Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. COVID-19 Symposium: An (Im)movable Feast

 

I won’t pretend that I have a singularly unique quarantine story, or even one anywhere near the hardest. Life could be much, much worse and I am supremely grateful, above all else, that I got a choice in how this happened. When my university decided to move online, a few days after Yale and Columbia began demanding that their exchange students return and we had the first two confirmed coronavirus cases on our campus, my parents began making plans for me to come home before it became impossible. I said no. There were still exams I had to sit in May, I said, and there was no way I was going to be able to study with everyone home, or take my last three weeks of classes over Zoom with our unstable internet connection. One of my classes had yet to go online, and I didn’t want to leave and miss a tutorial. Flight prices were going to skyrocket. And these were all true enough, especially the excuse about exams, but I stayed mostly to keep my family safe. 

This was the first winter and spring in all I could remember that my dad hadn’t caught pneumonia, hadn’t ended up with an inhaler or at the ER, struggling to breathe. So I, who had almost definitely been exposed to the virus on campus, and if not there in our university’s city at large, was going to make a long train trip and go through two airports, one that had been host to thousands of Americans on the continent from heavily infected countries escaping while they still had time, to come home? To potentially kill or do irreparable harm someone I loved? Hell. No. 

I didn’t bother having that argument with my parents, knowing how adamant my dad would be that there wasn’t really much of a risk at all, that it was more important for him to know his oldest was safe and well and home. Sorry, mom, exams, I can’t even consider it. In August, I promise, if things are good. 

For the most part since then, my days have revolved around exams. The majority of the month between the end of physical classes and May 6 (my Russian oral exam), was spent preparing for that exam and gathering notes for all of the others, as I helped my two roommates pack for their return to Pakistan. And there was only one slightly unfortunate incident involving a towel, a shaving razor, and a threat of bodily harm to a stranger. I made it out in one piece through my oral (thank God for Joseph Brodksy and my ability to prevaricate about poetry in any language, because the Jewish Autonomous Oblast almost killed me), and on Monday, after writing six 2,000-word, fully sourced essays and two source analyses over two weeks, I finished my history and economics modules. All done for the year, and faced with how my lockdown was going to go until at least August. 

Before Monday, my days had a well established, if unhealthy, pattern. Up at 7 or 8, run for four or five miles, come back for a shower, work from then until 9 or 10, dinner if I felt up to making it, and up doing more work, reading, or occasionally watching a movie until 2 or 3. Rinse and repeat, with the variation of Muay Thai practice on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Now, I’m working to wean myself off of that schedule (which is really a more humane version of my term time one), with limited success. Applying for online internships to replace the one I lost in Moscow, and hoping to find something that is both fulfilling and will look good on a grad school application. 

So how is a lone 20-year-old American in England spending her lockdown, other than internship hunting? I still exercise obsessively, partly as a substitute for not being able to work as intensely. Spending, as a student and simply by personality, so much of my life in my own head makes the demanding physicality of ballet, running, and boxing essential and so, so gratifying. Shopping is also just about the only time I might talk to someone in person during the week, although where I shop that might just be a few polite sentences in Arabic or a quick thank you in Chinese.

Reading takes up a good portion of my time as well, which is never disagreeable. I’ve taken the hedonistic approach to choosing what I read; what I want to read, I read. So far, an HRNK report on Songbun, Sonechka and Other Stories by Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Cursed Days by Ivan Bunin, Ancient Egypt by Barry J. Kemp, and The Assassins by Bernard Lewis. Every day, I try to at least do an hour of French or Hebrew or Russian or Arabic, all four if I can summon the will. When I can find the inspiration, and the energy to grind my inkstone, I paint Chinese calligraphy for a few hours. Or work at a new piece on my harp. Sometimes for the joy of creating, sometimes to keep being quite so alone (two months and going) at bay. 

The silence is nice, and I never have an objection to being alone, but more often than not I find myself listening to music when I cook dinner. Dancing to Dean Martin with the broom while I stir fry the yakisoba, because who is here to judge? Or I go on a long run as the sun sets, pick a particular place or thing and take a ton of pictures for one of my friends back home, who likes having a tour through a place that she’s never been while being stuck in the middle of nowhere Massachusetts for so long. Movies or TV, then, if I don’t feel like reading. As with the books, there’s no real rhyme or reason, just whatever strikes my fancy. It might be Star Trek VI one night, and Where Are You, Jafar Panahi? the next. Maybe Inspector Morse or WCVB (thanks VPN) if I feel homesick. If I can’t fall asleep, I’ll listen to recorded poetry, usually Philip Larkin or T.S. Eliot, until I get drowsy enough to make an attempt.

