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

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Russian Culture through Film...

I'm teaching one of my favorite non-language courses in the spring -- Russian Culture through Film (RS390). It fulfills the "Fine Arts" requirement in the College. You'll learn a LOT about film making (we make zoetropes and pinhole cameras and we'll try to do a camera obsura). We'll read tons of film criticism... and of course, watch a lot of Russian movies.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Durak tournament this Thursday!

Join us @ the Russian Studies Center. 6pm, this Thursday.
Pizza and PRIZES!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Putin shreds Bush

hey guys this video goes with my blurb down below... for some reason it did not post and there is a question mark there... but enjoy! Hopefully this works!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Походите на Путина!

This is kind of old news, but I don't think any Russian Studies blog would be complete without a discussion of it: back in August, Putin made international headlines not with an intimidating speech or military maneuver, but with a series of pictures from a recent outdoor excursion. These pictures, in most of which he was shirtless, caused a sensation in Russia and provoked a myriad of reactions in the West.

Reactions to the photos in Russia were generally positive and, in my view, quite overly enthusiastic. While Putin's incredibly muscular physique and sculpted abs are very impressive for a head of state in his fifties (George W Bush is a mere six years older and is considered one of our most physically fit presidents, but I doubt anyone would be impressed with shirtless pictures of him), many Russians used his hot bod as a symbol of Russia's strength and national vitality. The popular tabloid Комсомольская правда featured the images on its front page with the caption "Походите на Путина" (Be Like/Look Like Putin), and included a diet and exercise regimen to help all proud Russians build their torsos like their president's. Russian women and men alike immediately voiced their attraction to their half-naked leader; some of the latter went so far as to suggest that Putin released the photos to show his solidarity and support for the beleaguered Russian gay community.

In North America and Western Europe, which have recently faced Putin's figurative muscle-flexing in the form of claiming Arctic territory and reviving Cold War-era bomber runs, experts mostly looked at the photo release with a mixture of perplexity and bemusement. Some claimed that the Russian president, who is constitutionally mandated to step down from the post next year, put out the pictures to assert his continued political strength and express his intention to hold on to power. This opinion seemed to be proven false the following month, when Putin named Victor Zubkov as the new Prime Minister (and presumably, his choice for a successor); however, Putin went on to reveal that he was seeking to restructure the nature of the Russian government to siphon power away from the Presidency and into the Prime Minister's office, which he plans to run for next year. So, one can clearly see that Putin plans to grasp the reins of the Russian government as long as his ripped biceps will let him.

Despite all the discussion, Putin himself says he simply thought it would be nice to show people that he likes to relax like anyone else, and just wanted to let them know how he "проводит свободное време" (spends free time). I will say that, given the option, I'd prefer my head of state to be able to take down anyone else's with a sweeping judo hip throw (Putin's got a black belt) and noogie rival leaders into submission.

Пусть бегут неуклюже

The song we sing in class to celebrate someone's birthday (С днём рождения тебя!/Happy Birthday to You!) is NOT the "authentic" Russian song, though nowadays it's sung very frequently. Here's the "real" birthday song, which is from the animated series and children's book, Чебурашка (Cheburashka -- something like "tumbly bumbly"). The song here is sung by Гена the crocodile, one of Cheburaska's friends:

Пусть бегут неуклюже
Пешеходы по лужам,
А вода — по асфальту рекой.
И неясно прохожим
В этот день непогожий,
Почему я веселый такой.

(Rough translation: Let the clumsy pedestrians run among the puddles. and let the water go across the asphalt like a river. And it's unclear to the passersby on this foul-weather day, why I am so happy.)

Я играю на гармошке
У прохожих на виду…
К сожаленью, день рожденья
Только раз в году.

(Chorus: I am playing on an accordion in plain view of the passersby. Too bad birthdays only happen once a year.)

Прилетит вдруг волшебник
В голубом вертолете
И бесплатно покажет кино.
С днем рожденья поздравит
И, наверно, оставит
Мне в подарок пятьсот «эскимо».

