want to open my fortuchka because I’m dying of heat, but I won’t get up at 3 in the morning to put on a second sweater and woolen hat tonight.

In honor of the riddle-enigma-mystery roll (I am picturing a Cinnabon™ like the ones on which Jude and I chowed down after Inglorious Basterds on Sunday – about which I’m not going to say a word, as it is, like A Bride at Any Cost beyond societal commentary. I don’t even want to think about what ramifications have transpired in the American mind to spawn that reimagination of war on Hitler. Anyway. Back to the first sentence I hijacked, about Russia-as-a-roll-of-mystery-meat --) here is a picture from the museum-park Tsaritsyno.

I am not sure if I am ever going to write up a formal version of my thoughts from the park. I agree with Grigory Revzin, if any one ever has the opportunity or is in the mood to read what a Russian architectural historian far older and wiser than me [in this kingdom by the sea] has to say about it. For now: the mighty sphinx, gentrifying her river-roost as only Moscow’s youth can make her be…

Friday, October 2, 2009

It might snow this weekend

This is the second time that I’m in Russia for the fall, and it’s the second time that I feel like I’m missing out. I guess I’ve been spoiled my whole life by the length of New England autumns, by the crisp air of moonlit nights, by the multicolored splendor of so many leaves committing mass suicide, the random and bizarre heat of Indian summer against the sudden chill as soon as the sun’s touched the tree tops (I’m picturing so many cross-country practices that started with Caddy yelling at the guys who took off their shirts and ended with everyone donning windpants and gloves – in the same day).

It’s just cold here. Cold cold cold. I’ll get used to it, I know; and it’s not even that cold yet, “objectively speaking,” usually around high 40s, low 50s. The few times I’ve been out and it’s been colder than that it hasn’t seemed so bad -- because it’s colder. At that point I can just say, “Yeah. It’s winter. I know what this feels like – that’s fine.” Like this, though…

I think the main problem is that things like heat are centrally controlled (and when I say that, I don’t mean by someone in this building. I mean by someone in this city) and haven’t been turned on yet, and I have a wall-to-wall window that only gets morning sunlight. Let me just say that I’ve temporarily solved my fridge problem; putting my morning Chudo (a yogurt-shake-in-a-bottle…thing…) against the window, it’s just as cold as it is when I get it from the store.

I love it when the heat comes on and one suddenly cannot sleep with a single blanket any more, it’s so warm in the room...

I’m going insane, too, because my external hard drive – and this is totally random, I swear. It sat on the corner of my desk by itself for about a week, I didn’t go near it, I didn’t knock it off, there is no human error involved in this at all – this son of beetch suddenly decided that it would no longer work. I’m flipping out. Only about a third of my music was on my hard drive, but I’m afraid it was a lot of the stuff that I’ve had since…middle school…and rather rare stuff, too, from the times when the Internet was wild and free and “It was beautiful, and everyone shared” (thank you Vonnegut). Not to mention Doctor Who and Psych. How am I expected to eat dinner, now? This was my routine: and food, and a TV show, and then reading (this starts around 8:30, 9) and then bedtime.

The past couple of nights I’ve been eating to The Sandbox, which is entertaining but not quite the same. I’m hoping for a harvest-tide miracle that’ll rejuvenate Mr. I. O. Mega.

Edit to add that I’ve had a chance, now, to examine the damage to the music, and it’s thankfully not as extensive as I thought it was. I have almost everything I’ve lost on CD at home; I was worried the stuff I lost was the stuff that’s either 1) Russian, but not from the random mix-tapes I have (the only thing I lost there was Nochnye Snaipery, which I’m not really too upset about) or 2) the stuff that’s not available on CD in the US at all (e.g. the Broadway version of Chess, which I’m not ashamed to like. Nor am I ashamed to still have it on my computer!)

BUT this brings me to a fun game, a version of “Who’d You Rather?” It’s too bad that I have X, but lost Y:
CCR, but no Irish Rovers
Coldplay, but no Snow Patrol
Death Cab for Cutie, but no Radiohead
Fuel. Not even in place of anything. Just one of those things I’ve had for so long…and am now sad.
Green Day’s “American Idiot,” but none of the earlier CDs survived
Muse’s discography, except the newest release. Moscow is still destroying my soul in that search.

sukin syn - son of beetch. It’s not mat, I’ve seen it printed in poetry and fiction, so I feel like I can use it here. Then again, apparently it’s becoming easier and easier to see the f-bomb in print in the US…