Sunday, November 29, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The one, the only -- (??)

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Odi et amo?


I have roommates again.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pour some maple syrup on that, too

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

I’m not really a crazy person.

Am I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Enigma Machine

I need to justify myself.

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

About two and one third of these statements are true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


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

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

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

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

MJ's in Heaven, Now

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

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

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

“Sure, fine,” I answer the seller.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's like a supermassive black hole

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

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

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

Snowflakes, for real real

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

I enjoy how silent it forces the world to become.

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

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

[One and the same?]

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

And I like enjoying things.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blood-Colored Snowflakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Poison Snowflakes in the Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beautiful and Unique Snowflakes

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

You knew this was coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continued tomorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Money makes the world go 'round

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

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

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

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

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

…I must be missing something.

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

I’m a crazy person.

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Call a Builder, Part II

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Besides, it wasn't Spearmint

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Ok. Do you want a piece of gum?”

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

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

“No thanks,” I say.

He motions again.

“No, I’d rather not.”

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

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

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


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

Monday, November 16, 2009

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


I have no The Fray!

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

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

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

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

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

Looks like it’s back to you, Coldplay.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I want to memorize things.

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

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

YOU respond, Blogosphere!

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Is this -- silence?

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

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

I’m scared even to write this.

What if it’s true? I’m scared.

And what if it’s false? I’m scared.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Have the Power to End This!

I have a new enemy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I count down to Friday


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

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

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

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

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

Zdrazdvstvujte. [Hello], she said.

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

And then I bought a lot of cookies.

Even if they are only a sometimes food.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Thought Police, They're Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alright, back to work.

Monday, November 9, 2009

American Rhapsody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are quiet for a little while.

We ride as four across the NH border.

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


Oh, poor Wif. We continue to ride.

From Paul Celan's "Death Fugue"

On the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My age, my beast...

A Most Ancient™ church in Kolumna

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

Have a guess? Leave a comment.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Can't Touch This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not physical touch this time around. But still.


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

Call a builder!

Monastery Wall
on the grounds of the Kolumna Kremlin

Friday, November 6, 2009

Aren't they cute?

Last Sunday I went to Kolumna, a town located 80 km to the southeast of Moscow. I went as part of an excursion the institute did for its students, so we had a) an opportunity to get off the bus and take tons of photographs of all the old churches; b) a great tour guide.

Notice that the picture I'm posting is NOT of the architecture. :D

I just really like the way they all look! (They're looking at [at least in the direction of] the church's cupolas.)

And this safari-style photography and exploitation of the natives is why the Professor and I are working through a reading list of post-colonialism so the American won't examine Russian culture as would a conqueror...

YOU respond, Blogosphere!

This, dear readers, is something I just can’t make my mind up about. It’s been cracking me up, even though I think I should be insulted.

A response from one of you (l’Artist, to be precise) to me, via email:
Although I generally believe that the less said about Mr. [Frozen Icarus], the better, I do feel obligated to say a few things about his prudish expostulations. Imagine getting a dollar every time he said he wouldn't seek alliances with misguided ignoramuses in order to cause this country to flounder on the shoals of self-interest, corruption, and chaos but did so anyway. You would unequivocally be very, very rich. So, what am I doing about that? I'm educating. I'm trying to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations. In closing, Mr. [Frozen Icarus] believes, in his elitist delirium, that cannibalism, wife-swapping, and the murder of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior.
(Just for the record, I believe it was a different party that advocated wife-swapping. I can’t deny any of the other allegations, though.)

I’m pretty sure l’Artist is mocking me at every turn (of phrase). And yet he has read everything I’ve ever written (and is, apparently, one of the 30 readers of the undergraduate literary journal where I had a short story published) and can reference it and is still reading!

So. Don’t blame the pusher. Blame the crack.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Varekai, Part III

This only relates to Varekai in that I’m writing it at the same time as the other two posts, and it happened on the metro ride back.

Two guys passed me on the escalator. In the hands of one was a printed out copy of the map. I have developed a sort of “I-feel-your-pain-but-I’m-not-quite-like-you” binary sense of empathy/superiority to tourists, and I experienced that sense as they passed.

Then I forgot about them, composing as I was in my head the posts that have preceded this one. Got off the ‘tro at Leninsky Prospekt as usual.

