A Williamsburg-inspired eatery in snowy central Petersburg, 5 February 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader
It’s remarkable how the MH17 final report and Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike have exacerbated two sad trends among Russia’s left/liberal/creative/academic intelligentsia.
The first trend involves intelligenty out-Putining Putin and his regime’s put-on anti-Americanism by ramping up the number of social media posts and hasbarical hate-a-grams about the US, its sinister machinations, and its signal failings.
This is part of the same operetta in which the nefarious NATO is a greater threat to world peace than a country that reserves the right to invade its closest neighbor and join in crushing a democratic, grassroots rebellion in a faraway country whose people have never harmed Russia in any shape or form.
But it’s no fun talking, much less doing anything, about that at all, because it would require real collective effort. So, depending on your political tastes, it’s much easier, as a Russophone, to hate on NATO or Hamas.
Some Russians go for the trifecta, hating on both “terrorist” organizations, while also indulging in the most satisfying infantile pleasure on our planet today: Islamophobia. You know, Europe has been overrun by Islamic terrorists and that whole tired spiel, which gives such a sense of purpose to otherwise wildly ignorant people who have betrayed their own country and countrymen so many ways over the last 25 or 30 years it should make all our heads spin.
The other trend, which has also kicked into high gear again, is going hipster as hard as you can. There are any number of “projects,” “creative clusters,” eating and drinking establishments, festivals, semi-secret dance parties, and god knows what else in “the capitals” to make the younger crowd and even some of the middle-aged set forget they live in a country ruled by a ultra-reactionary kleptocratic clique that can have any of them abducted for any reason whatsoever at a moment’s notice and charged with “involvement in a terrorist community” or some such nonsense and ruin their lives forever.
The day before yesterday, I translated and posted an essay, by Maria Kuvshinova, about Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike and the non/reaction to this brave call to action on the part of Russia’s creative so-called intelligentsia. At some point, I thought the essay might be a bit off the mark, but on second thought, despite its obvious quirks, I decided Ms. Kuvshinova had sized up the Russian zeitgeist perfectly.
Post-Soviet infantilism is total. It affects the so-called intelligentsia no less than the so-called ordinary folk. Infantilism means being unable to empathize, being unable to put yourself in another person’s shoes, even if that person is President Putin, a man with a quite distinct sense of ethics, a man who has been studied backwards and forwards for twenty years. Apparently, the message sent to the creative communities through the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov was not registered. If you want to be a dissident, start down the hard road of doing jail time for misdemeanor charges, facing insuperable difficulties in renting performance and exhibition spaces, becoming an outsider, and experiencing despair. If you want a big theater in downtown Moscow, play by the rules. Like your average late-Soviet philistine, Putin regarded the creative intelligentsia with respect at the outset of his presidential career. (See, for example, footage from his visit to Mosfilm Studios in 2003.) However, a few years later, he was convinced the creative intelligentsia was a rampantly conformist social group who would never move even a millimeter out of its comfort zone and would make one concession after another. A lack of self-respect always generates disrespect in counterparts.// TRR
I could not care less about all that as long as Putin leaves Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko alone. (Poltavchenko is the vaguely unhappy looking man on the right, in the picture above.)
Sure, Poltavchenko returned to his adopted hometown of Petersburg, after several years of bureaucratic carpetbagging, as an appointed satrap, who later obtained spurious legimitacy by winning a low-turnout, rigged election against a slate of astroturfed opponents. In a fit of uncharacteristic cynicism, Poltavchenko dubbed this farce “Democracy Day,” but we have forgiven him long ago for that outburst—by default, as it were, because 99.999% of us Petersburgers could give a hoot about local politics and have no clue about the Tammany Hall-style thuggery that once again covered the Cradle of Three Revolutions in shame on September 18, 2014. We are more the artsy, creative types here in the ex-capital of All the Russias. We go in for fo bo, hamburgers, craft beer, and conspicuous hipsterism.
