A pause from Russia to note that thanks to the wonderful journalist and francophile Doug Ireland, I found out that this past week marked the 100th anniversary of Jean-Paul Sartre’s birth. Ireland is right to draw attention to one of the most famous intellectuals of the 20th Century. Apparently, many people don’t read Sartre any more, seeing his Existentialism as outdated and naive. I only started reading him recently, when I used a section of his Critique of Dialectical Reason in a paper on reification in Frantz Fanon and Georg Lukacs. I remember a professor happened to see the text on my desk and commented, “People still read him?” I haven’t read much of him, though at the time I planned to. His preface to Fanon’s book is a classic essay which I think every educated person should have read, as for his Being and Nothingness (which I haven’t read). Ireland mentions this in his blog, and I also recommend Edward Said’s interesting first encounter with Sartre in 1979.
Two weeks ago, while waiting for the bus at the corner of Sevastopol’skii and Nakhimovskii prospect, I noticed a big billboard of the Jack and Meg White from The White Stripes. To my surprise they were playing one night in Moscow to promote their new album, Get Behind Me Satan. I excitedly noted down the website to order tickets and promptly did so when I got home. 800 rubles (about $26)? No problem. Considering tickets for their show at the Greek Theater in LA were around $40, I was willing to pay up to $35. Plus seeing the Detroit duo in Moscow added a special incentive. How often can you see the White Stripes in Moscow? I ordered two tickets and told my friend Maya that she was going whether she liked it or not. Surprisingly, I was able to convince two more grad students to plop down the money and join us.
It was raining the day of the show. I hesitate to say night because it doesn’t get dark here until around 11:30 pm. Plus the show started at [7:00], hardly the standard 9:00 pm of shows in the U.S. I assumed the early time was because the Stripes were playing St. Petersburg the next night, which is a good 6 hour train ride from Moscow. Let me tell you, it’s pretty strange leaving a concert and it still be light out. Anyway, yes raining, as it has been off and on for the last two weeks, and when we approached Klub Mekhanika, we came upon a large crowd waiting to get into the show. You could hear five languages emanating from the crowd: Russian, English, German, French, and even some Italian. It took us about 20 minutes to get inside. Luckily, the rain broke into a light drizzle.
Located near metro Avtozavodskaia (Auto factory), Klub Mekhanika is well located but badly placed. Not only does its moniker from the car motif, the place looks like it used to be a giant car garage. It is also adjacent to the “Tret’e transportnoe kol’tso,” or the third ring highway that circles the city. Klub Mekhanika claims to hold 2000 people, but I estimate that there were close to 3000. Plus there is no reason to believe that the Russians abided by any building code, if there are such things. The stuffy air was the combined stench of sweat, cigarette smoke, and Moscow. It was impossible to swim through the thick crowd to reach the middle so we settled to stand in the back. Our glimpses of Jack and Meg were sporadic. The six roof supporting columns and the several Russian girls perched on their man’s shoulders did help the view either. The place was so hot that in the middle of the performance, Jack sarcastically asked, “Do you want us to turn up the heat in here?”
The Stripes started relatively on time, around [7:30]. A miracle according to Maya, because when she saw Front 242 there two months ago, they didn’t go on until [9:00]. Jack and Meg came up to the roar of the crowd dressed in their trademark attire. Meg was in red pants and sleeveless white shirt. Jack in red pants and a black t-shirt. The only difference was the addition of the top hat he sports on the cover of the new album. Meg thumped her bass drum twice. Jack lightly strummed his guitar and then broke into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” At first the sound was shit but was properly leveled by the time they played “Apple Blossom.” I can’t remember the entire track list order, but I remembered that including the aforementioned, they played: Blue Orchid, One More Cup of Coffee, Hotel Yorba, The Hardest Button to Button, The Nurse, Little Ghost, I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet), The Denial Twist, Stop Breaking Down, Passive Manipulation, Red Rain, I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself, and Seven Nation Army. “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” was by far the most amazing. The whole crowd sang the chorus, leaving Jack silent. Jack’s responded, “See they can speak English.” It was one of those great concert moments when everyone was in harmony with the band.
Plus, Jack just puts on an amazing performance. He truly becomes possessed by his blues. He runs around, drops to the floor, and writhes with the sounds screeching from his guitar. Meg’s drums were great, despite charges to the contrary by Sasha Frere-Jone’s in an otherwise fair and interesting review of Get Behind Me Satan in the New Yorker.
It was a treasure to see them in Russia. Apparently it wasn’t easy for them to come here. At one point Jack said, “My sister and I always wanted to come and play Russia, but we were told it was too expensive to fly the entire crew and equipment. Well, thanks to many people, especially the people you see around dressed in suits and derbies, we were able to do it, because they volunteered their labor and are working for free. Give them a round of applause. . .” The crowd didn’t disappoint. And neither did Jack and Meg.
So they turned off the hot water in my apartment. “They” are the mysterious maintenance people who run the five buildings of my apartment complex. Though I never seen “them”, “they” seem to have their base of operations in a building across from me. Anyway, every summer the hot water in Russian apartments are shut off for repairs. It can last from a few days to two weeks. It’s really the only time they can do this because of the winter. Hot water is centralized throughout Russian apartments, so unless you’ve installed a hot water heater, you’re pretty much showering cold. Not pleasant. Not pleasant at all.
The unpleasantries don’t stop there. The people who live above me must be either, a) drunks, b) crazy, or c) both. Natasha told me that they are drunks. But your run of the mill drunk does not constantly move furniture and bang on the floor. Normal drunks just drink. They may scream. But mostly they just drink. I don’t know what is going on up there, but the apartment must be in perpetual remont. In the several months I’ve been here, they must have rearranged the whole apartment 100 times. Sometimes this continues well into the early morning, like until 2 or 3 am. To make matters worse, they like to throw shit out the window. They other day I heard water splashing on the ground outside my window. Now water isn’t anything to complain about. My fear is that it wasn’t water from a faucet, if ya know what I mean.
Yesterday, I went with a few friends to Novodeviche Cemetery to look at all the old Communist graves. There are some important notables buried there, the most famous being Nikita Khrushchev. It also has the graves of the novelist and essayist Nikolai Gogol, the playwright Anton Chekov, long time Politburo and Stalin confidant Viacheslav Molotov, the famous Socialist Realist writer, Nikolai Ostrovskii, avant-garde poet Vladimir Mayakovskii, Bolshevik-feminist Alexandra Kollontai, Stalin’s wife (who committed suicide) Nadezhda Allilueva-Stalina, among other revolutionary and war heroes, academics and scientists, artists, composers, writers, directors, opera singers, actresses and actors. Even circus performers. That’s right circus performers. Just take a look at the photo of Vladimir Durov, the famous clown. His statue makes him into an image of a revolutionary hero. You wouldn’t even know he was a clown without the monkey on his shoulder and ruffle shirt. The grave stones for these people are truly out of this world. Some are just massive with fully statutes or busts of the dead. Others, like Khrushchev’s are works of abstract art. There is sometime to be said for how the Russians remember the dead, and especially how they remember the heroic. I can’t think of a cemetery in the states that honors intellectuals and academics to the extent that the Soviet Union did. The place is truly amazing. It would take two days to look at all the graves. It is one of my favorite tourist places in Moscow. (See below for pictures).