Mikhail Gorbachev has come a long way since he wrote in a high school essay, “Stalin is our glorious fighter, Stalin is the iron of our youth (“Stalin – nasha slava boevaia, Stalin – nashei iunosti polet)” But his love for Stalin faded with Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech.” Also gone are the days when he tried to reform the Soviet system with glasnost and perestroika. Gorby as reformer is a nice legacy. But Gorby the fashion model?
Yes. The New York Times tells us that along with several other celebrities, Gorbachev will be featured in Louis Vuitton ads.
[W]hat is a reader to make of a Vuitton ad, coming in the big September books, that stars Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union? A decade ago, Mr. Gorbachev’s appearance in a Pizza Hut commercial was generally greeted as a low point in his career.
The Vuitton ad, however, is part of a campaign to emphasize the company’s heritage in luggage and travel accessories. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, the ads include other celebrities using Vuitton bags: Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf cuddling in a hotel room, their bags not yet unpacked; Catherine Deneuve resting on a trunk in front of a steaming locomotive; and Mr. Gorbachev in the back of a car with a duffel bag on the seat next to him. Of the group, Mr. Gorbachev appears the least comfortable. He is holding on to a door handle, as if the bag contained polonium 210.
It seems unlikely he will be approached by L’Or?al.
Ha. Ha. Polonium 210. I get it. But Gorbachev does seem uncomfortable. I don’t think its the bag though. He’s holding on to that car handle as if the driver is zipping around that turn. It is a good photo though. Very Cold Warish. Dark and cold. Like he’s going to meet with some KGB types.
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By Sean — 13 years ago
It is impossible to spend any length of time in Russia and not have something totally fucked up happen to you. The place is just too damn unpredictable. It lacks that well-ordered atmosphere that you immediately sense after stepping off a plane in Western Europe. No, Russia is wholly something else. If you’re not constantly jumping through the obstacle course of both official and unofficial bureaucratic hoops, you are constantly confronted by what you can only conclude as stupidity. And if that doesn’t get you, then the dilapidated state of buildings and the complete lack of safety will get you. I, and several friends, experienced the latter this Friday.
When there is a fire in Russia it is likely that people die. For example, on my first day in Riazan there was a fire down the street from where I was staying. An old woman and two children burned to death. While staying in my apartment near Profsoiuznaya metro in Moscow, I often wondered how the apartment buildings were evacuated if there was a fire. I was living on the first floor, which meant all my windows are barred with no means of opening them in an emergency. I couldn’t even climb out the windows. I was fucked if there was a fire in my apartment.
I was in a fire this Friday and I wasn’t fucked. Thankfully, everyone got out safely and no one was hurt. Given what I’ve stated above, luck was on our side.
This is what happened. . .
Since January, several of us foreign researchers have been meeting every Friday at a place called Kafe Bilingua for drinks. Bilingua is one of these interesting places in Moscow. It’s part bookstore/coffee shop, part bar, part restaurant, and part club. It’s a nice place to get something to eat and hang out and drink. Our group had a reserved table every week and our own waitress, Vika. Sometimes over 20 people showed up. Last week the bill was over 11,000 rubles ($350). They make a lot of money off of us and we make sure Vika is well taken care of.
So there we were, as usual, at Bilingua on Friday night. Everything was normal except that the crowd was less than usual. Around [11:30], Maya noticed smoke outside. At the same time, Vika went to open one of the windows behind our table. Of course at first we didn’t pay much mind to either the smoke or the opening the window. Next we heard fire extinguishers going off in the kitchen. Maya was surprised that they had fire extinguishers. I think most of us figured it was a grease fire. Even after the extinguishers, Maya smelled something burning. About two minutes later, the room where we sit filled with smoke. We grabbed out shit, scooped up the money, and got the fuck out.
The exit was quite calm. This was probably because we were never really told to leave. As Arch said after, “The funny thing about all this is that they never told us that there was a fire and that we should leave.” Instead, we were told to go into the dance part of the club. As we were leaving most of the people in the place were dancing. At the staircase Vika was waiting with the bill. I grabbed it and told her I would settle it outside. At that point, I didn’t know how bad the fire was and figured we’d be back next week. I didn’t want to screw over Bilingua, and I certainly didn’t want to screw over Vika. The bill was 6500 rubles and I wanted to make sure that at least Vika got her tip.