In Petersburg, taking politics seriously is not cool.
But all the Sturm und Drang of 2014 matter less than Poltavchenko’s signal virtue, which consists in his striking tendency not to do or say much of anything, at least visibly or publicly. Unlike his colleague Ramzan Kadyrov, headman of the horrifying Chechen Republic, who is constantly running off at the mouth and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone, Poltavchenko has gone for whole weeks and months without saying or doing anything significant or noteworthy, much less frightening.
Whatever his other vices as a satrap and “former” KGB officer, it appears he would find it profoundly embarrassing to frighten anyone, especially just to show off, the way Kadyrov does it.
In an authoritarian political system in which making news means feigning to be a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalist fascist Orthodox maniac, tabling Nazi-like law bills in the Duma as fast as they can be typed up and printed out, there is something to be said for a guy who always looks as if he is always bored out of his mind, as if he would rather be home watching TV, fishing in the lake next to his dacha or tinkering with his car.
Which, of course, is an old Lada, not a Land Rover.
[At Kuzyna House on New Holland] Asian, European, Mediterranean, and even South Americans are combined in the simple food [sic] tradition. For example, starters include burrata with honey, persimmon, and truffle oil (780 rubles), and the main courses include poached salmon with a champagne and caviar cream sauce (990 rubles), marinated Korean barbecue ribs (750 rubles), and grilled chicken with green salsa (620 rubles).
The intellectual cluster [sic] A Beautiful Mind was conceived by psychotherapist Andrei Kurpatov, famous for his TV show on Channel One. Alexei Yermakov (El Copitas) is in charge of the kitchen.
Even a cheerfully depressive bad cop like me finally throws up his hands when he is inundated by the flood of extremely wretched news that has been coming from his usual beats this past week, especially after the short perfect summer of the last three weeks has suddenly turned to nonstop rain and gloom in this forgotten corner of the former Russian Empire.
So I am going try something newish on this weblog and introduce all you Russian readers to a band I have only just discovered today.
Lucidvox are four young women from Moscow who play psychedelic music with a touch of Krautrock. The group was formed in autumn 2013 after a hiking trip to Cape Fiolent. Originally, it was an instrumental quartet. Anna, the vocalist, played the flute, but then began to sing as well.
In July 2013, the band released the EP Drugoi chelovek (Another Man). In the following year, the group actively concertized.
On June 3, 2014, Lucidvox released the full-length album V Dvizhenii (In Movement), which the magazine Afisha-Volna listed among its top twenty Russian albums of the year.
Currently, Lucidvox are mixing an EP. They are planning to present the EP and a video to the one of the songs in early spring.
You can listen to all or nearly all of their back catalogue on their SoundCloud page, and listen to new tracks and keep up with their touring schedule and other goings-on on their VKontakte page (in Russian).
I know what kind of escapism and hipsterism this smacks of, comrades, but such borrowed escape valves and pretty exercises in youthful self-deception are at least as much a part of Russia’s currently violently “apolitical” political landscape as the regime’s out-and-out awfulness and the stunning heroism of the country’s so far badly outnumbered and outgunned activists and political prisoners.
And who knows what funny dreams of living somewhere and somewhen better and fairer are bound up in secondhand but enchanting music like this?
In any case, the sound couldn’t fit the current zeitgeist any better.
Lucidvox in concert at Jao Da in Moscow on March 19, 2014
About the Place: Portlandia is a new project in the convenience store format.
Project creators: Natalia Davydova and Julia Zenka
The idea to create Portlandia* sprang from a love of fellowship, food, the art of cooking, and shared experiences, as well as an acute shortage of quality products (in the broad sense) in St. Petersburg.
It is very important that our customers are always satisfied with not only the quality of the goods but also the range, which boils down to the basics, but things sufficient for comfort: farm-fresh produce, popular high-end products, household goods, and kitchen utensils.
