See the rest of the post about our exploration of the “Krasniy Treygol’nik” (“Red Triangle”) shoe factory here.
Archive for the Soviet kitsch Category
This past weekend was Victory Day, which commemorates Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Soviet Union and the end the Great Patriotic War (the Eastern Front of WWII). Before heading out to the countryside like most Russians do on a holiday weekend, I had a kefir (the best morning pick-me-up for a hangover, they say) and caught the parade on Dvortsovaya Ploschad.
The Victory Day Parade best known to the world is the one held on Red Square in Moscow, which was restored to a modern analogy of its Soviet-era, warheads-on-wheels splendor. This year, however, a new law has dicated Victory Day Parades be held in 23 Russian cities.
My Russian friends shook their heads in bewilderment that I bothered (“We’ve lived here all our lives and we’ve never gone to the parade!”) and stayed home to watch the Moscow parade on TV. Good move — on the people-packed expense of Dvortsovaya, nothing much was visible, and the parade was so pitiful I only glimpsed a few troop carriers and several rows of marching cadets before it apparently ended, leaving spectators to guess at what was next before wandering away when they decided that it was likely over (apparently Moscow had a real wham-dinger, with 9,000 personnel, 103 vehicles and 69 aircraft, albeit much of it dated Soviet hardware).
Other Victory Day sights were equally gloomy. Friday afternoon I stumbled upon a celebratory concert in Park Pobedi (Park of Victory) where some dude in a tuxedo was crooning over some canned Soviet tunes. If a giant Order of Victory (see left) replica hadn’t have been hanging over the stage, he would have looked like a groomsman singing karaoke at a reception.
As he wailed patriotic fluff like “Fireworks Display of Victory” (“Salut Pobedi”), old-timers and veterans’ wives jammed out in their black-and-orange remembrance ribbons and blazers festooned with medals. Those not yet crippled by arthritis snapped their fingers, the rest just swayed arm-in-arm like dandelions in the breeze.
In this installment, we join Alec and his happy-go-lucky friends just as the thick-necked security guard has swung back the heavy door, allowing them entrance to a world of strange, hulking machines …
And lo, we beheld before us a smorgasbord of Soviet air power: Deflated tires, detuned rockets, smashed-in canopies, old leather seats littered with beer cans and bird shit. Rotors sagging under their own weight, the helicopters hunched in pucker-lipped silence like grandmothers over their walkers. The red stars painted on their sides had been washed down to the initial layer, resembling more closely a zit-faced kid’s still-sticky models than the actual air machines of of the other world power. Rocket pods grimaced at us from beneath cutaway wings like overgrown, roid-raged cheese graters.
Engorged on the passion of the moment, the glint of ancestral battle lust in our eyes, we gave free freign to the greedy, kid-on-Christmas-morning impulses that suddenly arose from within, straddling rockets, swinging apewise into cockpits and gleefully pounding control panels as we counted down to liftoff.
Then the real fun and games ensued, namely an Ultimate Frisbee match across the razor’s edge field of jet wings.
Saw the new Russian movie “Admiral” the other week. The film “tells” the story of Admiral Alexander Kolchak, the Tsarist naval commander who led White Russian military forces against the Bolsheviks, focusing on his brief love affair with a fellow officer’s wife, Anna Timireva. And when I say “tells,” I mean the film butchers the complicated history of this era in order to churn out a nauseatingly sweet melodrama that puts Hollywood’s transgressions to shame.
The Admiral Kolchak presented here is a flawless and intelligent hero scrupulous enough to be conflicted over his adulterous feelings for Timireva, pious enough to pray his ship through a minefield, and virtuous (in the soldierly sense of the word) enough to lead the White Army to, well, defeat. But I guess I have to admit it’s pretty cool, albeit ridiculous, when he overcomes burst eardrums to man a cannon and take out a superior German destroyer with a direct hit to the bridge (notice the blood trickling down the side of his rugged profile on the film poster). A true “Die Hard” moment.
