I will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania within thirty days. I have been thinking about it a lot and today’s Prompt is fitting as the last time I held silence on something that should have been said was during a meeting to prepare for this trip. One member of the team laboriously put together a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of us an the village we will be staying at. It was very nice except for one detail: the background music. To me the music sounded extremely dark and gloomy (I think they were going for “ambient”), and it sort of seemed to unwittingly perpetuate the whole “Dark Continent” stereotype that dominates depictions of Africa. Someone said that the song sounded familiar and asked the slideshow creator where it came the. The answer? “It’s the theme music from Blood Diamond, it took me forever to find the right sounding song.” I’m not sure what was went by “right sounding,” but I have a bad feeling that meant “African sounding”.
Here is the problem: Blood Diamond took place in Sierra Leone, which is on the opposite side of the continent that Tanzania is on. Those two nations have nothing in common, so that would mean that there music is most likely entire different. I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference, but I’m sure it would be as absurd as playing Irish music on a slideshow about a trip to Russia. Ireland and Russia are both Europe after all. As much as I wanted to voice my concern, I held my silence and I’m glad I did. I wanted to suggest maybe searching for some music that was actually Tanzanian (or at least Swahili), but out of tact I did not. Honestly the Circle of Life would have been better, because its upbeat and the Lion King uses Swahili extensively. Or even some reggae, since while it is not actually from Africa it does have a message of peace and global unity. Oh well, I’m sure nobody who saw that slideshow saw what I saw.
I have recently viewed Z, directed by Costa Gavras. Z is a political thriller about the assassination of a Greek presidential hopeful named Grigoris Lambrakis who was running on an antinuclear and Nonaligned platform. Lambrakis was a real Greek politician though the story told in Z is highly fictionalized; interestingly it begins with a disclaimer saying that “any resemblance to real persons or events is intentional.”
The opening dialogue discusses methods used to prevent mildew in French vineyards, and it is revealed to be a lecture given by a general to several other uniformed officers; the general goes on to explicitly link this with preventing the spread of Communism in Greece. I knew what he was getting at from the first mention of mildew. This sets the stage for the rest of the film. Before Lambrakis even appears, several of his campaigners are shown preparing for a rally and are inform that someone is out for him.
Much of the suspense of the film is whether he will be killed, and when he is killed then the focus on just who was responsible. Was it the Communists? Nationalists? Army? Police? Random act of mob violence? Unfortunately even before seeing the film I knew that it was the military responsible. A group of street thugs are followed and shown instigating riots, and it is later revealed that they were planted by the military, which reminded me of all the other examples of astroturfed resistance against democratic leaders like Arbenz and Mossadegh. Interestingly absent from Z is the USA and USSR. Both are mentioned on numerous occasions and Lambrakis made it clear he opposed either side having the bomb and that he would make Greece neutral, but no Americans or Soviets are anywhere to be seen. I really liked this because it helped to focus in on Greece, which is portrayed as being heavily partisan.
Not only does this movie give an excellent look at pre junta Greece, it is also an excellent film on an artistic level. The cinematography is naturalistic, not obviously staged like most Hollywood films. Because it depicts contemporary events, the clothes seen are totally authentic and not costumes. One thing that interested me is that many of Lambrakis’ young supporters are shown wearing clothes very similar to those worn by the mods, teddy boys, and beats of Britain. Filming was done in Algeria, though I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Greece. One thing that annoyed me was that all of the dialogue is in French and not Greek, and signs and documents shown are written in French and English. Not using Greek really distracted me from the fact it was supposed to be Greece and somewhat took away from the realism. Other than that the film is excellent storytelling.
The impression I got from Z was a cynical portrait of Greece as a heavily troubled place where people got killed for not being extreme enough. The sympathy of the film is definitely given to the Left, but it hardly glamorized them. Admittedly I know little about Greece during this period, but I feel that after seeing Z I understand the situation much better. All of the significant factions that vied for power are present, and their interactions are entertainingly shown. Overall I would say that Z is an excellent work that succeeds on all counts.