The first thing we care about is the location of the store. Since many neighborhoods in the city center suffer from a lack of hypermarkets, and there are not enough grocery stores with high quality products, we decided to take up residence in apartment buildings.
* Portland is a city in the state of Oregon in the United States. It is considered the undeclared capital of foodies and hipsters. Authentic and incredible gastro festivals and lots of interesting things happen there. Young creative people bent on healthy eating and self-realization live there. They are always coming up with strange pastimes for themselves and are proud of the result. That, in short, is Portland.
In 2011, the American TV series “Portlandia”, which we could not help but fall in love with, premiered. This series, in fact, is our whole life in a nutshell: para-gastronomical insanity, awe over the topic of bars, as well as sketches about the creativity of the silly Portland hipsters with their passion for music festivals, DJ-ing, and all the things that we in Russia (especially in St. Petersburg) are just beginning to go crazy over.
Founding date: November 11, 2014
It sounded odd but potentially interesting, only the address put me on my guard.
That address (Ulitsa Paradnaya 3/Vilensky Pereulok 35) suggested this “hipster’s paradise” was at the heart of a newish high-rise housing estate, Paradny Kvartal, that had been erected a few years ago on the bones of another old neighborhood that should have been wholly protected by city and federal preservation laws and the city’s status as an UNESCO Heritage Site. But this is what went down instead, as reported at the time by Sergey Chernov of the now-defunct St. Petersburg Times, with a little assistance from the now equally defunct Chtodelat News (whose better intentions live on in this blog).
Legality of Demolition of Historic Barracks Contested By Sergey Chernov The St. Petersburg Times May 11, 2011
Another planning controversy is developing in the city, as more historic buildings in the center were demolished last week to make way for luxury apartment and office buildings.
Built by architect Fyodor Volkov in the early 19th century, the demolished buildings on the corner of Paradnaya Ulitsa and Vilensky Pereulok are known as the Preobrazhensky Regiment’s Barracks and used to house one of the Russian army’s oldest regiments, formed by Peter the Great in the late 17th century.
Following a public outcry, Governor Valentina Matviyenko ordered an internal investigation into the legality of a construction permit issued by the St. Petersburg State Construction Supervision and Expertise Service (Gosstroinadzor). The agency is subordinated directly to Matviyenko.
Matviyenko’s orders were based on a memorandum sent to her by City Hall’s Heritage Protection Committee (KGIOP) after the last building was demolished on May 3.
Yulia Minutina, a coordinator of preservationist group Living City, said that Gosstroinadzor issued the construction permit that contradicted the protected zones law.
The local press suggested that the investigation may result in the dismissal of Gosstroinadzor’s head Alexander Ort. Preservationists and public figures such as film director Alexander Sokurov asked Matviyenko to dismiss Ort in a petition in January.
The developer failed to show the demolition permit, according to Minutina.
“Demolition is a separate type of work that requires a separate permit,” Minutina said Tuesday.
“Nevertheless, it was not presented to us, nor have they seen it at the KGIOP and I’m not sure it ever existed. Of course this is a violation.”
“Besides, buildings in the center can only be demolished if they are in a poor condition, but we haven’t seen any document stating that the building was in a poor state and impossible to restore either.”
Minutina said the demolition was one of the issues the preservationists are planning to raise during a planned meeting with Matviyenko on Thursday.
While the last building was being destroyed during the May Day holidays, the authorities did not react to the appeals of concerned residents. At the same time, police reportedly harassed activists who picketed the demolition site, rather than checking whether the developer had the necessary permits.
“We waited for two hours for the police to arrive,” Living City’s Pyotr Zabirokhin said.
“But instead of stopping the demolition, they started checking our passports, copying our placards into their notebooks and threatening to disperse us if we didn’t go away.”
St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Deputy Sergei Malkov has written a complaint regarding the police actions to the St. Petersburg police chief Vladislav Piotrovsky.
