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People keep telling us that the neighborhood we live in is a ghetto. It’s called Bojsenburg, but its nicknames are Bajsenburg (“bajs” being poop) and Bosniaburg (self-explanatory). Supposedly it’s dangerous and full of scary foreigners (like me and Kostia), but the biggest dangers I’ve experienced are little kids not looking where they’re going when they’re riding their bikes.

Tell me, does this look like a ghetto to you? Click to enlarge.

Ye olde ghetto library

Courtyard with storage space and covered bicycle parking

Our apartment. We have a garden and everything. And we leave our bikes outside and nobody messes with them.

Here’s a map of the ghetto. It can be a little confusing to the uninitiated since the buildings look quite similar.

Personally, I think it kind of looks like an artists’ colony or something. The apartments are bright and spacious. The buildings are well-maintained by the municipal housing organization and the caretakers come instantly when you call, even if it’s to change a lightbulb. It’s all car-free (the parking lots are at the perimeter, though you can use a special key to open the gates if you need to pull a car up to your entrance to deliver something), which means kids and cats can run around without worry. The landscaping is lovely, and residents seem to be free to decorate their balconies and patios however they want. There are several preschools on the premises. It’s a five-minute walk to the forest, two lakes and three supermarkets. It’s a 20-minute walk to downtown Falun.

A ghetto? I think it’s utopia.

Listen to Cartman sing “In the Ghetto”

Yesterday I made poor Kostia watch the film “White Nights” which, as you may know, is not an adaptation of the Dostoyevsky short story, but rather one of the most absurd screenplays in the history of cinema. In a nutshell, a Soviet ballet star who has defected to the US (Mikhail Baryshnikov) is on a plane which crash-lands in the Soviet Union, and the evil Soviets try to keep him there, making an American tap dancer who has defected to the Soviet Union (Gregory Hines) be his guard and companion.

I wanted to watch it because it made a big impression on me 20 years ago. It was one of those movies that got steady rotation on HBO for awhile and then disappeared from our lives, and I think it contributed to my fascination with the Soviet Union, and my decision to study Russian in junior high school.

It’s always funny to watch a film that you thought was cool when you were a kid, knowing it’s going to be really bad. But now that I’ve spent time in both St. Petersburg and Helsinki it was neat to be able to identify which shots were stock footage of Leningrad and which were actually Helsinki, where they shot the film. They did a pretty good job of making things look real and Russian, except that Baryshnikov’s apartment was way too fancy even for a Soviet ballet star of the time. The non-Russian actors had obviously been well-coached on their Russian – although they spoke with accents, their intonation was solid and it was possible to understand what they were saying (unlike, say, Sean Connery in “The Hunt For Red October” who had obviously just interpreted the transliteration in his script for himself. Nobody coaches the Sean Connery, I guess).

Also, the dancing was amazing. I can appreciate that now in a way that I couldn’t when I was 11 years old and tap dancing seemed to be the lamest thing on earth.

But the plot was still ridiculous, and the soundtrack… whose idea was that soundtrack? I managed to amuse Kostia by singing along to “Say You, Say Me”, though. Why does the brain retain lyrics to terrible 80s songs and not, say, the ability to do calculus? Sigh.

OK, so I’m American, Kostia’s Russian, and we live in Sweden. This pretty much guarantees that we both use three languages in one way or another every day. That’s not terribly impressive in multilingual Europe, but by monolingual American standards it’s pretty nerdy. Not nerdy enough for Kostia, though, who received a German-Italian/Italian-German dictionary from Amazon today. German and Italian are his third and fifth languages, respectively. He’s also awaiting a Hebrew self-study textbook.

This clip reminded me how much I like Russian nerds (as a distinct subset of humanity, not just the one I live with and his friends) and their sense of humor:

The song is from the Soviet sci-fi film “Kin-Dza-Dza”, which a Russian nerd first made me watch 5 years ago.

If you grow up in certain parts the US you can get the impression that all Russians are nerds, since many Russians who come to the US are academic immigrants. Once you’ve been to Russia, you realize that Russia has the same ratio of ochkariki/botaniki* to sports fans/pop music fans/rednecks/whatever else as the rest of the world, which is to say, too small. Luckily the brain drain hasn’t drained all the brains out of Russia, and they’re still there, grinding out pirated software and acerbic commentary on their LiveJournals.


* “Ochkarik” and “botanik” are the Russian words for nerd/geek. An “ochkarik” is someone who wears “ochki”, glasses. You can figure out “botanik” for yourself.

Instead of doing something more useful, I’m poking around the internet looking for insightful commentary about the Eurovision performances. I haven’t found any, but this one was kind of funny, especially this part:

“Russia – Terrible. Half the song is performed on knees. Are they disabled? Is that a theme this year after the blind one? Oh god. Here’s a bloke pissing about on ice-skates.”

The “bloke pissing about on ice-skates” was Evgeni Plushenko. You know, the gold medalist in figure skating at the last Olympics? His presence was supposed to have helped Russia secure the Eurovision victory, as was the presence of violinist Edvin Marton (and his very expensive violin which wasn’t even actually audible during the performance), who is Hungarian, not Russian, but whatever, right?

