Sunday, September 30, 2007

Убийство лорда Уотербрука

This is a two-part video which, at the 2006 Open Russian Festival of Animated Film, won "Best Writing" and got the 3rd-best rating. It's a quirky parody of a Шерлок Холмс и доктор Ватсон story sprinkled with self-references, talking dead, adultery, and MURDER!


Created by: Aleksandr Bubnov
All voices done by: Alexei Koltan


This is a short video that I found when I searched "Russian cartoon" on Youtube. There's really no way to write a synopsis of it, but watch it all the way through.

Director - Ivan Maximov
Music - Maurice Ravel, "Bolero"

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Who Doesn't Love Tongue Twisters?

Especially Russian tongue twisters! Yes, I know, tongue twisters are hard enough in English! But here's my little back story: Back in high school, my Russian teacher had given them to the class in an effort to help us "warm up" to the language. He would randomly choose a student to read one aloud to the entire class and then we all had to read it together. If we got it wrong (which we all did) he made us read it again even faster. Let's just say it didn't exactly work out how he'd hoped. I made myself feel better by laughing at my failure (and of course, at my classmates as well =P). But hey, they're always fun to try even though some of them are REALLY hard! (Plus, the translations don't always make sense, so you can laugh at those too)I only put a few on here because I'm lazy, but there are so many more it's not even funny.

On side note, I couldn't find them with accent marks, so the accented letter is in bold.

Шла Саша по шоссе и сосала сушку
Sasha walked down the highway and sucked on a dry (ring-shaped) cracker.

"Расскажите про покупки!"
"Про какие про покупки?"
"Про покупки, про покупки,
про покупочки свои!"

Tell me about your purchases! What purchases? About purchases, purchases, your little purchases!

Карл у Клары укpал кораллы, а Клара у Карла украла кларнет.

Karl stole corals from Klara, and Klara stole a clarinet from Karl.

Повар Пётр и повар Павел,
Пётр пёк, а Павел парил,
Парил Павел, Пётр пёк,
Повар Пётр и повар Павел.

Peter is a cook and Paul is a cook. Peter baked, and Paul cooked on steam. Paul cooked on steam and Peter baked. Peter is a cook and Paul is a cook.

Во лесу лозу вяжу.
На возу лозу везу.
Коза, лозу не лижи - Накажу!

In the woods I tie the vines. On the cart I bring the vines. Goat, do not lick the vines. I'll punish you!

And just to step away from Russian, here are two in English:
The sixth sick sheikh's sixth sheep's sick

Betty Botter bought a bit of butter.
The butter Betty Botter bought was a bit bitter
And made her batter bitter.
But a bit of better butter
Would make her batter better.
So Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter,
Which made Betty Botter's bitter batter better

Here ya go:

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Surely not....

If this is for real, it's pretty amazing. Check out the story of a 15 year old in Russia surviving a plane ride WHILE HANGING ONTO THE WING!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Chandelier of Bottles

ok so, I stumbled across this and just thought it was a bit odd (and random as well). I don't know if this is done by any old joe or what, but whoever he is, he found a much better use for empty plastic bottles. Forget about recycling; Make bottle chandeliers instead!(Maybe it was done by a professional bottle...chandelier...person... =/ I don't know) These nifty little creations can be spotted dangling from the trees in an unspecified St. Petersburg park. There really wasn't much information about these in particular so I can't claim any expertise in this area (although I have seen Beer Bottle Chandeliers). I actually got this from the site where they post news, pictures, videos, etc. all dealing with Russia.

I really want to know who wakes up and suddenly thinks "You know what, I'm gonna take my empty bottles, string them together, and hang them all over St. Petersburg!" They are pretty cool looking though, no?
I guess if I had a lot of spare time, I would do something creative too...just maybe something else...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Не нервничай!!!

I couldn't find the Simpsons clip we were talking about today in class, but I did find this one...
It's not educational, and it's probably quite offensive, but I thought it was funny...

(Bim -- I edited your entry so that the YouTube clip showed up)

Use according to directions...

I was showing my wife this disturbing commercial for detergent when I noticed the "warning" at the end:
"The Ministry of Health warns: Use powder according to directions."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I vill survife

I found this very amusing and I hope you do to.

Russian violinist's russian/gypsy interpretation of a song we should all be intimately familiar with.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Be our guest?

i think you would enjoy this for the fact that its Russians trying to have a French accent. plus its a classic :-D

шапка мономаха

As happens every so often in Russian Class, a seemingly harmless question about the use of a soft-sign will result in a 20min tangent involving the pull down map, some really intense history that took place in somethingorother-stan, Steppes, fur, blood, weaponry, and royalty. It's one of the reasons we enjoy class so much.

Last week, the topic of choice was the шапка мономаха. *insert epic, upswelling, da DAH!-type music here* - the crown used in the coronation of Russian Tsars from the time of Ivan IV

I plan to post more on this topic later, because the history of it is fascinating, but for now, here's a picture of it....

Pretty hardcore huh?

Rachmaninoff Had Big Hands

For all of those of you familiar with Rachmaninoff, it's no surprise to you then that the famous and fabled Russian composer had monstrous hands capable of reaching things on the piano considered impossible by most 'mere human beings'.

To put it in perspective, from the tip of his thumb to the tip of his pinky, he could stretch a bit over 12 inches, able to play 10ths and even 12ths easily on the piano when most people have trouble playing simply octaves.

This is just such a demonstration.

David Oistrakh

I've seen alot of posts on here showing off the music of Russia's most celebrated composer (Tchaikovsky, of course) which is all good and dandy (as I am myself a great fan of good ol' Пётр ). However, Tchaikovsky's music, by and large, was never of an entirely Russian nature, something Russian critics made sure to point out.

When it comes to Tchaikovsky's compositional style and technique, he was more of a cosmopolitan composer, drawing his influence from abroad as well as within his country (and his own genius). However, one of the most "Russian" sounding of his compositions has got to be the Violin Concerto, which is (and by no mere coincidence) one of my favorite compositions.