Undeniably, the highlight of any day is watching a movie, or just having a conversation, with a friend. I suppose I should put a mini-PSA here: if you have a friend or family member that lives alone far from friends or family, particularly if they live abroad, they will appreciate any effort made towards a conversation or some shared activity, over Zoom or FaceTime or text, no matter how much they might complain about the time difference. Even getting a letter makes a day. 

Does my navel-gazing have a point? If I were a more disciplined person, maybe I could say that living alone in lockdown has revealed great Platonic truths to me, or allowed me to transcend the noise of the world. The truth is something closer to me hanging upside down in an office chair flipping through A Comprehensive Russian Grammar and considering if I want to listen to that particular episode of Firing Line while I take a shower. Or dancing in the kitchen in llama pajamas at 11 p.m. singing along to traditional Sudanese music while I make lime curd out of exam-induced anxiety. So maybe that is the great lesson; enjoy even the challenging times to the fullest, and appreciate the good ones that much more than you did before when they come back. They will. 

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  1. Arahant Member

    That was fun to read. You sound so young and energetic. I think I need a nap now.

    • #1
    • May 19, 2020, at 5:45 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  2. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer: because the Jewish Autonomous Oblast almost killed me

    ?

    • #2
    • May 19, 2020, at 6:24 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer: because the Jewish Autonomous Oblast almost killed me

    ?

    Ah, so the head of our Russian program (who is, as with almost all language teachers at our university, a native speaker) has always insisted upon doing foreign language oral exams the Russian way. (If I remember correctly, exams in other subjects were often conducted in this method during Soviet times). Basically, out of all of the presentations we did for the year, we pick four to prepare for the exam and either there are four slips of overturned paper when we walk in and we chose one, or we inform the teacher ahead of time of our choice and they allow the external examiner to chose what might interest them the most and tell us when we arrive. Then, we give a five minute presentation with slides (minimal text) based on an essay we wrote for the topic (which we’ve already done once and had corrected by one of our tutors) and have a conversation for 10-15. Since we are a more advanced module, we were using the second method, even over Zoom. My chosen presentations were the Region: Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Moscow: Arbat Street, Free Choice: The Genre of Gulag Novels, and Culture: Joseph Brodsky and Poetic Culture in Russia and America. My tutor was the most intrigued by the JAO presentation (my least favorite, both because it’s boring and it came about in a traumatic way), but thankfully we were meant to talk about all of the presentations, so I escaped only doing 3-4 minutes of monologue and a few questions about it. Suffice to say that it’s in the middle of nowhere, and there hasn’t been anything very Jewish (or autonomous) about it in 70 years.

    • #3
    • May 19, 2020, at 6:47 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. MarciN Member

    Are you in England studying Russia? Your university has closed, but the administration is letting you stay in a dorm room of some kind? You are all by yourself on campus?

    • #4
    • May 19, 2020, at 6:48 PM PDT
    • Like
    • This comment has been edited.
  5. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Are you in Russia? Your university has closed, but the administration is letting you stay in a dorm room of some kind? You are all by yourself on campus?

    No, I am a full time student at a university in England (my major is History with Russian Language and I was meant to spend part of the summer at an internship in Moscow before COVID). Most English universities, at least those that have sizable foreign student populations (Oxford, LSE, Cambridge, etc) have closed the campuses, but left student housing open. So I’m still in a dorm, and there are a few people left in the building, but I’m the only one left in a normally three person shared room. 

    • #5
    • May 19, 2020, at 6:52 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. MarciN Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Are you in Russia? Your university has closed, but the administration is letting you stay in a dorm room of some kind? You are all by yourself on campus?

    No, I am a full time student at a university in England (my major is History with Russian Language and I was meant to spend part of the summer at an internship in Moscow before COVID). Most English universities, at least those that have sizable foreign student populations (Oxford, LSE, Cambridge, etc) have closed the campuses, but left student housing open. So I’m still in a dorm, and there are a few people left in the building, but I’m the only one left in a normally three person shared room.

