Monday, December 10, 2007

Davis Cup Results

It appears that the winners on the court at this year's Russia versus U.S.A. was not the Russians. Davis Cup is the biggest team tennis event in professional tennis. It gives the players a chance to create a camaraderie with players from their country that they aren't able to have during traditional play. At the beginning of the Davis Cup final Russia has already lost the first two rubbers which gets the U.S. that much closer to the title. They only need one more point to win for the first time in 12 years. Dmitry Tursunov was first on court for the defending champions but was blown away by Andy Roddick in straight sets. Mikhail Youzhny then failed to play winning tennis against James Blake at the Memorial Coliseum. It was a much closer match with three of the sets going to tie-breaks. Blake however, edged out the Russian, three sets to one. That means the Bryan brothers will be the ones to watch to clinch victory for the hosts on Saturday when they play Davydenko and Andreev in the doubles.The tournament is still highly competitive but it's obvious that the singles loses for Russia is not going to be easy to forget.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Russian Traffic Lights Unit 5

I thought this was funny! It's a traffic light in St. Petersburg.. watch closely most of the cars just keep going! I was reading an article on another blog and there are some really random traffic laws in Russia. For example, it's illegal for police to tow a man's car in the presence of that man.. does that make much sense???


Saturday, December 8, 2007

"Russian Fashion Plays Green Card.."

In a world where social status can be can be judged by the clothes one wears or the car he or she drives, designer Alyona Akhmadulina strives to bring a new idea to such a materialistic culture. Akhmadulina is responsible for creating a special handbag that is environmentally friendly, and hopes that by doing so, people will realize that our environment is more important than overpriced, "high-fashion" accessories. The handbag itself is "made from 100% recycled cotton. It has no zippers, pockets or lipstick compartments. Instead, its makers believe it could help save the world. The money raised will go to WWF Russia to preserve plants, parks and forests". By wearing the handbag, you are not only helping the environment, but are helping to spread knowledge about the importance of eco-friendly products.

The AK-47

When you see a stereotypical terrorist or criminal, as depicted in movies, you almost always see them with AK-47s. Short for: "Автомат Калашникова образца 1947 года," this rifle has become the iconic weapon of rebels and guerrillas after World War 2. It is so widespread that the AK design was spread to over 55 national armies, and 100 million of the rifles have been produced so far.

The creator, Mikhail Kalashnikov, according to a BBC News article has expressed regrets over creating it:

"Mr Kalashnikov recently said he wished he had invented the lawn-mower instead.
He claims he has made no money from his rifle and is said to live on a meagre pension."

In 2006, Colombian musician and peace activist Cesar Lopez devised an AK converted into a guitar. One sold for US$17,000 in a fundraiser held to benefit the victims of anti-personnel, while another was exhibited at the United Nations.

I actually saw the one that you see above, which was set up in the UN building when I toured it last year.

Muslim Russians

Just come quick facts about Muslims/Islamic Russians
-Islam is the second biggest religion in Russia
-Most Islams are from Middle Volga and the Caucasus.
-they make up 15- 30% of the Russian population but is is hard to be completely accurate because there is no census in Russia
-it is projected that in the year 2050 half of Russia's population will be Islamic because of the immigration of Islamics from the Caucasus and central Asia.

hope you learned something today :-D

Helloa You Peoples. My Namea < Banned >

Some find Sacha Baron Cohen to be a offensive jerk, some think he's a comic genius the likes of which have rarely been seen. However, since Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is in fact a movie to be shown in private theaters, it is each persons choice whether or not to be subject to Cohen's blunt humor. Not in Russia it seems. The Russian government decided that because Borat "might seem disparaging in relation to certain ethnic groups and religions" and so it would not be shown in Russian theaters.

The Russian government has taken similar measures before, albeit with things that are public. For example, Russia prohibited a Gay Pride parade because some might be offended by the existence of gay people. They did the same for a group of racists from having their own march. When a small group of gay people got together to march anyway, they were savagely beaten by ultra-nationalists and then arrested.

The problem is the fact that everyone doesn't have to see Borat. Movies like The Da Vinci Code were allowed to play without controversy. But after the Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy, the Russian government became much more restrictive to things which could offend people's religious ideas. For the first time since the Soviets, a non-pornographic film was banned. This demonstrated the government's power to intervene in private affairs and it willingness to shut down people's freedom of expression of it conflicts with its interests. The interesting thing is that little uproar resulted from this ban, so the Russian government might be emboldened in any other assaults on private matters in the future.

The Indo-Europeans, their culture, and Slavic Paganism

One of the most fascinating things about Europeans, to me, is their completely shared heritage and the intricate linguistic and cultural undercurrents that tie them all together. Today linguists, archaeologists and anthropologists hypothesize that most of the inhabitants of modern Europe (and the invaders who entered northern India; the situation there is a lot more complicated) are descended from a single group who spoke a single, unified language and practiced a single culture. Though it is disputed today where, exactly, this group of people resided, the most accepted model is the Kurgan Hypothesis, which places these 'Proto Indo-Europeans' as natives to an area north of the Caucasus, incorporating today the south-western region of Russia, eastern Ukraine and portions of Kazakhstan -
The predominant evidence used by anthropologists to come to this conclusion is linguistic evidence - which, to those studying Indo-European languages (Russian is one), may seem obvious. The interconnectedness in vocabulary, grammar; shared verbs and idioms; each language family in Europe very obviously come from a strong, single parent language, with families and dialects differentiated in various ways (Grimm's Law for the Germanic languages and iotated vowels in Slavic languages, for example.)

Native religion is the other source of information about these proto-Indo-Europeans. Looking at the most famous forms of religion brought by Indo-Europeans into both Europe and India, the connections are startling, interesting and very strong. As is obvious, all fragmented Indo-European cultures practiced some form of polytheistic paganism, with many similar rituals and celebrations. The Greeks (and by extension the Romans), the Germanic peoples, Hinduism, and the ancient Slavic religion; all are descended from the same single cultural practice. While looking at some information about ancient Slavic paganism the connections became even more profound.

Unfortunately, for the information-hungry scholar, records of Slavic paganism are rare; there is no evidence of any kind of written language amongst the Slavic tribes before the introduction of Cyrillic and the conversion of much of eastern Europe to Christianity. As a result, one has to rely on the few mentions of ancient religion in modern customs, and in the historic documents of other nearby cultures (which are prone to bias; the Slavs were the last of the major inhabitants of Europe to convert - even the famously heathenistic Germans and Scandinavians wrote about how the Slavs were bloodthirsty pagans.) As a result the record is scant, but there are a few established facts.

Two of the key gods of the ancient Slavs were Perun, the sky god and Veles, the earth god. Perun is generally perceived to have been the supreme god of the Slavic pantheon; he is the most widely mentioned in the few sources that exist. Perun was the ruler of the sky and the god of lightning and storms; unlike many other religions, it is believed that the Slavs attributed many, many aspects of the world and their faith to each individual god (Veles is a better example; more on him later). Parallels can easily be drawn between Perun and various other Indo-European 'sky' or 'storm' deities; Perun's domain is shared by the Greek god Zeus (who also held a supreme position over the Greek pantheon); Perun can also be compared to the German Donar/Norse Thor, in that both are upright, valorous and mighty and control lightning, thunder and storms. The Hindu god Indra likely derived from the same proto-Indo-European belief as well; Indra controls the domains of weather. Perun's association with war also works out here; he was the patron of weapons and fighting, which works out with Thor's association with valor, strength and combat, and Indra's domain over warfare. Much of Slavic mythology appeared to revolve around the conflict between Perun and Veles. Unlike some of the other deities in Indo-European myth, Perun was treated rather mercifully by the Christians; his characteristics as the powerful lord of war and storms were absorbed by saints and other Christian figures after the Christianization of Russia.

