Archive for Vodka

Alcohol ad exaggeration

Posted in Russian media, Waxing political with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2010 by Alec

Vodka is, of course, a cornerstone of Russian culture. How else would you make such lovely statements as, “Let’s drink to kind ladies and other mythological heroes!” and mark the coming together of friends, etc.?

But Russia is a land of extremes, and Russians show a strong tendency to overindulge, on average.  They consume approximately 4.75 gallons of pure alcohol per person each year, over twice what the WHO considers a health danger.

The Russian government is showing signs of an impending crackdown that would ban beer sales at kiosks.  Besides ruining the beautiful culture of strolling along river banks and boulevards with a cold beer (rather than sinking ever lower under the eardrum-splitting pressure of blasting Europop at a bar filled with lipsticked, pig-faced women and bald, head-butting men), this would fail to address an alcohol problem based on vodka.

In a related example of stupidity, Russian TV is running exaggerated scare-tactic ads such as the following:

Text:  “When alcohol enters the blood, red blood cells clot.  Clots appear in the bloodstream that lethally block capillaries.  Capillaries expand and burst.  With the use of 100 grams of vodka up to 8,000 brain cells die.  For every drinking session, 10,000 brain cells flow out in your urine the next day.  Protect yourself!”

Reducing the alcohol-induced problems of premature death, reduced productivity and population decline is a matter of regulating distillers who make unregulated brand-name knock-offs and taxing vodka more heavily.  Fear-mongering TV ads are about as effective as oars on a motorcycle.


Sorokin part 2: All-Russian Exhibition Center

Posted in Russian Literature, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2009 by Alec

798px-Vd1The Eros of Moscow (continued)
By Vladimir Sorokin

2. VDNKh (The All-Russian Exhibition Center)

Entering through the main entrance into the territory of the former Exhibit of the Achievements of People’s Farming, go straight until you see the first fountain, “Friendship of Nations” – 15 gilded female figures in the national costumes of the peoples of the U.S.S.R.  Climb over the side, step into the water of the fountain and walk around the fountain three times clockwise.  Then go further, until you reach the fountain “The Stone Flower.”  Here perform the same action – three times, knee deep in the water, clockwise.  And immediately proceed further to the very end of the exhibit territory, to the fountain “The Golden Ear.”  This is a large, deep fountain.  They used to sail around it in boats.  Undress and swim around the gilded ear of wheat.  Three times clockwise.  If all ends well, as it did for me and the artist Andrei Monastyrsky and his wife Sabina in that memorable year of 1986, get dressed and immediately head somewhere nearby to have a drink and eat something.  Having opened for ourselves this erogenous zone of our home city, we then headed to the restaurant “The Golden Ear.”  The enormous restaurant lay empty in light of Gorbachev’s infamous anti-alcohol campaign –they weren’t even serving beer there.  At the same time, the food was generously portioned.  After our ablution in the three waters we very much wanted to warm up.

“Address yourselves to the porter,” the waiter kindly whispered.  Andrei addressed himself, and within a few minutes a whiskered porter approached and set upon our table a bottle of Bordzhomi mineral water filled with vodka.

“Is this vodka?” asked Sabina in good Russian.  The porter silently nodded.

“But why is it in a mineral-water bottle?”

“It’s hard to explain,” the porter answered and strolled off.

It seems to me, he was speaking not just about the camouflaged vodka, but rather in a deeper, more metaphysical sense.

“Vodka, SKA and only victory!”

Posted in Cultural Impressions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2009 by Alec

14-2gifHaving scrambled through the mass of drab winter coats nuzzling their way through the exit from the Prospekt of the Bolsheviks metro, I skidded across the churning black ice floes on the sidewalk toward the lar’ki (food stands) clustered around the metro like Conestoga wagons around a pioneer encampment.  I grabbed a Bochkaryov Krepkoe (“strong” beer, meaning 8% alcohol content) and some fried cabbage and made my way to the “Ice Palace” stadium for the local hockey club’s first post-season match, against Moscow rivals Spartak.

There awaited the tightest event security I’ve ever seen.  Various siloviki — a word The New York Times prints as is because it’s such a Russian concept that it can’t be translated — snapped their batons and struck grim poses near every exit, bathroom or sketchy corner.  OMON, the paramilitary police force that enjoys free reign to “correct” citizen behavior, which incidentally often gets its kicks by rounding up sketchballs in parks and giving them the terrorist treatment, was out in force, marched by in tight formations in full riot gear.  In short, the kind of completely egregious, atavistic show of force that lingers on in Russia like a bad habit.

On the other hand, however, there was no massive brawl between SKA and Spartak fans after Petersburg lost the game 2-1.  Siloviki literally surrounded the small section of Moscow fans toward the end of the match, not allowing anyone to leave the section during the final minutes, or even as the SKA fans filed out after the final buzzer.  It looked like a giant piece of installation art — a red mass jumping up and down within a ring of olive green.

I’ll freely admit the Moscow fans were hardcore enough to possible take on a vastly superior number of SKA supporters.  Throughout the game, the noises eminating from their section sounded like a Zulu camp before a battle — a stream of strange chants and cries rung out in time with a large drum one fellow kept banging the entire game.

SKA fans, in comparison, had all the cheering power of a grandma with a voicebox, but did have one real winner: “Vodka, SKA and only pobeda (“victory”)!”  And it was indeed the only victory left to clame as they filed out of the stadium, back toward the metro and the lar’ki.

Chizhik Pyzhik robbery

Posted in Fun facts, Spotted in St. Petersburg with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2009 by Alec

The Chizhik Pyzhik monument on the Fontanka canal.

