Sunday, September 27, 2015

A brief look at Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (Сергей Михайлович Эйзенштейн) was an influential Soviet Russian film director. Among his most famous works were his Soviet propaganda films Alexander Nevsky (1938) and the Ivan the Terrible films (1944, 1958). Alexander Nevsky was a depiction of the  Battle of the Ice, which was fought between the Republic of Novgorod (led by prince Alexander Nevsky) and the Livonian branch of the Teutonic knights on April 5, 1242. This historical drama was made around the time of WWI, the portrayal Teutonic knights as barbaric zealots being both a jab at the Germans and the Catholic church. This film is noted for its clever special effects as well as being one of the first films to set the standard of matching imagery with the film score. Some of the film was shot to the film score and some of the film score was composed to Eisenstein's footage. A few of the more notable effects were the attempts to create a wintery environment for a film being shot in the summer, such as painting trees light blue and dusting them with chalk, using sand to create an artificial horizon, and the construction of simulated ice sheets out of asphalt and melted glass supported by floating pontoons that were to be deflated on cue to create the illusion of the ice sheets breaking apart under the weight of the knights according to pre-cut patterns. The film is also remembered for the score composed by Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (Сергей Сергеевич Прокофьев), specifically the track for the climactic battle fought on the frozen Lake Peipus. Innovation such as this has led to Eisenstein's place in Russian history as one of the most influential film directors of all time.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sergei Rachmaninoff is known today as one of the greatest Russian composers ever to have composed classical music. Rachmaninoff is mainly renowned for his intricate, and quite technically challenging piano compositions, such as his Piano Concerto No. 2.  He certainly was a musical genius, who would write these fantastic lines of music which flowed from something deep within his soul. His emotions, his being, his essence truly speak to you through his music. When truly truly engaged, the listener is taken on this profoundly deep journey. Its destination is what makes listening so incredible; interpretation is fundamental to this phenomenon, and everyone has their own, which further spices up the full experience. Music is inherently founded on the premise of interpretation, as all art is. This is what results in the depth, influence and emotional impact it has on you. That is why Russian music is so particularity special, as is Russian culture, its customs, history and language too. Russian music in general is so well known for its beauty and unique characteristics, it creates such a distinct "Russian" sound. That is what speaks in this magnificently insightful, thought-provoking, deeply emotionally stimulating, eclectic piece. Undoubtedly this is a piece that can invoke some powerfully deep insights into Russian romanticism and culture. This is what music has the ability to do: to speak of the times of which it was written in. As it can be argued, the arts do represent the time in which it is created. Or wait? Is it not that the time represents the art?Link to the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

During the Sochi Olympics, a lot of controversy surrounded the event. Here is a selection of some less serious situations that athletes and journalists faced! Enjoy

1) Ridiculous Signage:

Do: Sit and use the toilet.
Don't: Stand and use the toilet. 
Don't: Vomit into the toilet. 
Don’t: Do an upper decker into the toilet’s tank.
Don't: Go fishing in the toilet. 
Don't: Um…do your business on the floor while holding a bottle?
2) Malfunctioning Olympic Rings


3) Unfinished Hotels... And still unfinished today...

4) The "Twin Toilet" phenomenon..??

5) Unsettling and creepy mascots

A Gauntlet Thrown


A Gauntlet Thrown 
           Russia is increasing its presence in Syria, which is causing a lot of tension with the United States. They are now sending highly sophisticated military tanks into Syria, which tightens their grip on the region. It would appear that Russia is planning on having a major presence in the region, and may be setting up staging areas for airstrikes. “There were military supplies, they are ongoing, and they will continue,” Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday. “They are inevitably accompanied by Russian specialists, who help to adjust the equipment, to train Syrian personnel how to use this weaponry.” This does not imply combat troops, yet satellite photos would suggest that that’s exactly what is there.
            It is unclear what the United States should do in reaction to this dilemma. One thing is clear however, and that is that the relations between Russia and the US are straining. Indeed, Russia just closed the American Center in Moscow. Statements are being made, and statements require response.

[UNIT 1] Казахский чай(Kazakh Chai)


'Kazakh tea or chai (Казахский чай) is very popular and there are national cafes called Chai-Khana [чайхана] (tea-rooms) where visitors may sip this Kazakh specialty.'


Kazakh Chai (Kazakh Tea) recipe


6 c Water
6 ts Loose black tea
6 Cardamon pods
1 1/2 ts Fennel seeds
3 c Milk
Sugar or honey to taste

Combine the water, tea, cardamon, and fennel seeds in a large saucepan and simmer over low heat for 3 min. add the milk and 2 min. later, strain the tea into cups.Add sugar/honey.