    Goodness. I’m so glad you are not completely alone there. :-)

    There must be something magical about having the campus so much to yourself, sort of like being in downtown Boston or Manhattan on a Friday night. :-) 

    Loved your post. :-)

    • #6
    • May 19, 2020, at 6:55 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    MarciN (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Are you in Russia? Your university has closed, but the administration is letting you stay in a dorm room of some kind? You are all by yourself on campus?

    No, I am a full time student at a university in England (my major is History with Russian Language and I was meant to spend part of the summer at an internship in Moscow before COVID). Most English universities, at least those that have sizable foreign student populations (Oxford, LSE, Cambridge, etc) have closed the campuses, but left student housing open. So I’m still in a dorm, and there are a few people left in the building, but I’m the only one left in a normally three person shared room.

    Goodness. I’m so glad you are not completely alone there. :-)

    There must be something magical about having the campus so much to yourself, sort of like being in downtown Boston or Manhattan on a Friday night. :-)

    Loved your post. :-)

    Thanks! It is equal parts lovely and eerie (the Boston comparison is a good one, I’ve walked around a few times with friends when it’s empty-ish in the winter, because it’s the closest real city to us, and it’s always a little surreal). I should have explained, but the reason those universities initially chose to keep dorms open for foreign students is because a huge % of their students are from East Asia (mostly China and Singapore) and they didn’t want to force anyone to return when it was so clearly dangerous. 

    • #7
    • May 19, 2020, at 6:59 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. MarciN Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Are you in Russia? Your university has closed, but the administration is letting you stay in a dorm room of some kind? You are all by yourself on campus?

    No, I am a full time student at a university in England (my major is History with Russian Language and I was meant to spend part of the summer at an internship in Moscow before COVID). Most English universities, at least those that have sizable foreign student populations (Oxford, LSE, Cambridge, etc) have closed the campuses, but left student housing open. So I’m still in a dorm, and there are a few people left in the building, but I’m the only one left in a normally three person shared room.

    Goodness. I’m so glad you are not completely alone there. :-)

    There must be something magical about having the campus so much to yourself, sort of like being in downtown Boston or Manhattan on a Friday night. :-)

    Loved your post. :-)

    Thanks! It is equal parts lovely and eerie (the Boston comparison is a good one, I’ve walked around a few times with friends when it’s empty-ish in the winter, because it’s the closest real city to us, and it’s always a little surreal). I should have explained, but the reason those universities initially chose to keep dorms open for foreign students is because a huge % of their students are from East Asia (mostly China and Singapore) and they didn’t want to force anyone to return when it was so clearly dangerous.

    That was very generous of the administration. Very civilized. :-)

    If you run out of things to read, please do write. :-)

    • #8
    • May 19, 2020, at 7:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  9. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer: because the Jewish Autonomous Oblast almost killed me

    ?

    Ah, so the head of our Russian program (who is, as with almost all language teachers at our university, a native speaker) has always insisted upon doing foreign language oral exams the Russian way. (If I remember correctly, exams in other subjects were often conducted in this method during Soviet times). Basically, out of all of the presentations we did for the year, we pick four to prepare for the exam and either there are four slips of overturned paper when we walk in and we chose one, or we inform the teacher ahead of time of our choice and they allow the external examiner to chose what might interest them the most and tell us when we arrive. Then, we give a five minute presentation with slides (minimal text) based on an essay we wrote for the topic (which we’ve already done once and had corrected by one of our tutors) and have a conversation for 10-15. Since we are a more advanced module, we were using the second method, even over Zoom. My chosen presentations were the Region: Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Moscow: Arbat Street, Free Choice: The Genre of Gulag Novels, and Culture: Joseph Brodsky and Poetic Culture in Russia and America. My tutor was the most intrigued by the JAO presentation (my least favorite, both because it’s boring and it came about in a traumatic way), but thankfully we were meant to talk about all of the presentations, so I escaped only doing 3-4 minutes of monologue and a few questions about it. Suffice to say that it’s in the middle of nowhere, and there hasn’t been anything very Jewish (or autonomous) about it in 70 years.