I’d just passed the Stardogs™ stand (a Russian hot dog company whose product I’ve not yet tried, but do wish to. Someday. When I have many pills nearby to drown my surely-soon-to-be-deathly-aching-stomach) when whom did I see but – two tourist guys! Izvinite, they said, Vy ne skazhite, pozhalujsta, kak proidti do ulitsy Ordzhonikidze? [Excuse us, could you say how to get to Ordzhonikidze street? Note on pronunciation: or-john-ih-KEE-dze. The “-ih-“ like in “in” or “is;” the “dze” like you’re Giada pretending you have an Italian accent]

I explained. They riposted: Dom nomer odin – na pravoi ili levoi storone? [Is #1 going to be on the left or right and side?]

The left was the answer I gave; my building is also odd-numbered, and it is on the left. So.

There was a surrealism in that moment. How did I know they were foreigners? Well, besides remembering the map they had before…I can hear accents, even though I can’t distinguish place of origin. And when they said “left or right” they gesticulated broadly to either side of the street, at a moment when I hadn’t said enough to give myself away as a foreigner (meaning they were nervous about their own accents). Plus they didn’t know how to get to Ordzhonikidze and they were wandering around that area at night. Not something a Muscovite would do.

The surrealism – there was a moment of hesitation, as they were doing that gesticulation, where I thought: “Why don’t I just answer them in English?”

These first thoughts I have, man. Why are they always so stupid? I can shoot them down so readily. I need to work on that. A whole host of reasons why I shouldn’t and didn’t: I didn’t know they were English-speakers, just that they were foreign tourists; I hate it when I ask someone a question in Russian and they respond in English; I don’t actually feel like continuing this list, etc.

But I wonder what it might have been like if a Russian had passed us. That one would likely have been able to differentiate our accents. ”What the deuce are an American and two Brits doing, speaking to each other in Russian on a street corner at 11 o’clock at night? And gesticulating like windmills, how rude.”

My Russian-construct is a little bit prudish, apparently.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Happy National Unity Day

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) - famous pianist, composer, musicien extraordinaire

Who better to celebrate Den Narodnogo Edinstva - National Unity Day - the celebration of Moscow rallying together and ejecting the Polish conquerors (November 1612) (a little a la Cincinnatus from Roman history)- with, than a random early 20th century composer? Who indeed.

I'm subverting the tag "nom nom: eye candy" to become a new feature - gratuitous eye candy, which in this blog usually refers to stone flesh, not living...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stars. Lots of 'em

More stars than I've seen for a while.

And quite a different architectural style than I posted yesterday.

The Church of the Transfiguration (17th century), located on the grounds of the Novospassky Monastery (14th century) in historic downtown. Wikipedia tells me that the monastery was fortified in those olden times, and used as a prison and then as a drunk-tank during the Soviet Union, before returning to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991.

I like the stars. Is shiny.

Varekai, Part II

I feel wonderfully evil. I wonder if anyone actually reads the blog frequently enough to have felt suspense after reading Varekai, Part I, or if now there are just some three people in the world who feel mildly annoyed that they have to scroll up to the beginning of the post above to know the end of what I started yesterday. Either way, DOCTOR HORRIBLE IS HERE! Mwahahaha.

Though really, what’s going on is I’m trying to make posts that aren’t as unreasonably long and ridiculous. The ridiculous part I can’t so much help. I try.

I could potentially have walked to where the Cirque’s set up its tent and have walked home. There’s a nice park and a river between the two locations, but nothing horrible. Possibly it would have taken forty-five minutes – so not even my usual walking-for-the-day. A few things deterred me, in order of their importance: it was cold. It was cold. It was cold. (As well it was dark and I, not thinking the day through, had already gone for a run at the gym and was lazy).

So I took the metro there and back. Sitting in the compartment on the ride home, I felt like all of my senses were overwhelmed. As I’m writing this I’m still sitting in my room with the overhead light off and no music on (both rarities) and the quiet is soothing.

Then I thought on Jenny’s “senses” blog posts, and I wondered if I could do the same with Cirque. “No, stupid,” my first response: “There was little more there than sight and sound.”

A conclusion I quickly rejected. I’m still not going to try to describe the different impressions of the circus, though, for three reasons:
1. I don’t want to argue whether Cirque du Soleil is tasteful or just “too Las Vegas” or “too French,” because I fear there’s too much truth in either of the latter claims.