Russian Forces in Syria

Last week, there were reports of Russian troops in Syria. Not only are Russian soldiers on the ground, but there has also been reports accompanying air support and armor.  Putin's show of support to Syrian president Assad in combating the threat of the Islamic State, indicates that he sees the radical extremist as a threat to Russia's security. This new development has added more complications in the already troubled region. There is now a risk of Russian forces accidentally coming into conflict with existing U.S. efforts. While this risk remains a distinct possibility, I believe that facing a common enemy may help improve Russian and U.S. relations. 

Russian Funerals: Black Bread and Vodka

If you caught some of the funeral coverage of the famous Russian weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, you may have wondered how funerals in Russia might be different from those in your country. There are quite a few similarities but also some unique differences thanks to Russia's rich historical heritage and culture interlaced with superstitions.
During the time of the Soviet Union (1917-1991), state funerals of the most senior political and military leaders were staged as massive events with millions of mourners all over the USSR. The ceremonies held after the deaths of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and other General Secretaries followed the same process. They took place in Moscow where they began with a public viewing of the deceased in the House of the Unions and ended with an interment at the Red Square.

The re-emergence of religion after the collapse of the USSR made a big impact on Russian funeral traditions. Nowadays, Orthodox Church bells ring high to low note series for funerals. Funerals are generally held on the third day after someone dies. On that day, family and friends gather for a special memorial dinner. On the ninth day, when the soul is believed to leave the body, a special church service and dinner are held. On the 40th day, the soul is said to depart for the other world, and a service and dinner party are held again.

At each party, a glass of vodka covered by a piece of black bread is left for the deceased, a reversal of the traditional Russian custom of breaking black bread when meeting someone for the first time.

Mourners are expected to wear dark, formal clothing. Wearing black clothing is a ritual established to prevent the dead from returning. Mourners bring or send only an even number of flowers.

If mourners visit the grieving family before the service, tradition requires them to say, "may their memory be eternal," or "their memory will be forever with us, in our hearts and prayers." In addition, making contributions to a church or offering help to the family members is appropriate. During the actual services, mourners usually stand to honor deceased and pay respects to the family. Visitations take place at a funeral home or special hospital facility. Funerals are typically open casket and all participating men do not cover their heads.

Both members and non-members of the Russian Orthodox faith are expected to bow in front of the casket and kiss a special ribbon resting on the deceased forehead. Later, at the interment, each mourner places a flower on the casket and, after it's lowered, drops a few palms of dirt on top. Afterward, family and friends head to a restaurant, church hall, or private home for what is customarily called a memorial dinner or mercy meal.

Rituals are incorporated in the mourning process and include covering mirrors, stopping watches, and removing a TV from the room where the body lies in wait. Superstitious the dead will return to their home and take someone with them, when the body is carried away from the home for burial, the deceased is carried with legs extended forward and done so no part of the body touches the house on the way out. When the body is removed, people sit in the chairs or on tables that held the coffin before turning them over for a length of time.

Russian funeral traditions are still evolving, especially with a rising popularity of cremation, but many of the fundamentals remain to this day.


Borscht is the famous soup in many Russian families, as well as many Eastern and Central European countries. The recipes of borscht vary, but vegetables (mainly beet) and sour cream are always the main ingredients. The beetroot used in cooking borscht gives the soup its trademark deep reddish-purple color.

Here is how to prepare it: 


Russian borsch
  • 4 qt. water
  • 14 oz. beef stock
  • 1 small head of cabbage
  • 5 large potatoes
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 med. beet root
  • 1 med. onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3-5 cloves garlic
  • verdure (parsley, dill, etc.)
  • sour cream


1. Boil the beef stock for at least 1.5 hours, strain the broth through clothing, separate the meat from the bone and carve it.
2. Peel the raw beet root, cut it in thin two-inch strips and stew for half an hour.
3. Add cubed potatoes in the boiling broth. Add the stewed beet when the broth begins to boil again. Add bay leaf.
4. Cut the carrot the same way as the beet root, fry it all over and add into borscht.
5. Slice the onion, fry on both sides, add tomato paste. Mix everything and fry for some more time.
6. Take the fried onion off the stove and add mashed garlic.
7. Shred the cabbage finely and add (but not much) into borscht when the potato is almost cooked.
8. Cover the saucepan and boil borscht for 5 minutes. Then add fried onion with garlic and seasonings. Mix everything.
9. Cover borscht and cook for 3 more minutes. Then add cut verdure.
10. Take borscht off the stove and leave uncovered. 

Why Russians call Germans Немка/Немец

A few centuries ago the slavic and the germanic tribes lived in Europe as rivals. The germanic tribes lived in the middle west of Europe, the slavic tribes in the middle east. Each tribe spoke a different language, but all slavic languages were close to each other, so that they were able to communicate. Same with the germanic languages. But when a germanic and a slavic tribe met, they were not able to talk to each other. Since this time the slavic tribes started to call Germanics as people who are not able to talk, because they could not understand them. Now the Russians call germans немец/немка. Also many other slavic countries call them in a similar way; Bosnians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Romanians, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Czechs, Ukranians and Hungarians.