     I had never heard of the JAO before, which was the reason for my question mark. But I see there is a wikipedia page for it.

    It was interesting to hear about the exam method, though. What I knew about it was what I’ve seen in movies such as Стиляги (set in Soviet times) and Операция “ы” (produced in Soviet times) where they do the slips of paper. I hadn’t known about the others.

    • #9
    • May 19, 2020, at 7:22 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    My chosen presentations were the Region: Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Moscow: Arbat Street, Free Choice: The Genre of Gulag Novels, and Culture: Joseph Brodsky and Poetic Culture in Russia and America.

    I think it was from the music in the film Pokrovsky Gate that I gathered that Arbat Street has some special sentimental significance, but I still don’t know what it is.

    • #10
    • May 19, 2020, at 7:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer: because the Jewish Autonomous Oblast almost killed me

    ?

    Ah, so the head of our Russian program (who is, as with almost all language teachers at our university, a native speaker) has always insisted upon doing foreign language oral exams the Russian way. (If I remember correctly, exams in other subjects were often conducted in this method during Soviet times). Basically, out of all of the presentations we did for the year, we pick four to prepare for the exam and either there are four slips of overturned paper when we walk in and we chose one, or we inform the teacher ahead of time of our choice and they allow the external examiner to chose what might interest them the most and tell us when we arrive. Then, we give a five minute presentation with slides (minimal text) based on an essay we wrote for the topic (which we’ve already done once and had corrected by one of our tutors) and have a conversation for 10-15. 

    I had never heard of the JAO before, which was the reason for my question mark. But I see there is a wikipedia page for it.

    It was interesting to hear about the exam method, though. What I knew about it was what I’ve seen in movies such as Стиляги (set in Soviet times) and Операция “ы” (produced in Soviet times) where they do the slips of paper. I hadn’t known about the others.

    Ah, sorry about that. To be perfectly honest, JOA is basically the same as any other Siberian Region. The Soviets forced a lot of Jews to immigrate there in the late 20s and early 30s to prove that they were tolerant, and to give an alternative to Zionism, but the climate was so awful that as many people who could leave did. There was a little bit of a Renaissance in immigration there post-‘45, but enthusiasm for that ran out pretty quick once people realized that having all of the Jews in one place was Stalin’s dream, purge wise and most people either escaped to the west or tried to get back to their home region. Now a days it’s 0.2% Jewish (they still teach Yiddish in some schools and have local Jewish festivals, but it’s for a small audience), and it’s capital Birobidzhan is the same as any other depressing, post-Soviet Far Eastern city. Maybe slightly less likely to get stabbed in than Vladivostok, but not somewhere I’d go out of my way to visit. 

    • #11
    • May 19, 2020, at 7:34 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    My chosen presentations were the Region: Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Moscow: Arbat Street, Free Choice: The Genre of Gulag Novels, and Culture: Joseph Brodsky and Poetic Culture in Russia and America.

    I think it was from the music in the film Pokrovsky Gate that I gathered that Arbat Street has some special sentimental significance, but I still don’t know what it is.

    There’s a very famous song by Bulat Okudzhava (I hate spelling that name in English or Russian) about Old Arbat Street from the late 50s. Basically, the street was the centre of cultural life in Moscow for a couple of hundred years (Pushkin, Andrey Bely and the Tolstoy Family all lived there at some point) and once the communists took over it was the place for high ranking party members to live (for example, Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD lives there until he was purged in the late ‘30s). So no matter the time or the ruler, it’s always been a focus point of political and cultural power in Russia. 

    • #12
    • May 19, 2020, at 7:40 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    My chosen presentations were the Region: Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Moscow: Arbat Street, Free Choice: The Genre of Gulag Novels, and Culture: Joseph Brodsky and Poetic Culture in Russia and America.

    I think it was from the music in the film Pokrovsky Gate that I gathered that Arbat Street has some special sentimental significance, but I still don’t know what it is.

    There’s a very famous song by Bulat Okudzhava (I hate spelling that name in English or Russian) about Old Arbat Street from the late 50s. Basically, the street was the centre of cultural life in Moscow for a couple of hundred years (Pushkin, Andrey Bely and the Tolstoy Family all lived there at some point) and once the communists took over it was the place for high ranking party members to live (for example, Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD lives there until he was purged in the late ‘30s). So no matter the time or the ruler, it’s always been a focus point of political and cultural power in Russia. 

