Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Notes From an Exhibition

I went to the New Tretyakov the other day.

Observation the First - In case you forgot it.

Observation the Second - Gertrude Stein told Hemingway that, unless one is very rich, life is a choice between art and clothing. "You can surround yourself with beautiful things, and wear plain clothing, or you can follow fashion at the expense of art. I have chosen the former."

That flashed to mind when I looked at the souvenir table. I'm usually not procliven to souvenir purchasing - je me souviens, without them - but I really liked the exhibits I saw, and they had albums for both. I need to build up the "arts" section of my library. But I had just bought shoes and a couple of t-shirts the day before, and the albums were just as expensive. I couldn't justify spending that much two days in a row. I have, however, designated April as "Book-Buying Month," so I might be back.

Observation the Third - If I were to blame the homoeroticism of the entire Stalinist regime (blame is a strong word: perhaps pin on, or accredit to...) to one individual, it would be Deineka (I'm not the only one.). He takes such delight in painting nude men or muscular men in various states of being, and his women are of three stock types:
1. the Michelangelo might-as-well-be-male with ball-boobs
2. the grieving widow
3. the bourgeois femme fatale - pretty, but dangerous to the [Soviet] viewer.
Observation the Fourth - I feel complicated emotions towards the other exhibit I saw, dedicated to Aleksandr Shevchenko. For most of the exhibit I was thinking, "I've seen that before, and so did he," (that is, he was following tendencies of Cubism and abstract primitivism from Western European cues). But there are some - like those below (it's really hard to find his paintings online) - that speak. They scream!

These two ("Women on the Boulevard" and "Sleeping boy," both 1911) were next to each other, and I liked the juxtaposition, as if the curator had some Soviet anti-bourgeois tendencies - the ghastly spectres of the soul-sucking rich, versus the happy, healthy peasant.

Observation the Fifth - In most exhibitions there's some kind of order to the paintings: chronological, thematic, by subject or by medium. I have no idea how the curators at the Tretyakov establish their exhibits. There must be some reasoning, but it is scattered and incomplete, or not well expressed in the exhibit space itself.

In the Shevchenko, the best series was the above pair (plus the two paintings on either side). The viewer (I) could construct a story, or draw comparisons and conclusions. Otherwise, the organization left much to be desired - neither by medium, nor by subject nor style. I picked up on some motifs in Shevchenko's work, but only the most obvious - and not with the sense that they were motifs, but that I had seen them somewhere before...

In an ideal exhibition space, the viewer will be allowed to draw parallels, to understand creative devices or emotional expressions that are important to the artist, or to the way the curator appreciates the artist. The ideal space relates the art to the subjectivity of the curator's understanding of it. I think the problem, here, is that I'm coming to the scene with that sense that art is highly (or entirely) subjective, whereas whatever philosophy is overriding the curators' intent is that art appreciation should be objective and canonized.

Edit: Briullov beat me to the punch with a similar post, but I hadn't read his before I wrote this one. So. Nyahhhh. :P

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So torn...

Lenin on Tverskaya Square.

I can't decide what comment I want to make - so we'll have a vote a la the New Yorker cartoon caption contest.

1) "Lenin. Now in chocolate."

2) "Lenin. Ladies' Man."

3) "_____________________."

Monday, March 29, 2010

I am the Red Sea

I really shouldn't be surprised by anything in the gym anymore.

Whether it's a trainer physically moving a client's legs back and forth because she doesn't feel like doing the exercise,

or a man who uses the lying hamstring curl machine to workout his neck,

or a man who looks like he might have been the model for Jurassic Park velociraptor,

or...well. You get the idea. There are a lot of bizarre things that happen in the gym. Let's not even talk about the puppetry-of-the-penis spectacles that spontaneously occur when a group of trainers are showering at the same time. Those are psychologically scarring.

I got off a treadmill and -- seeing as I had been running on a treadmill -- am sweating. (I do this sometimes.) Sweat sweat sweat! Apparently I'm from an old school group of individuals who don't care whether they're wearing a grey shirt to the gym or not (I was) and thus have pit stains or not (I did. Plus neck ring etc) because I was running on the treadmill.

Then I noticed that people were staring at me.

Then I realized that I hardly ever see people sweating in the gym.

That's weird.

But is it? Here, it seems clients are either the women whose trainers are doing everything for them (see above) or are on so many steroids (see above) that their sweat glands must have reorganized themselves to sweat inwards - to flood the muscles with all of the water the creatine requires for that lovely bloated look...