One of the greatest interpreters of the piece (in my and many other people's opinions) is actually related to me through my violin teacher (Professor Routa Kroumovitch) here at Stetson who was a student (and great friend) of his.
The violinist in question is David Oistrakh, a Jewish-Russian (malrooskee, I think is the term?) musician who is considered to have been one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century.
Born in Odessa (which is now in modern Ukraine), he started playing violin at age 5, playing his first concert at age 6.

The Russians have a very proud violin tradition and Oistrakh is very solidly at the center of it among other such Jewish-Russian musicians as Ilya Kaller, Leonid Kogan, and (most famous of all) Ivan Galamian.
A great friend of both Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich (the two most famous and important of 20th century Russian composers and among the most famous and important of all composers), Oistrakh was the dedicatee of numerous works, including both of Shostakovich's violin concerti and his violin sonata, various sonatas of Prokofiev's, and still more works by other Soviet composers.

You're about to see him play Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, the 3rd movement in what I'm guessing is the Great Hall at Moscow Conservatory (where he taughtfor many years).
Enjoy my teacher's teacher!

Monday, September 17, 2007

крестный отец?

It's been awhile since I've really gotten excited about the opening of a new movie, but the previews for David Cronenburg's Eastern Promises look pretty awesome.
I recall someone saying once (I think in our Russia Today class last semester), that you can pretty much look back in history and see the growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, by who was the lead villian in James Bond films. In the years when relations were particularly tense between the two, more often than not agent 007 would end up fighting someone with a thick Russian/Soviet accent.
It's been a few years now since there's been any decent movies with a Soviet villian (not counting Blues Brothers 2000), but perhaps that time has come again.

Eastern Promises is a fast-paced, thriller which has been dubbed by some as the Russian version of The Godfather (quite a bold claim, considering The Godfather ranks in the top 10 movies of all time according to
The film stars Naomia Watts playing a young midwife, Anna, who unknowingly becomes entangled with one of London’s hardest crime families to which nasty character Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is a member of. It is soon discovered that Anna has potential evidence to damage Nikolai’s family, which of course sparks horrific events of murder and deceit, bloody beatings, vodka, intense Russian, and I'm sure plenty of other Hollywood goodness.

Now, I'm not sure how much of the film is true to life. Obviously, I'm quite sure the Russian Mafia wasn't exactly willing to divulge all it's darkest secrets to a screenwriter or director, so much of the film is probably glorified Hollywood rubbish. But to his credit, Viggo Mortensen did try to really get into the role.
The film has already won Best Film Award at the Toronto film festival,

and is rating very well on rottentomatoes (no easy feat).
One thing in particular that intrigues me about this film is the tagline - "Every sin leaves a mark". This refers to the use of tattoos among criminals/gangs to record the wearers personal history... Cooooooooooooool....
Now, the next portion of my blog is almost solely researched on Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt. But Wiki usually has some truth to it, and either way it makes for interesting reading.

Apparently Russian criminal tattoos have a very complex system of symbols that give some rather detailed info about the wearer. Not only the symbol itself, but where it is placed on the body has significant meaning to it. For example...

A crucifix worn on the chest signifies the highest possible rank. This has no real religious basis, but says that the wearer has been oppressed by the authorites as Jesus was. A snake on the other hand, around the neck/shoulders means that the wearer feels the Soviet/Communist system still has a hold on them. A setting sun represents freedom.

As well as voluntary, some tattoos are given as punishment, to mark and embarass the wearer. If someone has not paid a debt, or has betrayed someone, they may be marked for it. Wearing unearned tattoos can have serious consequences.

Now here's the gross part.....
"Tattoos done in a Russian prison have a distinct blueish color and usually appear somewhat blurred because of the lack of instruments to draw fine lines. The ink is often created from burning the heel of a shoe and mixing the soot with urine." Yuck. But cool.

So anyway, the movie looks pretty good. Check out the official website here.

Problems with Russian Adoption

In 1990, Russia made adoptions open to foreigners. However, this became quite controversial when several different Russian kids became the victim of severe child abuse by their adoptive parents.
In October 2000, six-year-old Viktor Matthey died of cardiac arrest after he contracted hypоthermia. It was later discovered that his adoptive parents had locked him in a damp unheated pump room overnight, and also beat him frequently. Both parents were found guilty of excessive corporal punishment, as well as failure to provide medical care. Tragically, Viktor Matthey was one of several Russian children who had suffered similar fates.

Since 1990, 13 child abuse cases that resulted in death and involved Russian adopted children have been reported; and 12 of these occurred at the hands of American parents. Although these deaths were viewed as great tragedies in the United States, the deaths of these innocent children have provoked an even greater public outrage in Russia. In general, Russians prefer that their children remain in Russia, however, Russians rarely adopt. In a June 2005 poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Studies Center, 81% of Russians said they did not plan to ever adopt; however, only 13% of Russians believe that opening adoption up to foreigners was necessary to curb the problem of child neglect in Russia.

Russian adoptions in the United States ranks third in popularity, behind China (number 1) and Guatemala (number 2). In 2006, Americans adopted 3,706 Russian children; however, since 2005 Russian adoptions have actually slowed by a third. This drop in adoption rate is most likely the result of the backlash that occurred after various incidents of American parents murdering their adopted child.

In Russia, the Education Ministry, which overseas foreign adoptions, has come under scrutiny by the State Duma. The Duma is accusing the Education Ministry of trying to make a profit off of its foreign adoptions; it has since stopped accepting new adoption applications. While it is important for the Duma to make sure there is no corrupt business dealings within the Education Ministry; it is also extremely unfortunate that the adoptions rate has steadily declined as a result.

The victims of these adoption scandals are the other 700,000 orphans in the country waiting to find a family. The deaths of 12 innocent Russian children in the U.S. is a great tragedy; however, it seems like an even more sad fact that because of the malicious and cruel child abuse several Americans inflicted on their child, thousands of Russian orphans may never be considered for adoption.

