Leave the Capitol

A view of Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg’s main thoroughfare, with the Russian National Library (the so-called Publichka), Gostiny Dvor shopping center, the tower of the former City Duma building, the cupola of Kazan Cathedral, and the cupola of St. Isaac’s Cathedral visible on the left in ascending. This picture-perfect cityscape was used by the Facebook page I Love St. Petersburg to illustrate the bizarre, banal, pseudo-historical sentiment that I’ve translated, below. Petersburg was built on the land of the Ingrian people and the captured Swedish fortress of Nyenskans. Or rather, that’s a no less valid way of putting it.

St. Petersburg is the only European capital that has not been captured by the enemy in any period of history.

Source: I Love St. Petersburg (@spb.love.you), Facebook, 13 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


(Upper left, in Russian) “Kiev is the mother of Russian cities.”
(Lower right, in Ukrainian) “If I had known, I would have an abortion.”

Source: Petya Pyatochkin, Facebook, 12 August 2022. Thanks to Volodya Y. for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


Leave the Capitol

Lyrics

(1)

The tables covered in beer
Showbiz whines, minute detail (2)
Hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square (3)
It’s vaudeville pub back room dusty pictures of
White frocked girls and music teachers
The beds too clean
Water’s poisonous for the system (4)

And you know in your brain
Leave the capitol!   (5)
Exit this Roman Shell!   (6)
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Straight home, straight home, straight home
One room, one room  (7)

Continue reading “Leave the Capitol”

Peace Out

A Petersburg developer asked not to use the name “Mir” (“Peace”) in advertising its [new] residential complex. The company decided to refrain from using the word, which had “taken on additional meanings.”

The screenshot of RBI’s request to shutter the name “Mir” (“Peace”) for its new residential complex on Mirgorodskaya Street (Mirgorod Street) in central Petersburg. Ironically, the street itself is named for the city of Myrhorod in Ukraine. Several other streets in the same neighborhood are named after Ukrainian cities, including Poltava, Kharkiv, and Kremenchuk. It should be pointed out that “mir,” in Russian, also means “world” and “peasant commune.”

RBI’s official website still identifies the residential complex as “Mir,” and this is the case on some other real estate resources as well. And yet, for example, one of the largest industry websites, TsIAN, already refers to it as the residential complex “On Mirgorodskaya, 1.”

Our source at the company told Rotunda that the advertising campaign for the complex had not yet been launched. And that was why they asked their partners — i.e., real estate agencies — “to refrain from directly advertising the sites before the official start of sales.”

Officially, RBI had only the following to say about the meanings implied by the word “Mir”: “As for the word itself, ‘MIR’ in this case refers to the location of the house, as well as to the World of Art [Mir iskusstva] art group.”

Source: Rotunda, 8 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


MIR Club House is a world for connoisseurs of beauty in the very heart of St. Petersburg, a striking house featuring original, artistic architecture.

Compositionally, the complex consists of two buildings: a building of varying heights (six, seven, eight and nine floors) containing 243 apartments, and a small six-story building containing 20 apartments. They are united by a street-facing arch and form a closed courtyard.

The apartments offer picturesque views of Feodorovsky Cathedral, the famous “Kremlin wall of Petersburg,” the historical center, and the new business-class quarter.

Sales start soon: https://mir.rbi.ru/

Source: RBI Group, YouTube, 7 July 2022. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

Hellbent

Hellbent on having fun in the midst of a terrible war — a frightening panorama of Petersburg by virtuoso photographer Alexander Petrosyan. Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 7 August 2022


As Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds into its fifth month, Moscow is a city doing everything it can to turn a blind eye to the conflict. It is a champagne-soaked summer like any other in the Russian capital, despite the thousands of dead and many more wounded in a war increasingly marked by acts of savage brutality.

In Gorky Park, outdoor festivals, cinemas and bars were all jammed on a recent evening, with young couples twirling to ballroom dance music as others stopped for selfies along the Moscow river nearby.

“Yes, we are having a party,” said Anna Mitrokhina, one of the dancers at an outdoor dance platform on the Moscow river, wearing a blue-sequin dress and heavy eye-makeup. “We are outside of politics, we want to dance, to feel and have fun. I can’t worry any more and this helps me forget.”

Walk through the city or switch on a VPN to scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you might not even know the country’s at war, a word that the Russian censors have banned from local media and that, even among many friends, has become taboo.

A lifestyle Instagram blogger with more than 100,000 followers who was opposed to the war said that she had consciously decided to stop speaking about the topic — because of the official restrictions but also the backlash she received from subscribers.