Maya and I counted all the money and figured out the tip. Collected a bit more from some people to cover the tip. The fire trucks arrived. Some people began clapping. I don’t understand this clapping phenomenon. I’ve also seen this on planes where the passengers clap when the plane lands. Isn’t safely landing a plane or, for firefighters, arriving to put out a fire their FUCKING JOB!? Clapping is like you’re surprised the plane didn’t crash or that the firefighters came at all. Maybe I’m the crazy one for taking such things for granted.
Everybody that was in Bilingua, including all of us–Maya, Matthias, Arch, Darin, Eric, Venera, Gayle, Jean-Francois, and me stood and watched the fire. Darin noted the appropriateness of “the roof, roof, the roof is on fire. We don’t need no water. Let the motherfucker burn. Burn motherfucker, burn” but attributed the song to the Bloodhound Gang. Their version was inspired by the Dynamic Three’s 80s dance hit. But in this postmodern world origins seem to only matter when intellectual property rights are concerned. I’m sure the Dynamic Three was adequately compensated. Wherever they are. But I digress . . .
It doesn’t take much to capture the attention of drunk people. We all stood there–Look at the pretty lights. Ooooh fire. Pretty fire.–watching the fire. I’m surprised I didn’t hear anyone make a Beavis impression. I began wondering the crowd looking for Vika to give her the money. At this point I didn’t care if she pocketed the 7500 rubles. She was now officially unemployed. At least for the foreseeable future. Jean-Francois joined me and as we wondered toward the back of the building, we noticed that the fire had spread. The roof of the stage area was ablaze.
We doubled back and noticed Vika standing down the street. I handed her the money. As you can imagine, she was worried about her job, but then sweetly said “Uvidimsia.” I hope so but I wouldn’t count on it.
Oh yeah, Arch never did get the veal he ordered. The theory is that the fire was all his fault.
I went by Bilingua yesterday to check out the damage. The whole staff was standing outside. It looked as if they had a meeting to figure out what would happen next. They were all no defacto unemployed. I saw Vika and began asking her how bad it was. The fire only damaged the roof and the kitchen. The place also has a lot of water damage. The owners planned to rebuild it. She said it would take around 2 months. Knowing how fast things go here, I say six. Luckily for her and her coworkers, another location was opening up in a month or so. So they won’t be unemployed for that long.
Like I said no one was hurt. The whole situation never even reached a panic. The big problem we have now is that we don’t have a place to meet. Everyone is shocked and bummed. An alternative will turn up. We already have some leads . . .
Matthias took a film of our “evactuation.” You can watch it here.
(Photo credit: Photo #1 J. Arch Getty)Post Views: 122
By Sean — 13 years ago
My flight back to
was without incident. I slept most of the four hours to Atlanta and some of the ten to Moscow . Believe it or not Delta has direct flights from Moscow Atlanta, of all places, to . I guess its one of the perks of being a main Delta hub. Moscow
Ilya, my driver from Sheremetevo to my apartment, was a friendly guy. A bit obsessed with cars, though. I spent the whole one and a half hour ride listening to his various takes on cars. He’s a big Nissan fan (he claimed that he was buying a new one next week), and thought BMW and Mecedes were good in band only, while the cars themselves were shit. When I asked him if Russian cars had any merit, he went on a rant on how they were total shit. When I jokingly suggested that perhaps Russian car companies might disappear in ten years, he added that this would be a good thing.
