poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

October 11, 2010

Odds & Ends: Like in a dream Edition

A bit of catching up.

Vova’s Girlz.

~ Kevin O’Flynn: “Wanted: Putin’s Girl.”

So, this is annoying:

A girl was needed, but no ordinary one. She had to be not too tall and not too short, not too young and not too old — which if you’re wondering, is apparently between 22 and 27 — and she had to have a Moscow propiska, or registration.

It sounds like many a Moscow or even St. Petersburg man’s dream. Her skin had to be pure — no mention of her heart — her brows not too heavy, her chins not too many. Slavic features, please, they asked. Good manners, a way with lifts, not too big on the hips.

A beautiful smile and kind, intelligence plus the ability to take a bullet to the chest if somebody takes a pot shot at the guy who looks almost tall — to you, possibly — by your side.

If asked to find an escort for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it is unlikely that I would have stuck an ad up on a web site.

But that is what went buzzing around the Internet a week or so ago. The escort was needed for last Friday when Putin was set to visit the Arctic forum at the new Moscow State University building.

Her job was to escort him to the lift: Nails have to be short enough to be able to press the button; make some meaningless chitchat — “So when will Novaya Zemlya get its first Coffee House?” — and then fade away like a late morning dream.

She was not the only one, as the company in question was actually looking for three hostesses in total. Probably because there are always a lot of lifts at Arctic forums.

Your dress, the ad said, must be business-style: suit, skirt/trousers, blouse, high heels, “not vulgar but beautiful.”

The girls, who have already had their moment, were to be chosen in a “casting” close to the Universitet metro station.

Most specific was the height requirement: “Height, STRICTLY 160-165 (plus 2 to 3 centimeters is possible),” the ad said. “VVP has a height of 169 cm, not higher than him, that’s for sure.”

I didn’t even bother trying our for that one … you know, er, propiskaless and all. Maybe Kevin finds this kind of headhunting vulgar, but at least it is honest. In America, we invite all the highly qualified applicants, hire the pretty ones as intended all along, and send the rest consolation letters, if they are lucky.

Why isn’t Lyudmila helping with the elevators? If you want to send a pro-family, traditional-values demography-inspiring message to your people, why not have the wife at your side? Alas, perhaps she has joined a convent? There are not even elevators in convents, I don’t think. Not in the ones I’ve stayed at. Oh yes I did. Catholic school, baby. Anyway, here is the difference between me and Lyudia Putina: I can still entertain the idea that it’s just that he hasn’t met me.

~ … I don’t have much to add to the Great Calendar Debate, except to wonder if people even need wall calendars anymore. I buy them. Mine have themes like “365 Days in France” and “Warhol’s Shoes,” but only because Putin hasn’t out out his own beefcake calendar yet. However, between Outlook, Blackberry, Google and every other cyber organizing tool out there, why buy a wall calendar? Because it gives you something nice to look at when you realize your bills are due. Which, politics aside, is why depressing calendars don’t sell.

~ From Becky Cloonan, via Natalia Antonova:

Read This.

Elif Batuman is a name I’ve come across from time to time, thought I should remember, and always forgot. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Which -based on nothing more than the title- has been immediately added to my reading list. But it’s her blog that has me reeling….

Kafka porn contest

Patient readers! I promised a Kafka contest, and here it is. In the course of researching my recent Kafka article, I was interested to learn about a 2008 Kafka pornography scandal, provoked by the publication of James Hawes’s Excavating Kafka (the US title of which, Why You Should Read Kafka before You Waste Your Life, makes me proud to be an American). As the Guardian put it:

At the focus of Hawes’ investigation are pictures he stumbled across in the British Library in London and the Bodleian in Oxford of the pornography to which Kafka subscribed while in his twenties. They include images of a hedgehog-style creature performing fellatio, golem-like male creatures grasping women’s breasts with their claw-like hands and a picture of a baby emerging from a sliced-open leg.