Am I secret, am I safe?


Just to make sure that anyone I forgot to email spam or doesn't check Fb knows - I was at home when the Moscow metro bombings happened this morning. Which means I was, by definition, secret and safe, like the one ring.

Except for seeing my first Moscow cockroach. Le sigh. It's better than the rats that scurry all around the parking lot, or the ferret that's in the corner store to which I no longer give my patronage.

I don't know, am I allowed to talk about things other than the metro bombing? I'm not changing the scheduled posts, so. Yeah.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

You Shall Not Pass

The New Tretyakov Gallery has a huge exhibit for the Jubilee of artist Aleksandr Deineka's birth. The above is a fragment from one of his more famous works, The Defense of Sevastopol. See the full painting, in a lower resolution, here.

I had seen the work in person once before, last summer, when I tagged along with a delegation to the opening of museum-territory Tsarityno (I was told to keep in the back of the group and to keep my mouth shut so they wouldn't hear my accent).

That first time I paid more attention to the general cast of the work, which is a nice idea but so...I don't know how to say vulgar in the ideologically patriotic High Stalinist way that only post-war Communist artistic works can be...

This time around I happened to notice this man's expression, and now I can't decide what I think of it. Is it pure desperation? Horror? Defeatism? We can only see three faces clearly in the entire work, and they all belong to Soviet sailors. There's the shirtless man with a bottle - likely the empty bottle of liquid courage he just drank, to make him look so brave and fearless - who stares out at the viewer as if challenging, "YOU'RE not Nazi as well, are you? 'Cause I'm-a come get you..." There's the man further in the background, grinning, likely because he's holding a gun that actually has ammunition.

And then there's this man in the foreground, this man, who, in size and placement and every other artistic technique, is the hero of the story. Is he meant to bridge the gap between us, the lowly viewers who managed to live through the war, and the Heroes of Old? Since we're alive, we're automatically not of the same caste as martyrs... Since we're alive now, we've not yet become Homo Sovieticus, and this man, our hero, himself was not Homo Sovieticus, not yet, not until he completed the action of throwing those bottles at the Nazi troops and was slaughtered. Only later in the painting's chronology than the temporality we can see will he reach his self-perfection.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Conversation at the Hairdressers

Icarus: I want a wide mohawk. I want the sides to be closely shaven up to here [points out a straight line that traces back from the temple], and I want you to take a little bit off the top, but not a lot - I like the basic length it has right now.

[His tone indicates that he has learned how to express exactly what he wants in no uncertain terms.]

Hairdresser: Ok, I understand. So you want it up to here --

Icarus: No. Higher. [He points again.]

Hairdresser: Right. And what will we do in the back - do you want to keep the mullet?

Icarus: Yes. I want to keep the mullet, and I want it to go flat across at the very bottom.

[Again with the confidence; last time he was able to bully the hairdresser into giving him exactly what he wanted.

She begins her work. Everything is going nicely until she gets around to the back, and in one, cliched, "fell swoop," shaves off the amount of mullet she wanted. ICARUS shoots her a dirty "What the shiz did you just do" look in the mirror.]

Hairdresser: It wouldn't be aesthetically pleasing the way you wanted.

[ICARUS fumes. He begins calculating percentages of good-to-bad haircuts he's gotten at this establishment, and realizes that, unfortunately, it is still in the establishment's favor. He will just have to be more careful to get the hairdressers who are younger and will kowtow to his wishes. Thankfully, he has another couple months before he has to fly across the sea. His hair will be back in a proper and beautiful mullet when he falls to Pellagic depths.]

Hairdresser [half to herself]: You have such beautiful skin. It turns red just as soon as I've passed by it!

Icarus [thought]: That's because the razor is burning hot, woman!

[She finishes. It ends up looking acceptable. He pays, and leaves. On the walk to the metro.]

Icarus [thought]: I'm totally going to blog about this. "I've traded my mullet for a caesar-fauxhawk-rat tail. It's the Cadillac of haircuts!"

Friday, March 26, 2010

Smile for the camera. Or don't.

The picture attached to this NYT article made me wonder:

Photography, as artificial representations of humans, must be a contentious issue in Islam, right? Or is it as black and white as the Amish stance? I am unfortunately ignorant on this and wikipedia isn't loading for whatever I don't know what is true!