Veles was one of the most broadly worshiped Slavic gods - he was associated with earth, the underworld and afterlife; the harvest, livestock, cows, dragons, poetry, magic and music. His portfolio seems to match that of the Germanic Odin, who also held domain over poetry, magic, music. Veles's worship was held sacred and separated from the worship of Perun and other similar deities; he was held as special for his strong association with the working people, the peasants, laborers and traders; and for his special domain over common life, as opposed to rulership of the heavens much associated with Perun. While the conflict between Veles and Perun, and its place alongside many traditions in Indo-European religion is too complex to recount completely (it's very interesting however; the battle between the sky god and snake is recurrent in many old pagan faiths), linguists and anthropologists believe that oral legends of the old Slavic religion often involved epic poetry about the battles of Perun and Veles. Like the Vedas of ancient Hinduism and the Eddas of the Norse pantheon, these poems celebrated bravery and the glory of battle.

There are other interesting bits about the old Slavic religion. Their cosmology is believed to bear a striking resemblance to the 'world tree' phenomenon present in other Indo-European faiths (a sacred oak is believed to have been the tree here; another reason that Veles was associated with oak trees, as he was located at the base of the world tree). Chernobog was believed to be a cursed or evil deity; however his occurrence seems unique only to western Slavs, and as a result he was likely not an old or important god. A number of deities or creatures originating from old folktales morphed into fairy tale characters, such as the old witch Baba Yaga. The topic is incredibly interesting to delve into, and if you're a dork like me you'll find all the interconnectedness of so many different cultures to be really intriguing.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Russian Folk Instruments

балалайка - stringed instrument with 3 strings or 6 in pairs

The modern балалайка comes in six sizes - piccolo, prima, secunda, alto, bass, and contrabass.

The origins of this instrument are not precisely known, but the early representations resemble Central Asian instruments. The frets were tied to the neck and could be moved around the neck.

Fun Fact: The Beatles mention the балалайка on their White Album in the song "Back in the USSR".

Take me to your daddy’s farm

Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out

Come and keep your comrade warm.

I’m back in the USSR.

баян - a chromatic button accordion

This instrument was developed in the early 20th century and was named after the bard, Boyan.

The differences in construction from western accordions give the баян a different tone color; the bass has a much fuller sound.

Владимирский Рожок - a wooden horn with less than a two octave range and a very distinct sound

The repertoire for the folk music played on this instrument is divided into signal, song, dancing, and dance. A lot of folk music is played on this instrument because of the wide variety of shepherd's signals played on it.

I Googled it. So it must be true...

In recent years, the immigration of Chinese peoples into Russia has grown remarkably high. I researched this phenomenon and found that if this continues at the same rate, Russia will be home to 10 million ethnic Chinese. This will make the Chinese the second-leading ethnic group in the country, after Russians of course. One of the dilemmas Russia is facing because of this epidemic is that most of the Chinese immigrants in Russia tend to be unskilled workers or small time merchants. The Russian government is in debate on whether to develop an immigration point system (not unlike Canada’s*) to lure in a more skilled Chinese workforce. This is a pretty big deal considering both countries are in the middle of population crises that are polar opposites. Who knows, if this trend stays extreme both countries may even out!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Winnie The Pooh!

It's very different in Russia...

"Ravine-Dwellers" - the Khevsur People of Georgia

Ok, so the Khevsur people of Georgia aren't really Russians, but they USED to be Russians, so I figure it counts for the purposes of this blog. Besides, Khevsur culture has been sited as one of the most unique (aka weirdest) cultures in Eurasia, let alone the former Soviet Union. Most likely the preservation of their ancient traditions is due to their isolation, way up in the Caucasus mountains. The word Khevsur comes from the Georgian word qev, which means gorge or ravine, so the Khevsurs are basically "ravine-dwellers." It has long been held, though never proven, that these Georgian highlanders are the descendants of the last crusaders since their customs and social practices are so similar. Here's the rundown on some of the more interesting Khevsur practices:
  • Officially they consider themselves Christian, but their religion is really a mix of Christian, Muslim, spiritualist, and pagan beliefs.

  • Khevsur belief gives certain animals special significance. The cat is considered an unclean animal. If someone is convicted of thievery, a dead cat is hung outside his door as a sign of shame.

  • The cult of the dead is especially important in Khevsur culture. A person on the verge of death is brought outdoors, in an effort to prevent the house from being rendered unclean. Hardly a health tonic, I should think... In fact, those who come in contact with the dead body in order to prepare it for burial must remain secluded afterwards, and undergo a series of purification rituals.

  • A Khevsur horse always must be present for a burial. Afterwards, a horse race is conducted in honor of the deceased.

  • The soul is regarded as pure, and in order to reach the land of the dead it has to cross a bridge made of a single hair. Virtuous souls get to stay in a many-storied white building. Baddies reside in hell, which is thought to be a four-cornered dark room. They must know about the Stetson dorms.

  • A premarital relation exist among young people called the sts'orproba, but don't get the wrong idea - any woman found to be pregnant out of wedlock becomes the object of such scorn that she often resorts to suicide.

  • When it comes time for a pregnant woman to give birth, she must remove herself from the village and camp out by herself in an isolated childbirth hut. It used to be the case that after giving birth she would be confined to the hut for a month or more, only coming out after thorough purification rites. Afterwards the hut would be burned down. Very concerned with cleanliness, these people.

  • Women wear a headpiece called the mandili, which has a special significance. If she throws her headpiece between two quarreling men, they must immediately stop fighting. If a man takes the mandili from a woman's head, he is accusing her of indecency.

  • At the age of 8 to 10, Khevsur children are already entrusted with adult tasks. In the past, young boys were instructed primarily in fencing, weaponry, and rhetoric.
Wow, I didn't really mean for that to get so long.....ah, well, what's a poor, curious soul to do?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Russian Detergent Commercial

Here's another strange Russian commerical. It's an ad for "New Myth", a washing detergent. The character (Lacy says its a sink) snorts the detergent off his arm and says "cool freshness." After he falls down he says "I didn't expect that to happen." The words at the bottom read: "Use according to instructions."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Wendy's: The Soviet Fashion Show

Ok, Ok, I'll try to stop posting so many commericals here...I just can't help it!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Сочи 2014: Путин Говорит По-английски!

As you may already know, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games will be held in Russia. (If you need more info, go back to October and look for Angela’s blog). Sochi, the city hosting the event, is just off the Black Sea by the Caucasus Mountains.
The Soviet Union hosted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980, but this will be the first time the Winter Games will be held in Russia. In a speech made by Vladimir Putin at the 119th International Olympic Committee Session, he made many promises regarding how security, the press, the athletes, and other details will be handled. Amongst other things he said 70% of the athletes will be within five minutes walking distance of the arenas, everything will be enjoyable and memorable, and the greatest promise of all: no traffic jams. Of course, this all comes with a hefty price of $12 billion dollars (so far), but that doesn’t seem to bother people much. Putin also said he has planned many special privileges for the athletes and the guests who come to Russia...we just don't know what they all are yet...

Sochi Olympic Emblem:

So, here is the video of Putin giving his speech. It should be noted that this is in English, and apparently this is the first time he has spoken English publicly. Now, I read that he speaks German like a native because apparently while he was growing up the Putin family spoke German at home. But really, just listen to the way he speaks. He has a very strange accent. It’s not what you’d expect to hear from a Russian speaking English. It’s nothing like Sergei and Ivan =( . Rather, it’s more like 3 accents mashed into one or something. Anyway, it’s a little over six minutes long and at the very end, Putin decides to spice it up saying a few words in French: “The Olympic dream of millions of Russians awaits your decision with high hopes.”

(Oh, and my brother wanted me to mention that the piece playing during Putin's entrance is Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto. He says if you want to hear a really good version listen to Van Cliburn who won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, which was judged by Svaitoslav Richter and Emil Gilels; two legendary Russian pianists amongst other famous Russian musicians)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Excellent photo essay from the NYT

I thought this photo essay, by photographer James Hill, was an excellent assemblage of today's Russia.

