Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In which a headline is avoided

Tonight, for reasons beyond even my comprehension, I decided to go chainsmoke in the dimly lit park outside the zoo near my apartment around 1am. I sat down and pulled my hair over the SACHEM NORTH HS VARSITY TRACK t-shirt I was wearing to cover the Latin letters. A cigarette and a half in, a drunk middle-aged man came up to me and asked for a cigarette and a light, and I obliged. He said something I didn't understand, and I asked him to excuse me, as I spoke Russian poorly.

"Ah... English?"

"Da, da." I continued to speak in Russian throughout the entire conversation, and he in English, as is apparently typical.

"Ah... where you from?"

"Iz New Yorka." He laughed.

"Is very different... from... Petersburg?"

I explained that, first of all, cigarettes were much more expensive. He laughed again, and asked how many years I'd been studying here. I told him only four weeks. He seemed impressed. He asked if I was ever going to return to the US, and I told him I might go back and work in international relations. He told me he'd lived in Europe for a while, though he grew up in Petersburg, but had never been to the US.

"Would you like... maybe... go... around the Neva, with me? On boat?"

"Nyet, nyet," I said, smiling, not wanting to offend him, for a variety of reasons. I didn't look around to see if anyone else was in the park, lest he do the same and note its emptiness. He asked if there was somewhere I would prefer to go; I responded the same way. He looked at me strangely, threw his cigarette down, and walked off.

"Excuse me."

I walked off in the other direction, though it was farther away from my apartment, and lit another cigarette, as all the streetlamps were broken.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Sieve: The Icon and the Axe

Even before the advent of Google Reader, but certainly moreso after the cracking of that Pandora's jar, I noticed the tendency in myself to sift through books, rather than read them, by which I mean reading largely for those passages I could pass on to others.

Rather than fight this noxious habit, I'm going to make you all accomplices, by occasionally posting such passages here, without comment. I've decided to group such posts together with a snappy name, which makes it a feature of my blog, and not lazy writing.
- - - - -
The following are excerpts from James Billington's The Icon and the Axe, which is the most enjoyable treatment of Russian history I've yet to encounter:
"Nikon changed the traditional Russian reading in the creed that Christ's kingdom 'has no end' to 'shall have no end.' From representing Christ as 'sitting' at the right hand of God, the new creed read 'was seated'; and from affirming belief in the 'true and life-giving Holy Spirit,' the new creed substituted 'life-giving Holy Spirit'.

Though these changes were intended merely to rid the Russian church of uncanonical accretions, their effect to the fundamentalists was to imply that Christ was now sometimes on and sometimes off his throne (like a seventeenth-century monarch) and that the Holy Spirit merely participates in truth (like any student of the worldly sciences)."

"Some extremists among the Russian fundamentalists even took the position that the Bible itself was s secular book, since it contained many worldly and even pornographic stories and had first come to Russia by means of the 'guileful' printing presses of corrupted Western Slavs."
Духовная культура, indeed!

Chivalry isn't dead, it's in Moldova

Having returned from a rather mediocre lunch at the local Сабвей, I sat down on a bench in the Philology Dept's courtyard for a pre-lecture cigarette. After I took my pack out from my purse but before I flipped open my lighter, a young man ran across the courtyard with a large box of matches, sat down next to me, and held a lit match to my face, smiling.

He was polite enough to stay and talk for a while, even though his English was, in his words, "miserable," and my Russian is... something worse than miserable. Despite this, for some reason, he spoke mostly in English, and I mostly in Russian- he remarked that whenever he talks to anyone who speaks English, this phenomenon always presents itself, which I've noticed as well. He was ethnically Russian, though born and raised in Moldova, and was surprised I'd heard of that little republic, of which he was not very proud. He asked me what kind of music I listened to- we shared an affinity for Tom Waits, Franz Ferdinand, and Muse. He didn't understand why an American was smoking terrible Russian cigarettes (I happen to like the Русский Стиль brand more than most of what one can buy in America, as it so happens), and pulled out his Marlboros. He wants to be a journalist. We never got around to asking for one another's names.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Russian Mosquitos

Today, I fell asleep with a full glass in my hand, and woke up a few hours later covered in vodka and mosquito bites.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Head colds and flash mobs

Ill and behind on work as I am, and also somewhat excited by the prospect of two days entirely to myself in the city, I decided not to go to Karelia with the rest of the group. Once my host mother noticed that I was sick, however, the following happened in fairly rapid succession:

-she brought out an old glass thermometer, which I was instructed to place under my armpit and keep there for five minutes (she explained that she also has a 'normal' digital thermometer, but that in her opinion it does not work nearly as well)
-she gave me a little bottle of nose drops and rather hilariously demonstrated how I should use them (this happened during breakfast, by the way)
-she brought me a mug of bright yellow liquid that sort of tastes like what hot lemonade would taste like if hot lemonade tasted good. It apparently has many vitamins, and needs to be drank four times a day, followed by brief walks outside

Tomorrow is DOSTOEVSKY DAY. I am especially excited about the "флеш-моб Dostoevsky-style" (flash-mob): the organizers are scattering people around the city who at various times will begin reading passages from his novels- the idea is to get large groups of people to randomly show up at pre-ordained places together reading aloud from his novels, thereby creating a living, moving monument. Some of the rules on the flash-mob site include "Не смеяться, не улыбаться, не дурачиться" (don't laugh, don't smile, don't fool around) and, of course, "Не быть сторонним наблюдателем" (don't be a bystander). I may have to break that last one, but I definitely want to witness at least one of these "mobs"!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Raven and the Writing Desk

I am sitting in my bedroom on Zverinskaya Street watching the sky violently belch forth wave after wave of hail and rain.

I earlier made the mistake of crossing the Palace Bridge just as one of the many flash storms began. When I lit my cigarette, the sky was blue and the air warm. It was not yet half burned down when a huge gust of wind smacked me in the face with a bucket of salt-like hail and claimed my by-then soaked through tobacco. All at once the sky darkened, thunder began, then lightning, then rain, then hail. I was the only person left walking on the bridge, blinded by the hail clawing at my glasses and finding its way into my eyes. The wind was so strong it nearly pushed me into the line of cars that lay mostly stationary on the bridge, paralyzed by their own sudden blindness. I was not sure whether I was meant to be Evgeny or Parasha, in those moments.

Ten minutes later, it was done. The sun reappeared, and the cafes and parks repopulated almost instantly. I walked into class looking like some sort of kikimora lesoviki, my long hair messily clinging to my neck and back in gnarled devil's plaits braided by the angry wind. Nikolai Georgievich lectured about the Russian futurists, and ego-futurists, and cubo-futurists, and of Lentulov's churches, and Malevich's new realism. Russian futurist paintings seem rather like icons unbound by sacred truth.

Tomorrow, I go to Karelia.