Well last night I was at home to get a haircut for my job interview and my mom was kind enough to DVR the opening ceremony for me. I must say, it was probably the most impressive one I can remember (certainly of the Winter ones) and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Russia has such a long, storied, complex, and frankly awkward national history and I think that the Sochi committee did a brilliant job at covering all that in such a concise manner. Being a Nonwestern History Major and having took a Russian Lit class last semester really made it possible for me to appreciate what I was seeing; as having context always does. During the Cyrillic acrostic segment I was familiar with every item listed, though I would like to know poor Tolstoy was forced to share T with television (every other letter only got one item). The Thousand Years of History in Three Minutes short was also very good, starting with the Varangians and ending with right now (but the writers of this short didn’t seem to think anything notable happened in the last century). My personal favorite scene in the whole ceremony was when Czar Peter the Great sailed to what would later become St. Petersburg. I could recognize everything that was being shown, so I really didn’t like the fact the announcers had to explain every damn thing that was shown. I know The Bronze Horseman when I see it. I did a face palm during the ball dance, because it brought me back to the dreary experience of braving through Anna Karenina, so I laughed heartily when the train appeared later. Over all I would say that the opening ceremony was everything it should be, save for some egregious omissions. It was certainly better than the London 2012 one, which was very, well, British. The only thing missing from the Sochi ceremony was Putin wrestling an almasty.
It’s no secret that Russia’s
elected dictator oops, ugh, President Putin is rather fond of doing crazy shit o establish his place as an alpha male. Whether it’s formula one racing, hang gliding with cranes, hunting Siberian tigers, and doing a bunch of other stuff with his shirt off, it’s pretty clear he loves being the center of attention. For a former director of the KBG who is involved with selling arms to repressive regimes while violating civil rights in his own country, I just can’t view him as evil. He is just too goofy. Me and a couple of classmates from my Russian Lit class came up with some ideas for what he should pull next. In no particular order:
1. Guest star at a Professional Bull Riding (PBR) tournament
2. Approve for his likeness to be used as a playable fighter in the next Mortal Kombat
3. Perform on a polar bear themed float at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
4. Become an ordained minister in The Church of Subgenius
5. Tour with Parliament Funkadelic as a pimped out version of Alexander Pushkin
6. Compete in Lucha Libre
7. Walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon
8. Portray Count Vronksy in a “liberty taking” remake of Anna Karenina
9. Wrestle crocodiles in Australia
10. Be a Merman at Sea World
11. Dance at Chippendales
12. Become the new mascot for Dos Equis (after all he is the TRUE Most Interesting Man in the World)
If you have any other good ideas for stuff he should do, please share!
The most recent book I have finished reading is The Master and Margatita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It tells the story of the Devil showing up in Moscow one day, some time in the late 1930s and follows him and his entourage across the town as they cause a number of outrageous incidents. While the satirical elements may not resonate with those unfamiliar with Stalin-era Soviet history (such as the Apartment Crisis), the events and characters will definitely compensate. The titular Master is a novelist who is writing a novel within a novel, which tells the story of Pontius Pilate and creates an amazing juxtaposition between modern Moscow and ancient Jerusalem. This overlaps with a retelling of the Faust legend. What makes the novel so brilliant are all of the characters, including the Devil who is shown as a stage magician and professor of the occult, a witch who is always naked, a dwarf vampire, Jesus, and giant talking cat who gives Garfield and the Cheshire Cat a run for their money. Oh, and accordion playing chimpanzees show up at one point. This is the best book I have read all year. You should read it. You shouldn’t be disappointed.
I have just finished reading Stray Dog Cabaret, an anthology of Modernist Russian poetry translated by Paul Schmidt. The anthology takes it’s name from the Stray Dog Cabaret (or Cafe), a short lived St. Petersburg restaraunt (open from 1911 to 1915) where many poets met to share their works. What is interesting about this collection is how it is arranged, poems are not organized by poet or linearly by appearance. You would have to go ahead and read it to see what I mean. The three major movements in Russian poetry are represented, the Symbolists, Futurists, and one uniquely Russian: the Acmeists. Some of the poets included are Anna Akhmatova, Sergei Esensin, Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakoysky, future Nobel Laureate Boris Pasternak, and my personal favorite Alexander Blok. I know most people probably haven’t heard of any of these writers, neither had I before reading this (except Pasternak), and many people don’t read poetry at all, but you should give this one a chance. It captures the essense of post Tolstoi pre Lenin Russia.