Russian press review: Nov. 30 - International Herald Tribune

Russian press review: Nov. 30 - International Herald Tribune:


"My friends! Of course the work was difficult and not without mistakes and failures, and the authorities still owe much to their citizens. Surely we all want life to improve faster. But we remember where we started eight years ago, from what hole we pulled the country. There is still much to be done to make Russia genuinely modern and prosperous. But if we truly want to live with dignity, then we can never again allow into power those who once tried unsuccessfully to steer the country, those who today want to reverse and talk away the plans for Russia's development, to change the course supported by our people, to return to a time of humiliation, dependency and disintegration."

Putin’s Last Realm to Conquer: Russian Culture - New York Times

Putin’s Last Realm to Conquer: Russian Culture

Putin’s Last Realm to Conquer: Russian Culture - New York Times: "MOSCOW — The fight is long over here for authority over the security services, the oil business, mass media and pretty much all the levers of government. Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, notwithstanding some recent anti-government protests, has won those wars, hands down, and promises to consolidate its position in parliamentary elections. But now there is concern that the Kremlin is setting its sights on Russian culture."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not Down and Out in Moscow - New York Times

Not Down and Out in Moscow - New York Times: "Mr. Firer warily eyed a bright orange Porsche at the booth next to his. “That’s a nice car, but it is nickels and dimes compared to us,” he said. “After the United States, Russia is the second-biggest market for private aircraft.” Fueled by an oil boom, the Russian capital seems as awash in cash as Dallas was in its heyday."

Monday, November 26, 2007

We're famous! Russian Studies in today's newspaper...

The Daytona Beach News Journal ran a very nice piece today (front page, even!) about Stetson's Russian Studies Program. You can read the piece online (click the image below), or here for a PDF of the print edition. (Oh, and, for the record, my eyes are a dirty green, and they hardly ever pierce anyone...)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rage Against the Машина

There've been a few posts here already about Russian music, but I wanted to bring up something I was wondering about for a while (and learned a lot about from one of Dr. Denner's tangents): the underground Soviet rock scene.

Rock bands started appearing in Russia about as soon as Russians were able to listen to smuggled rock from the West and emulate it. By the mid-1960s, people across the USSR were listening to smuggled or pirated Beatles and Rolling Stones records and yearning to imitate the sound and spirit of the new genre; surprisingly, Beatlemania hit the Soviets about as hard, if not harder, than Westerners. Just about every Soviet rock group I looked up, no matter what it sounded like, considered the Beatles to be its primary influence.

The first underground genre to gain prominence in the 1960s was the so-called "авторская песня" (author's song): acoustic sets performed by lone singer-soungwriters, usually referred to as "bards." One of the most famous of these bards was Vladimir Vysotsky, who was basically a Russian Bob Dylan, singing pseudo-poetry that was sometimes down-to-earth, sometimes absurd and occasionally politically poignant.

From the late 60s and throughout the 70s, the underground Soviet rock scene really blossomed, with famous bands such as Машина времени (time machine) and Аквариум (Aquarium) performing and privately recording a great deal of music. Most of these bands were apparently quite Zepplin-esque, but a wide range of styles were experimented with, including psychodelic and prog rock.

When I refer to this scene as "underground," it carries a lot more meaning than it does in the US, since rock music was banned in the USSR during this entire period. The country only had one record label, Μелодия, and music that wasn't culturally or ideologically sound wasn't considered acceptable for Soviet audiences and thus went unrecorded by the official music industry. However, the scene survived through the efforts of the artists themselves; performances were often held in peoples' apartments and in warehouses and basements, and since every other Soviet citizen was trained as an engineer, many had the technical know-how to record their own bootleg records. For example, Аквариум recorded their albums on an underground, self-built recording studio, and some bands would bribe Μелодия staffers for the secret use of their equipment. Since material for making records was scare, the music was usually pressed onto old x-ray plates; today, records in Russia are sometimes still referred to as рентгениздаты (X-rays).

Russian rockers were finally able to reap the benefits of their talent in the Gorbachev era, when censorship was loosened and some bands were able to officially record and appear on television. Today, the most prominent of the underground rock groups are recognized as iconic figures of Russian music; they'll never forget the people who risked their careers and lives just to keep on rockin' in the not-so-free world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ivan Il'ich is DEAD

This April, I'm giving the keynote speech at this year's "The Big Read" in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where the book they, as a community, are going to read is The Death of Ivan Il'ich, by Tolstoy.

I have very mixed feelings about this: On the one hand, I'm honored and delighted to have been asked to give a speech at such an important, public event. "Ivan Il'ich" (as anyone who's taken my lit classes knows) is my favorite work of literature (well, along with Walden).

On the other hand, I'm going to have to figure what the heck I am going to say to a lay audience about a book, the theme of which is (roughly speaking): "You are going to die. A painful, humiliating, terrifying death. Probably a really painful one, too. And, at the moment of death, you will realize that everything you believed was good and pleasant and important were, in fact, the least good, least pleasant, and least important things in the world. Oh, and, there's no redemption. Sorry about that." I mean, this is the book the Heidegger read and said: "If you want to know about the hopelessness of life and the true meaning of death, read this book!"

Not exactly an Oprah Winfrey selection.

Anyway, one way to help me focus on the book, and to communicate with the participants in the Big Read in Illinois, is (you guessed it!) -- a blog! Check it out...

Because of Gorbachev...

...Russians are free to go to the edge of their pizza!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Putin honors Soviet spy from Manhattan Project

On November 2, the Kremlin announced that President Putin had given the highest Russian honor to George Koval, a former spy for the Soviet Union on the Manhattan Project. George Koval died last year in his 90's; however, the announcement of this award has shocked the West. American Intelligence Agencies have known about Koval's real identity since the 1950's, but have tried to keep the information on the down low to avoid American embarrassment. Koval was trained by Stalin's rigorous GRU military intelligence program, although he studied in the United States. Those who worked with Koval said he was extremely believable and had no Russian accent. American Intelligence Agencies have identified around six other Soviet spies; however, Koval is the only spy to have penetrated atomic plants in Los Alamos.

Koval was born in Iowa, but immigrated to Birobidzhan during the Great Depression. He studied at the Mendeleev Institute of Technology, and was later recruited by the G.R.U., and later sent to the United States to spy from 1940-1948. Koval rose through the ranks in the United States, and was assigned to some of the most top-secret projects. The Kremlin's announcement on November 2 stated that Koval's work ''helped speed up considerably the time it took for the Soviet Union to develop an atomic bomb of its own.'' Historians have suggested that Putin made the announcement of Koval's award to reinvigorate Russian pride.

Sex in the City: Women's Roles in Russian Culture Today.

It's wedding season in Moscow, and young couples parade on Red Square to be photographed and showered with rose petals. Our FRONTLINE/World reporter, Russian-born American filmmaker Victoria Gamburg, congratulates them as she walks by but concedes, "It's not all romance and rose petals for women in Russia today."

Gamburg has been invited to Moscow to visit the set of a hot new television series, Balzac Age, modeled on America's Sex and the City. The show follows the lives of four women in their 30s. The first scene we see features the 35-year-old character, Sonya, who is frustrated at having no children, no husband and no job. Her friends cheer her up by hiring Chippendale-like marginally dressed hunks to clean and cook. It's a comedy show, but Gamburg explains that its success comes from poking fun at the real conflicts faced by Russian women today.

The shows stylist explains the paradox of women's expectations. "On the one hand, the husband wants dinner to be ready when he comes home. But on the other hand, he is not at all against having his wife work and not ask him for money."

The behind-the-scenes stories of the actresses illustrate that conflict between being a successful modern career woman on the one hand and a wife and mother in the traditional sense on the other. Before shooting a bedroom scene, the actress sits in the bed talking to her real-life son. The production is put on hold while she tells her nanny not to feed her 6-year-old son kielbasa before bedtime.

Next we follow the actress who plays Julia, a character who lives with her mom and drives a gypsy cab, but offscreen is a single mother of two. "The show was the beginning of the end of my marriage," she tells Gamburg. We learn that her marriage fell apart because her success made the partnership unequal.

Gamburg introduces us to a real-life Muscovite who also faces the dilemma that "success" often brings for modern women. Zhenya Timonova is a senior advertising copywriter in an international ad agency. Her boyfriend, Victor, stays at home and drinks. He takes Gamburg on a stroll through a Soviet-era park, where he stops and admires his favorite monument, a gold statue depicting women as mothers and workers.