The tactic of demolishing historic buildings during public holidays was recently used when a large portion of the 19th-century Literary House was destroyed on Nevsky Prospekt during the Russian Christmas holidays in January, Zabirokhin pointed out.
“It has turned into a bad tradition that not entirely legal cases of demolition start during or just before holidays, when people are not ready to get mobilized quickly, and while officials are on holiday and nobody can be reached,” he said.
According to the project’s web site, the area previously occupied by the Preobrazhensky Regiment Barracks will be home to an “exclusive” Paradny Kvartal, an isolated “mini city” of 16 office and residential buildings.
“The true adornment of the quarter’s center will be a square with a fountain, comparable in size with that in front of the Kazan Cathedral,” the web site said.
However, apparently as a result of the controversy, the site was no longer available on Tuesday, redirecting to the web site of the developer, Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga. The original site can be viewed as files cached in Google.
Anna Mironovskaya, the marketing director of Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga, a subsidiary of the LSR Group, said Tuesday her company was only a sub-investor and was not in charge of legal matters and permits, citing the Ministry of Defense as the project’s developer and the Pyotr Veliky Construction Company as the commissioner.
One of the main advantages of Paradny Kvartal is the social homogeneity of [one’s neighbors]. Our buyers are people of high social status. That is why we will be able to create “our own world” in which it will be pleasant and comfortable to live.
— What does the phrase “noblesse oblige,” which is frequently applied to Paradny Kvartal, mean?
The well-known phrase has rightly become not just the slogan but the authentic motto of Paradny Kvartal. It translates as “[one’s] station obliges [one].” For in Paradny Kvartal each detail underscores the project’s elitism, its exclusivity.
I had not been back to that site of class warfare camouflaged as “redevelopment” since that grey unpleasant day in May four years ago, although whenever I was in the vicinity it had been hard to avoid catching sight of Paradny Kvartal towering on the horizon over its older neighbors. Not only had the elitist high-rises probably been built in violation of the height regulations for the historic center, but the whole estate, I disovered when I revisited it a few weeks ago, has been erected on a one-storey-high pile of landfill, probably to accommodate lots of subterranean parking.
Hipster convenience store Portlandia proved quite hard to find amid the vast pseudo-Petersburgian, semi-ghost town that is Paradny Kvartal.
Part of the problem was a lack of sensible signage and maps, but mostly it was hard to find anything when many of the first-floor commercial spaces were still awaiting occupants.
This, by the way, seems to be the “square with a fountain, comparable in size with that in front of the Kazan Cathedral,” mentioned above.
Since the dubious reign of Valentina Matviyenko, who presided over the destruction of the Preobrazhensky Barracks, as well as much else of architectural merit, the city has been fountanized to the point of bursting, with two of its major Lenin monuments also having been juvenilized as water fun parks of a perverse sort. But Paradny Kvartal’s (perhaps non-functioning) fountain had been wisely boxed up for the winter.
I finally found Portlandia the hipster convenience store. I can say that the picture from the prospectus, above, does it justice. It is as empty and pointless as the picture suggests, and “convenient” only if you have been locked inside this mini city and desperately want to buy local craft beer and designer aprons at a heavy mark-up. That is, if you want stuff readily available elsewhere, probably just outside the gates of this noblesseobligeville, but for many fewer rubles.
Even at its most gentrified, the real Portland, Oregon, is a delightful, gritty socialist paradise compared to the soulless, Putinesque anti-Petersburg on display inside Paradny Kvartal.
And the connection with Portlandia the TV show I just don’t get at all. Portlandia is often mildly funny and at least slightly in touch with the city it sends up and where it is filmed. I cannot even imagine a comparable program dealing with Petersburg’s foibles and sillinesses being made here nowadays, in this dark-as-pitch and utterly humorless period, although there were such programs in the “lawless” nineties (e.g., Gorodok and Ostorozhno, modern!).