Myriad questions came to my mind. Whom or what was that hedgehog-style creature fellating? Was the Guardian being anti-Semitic when they called that breast-grasping creature a Golem? And who wants to see a baby coming out of someone’s leg? I consulted Google for answers and came across a terrifically helpful blog post which identifies and reproduces Aubrey Beardsley’s representation of a very angry-looking baby being removed from some guy’s leg (below), as per the description, in Lucian’s second-century proto-sci-fi hit True History, of how children are birthed on the Moon:\

Gratifying as this was, I was still really curious about that hedgehog and its unknown partner, which continued to elude my Googling skills for some time. One respected Kafka expert, to whom I broached the subject, basically counseled me to give up: “I think we can assume that the hedgehog was [performing these acts upon] another hedgehog, no? Isn’t that porn reportage protocol? You assume they’re of the same species, unless otherwise noted.” Well, Sir, that certainly isn’t my reportage protocol. And I’m glad it isn’t. Because, OK, don’t click on the link if you’re under 18 (believe me kiddo, it can wait), but I eventually found the picture, and, although I can’t tell you exactly what the soi-disant “hedgehog” is pleasuring, I can state with confidence that it is definitely not another soi-disant “hedgehog.”

As is often the case with Kafka, the more I learned, the more questions remained unanswered. What was that thing? Why was it behaving that way? Are such images “porn, pure and simple,” or are they, as Reiner Stach has suggested, mere “playful representations”?

Hoping to penetrate some of these mysteries, I addressed myself to valued reader and colleague Dimiter Kenarov, author of the Bulgarian bestselling poetry volume Апокрифни животни (Apocryphal Animals), the proceeds of which are diverted to the Sofia Zoo, where they have already financed a new swing for the monkeys. Kenarov suggested that the illustration represented some form of “apocryphal evolution,” but that, more significantly, one had perhaps stumbled upon “a whole new porn genre: Kafka Sex. There is money in here. For example, undressing a person only to find new and new layers of clothing underneath.”

I hereby decree this the first official entry in the My Life and Thoughts Kafka porn contest. Please send in your best ideas for this lucrative new genre, which may or may not eventually benefit in some way the monkeys in the Sofia Zoo.

Contest is over, and you’ve missed your chance to get some of her furniture. But a “first official entry” suggests there will be a second, official or otherwise. Anyway, this all somehow reminded me of that Edition 69 and the “The Devětsil ” literary movement. A bit after his time. But surrealist porn seems to be a theme with the Czechs…

~ Sheyngart recently showed up in the neighborhood. He did a great Q. and A., like he really wanted to be there, unlike Sasha Hemon. He’s quite funny. But not terribly serious. Which is too bad, because when he gets serious, great things come out. He was talking about how writers should take acting classes. I’d never thought about it, but it makes great sense. I’ve taken enough acting classes that I should now be prepared to write a novel. The crowd was a mix urban hipsters, Russian immigrants (a burly man rudely pushed past me to demand of the staff, “Vhat Time you Close?!”) and elderly Jews. Gary said he thought the Tea Party was better than Putin’s Russia. (Gary lives in NYC and doesn’t exactly have to worry about the Tea Party. I’ve not had any ancestors pogromed to death by Russians. We disagree.) He said he liked Pavel Pepperstein and Sorokin. He told a story about these old babushky who erected a giant toilet in central Moscow and were flushing Sorokin’s lurid books down it. You thought the story would end in grievance: so that’s the kind of thanks an artist gets in Putin’s oppressive Russia. He took a u-turn and remarked, “Russia’s the only country in the world that continues to care enough about novels to hold public protests against them.”

~ Adding to my blogroll: Lizok’s books.

~ I’ve about finished Rasskazy, and off the top of my head, the stories I liked most:

“THEY TALK” by Linor Goralik
“RUSSIAN HALLOWEEN” by Aleksander Bezzubtsev-Kondakov
“THE SEVENTH TOAST TO SNAILS” by Ekaterina Taratuta
“D.O.B.” by Aleksander Snegirev

Probably pure coincidence, but in this selection I’ve made, the women are writing experimental prose, and the men more traditional narratives. There is a lot of stuff in the book that, while very artistic and academic, does not seem to work very well. These did. I also wanted read twithout any political bias. One might argue that these are “Western” in their style, and condemnations of Russia in their content. They’re well written. And I am not sure I buy the idea that anything less than saccharine is an indictment, or the only good writers are Slavophiles.