Russia is currently in the midst of revising its foreign adoption policies. Some of these revisions would include stricter psychological testing of parents wishing to adopt; as well as, giving Russians officials the authority to intervene in the lives of children adopted by Americans.

Here are some articles on this issue:

Here's Another Weird One

This is that other strange commercial I was talking about in class.

Free Russian Music

This week I went around and started familiarizing myself with a great music website called This site is great, because if you go to it (even if you aren't registered), scroll all the way to the bottom, and click on "Weekly Free Download" under the "Top Charts" header, you can find, among other things, Russian music wanting to be downloaded. A lot of it is from the same artist, and it isn't exactly traditional stuff you might expect to hear, but the lyrics are in Russian none the less.

The link for this website is simply

If you do decide to get more involved, it's possible to listen to radios of similar artists, and possibly of just russian music, but I personally have not tried it yet, so don't take my word for it. Get in there and try it out!

What's Good At the Russian Cinema?

Hello Hello again! Ok, I don't have any more crazy Russian soap commercials (although I did find anoher strange one but, whatever) But I do have some information on something even better: Movies! The featured movie for this entry: Ночной дозор "Night Watch".

Ночной дозор is a fantasy/Action/Thriller dealing with vampires, witches,curses, omens, etc. The movie takes place in present day Moscow where there are normal human beings and those with extraordinary powers called "Others" who are divided into "Light" and "Dark" forces. The Others have been trying to resolve a battle that was fought years and years ago so they decided to come to a little agreement where the Light forces are in charge of watching over the night and the Dark forces are supposed to watch the Day. However, during the night, the Dark forces like to roam the streets as vampires (and all other kinds of nasty little creatures) and terrorize the citizens of Moscow while the Light forces keep them in line. The catch is that altough they are supposed to balance out each others powers, there is a prophecy predicting the "coming of The Great Other" who will plunge the world into complete darkness. With that as the backdrop, the movie follows a man named Anton Gorodetsky who is a seer for the Light forces who goes around keeping the Dark Others in their places.

Now, I've sort of lost my taste for fantasy films, and honestly I thought the movie summary sounded really corny and very unoriginal. (Well, my movie summary has been simplified) But I have to say, after watching the trailer the movie looks pretty awesome. Apparently, this film is supposed to be a huge breakthrough for the Russian Film Industry because only foreign made films become blockbusters in Russia these days. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian film industry went into a decline for some time. Until the release of this movie, (which came out in 2004) The Lord of the Rings was the highest grossing film in Russia. Ночной дозор broke Russian box office records by racking in 16.7 million dollars in the motherland alone. Now that may seem like small beans compared to the U.S. Film Industry where the highest grossing film is Titanic (which made $600 million dollars in the U.S. alone), but 16.7 million is big business is Russia. Ночной дозор is also supposed to be the one of the first Russian films to involve high-budget special effects and it set the bar higher for movies to come.

With that all said and done, here's the trailer for the movie:

You also have to keep in mind that this movie is based on of the book with the same title, so naturally there was a sequel called Дневной дозор "Day Watch" and a third film is in the works. This movie was also in limited release here in the U.S. in 2006, and Дневной дозор was in limited release just recently in June. So, you might be able to find these in Blockbuster or something if you look.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yet Another Side of Tchaikovsky

Now that you know the Sugar Plum fairy side, and the sad dreary side thanks to Caity, I feel obligated to share the side of Tchaikovsky that makes him one of my favorite composers.

Tchaikovsky's large symphonies and works such as the 1812 Overture demonstrate a dramatic and powerful side of his music, and are among my favorite pieces of classical music. The 1812 Overture calls for a canon in the score - what more needs to be said? After you make the French flee your country after an attempted invasion I don't think the stereotypical cold and dreary Russian piece (and certainly not a ballet) would suit the mood.

Also, I play the trombone, and over time have begun to appreciate composers of orchestral music like Tchaikovsky that create such powerful parts for the brass section of the orchestra - For trombonists, most orchestral music involves lots of waiting and counting, and not much playing.

What makes this subject even more personal to me is that I was fortunate enough to be able to see a concert entirely of Tchaikovsky music given by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra as it made a stop in Tallahassee of all places. They played his entire Symphony No. 5, and another smaller piece, and it was amazing.

Here is a clip of the triumphant finale of Symphony No. 5:
Feel free to laugh at the conductor..

Russian Holidays

If you watched CNN last week or read the previous blogs, you know that September 12 is now known as a Day of Conception in part of Russia! Of course this intrigued me, so I set out to find what other "fun" holidays Russia has to offer. Unfortunately none of them were as exciting as Conception Day, but here are a few interesting official holidays that Russians observe:

International Women's Day: March 8th. This day is a mix of Valentines Day and Mothers Day and women are showered with gifts and flowers to show appreciation for their hard work, love and commitment.
Tatiana Day: January 25th. Named after Saint Tatiana the patron saint of students, this day is celebrated as Russian Students Day to honor one of the first universities built in Moscow.
Defender of the Fatherland Day: February 23rd. This day honors those who are serving or have served in the Russian military. It used to be called Red Army Day in the Soviet Union era and was established to celebrate the first mass draft of the Red Army.
Russia Day: June 12th, 1990 Russian parliament declared its sovereignty. Thank god this holiday was renamed because this day was once known as Day of the Adoption of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation. However, they may need to change it to Baby Day now because those who participated on September 12th and give birth on this day receive a prize (money cars, etc)! I pity the children born at 12:01 am on June 13th!

These are only a few of the Russian holidays I read about, though it was interesting to learn about all of them. The holidays are a diverse mix of old, new, official and unofficial, professional, religious and fun.

Russian Skittles Commercial

I was on You Tube and I found this commercial. It’s very funny seeing as how they eat the skittles right off of the bear’s fur (kind of gross). It also kind of goes with what Dr. Denner was saying about how Russian create new words that are basically English words with a Russian accent. The word “skittles” sounds very similar in both languages.
Hope you get a laugh.

Taylor Smith

In Soviet Russia...

That's the famous beginning to many of the jokes from the one and only Yakov Smirnoff, a comedian born when the Soviet Union ruled and later became the focus of his act.