(A wizard will probably arrive suddenly in a light-blue helicopter and show a film for free. He'll congratulate me on my birthday and will, probably, give me a present of 500 Eskimos.*)

(Ескимо here refers to a kind of ice cream... on a stick.)

Many thanks to Inna Campbell for the link!

Monday, October 8, 2007

It worked ok here is part 2, I highly recommend watching the whole thing as it is really interesting.

Как сказать "mutherload" по-русски?

Forget Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13…if George Clooney wants to make a movie where he pulls off a REALLY impressive heist, he should fly his posse to Moscow.

Cos that’s where the Kremlin Armory (Оружейная палата) is. It’s one of the oldest museums in Moscow and it contains some of the most intricate, infamous, beautiful, and bling-bling types of treasures I’ve ever heard of.
The Kremlin Armory originated as the royal arsenal (a place where you can construct, repair, store, and issue weapons and ammunition) in 1508. The very finest Muscovite jewelers, painters, and gunsmiths used to work there, and then in 1700 the Armory became host to the treasures of the Gold and Silver chambers of the Russian Tsars. When Peter the Great took over, he had all the master craftsmen moved to St Petersburg, and 15 years afterwards the Moscow Armory merged with the Fiscal Yard (the oldest depository of royal treasures), the Stables Treasury, and the Master Chamber. It then became known as the “Arms and Master Chamber.”
In 1806, Александр I Павлович (Alexander I of Russia), nominated the Armory as the first public Museum in Moscow, although it was not open to the public for another 7 years.
The Armory building that now stands was designed and built by Константин Андреевич Тон (Konstantin Andreyevich Thon)…(you may recognize his name…he was kind of a big deal. Some of his other works include the Grand Kremlin Palace and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour).

After the Bolshevik Revolution (also known as the October Revolution---kind of a big event) the Amory became home to even more treasures; from cathedrals, monasteries, and private collections. The Armory became the official museum of the Kremlin in 1960…and considering what it has within it, it’s a wonder it took that long.
(This post was meant to be about the Шапка Мономаха, but once I started reading up on it I got distracted by all the other cool stuff…)

Not only does Monomakh’s cap reside there (an impressive piece, a gold filigree skullcap trimmed with sable, adorned with precious stones and pearls), but the Kremlin Armory is also home to much more; The Imperial Crown of Russia (a nine-pound beast adorned with around 5000 diamonds)… The Russian Diamond Fund… the Orlov Diamond (a gift given to Catherine the Great in an attempt to win her heart…it didn’t work) The Ivory throne of Ivan the Terrible… and the largest collection of Faberge Eggs in the world. And much more.

Ok, quick deviation so I can rant about Faberge eggs. Obviously, I knew they were special. Almost everyone has heard of them, and knows that they are intricately worked, expensive, and beautiful things.

Well, I had no idea just how incredible they are…

Faberge was first commissioned in 1885 by Alexander III of Russia to construct an egg as an Easter surprise for his wife. She was so thrilled with the gift that Faberge was commissioned as “Court Supplier,” and made a new Easter gift each year from there on. It became a sort of royal family tradition. Faberge’s eggs became more and more intricate, and soon the preparation process for each egg took a full year.
Here’s just one example…The Coronation Egg, given to Tsarina Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna.

“The egg is made from gold, enamelled translucent lime yellow on a guilloché field of starbursts, referencing the cloth-of-gold robe worn by the Tsarina at her Coronation.
It is trellised with bands of greenish gold laurel leaves mounted at each intersection by a gold Imperial double-headed eagle enamelled opaque black, and set with a rose diamond on its chest. This pattern was also drawn from the Coronation robe worn by the Empress.
A large portrait diamond is set in the top of the egg within a cluster of ten brilliant diamonds; through the table of this stone, the monogram of the Empress can be seen. A smaller portrait diamond is set within a cluster of rose diamonds at the end of the egg, beneath which the date 1897 is inscribed on a similar plaque. The egg was presented, together with a glass-enclosed jadeite stand for the display of the Carriage, at a cost of 5650 rubles.
Fitted inside a velvet-lined compartment is a precise replica, less than four inches long of the Eighteenth-century Imperial coach that carried the Tsarina Alexandra to her coronation at Moscow's Uspensky Cathedral.
The red colour of the original coach was recreated using strawberry coloured translucent enamel and the blue upholstery of the interior was also reproduced in enamels. The coach is surmounted by the Imperial Crown in rose diamonds and six double-headed eagles on the roof; it is fitted with engraved rock crystal windows and platinum tyres, and is decorated with a diamond-set trellis in gold and an Imperial eagle in diamonds at either door. Complete with moving wheels, opening doors, actual C-spring shocks, and a tiny folding step-stair.
Missing surprises include an emerald or diamond pendant that hung inside the replica coach, a glass-enclosed jadeite stand for the display of the carriage as well as a stand made of silver-gilt wire."

