See the rest of the post about our exploration of the “Krasniy Treygol’nik” (“Red Triangle”) shoe factory here.
Archive for the Photo Category
Here’s another Alexander Belinky photo, this one from inside the Summer Garden, which has been closed all summer due to “technical reasons.” Absolutely ludicrous and unexcusable, to shut down a landmark like the Summer Garden — where Raskolnikov pondered the murder of the pawnbroker in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment — for the best months of the year. I mean, it had only just opened after Petersburg’s long, cold winter. Even if you’re going to renovate statues or something, you can at least lest visitors to the city, who won’t have another chance, wander the paths or at least see a small part of the garden.
Alexander Belinky, the St. Petersburg Times staff photographer, gave me some of his best photos from over the years, which I will be putting up time to time on Eagle and the Bear. I’m leaving St. Petersburg in two weeks after a solid year here, and what better way to say goodbye to this city of light and darkness, neo-Classicism and “Sovok” (any form of the massive, quietly decaying body of detritus the Soviet Union left behind) than with photos like this one, taken on the elegant Palace Square during a Victory Day celebration in the early 1990′s. The regal, 18th-century General Headquarters building and the turquoise Winter Palace, where the Bolsheviks came to power by overthrowing the provisional government in October (November by the Western calendar) 1917, is obscured by a giant billboard of Marx, Engels and Lenin.
Apologies for the absence; I’ve been traveling in Georgia, that mysterious little post-Soviet Eden on the Black Sea. And as post-Soviet things tend to do, the republic is slowly crumbling, from pockmarked, torn-up stretches of sidewalk on Rustaveli Avenue, the main street of Tbilisi and the most important street in the country, to the Tbilisi metro, which in form looks like a rundown mimicry of the St. Petersburg metro and in size resembles a model train set. But the food is delicious, even the alcohol, which ranges from red wine to the stiff Georgian white wine, a de facto hard liquor, to the grape-based vodka “cha cha.”
And the people are the friendliest I’ve met so far in the former Soviet Union, priding themselves on their maxim, “Guests are a gift from God,” and inviting this traveler into their homes on more than one occasion.
In short, a charming place, which is why it’s hard to watch as its already scarce territory is sliced away by Russia, which has played on Abkhazia’s half-baked dreams of independence and poured its settlers and then its troops into South Ossetia in August 2008. These troops have yet to withdraw from the new swaths of territory they conquered.
The August war is never far from mind. On Rustaveli, there’s still folks living in tent-like “cells” to protest the rule of Misha Saakashvili, who is either loved or hated by each citizen of Georgia in his turn. An American government employee I met in Tbilisi blamed Saakashvili for the August 2008 war, saying he had misinterpreted signals from Washington and gotten overexcited to win back his country’s territory, but also noted that the Georgians don’t have anyone better to lead them at the moment.
When I went to Georgia in the second week of July, word was that a new war was soon to break out …
This week is the Russian folk festival “Maslenitsa,” celebrated the week before the Russian Orthodox Church’s Great Lent, although like many Russian traditions, it’s really just a pagan sun festival with a thin facade of Christianity. Maslenitsa is known for “bliny” (traditional Russian pancakes that resemble crepes and are served with everything from jam to liver) and little else; as far as holidays go, it’s pretty repetitive. Maybe this is why nobody, besides tourists and forgotten bumpkins in the depths of the Russian countryside, celebrates the holiday anymore.
Monday is the day for meeting Maslenitsa: Hearty Russian peasants build sledding hills and great the holiday by shouting, “Your soul is mine, Maslenitsa! Come to me in the wide yard to sled down hills, wallow in bliny, and soothe the heart!”
Tuesday is the “beginning of merriment.” People run around the village in costumes and the sledding starts in earnest. Also traditional (read: chaste) kissing games for young couples.
Wednesday is “lakomka,” the day of sweets. Husbands visit their mothers-in-law, who bake them mounds of bliny (notice a trend yet?).
“Wide” (“shirokii”) Thursday is the day for strolling. There’s the rituals around the “chuchilo” (scarecrow that’s eventually burned), more sledding, and fist-fighting all day long. For a depiction of the later, see this news clip (actually for a different holiday involving fist fights; the bearded dude says, “Ah that’s good! Good manly game!”) or the “zapoi” (binge) scene from Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Barber of Siberia” (“Sibirskii Tsiryulnik”).
Friday is “mother-in-law evening,” where sons-in-law repay Wednesday’s hospitality with another round of bliny.
Saturday is “sister-in-law chat-in” (what’s with all the celebrations for inlaws?), where relatives gather around a table of wheat and buckwheat bliny, filled with such assorted toppings as sour cream, egg and caviar. Kids make snow forts and fight over them, representing the struggle between spring and winter.