It’s frightening to think that much greater swathes of the inner city would look like Paradny Kvartal now were it not for the spunkiness of the tiny, embattled, and nowadays almost totally extinguished gradozashchitniki (city defenders) movement, which only six or seven years ago set the entire country on its ear by defeating Gazprom and its planned skyscraper.
But the city’s real salvation, such that it has been, has come from timely economic crises and sheer bureaucratic corruption and incompetence.
And yet Putinism in architecture and city planning has managed to do a lot of damage to this fine city, while signally failing to fix almost any real problems, of which there are almost too many to count.
As I happily exited Paradny Kvartal, a sign reminded me I was leaving the “first fashionable quarter in Saint Petersburg.”
As I dashed down the ramp into the “unfashionable” Petersburg, it was like returning to life after a longish period in cryogenic refrigeration.
One of the first things I saw there in the real city, warts and all, was a memorial plaque, reminding me that once upon a time people in this city had big ideas, and had dreamt of and fought for better futures.
Of course, we can argue the merits of different political ideas and the methods of realizing them. But places like Paradny Kvartal are idealess vacuums, pure embodiments of the blackest political reaction and the lack of any vision of the future on the part of Russia’s wildly corrupt ruling classes.
Even the sometimes justly maligned Russian hipster deserves better than Portlandia the inconvenience store and its airless environs.
With a little elbow grease and imagination, the old Preobrazhensky Regiment Barracks could have been transformed into a real hipster’s paradise, into a little village of low-income housing and affordable shops and cafes. Minus the hipsterism, it almost was like that back in the “wild” nineties. At any rate, it was at least as shabbily livable as any other part of the central city back then. Which despite its shabbiness was a hundred times more beautiful than it is now.
Russian leftist activist Ilya Budraitskis has given a quite eloquent answer to the first question, which you can (and should) read here. But these recent, seemingly irrelevant items from Russian urban lifestyle web site The Village seem more to the point.
Beer Geek, a craft beer store, has opened in the courtyard at Rubinstein Street, 2/45 [in central Petersburg]. Both Russian and foreign beverages are sold there, including beverages from small experimental breweries.
The selection includes very bitter American-style ales, sour Belgian specialities, cherry beer, and much more. Twelve taps have been installed right in the wall to save bar space. The beer is predominantly poured for takeaway, but you can drink it right in the store if you like. Most of the varieties will cost 200 rubles per half liter [approx. 4 euros].
The owners of the place are Pyotr Gordeyev and Dmitry Evmenov. They have installed steps, rising towards the ceiling, on which you can sit or even lie down on the store’s small premises. Another interior design element is a cupboard with sliding drawers in which the bottles have been arranged as in a filing cabinet.
[Petersburg’s] third City Grill Express recently began operating at Rubinstein Street, 4. The owners had long intended to open the new place near Nevsky Prospect, and over the next few years they plan on launching four more burgernayas with the same name.
The menu feature around three dozen burgers, french fries, Idaho fries, and several kinds of beer, including cherry beer and house beer. City Grill has beef, pork, veal, chicken and turkey burgers, as well as a Kansas City Burger with mushroom filling. All dishes are cooked to order in the open kitchen. The average check is 300 rubles [approx. 6 euros].
The first City Grill Express opened at Griboyedov Canal, 20, in 2012. Previously, City Grill cooked and sold burgers in street carts for six years. The second diner has operated for more than a year at Vosstaniia, 1. The chain’s owner, Yevgeny Arkhipov, comes up with the recipes and names of the burgers and the interior designs.
Forget about Mikhail Kosenko, the “prisoners of May 6,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and other inmates in the country’s wretched penitentiary system, the demolition of the country’s welfare system, the devastating floods in the Far East, the destruction of Russia’s cultural and research institutes, the gutting of labor rights, the demonization of migrant workers, and all that. What really matters to the country’s most progressive class and the handsomely remunerated foreign observers who keenly catalogue its whimsical traipsings atop the corpses and prone bodies of fellow countrymen is the meatball wrap.