Monthly Archives: March 2010

A Moment of Silence for Moscow

This morning, during Rush hour, two female suicide bombers set off bombs in the Moscow metro — at Park Kultury and Lyubyanka (where the FSB headquarters is located). There has been a persistent clash between Russia and the Chechen separatists since the fall of the Soviet Union, and there have been numerous terror attacks on Russia throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s — but things were calming down a bit recently, especially after Shamil Basayev was killed in 2006. There also hasn’t been a terrorist attack in Moscow since 2004. However, Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia have been quite unstable as of last summer, and now there is reawakened fear of the return of suicide bombing as a common scare tactic. What will happen next is left to be seen.

Politics aside, please keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and prayers. This is a terrible tragedy.


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Wait a minute…

One of the horse tamers

The Anchikov bridge, which crosses the Fontanka, is flanked by the Horse Tamers — four horse sculptures with their respective tamers. I usually pass them without giving a second look — Piter has spoiled me, and I no longer am amazed by beautiful sculptures, art, or architecture. However, the other day, one of my friends on the program told me that one of the horses has a person’s face in place of testicles. “Face balls!” he said.

Wait, face balls?

Yes, face balls.

Can you see it?

There are a lot of rumors surrounding who the face is supposed to be. One says that the face is the artist’s arch-nemesis. Others say that it’s Tsar Nicholas I. Some even say that it’s supposed to be Napoleon.

Just another reason why I’m loving it here.

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Filed under History, Photos, Rambling thoughts

Conversation with a Marshrutka Driver

Earlier today, I had the misfortune of dozing off on my marshrutka ride home, and by the time I realized that the driver had passed my stop, he had driven to the last stop and it was too far for me to simply hop off and walk home.

“Excuse me, did you drive past Angliskii Prospekt?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, a long time ago — here, come sit up in front with me, I am going to drive back soon.” So I awkwardly sat in the front seat, as the marshrutka driver put the van into idle and smoked a cigarette.

“Where are you from?” he asked intently, blowing smoke out of the corner of his mouth.

“I’m from America.”

“America?! America! You don’t say. Do you have pictures? What is it like there?”

Since I was feeling particularly bored and slightly adventurous, I decided to test out my conversation skills and talk about the current economic crisis. I told him how living in America was not that great right now, because of the economic crisis, and that I did not know when things would get better. He sat up a little more in his seat and looked me straight in the eye.

“Da, it is the same here. Only Allah knows when the economy will get better. Under the Soviet Union, everything was better. There were always jobs. When Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union, the factories there always worked — it was not hard to find a job,” he said, somewhat wistfully. “We need a strong leader again — like Lenin, like Stalin,” he added seriously. I sat there silently. Yes, there were jobs under the Soviet Union, but at what human cost? Jobs versus the high death toll from the purges, gulags, population transfer, collectivization, etc? “Yes,” he said again, taking a final drag on his cigarette, “everything was better then. Now we have to pay for everything — university, apartments, everything. Terrible.”

Lenin and Stalin

Even post Khruschev’s de-Stalinization, it is fascinating to me that people still regard Stalin with such high reverence. ( In 2008, in an internet poll, Stalin was in the running for most influential Russian. ) The marshrutka driver’s response also made me think of how after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian babushki were at their wit’s end, because, for the first time, they had to pay rent and they couldn’t afford to. Things were better under the Soviet Union, they wailed. Same sentiment today, because of the current economic crisis in Russia — things were better under the Soviet Union.

As I was pondering in silence, he sighed, threw out his cigarette, and then turned the conversation to a dreaded topic.

“So, a pretty girl like you must have a boyfriend (molodoi chelovek), da?” he said, smiling at me and taking my hand. Thank you, Uzbeki marshrutka driver, for not only creepily hitting on me, but for also painfully underscoring the fact that I am single.