And BG and Slava came to me in a dream…

~ c/o Oleg Kashin (who is spending WAY too much time on Twitter):

BG & Surkov! You know how in cheap beer commercials, there is always a set of hot twins the average Joe spies at a bar? (As if an average Joe drunk on Budweiser were more attractive to Scandanavian twins than the sober version of himself?) Anyway, If Budweiser were marketing to me, this would be the commercial. The third fellow is Andrei Makarevich. Meh. What was going on here? Political event at which musicians are kissing up? Or musical event at which poor Slava is kissing up? Anyway. So there is now some debate as to whether or not Boris has gone over to the dark side. Some people are like, hey, he’s just having a polite chat – who cares? They aren’t being helped by this, from Ekho Moskvy:

~ Борис Гребенщиков и Владимир Путин плавали по коммунальным квартирам России.

Известный музыкант Борис Гребенщиков в день рождения премьер-министра России Владимира Путина встретился с ним во сне. Об этом сам музыкант рассказал сегодня в эфире “Эха Петербурга”:

“Он мне снился сегодня. Мы с ним совершали вояж по России. По-моему, мы с ним плыли на катере сквозь квартиры коммунальные. Причём было дико красиво. Вероятно, вели разговоры. Я такого сна не помню просто в жизни своей! Я так ему благодарен! Какие силы работают на нашего президента… премьер-министра, что даже я вижу сны про него! Фантастика. Вот оккультизм настоящий”.

Alrighty then… Let’s keep in mind he smokes a lot of pot. But, is he being sarcastic, or sincere? Is it veiled criticism or harmless entertainment? It’s one thing to dream you’re sailing with Vova through communal apartments, another to issue a press release about it to your hippied-out followers. Hm. Fascinating indeed.

Bonus.

~ Finally, we have some pictures of the Soyuz capsule landing. For a while, I was not impressed. Looked like a piece of junk on a parachute. Then a piece of junk crashing to the dirt. Then an old piece of junk out in a field.

Then spacemen crawled out of it!!!! Wowee!

Soyuz TMA-18 Space Capsule Landing.

It’s really a metaphor for Russia, is it not? To the casual observer: junk. To the close observer: oudated junk. To the surveyor: junk surrounded by miles of nothing. But inside the junk are fascinating, adventurous, curious, educated and slightly insane people, doing astonishing things. And even the junk has stories to tell…

August 21, 2010

Odds & Ends: Official Latest Roundup Edition.

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 2:26 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Step right up, folks! Step right up!

I’d abandoned the blog for so long interesting spam began to show up. “Help! I am currently being held prisoner by the Russian mafia and being forced to post spam for p—s enlargement or they will kill me! Help!” I hit the delete button and allowed to poor chump to be offed. Well, he probably should not have been doing whatever he was doing to attract the attention of the Russian mafia, right? Who is worse, gangsters, or the people who do business with them, enable them, and then get all surprised an panicky and morally outraged when their lives start being threatened? I am pretty sure that was the whole Khodorkovsky defense… Well, as if I were not feeling enough guilt about slacking off with the blog this summer, Siberian Light goes and declares my previous post about reading on the subway “Poemless’ latest roundup.” Ack! That was a real life genuine blog post, with original thoughts on one subject and everything! It was no “roundup.” Boo! Also, round up is something you do to weeds and cattle and fractions. I write. Yeah. Anyway… Here’s your damn roundup:

POLITICS

I. Lovely little article appeared on FP this week in which professionals were paid money to make the same observations I make for free everyday and most 10 year olds could school you on. Oh well. I suppose a bit of repetition is required to get basic facts through thick skulls. Probably arranging a mafia kidnapping would be more effective, but journalism is legal.