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=USTq9wBSIv8 

    This is the song. 

     

     

    • #13
    • May 19, 2020, at 7:42 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    Maybe slightly less likely to get stabbed in than Vladivostok, but not somewhere I’d go out of my way to visit. 

    I didn’t realize Vladivostok was especially dangerous. For a while I was looking into the possibility of going around the world with a stop in Vladivostok. Our first stop would be in Ireland where we’d visit our daughter (which would make our 8th visit there) take a ferry to England, the Chunnel to the continent, and the trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok, and then we’d fly to South Korea and home. There would be some complications with the timing because of the way the tickets for Russian railroads work. And there are complications for Americans traveling through Belarus. But I kind of lost interest after we visited Poland, as I’d now like to spend more time in central and eastern Europe outside of Russia, and I also realized we wouldn’t care to spend so much time on a train. (Our plans for Poland, Slovakia, and Czechia for this fall are now on hold, hopefully to resume next year, and maybe to include western Ukraine and Slovenia as well. Ukraine and Slovenia were originally part of the plan for 2021. Ukraine is bit complicated because we can’t rent a car elsewhere and drive it across the border to Ukraine, so I had left it off the agenda for this year. Now I need to go and do my evening bicycle ride, indoors, while I work on my Polish, German, and Ukrainian lessons.)

    • #14
    • May 19, 2020, at 7:53 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Al French of Damascus Moderator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer: because the Jewish Autonomous Oblast almost killed me

    ?

    Ha! I knew that one. About a month ago the Chinese province of Jilin made the news because of a Covid outbreak. I was curious about its location and looked on a map. I noticed that just across the Russian border was a province called the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. That was curious so I went to Wikipedia. I found the information interesting enough to mention it, with a link to the Wikipedia entry, on out “Things I Learned Today” group. Reticulator, if you were a member of tha group, you would have known it too.

    (Jilin is back in the news today with another Covid outbreak.)

    KW, your energy astounds me. What a life you lead! Please keep sharing it with us on Ricochet.

    • #15
    • May 19, 2020, at 9:09 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. The Reticulator Member

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    My chosen presentations were the Region: Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Moscow: Arbat Street, Free Choice: The Genre of Gulag Novels, and Culture: Joseph Brodsky and Poetic Culture in Russia and America.

    I think it was from the music in the film Pokrovsky Gate that I gathered that Arbat Street has some special sentimental significance, but I still don’t know what it is.

    There’s a very famous song by Bulat Okudzhava (I hate spelling that name in English or Russian) about Old Arbat Street from the late 50s. Basically, the street was the centre of cultural life in Moscow for a couple of hundred years (Pushkin, Andrey Bely and the Tolstoy Family all lived there at some point) and once the communists took over it was the place for high ranking party members to live (for example, Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD lives there until he was purged in the late ‘30s). So no matter the time or the ruler, it’s always been a focus point of political and cultural power in Russia.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=USTq9wBSIv8

    This is the song.

    That’s the song in the movie. The tempo is a little different, and the phrasing might be slightly different, but I recognize words and phrases as being the same. And I’m pretty sure it’s the same voice (which I’ve heard elsewhere, too).

    It seems a lot of the songs I encounter in Russian movies of the Soviet era weren’t original with the movie. There’s a song in Railway Station for Two that I’m pretty sure was written for the film, but I wonder if that isn’t the exception to the rule. Not sure how that compares with American film.

    Your mention of Yezhov made me look up the location of the House of Government, which I listened to on audio some time back. I don’t recall if the book said that Yezhov ever was one of the residents, but I was curious where it was in relation to Arbat Street. Apparently it’s on the other side of the Moscow River. On Google Maps the street is labelled New Arbat Avenue. There’s a place named Staryy Arbat, but apparently that’s a theater. Do you happen to know if the Arbat Street from Soviet Days is pretty much in the same location as the current street?

     

    • #16
    • May 19, 2020, at 11:52 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    Maybe slightly less likely to get stabbed in than Vladivostok, but not somewhere I’d go out of my way to visit.