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Ode to a cyclist on a winter’s day

The rules of the road are interesting here in Piter…in the sense that there are no rules and everything is a free-for-all. There are no distinct lanes, and if there are, cars sure as hell don’t drive in them. From what I have noticed, driving means precariously weaving in and out of traffic and almost hitting pedestrians (with glee!). The other day, my marshrutka driver hit a pedestrian in the arm – I’m pretty sure he broke her arm from the way that she keeled over while holding her elbow. St. Petersburg — Jungle rules.

Noting the fact that drivers will happily hit pedestrians with more zeal than a young boy busting some caps in Grand Theft Auto, I must applaud cyclists. I have been seeing more and more of them bob in and out of traffic, narrowly avoiding getting hit by cars. And I wonder: do they have a death wish? Then again, who am I to talk about riding bikes — I can barely ride one without flipping over my handlebars and landing on my face.

Finals week 2009! Morphine is great for exams.

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Filed under Cultural differences, Rambling thoughts

Pushkin… For the Birds

Pushkin is a nice little perch for the birds

“Красуйся, град Петров, и стой
Неколебимо как Россия,
Да умирится же с тобой
И побежденная стихия;
Вражду и плен старинный свой
Пусть волны финские забудут
И тщетной злобою не будут
Тревожить вечный сон Петра!

Была ужасная пора,
Об ней свежо воспоминанье…
Об ней, друзья мои, для вас
Начну свое повествованье.
Печален будет мой рассказ.”

“Now, city of Peter, stand thou fast,
Foursquare, like Russia; vaunt thy splendor!
The very element shall surrender
And make her peace with thee at last.
Their ancient bondage and their rancors
The Finnish waves shall bury deep
Nor vex with idle spite that cankers
Our Peter’s everlasting sleep!

There was a dreadful time, we keep
Still freshly on our memories painted;
And you, my friends, shall be acquainted
By me, with all that history:
A grievous record it will be.”
– “Медный Всадник” – The Bronze Horseman

The Russian Museum


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Winter just won’t leave…

the view outside my apartment on a sunny day

The sun decided to come out today, at around 2pm, right when Polina and I stepped out of the Anna Akhmatova museum into the garden of the former Sheremetev palace. The grounds around me were still covered in thick, pillowy white snow. I shielded my eyes with my hand and squinted at the the spiraling rooftop, emblazoned by the sun, and breathed in. “Тихо,” Polina quietly said – Peaceful.

Winter may not be leaving quite yet, but spring is just around the corner.

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Filed under Literature, Rambling thoughts

Paying homage to a Genius

Since I was feeling a little better after my last run in with the flu/gastrointestinal terror, I decided to pay homage to my favorite author, Dostoevsky, and head over to 5/2 Kuznechny Lane. This was the last apartment that he lived in and it was where he wrote his famous work, The Brothers Karamazov. His apartment, to be honest, was a little…sad, which is fitting, considering how troubled his life was overall. In 1849, Dostoevsky was arrested for dabbling in the Petrashevsky circle, and he, along with the other members, was sentenced to death by firing squad. On the day of his never-to-be-held execution, he was forced to stand outside in the freezing cold, waiting to be riddled with bullets, when his sentence was suddenly commuted to 4 years in a katorga prison camp in Siberia. The years following his stint in Siberia and the Siberian regiment were filled with literary greatness…along with the death of his wife and son, tons of debt, gambling problems, depression, heart break, and epileptic fits. Great writing comes from suffering, I guess. Dostoevsky was hardcore.

In my humble (and very unimportant) opinion, I truly believe that Dostoevsky is more relevant today than ever. I’m not talking about his world of saintly prostitutes and suicidal revolutionaries, but of the social issues he addresses in his works: crime, poverty, gambling, alcoholism, as well as other vices, all remain pressing issues today. Not only that, but his condemnation of materialism, which is heavily emphasized in The Idiot, is clearly applicable to today’s society. In conjunction with society’s descent into materialistic depravity, what is most noticeably relevant is the absence of faith and the loss of values – I’m not religious by any means, but it is something to be noted.

And of course, there is the ever popular question: “Where does Russia go from here?”

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Filed under Literature, Rambling thoughts