2. For once I’ll take pity on my mental reader-construct and assume that reading my analyses of whether the contortionist’s exceedingly glittery costume was over the top or cool, or why they didn’t offer beer to Russia when they do to America, would, indeed, be cruel and unusual punishment.

3. See Movement IV (Waltz-memory) of the previous post’s sonata.
It was a great show! I very much enjoyed myself, and I had a great seat, and the performers were excellent.

During intermission I saw a ring of employees lining the stage. I had heard some of them speak English before, and I figured they were the more permanent, important ushers. I picked a target (I’ll admit my own stake in the patriarchy; she was young and female and I am young and male, so…) and asked her if she happened to know how one might get backstage. She was bewildered at first, and then when I lied (not wanting to admit to my illicit photographic contraband) that I wanted to collect autographs, she said that ne daiut avtografi, voobshche [in general they don’t]. (I was mistaken in thinking she was one of the English speakers.) I trust what she said – at least in this country, I guess it’s ne priniato [not the custom].

Then I walked the perimeter of the fence after the show remembering (Movement I – Adagio) my literature teacher in St. Pete. All I found was a gate and a bus running its engine. Assumedly where the performers would eventually leave, but it was cold and late and I had no idea how long it took to sort costumes and take off makeup and, in general, being a random sketchy guy, standing in the night by the fence, is much creepier than being a paying customer at the show, going backstage.

Cf. Movements II – Allegro – Flaw and III – Minuet – Neurosis. I had a great time at the show. It was good! It was what I wanted to see; it was worth the cost; I was happy. And yet I was upset at myself on the metro home, all because I gave into that which has been the greatest detriment to humanity ever since my namesake leapt into the sun – ambitious desire.

That inner voice that told me I should get my head out of the clouds, simultaneously, off-handedly, mentioned that I might stop by the grounds of Luzhniki on another day, around the time I thought the performers might be arriving – after all, they can’t be in rehearsal all day before the show, right? There must be a call at some general, that inner voice was way too smooth and sneaky in the way he phrased it.

So I thought – I could. But I could also not. And looking at all of the movements of the sonata – the craziness of my teacher, my own neuroses, the way the Cirque bloggers portray themselves, the shattered necklace on the floor – I’d rather not.

Of course then that inner voice tried throwing up another story, to add to the four I’d already composed. I’ve mentioned it here before.

And yet I know a final variation on this same theme:
And for three whole weeks Ti Moune did wait by the gates
Not sleeping, not eating, not drinking, only waiting
Only watching, as the grounds of the Hotel Beauxhomme grew even more lovely
In preparation for the wedding
- and I fear it.


Ia bois’, shto ia ctal tem samym, kak eti sumashedshie cirque-bloggery - I’m afraid I have become just as crazy as those Cirque bloggers.

Monday, November 2, 2009


This office-complex that I've affectionately nicknamed "Ode to the Fashion Palette of 1986" stands by metro Novye Cheremushki, in an area of the city developed during the bleak [architectural-creativity speaking] epoch following the "excesses" of Stalinism. Picturing it standing among a host of Stoke and Williamson and Hubbard Halls wouldn't be far from the mark. It's ridiculous and frivolous, and I love it for that reason. It looks like something I'd expect to see in the backdrop of The Sims...


Remember how I can regulate when my posts go live; although it may not seem it, I’m writing this just after seeing Cirque du Soleil's Varekai, the first of its productions to come to Russia. Take that statement as a promise that eventually I’ll get back to talking about this evening.

First a sonata of stories.

Movement I – Adagio

Once upon a time in St. Petersburg, my literature class takes a walking tour of Crime and Punishment. Essentially, we follow the walk that Raskolnikov took on the day he decided to kill the old woman.

Outside the dvor [courtyard] of the house Dostoevsky describes as the woman’s place, we find a locked gate. Our teacher frowns. “It didn’t use to be locked, although I can imagine it gets annoying, having all sorts of students and tourists and foreigners knocking around your personal space.” She leans in close. “You need to always be very attentive to detail.”

We then stand there for twenty minutes as she tries to break in to the locked dvor.

Time moves very slowly when you almost become an accessory to a crime.

She couldn’t open it.

Movement II - Allegro

When Madame de Pompadour, Briullov, and I all had dinner together the other night, I sprang the question: “What do you consider to be your greatest flaw?” (This being in the grand tradition at BNG to ask personal questions to ponder over the course of the shift.) I told the two, as those readers more familiar to this blog likely already know, that what I consider my greatest flaw to be is a highly imaginary mind coupled with a sense of entitlement. Most humans call this desire.

