poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

January 7, 2011

… To this great stage of fools.

That was a difficult year… I was prepared to acknowledge that it left me with little to crow about, yes, but it wasn’t until I broke into tears as “Happy New Year!” left my lips at the stroke of midnight that I felt the full weight of it. Like I’d been holding my breath since June. Horrible. A bit terrifying actually… This is my MO. I didn’t cry at my mother’s funeral. People kept informing me, “It’s not normal, T–” “You should be sad, T–” Eventually I did cry, when everyone else had gotten on with their lives and stopped wondering what to do with me. My emotional timing is always off. I managed to hold myself together as I suffered some freak neurological nightmare all year. Now I am crying all the time for no discernible reason. I cried at my step-parents’ house. Well, the holidays are stressful and emotional when you are orphaned-like. But I cried, inconsolably sobbed, when my step-mother kept asking where her box of chocolates was. Like I knew. Like the whole house were not filled to the brim with sweets. Like if she kept asking eventually I would confess to lifting them. I sat on the couch and wailed hysterically. Obviously not about the chocolates. Just like I did not cry about the arrival of the new year. I have no idea why I am suddenly such a drama queen lately. Certainly not pregnant, and don’t seem depressed or blue otherwise… I expect a decade from now another random blood test will reveal an imbalance of some magical chemical recently discovered to control one’s emotional sensitivity. … Eventually we’ll all be robots.

Well, like I said, I am not actually depressed. Just profoundly relieved 2010 is over. And one week into 2011 I’ve little Russia watching to boast of. I got nothin’, I tell ya. If you want serious political analyses, go visit AGT or that… Ioffe, I think, is her name. Yes. They have the dish on the liberal infighting and Putin’s corruption and our man in Chita and all that jazz. Nothing new under the Russian sun, as far as I can see. But then, just when you think that, there will be a coup or collapse or Vova will issue a “Putin sings Motown” LP or something else no one could have predicted. But that’s not happened since I last posted, so in the meantime I busy myself with the following:

Cinema

Black Swan. It’s not technically Russian, I suppose. On the other hand, it is directed by a guy named Aronofsky, takes place at the ballet, in a very dark and ill-defined reality, is set to Tchaikovsky’s music, and has a lesbian sex scene between two rather emaciated but beautiful women. And it isn’t French. So…

Inverse to my peers in the audience, I came for the ballet and stayed for the lesbian sex scene. But the draw, it turned out was neither. The psychodrama and Pyotr Ilyich’s score are responsible the film’s genuine intensity. Each on its own would be enough to make your heart pound, but the combination of two work like that of an illicit drug and alcohol. You arrive a bit jaded and cynical but braced for some adventure, get cinematic rush, leave the theater with your head spinning, and feel the full ugly weight of it the next day. It’s kind of like a terrifying nightmare you awake from the next day and, in the harsh light or reason and reflection you think, “Fuck. That didn’t even make SENSE.” Or maybe like a one night stand: insane in the moment, but now you’re in no mood to repeat it, wonder if you haven’t been made a fool of, suddenly remember that one annoying matter you blocked out of your mind in the heat of the moment but which now seems a bit cheezy and revolting (<-Winona Ryder zombie. Really?) But it just might haunt you for the rest of your life. Or not.

Well, did you want a proper review? Something about Kubrick and maybe some interpretation (metaphor for the creative process? stress-induced nightmare? complete mental breakdown? REALITY?) Oh, the Internet is full of that. Go google it. I liked it. I also like every aspect of this movie in its own respect (ballet, the score of Swan Lake, horror stories, psychotic break stories, artistic process stories, lesbian sex scenes, Flashdance-era fashions…) If you don't like any of these things, I can't imagine why on earth you would possibly want to see this film.

Er… I am a bit hesitant to post this here; I fear either no one will believe me, or my college peers will come crawling from the woodwork. But I simply must share! I beat Darren Aronofsky to the punch! In a performance art class taken in my undergraduate years, I -why? who even knows? it was performance art!- did one performance set to the score of Swan Lake which involved, among other things, a sharp blade and a stupid amount of my own blood. I went to a university that churns out actors and directors and other industry professionals. Who in that class is now hanging with Darren Aronofsky? Until I find out, I will be gracious and just mutter something about great minds…