    I didn’t realize Vladivostok was especially dangerous. For a while I was looking into the possibility of going around the world with a stop in Vladivostok. Our first stop would be in Ireland where we’d visit our daughter (which would make our 8th visit there) take a ferry to England, the Chunnel to the continent, and the trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok, and then we’d fly to South Korea and home. There would be some complications with the timing because of the way the tickets for Russian railroads work. And there are complications for Americans traveling through Belarus. But I kind of lost interest after we visited Poland, as I’d now like to spend more time in central and eastern Europe outside of Russia, and I also realized we wouldn’t care to spend so much time on a train. (Our plans for Poland, Slovakia, and Czechia for this fall are now on hold, hopefully to resume next year, and maybe to include western Ukraine and Slovenia as well. Ukraine and Slovenia were originally part of the plan for 2021. Ukraine is bit complicated because we can’t rent a car elsewhere and drive it across the border to Ukraine, so I had left it off the agenda for this year. Now I need to go and do my evening bicycle ride, indoors, while I work on my Polish, German, and Ukrainian lessons.)

    Vladivostok isn’t the most dangerous city in Russia, but it’s also not very safe, and there really is very little there (and what there is could probably be seen in another safer, less remote city). If you’re looking for recommendations for other Eastern Europeans countries where Russian works well, and that are worth a visit, I would look at Georgia or Kazakstan. (I think Georgia has just about the best Eastern European cuisine, and Kazakstan has very interesting mix of cultures).

    • #17
    • May 20, 2020, at 1:30 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I think it was from the music in the film Pokrovsky Gate that I gathered that Arbat Street has some special sentimental significance, but I still don’t know what it is.

    There’s a very famous song by Bulat Okudzhava (I hate spelling that name in English or Russian) about Old Arbat Street from the late 50s. Basically, the street was the centre of cultural life in Moscow for a couple of hundred years (Pushkin, Andrey Bely and the Tolstoy Family all lived there at some point) and once the communists took over it was the place for high ranking party members to live (for example, Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD lives there until he was purged in the late ‘30s). 

    That’s the song in the movie. The tempo is a little different, and the phrasing might be slightly different, but I recognize words and phrases as being the same. And I’m pretty sure it’s the same voice (which I’ve heard elsewhere, too).

    It seems a lot of the songs I encounter in Russian movies of the Soviet era weren’t original with the movie. There’s a song in Railway Station for Two that I’m pretty sure was written for the film, but I wonder if that isn’t the exception to the rule. Not sure how that compares with American film.

    Your mention of Yezhov made me look up the location of the House of Government, which I listened to on audio some time back. I don’t recall if the book said that Yezhov ever was one of the residents, but I was curious where it was in relation to Arbat Street. Apparently it’s on the other side of the Moscow River. On Google Maps the street is labelled New Arbat Avenue. There’s a place named Staryy Arbat, but apparently that’s a theater. Do you happen to know if the Arbat Street from Soviet Days is pretty much in the same location as the current street?

    It’s a bard song, and it was quite common, in Soviet times, to insert those into movies. The ‘famous Arbat’ is Staryy Arbat (the name of a theatre, but also the street itself); for hundreds of years it functioned (because it goes through the very centre of the city) as a the main way into Moscow. It’s name isn’t Russian, but Arabic, because so many of the foreign travelers that used it were Arabic speaking. New Arbat Street was built by the Soviet Government to take over that function in the ’60s (it’s basically just lined with apartment blocks) and old Arbat was turned into the first pedestrian zone in the city, and is one of the main Moscow tourist drags. There was even a novel, Children of Arbat/Дети Арбата, about life on the street when it was mainly home to high Soviet officials. 

    • #18
    • May 20, 2020, at 1:40 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  19. Arahant Member

    Al French of Damascus (View Comment):
    About a month ago the Chinese province of Jilin made the news because of a Covid outbreak. I was curious about its location and looked on a map. I noticed that just across the Russian border was a province called the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.

    Next to Jilin? That ain’t Siberia. That’s the Russian Far East.

    • #19
    • May 20, 2020, at 2:35 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. Bob Armstrong Thatcher

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Your mention of Yezhov made me look up the location of the House of Government, which I listened to on audio some time back. I don’t recall if the book said that Yezhov ever was one of the residents, but I was curious where it was in relation to Arbat Street. Apparently it’s on the other side of the Moscow River. On Google Maps the street is labelled New Arbat Avenue. There’s a place named Staryy Arbat, but apparently that’s a theater. Do you happen to know if the Arbat Street from Soviet Days is pretty much in the same location as the current street?