The monument to Chizhik Pyzhik looks just like it sounds, diminutive and a little absurd, and at 11 cm, it’s perhaps the smallest tourist attraction in the world. It’s a statue of a bird positioned midway down the side of Fontanka canal near the Field of Mars. You wouldn’t notice it walking by if not for the gaggle of tourists and couples trying to throw coins onto its tiny ledge, like one of those old-school carnival game.

Well, Saturday night as I was walking home around 1 a.m. it was a bit of a different scene. Passing a lone figure looking down at Chizhik Pyzhik, I naturally stopped to see what he was watching. There down below stood another sketchy type in waders, apparently scooping up coins with a red shovel.

“What are you looking at? Interesting?” the lookout growled at me.

I muttered something to my interlocutor and walked further onto the nearby bridge to get a better vantage point. Yes, these two depraved individuals where stealing the very coins on which so many boyfriends, girlfriends and Japanese tourists had made a wish.

When I recounted this to my host brothers, they hardly batted an eye. “They must have really wanted to drink,” Maxim said.

Indeed, the statue itself has apparently been stolen several times, so let these gopniks (dude who hangs out drinking in the street) have the change.  When I passed by today, the stockpile was already replenished, glistening like sunken treasure amid a hundred years of sea dust.

Incidentally, the statue was built in honor of a rhyme that recounts the drunken exploits of students at the nearby Imperial School of Jurisprudence, who were called “Chizhik Pyzhiks” because of their yellow-and-green uniforms:

“Chizhik-Pyzhik, gdye ty byl?
Na fontankye vodku pil.
Vypil ryumku, vypil dvye –
Zashumyelo v golovye.”

“Chizhik Pyzhik, where have you been?
On the Fontanka drinking vodka.
Drank a shot, drank two –
It made a racket in my head.”

My host father is big into this rhyme; he has a tradition of making all foreign guests learn and recite it.  I’ve already had my first ordeal, and I think I made the grade …

Down at the Christmas Fair

Posted in Cultural Impressions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2008 by Alec

I stumbled upon a “Christmas Fair” (Рождественская Ярмарка) today in front of the Aleksandrinsky Theater.  Which was surprising for a country that has always celebrated the New Year for weeks on end but generally neglected Christmas.  Highlights included a skating rink, Christmas Tree Bazaar (Ёлочная Базар), and the “Mini poezd” (Мини Поезд, literally, “mini train”), a carnival ride.  It was of course broken, but otherwise the kiddies could have ridden in circles while pops primes the pump with some piping hot honey liquor (medavukha).

Two random side notes: Rollercoasters in Russian are known as “Amerikanskiy gorki,” or “American hills.”

And before vodka — a Polish invention by most accounts — made its way to Russia, Russians drank mainly honey mead-style liquors like medavukha.  Even after its introduction, vodka was drunk only on holidays up until the point that Catherine the Great relaxed the laws on vodka production.  Prices fell, drinking establishments fluorished and drunkenness became a problem due to the drink-’til-you-drop mentality that held over from the time when vodka was only consumed in drinking contests at weddings, where last man standing was the “Vodka King.”

The ultimate korm: Russian shawarma

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2008 by Alec

shaverma1As I’ve previously mentioned, going out in Petersburg means staying out until the bridges come back down and the metro opens at 6 a.m. But keeping a shivering, half-drunk rogue on his feet for some four-odd hours after his eyes have glazed over and his tongue has begun lolling around in his mouth requires some serious feed, namely drunk food. In local slang, it’s “korm,” which literally translates as “animal fodder.”

To fill the void that appears in the swollen belly between the first swig-session of malt liquor and the final slug of vodka arises the phenomenon of the late-night shawarma stand, known here as “shaverma.”

This Central Asian fare sold here is a sickly, unmarriagable cousin in relation to the spicy Middle Eastern shawarma hawked by New York street vendors. But when the moment is right, a Russian shaverma is close to heaven as a man can get on this cold earth, a magical, mysterious mixture of greasy goat meat, pure China white and the sweat off David Bowie’s sequined leg. Pure rocket fuel.

At 4 a.m. on a December night near the Grazhdanskii Prospekt metro, it rejuvenates the body and the soul like a dose of uncut adrenal fluid. You sure that was the final slug of vodka?

*Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the research for this report, besides a few unlucky Uzbeki goats.

On a serious note, another appeal of shaverma is the element of risk involved: Many Russians, even those who occasionally partake in the carnal rituals of the shaverma stand, will warn you not to eat shaverma more than five times, the implication being that by the fifth time, you’re asking for trouble. Given the generally seedy premises in which shaverma is prepared, the Russian disregard for consumer safety, and the lack of stringent food service regulations and enforcement, you’re bound to get food sickness at some point. The guitarist for the local metalcore group Greenouer, who has a sizable experience with food runs in the wee hours of the morning, noted with great gravity that several friends have gone to the hospital after succumbing to the deceptive allures of shaverma. Better to eat McDonald’s, he says (how I cringe).

McDonald’s, Dostoevsky, Vodka

Posted in Fun facts with tags , , , on September 9, 2008 by Alec

Fun facts from Sergei Aleksandrovich, professor of political science at St. Petersburg State University:

• Vodka is not a Russian drink: It was first introduced in the time of Peter the Great. Before that, peasants drank mead.

• Russian literature students’ most hated author: Dostoevsky. Number two: Tolstoy.

• A five-kilometer line formed outside the first McDonald’s in Russia when it opened its doors in 1988 (May I add that it’s still a hip place to go for a bite).

• East or West? A Russian saying goes, “Russia is the heart of the world.”