Yakov was born to a Jewish family in Odessa, Ukraine in 1951. Early on he was an art teacher and a painter, but in 1977 he would immigrate to the United States. He was at one point the roommate of another popular comedian, Andrew Dice Clay. He became popular thanks to his demeanor as a bright-eyed, ignorant immigrant and his humorous observations of America with comedic jabs at the totalitarianism (sometimes exaggerated) of the Soviet Union while it was still a major competitor with the USA.

Yakov's jokes typically fell into two categories:

Yakov would comment on some aspect of American culture that is vastly different from his experience in Soviet Russia and exclaiming "what a country!" or he would talk about some statement or advertisement he encountered that he misunderstood thanks to his inexperience. Ex. when he talks about reading employment announcements reading "Part-Time Woman Wanted" he remarks "What a country! even transvestites can get work!"

The other typical Yakov joke was the (now infamous thanks to Family Guy) reversal of nouns and verbs when talking about how things are done in Soviet Russia when compared to how they're done in America. Ex. In the US, you come to the party. In Soviet Russia, Party comes to you! Or in the case of Family Guy: "In Soviet Russia, road forks you!", though Yakov's jokes often talked about some negative aspect of Soviet life rather than just ridiculous statements. Early on in his career he simply said Russia, but once the USSR broke apart, he added the Soviet part to his act to clarify.

An example of Yakov's comedy at the 9th Annual Young Comedians Special

Once the Soviet Union collapsed however, Yakov's popularity diminished greatly since the bulk of his act dealt with poking fun at Soviet life. Once the USSR was gone, Yakov's act lost much of it's substance since no one really wanted to hear Soviet Russia jokes afterwards.

This clip from the Ben Stiller show parodies Yakov's comedy post-Soviet Union

Yakov continues to do comedy shows and paint. In fact, after the September 11 attacks, he painted a mural that expressed his feelings regarding the attacks and which was hung up in New York until it had been damaged due to storms.

Yakov's 9/11 Mural

The State of Democracy in Russia

As many of you know (or at least those who read the blog) Russia ousted its old prime minister and Putin selected a new one. This may not seem like a very crucial change, however the implications of this change are indeed drastic. Viktor Zubkov the new prime minister is now in a position that has since been used to denote the next in line for the Presidency. Putin who must step down at the end of his second term has effectively made Zubkov the next President of Russia. Whats even more interesting is why he would do this, as an NPR analyst suggests its merely to keep the Kremlin seat warm for Putin as he would not be barred from running again after taking a one term break from being President. This delightful little piece can be listened to here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Adventures in attempting to download Russian music that isn't Tchaikovsky.

I enjoy many forms of music to some extent, but I must admit that my favorite genre is heavy metal. Certainly some of the best metal bands are from northern Europe. With this in mind, I set out to find some Russian metal to listen to.
A quick Google search led me to the Russian Metal Home Page. (Mostly in English.) So I went to download some music from their list of "The Great 5 of Russian Metal"
The first step was to figure out how to use Limewire, which had decided to convert every scrap of text to Russian after I installed the Phonetic Keyboard settings. Hmm. After a stressful 5 minutes I found the preferences panel that allowed me to reset everything to English.
Next challenge, finding the music. Those of you who use Limewire will know that it can be difficult to find what you're looking for. (Especially when the first band on the list has a generic musical term like Aria for a name.) But I needed something to block out my roommate's rap, and soon.
I found one song with "English Version" in the title and hit download. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't anywhere near what I was looking for. So, I went to Aria's official site. It was all in Russian. Discouraged, I opened a new window. Wikipedia has everything, I thought to myself, as I ran a search for "Aria Russian metal". Indeed, there is an article about the band! (I put on some Black Sabbath to block out the radio while I read. Seriously, my roommate listens to some awful music.)
Wikipedia says: "Aria (Russian: Ария) is a popular Russian heavy metal band that formed in 1985. The music of Aria resembles the sound of NWOBHM bands, and they have been dubbed "Russian Iron Maiden" by media."
Oh! That's promising. I realized that I would have been better off searching in the Cyrillic in the first place, and went to try it. After a bit of searching I finally found the и.
My search resulted in a number of Quicktime files marked only by a track number. Ohh, this is going to be fun. :( I downloaded the only result with Russian characters in the name. And waited. Limewire is terribly unreliable at the worst times. I was finally met with a statement which is the bane of my existence: "Need More Sources."
It was time to try a new strategy. I located a page for Aria on (A site I had never used before.) Hooray! I was finally getting warmer. I waited for my roommate to leave so my first experience listening to Russian metal wouldn't be tainted by the angry, shouting men on the radio. (I even lent her some makeup to speed her progress getting ready. Then I had another cup of чай. Then I played some Neopets games. How can it possibly take someone that long to get ready?)On a completely unrelated note, I happened to notice this item on Neopets: Banan
Finally, my roommate turned off the radio and went to her party.
I pressed play on the page, and was disappointed to hear only 30 second samples of the songs. I looked at the front page and read "Sign up and the music gets better." Ok, then. Hopefully by "better" they mean I get to hear the whole song. I signed up. I downloaded and installed the software. I went through the setup process, and finally got to the point where I could type in Ария and press play.
Success! The time listed for the track was now over 6 minutes. And the music was beautiful. They have a classic metal sound which is, indeed, similar to Iron Maiden, and of course, they sing in Russian, so it has to be good. XD
I would say that my time spent wrestling with search engines and music programs was worth every second, and now it's that much easier for you if you want to hear some awesome Russian metal, just click the link and If you don't have it yet, download the software.


On a lighter note...

The Russian military has been keeping busy; watch them invade the world of choreographed showmanship!

Putinjugend On The March

This is Jason Rickner; Dr. Denner mentioned me doing a piece on Счастливы вместе, but there's been a subject on my mind for some time that I want to address instead: the rise of ultranationalistic youth movements in Russia. There are apparently a lot of them, so I'll focus on the most famous one, "Наши" (Ours).