Later, back in their apartment, Timonova explains that after World War II there was a decline in the male population. According to Zhenya, men had the luxury of saying, "Just be grateful that I exist," and women became a shoulder to lean on. Zhenya accuses men of being infantile as a result. Victor thinks that it has resulted in Timonova and other businesswomen valuing career over family.

This disconnect between men and women is a theme played out in the show, for example, in a scene in which the character Alla, now a high-powered attorney, runs into her old high school sweetheart, who is now a handyman.

Gamburg learns that characters like Alla are role models to Russian women like Vera, a 49-year-old retired teacher whom she meets in Gorky Park. Vera has just moved to Moscow and sells kabobs six days a week. Her glamorous makeup and well-coiffed blond hair make her look more like a star of the show than a vendor. However, her life is a far cry from the glamorous world of the Balzac women, as we see when Gamburg visits the two-room apartment that Vera shares with her daughter, sister and brother-in-law. But Vera's second occupation, selling products that enhance women's orgasms, could be scripted from the show. Vera's frank discussion with clients about how to make sex more satisfying would never have happened in the Soviet era, according to Gamburg.

Gamburg speculates that the show may, in fact, reflect a women's movement in Russia. One of the actresses sums up the new feminism with a story about grandmothers today. Before, grandmothers always helped our mothers care for the children. Today, they prefer to work as paid nannies for others. "Isn't that the beginning of feminism?" she asks Gamburg. "No, it's capitalism," Gamburg says with a laugh.

Whatever it is, women have more choices than ever before. Zhenya, the PR executive, decides to leave her alcoholic boyfriend for a new job in Kiev. Unlike the characters in Balzac's Age, she believes she will be happier on her own.

But many women, like the kabob maker, Vera, take their cues from the show. "I know many Russian women have an enormous potential inside themselves," she tells Gamburg. "Even in the show, there's a scene about how to become a successful woman." According to Vera, before the show, women were never taught these things. "It will be women who will change Russia," she tells Gamburg proudly. "Everything depends on women."

To watch the documentary visit:

I think that this new women's movement in Russia is great. Women are finally realizing they don't need to have a husband and they can have their own goals and aspirations to live up to. I find it entertaining that this movement correlates with a popular t.v show in America, that was at one time extremely controversial. I found it astonishing that several of the husband simply could not deal with the success that their wives were having and rather than celebrating the success they up and left. However I do realize that this will happen because women having a significant role in Russia is new and the acceptance of this will come with time.

Move over Dahmer, Russia's got it's own sociopaths

Obviously this topic is a little more macabre than the usual ones, but I just had to know - Does Russia have it's own dirty history of serial killers, or does America have that market monopolized. Turns out, they do. My search led me to four names: Sasha Spesivtsev, Andrei Chikatilo, Alexander Pitchushkin, and Darya Saltykova. I won't go into details (you can find those out yourself) but I just thought it'd be interesting to see how Russia's sickos compare to ours. Let's just say they hold their own.

Sasha Spesivtsev was raised in an abusive home where his father tortured the entire family. Sasha was institutionalized after he murdered his girlfriend. Later, he shared an apartment with his mother. One day a plumber, responding to a neighbors call, forced his way into Sasha's home after a pipe breakage and found the apartment covered in blood and with, lets say, surprises throughout. Authorities found Sasha's diary detailing the killing of 19 girls, for which he was sentenced to death.

Andrei Chikatilo, known as the Red Ripper, also lived in a traumatic household. He would often wet the bed, for which his mother would beat and humiliate him. He would approach runaways and vagrants and bring them into the forest, where he would commit his crimes. He was arrested at a train station, but released when he produced a false negative from blood tests. He would go on to kill a total of 52 women and children before being arrested and confessing. He too, was executed.

Alexander Pichushkin, known as the Chessboard Killer, was thought to be in competition with Andrei, which some speculate was the motivation for his actions. He said that he wanted to kill 64 people, equal to the number of squares on a chessboard. When captured though, he claimed that he wouldn't have stopped at 64, he would have continued killing until he was stopped. He was arrested in 2006 and charged with 48 counts of murder, but he told a Russian court to add another 11 counts to that. It took the judge an entire hour to read his sentence, life in prison with the first 15 years to be spent in solitary confinement.

Finally, there's the one female in the group, though she is no less sick than the rest. Darya's crimes occurred long before the others, in the 1700s. Darya inherited her late husband's estate at age 26, which allowed her to do as she pleased to the serfs working there. Darya was well connected in the royal court, so any complaints of the deaths and torture of serfs taking place at her estate were often ignored or even punished. Eventually, relatives fo those killed started a petition and the empress arrested Darya. Darya was held for 6 years while an investigation took place, after which she was found guilty of having tortured and killed 138 female serfs. The death penalty was outlawed at that time, so she had to settle for life locked in the basement of a convent.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Russian Roulette

I decided to embark on a quest to find out the history behind Russian Roulette, and if it was indeed a Russian invention. Thankfully, google is awesome, and I found some answers.

The origin of Russian roulette is depicted in several legends, most concerning Russian soldiers or prisoners of war. However, there is no real evidence, and some say that it may have been a literary creation.

The first account of Russian roulette is in "Russian Roulette," a short story from 1937 by Georges Surdez. The following is a passage from that story:

"'Feldheim . . . did you ever hear of Russian Roulette?' When I said I had not, he told me all about it. When he was with the Russian army in Rumania, around 1917, and things were cracking up, so that their officers felt that they were not only losing prestige, money, family, and country, but were being also dishonored before their colleagues of the Allied armies, some officer would suddenly pull out his revolver, anywhere, at the table, in a cafe, at a gathering of friends, remove a cartridge from the cylinder, spin the cylinder, snap it back in place, put it to his head, and pull the trigger. There were five chances to one that the hammer would set off a live cartridge and blow his brains all over the place. Sometimes it happened, sometimes not."

The interesting part about this story is that Russian roulette is depicted as less of a game, and instead as merely suicide with an element of chance thrown in.

According to one article, "The closest thing to Russian roulette, that we know did happen on occasion, was a game called ‘’cuckoo’’. One Russian officer would stand on a table or chair in a dark room. Other officers would hide around the room and call out, ‘’cuckoo’’. The officer with the gun would fire randomly at the sound." Another carefree game to play with your friends, but no Russian roulette.

Sergei and Ivan (a.k.a. Caity and Michelle) Dance the Barynya!

For this blog Caity (Sergei) and Michelle (Ivan) will dance for you the traditional Russian dance, the Barynya!

In old times in Russia the word barynya (Landlady) was used by simple folk as a form of addressing to a woman of higher class. Barynya - original fast Russian folk dance with fancy foot stomping and traditional Russian squatwork ("prisyadka", "vprisyadku"), sudden knee-bending and jumps. The Barynya dance is an alternation of chastushkas and frenetic dancing......lots of frenetic dancing....

The Barynya chastuskas used to have the refrain, kind of "Barynya, barynya, sudarynya-barynya", or "Barynya ty moya, sudarynya ty moya". The content is always humoristic. The country dancing was without special choreography. There are a number of scenic, more refined versions of the dance, but our version is the best of all!

Here is the inspiration for our dance!

Now, for your viewing pleasure, Sergei and Ivan dance for you, on the inter-web-net, the Barynya!!!! Отлично!

Hemp Mannn...

After reading the blog below about drug use in Russia, I recalled some pretty interesting information I once read about Russia’s history with hemp. Interestingly, Russia once ran on the production and exportation of Cannabis products. Hemp was Russia’s number one trading product in the 1700s-ahead of its fur, timber and iron. In fact, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, most of the world depended on products made from hemp! Recently, hemp has been associated with marijuana and people have forgotten what a valuable resource it can be and how important it once was for many countries, including America. Hemp is the most resilient, long-lasting natural fiber, and Russia used to supply most of the world with well-made hemp products.