I have to sympathize with Konstantin Khabensky, who plays the Admiral; the film was a dud from the start. It’s bad enough that love interest Liza Boyarskaya’s repertoire consists of a faintly alluring, enigmatic smile and big glassy eyes, a dynamic duo that has more than worn out it’s welcome by the final curtain. A more grevious error is the writers’ decision to focus on a love story (tagline: “For love is strong as death”) that should have been no more than a sideplot. This shuffles the movie into a plot that begins boringly with the Admiral easily winning Timireva when they lock eyes at a ball (the lively conversation during the subsequent evening stroll seals the deal), continues boringly with the Admiral writing lots of letters and gazing meaningfully at the sea as he pines for Timireva, and ends boringly as the couple, finally together, makes passionate conversation in a luxurious train car on the way to Irkutsk. And oh the suspense each time the train stops at another city, where there might be Reds!
In short, it’s a far too squeaky clean and simpleminded take on such an intersting topic. But it is interesting to note yet another facet of the conflicted Soviet legacy here: In modern Capitalist Russia, the Reds are sneaky and evil, and the Whites are heroic, God-fearing, Tsar-loving real Russians, pure and simple. Let’s just “Whitewash” (sorry, couldn’t help my punny little self) the whole story.
And so it was back on the Volga, longest river in Europe, the Tigris and Euphrates of the North, the only place in Russia were flamingoes can be found. Our course was set toward the most Eastern point of our journey, to the famed beaches of Samara. We drank wine on the deck late into the night, played guitar and threw our voices against the river’s mute banks, only pausing when cries of “shlyoos, shlyoos!” warned us of another lock ahead.
Samara is famed for its fighter planes and chocolate, but we found something far more interesting: Stalin’s bunker.
I’m normally annoyed by ignorant Soviet kitsch, by tourists shooting photos with no respect for the tens of millions Stalin killed, but even I succumbed to the allures of the bunker, which Stalin built nine stories below the Academy of Culture and Art in case of a Nazi invasion of Moscow. Replete with conference tables, maps and telephones, and even false doors to give the illusion of space, the bunker was never used and has become one of the many ghosts of the Soviet era lingering in this country …
An open-air market isn’t the first form of trade when you think of Russia, the country whose winter conquered Napoleon’s and Hitler’s armies, the land whose peasants used to sleep on top of the stove, and the birthplace of the radiator (although this is disputed). Nevertheless, the bazaar-style market (рынок, “rinok”) is an integral part of Russian commerce to this day, and a damn fine thing it is, too. Those rinok sellers are out there hawking pineapples even when it’s a cold and rainy; in other words, every day.
Granted, the fly maternity ward you’re bound to find on every uncovered pile of “salty cucumbers” (pickles) doesn’t exactly whet the appetite, the giant tubs of goat cheese make you wish you remembered more of your fourth-grade unit on pasteurization, and the pounds upon pounds of steaming raw flesh in the damp meat section are nearly enough to convert you to Hinduism.
But where else can you try everything before you buy, even as you haggle over the price with the ubiquitous Uzbek manning the stall? For that matter, where else can you find prices that are flexible enough to fluctuate wildly depending on the seller’s mood, the short lifespan of natural produce, or the foreign accent of the buyer?
Despite the pitfalls (I’ve spent a weekend hunched over the toilet after a poor choice of salty cucumber), the rinok makes me pine for those long-lost days when not every food product came in a shrink-wrapped, Styrofoam-plated, factory-tagged and plastic-bagged package. When you could taste a product and know you were only one or two steps removed from its producer.
Several of my American friends who just arrived here are losing weight even as they eat like horses (the Russian expression is actually “Eat (guzzle) like a pig,” whereas a boozer “Drinks like a horse”), and the only reason we can figure is the lack of processed food in the Russian home. And no one can begrudge the taste; after you become acclimated, you actually come to enjoy having your salad doused in 80-percent milk-fat sour cream that’s fresh from the countryside.
Now if only the granola bar would finally arrive in Russia …