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The Internet sucks in Russia!

A quick note because I’ve been waiting for about 10 min. for a 1.41 MB file to download. The internet in Russia SUCKS!!!!!!!!! I’m currently at 38.6 kbps. That’s right, 38.6. With my DSL connection in LA, this file would have been finished 9 min. and 50 seconds ago. I don’t know how I’m going to survive. So please anyone reading this, do not send me any large files, attachments, ANYTHING that is larger than a regular email message. Russia is the poster child for capitalist uneven development . . . Finally, my file is finished.

Meeting Russian Marxists

So I’m back from Ryazan. But before I tell about my time there, I have to report my meeting with some Russian Marxists. Russian Marxists, you say? Yes, but these aren’t your hard Communists from the Soviet era. These are some young intellectuals (mid 20s to early 30s) I met at an art show last weekend. My friend Claudia, who got her PhD from UCLA and moved to Moscow to live with her boyfriend Stas, invited me to the show. Stas was showing some photography in a show of modern artists from Moscow. I liked his photos a lot. One of the other exhibits was by this art collective called “Chto Delat?” For those who don’t know “Chto Delat” is Russian for “What is to be done?” which was also the title of a book from the 19th century Russian revolutionary writer Cherneyshevsky and also a very famous pamphlet by V. I. Lenin. The group also publishes a newspaper called What is to Done?: The Newspaper for the New Creative Platform. I was intrigued by the paper because the issue they were giving out focused on the question of the “emancipation from/of labor” and featured articles on Toni Negri and Michael Hardt. I happen to be reading Hardt and Negri’s new book, Multitude, so it was quite a coincidence to meet other like-minded people. Stas was more than happy to introduce me to them.

I never imagined finding Leftists in Russia. At least, not the leftists of this type. Most “leftist” are anarchists. Russian Communists tend to be Russian nationalists. Communism has a totally different meaning here than in the US. I doubt many American communists would find themselves in good company with their Russian brethren. The folks I met, however, were very interested in Western Marxism, as well as Hardt and Negri’s book Empire. One of them, Aleksei, happened to have a copy of Multitude with him. I chatted with Aleksei and another member of the collective, Nik, for a few minutes, parting with plans to meet on Sunday and talk over coffee.

On Sunday, I met Aleksei at the art show and after waiting for him for about an hour (he was busy running around talking to various people about their exhibition and newspaper), he, Lida, Natasha (to female members of the Chto Delat collective), and I went to this great caf? near the Kuznetsky Most metro station. I can’t remember the name of the place, but you had to buzz the door to get in. I guess the doormen wanted to make sure you were ‘cool’ enough. Aleksei explained that this was a place were a lot of Moscow’s young “intellectuals” hang out. I personally think the door thing was all for show and they didn’t really care who came. At any rate, the place was pretty interesting, complete with book shelves and a jazz band. Very Euro-bohemian. We sat in a fog of cigarette smoke, had some drinks and talked about our common political and philosophical interests. Natasha, Lida, and Aleksei ate what is called “zakuski,” which are appetizers you eat while drinking. Usually “zakuski” consists of marinated herring and vegetables. Lida, Natasha and Aleksei also drank this interesting vodka that I swear was infused with dill. I tried it, but wasn’t too impressed. I was hungry so I ordered a full meal of pork cutlets and potatoes and a beer.

We talked about some philosophical writers we liked like Slavoj Zizek, Fredric Jameson, Hardt and Negri, Adorno, Foucault, Marx, etc. Aleksei was very interested in they state of the academic left in the US. How much influenced they had. What is their relationship to the left in general. Natasha was from St. Petersburg and was in Moscow for the art show. She also had an exhibit of art clothing. She was part of the Petersburg portion of the collective. Lida, who I think was just along for the ride, was a psychologist. They all seemed to be interested in my research of the Komsomol. (When I tell young people that I am researching the Komsomol, they seem really interested especially since I’m looking at its first years. Older people, ie those who were in the Komsomol in the 1970s and 1980s simply ask me, “Why?” but then they proudly pull out their Komsomol or Communist party cards to show me. Old people, those in their 60s to 80s, think it is just the greatest idea in the world. As long as I tell the real story of the Komsomol, that is as the archivist in Ryazan said, the positive history.) The conversation with Aleksei, Natasha and Lida was mixture of Russian and English. It is real difficult for me to talk about such subjects in Russian.

It was a fun evening and it is nice to have some Russian friends. I told Aleksei that I was interested in writing an article for Chto Delat during my stay in Russia. He liked the idea and suggested I write something about Hardt and Negri’s new book.

Next, going to Ryazan . . .

The Ryazan Kremlin from a far.

The Ryazan Kremlin from a far. Posted by Hello

Lenin Street in Ryazan.

Lenin Street in Ryazan. Posted by Hello

My Bed in Russia.

My Bed in Russia. Posted by Hello

My First Week

Loyal Readers! Friends! Family! Countrymen! Greetings from Moscow, Russia! Where one can always find warmth in the subterranean caverns of its metro system! This post will be a bit long, not just because I have much to tell, but because I finally got my internet up and running.

I arrived in Moscow on Monday after a 15 hour journey. The flight was pretty uneventful. Things went smoothly, except, of course, when the plane hit the worse turbulence of the flight when I was on the can. That was not pleasant! I arrived in Sherometevo airport around 11 am Moscow time.