One of Russia’s best customers was Britain. Britain purchased 90% of its marine hemp from Russia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and relied heavily on Russian hemp products to promote strong naval forces. Now, think back to what you learned in grade school about the War of 1812. You probably don’t remember hearing much about hemp but some insist it was a key factor! Napoleon, eager to infringe on Britain’s naval forces, sought to cut off trade from Russia to Britain and its allies. So, with the help of Czar Alexander of Russia, the Treaty of Tilset was signed in 1807. This hurt Britain; they needed hemp from Russia to continue to dominate the sea. Eventually, Britain found a loophole and started receiving Russian hemp through American traders who had access to Russian hemp. Napoleon caught on. He demanded Czar Alexander stop trade with America or let French troops patrol the trade stations. The Czar said no, and Napoleon invades Russia! To learn about this take on history, in depth, check out Chapter 11 of the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer.

Руки Вверх

I had downloaded some russian music last summer and one of my favorite songs is Крошка Mоя by Руки Вверх. They were a really well-known pop group in Russia in the late 90s but I still really like a bunch of their songs. Another good one is Здравстсвуй, это я. Their official website is It has pictures, articles and all their songs. If you like catchy songs to a techno like beat you should download them and listen. The cool part is now I understand what they are saying :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Russian fashion!

The Russian fashion industry: beyond dress shoes with track pants!

Unit 4

This is Irina Tchachina she is a rhythmic gymnast. one might ask what is that. It is more or less using ribbon, hoops, balls, ect in dance that includes, but is not limited to, ballet gymnastics and lyrical. I personally don't know about you but o my goodness....brilliant amazing innovated...and i am COMPLETELY jealous

Cults = Scary!

I found this article about a Russian cult on Yahoo. It reminded me of the Heaven's Gate cult, who all killed themselves in hopes of catching a ride on the spaceship behind Haley's Comet. Except, people in this cult aren't looking to make friends with extra terrestrials, they've locked themselves into a cave with food and other supplies.. why? Because they believe the world is coming to an end. The cult consists of 29 adults and 4 children, all Christians who believe that the church is doing a horrible job. So, they've taken it upon themselves to survive when the world does come to an end- apparently in May of 2008. The picture that goes with the article shows 2 Russian policemen standing outside the snow-covered cave; however, the cult members have threatened to blow themselves up by detonating a gask tank if the police intervene with their survival tactic. Interestingly enough, the cult leader is not with them. Police told one newspaper that Pyotr Kuznetsov "was a 43-year-old who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and that in the last few months he had been sleeping in a coffin." Atleast this guy has a reason for his lack of sanity..

Here's the link:

Tiffany in Moscow

Tiffany Chestnut, one of our students studying in Moscow (at МГУ) this fall, is a total Florida girl. She seems to have adapted well enough to fifty-five degrees... latitude!

SPOOKie Russia...

More Russophobia... I found this in my mailbox yesterday. Sinister, no?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Popular music about Russia

Or, at least, about what Westerners think of Russia. The first is a funny little Euro-disco song by an obscure, long-forgotten German singing group - Dschinghis Khan (whose name means 'Genghis Khan'; they were into the whole far east thing) entered into the 1979 Eurovision song contest (unfortunately they entered with a different song; there's no doubt that if they entered "Moskau" into the competition they would've easily come out on top.) The peculiar lyrics speak of Russia in much the same way a lot of folks perceived the nation during the waning days of the USSR - and, indeed, in the same way that a lot of American policymakers viewed the Soviets - but with a relatively interesting perspective (Germany being a lot closer to the action, what with East Germany and all.) Reading between the lines (if you can read German, that is ) reveals a relatively interesting message about Russia (Red as Blood? Heh.) Here's a video of a more modern performance, and my rough translation from German below -

Moscow, strange and mysterious
Towers of reddish-gold
Cold as the ice
But Moscow, those who truly know you
Know that within, a fire burns
Burning so hot inside

Cossacks, hey hey hey, raise your glasses!
Natasha ha, ha, ha you are beauitiful!
Comrades, hey hey hey, (drink) to life!
To your health, brother hey, brother ho!

Moscow, Moscow,
Throw the glasses at the wall!
Russia is a beautiful land,
Ha ha ha ha ha, hey!
Moscow Moscow,
Your soul is so great ("soul; spirit"; in a sense meaning energy or passion; in the same sense as the English phrase 'you've got a lot of soul')
In the evening everything goes wild,
Ha ha ha ha ha, hey!

Moscow, Moscow,
Your love is a delicacy,
and your girls are for kissing, (!)
Ha ha ha ha ha, hey!
Moscow, Moscow,
Come, let's dance on the table,
Until the table breaks apart, (! See? Crazy Russians!)
Ha ha ha ha ha!

Moscow, gate to the past
A mirror into the time of the emperors,
Red as blood
Moscow, whoever knows your soul
Knows that your love is burning
Hot, like coal

(Repeat the chorus, and then the guys come up for the best part of the song, heh)
Moscow, Moscow
Where one drinks their Vodka straight
That way, you'll live until you're a hundred
Ho ho ho ho ho, hey!
Moscow, Moscow,
Old friend, your glass is empty
But there's always more in the cellar
Ho ho ho ho ho!

(Then repeat chorus)

Then there's this other interesting Eurodisco song by one of the most popular groups of the 70s (outside America at least, where no one has any idea who they are) - Boney M - singing about everybody's favorite crazy historic icon, Rasputin. However, like "Moskau", Frank Farian (the songwriter and guy who brought us artists like Milli Vanilli) decided to treat the subject a bit unconventially - as you'll see in the lyrics, he turned Rasputin into a crazy rock-star sex-symbol and decidedly exaggerates the relationship between Rasputin and the Czarist government. Still, it's funny to watch and an interesting pseudo-history lesson. (I especially like the crazy guy in the beard).

There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear
He could preach the bible like a preacher
Full of ecstacy and fire
But he also was the kind of teacher
Women would desire

Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

He ruled the Russian land and never mind the czar
But the kasachok he danced really wunderbar
In all affairs of state he was the man to please
But he was real great when he had a girl to squeeze
For the queen he was no wheeler dealer
Though she'd heard the things he'd done
She believed he was a holy healer
Who would heal her son

Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

Spoken :
But when his drinking and lusting and his hunger
for power became known to more and more people,
the demands to do something about this outrageous
man became louder and louder.

"This man's just got to go!" declared his enemies
But the ladies begged "Don't you try to do it, please"
No doubt this Rasputin had lots of hidden charms
Though he was a brute they just fell into his arms
Then one night some men of higher standing
Set a trap, they're not to blame
"Come to visit us" they kept demanding
And he really came

Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Russia's greatest love machine
He drank it all and he said "I feel fine"

Lover of the Russian queen
They didn't quit, they wanted his head
Russia's greatest love machine
And so they shot him till he was dead

Spoken : Oh, those Russians..

U.S.-Russian Relations

I received this article from a family friend who works and lives in Moscow. (He's a diplomat.) This is what he had to say about it: "This is the best current article I have read that addresses the reality of the issues between our two countries. I do not agree with everything in the article, but for the most part, I believe the author is on target."
It's on the longesh side, but definitely worth the read if you are interested in U.S.-Russian relations.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

друг = хороший...drugs (наркотики) = плохо

I always find that when I watch a clip in English, with subtitles in a foreign language, that it really helps me develop a more intuitive sense of the language I want to learn.

I was searching youtube for clips of movies/tv shows that I am familiar with, that had the extra bonus of Russian subtitles or dubbing. I find it very helpful. I searched clips like the simpsons or Harry Potter, and I thought it was hilarious that this clip came up over and over again...

I don't know........someone obviously thought it was vital that this was translated into Russian..... *shrug*
So it inspired me to research the history of drug use in the USSR/Russia.

Apparently the first information on people suffering from drug addiction in the USSR appeared in the in beggining of the 1950s. At that time about 300 people were registered.