Wow. Now, this was probably a bad example to give in this particular blog, seeing as this Faberge egg is not housed in the Kremlin Armory. It is actually privately owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. But I chose it as an example of Faberge's intricate genius because you may recognize it from the movie Ocean’s 12. Danny Ocean and his friends steal it (Obviously they didn’t use the real egg when filming the movie, they had a replica made.) That replica cost $4,000.

Goodness me, that’s one heck of a prop wouldn’t you say?

But the real egg? Well, Sotheby’s never publicly disclosed the actual selling price of the Coronation Egg…but it was estimated at twenty four million dollars.

And to think that all I ever get for Easter is a chocolate bunny…

Is it Safe to Say? No, it isn't...

The trend in Russian politics towards absolutism again might be relatively easy to see, but something that doesn't make its way too far out of Moscow (and for good reason) is the strange deaths of several individuals critical of the government. Some ex-officials and many journalists reporting from Russia or investigatingng the Russian government have died under questionable circumstances, their murders either never solved or never even investigated seriously by law enforcement agencies. Though we can't draw any kind of definitive conclusions from the evidence, the disproportionately high amount of fatalities of dissident writers and journalists - especially in a modernized nation not involved in an international war - makes for interesting conversation, at least.

One of the most prominent cases is the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former government official involved with domestic security. After leaving his post, he became an active critic of the Putin administration - exposing secret information he was privy to during his time as a chief official in the government, which seemed to implicate government involvement in a number of 'less than honorable' dealings, including the assassination of a prominent businessman and the use of bombings to legitimatize the use of force in Chechnya. A political refugee living in the United Kingdom, Litvinenko fell seriously ill after meeting with a former KGB agent. Litvinenko died of his mysterious illness shortly after, which was later discovered to be a case of polonium poisoning - a highly unusual way of dying (polonium, especially the isotope that killed Litvinenko, is both rare and extremely radioactive, and no cases of acute
Polonium poisoning have ever been recorded in either the US or the UK, where Litvinenko died.) In addition, the primary source of polonium-210 - across the entire world - is Russian nuclear reactors. This highly mysterious case remains unsolved, though the UK has a prime suspect - the ex-KGB agent Litvinenko met with earlier the day he fell ill. Officials in the UK have tried - and failed - to have the suspect extradited from Russia (Russian authorities claim
extradition is illegal under the Russian constitution.)

Russia is feared by journalists in the international community, for good reason - 47 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992, with 17 dying since 2000. The Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that 'at least 13 [of the murders] bear the marks of contracted hits', indicating serious foul play. The most visible journalist critical of Russia to die of late is most certainly Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in October of 2006 in her apartment building in Moscow. Celebrated for her work towards human rights and her reports from wartorn Chechnya, Politkovskaya's death provoked international outrage and a call to find who was behind the murder. Litvinenko openly claimed Putin's administration was responsible (a month later, he was dead of polonium poisoning). Though investigation has been ongoing in the case, no suspects have been prosecuted and the crime remains, currently, unsolved.

The list of prominent journalists murdered, with little to no investigation following, is a long one, one that provokes a question- why so many, and in Russia? Why is there so little interest among
Russian officials to solve these murders? Though there are many questions, there are no real answers. Putin himself dismisses claims that his administration is responsible for the murders, claiming it would be much more damaging to kill a journalist than to allow them to continue to write their dissident pieces.