I think that Russia should have pulled out all the stops and filled the stage with famous people – they could have had Maria Sharapova hitting tennis balls into the audience, and the whole of Zenit (St. Petersburg’s football/soccer team and the UEFA Cup winners) running around the stage, and you know, Grigori Perelman scribbling equations on a blackboard (actually, they could have had Sebastien Tellier stand in for him, they kind of look alike), and a famous chess player (but not Garry Kasparov because he’s become an opposition politician and we can’t have any of that during such a patriotic event) playing giant chess. Maybe then the performance would have been interesting enough to vote for.

Right, so our internet was down yesterday and I couldn’t inform everyone of my Very Important Opinions on the Eurovision results. For those who don’t know, Russia won. I really don’t like anything about Dima Bilan, but I am glad that Greece didn’t win. Greece won four years ago with an incredibly stupid pop song and they didn’t deserve to do so twice.

I had been planning to vote for France. Sebastien Tellier’s performance was delightfully irreverent, but his backup singers were terrible, and unsurprisingly this whole situation did not impress the audience. I wanted to vote for something good that had a chance of winning, so I voted three times for Turkey, and twice for France on principle, and then I ran out of money on my phone. Good thing I only had 35 crowns (about $6) on there or things could have got out of hand. Yes, you are allowed to cast as many votes as you can afford to in the 15 minutes allotted for voting.

So next year’s contest will be in Russia. Usually the contest takes place in the host country’s capital, but Kostia told me this morning that there’s a rumor that it could be held in St. Petersburg, which would make it much more likely that we would attend some part of the festivities.

If you’re not in Europe, or you don’t have a TV (like me), you can watch the Eurovision semifinals and final on the Eurovision website. The final is on Saturday at 9pm Central European time (which is 3pm EDT, but you don’t have to watch it live).

Edit: If you watch it on the web you won’t be able to vote, though. Each country has its own phone numbers for voting and so they’re put on the screen by the national TV channels. (So we’re actually going to Dima’s to watch the final.)

Well, as usual most of humanity disappoints me. I liked 7 of the 38 songs which competed in the semifinals, and only three of those made it to the final.

The ones that didn’t make it:

Belgium. Good music, made-up language.

Estonia. Weird and funny, kind of catchy.

Ireland. A singing puppet. Hilarious. “Oh I come from a nation wot knows how to write a song…”

Switzerland. Pleasant song, sung by a hottie. Actually, I’m really surprised this didn’t make it to the final, because it seems like the sort of formula that pleases the Eurovision audience. I think, sadly, that if the female backup dancers had had normal hair and short skirts it would have made it, because hot girls seem to have a much better chance of making it to the final no matter how they perform (though, thankfully, the terrible Czech song didn’t make it despite showing lots of leg).

The three likeable songs out of 20 that made it through the semifinal:

Turkey. It’s like, a real rock song, unlike the manufactured crap that dominates this contest. Sung in Turkish.

Bosnia-Herzegovina. Funny theatrics, nice song that could be from an 80’s movie (in Bosnian)

Croatia. Slavic, and they’ve got an old guy performing, which is sweet.

One song I like is among those which get to go to the final automatically:

France. Because of this Eurovision entry and the airplay it’s been getting in Sweden, I have discovered Sebastien Tellier, who is a genius.

I haven’t decided who I’ll vote for yet.

Oh, and honorable mention goes to Denmark. It’s cheesy, in English and the lyrics of the verses are cringeworthy, but the feel-good chorus is catchy (though they ought to pay some royalties to Kool & the Gang).

And one more thing. If this horrible Greek-American Britney Spears knockoff wins, I’ll… do something drastic.

I’ve come to conceive of the seasons in this part of the world as two: Cold and NotSoCold. May-September is supposed to be NotSoCold. A week and a half ago it was not so cold. I took out the summer dresses and sandals and put away the winter clothes – though I’ve learned not to categorize sweatshirts, tights, light hats, scarves and gloves as winter clothes. Which is a damn good thing, because today it is snowing. A wet snow that doesn’t stick to the ground, but snow nonetheless. This is the first time in my life I have seen snow fall in May.

I had modest plans for the day – go to the library and return some books, return something to the electronics store, and visit a neighborhood-wide yard sale in another part of town. Grumbling, I put on tights, jeans, galoshes, scarf, earband, fleece jacket and rain jacket, wrapped all my items to return in multiple plastic bags, and hopped on my bike. I rode about 50 meters and realized that my errands could be run on Monday, there was no way I was going to the yard sale and by the time I reached the library I was going to be cold, wet, and hating life.

So now I’m sitting inside, watching the snow fall. I really do like most everything about Sweden except this ridiculous climate.

Update: It snowed steadily all day and some of it did stick. This morning there is snow on the ground and the rooftops (but luckily it seems to have fallen off the poor trees). Ugh.

Someone heard my cry for Peeps! My friend Kevin sent Peeps, and a whole bunch of other stuff, including some nostalgia-inducing Nader 2000 memorabilia (we know each other from working on the campaign) and paper dolls of Jenna and Barbara Bush. This is the first care package I’ve gotten in, like, forever. Kevin gets a package of weird Swedish stuff in return.

What-all Kevin sent me. Those are my feet.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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May 2008