Nearly everything about Наши harkens back to the Soviet era, from their pseudo-military outfits and organization to their website, for which they managed to snag the long-defunct .su (Soviet Union) domain code. Their original stated mission was to act as a counter-weight to what founders claimed was a growth in Neo-nazi and other "extremist" groups in Russia (although with Russian law now labelling more and more opposition leaders as "dangerous extremists," one has to question their notion of what constituts an extremist group). Their de facto purpose is to serve as an outlet for nationalist, bigoted and anti-western aggression; this usually manifests itself with on-the-street hooligans beating opposition figures and foreigners (especially dark-skinned Central Asians from the former Soviet states).

Наши has managed to sneak into the Western press recently as their "street warriors" have come in contact with what they perceive to be threats or insults to the conservative Russian status quo. For example, when Estonia removed a 1947 monument to the Red Army from a squre in its capital, Russian youths associated with Наши took to the streets, started a harassment campaign against the Estonian ambassador, and were even the primary suspect in a cyber-attack on the Baltic government's extremely integrated online framework. The British ambassador to Russia faced similar harassment after attending a conference of opposition groups, and earlier this year police watched on as thugs descended on a gay rights march in Moscow (one of the images in that article identifies an attacker as a "Nao-nazi," but given the widespread homophobia among many Russians, such "collaboration" in beating up demonstrators is not surprising).

The most disturbing things about this group is the fact that it's funded and sanctioned by the Kremlin itself. Most members are slavishly pro-Putin to the point of establishing a small personality cult around him; this devotion has earned them the nickname "Putinjugend" (from "Hitlerjugend," the German term for the Hitler Youth). This leads me to wonder if Putin's apparent decision to personally cede the presidency will dilute the fervor of some supporters, or if the core values of these extremist youths will lead them to simply transfer their adoration from one leader to the next. In any case, it's an unsettling development in Russia's turbulent political history.

Interview with Anna Leonenko.

Interview with Anna Leonenko.

NG: Where were you born?
AL: "Новосибирск, Россия."

NG: When did you move to Canada?
AL: "When I was 11 in '97 or '98."

NG: Were you upset when your parents told you?
AL: "Well, they told me we were going on vacation so I was excited. (Laughs) But, then we never came back."

NG: What would you say is the hardest thing about moving to a new country?
AL: "Definitely different culture, people were really different. Food was obviously and learning a new language. First English then French."

NG: What do you think the hardest thing was for your parents?
AL: "Getting a job and getting used to a new language."

NG: Where would you prefer to live now?
Al: "I like Russia a lot but it's so different. I don't think I would live there. I would love to visit though."

NG: Would your parents ever move back?
AL: "They had established themselves in Russia and had to start all over in a new place. I don't think they would want to do that again."

NG: Where do you think is better?
AL: "I don't think one is better, just different, it depends where you're at. Ups and Downs to both. Better in a way (Canada) because there are more opportunities, better home and it's a lot safer but the people are nothing like in Russia."

NG: How are they different?
AL: "The way they think. I can't relate to a lot of Canadian/American people. Not that they aren't nice but just different backgrounds."

NG: What kind of traditions do you uphold in your family?
AL: "We celebrate New Years not Christmas and Russian Christmas is January 7th."

NG: Do you not celebrate Christmas at all?
AL: "Well like now we get together with our family and all that stuff, but that's how it works in Russia."

NG: What do you in Russia?
AL: "In Russia people celebrate New Years the same way people celebrate Christmas here (America)."
NG: Ohh...Okay.

NG: Do you have special dinners with Russian food for New Years?
AL:"Ya, there's tons and they all have crazy names. There's this like meat potato salad that's popular, then theres pelmeni... umm we have lots of different salads. Then we have these cabbage roll things that are really good."

NG: Overall, do you think your russian background has influenced you more or do you feel like you have settled into your new culture?
AL: "Well my background I'm always going to have but I've adapted to it but I still hold like my ways of thinking and all that stuff that I think I have inherited from there. So like now i feel like I've got both."

I have been friends with Anna for a year now and considering she has been in Canada and America half her life I figured she would be completely adjusted to her new home. It shows what a strong impact a country's culture makes. It reveals how influential the Russian tradition is on its citizens. Anna hasn't returned to Russia since she has moved but hopes to return one day when she is older. I have only been to a few other countries in the world and I can't imagine picking up all my things and moving to a new one, especially Russia where it's culture differs so much from America. Even though Anna and I are really close, it's interesting to hear how she thinks and feels about her heritage. It gives me a better understanding of her and future friends from different backgrounds and lifestyles.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Murder a la Russe...

A colleague from another department sent me a note:
Did you see the news about a Russian serial killer? I just read an article on ( and was caught up short with the realization that Russia has them, too. It’s weird that I have only heard of serial killers here in the U.S., so the idea of a serial killer in another country is rather surprising. This is just another reminder for me how small my world still is in many respects.
Read the article. Very interesting. I wrote back:

Hmmm…while the pschopathology of mass murder may, indeed, be international, there are some particularly Russian things about Mr. Pichushkin:

1) The chess board. Leave it to a Russian to mark his murders on a chessboard.

2) Vodka. Would it work in America? “Come with me to a dark, murder-plagued park on the outskirts of town and drink to the memory of my small dog, until you pass out and I bash your head to such a point that I can insert a bottle of said vodka into your skull.” I have to say, only a Russian would fall for the lure of tragicomedy and vodka. In a park.

3) Do we have sewage pits in America?

Sphinx in Russia and Random facts you would NEVER need to know

Sphinx in Russia?
random fact: in 1820 Russia bought a couple sphinx from Egypt to decorate the shores of the Neva River in St. Petersburg. funny fact: if u go to Russia and go to the Sphinx in the winter you will be able to see a sphinx covered in snow. Now that doesn't happen in Egypt!
i would elaborate but i couldn't find more informations

Random Russian Facts you would never need nor ask to know
Russian card decks have only 36 cards
-russia is the leading producer of Asbestos
-Russians celebrate Christmas 2 times a year on Dec. 25 and Jan 7
- during the reign of Peter the Great, any Russian nobleman who chose to wear a beard had to pay a tax for it
-and finally the Russian Revolution began as a protest march on International Women's day

Another note from Samantha Lange...