Over this past summer, I had the opportunity to spend a few days on Kibbutz Ketura in Southern Israel. Kibbutzim are primarily agricultural, and originally Socialist and Zionist communities that have hugely contributed to Israeli economic success. Eastern European and Russian Jewish immigrants who moved to Israel to start a new life originally started these Kibbutzim. In fact, you can still find many Russians and Russian speakers living there. While Americans specifically founded Ketura, there are Russians who reside there. These communities are thriving microcosms of cultural diversity incorporating visiting students, military members, and immigrants from all over the world into a living and working environment. For me, it was very surprising to find that my studies coincided with a place that I visited as little more than a vacation. 

Hospitality in Russia

It is important to learn about the Russian culture and traditions when learning the language. This will motivate you learn the language. I followed this method when I started learning English. In this post, I'll share what I have learned about the Russian hospitality.

In Russia, people value hospitality. They welcome guests into their houses. You can visit people anytime, but you need to tell them in advance. It is not odd to tell someone that you will be visiting him or her. For example, you tell some one that you be visiting tomorrow to catch up with him or her. They call it "забежать на чашечку кофе" in Russia. They love hosting guests in their houses. One thing to consider, make sure you take a gift with you. You don't want to look bad, or you will be know as "придти с пустыми руками". Get something also for the kids. 

I think this should motivate you to visit the country! Who is up for a trip to Russia?


The Onion Dome

When I think of Russia and Russian architecture, I almost immediately think of the prevalence of onion domes atop colorful cathedrals. These domes are also commonly seen on Russian Orthodox churches not geographically located in Russia. Because of this strong architectural association I have between Russia and its onion domes, I decided to find out more on this topic. What I found out is that no one really seems to know the origin. There are timeframes developed based on historical evidence of cathedrals without onion domes and then a transition into the usage of these domes, seemingly during Ivan the Terrible's rule with Saint Basil's Cathedral getting its iconic onion domes under the rule of Ivan's son. Popular belief says the domes are to represent candles; however, it does not seem that the original architects had this in mind. Regardless of the rationale and development of the onion dome with regards to Russian Orthodox churches, it seems that for many, there is a strong association between the two.

Annexation of the Crimea

Most countries expressed fierce criticism, when Putin started invading the Crimea; not so some political German leaders and many business owners. But how come? According to the “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” the “soft-heartedness for Russia’s iron hand has many origins – some historic, some current, some idealistic.” One of the most important reason for sympathy with the annexation is trade. For many German companies Russia is an important trading partner; due to the fear of losing that partner in the East, they oppose sanctions. Other factors are the fear of a new cold or even hot war. In case of an outbreak, Germany, which lacks any sort of weapon suitable for war, would be located rather close to the battle field. Others believe that the strong historic ties of Germany and Russia during the late 1900s should be reestablished. According to many influential Germans the annexation might not have been legal, but not necessarily illegitimate.

Work Cited

Neukirch, Ralf. "The Sympathy Problem: Is Germany a Country of Russia Apologists? - SPIEGEL ONLINE." SPIEGEL ONLINE. 31 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

West Siberian Laika

Not a coyoteThe West Siberian Laika is the most common of the Laikas. This popular Russian hunting dog is capable of  running game the size of squirrels and rabbits to hogs and bear. Developed in the 1920's from aboriginal dogs, these animals were prized not only for their hunting ability and strength, but their stunning looks as well. A thick double coat in shades of white and gray allowed these dogs to survive frigid temperatures while maintaining the ability of shedding quickly to adapt in warmer months. It's most common use is in woodland environments packed with valuable furs for sale or trade. Differentiating from most hounds, the West Siberian Laika does not bark as soon as a scent trail is detected, but rather after the quarry has been cornered or treed. In addition, the WSL's double layered coat does not produce any body odor as found in many breeds today. With this dog's killer instinct, unique hunting style, and dashing looks, it is easy to see why it has been one of the most popular hunting dogs in Russia since the 1960s.

Russian Icons

Just a little background info: an icon is a painting (usually) done on a piece of wood that bears the image of a sacred person or sometimes of an event that is religiously significant. 
Russia first began the tradition of icon painting after Vladimir the Great converted to Christianity in the late 10th century.  It then continued throughout the medieval ages, until the rule of Peter the Great, when art became secularized. 
When icons first came around, they were displayed only in churches and religious settings. But by the 15th century, icons could commonly be found in homes. 
One of Russia's most famous icon painters was Theophanes the Greek.  Theophanes the Greek was particularly known for his fresco paintings on the inside of churches.  Once he arrived in Russia from Constantinople, he worked on fresco paintings in churches in Moscow and Novogorod.  However, only the frescoes he painted for the Church of the Transfiguration in Novogorod survive today.