The unfortunate thing with this ambitious imagination-entitlement-desire, as can sometimes happen with me, is that I’ll think of Something™. [That s- must be capitalized.] Something. Doesn’t matter what that Something is – a material good, an experience, a dream. Once I start thinking about that experience, the imagination kicks in and I ponder what it would be like to have that Something.

And then one of two things happens. Either I get what I want, and I have to repeat to myself that I’ve wanted it for so long, that I’ve even gone to the extent of daydreaming about it, to snap myself out of a state of “meh,” or I don’t get that Something. And then I am depressed and not happy with myself, and I say: “Why did you spend so much time dreaming and thinking about this when you could have been doing something productive? Get your head out of the clouds.” Usually my mental diatribe has a lot more choice words but I paraphrase.

Psychotic-neurotic desire.

Movement III – Minuet

As soon as I had my ticket to Varekai I started thinking, “How cool would it be to have a photograph of the Frozen Icarus and the Broken-Legs Icarus-carnie together! I could post it on the blog!” Haha, funny joke, mind.

And then it stuck. And then I started really thinking about it – how I could sneak a camera into the tent, how I could get backstage, how I could phrase my request so I didn’t sound like a crazy person or like a little girl.

I googled “how to get backstage at cirque” without much result. I trolled through cirque fanatics’ blogs (no luck there, but a greater understanding that what I have does not qualify as a neurosis or fanaticism.)

I told tons of people about it. First in the joke haha way, then more tenaciously. The more I thought about it and spoke about it, the more serious it became.

And then I stopped by the dorm on my way to Luzhniki [the venue] to get my camera.

Movement IV - Waltz

Wally Benjamin thinks of history as the Angelus Novus, this picture by Klee that you can google quickly if you feel the need. A lot of people use that quote, though, so it’s already become a cliché among people who read historical texts. …No one reading this blog, that means…

So I could quote Benjamin and you might think ‘Oh that’s interesting’ or you might just think it’s me being typical [which would be totally legit and an honest assessment of the situation], but this would not make me a happy duckling. Because I have read those historical texts.

Instead, I want to think of history/memory in a different light. Picture this: Cinderella’s sprinting away from the ball, and one of her glass slippers falls from her foot. Everyone knows this, and everyone knows the ending of the story, how the gallant Prince searched all the town over for the lovely and lucky maiden whose foot would find its perfect fit in the glass slipper, how Cinderella produced the match when the first had shattered.

What no one remembers is that a pearl necklace Cinderella was wearing also slipped off as she sprinted away, as the clock struck the hour, as the faeries cavorted in the darkness. The necklace slipped off her neck, and shattered upon the ground, and its pearls scattered every which way.

Looking upon a memory is like finding one of the pearls from Cinderella’s necklace. It’s beautiful, in its own way, and we can appreciate it for what it is. But we can only guess at the way it looked on Cinderella, as part of the ensemble the Fairy Godmother made for her that night. And because the memory can’t be purely contextualized, and because it’s not even perfect as a text – maybe part of the surface chipped, or maybe we aren’t holding it precisely the right way - we can’t recreate even that one pearl/memory. The kind of nostalgia and meditative mourning that arises is, in my mind, beautiful and healthy. Not so for the ugly nostalgia Svetlana Boym describes.

Take today’s ROD’s as a recap of what you’ll need for tomorrow, when the story continues. :D


vnimatel’nost’ - paying attention
zhelanie - wish, desire
Ia soshol s uma. - I went crazy.
pamiat’ - memory

Sunday, November 1, 2009


A lot of pictures for you because I haven't been very good about uploading any for a while.

We celebrated Halloween at American Embassy 2.0.

A word to the wise: the overarching philosophy was that a successful costume is both sexy and scary. I'll let you choose for yourself who has the best costume.

A second word: I didn't manage to take very many pictures because I (wisely) put my (very expensive) camera into its protective bag before the night wore on too long.

A third word: cross-polination.

Even my new mullet made an appearance.

Can you tell which is Briullov and which is a Russian dissident superstar? I can't.

With Madame de Pompadour. Just a few days ago she told me that she thought her character in the blog was too boring and I should spice her (the character-construct) up; I'll do my best.