2014 Winter Olympics in Russia

The Olympics Games can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Every four years, the event marks an important tradition between existing countries of the world. Not only is it a competition of each country’s most elite and talented athletes, but it also promotes global peace between countries- something definitely important in society today.
It was announced that the 2014 Winter Games will be held in Sochi, Russia, an area on the coast of the Black Sea. Most citizens would feel honored to have their hometown be the host of an Olympic Games event; however, the people who live in the Imeretinsky Lowlands are less enthused. And rightfully so, considering they are being told that they must leave the houses where they grew up because their homes happen to be in the way for construction of ice rinks for the Olympic Games. “Basically everyone knows that their houses are going to be knocked down. It's just a question of time,” says Dmitri Kaptsov.
These 5,000 people are not the only ones who will have to give up the life they built. The lowlands happen to be home to many rare plants, and offer a resting stop for migratory birds. How is this legal? Unfortunately, residents of this area have no laws to protect them, and environmentalists have even less luck trying to protect the plants and animals.
Despite not having any documents or laws to back them up, some residents, who have history going back to the 1600’s in this area, are refusing to leave. “Lyuba Fursova, 45, is a member of an Old V Believer family that has farmed former swamps in the Imeretinsky Lowlands for three generations. They have a cemetery here, an Old Believer priest comes to visit on feast days.”
The Olympics strive to promote peace between all nations of the world; however, should individual citizens have to sacrifice their home, ancestry, and traditions for the construction of skating rinks? Surely, there has to be another place in Russia that could host this event, without having to kick 5,000 people out of their homes and kill important flora and fauna of the area.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Nu, Pogodi!

Nu, Pogodi (meaning Just You Wait in Russian) was a very popular cartoon series in the Soviet Union from 1969 to 1986 and is still popular in Russia. It is superficially a cartoon very similar to "Tom and Jerry" in America, with the wolf (voiced by Anatoli Papanov) trying every episode to catch the hare. Each attempt he makes fails and ends up with him yelling "Nu, Pogodi!" However, the cartoon could also be seen as a social satire, where shows like "Tom and Jerry" and the Road Runner shows were just nonsense. The Wolf, who chain-smokes and drinks beer, would be a proletarian (working class), while the innocent and enthusiastic Hare would be a proper Soviet youth. Alexei Kotyonochkin, the son of the director of the show, says that such claims are groundless.

Here's the first episode of "Nu, Pogodi!:"

Gas-powered boots

I stumbled upon a slide show on the New York Times website: (here)

It has several pictures of a Russian-developed gas-powered boot. I thought it was interesting, because, as the captions point out, Russia is usually thought of as being technologically advanced and research based, but you don't see the kind of commercial success that you seen from Japanese/German/Korean (etc.) technology and manufacturing.

Apparently, "Like the gas-powered boots themselves, Russian scientists still are trying to gain traction in the capitalist world."

But hey, the boots get 70 miles per gallon.

Russian Mafia video part 2

The second part of the video

Putin Shreds Bush

Is the United States coming off as a pushy country? I think that President Bush had a little "America's way or the high way" sort of attitude and arrogance. I think is paradox to what America was founded on - diversity. Democracy is great and it sure has done a great deal for the United States, but what works for one country may not work for another, and I think Americans need to realize this. This may sound cliché but nothing is perfect, America and Russia both have their flaws. Additionally if you take a look at Putin’s approval ratings (about 80%) by the Russian people they are significantly higher than that of Presidents Bush’s approval ratings( about 32%) by Americans. Clearly Putin is doing something right for Russia.

I found this interesting considering what is happening with Russian politics today. Putin has just been named head of the major political party in Russia and could become the next Prime Minister. The question remains will he go for another two terms as president? Currently the Russian Constitution says that a President can only sever a limit of two consecutive terms. Putin's two consecutive terms are ending soon. It should be interesting to see what happens, will Putin play a behind the scenes role in Russian politics or will he take a short break and then go for another two presidential terms? Putin’s approval rating President Bush’s approval rating

Russian Mafia

I found this cool video detaling the history and practices of the Russian Mafia and since I couldn't upload it all at once or decide on the best part, here it is in pieces.

Megan's Blog

Myths and Truths about Russia!