Since the mid 50s an internal drug market began to form in the USSR. Poppy plantations were the most obvious, appearing in Куйбышев (Samara), Нижний Новгород regions, in Татарстан and Беларусь.
In the 60s, large hemp plantations were planted in the far western Краснодар and Ставропольский край regions. In the Ukraine hemp was planted for sale within the country, as well as for export. The Ukraine still exports thousands of tons annually.

Until the mid 70s, in some regions of the USSR, narcotism was usual but not a publicly recognized occurence. The real drug revolution did not occur until the end of the 80s. It is thought that such a delay in comparison to the West is due to the following:

1) Post-war time difficulties -social and cultural problems, national economy recovering.

2) Total alcoholism. Who needs drugs when you live in such a vodka-saturated culture? The place of a drug as an antianxiety remedy in a Russian man's culture was already occuipied by alcohol.

3) Social, cultural, economic isolation from trade and most other ties with the world, and laws against going abroad.

All this, and especially the last factor, meant that there were no universally widespread drugs throughout Russia. Thanks to this, the home-made industry flourished. In country territories cherniashka was popular -poppy straw broth, along with home-made amphetamines such as 'jeff', 'mulka', 'vint' and marijuana.

Now that the Iron Curtain has dropped and Russians are free to travel, other addictive substances have made it into the country. Thanks mainly to injection drug use, the HIV epidemic is now rising faster in Russia than anywhere else in the world. Injection drug use has become quite widespread among young people, especially young men. An estimated one percent of the population are injecting drug users. In St Petersburg it is believed that the number of people infected with the HIV virus is close to 100,000.

Drugs are bad, mmkay?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

So this is where Santa gets his reindeer..

After visiting Moscow, one would experience quite a culture shock if seeing the Krasnoyarsk Region, an area covering almost 2,000 miles of Russia. Indigenous people make up this area, and live the life that their ancestors did centuries ago. In fact, many of them herd thousands of reindeer, using the skin as protection from the cold in the harsh weather conditions they experience. These families will travel around all winter, picking up and moving once the reindeer have consumed the moss and lichen-filled pastures. On the other hand, some of these natives have rejected this harsh way of life, like Vladimir and Zinaida Sigunel. Despite giving up living in the Krasnoyarsk Region, they still keep their roots close to home. "Vladimir is a dance teacher, and through his dances he tells stories about his motherland. Zinaida is a housewife and occupies herself sewing national clothes."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

There's a lot more life in Siberia than you ever imagined...

Lake Baikal, (озеро Байкал) at 1,637 meters (5,371ft) deep, is the deepest and largest lake in the world, and is the largest freshwater lake by volume (23,000km3). It contains one fifth of the world’s surface freshwater. Although its surface area is not all that impressive, (at least when compared to Lake Victoria of Africa) Lake Baikal has as much water within it as all of North America’s Great Lakes combined.

Located in Southern Siberia, between Irkutsk Oblast and Buryatia, the name comes from the word Байгал which in the Mongolian language means "nature".

Known as the “Galapagos of Russia”, Lake Baikal is home to 1,085 species of plants and 1,550 species and varieties of animals and 80% of the species that live there cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It is one of the oldest lakes in geological history, estimated at 25-30million years old…thanks to its age and isolation it is of exceptional value to evolutionary science.

It’s a pretty cool, almost sci-fi sort of place. It’s filled with some really strange looking creatures, but for this blog I’m going to focus on just one, the Nerpa, one of the only species of entirely freshwater seals in the world.

Nerpa are unique among seals in many ways, (and not only because they look like some kind of big grey balloon).

They are, along with two subspecies of the Ringed Seal, the only seals to spend their entire lives in fresh water. They can grow to be over 50 years old, making them the longest lived seals, and they nurse their young on milk for twice as long as any other seal species.

Scientists are still not sure as to how the seals originally came to Lake Baikal, seeing as it is hundreds of kilometres away from any ocean. But it is thought that they probably came at a time when there was a sea-passage which linked the lake with the Arctic Ocean.

Nerpa generally tend to prefer the more northern parts of the lake, as the longer winter keeps the ice frozen for longer, which is good for looking after their pups. The females raise the pups on their own, and dig them a large den under the ice. The pups remain here until spring; when the ice melts and the dens collapse, then the pups are left to fend for themselves. Nerpa usually only give birth to one pup, however they are the only seal that has the ability to have twins.

Nerpa (this is kind of cool) have two litres more blood than any other seal of their size and as a result can stay underwater for up to 70minutes if they are frightened or in danger.

So what do these guys eat? Well, a variety of different shrimp and fish make up their main diet, but their main food source is this spiny little guy here.

The Golomyanka, a type of sculpin that lives solely in Lake Baikal. Isn’t he ugly?
Amazingly, sculpin can live for several hours out of water if kept moist. They use their large pectoral fins to stabilize themselves on the floor of flowing creeks and rivers.
This fish lives in silty areas, and as a result it usually has a lot of grit and silt in its stomach. This silty grit scours out the Nerpa’s innards and removes parasites.

(Dr Denner, I've changed my mind. I do want to study ecology/biology when I go on exchange to Russia...)

And now, in closing, here's a clip of some Nerpa swimming....

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So Abraham and Sarah walk into a bar...

In a recent class, Dr. Denner mentioned something that really shocked me: in Russia, it's still apparently considered acceptable in good company to tell various types of crude ethnic jokes, especially anti-semitic ones. These jokes almost all star Абрам and Сара, and tend to have similar punchlines: they're cheap, untrustworthy, backstabbing, scheming, etc. Now, I had been vaguely aware that the history of евреи (Jews) in Russia was marked with strife, but I didn't know just how bad it was until now.

Russia's historically large Jewish communities mostly came about in the Middle Ages, when masses of Jews across Europe fled east to avoid active persecution in places like Spain and Germany. Things were okay for a while, but soon enough the Czars started to persecute them too; the hundreds of years of czarist Russia is dotted with brief periods of anti-semitic frenzy and swordpoint conversions. One of the main ways of dealing with unwanted Jewish populations was to force them into Poland, but that became an issue when Russia annexed it. In the 19th century, the Czars started creating pogroms against the once-again Russian Jews; a "pogrom" is basically a racist/bigoted riot that's actually started by the government itself as an excuse to destroy undesirables' property.

You'd think that the Soviets, for all their talk of brotherhood, would at least put an end to this practice, but they got into it too. Although many of the original Bolsheviks were Jewish (like Trotsky, the devil in that poster up there), anti-semitism was back on the agenda by the time Stalin came around. After helping to end the Holocaust in Germany, Stalin started killing prominent Jews at home; this discrimination lasted until the 1970s, when the Soviets allowed large numbers of Jewish people to flee to the US and Israel.

Today, there aren't too many Russian Jews left, and the remaining ones still have to deal with hostility from the government. Small parties in the Duma apparently like to try to ban Judaism altogether, and regular anti-semitic violence is still a reality. So I guess it really is true what they say: you can tell a lot about a culture by what it jokes about.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sing-Along Time!

That's right, it's time to start singing all (or just two) of your favorite children's songs. Except this time it'll be a challenge because you have to sing them in RUSSIAN! So, this is actually a joint blog betweem Hannah and I, and we had recorded ourselves screeching these tunes out just so you could hear what they sound like. Unfortunately, I'm feeling a bit retarded today and I can't seem to load the sound I guess you'll have to be happy with the lyrics. I'm sure you'll have just as much fun singing it yourself.

Here's one you should all be familiar with: John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
(Actually, we changed his name to "Ivan Jacob Jinglovsky Scmitt" for fun.)

Иван Джейкоб Джингловски Шмитт

Иван Джейкоб Джингловски Шмитт,
Меня тоже так зовут!
Когда мы выходим,
люди всегда кричат:
"Bот Иван Джейкоб Джингловски Шмитт!"

And who doesn't know The Song That Never Ends...
(Go ahead and sing these lyrics to the tune. Not happening!)

Песня Которая Никогда Не Заканачивается

Песня которая никогда не заканачивается,
она продолжается вечно
Какие-то люди начали петь, не понимая что делают,
но они продолжали петь потому что...