Then I thought about the other day, when I went into a Russian Orthodox Church. There were people all around, and some looking at me, and I crossed myself in the Russian Orthodox way (right shoulder first), even though I was raised Catholic (left shoulder first) and...well. Was that sign-mimicry disrespectful to my own identity or to the community of believers I was approaching when I entered the building?

I don't think so. It was, rather, a non-verbal communication act that "I understand this is appropriate to do in this situation." How can we toe that line, between appropriateness and cultural plagiarism? If I don't believe that my camera is stealing your soul and you don't see me taking your photo, am I allowed to take it, or will you still think your soul is stolen? Conversely, if I think that people are giving up their souls when they pose for photos...well. I don't even know how to end that sentence.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shall. We. Dance? Duh dun dun dun

At college, every spring I'd always end up going to see some friends' dance recitals, and I felt weird anticipating going through a spring semester where that wasn't the case. I bought tickets to see some modern dance presented at a hip factory-turned-museum-slash-cultural-events place (buying the tickets was the reason I went for a walk the other day). I was excited to see what "modern dance" was in this international capital, in this hip location, by these fit, cool dancers.

I left at intermission.

Let me draw an analogy. Once upon a time this guy named Malevich painted a Black Square that was meant to be so suprematist, so amazing, that he would end art itself. Almost a century later, the Black Square is quoted almost as frequently as the Mona Lisa.

Or this: Once upon a time this guy named Mayakovsky wrote poems that were so futurist in intent; he wanted to destroy the past and all its symbols. Almost a century later, the wild horde of babushki-employees try to tell visitors to his museum how to understand their canonized, mythologized hero-poet.

The thought running through my head through the dance performance was: "wow, I've seen all of this before." The first dance was a minimalist piece that reminded me of the infamous minimalist piece for piano where the performer sets a clock on top of the piano and the entire performance is the ticking of the clock. Except the whole point of that performance is the shock and awe that are supposed to arise when the audience realizes they won't hear any piano performance. The second dance was like a bizarre mixture of Martha Graham - fluid, dynamic, following an aura of motion - and Meyerhold - static, jerky, machine movement (one of the major motifs in the work was consciously based on a biomechanics étude of Meyerhold's). The two mix almost as well as oil and water.

I keep returning to that thought that I've seen this all before. If the idea of a modernist piece of art is to destroy the past or innovate the genre, participating in a formulaic canon is, by definition, not modernist. But if it has all of the modernist contraptions that are meant to break down the rules of traditional technique and formulas, neither is it, by definition, traditional.

It's just bad.

I'm such a cranky Statler.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Let the awkward pedestrians run around the puddles

As I mentioned on the Facebook the other day, spring has come. It is exciting. Unfortunately, as it turns out, in all of their grand utopian city-building schemes, my architects forgot to include storm drains. This is confusing to me, as I'm in a city that has around a thousand years' experience with springtime flooding, a summertime climate that typically results in daily sunshowers, and rainy Novembers. There's a long parking lot that's about half of my walk to the metro, except the parking lot is now a swimming pool.

This morning there were two street cleaners who were standing at the opposite side of the pond from me. I was walking in the opposite direction so I didn't stay to watch (apparently this is the story of my life) but there's an image burnt into my memory of these two men, each unfolding a black industrial-strength garbage bag, sizing up the "puddle" in front of them...
And the water's flowing along the asphalt like a river
It's unclear to everyone passing by
Just why, on such a bad-weather day
I seem to be so happy...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One street, three temporalities

Today's post is brought to you by the Greek Fates: Dolgorukovskaya ulitsa [literally, Long-Armed's Street -- named after Yurii "Long-armed" Dolgorukiy, the mythic founder of Moscow]

Past (The old Church of St. Nicolas the Miracle Worker (1904), now occupied by the Cartoon Union)

Present (I didn't take a picture, but there was a billboard right in front of this Italianate/Pompeii building that was selling "Italian cars." It made me laugh.)

