Monthly Archives: April 2010

Raskolnikov had long legs

entryway to the Pawnbroker's

“He had not far to go; he knew indeed how many steps it was from the
gate of his lodging house: exactly seven hundred and thirty. He had
counted them once when he had been lost in dreams. At the time he had
put no faith in those dreams and was only tantalising himself by their
hideous but daring recklessness. Now, a month later, he had begun to
look upon them differently, and, in spite of the monologues in which
he jeered at his own impotence and indecision, he had involuntarily
come to regard this “hideous” dream as an exploit to be attempted,
although he still did not realise this himself. He was positively
going now for a “rehearsal” of his project, and at every step his
excitement grew more and more violent.”

The other day, Valentina Viktorovna took us on a short Crime and Punishment tour, and pointed out his path to the pawnbroker’s and other important areas, such as where Raskolnikov overheard the “fateful” conversation that pulled him towards murdering that old crone. To put Crime and Punishment into a nutshell for those of you who haven’t read it, Raskolnikov, after agonizing over the idea, murders a pawnbroker and then mentally suffers for his crime. The novel is essentially one part crime, five parts punishment, and is full of fun ideas about suicide, redemption, etc., etc. You all should read it, it’s very uplifting.

So, Raskolnikov knew the exact number of steps from his apartment to the Pawnbroker’s – 730 shagov. Being the huge dork that I am, I counted how many steps it took, and it was waaaay more than 730 — 1,212 steps, to be exact. Raskolnikov had long legs. And you know what that means — big steps.

Where Raskolnikov overheard that fateful conversation! I walk by this almost every day!

What my metro stop used to look like back in the day. It was an evil place, full of cretins and harlots and whatnot.

In other news, the ACTR gang is getting ready to hop on the long train to Sochi — which will be a 47 hour experiment. Sochi is the 2014 Winter Olympics Venue, and there will be a lot of hiking and nature walks. There’s apparently a ton of construction going on, but hey, a resort town is a resort town. For what it’s worth, it’s 6 days in Sochi (the other four are spent on a train…) Until then!
If you’re interested to see Putin speak English, here’s his bid to the Olympic Committee.


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Time to light one up

The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day. But there’s one nasty little cloud that’s casting a shadow my way.

Neo-nazism appeared in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Origins? The west, of course.

In the US, April 20th is the subcultural pot-smoking holiday. But in Russia, or in particular, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhni-Novgorod, it’s time for the Neo-Nazis to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Every year, there’s an increase in violent acts leading up to his birthday. But hate crimes are not solely concentrated on April 20th — last year, about 70 people were killed in race-related hate crimes. Skinheads gang up on darker skinned foreigners and post videos of their attacks online, mainly to demonstrate that all foreigners are unwelcome in Russia. Last year, they posted a video showing the decapitation of a Ghanian man. Their time in jail? 23 years for one man, 9 years for a couple of others. The racism situation is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that there are Neo-nazi sympathizers in the Duma. It is horrifying that, in about 20 years, Neo-Nazism has grown to such ridiculous proportions. Before 1992, there were maybe two Neo-Nazis in Moscow, and five in St. Petersburg. And now, especially during the economic crisis and education collapse, the numbers are steadily increasing to ridiculous proportions. And with the numbers growing, the hate crimes are growing, too.

Thus far, I’ve been lucky — nothing’s happened to me, not even one strange look has been cast my way. But lately, I have been more on edge and much more self conscious. I apparently have a somewhat Asian-ambiguous face — as in, I could hail from China, Southeast Asia, or Central Asia. Unfortunately, all of those areas fall into one lump category that skinheads target: the foreigner.

To be honest, I can’t distinguish between skinheads and regular hooligans — which is even more frightening. I’ll ask myself, “well, was that a skinhead, a punk, or just another balding Russian with a bad sense of style?”  And I know I’m overreacting, and I am pretty sure that nothing will happen to me if I do decide to wander outside on Tuesday. Even so, I’m not taking any chances — it will be an all-day, indoor party at home for me.

Here’s a fun little video on Russian Neo-nazis for your viewing pleasure.


Filed under Politics, Rambling thoughts

As we go on, we’ll remember…


A couple of weeks ago, I had the treat of seeing a “real” Russian movie, titled Classmates (Odnoklassniki). And when I say “real,” I’m merely quoting what my friends said. The movie, they said, encapsulated everything Russian. The plot, the themes, everything was “very Russian.” Odnoklassniki, in their opinion, was an example of good Russian cinema.

All I have to say is that if this is a “real” Russian movie, then I don’t think I enjoy the Russian cinema all that much.

Odnoklassniki tells the story of three teenagers (two boys, one girl – can someone say predictable love triangle?) who are fresh out of high school, trying to figure out what to do with their lives post-highschool. The film starts off depicting the fearsome trio dancing the night away at Prom and getting pleasantly sloshed on a cruise ship. However, from the get go, we can already see the dread plastered on the heroes’ faces, as they’re getting ready to get catapulted into years of “self-wondering” and uncertainty.