“Nobody wants to hear about the war, the special military operation, any more, they tell me to stop talking about this and get back to normal topics like beauty and fitness,” she said, asking that her name not be used. “Every time I mentioned it I would get so much hate in my messages. It hurts me, it hurts my business. I stopped mentioning it. It just doesn’t exist for many people.”

“What hurts the most is it is not really [because of the law], there is just no desire to talk about this,” she said. “People are turning off.”

[…]

Source: Andrew Roth, “‘People are turning off’: Muscovites put the war aside and enjoy summer,” The Guardian, 30 July 2022

Victor in Broad Daylight

Victor in broad daylight.

My roommate Victor is a completely unique person. He is sixty-seven years old and an absolute image of our Soviet life from the 1970s to the 2010s, with all the paradoxes peculiar to the time. He is a fervent [Russian Orthodox] believer and yet he believes everything said on the radio about the atrocities committed the Ukrainian army. On the other hand, he is perplexed how military operations were launched without consultations. Victor worked as a driver, but also played music in bands. He knows all the western groups of the 70s and all the stars in both the West and Russia. He has seen every Soviet film and remembers all the scenes, all the actors, all the songs. A lot of happy memories are consolidated in him, as well as a lot of regrets about the past. Basically, he’s a typical chip off the old Soviet block. In him you have the songs, you have Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones and Alla Pugacheva and Eldar Ryazanov and [Leonid] Gaidai and Muslim Magomayev and everyone else, down to the last detail. You might say that he and I are living in the USSR from Khrushchev to Putin. It’s funny, but interesting. It’s Russia.

Source: Anatoly Zaslavsky, Facebook, 5 August 2022. Mr. Zaslavsky is a well-known Petersburg painter currently undergoing treatment at the city’s Botkin Hospital. Victor is his roommate at the hospital and has already featured in earlier social media dispatches. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

The folding seats clapped,
The October’s curtains came down.
The rider finally galloped
Off toward the radiant dawn,

Faded show bills on the wall,
Blue ticket stubs on the floor.
Dusk on Nevsky had almost fallen
As we came out on the corner.

The jeans were Polish, the beret a sham.
Wow, we had enough for Kagor.
We had to live. Return bottles and pass exams.
To live and live till we got to here.

5 August 22

Source: Vadim Zhuk, Facebook, 5 August 2022. Mr. Zhuk is is a well-known Russian actor, screenwriter, TV presenter, and poet, whose poem “A Skeleton in the Closet” was published here last month. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

On March 18, Irina Gen, a teacher of English in Penza, made an anti-war speech to her eighth-graders while explaining why they would not be able to travel to competitions in the Czech Republic. She told them about the shelling of the maternity hospital in Mariupol and the downed Boeing. One of the pupils recorded the teacher’s speech on a dictaphone and sent the recording to the security forces. A criminal case was opened against Gen ten days later. Today she was sentenced to five years of probation with a ban on teaching for three years. She had [originally] pleaded not guilty.

Source: Dmitry Tkachev, Facebook, 4 August 2022. Mr. Tkachev cites, in the comments, this article about Ms. Gen’s case, published in Mediazona the same day. Translated by the Russian Reader

118 Years Ago Today

From Boris Savinkov’s Memoirs of a Terrorist:

It was a clear sunny day. When I approached the square at the Church of the Intercession [in Petersburg], I saw the following scene. Sazonov, sitting on a bench, was exhaustively and animatedly relating to Sikorsky how and where to sink the bomb. Sazonov was calm and seemed to have completely forgotten about himself. Sikorsky listened to him attentively. Borishansky sat on a bench in the distance, his face imperturbable as usual. Even further away, at the gates of the church, stood Kalyayev who, doffing his cap, crossed himself.

[…]

When I approached 7th Company of the Izmailovsky Regiment Street [currently known as 7th Red Army Street], I saw a policeman on the corner stand at attention. At the same moment, I noticed Sazonov on the bridge over the Obvodny Canal. He walked, as before, with his head held high, carrying the projectile at his shoulder. Immediately, I heard loud trotting behind me, and a carriage pulled by black horses rushed past.

[…]

Suddenly, a heavy, strange, unwieldy sound rent the street’s monotonous hubbub. It was if someone had struck a cast-iron stove with a cast-iron hammer. At the same moment, the broken glass in the windows rattled pitifully. I saw a pillar of grayish yellow, almost black smoke rising from the ground in a narrow funnel. This pillar, ever expanding, flooded the entire street to the height of the fifth floor. It dissipated as quickly as it rose. I thought I saw some black debris amid the smoke.