Sunday is the day of forgiveness, where people gather around campfires, ask forgiveness — “Forgive me if I am guilty” – “And you forgive me” – “God will forgive you” — and later burn the chuchilo.
Man, I could go for some bliny right now …
Driving in India is fun. It’s like playing a videogame, in the sense that Indians drive like they’re playing “Need for Speed” with an unlimited number of game-overs. They’ll shoot any gap, squeeze any median, and jump any speed bump (and there are many). Worse comes to worse, they’ll slam the brakes and collapse onto the horn. They don’t fear the horn, like pussy Americans, who would hesitate to offend a hornet out to sting them. In fact, almost every truck actually displays the request “Horn please” — in decorative hand-painting — above its bumper.
If I had to work a shitty job, Delhi rickshaw driver would be at the top of the list (except not bike rickshaw, since I witnessed today that those bone-dry single gears suck to crank on). This occupation has it all:
1. Excitement: “Can I make it in between that milk truck and accelerating pack of bikers? Only one way to find out…”
2. Variety: Every part of Delhi, from the people-clogged streets of Chandni Chowk to the Ring Road, which is like a congested version of the autobahn. Picking up everyone from tourists to working stiffs.
3. Fun: Spotting an easy mark (not hard; white-skinned and wielding a camera) and manipulating him like a little kid reaching hungrily and wide-eyed toward a cookie in your hand must be a blast.
My first day in India began far too early. Well before dawn, wild dogs began barking, and then a lilting human cry started chipping in every few minutes; if I had to guess, I’d label it a man trying to persuade a donkey down the street. This gradually built into the cacophony of car horns and street hawkers that by afternoon dominates downtown Delhi like generic film background noise.
The waking day began with a cup of steaming hot Chai prepared by the maid who arrived around 10 a.m. Making Chai appears to be her only function, since she certainly didn’t clean the dirty apartment, and my friend Joji made breakfast himself (Upma fried rice and spicy beef in the Kerala style). This heavenly Chai, however, was more than enough to earn the maid a place in my heart, and by its very divinity should reserve for her an honored spot in the next life, as well. There’s a Southern dessert called “Sex in a Pan,” and if it has a liquid equivalent … well, no real need to continue this thought …
Anyway, the hot Chai was necessary for the ordeal of a shower that followed, which involved dumping buckets of hot and cold water on myself while trying not to accidentally step into the traditional Indian toilet, which features a ground-level toilet bowl.
If breakfast was spicy, the food only got better as the day wore on. The Indians love their spices; they even make a savory drink out of cumin, mint and lime that tastes kind of like a Bloody Mary of the Subcontinent, minus the alcohol. The vendor even sprinkled cumin on the pineapple slices I bought on my way through the uproarious Chandni Chowk market district, home to Delhi’s Muslim population.
I love the squirming humanity of India, the ramshackle sprawl of its capital, and the strange, poisonous potpourri of smells that arises from the piles of garbage and incense vendors on her streets. The food is incredible and incredibly cheap. Even at the most touristy locations, I’m stared at like the two-headed man freakshow exhibit, a minority for the first time in my life, even if I’m really just playing at it.
In fact, it’s far too easy for me to play around in Delhi like the carefree foreigner I am, thanks to the low prices and abundant rickshaw taxis. In the words of Wayne and Garth, “Game on!”
Two shots on the River Neva. Top: The Winter Palace. Below: A club across from the northern side of Vaska (Vasilyevsky Ostrov) island.
We rented a dacha near Myulepelto, a small town far enough north of Petersburg to have a Finnish name. From the elektrichka stop, we bounced through another 30 kilometers of snowed-in country lanes in a taxi van to reach our dacha, “The Golden Pheasant.”
Having discovered real Russian winter, we of course needed to experience the Russian answer to its unforgiving cold — the banya. Imagine a sauna, only hotter, hot enough to fry an egg on its wooden benches, and wetter, too, thanks to the generous helpings of water ladled on to draw ever more heat from its growling stove.
When the steam and heat have finally reduced you to a blabbering, boneless bag of slowly vibrating internal organs, they carry in the bundles of birch branches and beat your senseless skin. Then it’s back out into the snow to cool down …
We spent a great weekend at the dacha, the only moment of real stress coming on Sunday, when the blizzard outside made it unclear whether we would make it back to civilization. Considering our dwindling stock of Russian hot dog-style sausages, such a turn of events could have put us through that other famous element of the Russian winter: starvation. Luckily, our taxi arrived on time and somehow clawed its way back out of the land of snow …