Future (This could either turn into a step pyramid or a new Triumph-Palace. I'm not sure which would be better.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Herd of Ostracized Minds

I haven't had an exciting social commentary piece for a bit. Yay! Today's soapbox article is brought to you by an editorial in the popular Moscow-events-calendar journal "Afisha," Yuri Saprykin's "The Great Cross-post." First some translated passages.
…The spirit of the times breathes where it will – while the “trololo” song tears the Anglo-Saxon world to pieces,
[Either referencing this, or using it in a figurative “Song-of-the-Week” sense]
in the Russian realm of the Interwebs extreme social commentary’s become wildly popular – Shevchuk’s speech, Noize M C’s song about patricians in Mercedes, Andrei Loshak’s column on OpenSpace.
[I’ve included the links in case anyone reading this is Russian-speaking and interested. Otherwise, I can explain, quickly, that they're all referring to a car accident where an oil company executive and two famous hospital workers were in a car crash; the executive walked away, but the hospital workers didn't. It's a case-in-point for their dissatisfaction with current affairs.]
Loshak himself drew the general conclusion from these citizens’ activity – the current political regime has spun the situation to complete absurdity, the people need to organize themselves, the Interwebs are a most important instrument for said self-organization, the viral spread of Shevchuk’s speech and Noize’s clip proving that importance. The people are tired of lies and want to hear the truth. It’s all true, it’s all just like that.

We’ve all anticipated that musicians, specifically, ought to be the ones to deliver the long-awaited truth. There’s the general understanding that in the 80s rockers desperately stuck it to the man with their truths, and now they’ve sold out to Surkov, which is why they’ve turned to singing about puberty’s difficulties. And that’s why, they say, now our hopes lie on Russian rap…

Now for a lyrical digression: the conversations about how late 80s Russian rock repulsed societal evils sound off-key to anyone who actually lived through the end of the 80s. Which, exactly, are the evils you have in mind? The war between heaven and earth? The fatherland of illusions – what’s on the inside, what’s out? Time to change names?
[All (relatively) famous lyrics.]
Russian rockers, as a rule, preferred to express themselves metaphorically, and it just happened that the metaphors were precise and hit the nail on the head…

So, with all respect to Shevchuk and Noize – what have they said that we didn’t already know?...

What and to whom do want to communicate when we include links in our blogs to Noize M C’s clip? OK, so we disagree with transpiring events and we’re protesting against goons in their Mercedes – and then what?...

And the most important – such a citizens’ protest as this allows a socially inactive, quiet and uninteresting, aggressively-obedient horde of people all around completely to ignore problems – and they’re those exact people who work in schools and health clinics, who watch First Channel in the evening, who die under Mercedes’ wheels – the kind it’s sometimes unpleasant to run into in the metro.
What's more exciting to me than the actual argument is the rhetoric of alienation that pervades the entire piece. It's the Russian interwebs that are socially active, while English-speaking Internet users are mindless Youtube goons. That older generation of people who talk about the rockers in the 80s are falsely nostalgic. And the people who are contributing to societal apathy, to the perpetuation of any problem X with which young reader of Afisha Y disagrees, those are the people in the last paragraph. They're they, an alienated and alienable group of OTHERS who are so much societal dead weight.

Because anyone who reads Saprykin, or Loshak, or listen to Noize or Shevchuk - that group of "they" is going to agree. They're going to agree to such an extent, in fact, not only do they agree but even if the idea is totally knew to them they'll realize that they've always felt that way...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I like rainbow sprinkles.

Remember how I mentioned I'd compare yesterday's church to a different one.

This is the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God at Putinki, 1649-1652. Notice the proportion the humans in the foreground provide. It is a church large in idea, not form.

The Church of the Nativity is the zenith of the "tent-like" construction technique. To explain what that means, let me compare it to yesterday's Church of the Epiphany. It, and almost any other structure with cupolas, uses the interior dome for mosaics or frescoes. Of course, there's usually a shell (I could start getting all John Ruskin and theory of architecture as to which is going to be the "true roof," but let's not) - but regardless, in that architecture there's some kind of 3-dimensionality to the domes.

What's exciting (possibly only to me. Well. To me and to The Professor) about the tent-like style is that they made the cupolas smaller and smaller and smaller until what you see in the picture above - they're not even cupolas. They're just little ice cream cones tacked on to the outside of the roof. If you enter the church, the ceiling is only about 15 feet tall at its highest. No cupola for you.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

An Epiphany. I've had one.

I went for a walk out by Baumanskaya, which isn't a place I usually hang out. I was on my way back towards the metro when this church caught my eye. I decided to investigate.

It's the Church of the Epiphany of Elokhovo, built 1837-1845 (in typical pseudo-Byzantine neo-Classical form. You'll be able to compare to the church I'll put up tomorrow).