For the first second, my breath caught in my throat. But I was waiting for an explosion, and so I came to my senses more quickly than the others. I ran kitty-corner down the street to the Warsaw Hotel.

One hundred and eighteen years later.

Pokrovsky Square (Church of the Intercession Square) aka Turgenev Square, in central Petersburg
Izmailovsky Prospect in Petersburg. The former Warsaw Station, now a shopping and entertainment center, is in the background.
The end of Izmailovsky Prospect, with a clearer view of the former Warsaw Station. A statue of Lenin once stood in front of it.

Source: Aleksandr Ermakov, Facebook, 28 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader, since a copy of Joseph Shaplen’s 1931 English translation of Boris Savinkov’s Memoirs of a Terrorist is hard to come by in print and nearly invisible online. I also added the captions to Mr. Ermakov’s snapshots.


The routes taken by Savinkov, Plehve, and the members of the SR Combat Organization on 28 July 1904. Source: Visions of Terror

On 15 July 1904 [28 July 1904 in the reformed, post-revolutionary calendar], the notoriously oppressive and unpopular Minister of the Interior, Viacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve stepped into his armored carriage, complete with an entourage of bicycle detectives, and set off from his dacha to the Warsaw Station on his way to regular meeting with Tsar Nicholas II, now residing at his summer palace in Peterhof. Plehve, who had already survived several attacks on his life, probably took this trip in stride, but as he approached his destination, a young man, Egor Sazonov darted towards his carriage and threw a bomb underneath its speeding wheels. Sazonov was just one of several assassins that day who were poised and ready to trade their own lives for the Minister’s. They were members of the Combat Organization (Boevaia Organizatsiia), the terrorist branch of the Socialist Revolutionaries who ultimately murdered a number of prominent political figures, most notably […] Tsar Alexander II.

Source: Visions of Terror

A More (or Less) Perfect Union

Russian naval vessels on parade on the Neva River in downtown Petersburg, July 2022. Photo: Alexander Petrosyan

I dreamt that all wars had ended and a united humankind was amicably celebrating good’s victory over human nature’s age-old curse.

Since my dream took place in Petersburg, the warships had been turned in recreational vessels, equipped with swimming pools, gyms, spas, dance halls, hotels, bars, restaurants, etc.

The towering masts were outfitted with convenient spots for those wishing to photograph the city’s river embankments from above. The deck was dotted with deck chairs, and the holds, instead of rockets and shells, housed barrels containing every variety of alcohol from around the globe!

I remember strolling around one of these ships, shooting a reportage about the triumphantly heavenly lives of its inhabitants, but I was not able to finish the dream. As always in the morning, the cat’s meowing and the children waking up on time woke me up. Otherwise, I would have been late for my next photo shoot.

Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 25 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


[…]

I never would have thought that I would speak out in defense of the Soviet Union. But now I am forced to do it.

I grew up in a small village in the middle of Russia. The adults in my life did not read samizdat and tamizdat, nor did they oppose the system — they just lived their lives. But from their conversations, loose talk, and slips of tongue, I was able to draw conclusions. I realized that I didn’t have to unconditionally believe the agitprop posters and the folks on the TV. Life was more complicated and, apparently, worse than the picture that the big bosses were trying to foist on us.

And yet there were certain things I took for granted. I knew that my country had clear, intelligible notions of good and evil, of how everything should work, and I considered them correct. Socialism had to emerged victorious. We didn’t seem to be doing everything right, but we knew what we were supposed to being doing.

To a large extent, of course, this belief was also based on a complete ignorance of how people actually lived outside the socialist bloc. There were simply no people in our midst who had seen it and could tell us about it. In our village, perhaps the only person who had visited this capitalist hell was my grandfather. He was in Vienna when the war ended. But he died before I was born, and besides, as my elders told me, he was a taciturn person and did not like to reminisce about his life.

I knew — just like Leonid Brezhnev, the guy on TV, who had fought in a real war — that it was wrong to even hint at using nuclear weapons. Nuclear war was terrible and the end of everything.

I also knew that we would never attack anyone. The Soviet Union had a militarist bent, and a sense of the coming war’s inevitability filtered into my childish mind. But there was only one possible scenario: the enemy would come to us, maybe even occupy our country, but then we would throw them out, win the war, and clean up the motherland. There was no other way. We wouldn’t attack first.