Foreign Policy: Why Russia Matters. Ten reasons why Washington must engage Moscow.

Consider this your talking points memo:

1. Russia’s nukes are still an existential threat.
2. Russia is a swing vote on the international stage.
3. Russia is big.
4. Russia’s environment matters.
5. Russia is rich.
6. One word: energy.
7. Russia is a staunch ally in the war on terror (and other scourges).
8. The roads to Tehran and Pyongyang go through Moscow.
9. Russia can be a peacemaker.
10. Russians buy U.S. goods.

No one ever mentions #9! We only illegally invaded Iraq and then pretended to leave a decade later because Russia wasn’t going to give us the UNSC vote to do it legally. They also one of the (many) reasons we haven’t declared war on Iran. #1-6 are no-brainers but sadly a lot of people are too. #7 is a lame excuse both countries use to get away with things they shouldn’t. #8 sounds like the subtitle of a creepy neocon white paper and #10 is the least palatable reason in my book. And really, what the hell does the U.S. even manufacture anymore? Besides bullshit economic models and Hollywood celebrities? And I am taking the gangster defense on this: if Russians want to buy our stuff, I can’t be responsible for what happens to them.

ARTS

I. A “Who’s Who” of approved entertainment, or a potential blacklist, depending on your sensibilities…

Plucer: Служители Муз, участвовавшие в работе объединения “НАШИ” на Селигере.

художник Анатолий Осмоловский – 2010
художник Николай Полисский – 2009
режиссёр Никита Михалков – 2009
художник Андрей Бартенев – 2010
галерист Софья Троценко – 2009
художник Никас Сафронов – 2010
галерист Елена Селина – 2010
певица Земфира – 2005
группа “Любэ” – 2005, 2007
певец Вячеслав Бутусов – 2006
группа “Би-2” – 2006, 2009, 2010
группа “Серьга” – 2006
дизайнер Денис Симачёв – 2010
дизайнер Леонид Алексеев – 2010
дизайнер Гоша Рубчинский – 2010
фотохудожник Олег Доу – 2010
дизайнер Татьяна Михалкова – 2010
поэт Евгений Евтушенко – 2009, 2010
писатель Леонид Каганов – 2009
писатель Олег Рой – 2009
писатель Елена Кунсэль – 2010
писатель Кирилл Бенедиктов – 2010
писатель Валерий Печейкин – 2010
певица Маша Макарова – 2006
группа “УмаТурман” – 2005, 2006
группа “Король и Шут” – 2006
группа “Кипелов” – 2006
группа “Ночные снайперы” – 2006
группа “Агата Кристи” – 2006
группа “Кукрыниксы” – 2006
группа “Мультфильмы” – 2006
певица Юлия Чичерина – 2006
группа “Дискотека Авария” – 2007
группа “Чай вдвоём” – 2009
группа “Город 312” – 2009
группа “Корни” – 2009
группа “Блестящие” – 2009
группа “Виагра” – 2009
группа “Плазма” – 2009
певец Никита Малинин – 2009
певец Ираклий Пирцхалава – 2009
группа “Пилигрим” – 2009
певица Ирина Ортман – 2009
певица Лена Князева – 2009
певица Электра – 2009
певец Владимир Лёвкин – 2009
певец Александр Киреев – 2010
певица Пелагея – 2010
режиссёр Наталья Бондарчук – 2009
режиссёр Анатолий Прохоров – 2009
каскадёр Александр Иншаков – 2009
режиссёр Тимур Бекмамбетов – 2010
режиссёр Иван Максимов – 2010
режиссёр Сергей Мирошниченко – 2010
продюсер Ренат Давлетьяров – 2010
актёр Валерий Гаркалин – 2010
актёр Андрей Фомин – 2010
дрессировщики бр. Запашные – 2009

I have to plead guilty to not knowing half of these people (and even guiltier to having once attended a Ser’ga concert) but am rather shocked by the mention of Yevgeny Yevtushenko. It just seems a bit vulgar for him somehow. But then Mikhalkov has illustrated that the infamous haughty panache that so defines the Russian intelligentsia is hardly limited to critics of the government. In fact, the “real” Russian oldschool dissidents I know can’t stand Yevtushenko’s guts. So maybe I should be less surprised.