Hi Susan!
Thanks so much for sending that contact to us.
You were right... I am LOVING Moscow! I miss you and the Stetson Russian Club gang, of course, but am looking forward to getting to the point when I will actually be able to carry on a conversation in Russian with you when I get back =) Today was actually the first meeting of a Russian/English speaking club for students. A pretty nice sized group of us spent half an hour speaking only Russian and the other half speaking English... it was a lot of fun and we will be meeting frequently. It was nice to finally meet some Russian students as we Americans are kind of isolated in the GRINT building.
Sorry I took so long to write.
I am staying with a nice older woman in новогереево and have a very nice professor.
We have an excursion to a museum and a honey fair tomorrow and last night we saw a military band concert at the Red Square. Everything is just so exciting!
I will certainly keep in touch throughout the semester.
I hope all is well!

I Wash My Dishes With Barf!

I love funny foreign commercials, especially videos like these: if you want to get your dishes sparkling clean all you need to do is use some Barf Dish Soap! Apparently this product originated in Iran where "barf" means "snow", so I guess that makes sense....kind of....sort of...(not really)....I just want to know why the name of the soap is written in English on the front; someone must have known what it meant!

I'll post something worthwhile later =)

Thursday, September 13, 2007


The theremin (pretty much my favorite instrument ever that I can't play AT ALL) was invented by Russian scientist and cellist Leon Theremin (or Лев Сергеевич Термен) in 1919. It was the product of Russian government-sponsored research into proximity sensors. Because of his invention, Theremin is considered by many to be the father of electronic music.

Apparently Vladimir Lenin had a fascination with the instrument, and after a demonstration by Theremin himself decided not only to take lessons, but to distribute the instruments throughout the Soviet Union and send Theremin on a world tour showcasing the latest in Soviet technology.

In the early 20's Theremin ended up in the United States to promote his invention and after spending several years in the states training musicians and spying for the Soviets, he vanished. It's reported that he was forcibly taken back to the Soviet Union to work for the KGB on secret government operations in a шарашка, a Soviet labor camp for research and development. He wasn't seen for about 50 years and was considered to be dead by everyone back in the US. During this time he invented the first covert listening device, or "bug" as we know it. His device was put into a wooden plaque of the Great Seal of the United States and given as a "gesture of friendship" to the US ambassador in 1945. It hung in his office until 1952 when a British radio operator finally stumbled upon its frequency.

Somewhere along the line (before he got kidnapped) Leon Theremin met Clara Rockmore (or Clara Reisenberg). Rockmore was born in Lithuania, but studied violin at age 5 at the Imperal conservatory of Saint Petersburg. She's arguably considered the greatest ever virtuosa of the theremin.

Some time after Theremin was kidnapped, Rockmore actually went back home with her husband, who wanted to see where she grew up. When they got off of the train, her husband met a scientist and asked him if he knew Theremin. Surprisingly enough, he ate lunch with Theremin earlier that day (which would have been a real shock to someone who thought he was dead) and took Rockmore to meet with him. They met up in a subway station so no one could really listen in on their conversation.

Now, if you know anything about playing this instrument, you know that making it sound like music, or really anything but an alien sneezing, is ridiculously difficult. What's funny is that the instrument was originally marketed by RCA as easy to play. Liars.... I mean really. You'd have to be locked inside a room for months (possibly because it's freezing cold outside and you have nothing else to do?) practicing this thing to work up to Clara Rockmore status. That's my theory. =)

Here's a picture Theremin playing his instrument:

The vertical stick controls pitch. The closer you get to it, the higher the pitch. The loop on the side controls volume. The closer you get to it, the softer it becomes. You don't actually touch the instrument, but rather play the magnetic fields around it. It's a pretty cool concept. Leon Theremin heard this sound come out of a radio one day, decided to figure out what made it, and ended up building an instrument. He uses a process called heterodyning to get the sound. There are two coils inside that create magnetic fields. The difference between the two algorithms is the pitch you hear. The inside of Theremin's first instruments is artfully simple which is something you don't really see anymore in modern technology.

Now, I'll save your ears from hating you by NOT posting an audio clip of my wonderful theremin playing (you and any dog within earshot would run for cover, which is why no such clip exists). BUT! Here's a bit of Clara playing a piece by Rachmaninoff.

If you search for "theremin" on YouTube there are plenty of clips of great (and not so great) theremin playing, but if you really want to learn more about the instrument and its inventor, there's a DVD in the library (which I'm holding hostage at the moment) called Theremin - An Electronic Odyssey. You should definitely check it out!

Tolstoy meets the Young Indiana Jones...

I'm featured as one of the main talking heads in two of the documentaries mentioned in the press release below (the one on Russian Literature and the one on Tolstoy). They were filmed by Lucas Films as additional materials for the DVD version of The Young Indiana Jones. I'd forgotten about them (they were filmed two years ago) until I got advance copies in the mail. The project is pretty cool -- scores of new documentaries on various topics, all with very high production values.

I'm too vain to watch -- so vain, I can't stand to see myself. (There's a paradox there somewhere.) Anyway, maybe the Russian Club will screen them this semester. I'm told I come off well, but I doubt it.

Read the whole press release here.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.The Emmy®-award winning series
makes its long-awaited DVD debut on Oct. 23 with an unprecedented array of all-new bonus materials, which allow viewers to dig deeper into the real-life events behind young Indy’s globe-trotting coming-of-age.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the people and events of history,” said
George Lucas, creator of the series that ran on network television from 1992 to 1994. “Young Indiana Jones gave me the chance to explore issues and ideas that had so much to do with the emergence of the modern age we live in today.”

THE ADVENTURES OF YOUNG INDIANA JONES Volume One is the first of three collections of the series and is released by Lucasfilm Ltd., CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment. The first 12-disc set includes seven feature-length episodes as well as 38 in-depth companion documentaries, an historical overview, an interactive game and an interactive timeline.