The Soviet Union, by the way, was bashful about its wars. It concealed its involvement in conflicts abroad. Only the Afghan War broke through the curtain of lies. I don’t know whether it was because of the magnitude, or because the giant was on its last legs and had even forgotten how to tell a fib.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (far left) and Russian military officers at the consecration of the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces, 14 June 2020. Photo courtesy of Spektr

Modern Russia is not shy. Go to the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces in Patriot Park. It is worthwhile and instructive. There are mosaics depicting Russian soldiers and heroes — the heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo, the Patriotic War of 1812, the Great Patriotic War … and a huge panel depicting the heroes of the wars that the Soviet Union waged after the Second World War. The figures in the foreground are easily identifiable as “Afghans,” but the picture’s authors quite clearly hint that it’s not just about veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

Soviet ideology was putrid and phony, but there was also a real humanism in it that filtered through the rot and falsity.

Modern Russia doesn’t even have this going for it.

[…]

Source: Ivan Davydov, “An apology for the Union: which USSR Vladimir Putin is resurrecting,” Republic, 21 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Masyanya: Saint Mariuburg

“Compassion and empathy—the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes—are the most vital human emotions. This cartoon is addressed to those who, through some monstrous error, support Russia’s war on Ukraine.”

Source: Masyanya, “Episode 162: Saint Mariuburg,” YouTube. Over three million people have watched this episode since it was posted several days ago. Press CC for English subtitles.


Masyanya creator Oleg Kuvaev, montaged with a still from the latest episode of his hit cartoon, which imagines what an unprovoked Chinese invasion of Russia would look like in Masyanya’s hometown of Saint Petersburg.

From an interview with Oleg Kuvaev about the latest episode of Masyanya (“Episode 162: Saint Mariuburg”):

“I would argue that Russian society was deliberately depoliticized during the early two thousands. I played along with this process to a certain extent. […] I was categorically against [putting] politics in the series. Masyanya didn’t touch on any controversial topics whatsoever, and I didn’t get involved in anything, but only enjoyed my own jokes. But now is not the time for humor: comedians in Russia have found themselves in a situation where they do not have the tools to do their job. The main tool of humorists—exaggeration—no longer works, because the absurdity is now so off the scales that no humorist can go further.”

Source: Sergei Averkov, Facebook, 12 July 2022. Thanks to Vladimir Volokhonsky for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

Jedi and Dakota Festing in Place on Roofs in Petersburg

Maxim Dorofeyev, Jedi Techniques: How to Tame Your Monkey, Empty Your Inbox, and Save Thought Fuel

Why, even when he knows how to work the right way, does a person actually do everything the way he’s used to doing it—that is, the wrong way? Maxim Dorofeyev explains in simple and accessible language why this happens. When you read his book, you’ll learn how thinking and memory work; why you fritter away your brain’s resources; how to conserve them; and how to concentrate properly, articulate tasks, and reactive yourself for productive work. These practical, proven, and well-founded techniques will help you make your to-do list really work and guarantee that you achieve your goals.

Source: LitRes


Roof Place (sic)

Roof Place is a cultural space located on Vasilievsky Island in the building of a former tannery built in 1893. Since its opening in 2016, the site has attracted creative people and connoisseurs of the active lifestyle and comfortable outdoor recreation. Its powerful audio system and convenient location make it a perfect arena [sic] for parties, concerts, and summer festivals.

Source: Bileter.ru


Rita Dakota (her real name is Margarita Gerasimovich, and she was born in Minsk in 1990 — not on the Pine Ridge Reservation) will be performing at Roof Place’s Roof Fest on July 19. Tickets run from 46 to 77 euros (per the official, not the actual, exchange rate). Screenshot of the concert’s page on Bileter.ru


The point? That Russia, especially its two capitals (Petersburg and Moscow), was never as slavishly “westernizing” as during Putinism’s full flowering. Even a “proxy war with the west” cannot stop this trend, apparently. Hence the mass exodus of many of the “westernizers” and “westernized” from the country after February 24. (You didn’t think all of them left because they’re wild-eyed dissidents opposed to the war, did you?) And often as not this “westernization” has been marked by needless, wholesale injections of English into Russian. By the way, this didn’t happen in the allegedly more slavishly westernizing nineties that have served as a Putinist stalking horse the last glorious twenty-three years. ||| TRR

Life Under Fascism

What is life like for us under fascism? It’s fine. I eat, sleep, work, play computer games and football, and get laid.

Repairs have begun on the roofs of the Soviet high-rise buildings on my work beat. The contractor drags powerful electric roofing kettles onto the roof, hacks away the old tar, melts it down, and immediately pours it back onto the roof. The kettles are powerful—advanced technology that works quickly and efficiently.