Literature

Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk. Someone (Spires?) was advising me to read Akunin. My New Year’s resolution is to read Borges, but this was at the library, and seemed more … doable. I am slowly realizing the reason I have never read Borges is not laziness, but a sincere desire not to. Akunin. It’s ok. Pretty routine mystery stuff. I love mysteries, but that’s the problem. After so many of them it becomes a struggle to not see the formula. In fact the first few pages were intolerable, very talky and haughty (I want to blame Andrew Bromfield,) but it suddenly became interesting just a I was ready to chuck it. And it has remained interesting. I would not conflate “interesting” with “genius,” but it is certainly not … low brow. Pretentious? A little, which has the effect of making something respectable seem a bit cheap. But it is nevertheless enjoyable in an “I’ve been reading Latin all day and I don’t even know Latin, so brainpower is now on standby” way and great for the train. To quote an Amazon.com review, “I enjoyed the Dostoevsky references.”

On the topic of Russian literature, let us pause to appreciate this stunning article from the Guardian:

Why western authors are in love with Mother Russia.

I am “western,” in love with Mother Russia and … uhm, I have a blog. Maybe he’d gotten to the root of my madness? I was quite intrigued. Until I was reminded that the reason this western girl has a blog about Mother Russia is to combat the utter crap being written about her elsewhere.

Choice:

Russia has recently inspired an abundance of novels. I mean, specifically, novels set there by English-speaking authors, from thrillers such as Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko mysteries, to Helen Dunmore’s Leningrad books. (By contrast, surprisingly few home-grown, contemporary Russian writers have found wide foreign readerships. The Putin era has not in general been conducive to great literature.)

Dear Mr. Miller, YOU SUCK. I don’t write this stuff for my health, you know. (Well, actually… but that’s neither here nor there.) Yes, if London bookshops are not crammed with Russian novels, it simply MUST be Putin’s fault. But, let’s not get started about the crimes Mr. Putin would be accused of if London bookshops were crammed with Russian novels.

Martin Cruz Smith is “great literature?” I am going to go shoot myself. You can continue reading…

There are multiple ways to think about Russia’s extremes. The obvious one is physical. Much of the vast country is lethally cold for half the year or more. Virtually any outdoor activity – starting a car; walking down the obstacle-course, snowbound streets – can be its own microdrama. This harsh environment helps to explain why Dostoevsky and others always seem to be stretching up their hands to heaven. The fundamental questions – Why are we here? Is anyone in charge? – somehow seem sharper at -20C, or on a three-day train ride.

Well, considering London just absolutely ceased to function period after a few inches of snow, I can see how the author would attribute Russia’s penchant for drama to … cold weather. Still, it doesn’t explain the dearth of Canadian lit on London bookshelves. Personally, I blame Stephen Harper. Not conducive…

Classic:

Russia is not, or not only, a sort of moral zoo, which writer and reader can visit with a safe sense of superiority. It is also a place to test their moral pride and presumptions.

Russia has for centuries been a distorting, fairground mirror for the west. It is both like and unlike the tamer nations. Throughout the cold war, it was alien, unknowable, the other, enemy world, and an easy setting for thrillers. Something of that menace persists, partly in the guise of the Russian mob, one of the elements in John le Carré’s latest book Our Kind of Traitor. At the same time Russia is European, notionally Christian and industrialised. It has a familiar high culture and recognisable architecture. Go to Moscow for a day or two, and you might consider it a normal northern European city, with extra neon and worse roads. You have to stay a little longer to uncover the wildness. As the Marquis de Custine put it after visiting in 1839, it is “only too easy to be deceived by the appearances of civilisation”.

Don’t be deceived – they’re animals, not like us! It’s a “zoo.” Brits go there to get their moral superiority on. Someone should tell them they really do that just fine at home and save them the plane trip. And 3 hour train trip. In the cold.

One question posed by some novels set in Russia is whether this place that sometimes looks the same actually is the same: whether everything that happens there could happen here too, could happen to us, if we shed our inhibitions and our own “appearances of civilisation”. … Would we cling to our integrity today, if almost everyone about us was selling theirs?

Uhm, other than to read his own articles, has the author picked up a newspaper lately? Who the fuck is clinging to their integrity?! Please, I want to start a commune with this person. Tell me who we’re talking about. We should breed, and save civilization! Well, I never did find out why we westerners are in love with Mother Russia, but I did learn that Brits are apparently so boring they must travel to inclement and morally depraved places to find interesting people to write about. That’s depressing.

Lastly on the topic of Russian literature, from Muse Daily.