     

    I highly recommend Slezkine’s House of Government. His examination of communism through the lens of millennial religious tradition was fascinating and illuminating. The same overweening zealousness is shown by much of the progressive left today, and some of their irrational internal contradictions become more explicable when understood as religious fervor. He delves into the Soviet propagandist literature of the pre-Stalin era and reveals archetypal figures that populated the mythos.

    Seeing the interior of one of the apartments in the recent comedy Death of Stalin was an unexpected bonus!

    • #20
    • May 20, 2020, at 6:08 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  21. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer

    Bob Armstrong (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Your mention of Yezhov made me look up the location of the House of Government, which I listened to on audio some time back. I don’t recall if the book said that Yezhov ever was one of the residents, but I was curious where it was in relation to Arbat Street. Apparently it’s on the other side of the Moscow River. On Google Maps the street is labelled New Arbat Avenue. There’s a place named Staryy Arbat, but apparently that’s a theater. Do you happen to know if the Arbat Street from Soviet Days is pretty much in the same location as the current street?

     

    I highly recommend Slezkine’s House of Government. His examination of communism through the lens of millennial religious tradition was fascinating and illuminating. The same overweening zealousness is shown by much of the progressive left today, and some of their irrational internal contradictions become more explicable when understood as religious fervor. He delves into the Soviet propagandist literature of the pre-Stalin era and reveals archetypal figures that populated the mythos.

    Seeing the interior of one of the apartments in the recent comedy Death of Stalin was an unexpected bonus!

    I lived in what had been a communal apartment when I was in Petersburg (not as ‘nice’ as the ones in Death of Stalin) for a week with two other girls and a host family, and it was as bad as anyone would imagine. Having to stick it out in one of those for any length of time would kill a lot of young people’s fervor for Bernie and socialist revolution, I think. 

    • #21
    • May 20, 2020, at 6:19 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  22. The Reticulator Member

    Al French of Damascus (View Comment):
    on out “Things I Learned Today” group. Reticulator, if you were a member of tha group, you would have known it too.

    If Ricochet provided a means to search for groups to join, I’d join that one.

    • #22
    • May 20, 2020, at 12:20 PM PDT
    • Like
  23. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    If Ricochet provided a means to search for groups to join, I’d join that one.

    Ricochet does. But whatever, just go here:

    http://ricochet.com/groups/things-i-learned-today/

    • #23
    • May 20, 2020, at 12:55 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. The Reticulator Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    If Ricochet provided a means to search for groups to join, I’d join that one.

    Ricochet does. But whatever, just go here:

    http://ricochet.com/groups/things-i-learned-today/

    OK, I’ll modify my statement:

    If Ricochet provided a means to search for groups to join, and if it was possible to find it, I’d join that one.

    • #24
    • May 20, 2020, at 1:01 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Arahant Member

    Hover over your avatar in the upper right corner. When the menu comes up, track it down to Groups. Wait for the sidebar menu, and select All Groups. (There are only 148 of them, so searching is not that difficult, just going one by one.) There is a “Search Groups” field in the upper right of the groups page. You can put in a word or phrase, such as “Learned” and it will bring up the one group with that in the title.

    • #25
    • May 20, 2020, at 1:09 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. The Reticulator Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Hover over your avatar in the upper right corner. When the menu comes up, track it down to Groups. Wait for the sidebar menu, and select All Groups. (There are only 148 of them, so searching is not that difficult, just going one by one.) There is a “Search Groups” field in the upper right of the groups page. You can put in a word or phrase, such as “Learned” and it will bring up the one group with that in the title.

    Thank you! If one puts a screenshot into a photo editing program and does a little contrast enhancement, one can even see the search box. It works.

    (My comment included a snarky statement about the current state of web design in general.)

    • #26
    • May 20, 2020, at 3:13 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Thank you! If one puts a screenshot into a photo editing program and does a little contrast enhancement, one can even see the search box. It works.

    I did start a separate conversation for you that included pictures.

    • #27
    • May 20, 2020, at 3:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like