Make a Baby, Win a Car

My roommate just showed this to me. I was planning on putting my real post up, which I will this weekend, but this is too crazy NOT to post!

Much better than getting pins for good work, eh?

More on Posting Sound Files

Well, Caity & I spent some time trying to post her Tchaikovsky piece. In the end, we couldn't get the Odeo plugin to work, so we simply posted the file to her her Microsoft Sky Drive and included a link. Not as cool & elegant (download files is so 2002), maybe, as an integrated player, but a lot easier.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Breaking News!

My grandmother called this evening to inform me that Putin was forced out of office today. In fact, the Prime Minister turned in his resignation. While the reality of this situation is not nearly as exciting as a coup to remove Russia's extremely popular leader, I thought you guys might want to check out this article.
It discusses the situation and addresses the speculation as to what this move might mean for the upcoming election and, consequently, the future of Russia.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Embedding audio files into blogger...

It's maybe not the easiest thing to do in the world, but you can embed audio files into Blogger. Here's what you need to do:
  1. First, get your MP3 file ready (using Audacity, for instance). Put it somewhere easy to find, like on your desktop.
  2. Start a blog entry, and copy this bit of code into it:

  3. Now, you'll need to find a place to host your sound file. There are tons of options out there, but two are user-friendly and trustworthy: Google Pages or Microsoft Sky Drive. Both are free, both offer lots of server space, and both are easy to sign up for. It took me, maybe, 30 seconds. (If you use Sky Drive, make sure to put files that you want to make available on the blog in the "Public" folder. The Google Pages -- Site Manager, right-hand side, "upload stuff.")
  4. Upload the file, following the directions provided on either site. It's just like attaching a file to an email.
  5. Locate the file on the server (on Sky Drive or Google Pages). Right-click with your mouse, and copy the http address of the actual file ("copy link location"). This part is tricky: make sure that you are copying the address that launches the file (either as a download or in a player, depending on how your browser's configured). You don't want the page that contains the file -- you want the file itself.
  6. You now have the address to the sound file in your computer's paste memory. Go back to the blog entry you've started, and in the code that you pasted a second ago, find the part where it says [MP3 file address]. Replace that phrase with the location of your file (paste it into the code). (Get rid of the brackets around that phrase, too.)
  7. What you'll get is a simple, no-frills player. Push the button, and play!

Not Just a Sugar Plum Fairy

So, really, what would a Russian Studies blog be without the inevitable post on Russia's signature composer, Tchaikovsky? Somebody has to do it - enter yours truly.
First of all, let me assure everyone that there is much more to Tchaikovsky than The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, two ballets which have been so overplayed as to make one ill. The Seasons, for example, are a series of twelve lovely miniatures intended for the amateur (a.k.a. myself). They were created on commission to be published, one each month, in the St. Petersburg music magazine, Nouvelist. These pieces aren't much compared to Tchaikovsky's other, grander works. In fact, the composer himself referred to the task as "baking musical pancakes," but he welcomed it as a supplement to his salary as a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory.
The pieces are short and simple in form, but they succeed in capturing the romanticism of each season. October, my personal favorite, is, I think you'll agree, unmistakable Russian (as far as stereotype goes, at least). Sad, dreary, cold...but at the same time hauntingly beautiful. Not many pieces are able to evoke such a clear image in my mind, in this case of a hard country amidst a dying year.
Octobre: Chant d'automne is preceded, not by a vowel that induces softness in the preceding consonant, but by a short epigraph in the Russian edition:

Autumn, falling down on our poor orchid,
the yellow leaves are flying in the wind.
~A. Tolstoy

I'm no music major, so go easy on me ;).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Все счастливы

I think Jason Rickner from Second-Year Russian is going to post on this article from today's New York Times about the Russian version of Married... with Children. It's currently the most popular show in Russia with the "money demographic." Like its American progenitor, Счастливы вместе (Happy Together) is pretty obnoxious and stupid. But I thought that particularly the first-year students would find funny this following scene. Sveta, the leggy blond, is Russia's Kelly Bundy. (She is not NEARLY as attractive as the 'real' Kelly Bundy!) The clip starts off with Sveta trying to spell the word мяч (ball). Сема (the little kid) has to help her figure out the final letter (ч), and finally has to do it himself. (Part of the humor here is the way she says the letters -- "миэ" instead of "эм"...) She responds something like "why didn't you say it was the upside-down chair! (перевернутый стулчик)." Her accent is really think -- sort of uneducated Valley girl.

It's really not that funny, no matter what the laugh track tells us...


Read up on Tiffany's Russian adventures (see link on the sidebar here -->). She's having a blast in Moscow.

Cutty Sark...

So, it's not often that you discuss Burns' poetry, the history of clippers, scotch, sable fur coats, Indo-European roots, and the etymology of the word forty (сорок) -- all in five minutes! If you were wondering, here are some of the elements that went into my whirlwind etymology of the word сорок...

First, what's a sable (соболь)?
What does a forty-sable-fur coat look like?
Poor sables!

Now, what's a "cutty sark"? From Burns' "Tam O' Shanter"

There was ae winsome wench and waulie
That night enlisted in the core,
Lang after ken'd on Carrick shore;
(For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perish'd mony a bonie boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
And kept the country-side in fear);
Her cutty sark, o' Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,

In longitude tho' sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.

"Cuty sark" here means basically a short chemise or top... That's all she's got on -- the chemise from when she was a "lassie." It's the best she has, but in "longitude" it's become "sorely scanty"... Vauntie witch, indeed! (Burns' "English" is wonderful, no?)

Then they named a ship (the last tea clipper!) in this young witch's honor:
And a scotch whiskey after the ship (see the clipper!)...
So, now, when you need to remember what FORTY is in Russian (сорок), just think of good ol' Tom stumbling on a wicca ceremony where a scantily clad witch, drunk on Scottish whiskey (blech!), dances in her sexy sark... made from Russian sable coats (ok, I made that up), which come conveniently packaged in sets of сорок, forty... and arrived at Scotland on a clipper...