Yes, cars are the shit in
. They clog the streets, freeways, alleyways, and sometimes, even the sidewalks. Compared to four years ago, the last time I was in Moscow , the auto problem is out of control. Before, it made some sense to save time by taking a car rather than the subway. Now, that logic doesn’t make any fucking sense. My friend Greg astutely noticed a few months ago, that Moscow had fewer tramways than before. Many of them seemed to have been removed probably due to the increase in car traffic. Moscow
To really experience the congestion and to know makes traffic in
Moscowmore unbearable than from, say, a car addicted place like , is the fact that there are no emission laws here. At least it doesn’t seem like it. More than once have I had a walk spoiled by an inhale of car or truck exhaust. Or worse, riding in a car with your window down is just asking to have car exhaust from a neighboring car to blow into your window. Many Russian big trucks have their exhaust pipes on the side of the truck which blow poison gas out sideways rather than up. Los Angeles
Pimp My Ride just came on Russian MTV. “Pimp my ride” in Russian is pronounced “Tachka na prokachu.” There is nothing special about the Russian version, except that it is apparently really popular.. It is just the regular Pimp My Ride dubbed in Russian. The Russians just aren’t as inventive as say the Germans, who have their own version of the show, but it’s called Pimp My Bike. Makes sense since few German youths have cars.
Tonight I’m having dinner with a friend from
. She’s leaving Illinois in a week to go back home. I’ve been honored with meeting her girlfriend, .. An honor I probably shouldn’t take lightly. . (and I use . . because she is pretty closeted) needed a lot of convincing to allow me to meet her girl. When she came out to me, I wasn’t too surprised. My gaydar was on a medium buzz around her already. What I was a bit surprised by was her hesitance to be “out” to many of her friends and colleagues. I understand being in the closet to family, but to friends and colleagues? After she explained it to me, I understood. After all, who am I to tell a gay person how they should publicly handle their gayness. I don’t have to worry about any possible “repercussions.” E explained that the reason why she isn’t out at school isn’t because she’s afraid of any discrimination. Academia is filled with enough gays for it not to be a problem. What she feared is that if she was out, people would only view her as a lesbian. Her homosexuality would become the center of her life, whether she wanted it to be or not. Her identity would be reduced to a singularity determined by what gender she likes to fuck. Her sexuality would become the alpha and omega of her being not because she expresses herself that way. No. Because people, even good tolerant liberals, have a tendency first reify and then ascribe identity, whether it be race, gender, or sexuality, onto that person. Such is the dialectic of identity politics: our identity is reduced to this or that, black or white, straight or gay, etc. There is rarely any room for hybridity, let alone play of subjectivity. And people say Michel Foucault was wrong when he spoke to sexuality and the productive discourses around it. Moscow
Speaking of Foucault, the conservative online newsletter Human Events just published its “10 Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Foucault’s Madness and Civilization only got an honorable dangerous mention. The 10 Most Harmful Books according to Human Events are:
10. John Maynard Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936.
9. Freidrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1886.
8. Auguste Comte, The Course of Positive Philosophy, 1830-1842.
7. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 1963
6. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 1867-1894.
5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916.
4. Alfred Kinsey, The Kinsey Report, 1948.
3. Mao Zedong, Quotations from Chairman Mao, 1966.
2. Aldoph Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925.
And the number one most harmful book of the 19th and 20th century is:
1. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 1848.
Not bad for a newsletter that features the rhetorical Manichaeism of Anne Coulter and the conservative crust of Robert Novak. Not surprising either. Notice how if you remove Hitler’s Mein Kampf, all the books deal with liberalism, sex, feminism, or anti-capitalism. It is clear that Nietzsche only makes the list because of the Nazi “affinity” for his philosophy. To think that such reductions of great thinkers of the modern era would be old hat by now.
The list makes me wonder about a few things. First, why include Hitler at all. Given the general trend of the list, it makes me wonder why give das Fuehrer a shout out at all? Clearly the conservative scholars and right wing think tank fellows think that Hitler is just a token evil compared to the real evil words of Karl Marx, Alfred Kinsey, Betty Friedan, and John Dewey. I think Hitler is listed more because to not do so would make the whole list a complete joke. The truth is when tabulating texts that harm, Adolph bring credibility. The fact remains however, that Marx only wrote books and Hitler wrote a book and started a world war, invaded and occupied several countries, and, and was directly responsible for the extermination of 8 million Jews, Slavs, Romi, mentally ill, homosexuals, and others. By placing the Communist Manifesto over Mein Kampf is to suggest that Marx’s text is more horrible that Hitler.