When so many other churches were destroyed (if any of you were foolish enough to know me last year, you likely heard me talk about Christ the Savior, on which I wrote my thesis, and which has subsequently been rebuilt) the Church of the Epiphany was the seat of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Of course I would take this picture.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Random post is random

1. This is awesome/hysterical/t3h shit, as the kids say these days. (Well, they did back in 2005. Probably it's something new at this point.)

2. On my way to one of my favorite coffee shops on Pokrovka Street I always pass this aweosme store that sells huge statues that somehow manage to be both kitsch and vulgar. My favorite has been the model of blind Justice, greater-than-human-size (picture what V blows up on top of the Ol' Bailey). Today Justice was gone! I don't know if she was merely moved to the back, or if someone bought her. I hope the latter.

3. I get disproportionately angry when there's a log jam at the head of set of escalators. Rule of the road is stand to the right, pass to the left. But when there's a log jam, everyone walks as far forward on the left as they can, and then try to merge back into the standing lane -- so it's like when there's a traffic jam and there's someone who passes everyone in the breakdown lane and then tries to cut back in at the next bridge. NO. No one should let that person back in. I get mad at those kind-hearted individuals (I'm looking at YOU, Mom) who do.
Kipling: I used to have really bad road rage.

Icarus: What's made you change?

Kipling: The second accident. I decided life was worth living.
4. I was out at a metro stop I never go to [to which I never go...anyway] today and noticed a huge church. I got excited. I had my camera. Pictures will be forthcoming - I haven't uploaded them to my computer yet. I went inside the church to take more pictures and was blown away by the number of people praying. And then I got embarrassed and didn't take any pictures.

5. Yesterday I meant to go a round-table discussion on contemporary architectural trends because The Professor and other leading architects & critics were participating. The Professor invited me over to meet and talk "for about an hour" at 4 - which I figured would mean he wanted to see me quickly (we hadn't caught up since before I went to England) and then get ready. Then we ended up comparing vacation stories (he took his wife to Berlin for a week for "Commie Women's Day," as Pigion calls it) until 6. I got up to leave.
The Professor: Alright, I should get to working on my new article on Byzantine churches.

Icarus: Wait, what? Aren't you going to the round table?"

The Professor [laughing]: Don't you know me? - If you do go, you didn't see me.
The Professor is Batman.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We could all wear scrubs?

It was distracting and possibly vulgar, the amount to which they were checking each other out, her lips parting, his eyes in the glass’s reflection, her heart beating underneath orange skin, his hair greasy and disheveled. Back and forth. I turned aside to prove I wasn’t watching them, but too dramatically. It became all the more obvious.

They exited with me at Leninsky Prospekt, and I walked with measured steps to see their progress. They weren’t talking, they weren’t exactly side-by-side, but there was something inexorable to their marching on and on, the little fishies in the stream they were.

I watched them get off the escalator in front of me, and watched the back that was his get closer and closer to the back that was hers. My own breath caught: yes, please, do; let there be something like chance and romance and sitcom television in this world, even if it’s only a cameo in my subjectivity.

Then he held the door open for her, and things fell apart. What spell there had been was abandoned by its enchantress; what magnetic, rent asunder like twisted marionette strings untangled before a performance.

They had known each other before.

I knew that fact, instantaneously, from that one gesture of door-holding. They were already well-acquainted, were, likely, already knowledgeable of one another.

I still don’t know what took possession of me – if it was sadness or rage or jealousy or pity or contempt or anger or all or none – I stepped up to my normal Moscow walk pace and outstripped them before we even reached the newspaper stand outside the metro exit.

And the air was cold, and snow was falling, and a woman begged, prostrate, on the barren ground.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wheelin' and Dealin'

My life has taken quite a transportation turn, lately. Part III of things that go 'round and 'round.

I had signed up to go to the Anglo-American School (a posh, English-language, private school for kids of international professionals and their Russian counterparts) to unofficially represent the ol' alma.

I had a bad time getting there. The night before (probably because of nerves) I had a series of bad dreams, during which I realized that I really really really don't like insects. Particularly hordes of scorpions lying on a beach, with helpful little placards describing just how horrible and paralyzing each scorpion is.

Then I learned that the bathroom reconstruction apparently used cardboard instead of metal - within two weeks the holder for the showerhead had already corroded, but I held it anyway so that didn't matter.

Today, a more extensive catastrophe - the sink-faucet has also corroded, and fell off when I was trying to brush my teeth. That's...that's nice...