Myth: RUSSIA IS FULL OF MAFIA AND IT'S DANGEROUS HERE!Truth: Really, many people think that Russia is some place filled with Mafia and it's so dangerous to come here. Well, there is Mafia, but the wild west nineties are left in the 20th century. Nowadays it's like any place in the world and Russia is not more dangerous than anywhere else. If you know where to stay, keep away from the "bad" places, do your normal traveler's things and practice your normal traveler's safety, you'll be okay. You can only have contact with criminals when you're into something illegal, like buying or selling drugs, or are really looking for trouble. Really, think about it: why would anybody have problems because of you? The Mafiosi spend all their time making business, the gangs spend all their time dealing with each other, so you certainly will not experience any of that. Also there's so much police on the streets of Moscow it seems like the safest place in the world.

Myth: THE ECONOMY IS DESTRUCTED AND RUSSIA IS A POOR COUNTRY WITH NO FUTURE :-(Truth: Well, it's not quite true, though many people think so and they have their reasons. The economy is rising now, becoming more and more independent and stable, but unfortunately there's a temptation to do it at the cost of heavy industries (like oil & gas, resources etc.) which turns Russia into a country, that sells resources only. At the same time Russia tries to keep up with the latest technological advances, and to improve the side of the economy that workes especially for people. It can be seen: I traveled around Europe a lot and to my mind the quality of services in Russia is among the best. Almost all shops are opened 24 hours here, there are currency exchanges on every step (even in smaller towns), cell phone providers offer much more attractive and less expensive deals. Russia is becoming very capitalist and consumer-friendly.Also, the government is starting to understand that it's there not to suck money, but to help people and the country, but there's a high level of corrution and a high dumb-head factor still. At the same time the increasing gap between poor and rich people intensifies social tension in society; there are broken down towns and villages (with dead industries); there are lost people not required in the new system and having nothing to do - therefore drunkenness, narcotics and crimes; low paid old people are really just trying to survive; low salaries in state-employment result in bribes to customs, police...The good side is that there are more and more people who adapt to the new system, and who understand that they depend not on the government (like in old Soviet times), but on themselves now, and what can be seen and felt now is that the people are changing, their attitude is changing, they understand that only by acting themselves will they achieve something, they look quite optimistic to the future and that means everything is going to be all right. There are young people who want to change how things are and people are trying to do something to make their life better. It works, there are more and more "middle class" people. But the problem with poor, old and "lost" people remains.

Myth: THE WINTER IS SO COLD HERE!Truth: It's not very cold, though sometimes it might be quite freezing. But if you have warm clothes, you'll be ok. Generally, the lowest is minus 10 or 15 Celsius in the winter, though it might sometimes (rarely) go as low as minus 25 or 30, but even that is not very cold, because it's not humid. And the true thing about Russian winter is that it's very beautiful, that is right. I like it!

Myth: MANY RUSSIANS ARE RACISTS, AREN'T THEY?Truth: Russians are not racists. Even in the communist time people were raised up on the idea that everybody was equal. The only thing is that few middle-aged and old people have something against the States. But they'll not insult or offend a tourist because of that. Just don't hurt anybody's patriotic feelings.Anyway, Russians are more often than not very open and generous to the foreigners.

Myth: RUSSIANS ARE DRINKING MUCH TOO MUCH...Truth: Maybe, but after ages of driking they have a strong immune against alchohol, so they don't become drunk too fast. Also vodka is considered to be the best thing to warm oneself up with in winter. And, in fact, I have the same stereotype about .. uhm... British. Do they really drink as much beer every day as they say?Seriously, alchoholism is a big problem in Russia, especially among older people. After the collapse of Soviet Union, many people got lost and instead of dealing with the new challenges, they decided to escape their problems through drinking. Because of that, families are unhappy, many people are unemployed, people don't want to build something new, but want to drift into the 'careless' state of mind and not to do anything.

Pancake Week!

Here's a video of some people celebrating Shrovetide. (I love the little kid in the big fuzzy coat at the beginning.... Such a cutie!!!)

