Tuesday, May 30, 2006

the height of rock

The blogging has been so patchy of late I feel I owe some sort of recap.

In April, while I was posting pictures of my feet, a Petersburg man won my heart forever
by waiting until just the right moment in his friend's birthday party to ask him whether he thought could break a brick over his head.

Just weeks after the first protest against the oil pipeline they're running north of Baikal,
Vladimir Vladimirovich stepped in and ordered the thing diverted further north. Assuming you take this sort of thing at face value, this makes two out of two for protests in Irkutsk this year. Hooray for kind-of-democracy! Sadly we missed the victory party with the Bolsheviks, the muslims and the Communist Party, which for some reason reminds me of the river crossing with the chicken, the fox and the grain.

The sign below says: and you're silent?

Jesus Christ Superstar came and went from Irkutsk's state musical theatre. We caught the second-to-last show, learning for 120 roubles that Tim Rice doesn't improve in Russian, and that in Siberia today all you need for a standing ovation is an overweight Judas and half a dozen chorus girls in hot pants.

Almost at the same time, a man involved with 'Genghis Khan: the musical' called rock opera "
the height of rock".

I learned about gerunds. Did you know these days they're called verbal adverbs? No? Me neither!

K and I visited Panorama, an Irkutsk nightclub in which we felt much safer when on entering they took away everyone's guns.

In Japan they're
making a film about Cheburashka.

The Mrs World pageant in St Petersburg was, in my opinion, the best ever. They lost people's luggage, they voted for their own girl but then mistakenly crowned Mrs Costa Rica; they were rude to Mrs Canada, who complained afterwards that the whole thing had been reduced to a cheap reality show. In fairness, Mrs Canada seems not to quite have grasped the essence of the thing. I mean - reduced?
We celebrated in our own way by attending Miss Ir-geh-teh-oo, here at Irkutsk State Technical University. Like Mrs Costa Rica, our favourite, Varya, was cruelly upstaged by a rival frumpet in scarlet. My favourite part was when one girl composed a poem for the judges with the last line for some reason referencing aeroplanes. When the spotlight came on she forgot the words, stood for a minute moving her mouth up and down, then blurted 'aeroplane' and thrust a sponge cake at the judges.

False spring came, teasing us with a 29 degree day (plus!) followed two days later by snow. Only last week did the leaves come out on all the trees. The ice has melted, they've turned the hot water off, and the goats have returned. The goats!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Victory Day

Dyen Pobedy (Victory Day)

Most days, whether Kathy and I are attending the Miss Irkutsk State Technical University beauty pageant or a football match, there is a point in proceedings when something reminds me I am in Russia. This morning, I think that point was when the snipers came on.

The second world war is a big deal in Russia. Such a big deal, in fact, it's not called the second world war here but Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voyna - the great patriotic war. Russia's war started in 1941, just after Hitler meanly broke their non-aggression pact and invaded. But we don't talk about that. There were an enormous number of Russian casualties - the most of anybody - including a million in Stalingrad alone, and more than a million in the siege of Leningrad. Also, when they were liberated in 1945, uncounted thousands of Russian prisoners of war were sent to the labour camps because Stalin thought they were spies. But we don't talk about that either. There are films about the second world war, hundreds of them, like
Svolochi, which failed to brighten our ill-fated trip to Ulan Ude. There are war memorials, many of them memorably ugly, in all corners of the land: from Kosh-Agach, marooned in the steppe of the Altai Republic, to Khuzhir, on Olkhon Island, to Ust-Ordinsky, where there is no running water but there is an enormous mounted tank. So it kind of follows that May 9, Victory Day, is the country's biggest prazdnik.

Kirov square was cleared for the parade. There were generals in jeeps. There was a marching band. There was the woman in front of us who had come all the way from Moscow and was stuffed if she was going to let a man with a toddler squeeze in and steal her view. The groups parading were introduced via loudspeaker: veterans, servicemen, officers, cadets, the police, the police-in-training. We greeted them with oorahs. This is our custom.
When the parading was done we were reminded that the great victory of the Russian people in their patriotic defence of the fatherland was achieved 61 years ago, and the band fired up for the national anthem. This is always a bit uncomfortable, I feel. The current anthem is the old Soviet tune, but it's been put to new words that nobody yet has learned. But for me the spirit of today's occasion was in no way tarnished by the humming.
After the anthem there was a short break while the band disassembled and the generals climbed down from their jeeps. Then the loudspeakers played the Final Countdown, by Europe, and the snipers ran on.
The snipers were probably the highlight of what was to come, but it was a close thing. There were men who leaped from moving tanks, rolled over the tarmac and mock-fired at the crowd. There were men who somersaulted over obstacles and landed in firing position without taking a hand off their rifles. Other men leaped over a flaming wall, fired blanks at the crowd, and demonstrated a psychological test which involved lying on the ground and letting a tank drive over them. The snipers won points for their full-body camouflage. It made them look like armed muppets.
It went on for half an hour. There was even fighting, Jackie Chan style, where there's a lot of running, a lot of arm movement and then suddenly someone's on the ground and someone else is running away. It kind of made me want to start a war. Afterwards we strolled along the riverfront behind the war memorial and we saw a four-year-old goose stepping.