Fast forward four years, and all three are apparently a part of the workforce and seem relatively successful. But alas! Being successful is not enough! Something is missing from their lives, but what that something is, unfortunately, is never revealed in the movie. All that is essentially shown in this maudlin film is their sheer unhappiness. The main characters stumble forward through life, trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and engage in hedonistic pleasures all the while. I would detail the plot more, but, to be honest, I didn’t understand the plot in the slightest. It wasn’t an issue of language barrier — it was an issue of a convoluted, terrible script, with plotholes all over the place. The film likens to a forgettable made-for-TV Disney movie.

However, from what I gathered, the main point of the film was that process of finding out who you are is a trying and difficult one. And I can agree with that. But during that arduous, self-wondering process, the heroes of the film crumple faster than a teenage boy’s face after getting turned down for prom. In the face of adversity, the main characters attempt suicide, do drugs, and jet set off to some tropical country. What kind of message is that? If anything, the film points to a disturbing trend rising among young people (and, in my opinion, young America) — complete and utter apathy. Instead of getting off our asses and doing something, let’s just drink, spend our parent’s money, and complain about how difficult life is.

(Side note: Louis, the guy on the right was the one that was a dead ringer for you.)

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Elephants and Poland

This past weekend, I decided to channel my inner five-year old and watch the elephant spectacle at the Circus with some friends. I knew I was in for a treat, mainly because the show was titled “The Secret of Giant Elephants” (Taina Slonov Velikanov). Armed with an obscene amount of cookies, my friends and I eagerly awaited the elephant fest.

What followed was a seizure-inducing, animal-abusing, disturbingly erotic, three-hour show. In other words, awesome. True, if PETA saw what the trainers did to the circus animals, they’d have a brain aneurysm. But PETA doesn’t exist in Russia, so more fun for the rest of us. Not going to lie, I did feel somewhat guilty for watching the circus animals perform inane tricks — my guilt could be compared to watching Lady and the Tramp, Fox and the Hound, Dumbo, and Bambi all in one long, nauseating sitting. Blatant animal abuses aside, it was a fabulous time, complete with tons of laughter, awe, and sweets.

Thanks to Mary for the pictures.

Oh boy!!

No words for this one.

Putting the erotic back in children's circus shows.

In other, not so pleasant news, on April 10th, President Kacynzki, along with many other top Polish officials, died in a terrible accident on the way to Katyn Woods. Today was declared a day of mourning in Russia. While this is a devastating tragedy, I do hope that the solidarity that has been displayed in the wake is some indication that relations between Russia and Poland are still on the up-and-up.

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Filed under Rambling thoughts

Married at 24, babies at 25, a haggard shrew by 30.

I was sitting at the table with my host sisters and host mom, drinking some tea, when the conversation somehow turned to the topic of marriage. As nonchalantly as i could, I put in my 2 cents (or kopecks, rather), and said that I didn’t want to get married. I thought it was an innocuous comment. They looked at me as if I suggested murder.

No Pochemu??” My host mom asked me incredulously. But why!? My host sisters continued to stare at me as if I just drowned a puppy in the Neva. I bit my lip as I wondered how to wage this battle. Did I really want to go into the fact that I think marriage is a suffocating institution? That I don’t think real love exists? Oh damned language barrier.

“I don’t want kids,” I said at last, quickly adding, “I’d probably be a terrible mother.”

Nope, not happening. Sorry Mom and Dad.

The expression on my host mom’s face softened.”Oh Grace, you’re still young. Things will change when you’re 24.” At this, my host sister sighed, put her head in her hands, and wailed, “So where is my husband??” Keep in mind that she is only 22.

This is a half-baked theory that I came up with in the past three minutes, but I think that the reason that Russian women are desperate to get married is that, well, to them married life is the ideal to work towards. You have a strong male figure putting bread on the table, and a bunch of kids to take care of (and dress ridiculously.) Everything is peachy keen. And there’s also the stigma of being single, too. Half-baked theory or not, at least it partially explains why you see beautiful Russian women paired up with short, paunchy, overall goofy-looking Russian men. To exacerbate matters, there is a significant dearth of Russian men — there are much more women than there are men, and when women are trying so hard to get married, it seems as if they’ll settle.  A lot.

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Religious Pantomime Society?

“We’re taking you to a mime show!”

I figured, why not? I didn’t even know that mimes still existed, let alone existed in St. Petersburg. Plus, it’s not every day you see Russian mimes.  So on a gorgeous, sunny, so-warm-I-didn’t-need-my-coat day, my host sisters and I set off for the mime show. Which, incidentally, took place in a Catholic church.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Catholics or religion in general. But I couldn’t lie about the Catholic mime show even if I tried. Picture the quality of a third grade, badly rehearsed play and throw in the zeal of an evangelist, and that’s what I sat through for two hours. And I wish I was exaggerating. For example, they did a bit on AIDS (СПИД) which involved a spider, a spiderweb, the devil, a popped balloon, and an obscene amount of pantomimed sobbing, all set to the backdrop of terrifying halloween music. Kudos to them for their creativity.

In other news, spring is finally here, and it’s supposed to be in the 50’s for the rest of the week! And, it’s Easter, which for me, means gorging on tons of cheap chocolate and dyeing eggs red with onion skins. For the Orthodox part of Russia, it meant going to midnight Mass (which lasts for a few hours).

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Filed under Cultural differences, Holidays, Rambling thoughts