Shrovetide was an ancient pagan festival celebrating the arrival of Spring and the start of work on the land. People would dance around in masks and costumes and have rituals (burning a straw man, lighting fires, leaving food on graves) and of course there was a feast!

Later, the Orthodox Church included Shrovetide among its festivals. It's lost its ritual significance and is now a festival (pancake week) to say goodbye to Winter and welcome Spring! People do special performances and cook pancakes the entire week. Yum!

Can't wait until February! I do love pancakes....

Nature at it's Finest

This weekend, I was lucky enough to stumble over the work of a very talented Russian zoologist and freelance photographer named Konstantin E. Mikhailov. Mikhailov has a Ph.D. in Biology, his first passion, from Moscow University. His work as a scientist studying some of Russia's most beautiful regions and wildlife inspired Mikhailov to bring a camera with him always. However, the same vocation also forced Mikhailov to witness the devastation being caused by the world’s ignorance when it comes to preserving nature. Now Mikhailov is practicing his true passions: photography, writing and conservation. His work can be found in books and magazines, including National Geographic. I must say his pictures are a breathtaking method to educate mankind of the importance of nature. Most of Mikhailov’s pictures are of Russia’s vast mountains and forests, however; some are also of parts of Asia and Western Europe. I spent hours admiring the photographs on Mikhailov’s website. If you appreciate wildlife and beauty, you will find his collection extremely moving. Do yourself a favor and check it out: I suggest looking at the Siberian Tigers, as well as skimming through all the seasons in the Season’s section. These pictures make me want to visit Russia before humans destroy all that is left of the natural world!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Cheerleading in Russia?

and i thought American Basketball dancers were sexual....:-P

Russian Fashion

Rising fashion designer, Alyona Akhmadulina, goes out with a bang at Paris Fashion week. Originally from Saint Petersburg, Akhmadullina went to school for technology and design and went on to become a big name in the fashion industry. Her stores are located in Moscow, Paris and Tokyo. Items are sold from 100 to 15,000 thousand Euros.

“She has a spirit, I’d call, constructivist. So for me her collection is connected to the Russian constructivism movement from the first half of the 20th century and all their theories of deconstruction. She brings her own point of view with her clothes. Now, I imagine that for the commercial market she’ll have to adapt her clothes so that are for prêt a porter norms,” Philippe Dayan, Director of JE shop, said.

Her style is labeled as tomboy and she believes it reflects the style she enjoyed as a little girl. Her imagination was swirling with cars and and horses, not dresses and barbie dolls. For her most recent show in Paris, it was inspired by 1930's sports ware. Its unique, yet classic style is giving it great popularity.

As for upcoming projects she has been chosen to the be the official designer of the Russian Team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
(Picture: Alyona Akhmadulina's collection at fashion week in Paris.)

Friday, October 5, 2007

A brief post about house spirits.

Russian House Spirits:

A Domovoi is a male house spirit in Russian Folklore. They are small, covered in hair, and they may have tails or horns. They live under the stove or in the threshold of the door. They are generally helpful, maintaining peace and order, but if they are unhappy (due to profane language or neglect of chores) they play nasty tricks, which become gradually worse until the problem is remedied. People will leave out food offerings at night to appease them.
The female equivalent, sometimes said to be married to the Domovoi, is Kikimora. She lives in the cellar, and when all is well, she looks after the chickens and helps with the housework. If all is not well, she becomes a nuisance, although not as malicious as her husband.

Note: want an adorable Domovoi or Kikimora doll? You can find some here:


Adding to the general absurdity of the picture, the sign to the right there reads "Госстрой России", an abbreviation for Государственный комитет Российской Федерации по вопросам архитектуры и строительства, or "Governmental Commission of the Russian Federation for Questions about Architecture and Construction," which replaced the Soviet agency in 1992 and existed until 1994, when it was replaced by Минстрой.

So, draw your own conclusions about how Госстрой handled questions about architecture and building...

Our Favorite Store...

A colleague sent me a bunch of pictures from Russia under the title "Я другой такой страны не знаю, где так" (I don't know another country where it's like this...). I'll post some of them from time to time. Anyone who's spent some time in Russia understands how the same country could have produced both Dostoevsky and Gogol.

