Saturday, April 24, 2010

Modern Perceptions

I put this question to a bunch of people:

What do you think of when you think of Russia?

These are some of the answers I got, in no particular order:

Dostoevsky's jail cell, Nabokov's butterflies, the Bol'shoi Ballet, Peter and the Wolf, vodka, James Bond villains, hell, children's picture books and fairy tales, family, nuclear fear in the 80s, "tear down this wall", vodka, borsch, Tolstoy, xenophobia, skinheads, fur hats, confusing house music, Pushkin, the Disney movie Anastasia, cabbage, hard work, expressionless military men, beautiful women, vodka, the Beatles' "Back in the USSR", secrets, space exploration, Gogol, distance, the Metro, provincialism, Soviet war pins, gymnasts, angular architecture, 10 time zones*, Gorbachev and his birthmark, The Master and Margarita, sour cream, the death of reason, Solzhenitsyn, bent old women working fields of wheat, bad teeth, vodka, the Gulag, onion domes, matryoshka dolls, potatoes, tsars, propaganda posters, danger and drunkenness, Red Square, revolution after revolution...

It's a fuzzy picture: still bearing marks of the Soviet age, relying heavily on food and literature. Though neither overwhelmingly negative nor positive, the overall tone is closer to dark than light. Soon I'll pose the question about a different country and see what returns, to offer a point of comparison. I want to know about our current view of Russia, if it's been updated much since 1991 or the Putin presidency, but in order to come to any conclusion about that, I need to know if our perceptions of, say, France or Egypt or China or Cuba are based on today, ten years ago, WWII or the Bay of Pigs, Hollywood movies or commerce. Even then, I won't have any conclusions, per se; I'll only have a better grasp of how and how quickly our perceptions shift.

Better get back to work...

*As of March, 2010, there are officially nine time zones in Russia: eight contiguous, plus Kaliningrad.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Whoa, It's Been a Long Time

Three months since I've posted! Unbelievable. What have I been doing all this time? Oh, right...

Stressing out.

Academically, 2010 has been fairly brutal. I won't go into the gritty details, but I will say that up until now, I have not understood fully the hellish graduate school experience of myth. I can say with certainty that I now understand it. I could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and still have unfinished business. Part of the crunch was due to the fact that I presented a paper at a conference for the very first time - it was a paper titled "Enlisting the Memory of Memory: Anna Akhmatova's Requiem," at the Mid-Atlantic Slavic Conference, and it went fine (despite the horrible worst-case scenarios that were rolling around in my head beforehand). On top of that, I have been busily getting summer plans in order, saying goodbye to my expired (*sniffle*) California Driver's License, exchanging it for a (*gulp*) Rhode Island one, and also, finally, managing to find some time to relax (to the best of my abilities, that is). Resultingly, the last few months have been a revolving blur of deadlines and deep breaths.

My studies in a nutshell: Symbolism, negative aesthetics and the location of music, early 20th century Russian woodworking and the folk art revival, čeština, русский язык, creating communicative language tasks, etc. That is, of course, just a sampling. And thankfully, I'm generally enjoying it all*.

My time off has been gratifying as well. See?

The Cape


East Sandwich Under Water

(And thanks to Ken, for taking that lovely first picture up there).

Those photos came from a trip along Cape Cod; it was off-season, so we were practically the only people wandering around out there. The rain and wind actually suited the Cape, but it didn't treat Rhode Island very well - as you may have read, we had some pretty intense flooding around here, but our neighborhood went fairly unscathed; some soggy basements here and there, but that was about all.

The rest of the semester will be busy busy busy, so I can't promise that I'll write much in the next month, but my blog will be rolling again soon. In the meantime, keep yourself busy over here. 'Night, all.

*A sort of cross-section of things that I've enjoyed that I can share: Stilyagi, a Russian musical which may not be subtitled in English yet but is fairly fantastic, so keep an eye out; Degeneration, a hysterical but entertaining reaction to Decadence during the fin de siecle, by Max Nordau; Jan Svankmajer's Sílení (but beware! That one's a bit perverse); Vrubel'.