Here in Washington State there is a bill known as Initiative 522 that would require the state to label all genetically modified foods on the the package, something which is already a reality for all my readers from any EU member. Many others such as Russia also require GMO labeling. I strongly support 522, as I believe that consumers should have the right to know what shit is in what they buy. We already have labels for high fructose corn syrup, fats, carbs, calory count, and so forth. Like any other bill no matter how reasonable, there has been a sizable opposition.
According to those ads 522 is just beaurocratic red tape that would hinder everyday people with excessive regulations. I’m sorry, I am not going to be convinced that a bill is bad because some third generation “family farmer” (who probably works on corporate subsidized land) on TV tells me its bad. God, these are the same people that lobby for the right to kill endangered wolves! Sure, the Rancher’s Association and Grocerery Manufactur’s Association oppose 522; but that should be obvious why. What the slick ads don’t tell you is that Monsanto is the top donor to the No campaign, and other major players inlcude DuPont, Bayer, PepsiCo, The Coca Cola Family, and Nestle. Rather, they use some astroturf commoners to spread their agenda. You need to dig into the No website to find out the corporate backers. Just compare those who back No: http://www.votenoon522.com/coalition/#other to those who back Yes: http://yeson522.com/endorsements/ . Painfull, isn’t it?
After one long month, I have finally finished Anna Karenina. While it is the most cited candidate for Best Novel Ever, I find it very difficult for me to assess it. Parts of it were absolutely enthralling, such as the scene where Levin scythes grass with with the serfs; while other parts I couldn’t help but skim through. My problem was that I had two read two Parts a week and keep up with a 35 page a day minimum quota lest I fall behind. Combined with two or three other books for different classes, it made reading Anna Karenina a chore. Being a novel grand in scope and covering all the hot topics of 1870s Russia, I feel that I would have needed to read it at my own leisure to get the most out of it. Taking two lit classes has really shown me that reading literature for a course is a two edged sword. You are able to discuss the material thoroughly with your peers and a paid expert; but you need to juggle it with so much else and cannot give the books the attention the need and possibly deserve.
Because of these reasons I cannot give it a rating, though I can see why it is one of Oprah’s Favorite Books, lol. I was rather hestitant about having to read it because of its length and because of the long Slavic names that all sound the same. Actually, once you understand how Russian names work (and with the internet there’s no reason you can’t learn) it’s really not that bad and the usage of given, patronymic, and family names can actually help keep track of how everyone is related. Trust me. However, there are so many characters that it can be difficult to keep track of them all, which is usually the case with any work with loads of characters. Many readers of Tolstoy and Dostoevski keep notebooks cataloguing the full names of all the characters, fortunately the translation my class read had that provided in the index. This particular translation is highly praised. It was done by Richard Pevear and and Larissa Volokhonsky, who are a husband-and-wife team with the advantage of one being an Anglophone while the other’s first language was Russian. There work is highly praised, so if you decide to read Anna Karenina I recommend reading their version.
Hopefully someday I will be able to reread Anna Karenina when I have time to do so at my own pace. Now I really want to read War and Peace, and NOT just to say that I did.
All easy classes are alike; each challenging class is challenging in its own way.
I have finished reading another book for another one of my classes. That other book was Fathers and Sons (also translated as Fathers and Children) by Ivan Turgenev. Once considered one of Russia’s foremost stylists, Turgenev has largely been overshadowed by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I find that rater unfortunate because I really enjoyed Fathers and Sons and would like to read some of his other works when I am able to. A far cry from the obese volumes the other two are famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) for, Fathers and Sons is only 160 pages long; a sensible length for most people.
It tells a story of a recently graduated college student named Arkady, who returns home with his friend Bazarov. The two embrace the radical philosophy of nihilism, which brings them into conflict with their elders and the more conservative (or less radical) members of their own generation. The setting in Russia in the 1850s, right before the serfs were emancipated. Though it is not a novel of action or excitement, it is a strong character driven story made excellent by well crafted dialogue. While the plot itself is very easy to follow, do be warned that you MUST print out the Cliffnotes page for the cast of characters; each character is referred to by three different names, their given name, patronymic, and surname, as is Russian custom. Also, be sure to pick up a copy that contains footnote; the entire books is filled with mentions of various events, customs, individuals, and so on that you will not have heard of. If you take my advice, the book has the potential for a very enjoyable read.
I highly recommend Fathers and Sons to anyone interested in Russian history or dynamic character development.