As I wrote that last line I can already hear the conservative response. Yeah Hitler was responsible for a lot of people’s deaths, but compared to killings inspired by Marx’s writings, Hitler pales in comparison. Hence Hitler’s second most harmful and Marx is first. Okay even if I buy this argument, my point isn’t about rehabilitating Marx and further demonizing Hitler anyway. Let’s remove Hitler and Marx from the equation. How the hell can you explain the presence of figures such as Alfred Kinsey, Betty Freidan, Auguste Comte, Jonh Dewey, and John Maynard Keynes? (I leave Mao and Nietzsche out purposely because they can be collapsed into one point for Marx’s team and one point for Hitler’s)? Clearly their sins are liberalism in economics, education, thought, sex, gender. I think that their real ire is not so much directed against the radical left or right, but at the five liberal texts that standout as a bit strange and, frankly, paranoid of the perceived specter that is haunting our present existence: the specter of liberalism.Post Views: 123
By Sean — 12 years ago
I’ve left Russia. My ten month research trip is finally over. I won’t bore readers with all of the emotion I felt leaving a place that began to feel like home. I’ve decided a while ago not to make this blog that type of blog. There are enough egoists on the net who feel that the intimacies of their life are worthy of public display. Suffice to say that Moscow is an amazingly magnetic city. I met many wonderful people who I know will always be part of my life.
But the question remains: since this blog was created because of trip to Russia, what happens now that I’m no longer there? I’ve decided that I rather enjoy writing about Russian current events as much as about its history. And from talking to some of you (most of who are my friends), it seems that my thoughts on these matters are appreciated. Therefore, I’ve decided to make this a permanent thing. I figure that if anything this will aid my career as an academic, or provide an avenue for a different career path. We’ll see. But let there by no mistake. My main reason for doing this is because I enjoy it.
Now that I’m home and have better access to the internet and other resources, there are a few things I want to add/change about the blog.
- A consistent schedule for posting. So far, I’ve tried to post at least once a week. I’ve been moderately successful in this. I would like to increase to posting two times a week, with hopes of three. For now I will post on Tuesdays and Fridays, and if this works and I can manage the time, hopefully I will also include Sunday.
- More frequent shorter postings that highlight news about Russia and more infrequent longer articles and book reviews about particular themes. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I post rather long pieces. My hope shorter ones will allow me post more frequently. The difficulty will be in transforming my verbosity into brevity.
- Guest writers. I want to start including pieces by some people I know who also make Russia their career. If they are willing to go a long with this, it will provide more voices besides my own. I especially want to include more book reviews and including other people will help with this.
- I would like to hear from those who consistently read the blog. Some of you have posted comments, and though I don’t always respond, I do read and enjoy them. I would like readers to give their input to what they think I should include. My long term hope is that if people post comments this might start discussion on some of the issues I bring up.
- Adding links and other resources is an on going project. This will expand as time goes on. I’m trying to keep the Russian language links at a minimum since I presume most readers don’t read Russian. I will however continue to include links to Russian sites I find interesting.
In addition to all this, look out for a piece on the phenomenon of dedovshchina in the coming week. Dedovshchina or “rule of the grandfathers” is the culture of hazing in the Russian military. Last year Human Rights Watch released a 90 page report on its rituals, frequency, and effects on recruits and the military. If the Russian government ever comes around to the necessity for military reform (which they are avoiding like the plague), dealing with dedovshchina will be a major issue.
Also, to continue with my reporting on youth politics in Russia, look for a piece on the recent attack on the National Bolsheviks by alleged Nashi activists. In late August, a meeting of the Natsbols and representatives of the Communist Youth League, Red Youth Vanguard, and Za Rodina were attacked by 30 masked men with baseball bats and air guns. This incident only points to the increasing role of violence between youth groups. It possibly is another prelude to what tactics groups like Nashi will use during the 2008 Presidential Elections.
Finally, I want to thank everyone whose been reading. The hits on the site have been steadily increasing, with readers from the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, and Sweden. Keep reading and I’ll keep writing.Post Views: 75