The kettles are also five years old. They are left right on the roofs over the winter, and so they are rotted and burned out. The molten tar splashes onto the cables, and everything in the vicinity burns and smokes. It is no exaggeration to say that you can smell the stench two blocks away. It is unlikely that there is anything healthy in the fumes generated by the molten tar. It is Uzbeks who work on the roofs: their bosses persist in calling them jigits. They work without safeguards or personal protective equipment. On the first day, they asked their bosses for water. Their bosses told them to get it themselves—”otherwise, next time they’ll be asking for broads in bikinis.”

Yesterday the cops nabbed them. The cops told them, “Your registration isn’t in our database. So, you either spend a couple days in jail until we figure it out, or you each cough up 5,000 rubles now.” [At the current—official—exchange rate, 5,000 rubles is approximately 88 euros.]

Do you think there is a database somewhere that says that you are just a human being?

Their electrician is from Bashkiria, a skinny kid in glasses with a typical whistling accent. He graduated from an architectural college back home, came to Petersburg, and worked on a low-voltage network for a couple of months, but now has been hired as an electrician servicing the three-phase fifty-kilowatt kettles. On the first day, he regarded the whole setup with mortal dismay. In his bag he has a set of screwdrivers and a crimper for patch cords. Now he dives into the overheated equipment, changes the burnt-out heating elements, and splices the burnt, beaten cables. Then he unsuccessfully tries for hours to wash off the oil stench.

“Who will pay for your disability?” I ask him.

“They can’t pay us overtime.”

He put up with this as long as he could before breaking down and going on a drinking binge. He squandered all his money, arriving back at work with a black eye and his left cheek puffed up like a pillow. His glasses were still intact, however. He asked me to lend him money for beer.

“How much do they pay you?” I ask.

“They promise mountains of gold.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“It’s daily work. 2,500 rubles a day.”

The word he was looking for in Russia was “daywork” [podënnaia], not “daily work” [podnevnaia]. There is such a thing as “daywork” and “dayworkers.” Who make sixteen dollars a day if you calculate their pay in terms of the actual exchange rate.

How much does the Russian lad Vitya, who made the remark about the “broads in bikinis,” make? How much does their supervisor, a handsome, businesslike, quick-thinking middle-aged man with shifty eyes, make?

What will they buy for themselves by pinching the money budgeted for roof repairs? A car? A tiled path for their dacha? When they walk on this path, will they think about the people whose health has been permanently scarred by tar on hot roofs? I doubt it.

Fascist brutality springs from this everyday, workaday brutality. Indifference to people as individuals grows from this virtually legalized slavery.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 28 June 2022. Mr. Losev works as an on-duty electrician for the housing authority in Petersburg. He points out that the roofing tar kettles he describes are nothing like the one in the video I inserted, above. They are much larger and electric-powered. This is not to mention that “Alfredo the kettle man” (in the video) is wearing protective equipment, unlike the Uzbek workers in Mr. Losev’s story. Translated by the Russian Reader


I was asked to show how to make a “syllable tram.”

I scanned the roadway (see the links, below). The drawings were quite hastily done, right before class. (

The strip should be glued with adhesive tape on the reverse side. (Leave a millimeter between the sections so that it is easier to fold and store.) The tram, which is approximately 290 mm wide (nearly the same width as an A4 sheet of paper) and 85 mm high, is fitted onto the strip. One window in the tram is cut out, and a transparent sleeve is pasted on the other, into which a consonant is inserted.

The strip needs to be fastened with something. (I fastened it to the table with tape.)

The tram travels from right to left. When it reaches a marked stop, a vowel appears in the cut-out window. When you make the tram, test it and draw the letters on the strip so that they appear in the exact same place as the empty spot.

The roadway:

https://disk.yandex.ru/i/dGXik7Z3Nmwpgg (Yandex Disk)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/13k0cDuhXD-hAzytGpGYgpsZEdR9jmsVd/view (Google Drive)

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 28 June 2022. Ms. Vvedenskaya teaches Russian to immigrant children at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. Most of these children are originally from Central Asia, like the workers in Mr. Losev’s story. The first image, above, is a screenshot of a short video that Ms. Vvedenskaya included in her original post, showing her pupils playing with her “syllable tram.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Yelena Osipova: “May Your Sails Be White, Not Red with Blood”

The Petersburg artist and activist Yelena Osipova created a placard for this past weekend’s Crimson Sails celebrations (for newly minted high school graduates/school leavers) and stood with it on Malaya Sadovaya, a pedestrian street in downtown Petersburg. Her placard read, “May your sails be white, not red with blood. Make the world good!” Photos courtesy of Irina Bogdanovskaya, as posted on the public Facebook page Yelena Andreyeevna Osipova. Artist. Citizen