(Unfortunately as the night wore on my fake blood, which started out looking very juicy and disgusting, began to look more and more like tomato juice.)

It was very gracious of Bill-and-Pete, Briullov, and Jude to host us. En masse, however, I'm afraid their costumes rather look like a horrific and sadistic perversion of Sesame Street.

We have no souls.


Vracha mozhno trogat' (the Russian words written on my costume) - You may touch the doctor.

Taco-flavored kisses

If you click over to Briullov’s website in the near future you’ll see his take on this same phenomenon.

I think.

At the very least, I’m writing it because he’d said it would be cool for us both to have our interpretation up on the ‘webs.

Gosh, it sure smarts to be manipulated into doing something, ma.

I may quite briefly have talked about this in a previous post on Russian linguistic registers most of you probably skimmed over.

Good. This gives me a second chance.

Here’s the deal: since the dawn of time (and/or Peter the Great) there have been two stereotypical philosophical umbrellas in Russia. Under one crowds the group of Westernizers – who, as the name implies, assumes that Europe and the West in general is more advanced than Russia, and tries to copy every achievement, the end goal being to catch up and/or to overtake Europe by riding its coattails. (I’m speaking ochen’ grubo [very rudely, in the sense of oversimplifying].)

In the red corner, under their own umbrella, are the Slavophiles. As the name, again, implies, Slav – meaning Russian – and –philes – meaning likers/lovers/addicts (there are so many way to translate Greek-root morphemes! So exciting). Anyway. This umbrella group of philosophers likewise anticipates that Russia will pursue and overcome Europe advances, but following its own path, looking to its own cultural models, not copying Greek/Roman classical forms, Englightenment philosophies, etc. Stands to reason that nationalists and ultra-nationalists fall into this group.

(Although I’ve always wondered – if skinheads are Neo-Nazis, but they’re Slavophiles…how does that work? Ved’ [After all] fascism is not homegrown in Russia…any way. It’s safe to say that the general population of skinheads is not deep enough to have realized that contradiction in their raison d’être.)

There’s a new tendency of global-nationalism. On City Day back in September we were out on a walk (this was me, Briullov, Jude, and Madame de Pompadour) when drunk young men around us started chanting nationalist slogans like, “RUSSIA FOREVAH!” or “Ole! Ole! Ole!” (notice the lack of italics/translation. This is what they were chanting.)

Just last week, at a dinner party, a guy studying English at a technical institute turns to me and starts asking how the West treats Stalin in history classes. By taking the position that Stalin was evil and rotten, he expected that I would have to attempt to be a Stalinist apologist, and then he’d either win because I’d argue what he wanted me to argue, or because I wouldn’t be able to say anything. Unfortunately this kid didn’t know that I study Neoclassical architecture built under Stalin’s reign, so I talked his ear off about the engineering and constructive feats accomplished, and the general lack of oppression that took place in the architectural community.

And then when he pressed the point I refused to play. When he paused for breath I asked, lightly: A ty vsegda tak ser’iozen? [Are you always so serious? Or – in a more loose translation – WHY. SO. SERIOUS!?] Every one who had been watching our conversation (another American and five girls – to whom I had multiple times given a “How ‘bout one of you native speakers come to the foreigner’s aid?” look) started laughing, and we moved on.

Later, this same kid started talking about American cartoons. He refused to believe the two Americans in the room when we told him that South Park came out when we were in fifth grade; it only came out in Russia five years ago. Likewise, he talked about how he looked up the Simpsons on Wikipedia and discovered that the producer named all of the main characters after his friends, except for Bart. “Because, you know, if you switch the r and the a, you get brat [the Russian word for brother]. And he is the brother!”

We tried to explain that “brat” means something different in English, but he refused to believe us.

So we have these Neo-Nazis who have adapted fascism to their cause. We have drunken teenagers who are screaming nationlist propaganda in essentially any language other than Russian. We have very friendly and easy-going guys who nevertheless want to get riled up at a foreigner bad-mouthing Stalin, a Slavophile who spends his time watching the Simpsons and Family Guy and Futurama and South Park.

Somewhere there’s a disconnect. I think Briullov wanted to see my interpretation, but for now I can only present the data. I don’t know what it means.

P.S. I know I've been bad about putting up pictures. I'll try to get some up in the near future. Hopefully one will include my Halloween costume. :D