The final excitement came when I got to metro Sokol and had to flag down a marshrutka [gypsy cab]. I didn't actually have to flag it down - because there was a 40-person deep line waiting for the route I needed. Of course it wasn't the only route that serviced the metro station - but it was the only route that didn't have any drivers. I swear, for every #12, I saw at least 5 #370's. Except no one got on the #370's. I plan on using this story when I have to teach Intro to Russian History to explain that there really were goods during the Soviet defitsyt - they just weren't the goods anyone wanted or needed. I recall a story The Old Man By the Sea, my host father in St. Petersburg, told me, where he wanted to buy a new book of Brodsky's poetry, but the bookseller would only give it to him if he also bought a collected works of Lenin for 2 rubles.

That's neither here nor there. I eventually got in a marshrutka, but I was unfortunate to sit in the only open seat - directly behind the driver - which meant that I had to make change for everyone. I ended up just piling the money on my briefcase in my lap and letting people grab what they thought was the right change before I passed the heap up to the driver.

Of this whole story, the college fair itself was tame and kind of enjoyable. I didn't feel like doing a "hard sale" or push - so I just ended up talking about what the students were into, etc. I asked if any had watched Jersey Shore.

When I left the school I stood on the corner waiting for a marshrutka to take me back to the metro stop. In the snow. I felt like a Hemingway character:
Why did Andrew cross the road?
To die. In a ditch. In the snow. Waiting for a gypsy cab.
After five minutes I decided I'd take my chances and hailed a chastnik (I hitch-hiked) and lucked out with a businesswoman in a clean car who drove quite safely (all rarities). I asked to get to Sokol, but she asked where I needed to get eventually and said that she would take me as far downtown as I had to get, since she was centerbound anyway.

When she unlocked the door for me to get in, I had asked: Za skol'ko? [How much would it be?] and she replied: Besplatno, ia v etu storonu. [Nothing, I'm going that way.]

I pulled out 300 rubles when we got downtown because she had been so nice and I was grateful, and I started saying: Ia vas ne khochu ostavit' bez-- [I don't want to leave without (I would have said "paying")] and she cut me off: Ia na rabote zarabatyvaiu den'gi, ne ot vas. [I earn my money at work, not from you.] and patted me on the shoulder.

If only I could construct my life as a sitcom. That would be the happy ending, and there'd be a cold open next week on some new episode...instead, I've gotten past that hurdle, but now I'm dreading the situation with the Colonial Invaders back in the House of the Cardboard Bathroom...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Driving in a parking lot; Parking in a street

Speaking of adventures on wheels, I was reminded of something I witnessed the other day.

You see, the sun and warmth that we've been experiencing in Moscow makes me a crazy happy person. Others it just makes crazy.

There was a woman driving down Bol'shaya Liubianka, one of the major radial prospects leading away from downtown (and I use "driving" here as a relative term, as the street had become a parking lot) who made me wish I had a pair. This is how:

She drove up near to two policemen who were having a smoke, and called out her window, "Please, can't you do something about this?!" She gestured at the traffic jam.

The policemen laughed. "What?" They hailed her over.

She pulled into the side street and started explaining about how late she was, she needed to get...

And that was when she fell out of earshot. And that was why I wanted a pair. If only I could have stayed there and listened, I would've been so well entertained.

A prize to s/he who best reconstructs the end of the conversation?

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's yellow and moves and cheats you?

One interesting tidbit about being in T3H RUSSIA is that my knowledge of US political and cultural events cannot slacken. In any given interaction - with friends, colleagues, The Professor and his wife, or random people in a cafe - I can expect to be asked some pointed question about recent events.

I've gotten really good at saying the disclaimer of "THIS IS JUST MY OPINION." It rolls off my tongue.

Anyway. The top of my browser now has a phalanx of news agencies that represent the moderate-to-liberal spectrum (I can't bring myself to read Fox News).

I have, thus, become informed of evidence behind the assumption everyone's always had.

I started laughing when I first read the article.

Then I wondered if this was evidence of some pink-o Commie Revolution - as if maybe my previous posts about revolutionary rhetoric were incorrect.

Then I thought about just how many taxi drivers were doing the exact same thing, and realized that it likely wasn't some kind of proletarian Robin Hood adventure, taking money from the rich businessmen of Wall Street. After all, the money on the meter is going to have to go back to the company. A massive, organized action perpetrated by a group of people all employed by a number of wonder...might the taxi drivers have been told by their controllers that this could be something they should do?