Brodsky’s mentor, the great Silver Age poet Anna Akhmatova, laughed at the K.G.B.’s shortsightedness. “What a biography they’re fashioning for our red-haired friend!” she said. “It’s as if he’d hired them to do it on purpose.”

Plus ca change…

I need to run off and return to real life.

But I was going to add something about there being a world food prices crisis which the UN reports may lead to uprisings. (Do hungry people have the energy to fight?) And on the same day I read about an article in our local paper highlighting a recipe using obscure, gourmet ingredients in some kind of contest among local chefs to make the most unique and over-the-top cuisine no one would ever want to eat evar. One step in the recipe involved covering a lemon in salt and letting it set “for 4-6 months.” Meanwhile, Americans are shopping at the Dollar Store and starving Indians are on the verge of revolt. Karlin just posted something about people living in sewers under Las Vegas.

It is just not right.

No wonder I cry…

But I must run! Ok, thanks for reading. Ciao!

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December 29, 2010

2nd Annual Holiday Reflections: The good, the bad and the prickly.

Previously: 1st Annual Holiday Reflections.

Again I went home for Christmas to see my crazy family, eat too much food and feel like an alien on planet Earth.

The Vast Wasteland.

While I stayed with my brother, I was put up in the kid’s bedroom, in which there was a TV. We didn’t have television sets in our bedrooms when we were children! Let alone with cable. And we walked uphill to school, in the snow, both ways. … Now, even as an adult, I own one small, old-timey (still works perfectly with a digital converter) TV set that I keep in a closet. I do not have cable or that combination of 900 channels of cable, HDTV, On Demand, Netflix and Pay-Per-View which perplexingly remains so bereft of quality programming that you end up watching Jerseylicious because it will do the least amount of damage to your karma. At home, I receive a mere 37 channels. But I can watch them without that sinking feeling that I’m a character in some dystopian morality tale or without prompting my brain cells to commit mass suicide. In fact, at home, the more ridiculous the programming, the more likely it is to be in a foreign language, so it is educational. Also, it is free.

So there I sat in horror, flipping through 900 channels late into the night. Scary smiling people with the acting skills of zombies trying to sell me revolutionary bras and rakes. Jerseylicious. Every crime against food you can imagine and some you cannot. Bimbos making out and then complaining and then making out again. Then … people dancing ballet in strange costumes to what sounded vaguely of Tchaikovsky. (Why do we put a T there?) After the freakshow I’d just witnessed on the previous 899 channels, I first took the man flipping around in a naked fat suit to be another attempt to shock a terminally bored American populace into looking at the screens in front of their faces. But unlike the previous 899 channels, I simply could not flip. I was mesmerized. It turned out to be the Casse Noisette Circus performed by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. AMAZING. I highly recommend it if you love ballet, or if you don’t like ballet but do like Cirque du Soleil and the theater, or do not like ballet but do like the Nutcracker but have been there and done that and are back to not liking ballet.

Speaking of ballet, I am planning to see the film, The Black Swan this weekend. Unlike everyone else who sees it, I do not like Natalie Portman. At all, actually. But I do love the ballet and Darren Aronofsky. And I would like to see Portman do something interesting for the first time in her career. Anyway, the only reason I mention it is because I found these posters for the movie and think they may be of some interest to people who come here expecting a post about Russia an just finding my annual Christmas complaints:



Gorgeous! So … what the hell is this called? Art Deco? Constructivist? Russian Avant Garde? The second one is very Erte… God, those people selling me rakes killed the brain cells that used to be able to identify early 20th Century Russian art movements! Fuck. Anyway, I want these.

p.s. In last year’s Christmas rant, I mentioned that my step-parents had like 3 universal remote controls for one TV. They now require just one! Progress!

In Which I Fail To Remember The True Meaning Of Christmas.

Also, I believe I devoted a shocking amount of space in last year’s rant to the Christmas presents I received and their general lameness. It’s beyond unseemly. So little class. I was raised better! I truthfully don’t even care when I get since I will probably hate it anyway. I am one of those people who say that shopping for other people’s gifts is the best part, and are telling the truth. Because despite making it abundantly clear what I want, and having a pretty unique but I think identifiable personal style, I remain absolutely impossible to shop for. And I am such a snob that I think gift certificates are second rate. Anyone in the position of ever having to buy me presents must end up resenting my very existence at some point. Also, I am a terrible liar. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to lie! My mouth will say, “Thank you for a the wonderful gift!” But it comes out all drenched in resentment and hollowness and I feel like I’ll start hyperventilating. So I try to make things easy by stating exactly what I want. Not my fault if people don’t buy it. For example, every year I ask for this perfume I wear and go through buckets of. Every year. It’s available online and in all cities with a mall. For like 10 years I have asked for it. Never got it.