We tried translating The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, but I'm still unsure of how good it is. I used one of those online dictionaries and instead of "the spider crawled up the water spout" I ended up with "the spider made a heavenly ascent up the spout." Yea, just ask Inna, she couldn't stop laughing.

And Such Was Life in Leningrad...

I wonder if you can guess what this song is about? =P Well, here's my quick summary: Written by Billy Joel, the song Leningrad is about a man named Viktor who (surprise!) lived in Leningrad. Joel sings about how depressing Viktor's life was growing up during the Cold War and compares it to his own childhood living in the United States. He makes references to many historical events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean War, and McCarthyism, all of which show the tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The lyrics were inspired by a Russian man Billy Joel had actually met while on concert tour of the Soviet Union in the 1980's (there is a reference to this tour in our textbook in one of the dialogues. When Lena asks Vova what he is listening to he says "An American Rock Concert in Moscow" and he says his favorite artist is Billy Joel) I couldn't really find a better quality video but this one is good, I guess....Alright, that's it for the summary. Enjoy the song!

Feel the love

The other night I was watching some spanish television when they were announcing on the news that in Moscow people had gathered for an event and started kissing. Now though, that I search online to see if I can find an article about that event, I can't find one. But my searching has yeilded me another strange article about Russians and their love lives.

Clicking on this link will take you to a BBC article about embarassed Russian officials who want to keep kids safe by banning kissing. The article is a couple years old, but it's still funny to read. Back in 2003 they were contemplating banning kissing, but now in 2007 they're having events where people smooch all over each other.

Maybe it's gotten out of hand?

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (Opus Arte)

This clip is from he classical ballet “Swan Lake” by Pyotr IIlich Tchaikovsky (Russian composer of the romantic era). Originally choreographed by Julius Reisinger, and first presented as “ Lake of the Swans” preformed by the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theater in 1877.

The ballet begins at an open court at which the prince must declare his wife. Sadden that he cannot marry for love the prince escapes into the forest at night. While in the forest the prince falls in love with a beautiful woman like swan. As the two dance the prince learns that the swan like woman is the princess Odette and that an evil spell has been caste upon her turning her into a swan by day and a woman by night. The prince takes great pity on her and begins falling in love. While he is swearing his love for the swan woman the evil sourcerer, who caste the spell on the princess, appears. The prince cannot kill the sourcerer for then the spell will never be undone. The prince returns to the castle to attend the ball. While at the ball he mistakenly announces his love for another princess (who was disguised as the swan woman) and announces his intention to marry her. Realizing his mistake the two lovers drown themselves in the swan lake, causing the evil sourcerer to lose all power of them and die.

The following is from Act I of the ballet. Hope you enjoy the music and complex dancing.

Boris Godunov

Ever wondered what a Russian opera would be like? Depressing? Fun for the whole family? Well, in the library there are tapes of Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. Or if you're not willing to camp out for three hours, you can take a gander at this lovely YouTube video of the finale!

The opera was based on Alexander Pushkin's play of the same name. Boris Godunov is Mussorgsky's only completed opera and is considered his masterpiece. After several revisions, the show finally opened in St. Petersburg in 1874 at the Mariinsky Theatre and was well received by the public. Unfortunately, critics weren't so fond of it. Tchaikovsky said, "I consign [Boris Godunov] from the bottom of my heart to the devil – it is the most insipid and base parody of music... Mussorgsky is a narrow-minded individual devoid of any desire to educate himself, blindly putting his faith in the preposterous theories of his circle and in his own genius... his is a low nature, rough, crude and coarse... [he] flaunts his illiteracy and is proud of his ignorance."

I'm no expert on music, but I kinda liked it. Like I said, the public loved it. They were singing choruses from it in the streets afterward. Tchaikovsky must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed that day.....

In the beginning the people of Russia are depressed and suffering and crawling like zombies on the streets. Boris Godunov arranges for the assassination of the Tsar's half-brother Dimitri. When the tsar dies, he pretends to decline the crown, but his his agents convince the suffering populace to acclaim him as the new Tsar. In the monastery Pimen, a monk, is writing a chronicle of Russia, complaining to Sergei about йу, йо, йа, йы, etc., drinking beer, and telling Grigori about the history surrounding Boris. Grigori gets all riled up and decides to avenge Dimitri so he leaves, pretending to be Dimitri.

Grigori's lover Marina prances around with some lively girls while getting dressed and dreaming of becoming tsarina. Rangoni, her Jesuit confessor, exhorts her to support the Catholic cause. She, of course, falls off her chair and screams. Later, she joins Grigori in a "moonlit rendezvous" and tells him to go on with his plan.

In the Kromy forest, the people are ready to riot against Boris so they go with Grigori to Moscow. Boris becomes mentally unstable, prays for Russia, and then dies.

How can that not be a crowd pleaser?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Kremlin wants in on this whole blogging thing too.

The Kremlin has long been known for keeping tight controls on traditional types of media, like the newspaper and television. However, the internet has been able to provide an uncensored look at what is going on in Russia, as well as provided a forum for people to express their feelings about Russian politics openly. However, there have been many indications that the Kremlin and its supporters have been making attempts to create more Pro-Moscow websites and blogs. The Kremlin has begun working closely with pro-Putin/pro-Moscow sites; there has even been talk of creating a separate Russian computer network, which would undoubtedly be easy for the government to control.

The internet has soared in popularity in Russia; 25% of Russian adults now go online regularly, compared to only 8% in 2002. The internet has provided a wide variety of websites and blogs, where people can discuss and criticize the different events occurring in Russia. However, Putin and his supporters are looking to balance the opposition to his administration by teaming up with different privately owned websites, and working to create a larger and more active pro-Kremlin network. In 2004, bloggers created such a firestorm when a pro-Kremlin candidate was elected as president of Ukraine; after days of protesting in the streets, a new, pro-Western candidate was selected. Last April, however, many savvy Putin supporters rallied together to spread news of a Pro-Kremlin march over the internet later that day. Members of a youth team called the Youth Guard were also active in posting blogs about the Pro-Kremlin march; and eventually they were able to overflow the blog sites with posts about the march. Putin dismisses any rumors that the Kremlin is looking to censor the internet; however that has not surpressed many blogger's fears that the internet may soon become government-controlled.

It is no surprise to me that the Kremlin has begun infiltrating cyberspace; in fact, when I read an article about this on MSNBC, I was actually surprised to learn that the Kremlin didn't already have a great amount of control over the internet. I'm sure that Putin's government would have little trouble in creating a dominant Pro-Kremlin sphere in cyber-space; however, it seems far fetched to think that a complete government heist of the internet would be able to go down today, even in Russia. Unless the Kremlin shuts down the internet entirely, they are not going to be able to stop millions of bloggers from posting their opinions. It also seems to be the trend that more people begin posting blogs when controversial issues in the news arise, especially a political issue. Therefore, if the Kremlin begins to more vigorously pursue their internet campaign, the opposition would probably grow even more. These days,trying to take away a person's ability to blog freely, is like trying to talk off a dog a meat truck; people love their computers, and the Kremlin would not have an easy time trying to infringe on people's cyber-space rights.

Russian Jokes

I found a wikipedia article (I know.. too easy) on Russian jokes. Evidently, many Russian jokes focus on familiar characters and settings (something like ___ walks into a bar), and many more are "hopelessly untranslatable jokes that rely on linguistic puns, wordplay, and Russian's rich vocabulary of foul language."

For instance, in Russian jokes, policemen are seen as unintelligent, and often willing to accept bribes:

"Do you know why policemen always go in threes?" / "No, why?" / "It's specialization: one knows how to read, one knows how to write, and the third is there to keep an eye on the two dangerous intellectuals."

It also seems that Russians have their fair share of ethnic stereotypes as well:

"What do you call one Russian? --A drunk. What do you call two Russians? --A fight. What do you call three Russians? -- A Party Cell"
"What do you call one Jew? --A financial center. What do you call two Jews? --The World Chess Championship. What do you call three Jews? --Native Russian Folk Instrument Ensemble."

Many more can be found here:

For all my homies out there...