See? Easy.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Technology in the language classroom

Two things of use:

1) Audacity can be downloaded HERE. You’ll find on this page a number of links and tutorials that will teach you the basics & beyond. The ability to record yourself & others, while not absolutely crucial, is a great instrument for advancing your abilities in a foreign language.

2) If you want to type in the Russian alphabet, I recommend installing this small utility is the best thing I’ve found. On that page, you’ll get a rundown on installing the keyboard file. Easy-peasy (or, as the Russians say: как дважды два – четыре. “Like twice two is four”).

A quick note from Samantha Lange...

I don't think Samantha will mind my sharing this quick note I got from her. She's on a semester-long study program through Stetson at Московский гуманитарный университет (МосГу), the Moscow University of the Humanities. Samantha is in Moscow after just a year of Russian language.
Hello Dr. Denner,
I only have a minute, but I have been meaning to email you all week... Thank you sooo much for helping me take advantage of this amazing opportunity. As you know, leading up to this semester I was nervous, apprehensive, etc... but from the very first class, I realized how AWESOME it is that I am actually here, living and learning in this foreign environment. My host mom is very nice. She does not speak a word of English, so communicating is interesting to say the least. I am still in awe of everything and wonder how long that will last. I just wanted to thank you for how well you prepared me for this experience. All the little stories and antecdotes you shared with us about Russia and the Russian people have helped me these past few days in trying to understand the transportation system, dress, food, and everyday life... oh my time is up... bye for now!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Russian Meal

Hello All!

Last weekend, I made my first attempt at a Russian meal and decided to post some pictures. I started out with a салат (salad) made with potatoes, beets, saurkraut, apples, and oil. The beets scared me at first, but it actually was quite good. Next came борщ (borscht) which was awesome! However, it seemed to has syphoned out all of my minimal cooking skills because my homemade пирожки (meat pies) were bland, despite the two hours it took for me to make the dough. You win some, you loose some I guess. Thus, with the score 2-1, I needed one more spectacular failure to even out the odds. Fortunately, the блины (bliny) were obliging and still remain sitting untouched on my table. It scares me (what's left of it anways, most went up in flames on my gas stove). However, I hear that Dr. Denner's is very good, so I'll reserve judgement until I taste some of his. All in all, it was great fun, even if I did have to order pizza. Hope you all enjoy the pictures!

Starbucks Opens First Coffee Shop In Russia - New York Times

Starbucks Opens First Coffee Shop In Russia - New York Times: "KHIMKI, Russia (Reuters) - Starbucks opened its first coffee shop in Russia on Thursday, two years after it won a legal battle to protect the right to its brand in the fast-growing Russian market. 'This is an important step for the company, and we are looking forward to being a part of every day life for Russians,' said Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks Europe, Middle East and Africa, as he opened the cafe. The newest Starbucks in the worldwide chain of around 10,000 outlets is in the Mega shopping mall in Khimki, just north of Moscow."

Moscow has a couple of coffee shop chains (Кофе Хауз and Шоколадница are the two most popular). Their food and coffee are pretty good, and are a bit cheaper than you'd find here in the U.S. -- a couple of bucks for a large cup of coffee. (That price, though, is very expensive for the average Russian). Unlike American cafes, you can buy beer and vodka and smoke. When I was in Moscow in August, I was asked for the first time whether I wanted to sit in the "курящий" (smoking) section. It was weird culture shock, to be asked a prototypical and purely American question in Russia. (The use of the word курящий in this context is, moreover, hardly Russian -- it should be "для курящих", but this is another great example of American English affecting Russian lexicon.)
When these shops started to open five years ago, they were a godsend, since they provided clean semi-public bathrooms in a city where they had been a rarity. (The same was true in New York City when Starbucks started its push there in the early-1990s.)

I have nothing against coffee, but these Russian chains and Starbucks run counter to the long tradition of tea drinking in Russia. When I lived in Moscow and St Petersburg in the early 1990s, it was nigh impossible to find coffee anywhere, because Russians just did not drink much. Instead, a couple of times a day, all the work in the office or school stopped: the electric kettle was brought out from the closet, a pot of tea was made, and pastries and rusks were pulled from their hiding places in handbags and briefcases. Everyone gathered around a table for a break.

I should note, though, that at that time Russians considered Lipton tea to be "luxury tea." Blech. I think Lipton tastes like dirt swept off a factory floor.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Want $4000 dollars? Study Russian @ Stetson!

Russian is a "critical needs" language and students who major in Russian Studies at Stetson are eligible, during their third and fourth years, for a $4000/year grant from the federal government, called a SMART grant.

SMART stands for "Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent," but last year they expanded the definition to include certain majors in high-needs foreign languages, like Russian. Russian is the only language that you can major in at Stetson that qualifies for this grant! Our students have already received the grant, and though there have been the predictable snafus associated with a new governmental program, they report that grants are easy to apply for and that, yes, they really get $4000 applied to their tuition...

To qualify, students must meet all of the qualifications:

  • Students must apply for financial aid each academic year by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Students must be eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant, as determined by Purchase College’s Financial Aid Office.
  • Students must be U.S. Citizens.
  • Students must be enrolled fulltime each semester, which the federal government has determined to be 12 credits or more each semester.
  • Students must be in their third or fourth academic year of a four-year degree program. In other words, student must have earned between 60 and 120 credits.
  • Students must be pursuing a major in mathematics, science (including physical, life, and computer sciences), technology, engineering, or a critical foreign language, such as Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Russian.
  • Students must maintain a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 each semester.

Come, talk to me about majoring in Russian Studies! It's a great major to combine with other majors -- we've recently graduated students with double-majors in Russian Studies & English, Russian Studies & History, Russian Studies & Political Science, Russian Studies & International Studies, and International Business and Russian Studies... But I'd love to work with you on creating a double-major in other fields, like Environmental Science, Psychology, Education, Sociology... You name it.