II. And speaking of Bekmambetov, who once had me kidnapped and forced to watch the filming of Wanted, it sounds like he’s about to make the most brilliant(ly titled) movie ever:

About.com: Wanted Director Signs on for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

And it is not a comedy! Is this from the same people who brought us the video game Eugene Onegin: Devil’s Mercy, which “sought to provide a lesson in literature by rendering the hero of Alexander Pushkin’s masterpiece as a zombie killer”? Is there some “historical-figure-becomes-monster-hunter” genre I am unaware of?

Well, I wasn’t kidnapped exactly. Just exiting a building smack in the middle of a stunt scene and swiftly corralled into the “safe” zone on the set. And not allowed to go home until they got the shot. So, kidnapped, basically. Movienapped, we’ll say.

III. Despite rumors of my darling BG once colluding with Surkov, I didn’t see his name on the list of celebs willing to publicly kiss up to a political party to get the kids to buy their records. Of course – he is taking the high road:

Far from Moscow: New from Akvarium’s Archives: “Our Life as Seen by the Trees.”

Yesterday a remarkable document from the history of Russian rock music was made available to the general public – in ways that might actually help that same social body. In other words, ten songs from the archives of St Petersburg ensemble Akvarium have been released via the music service Kroogi for charitable ends. Proceeds raised by the sale of these songs, known en masse as “Our Life as Seen by the Trees,” will be used to help victims of the recent forest fires in Russia. Kroogi is requiring downloaders to pay nothing more than one cent; hopefully fans of the band will feel obliged to offer more. Information about the charitable organization involved, headed by Dr. Elizaveta Glinka, can be found at the same online venue.

You should read this nicely written article, which includes some of Grebenshchikov’s own words about the time and place in which the songs were recorded, some history of the band and some heavy-handed reflection on the past and future or Russia.

P.S. If you are a fan of Akvarium, I’m putting in a plug forThe Bodhisattvas of Babylon, recently revamped. Checked it out.

IV. Apropos of nothing, Gary Shteyngart has a new book out, “Super Sad True Love Story,” and was just on PBS’s Need To Know.

I have a real love-hate relationship with Shteyngart. I think his novels lack any redeeming qualities, but I keep reading them for the Russian kitsch and for other reasons I am consciously unaware of but subconsciously probably just unwilling to admit to myself. I’d never seen him interviewed before and am glad I did. He seems much more decent and likable than his characters…

V. Finally, you can go check out some olden days fotos of Russian intellectuals who were Russian intellectuals back when that was a brilliant thing to be:

Babs71: Ленинград. Групповой портрет культуры. 1920-30е.

ODDS

I. WTF is going on in Japan?!?!

I honestly don’t pay any attention to Japan. Why would I? I mean, besides Banana Yoshimoto? But I keep coming across these INSANE stories about missing old people. Not as in “old people who wander off.” As in, “old people who are killed or whose deaths are not reported by relatives so they can collected their pensions!”

Slate: The Rise of the Parasite Singles.

Didn’t the Japanese used to kill themselves when they ran out of money?

A nationwide search for missing elderly people in Japan is turning up more macabre and mysterious stories every day. The hunt began earlier this month after Tokyo officials found the mummified body of an 111-year-old man in his bed, 30 years after his death. On Aug. 10, the city of Kobe admitted that the last registered address of the woman who at 125 years old would be Japan’s oldest citizen has been a public park since 1981.