UNTIL NOW. Thank you Candi and Tom!!!! You have just progressed to the next level in the game of “Try to give T– what she wants and save the princess from the monster.” W00T!

Another well-received present came from my brother, who gave me the GN’R Appetite for Destruction CD to replace the cassette tape version he stole from me in middle school. “I even upgraded it to a CD.” A true Christmas miracle!

Also, my brother’s girlfriend, in addition to be an overall outstanding person with no shortage of life skills and generosity, can shop for me. She makes it look downright easy. Spa products and this thing you put nice smelling wax into and makes your whole home smell like baked goods. She told me it was “reindeer themed,” and I pouted as I carried a ceramic reindeer I’d never display in public all the way home. But it turned out to be rather classy compared to what I was expecting. I am even displaying it. Now my apartment smells like cookies.

Everyone else got me gift certificates, chocolate and socks. Do you know what you get people you forgot to buy presents? I am infinitely appreciative, though. Truly. I am not just saying that as a CYA. Even for the weird, ginormous box of Russian chocolates that are not actually Russian but made in Latvia and taste like soap. Why are Latvians producing crap chocolates and slapping photos of Peterhoff on the boxes? I hope the fine people of Russia are getting a cut of the profits you are making off whoring their historical sites to peddle your disgusting confections! BTW, is it just me, or do Russians make the best semi-sweet chocolate in the world? I know Belgium and Switzerland are famous for that cloyingly sweet milky stuff I wont touch with a 10 ft. pole, and France is great with dark chocolate ganachey type things, and these days it is really best to buy chocolate fair trade from small Venezuelan farmers (small farms, not small Venezuelans). But seriously, the Russians can do semisweet! What is that about? Oh, my coworker also brought in real Russian (from Russia, not Latvia) chocolates called “bird’s milk.” Bird’s milk? Really? Russia is forever bitching that no one in the West takes them seriously, everyone is irrationally suspicious of them, and then they do things like give candy a name that evokes the horrors of Chernobyl. Like, great, just when we think we understand you mysterious people, your birds produce milk. I give up. (It’s from some skazka, I know. But lactating birds is still upsetting.) They were delicious.

On the topic of sweets, both my brother and my cousin Sally made buckeyes, which are chocolate candies meant to resemble a kind of nut. My mother used to make them, and now they fall into the category of things that can never ever be replaced since she is dead. My mother would force us to roll them into little nut-shaped balls until our hands cramped. All night. Our tiny child-slave palms would smell like peanut butter for a week. My brother’s buckeyes got the hard, glossy dark chocolate outer shell just right. And Sally got the middle flavor and texture just right. Both failed on the density. My mother’s buckeyes never crumbled. They were packed so densely, you could drop them on the floor and they would not fall apart. In fact, for many years I did not believe they were food and was secretly afraid to eat them.

America, or, In Which I Remember The True Meaning Of Christmas.

I feel like it gets uglier every year. Like physically, aesthetically uglier. Russia uglier. Which is not to say there is nothing beautiful about it. Just that there are random piles of junk in muddy fields, and businesses are too concerned with trying to afford the electric bill to care about a new paint job. There are empty business parks and stores where you go to buy your furniture, eggs, prescriptions and socks all in one overlit, characterless, impersonal giant shed. You know what I am talking about. Grimy. Dated. Bleak. I used to watch 70’s films set in NYC and romanticize grimy, dated and bleak. I still do. But when suburbs become grimy, dated and bleak, I worry. People in America buy food at the Dollar Store now. Employed people. People forgo art and hang TVs purchased on credit cards on their walls instead. I’m noticing a lack of seating. People are hanging out in kitchens – Soviet like, or in front of their TVs. Hunkering down, prioritizing. Repeatedly I heard Democrats and Republicans and unengaged alike complaining about the homeless. The homeless! I am not even sure there are homeless in their neighborhoods. Or why they are not complaining about the bankers getting bonuses. I even interrupted a weird group rant about the poor to say -and I am the non-Christian in the room!- “Hey, it’s Christmas, a time to appreciate what we have, and keep those not as fortunate in our hearts.” Everyone looked at me like I was an alien! Awkward silence followed. I’m not better then they are, and they are not bad or selfish people. I just think it is the insecurity. It’s pervasive. No one is even pretending things are alright anymore. Which is a relief, in a way.

