Kiril Tomoff is a professor of history at the University of California Riverside where he specializes in the history of Soviet music and its place in Soviet culture and society. His first book Creative Union: The Professional Organization of Soviet Composers, 1939-1953 provides the first ever in-depth analysis of the professional organization of Soviet composers during the Stalin period. His new book is Virtuosi Abroad: Soviet Music and Imperial Competition During the Early Cold War, 1945-1958.
David Oistrakh, Dvorak Violin Concerto with Kirill Kondrashin and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, 1949.
David Oistrakh, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Eugene Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra in 1959.
Gidon Kremer, Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Strings in D minor with Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Philharmonic in 1976.
Sviatoslav Richter, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp minor, Op.1, 1955.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
If Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin’s warning last week that Russia’s recent economic bump will most likely be short lived got you down, don’t fret there are some economic spheres besides McDonald’s that are going strong. As Time reports, leech farming is a “flourishing industry” and “a bright spot in a Russian economy.” That’s right, leeches. Not the oligarch kind that sucks wealth like a like a crack addict hits the pipe. The slimy, waterborne, blood sucking kind, or as known by its Latin moniker, Hirudo medicinalis.
Russia is leech producing central, churning out 10 times more blood suckers that any other country. The base of operations is the International Medical Leech Center at Udelnaya, southeast of Moscow. The Institute has a long history. Beginning in 1937, Udelnaya was the center of Soviet leech production. It’s unknown what their production quota was in Stalin’s Third Five Year Plan (1938-1941), but the Center produced about 3 million leeches a year. The number is evidence of how widespread leeches were used in Soviet medicine. Every Soviet pharmacy was required to carry a stock of at least 25.
The use of leeches continues to be a sound medical practice. According to Time,
[The Center] is now taking advantage of the growing popularity of leech therapy, also known as Hirudotherapy, around the world. Demi Moore last year spoke about the cleansing effects of leeches; Britain’s National Health Service buys 50,000 bloodsuckers every year; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved leech therapy in 2004 because they proved beneficial in increasing blood circulation for patients who have had skin grafts.
Today the center sells the leeches to plastic surgeons, who put them on wounds to reduce the chance of scarring, to dentists, who apply them on gums to reduce swelling, and even to gynecologists, who use them to treat sexually transmitted diseases (Yes. You imagine right.). The oral cavity of the leech is rich with an anticoagulant, which allows the animal to feed continuously on blood but which also delivers the anti-clotting substance more effectively to the area of a wound than would a small injection puncture. Indeed, leeches are used very much like syringes. After a leech is used on a patient it has to be killed. “It’s like a disposable syringe, it isn’t good sanitary practice to use it twice,” says Gennady Nikonov the director of the Leech Center.
Perhaps strangest of all are the emotional relationships technicians at the Leech Center have formed with their leeches. Their jars require constant cleaning because, as Elena Titova, a 25 year veteran at the Center, explains, “Leeches urinate non-stop for three days after they are fed. You have to clean their jars very frequently during this time; otherwise they poison themselves with their own waste.” The staff feeds its stock “certified cattle blood” except on holidays when they treat the leeches to veal blood “as a treat.” According to Nikonov, raising leeches has a gender component. Women are more nurturing than men, and since each employee is responsible for their own crop, some organize their vacations around feeding so no one fiddles with their leeches. “Leeches are very attached to their owners,” Titova believes.
Besides their use in surgeries and other procedures, leeches are also the central ingredient of Nikonov’s skin care line, Bio Energy:
Some of the leeches go into Nikonov’s own skin care range “Bio Energy,” which is made at the Center. The most expensive product, an anti-aging cream, contains dried, freshly-hatched larvae and retails for 47,000 rubles ($1,300) for 15 grams. The idea for the cosmetic range came after the collapse of Communism, when pharmacies were no longer required to sell leeches. “We had no money and the staff would go several months without wages,” says Nikonov. “We had too many leeches and we wanted to try and create something exciting and profitable.” Nikonov explains that the deconstructed leeches become ingredients in a cream, helping it the skin’s surface to improve circulation of oxygen, fats and protein. All this, he claims, leads to younger looking skin.
The biggest export market for the Center’s leeches is France. Nikonov, however, says that he remains very selective about his clientele. “We are careful about who we export them to,” he says. “I know in certain cuisines people put the leech on a goose. They wait until it gets fat on the goose blood and then fry the leech like it’s a sausage. This is considered a delicacy. I feel sorry for the leech. They should not be used this way.”
Okay . . . I guess it works if you work it.Post Views: 468
By Sean — 10 years ago
Smoke on the fuckin’ water. If you think soon to be Russian prez Dmitiri Medvedev is a square, think again. Forget the Russian pretension for opera and ballet. Dima is a metalist, a head bangin’, shout at the devil, Rock afficionado.
One of Medvedev’s dreams came true. Last week, Deep Purple, one of his favorites, rocked a Gazprom party to celebrate his vacating the chairman seat. Even better is that Ian Gillian, Purple’s lead vocalist, gave an account of the gig in the London Times.
I don’t know if playing a Gazprom party really classifies as a “tennis and bar mitzvah gig.” The Russian elite spares no expense in showcasing their wealth. As Gillian describes,
Security was high but being checked by the guards was a lot less dehumanising than going through most commercial airports. The hospitality was fantastic. They provided my normal two boiled eggs, slices of toast, beers and whisky – and I have to say my eggs were cooked to perfection.
To be sure this was a far different scene than when Deep Purple played in the Soviet Union. Purple were icons behind the iron curtain. Their records were copied using the plates of x-ray machines or recorded on tape, sold in Russia’s urban centers or traded through the mail. The use of x-ray machines to copy records, or “rock on bones” (rok na kostiakh) dates back to the 1950s, when Soviet music fans used their connections to burn jazz, rock, samba, tango, and spirituals, on plastic x-ray plates. As Artemii Troitsky described the method,
These were actual x-ray plates–chest cavities, spinal cords, broken bones–rounded at the edges with scissors, with a small hole in the center and grooves that were barely visible on the surface. Such an extravagant choice of raw material for these ‘flexidiscs’ is really explained: x-ray plates were the cheapest and most readily available source of necessary plastic.
Who knows if any of this “necessary plastic” donning the tunes of Deep Purple still exist as commodities, but if they do, I wouldn’t be surprised if Medvedev has one.
Rock was the shit among Soviet youth in the 1970s and 1980s. As Alexei Yurchak describes in his excellent Everything was Forever, Until it was No More, Komsomol leaders used their connections and access to resources to put on gigs of their aspiring rocker friends. But the real point of ecstasy was when their favorites toured the Soviet Union. As Gillian recalls
We would play a stadium for a week and whole villages would turn up with their chickens and goats and make campfires. They wouldn’t know why they were there but there was an event going on and they wanted to be part of it. And when we played they went mental.
The Gazprom gig lacked the going mental part but it wasn’t as “straight” as some other corporate gigs played by the Purple. Young Russian suits got a bit loose though guarded as they looked “nervously over at their bosses to see whether they could loosen their ties. It was as if they were asking, “How much fun are we allowed to have?”
After their set, which was followed by Tina Turner, Gillian and his crew met with Medvedev and Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller in back room for drinks. According to Gillian, “When we met Medvedev he had this stupid grin on his face because he was meeting his favorite band.”
Putin was also there. But rock ain’t his thing. Gillian did notice him dancing with his tie loose during the opening act, which included a opera singer and a dance troupe.
Not Dima though. The devil got his due that night. I only wonder who will play the inaugural party. The Prince of Darkness, anyone?
Photo: ReutersPost Views: 482