With almost one-quarter of the population over 65 years old, Japan has more than 40,300 centenarians, about 87 percent of them women. Government officials suspect that more supposed centenarians are dead, and at least some of the deaths went unreported by family members so they could continue to claim the elderly relatives’ retirement benefits.[…]

The relatives (usually children) of the missing Japanese centenarians located thus far have all been of retirement age, people old enough to be getting their own social security checks. But a growing number of younger Japanese citizens are depending on their retired parents for financial support. On Aug. 12, police arrested a 56-year-old unemployed man in central Mie prefecture on suspicion that he starved his mother to death two years ago and has been living on her pension ever since.

But wait! There’s more!

BBC: Japan man ‘kept dead mother in a backpack’

The remains of a Japanese woman have been found in a backpack, in the latest gruesome discovery by investigators searching for missing old people.

The woman’s son told police his mother died in 2001 but he had not been able to pay for a burial.

A similar discovery weeks ago sparked a search for people who are registered as being more than 100 years old.[…]

“Because I didn’t have money for a funeral, I didn’t report her death,” the Sankei Shimbun newspaper quoted him as saying.

The AFP news agency reported that he told police: “I laid out her body for a while, washed it in the bath, then broke up the bones and put them into a backpack.”

But the woman’s pension continued to be paid and police are now investigating the son on suspicion of fraud.

There are more than 40,000 registered centenarians in Japan, according to government data, but the number of missing has raised concerns that the welfare system is being exploited by dishonest relatives.

Analysts say there is dismay in Japan that a rich, efficient society could have lost track of its senior citizens to such a degree.

I am in dismay that a rich, efficient society cannot afford proper funerals…

II. I am also dismayed by other stuff I found on Slate.

Slate: Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty: Is it legal to eat your cat?

When police in Western New York pulled over Gary Korkuc for blowing off a stop sign on Sunday, they found a live cat in his trunk, covered in cooking oil, peppers, and salt. Korkuc told authorities that his pet feline was “possessive, greedy, and wasteful” and that he intended to cook and eat it. Korkuc has been charged with animal cruelty. Is there a legal way to cook and eat a cat?
Maybe in some places, but not New York. Few states have specific laws barring the use of pets for food. […]

California’s anti-pet-eating law has a broader reach. It bars possession of the carcass, so having bought your cat steaks from someone else wouldn’t be a useful alibi. The California law also protects “any animal traditionally or commonly kept as a pet or companion,” rather than just Fido and Fluffy. The statute is somewhat untested, though, so no one really knows which animals are included. Pigs are not, even though they are commonly kept as pets, because they are farm animals. Horses are specifically covered by a different section of the code. There’s no precedent on iguanas, goldfish, or boa constrictors.[…]

On the other end of the spectrum are states like Missouri, where very few restrictions are placed on when, why, and how an owner can kill his pet. In these areas, it would be difficult to lock up a cat-eater, unless his chosen means of slaughter were particularly inhumane.

Ah, Missouri… I’ve often thought about this issue, the double standard. My cat sinks his teeth into my flesh on a regular basis, and I am pretty sure if he were starving, he’d look at me and see dinner. But even if I were starving, I could not eat my cat.

III. If you think the previous two stories were disturbing … and enjoyed that, let me alert you to the website http://www.Christwire.org. There you will find stories about Chinese pandagators, gay pets (do they go to heaven?) and many, many far more deranged and offensive items. Parody, perhaps, but your boss won’t know that, so a NSFW warning is attached.

IV. Lastly, and remaining on the topic of pets and ethics:

AP: Russia marks 50th anniversary of space dogs flight

MOSCOW — Russia is marking the 50th anniversary of the space flight of two mongrel dogs — Belka and Strelka — who became the first living creatures to circle the Earth and come back alive.
The August 1960 mission helped test the equipment which was used to carry the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space on April 12, 1961.

Belka and Strelka were part of a Soviet program of animal tests intended to pave the way for human space flight. They followed Laika, a dog that flew into space on Nov. 3, 1957 but wasn’t meant to survive and died.

The successful flight of Belka and Strelka had showcased the Soviet lead in space exploration and turned the dogs into global celebrities. Russian television stations topped their newscasts Thursday with anniversary reports.

Belka & Strelka!

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