(The poster reads: This is our favorite store!)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Sputnik's launch and the beginning of the Space Race, I give you...

Я тоже! Скороговорки

Okay, so I was only able to pull off two of them. My tongue isn't as athletic as Inna's, but here's my rendition of the tongue-twisters anyways:

Карл у Клары укpал кораллы, а Клара у Карла украла кларнет.
Karl stole corals from Klara, and Klara stole a clarinet from Karl.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Inna Campbell recorded a couple of the tongue-twisters (скороговорки- "fast sayings").

Карл у Клары укpал кораллы, а Клара у Карла украла кларнет.
Karl stole corals from Klara, and Klara stole a clarinet from Karl.

How fast can you say it?

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!

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!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


A follow up to the Admiral's earlier post on Наши, the Russian youth movement... Quoting from the International Tribune's ever useful Russian Press Review:


YOUTH LEADER JOINS BIG GOVERNMENT: The leader of Nashi, Russia's most prominent Kremlin-connected youth group, may soon have a job as head of a new federal agency on youth policies, the newspaper wrote citing an unnamed Kremlin source. If appointed to the position Vasily Yakemenko would be charged with formulating Russia's youth policies, forging relationships with youth-related nongovernmental organizations and overseeing "patriotic education." Mr. Yakemenko has long been considered the most likely candidate for the job. Under his watch, Nashi has become an important political instrument for agitating on behalf of key Kremlin policies through street protests and large demonstrations.

Starring Paul Radenhausen...

OK, this might be one of the funniest things I have seen in a long while:

We have an amazingly talented Russian Studies program. We can get Alesia to compose and play a stereotypical Russian folk melody... Paul to sing the lyrics. Claire to play the role of the ingenue. Maybe a solo piano spot with Caity and a violin interlude with Ishtar. Michelle to tape and edit. Me to bark out commands.

I say that we go one-up on this video...


While strolling along the Russian bookshelves in the library - a favorite pastime of mine, I assure you - I happened across a title that I just couldn't pass up. Of course they always tell you that you can't judge a book by its cover, but they never said anything about the title, and with a book called Kapoot...well, you can understand my feelings.

As it turns out, Kapoot was written by a well known American explorer/author by the name of Carveth Wells. A dogged world traveller, Wells spent a good portion of his life exploring the dangers and discomforts of the Malaysian jungle, the African desert, and, yes, Soviet Russia. At the time that the book was written - 1933 - the communist party in the U.S. was at the height of its popularity. Apparently, Wells was not so sympathetic with the party and, from what I gain from reading the book, he held an irrational fear that Americans would be hoodwinked into buying communism.

Now we all know that Russia under Stalin was not a pretty picture, what with the 5 year plans and the liquidization of the kulaks and the severe famine and the Party purges and the gulags and the collectivization of farms and the general social and economic upheaval. But Mr. Wells goes to such lengths to prove it that the result is almost comical. It is clear that he intended at all costs to keep an eye on those sneaky communists; I was expecially gratified by his inclusion of several compelling alliterations, my favorite being "those burly Bolsheviks."

Despite the questionable authority of Wells's book, I can't deny that I enjoyed myself. He takes us up and down eastern Russian, from St. Petersburg to Echmiazin, on an ill-fated attempt to climb Mt. Ararat and find the remains of Noah's ark. Along the way, he demonstrates the godlessness of the Russians, gets arrested at least three times, subsists on black bread riddled with assorted items of garbage, experiences the Russian equivalent of the bed bug, half starves on a week long train ride to Vladikavkaz, listens to the screams of patients being treated in a Russian hospital, survives a harrowing horseback ride through the Khevsur region, and generally commentates on the poverty and downtroddenness of the land. Russia, he wants everyone to know, is Kapoot indeed.

While Wells's book is certainly not something I would recommend as a source for scholarly research, it nevertheless made for interesting bedtime reading. But perhaps you would rather take my word for it...

Monday, October 1, 2007

Third Empire...

For those who just can't get used to living in the post-Cold War world, there's always hope...

Crazy Russians. Why do they get Greenland???

The site (strange maps) is very cool if you're into the whole map thing.