I enjoyed the tone of the follow-up article as well.

Where's Howard Roark when you need him, eh?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Which way to St. Paul's?

Kipling: If a country like the US or England sends troops in to perform relief aid, to save the country's native population from death, they're lauded. And there'd be pressure put on them by the international community if they didn't. But if there's a dictator killing his own people, and the US or England sent troops in, they'd suddenly be imperialist invaders.

Icarus: In the first instance the term "peacekeeper" isn't used in its typical, not-really-so-peaceful way. They're not going into the country to shoot anyone.

Later, when I mentioned the conversation to Phoenix:

Phoenix: If we know that a country's citizens are being murdered, and we have the capability to send troops in to help them, how can you say that isolationism or non-action would be the morally acceptable response?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Beyond the Veil

Departing at Stansted Airport, one doesn't immediately get to the building from which the flight disembarks. Duty Free, Starbucks, Pret à Manger, etc. are all located before the shuttle ride to the gates, and one watches a screen to know when to board.

There's a sign underneath the screen:
Stansted Airport Limited does not verify the accuracy or completeness of this flight information. Stansted Airport Limited shall have no liability for any loss or damage suffered as a result of relying on flight information on this site which may prove to be inaccurate or incomplete.
I wonder if after death we'll see similar small print.
God does not verify the accuracy or completeness of any worldviews that preach in his name. He shall have no liability for any sins, murders, pogroms and genocides, preachings and eulogies, etc., etc., suffered as a result of relying on information which may prove to be inaccurate or incomplete.

St. Paul's, v 5.2

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Conversations at 4 am

It was when I realized that I'd have started my story exactly the same way

The worst was how I reacted when she said:
“Please don’t just walk past me.”
The flash of thought that she’s “a normal person,”
not exactly what that might mean –
in clean clothes, posh accent? A woman
allegedly: escaped domestic abuse; can’t
find relief in any open church or mosque;
has an aunt somewhere far off.
The breaks: “Please, I’m sorry to interrupt you,”
rehearsed; back, no pause, to narrative’s rouged breast:
“Is there anywhere you know I can go?”
and so apologetic: “Please, don’t walk away.”
So many traits “a normal person” might have used.
And then: “Please, do you have any change?”

Camden Markets

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Epic Journey There and Back Again

I'm bad with travelogues because I'm never sure where the line is between a "good" or "entertaining" story and a "bad" or "boring" story. I also prefer to give you, readers dear, just glimmers of my time in England - because then I've built myself an aura.
I've raised a monument to myself that's not built by human hands...
Such is my egotism.

Kipling dropped me off at the rail station at 21:30, and I got back to London after midnight, my original plan being to stay up at Liverpool St Station until the first express out to the airport. Joke's on me - English train stations are open all night, but they're not heated. I sat in McDonalds with a group of Spanish college students and hobo Johns.

My flight was scheduled for 7:25. At 7:20 the attendant came on the intercom to say it was 20 minutes delayed; 15 minutes later, to announce that it was canceled and - here's the kicker - had never left Dusseldorf.

Reactions to a flight cancellation are similar to the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I fast-tracked to acceptance pretty quickly, but it was fantastic to watch the British businesspeople scramble to figure out if they could make the meeting (which was presumably their sole reason for going to Germany for the day).

Eventually I got rerouted through Germany and Austria [four countries in one day!] and got in to Moscow after midnight. Taxi back to my place by 2. And here comes the kicker: the ground floor of my building was black. Everything was dark. Locked. No watchman for anyone to watch.

Two major world capitals, two consecutives nights, and I am homeless. Homeless and nocturnal.

I walked the two miles to a twenty-four diner (Leninsky Prospekt is much longer when no one is around; much darker when all of my worldly possessions are a single successful mugging away from absolute loss) and ordered a milkshake. "That's all for now," I told the waitress, "but don't take the menu away, please."

I sat up all night and finished The Fountainhead. I wonder what I looked like to everyone around. I write in the margins of books, so maybe it looked like I was some crazy college kid who was pulling an all-nighter...the waitress would have heard the American accent, but I can pass reasonably well as "Russian" in physical form.

The mullet and the argyle sweater help.

I decided I'm getting too old to fail to take care of myself by doing things like planning for a place to sleep. But I'm getting too old - I'm not too old quite yet. So it's good that I had the experience. Well.