Somehow it all seems easier to handle in the big city. Here no one thinks I am a failure if I don’t have 900 TV channels and a car and a baby. And if they do, it’s impersonal. People fail, a fact of life, nothing to see here, move along. The American dream will not come crashing to its death because I stopped believing in it. Cities seem to reserve judgement. We don’t look at an unwashed crack junkie under a bridge and blame them, “You failed! Look at what you are doing to the nation! Shame!” We feel sad and a bit helpless and blame our selves. “We failed. Look at what we’re doing to our people. Shame on us…” Some people would say this is socialist thinking devoid of personal responsibility. “Personal responsibility” is American shorthand for “Every man for himself.” What about our personal responsibility to each other? What the fuck is our “nation” if not each other? Yeah, I just don’t get it… Why are we mad at the homeless? They should go out and get a job? People with advanced degrees can’t even find work. (And uhm, if working at McDonald’s won’t support the person with an advanced degree, how do we presume it will support the poor? Without government assistance?) Middle class families are being tossed out of their homes. Which homeless poor do we hate exactly? The nuclear family in the suburbs or the black man in the city?

What I wanted to say was that I always feel a bit humbled and overwhelmed and frankly deprived when I go home to 4 bedroom homes with vaulted ceilings and outdoor hot tubs and $150 bottles of wine and new additions to the house and TVs the size of picture windows in all rooms and cars and endless conversations about how it was all paid for. I feel insecure about my tiny apartment and tiny TV and cat that is not a baby I take to soccer practice and the dirty bus I ride to get places. But by the end of my stay, I decide my bed is more comfortable than most (why are people buying TVs before comfortable mattresses?!), I actually like what is on my tiny olden TV, I can’t be found guilty of using more space than I need or of having a large carbon footprint. I never, ever have to look for parking or pay for gas. I like animals a hundred times more than babies. I don’t even like babies. I pretty much don’t want to see another child under 10 for the next 360 days. Cigarettes are 3 times more expensive here, but that just means I smoke 3 times less. And this overeating culture is out of control. I’m perfectly content with a slice of carry out pizza and glass of cheap wine. (To put things into perspective and illustrate I’ve not become delusional with humility: the tastiest thing on the gourmet Christmas feast menu was potatoes made with truffle oil. I am thinking, “Oof, truffles, in a recession! So Petit-bourgeois…” Then I remembered the truffle oil was a gift from me to the chef. … See, I do give good gifts.) Anyway. What is my point? I love my family. I am mildly terrified of the America lying dormant outside major metropolitan areas.

Speaking of Carbon Footprints…

What else can I complain about? ZooLights. Apparently this is done all over the world now, so I hope you know what I am talking about. Christmas lights all over the zoo. It looks magical, but on my way home last night I was wondering if the animals appreciate it. Maybe they love it. But maybe if they are light-sensitive or creatures of routine, it stresses them out. I don’t know. I hate zoos anyway. Won’t go in them. Too depressing. Maybe it would be less depressing if they kept the holiday lights up all year.

Hot tubs. My step-parents have an outdoor hot tub and we got in it in the snow. That was fun! Except it was not a time machine.

Lastly, when did we collectively cease to be able to function in the snow? What is that about? You can walk in it, blow it away, shovel it, melt it, go home and play in it and drink hot chocolate. I specifically remember there being snow and airplanes when I was little. Hell, I imagine the only way you can even get to Antarctica is by plane. Think about that… And how ironic is it that while we are flipping about about body screeners and the size of a shampoo bottle, it is not evil Muslims but a season that arrives every year pretty much like clockwork that cripples our air traffic and bring large swaths of human civilization to a standstill. But climate change is a fairytale. Terrorists who hate our crappy TV/culture of self blame/Dollar General food shopping way of life want to kills us, and that’s worth sacrificing our children’s lives for…

Whew…

I feel better already! Thanks for letting me get all that off my chest so that I may enter the new year with a clear mind and a light heart.

Ok, who am I kidding, I’ve never known a a clear mind and a light heart.

Baby steps…

Uhm, anyone have NY resolutions? I have to read some Borges. That’s it.

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