Getting through Russian passport control and customs was also no trouble. Andrei, my driver to my apartment, was also there. A good way to start my stay. Andrei was very nice. A stocky ruffian type clad in a black leather jacket (which incidentally seems to be the winter uniform for all 25-40 Russian men). Russian men dress very Sopranos. The ride from Sherometevo into Moscow a bit long mostly because of the traffic. There has been an explosion in cars since I was here. Cars completely choke the city. The traffic, however, gave me a chance to look at some of the new malls erected along the highway.

These malls deserve some attention. First, because I think they are indicative of how much Moscow has changed. Imagine a box store that is three or four stories. Some, like the one near Kalushkaya metro station, are like our malls complete with whole shops, boutiques, cinemas, and food courts. There are no department stores, but the American influence is found in places like “Kabab Khaus,” a shish kabab place in the food court. Now, “khaus” (spelled «????» in Cyrillic) means nothing in Russian. The Russian word for “house” is “dom,” yet this seemed to not make it to me marquee. Of yeah, I should also mention that the food court had a Sbarros. But what fucking mall doesn’t have a Sbarros. They must have some kinda of lifetime contract with all malls. What truly impressed me about this mall was “Cinema Center,” a huge movie theater with flat screens in the ticket area that show previews for featured movies. Very chic!

Other malls are like well organized indoor swap meets. Instead of whole shops, there are small spaces. These, like the one on Novye Cheremyshki, tend to concentrate on electronics, home appliances, etc. I bet there were about 15 places on one floor that sells cell phones. DVD players, both for the TV and handheld, video cameras, flat screen TVs, stereos, and computer stuff was also well represented. Unfortunately, these are just as or more expensive that in the US. I have no idea how Russians afford all this shit.

My first week in Moscow was hampered by problems with my new cell phone. My plan was to buy a cell phone that I could also use as a modem for my computer. Being the prince that I am, I shuttered at the thought of going back to dialup. Once you’ve had high speed internet, you can never go back. Of course, my plan was stifled by software and hardware problems, and I have yet to use the damn thing as a modem. I finally broke down and bought an internet card.

I also had to learn that using a cell phone to call the States is not a good idea. My cell phone money ran out quite quickly. (In Russia, you buy time up front to use the cell phone. When your money runs out, they block the phone. This has some advantages because you don’t have to worry about bills and you use it as you can pay. Ingenious system.) I bought a card for international calls too.

Unfortunately, Bush is back. The two questions Russians have asked me: Have I voted? And for who? With much pain, I voted for Kerry. And the outcome of this election signifies a major crisis in the Democratic Party. Again, I declare that I will never vote for them again. At least this time they can’t cry Nader and might have to actually look at how bankrupt their party is. The Russian’s I’ve met don’t understand how Bush has support. They see him as both dangerous to the whole world and an idiot. Thanks okay because I don’t understand how they support Putin. And for the record I have yet to meet a Russian that likes Putin either. But I only know Russians with university education. At any rate, I cannot express my great disappointment with the American people. As much as I hate to say it, we deserve what Bush gives us.

At any rate, Moscow is great, though it’s changed a lot in four years besides the explosion in malls. There is construction everywhere. Everyone seems to own a cell phone. Traffic chokes all the city’s roads. One nice change is that the police presence is really light. I expected after Beslan, the cops would be everywhere. I was told they were, but their presence has since dissipated.

On Thursday, I went to the Komsomol archive (for those who don’t know, Komsomol means the Communist Youth League. I’m writing my dissertation on it.). The militia at the entrance of the archive wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have a letter to work there. I promptly asked to use the telephone to call upstairs to the archive. They pointed to the phone. I dialed the posted number. “Hello?” “Yes, Galina Mikhailovna, this is Sean Guillory. I worked here 4 years ago. Do you remember me?” “Oh, Sean!” Galina replied. “I’ll be right down to let you in.” It’s a great feeling when you enter a place and the police won’t let you in, but because you know someone, everything just falls into place. I was very happy that Galina remembered me. Come to find out, the cactus I gave her four years ago, now about four inches taller, still sits on the reading room windowsill.

There is one last thing I need to report before I go. The Russian visa registration process requires some comments, especially for those of you who are thinking of coming here. See you just can’t show up in Russia, go wherever you want, and not worry about you legal status. First the cops stop people on the street to check documents. They mostly stop people with dark features who look like “Chechens.” Whatever that means. So you have to carry your passport at all times. Secondly, upon arriving in Russia, you have 3 days to register your visa. This is a interesting process. If you are staying in someone’s home like I am, the owner of the apartment has to write a “zaiavelnie,” which is statement saying that the owner is letting such and such person to say in your home. Next, and this is the worse part, you have to hand over you passport, visa, and immigration card (which you fill out on the airplane) to get registered. This process takes about a week. Now, keep in mind that the cops can stop you to check your documents. As of now, I have no passport. I just photocopies of it, my visa, and my immigration card. With them I was able to buy a train ticket, but I wasn’t about to exchange money. I leave for Ryazan on Monday for five days, and I won’t have a passport the whole time. I’m a bit worried to sat the least. But I’m sure I’ll be fine.

My apologies that this first post is so long. A week has passed and I wanted to include some things. I promise future entries will be more specific. I doubt these ramblings serve as good reading. These entries will be better as I figure out an effective way of operation. Oh yeah, I’ll try to include some pictures next time.

Next time, my meeting with the anarchists!

Leaving for Russia

After a month or so of delays (mostly from the visa) I leave for Moscow this Sunday. Yeah, its Halloween, but I think I outgrew trick or treating years ago. Well, its really because I doubt anyone would give me any candy if I did. I should get to Moscow a day before the US election. Hopefully, Bush will not be back!

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