The Many Faces of Mr. Kipling

Unlike Walter Benjamin or Eugène Atget, my cities are not devoid of people. They're just devoid of me.

Subject of a surrealist photographer. (Towards a paranoiac-critical method)

Intrepid explorer.

TARDIS hunter.

His own impersonation of Billie Piper, just in a different role.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What can be seen in the shadows

As I've shown before, I like pictures that are defined by their shadows, rather than by their light.

This picture is a bonus for those few readers who also read the Beer Drinkers' P'mouth drinking adventures.

Monday, March 8, 2010

In the Old Country

The noble savage sits in Dusseldorf. His wings are still dripping from the oceantide. In careful English and what's hopefully interpretable as a "I'm-really-sorry-I-don't-speak-German" sheepish expression, he asks: "May I please have a small cup of Costa Rican?"

The Germans all around sip at their espresso with 1000 years of experience behind each flavor sensation. The noble savage feels himself blushing, worries about every pose, every sip, every touch of the saucer. The weight of a 10-gallon hat on his head...

One-Way Street

As the photos continue, those of you who are on Facebook might notice some from the album I put up there. Most of those pictures I won't put up here - so it won't be boring for those of you for whom that statement is true to look at what I have to offer. But the ones I like the most I will, because I am an equal-opportunity photo-shower.

I finished reading The Fountainhead on the plane ride back. More specifically, as I sat in a cafe all night waiting for my building to open. This building/shot really reminds me of Howard Roark, for whatever reason.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mind the gap

When a train is scheduled for repairs it hurtles through the station, not slowing from its tnnel cruise speed. A voice, muffled, indistinct, speaks over the loudspeakers. It is likely the officious: 'this train is not for riding' but the tone - the muffled nothingness - the empty train - are bizarre. They are a siren going off, without an accompanying danger...

I wonder, if I had lived in a big city and heard voices on the loudspeakers before I read Huxley, before all of my literary and movie associations, would I still think they sound creepy?

In all my frozen glory

Piccadilly Circus. Take away the bow and arrows, and you have a monument!

When I first got in to Liverpool Street Station, I didn't have any pounds. Pigeon offered to get me the Tube ticket rather than for us scouring the place for an ATM. Paying, she pulled her card from the machine too quickly. The salesman said, "Oh, you weren't to have done that" and Pigeon said, "Shiz, I always take it out too soon."

I laughed, and the teller smiled, likely thinking I was doing a 'that's what she said' joke (I actually am just now realizing that I missed that opportunity). I crowed: "You messed up, and he's still being nice to you! I can't believe it! A teller in Moscow would already be ripping you a new one..."

Culture shock? Yes. Stereotypical American? Yes. But I bet it was nice for all parties involved that I admitted the humanity of the seller and the buyer. That's at least what I'll tell myself.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I'm Back, and I have a New Jacket


...I didn't really pick up any good slang from England, sorry. Actually the first words out of Kipling's mouth, to Pigeon, were: "Doesn't he sound so much more American than The Sleeper?"

Anyway. I'll be doing my normal thing with putting up pictures every so often. But since I'm like Walter Benjamin - the German philosopher I keep mentioning, who wrote portraits of cities that never included any people - that is to say, since there are five pictuures of my face in all of the shots I took in England - I'm front-loading my ego.

I'm also doing this because I was really happy with my new jacket purchase - and still am - but walking along London streets made me self-conscious and paranoid that I looked like someone. So I'm going to come right out and show that paranoia, in the hope that such will make it pass. Bye bye. Yes. Good. Expect more regular service soon.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Faces in Places

I slapped my alarm off but didn't move from bed. I knew that a critical countdown was beginning: I had either to get up or to reset my alarm in the next minute, or I would fall asleep and never wake up again.

I peeked out of the corner of an eye and was startled away from sleepiness. There was a face on my work table. A face. On my work table there was a face - part plastic bag, part stack of books - and my camera was right there on the corner. I could have taken a picture of it. I wanted to take a picture.

I didn’t. I rose, took a shower, poured myself a cup of tea, and watched an episode of Scrubs. I wondered, then, if I couldn’t still see the face(s)-in-place(s). I lay down, on my side, squinted out of the corner of one eye, moved my head a couple times until I got back into the same position. I could see it.

I reached for the camera but as I pulled, I heard the bag move. The USB cord was all up in its business. In the attempt to record the object, I transformed the object.

Damn these literal instances of existentialism.