I was thinking the other day, as I'm sure everyone was, that hip-hop must be as popular in Mother Russia as it is here. I mean, why WOULDN'T they enjoy the lyrics of guys like Kanye and Fiddy. Well, I decided to investigate. Surprisingly, gangsta rap just isn't that popular over there. The rap in Russia is more like old school rap over here (more about the lyrics, less about the beat; think Tupac or Public Enemy as opposed to the stuff today).

One group that has managed to become popular (and there aren't that many) is Bad Balance, or Bad B. for short.

Here's a little bit of their work:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Putins Income

When I think of Putin I think , authoritative, powerful and I would have thought extremely wealthy. That is apparently not the case. Putin earns around 80,000 US which is by no means a small income but taking into account the countless millionaires in Moscow and the goverments control in business 80,000 doesn't seem like alot. This short but interesting article about Putins income and possesions can be found here.

See? History CAN be interesting!

Like most other cultures and places, Russia has its fair share of heroes, great personalities, and unlikeable faces left best forgotten. But - just like these other places - Russia has plenty of just plain weird people, whom legend and folklore have swirled around for centuries. While many of the really great stories are probably apocryphal, they're still pretty funny.

Everyone knows about the crazy mystic, Rasputin, who enjoyed an unusual amount of sway over the Russian imperial court for a peasant, and whose quackery earned him widespread admiration among the nobility. His 'ability' to heal the Tsar's ailing son meant anything he said was gold, and any 'vision' he had must be the true tellings of a dark future ahead. He held special control over the Tsarina, to whom he became a personal assistant during World War 1. He appointed his own officials and advisers, and expanded his control over the aristocracy by.. ahem.. well, one could say he was... in bed a lot. His nighttime escapades were the a relatively public affair, and sent waves of shock and anger through much of Russian high society. The (most likely embellished) popular tale of his death is well known - he was poisoned, shot, stabbed, beaten, and finally bound in a sheet and thrown into a frozen river nearby. Dispute remains about (of all subjects) whether or not Rasputin's... family jewels, were intact when his body was recovered from the frosty winter's night. Many claim to possess the preserved "artifact" (if you want to call it that), though testing has not been performed extensively to prove any of these theories.

Speaking of people with extensive.. 'appetites', Catherine II of Russia (known as 'the Great', usually) had a voracious appetite for young men which, due to her controversial nature among Europeans an the great changes she brought to her nation, bloomed into a series of rather unusual legends about her more, well, 'interesting' endeavors. All of these appear to be false, however - There is NO evidence that Catherine the Great died on the toilet, or that she was crushed by a horse with whom she was.. well, you get the idea. What actually went on in her private life was not without its own flair, however. One of the most interesting facts about Catherine the Great is that she was barely Russian at all, and was actually a German princess of a small region with little to no diplomatic power. The idea of such a small figure rising to become the great empress of Russia is quite astounding indeed.

Russia's rulers have had more than a few unusual policies. For example, in a move to promote social 'westernization' in Russian society, Tsar Peter I imposed a 'beard tax' - which, as its name implies, was exactly that - a tax on having a beard. Peter saw the beard as an antique of old, stale Russian culture and hoped that a tax would promote the removal of such awful things. Indeed, the idea seemed to succeed as over the years men arrived at the barber's in droves to get them cut off for fear of paying the ever-increasing tax. Legends about another ruler, Ivan IV (well-known as Ivan the Terrible) are numerous; legend says Ivan was so impressed by the beauty of St. Basil's Cathedral (the funny-looking onion-domed church that, to most people, is the symbol of Russia) that he blinded the architect who built it to prevent him from ever building something as beautiful again. Legend also holds that Ivan died, in true Russian fashion - while playing a game of chess.

Friday, October 26, 2007

McDonald's is a parallel universe.

We've heard that it's ok to smile like an idiot in McDonald's, but did you know that McDonald's is becoming the largest corporate landowner in Russia? This article contains a brief history of McDonald's in Russia, and It's actually pretty interesting. What's even more interesting? This commercial featuring a rap about McDonald's, in Russian.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Грибы Hunting

To follow up on our fascinating mushroom discussion of several weeks ago, I've listed several of the most common "грубы" that one might run across while mushroom-hunting at the дача. Russian children know how to tell the difference at a very early age. They might not know the alphabet song, but by golly they know their fungus!!

The etymology of mushroom names is actually quite interesting because it usually points to either the location of the mushroom's growth or its appearance. For example, the word for birch tree is берёза. A подберёзовик is the mushroom which "lives under the birch." The puff-ball mushroom, which tends to grow right after rainfall, is called дождевик from the word for rain, дождь. Get the idea?

Дедушкин табак ----------------grandfather's tobacco

Боровик (бор) ----------------------------pine forest

Лисичка (лиса)--------------------------fox

Сморчок (сморщимься)-------------------to wrinkle
*this mushroom (the morel) is actually the most expensive in the world!

Бледная поганка (поганка)------------PAGAN MUSHROOM!!!
Interestingly, all poisonous mushrooms are called поганки, meaning pagans.
Godless mushrooms = bad for you!!

Ivan Vasiliev

That was Ivan Vasiliev."born in Vladivostok. In 2006 after graduating from the Belarusian State Choreographic College joined the National Academic Bolshoi Ballet Theatre of Belarus as a principle dancer." from i apologize the for the excessive moment of the is COMPLETELY worth it!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Intense Politics in Russia...

If any of you watched Real Time with Bill Maher a few nights ago you would have seen Гарри Кимович Каспаров (Garry Kimovich Kasparov), former world chess champion and author of the book How Life Imitates Chess. He gave Bill a very interesting interview and shocked the panel with his intelligence. Garry is a candidate for the Russian presidential race of 2008. He is against Putin and is a member of the political group The Other Russia. His views are extremely interesting and thought provoking. This guy is a genius. However the one thing that shocked me most was the intensity of his political involvement in Russia. Garry has bodyguards at all times and must be wary of eating and drinking things offered by strangers for fear of being poisoned!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Russian Invasion

Tennis has always been a very international sport but today there seems to be an overwhelming dominant force coming from one country; Russia. The tennis world believes that Anna Kournikova sparked the fire of the Russian Takeover. Her success and fame led others to believe they could achieve what she did and more. As more and more russians trickled onto the scene their success couldn't be ignored. Year 2004 was the best example of this dominance. Starting with Anastasia Myskina from Moscow won the French Open, Maria Sharapova from Nyagan, Siberia won Wimbledon and Svetlana Kuznetsova from St. Petersburg won the U.S. Open. Even when they aren't winning grand slams, they are continuing to win tournaments left and right.

Kournikova, Myskina, Sharapova, Kuznetsova.

TTheir journies all fall along a similar movie making storyline. They begin playing at their local tennis courts and simply "fall in love". They each have obsessed parents, go relentless hours on the court and eventually get shipped off to America to perfect their training and game. Their results also reflect similar patterns. Their booming tennis game starts their popularity but their off court success feeds the obssessed fans. Maria Sharapova fills these shoes perfectly. Blonde hair, piercing screams and ground strokes that paint the sidelines cause a loyal crowd to form. However her offcourt endeavors complete the successful package. Currently the highest paid female in the business, yet only 20 years old and ready for years more of tennis.
SSo what we are all wondering is why? Why Russia? Tennis seems to be an odd success story in the refridgerator like atmosphere. The answer is simple though. It is their way out. Also it is a way for woman to be in a business world and be as equally successful as men. So as long as the drive and motivation burns, be prepared for the locker room to be filled with mostly Russian conversation.

WTA World Rankings- Russian Players in the top 100
2- Svetlana Kuznetsova
5-Maria Sharapova
7- Anna Chakvetadze
10-Elena Dementieva
12- Nadia Petrova
14-Dinara Safina
23-Vera Zvonareva
26-Maria Kirilenko
41-Vera Dushevina
52-Elena Vesnina
68-Elena Likhovtseva
75-Alla Kudryavtseva
77-Anastasia Rodionova
83-Olga Poutchkova
86-Yaroslava Shvedova