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I’ve got nothing much to report, so watch this instead. You won’t regret it.

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.

It’s a working day here, but on the other hand, in the Russian pre-new-year’s flurry of activity a lot of my students have cancelled their lessons, so I’m having a relaxed week. The best part is that I don’t have any morning lessons, so I can sleep until 10, when there’s some light in the sky. Of course, I’m not earning as much money, but on the other hand I’m still earning more this week than I did in a week when I worked 40+ hours at that horribly exploitative kindergarten (though apparently salaries have improved there now), so I can’t complain.

Kostia and I had “the full cultural program” last weekend. On Saturday night we went to see Akvarium (check out that web site, it’s got six language options including Esperanto), which is really just one man, Boris Grebenshikov, since he writes all the songs and lyrics and the rest of the band’s personnel has changed over the past 35 years. It was a good concert, but I was a little disappointed because I kind of expected it to be The Best Concert Ever, since Grebenshikov is the God (or perhaps more aptly, the Buddha, since he’s all into the eastern religions) of Russian rock, and this is entirely deserved – his albums are incredible. In order to be the the best concert ever, though, it would have needed more energy, more polished playing on the part of the band and a better sound engineer. Kostia also suggested that for it to be the best concert ever we should have been standing in the orchestra pit rather than sitting in the theater seats, and drunk. Maybe so. Still, it was a good concert. Perhaps the most interesting part was seeing such a high concentration of nerds and hippies in one place – it was certainly a different part of St. Petersburg society than that which I usually see.

The second part of the full cultural program was going to see the sequel to “The Irony of Fate” on Sunday. It hasn’t received good reviews, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. The premise is weak and the sequel is only watchable as a sequel and not as a stand-alone film, but as a modern take (or perhaps parody) on the original it was really funny and well-done. Most importantly, it puts you in the New Year’s mood.

Last night Kostia and I celebrated Western Christmas by watching “Love Actually” and drinking Bailey’s. If you’ve seen it you know that this is an embarrassingly stupid movie, but Kostia really loves it for some reason and I find it amusing and don’t mind looking at certain British actors, so it seems watching it has become a Christmas tradition. 

New Year Song 

A song Kostia wrote a few years ago, with the political bit updated. It’s got some flaws but I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out. It’s in Russian; here’s a translation of the lyrics:

All the rabbits and squirrels
all the boys and girls
all the uncles and aunties
celebrate new year
Even Putin, Vovochka
finds a present in its wrapping
under the presidential tree
for the last time

Again, befittingly
Soviet champagne
with salad “olivye”
is consumed everywhere
In Khabarovsk and in Murmansk
in Bobruisk and Noyabrsk
and even in Slantsy, come to think of it
no less than in Moscow

Fathers Frost in felted boots
for adults and kids alike
carry sacks stuffed with
the standard crap
Fluffy snow falls
and everyone is happy
and the fir trees sparkle
with garlands of lights

Happy New Year! Renewed joy!
Let all be well!
Drink! Sing! Smile!
Father Frost has already arrived.

The band “Nol” (Zero) was one of the top-ten perestroika-era bands, according to Kostia. I met their former manager once. He was Aunt Kelly’s colleague!

When my sister and I were teenagers we were really big Queen fans. Of course, this was already after Freddie Mercury had died, but still, we had every album on CD, watched concert videos and VH1 specials, and when we went to England on a family vacation in 1992 we bought all manner of Queen crap and memorabilia.

Brian May was always our favorite band member. He was like, the sensitive, intelligent, soulful one. So I was very pleased to find out that last month he turned in his dissertation in astrophysics after a 36-year break.

Imagine being a rock star and a PhD in astrophysics. There’s a person who’s done something with his life.

Oh my, I shouldn’t be wasting brain cells on this, but it is kind of a cultural/political issue. There’s all this whining in the Swedish and British media about the Eurovision result, accusing Eastern Europe of shadowy voting procedures (i.e. multiple voting by SMS) and eastern bloc pacts and stuff. Some people are even proposing a musical iron curtain with an East-Eurovision and a West-Eurovision. I have a few points to make.

1. Voting is done by country, not by total number of votes cast, so an individual voting by SMS more than once skews their country’s result, not the overall result. One could argue that since all countries get to cast the same number of votes then individual votes in countries with small populations count more (Kind of like the Electoral College in the U.S. being skewed toward the Red(neck) states). Since there are lots of little countries in Eastern Europe, perhaps the voting is slightly skewed in that direction (but then, this is the case for Scandinavia too). On the other hand, the UK, Germany, France, and Spain are automatically entered into the final no matter how bad their songs are, I assume because, as the biggest countries in Europe, they provide the bulk of the viewing audience. So, you know, who really has the advantage here?

2. The Swedish entry was mediocre and the British entry was total crap, so they have nothing to whine about. The only entries from Western Europe that I liked were France and Germany. But I never expect the masses to like what I like, so I wasn’t really surprised that they didn’t win.

3. So Eastern Europe did well this year. But hello? This is ONE YEAR. Finland won last year and Greece the year before. Western Europe can’t handle those second-class citizens in the East winning just once? Racist jerks.

4. Eastern Europe voting by bloc? Who did Sweden get almost all of its points from? Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway. Everybody votes for their neighbors. It’s lame, but not surprising. So maybe they need to change the rules so that countries can’t vote for their neighbors either. And finally…

5. It’s Eurovision. It’s silly. It’s fun to get drunk and watch it and see what kind of insanity is going on in the pop music world. It doesn’t really matter who wins.

I was formulating a post about the Eurovision Song Contest in my mind, then I read Neeka’s blog and she already said a lot of what I wanted to say – about the politics of it, not the part about voting for Verka Serdyuchka 14 times. I definitely didn’t do that, even though I think s/he is hilarious. I voted for Germany three times, but didn’t get any confirmation messages, so I don’t know if my vote was counted at all. Sweden is mourning The Ark’s terrible result, even if hardly anyone in this country will admit to actually watching the thing.

This was my third Eurovision viewing experience and I have to say that the quality of the songs was a lot better this year than in 2005 and 2006. I think Lordi‘s win last year was a wake-up call to competitors that regurgitated MTV songs are no longer interesting. Though Russia‘s manufactured girl band did come in third, so I don’t know.

The fact that Serbia won- with its androgynous lead singer, singing in something other than English – has temporarily restored my faith in humanity.

And the little clips in between songs about Finland, the host country, were really clever and hilarious. Can’t seem to find them anywhere on the web, but I’ll keep looking.

It’s been pretty busy since Valborg. Our dear friend Vadik came to visit bringing Soviet Champagne and, what’s more, a willingness to spend money at Systembolaget, so we had three days which were more like our Russian lifestyle than our Swedish one. That was fun.

Tomorrow we’re off to Stockholm to meet up with Aunt Kelly and my sister, Emily. We’ll spend the weekend there and then all come back to Falun for a few days.

Today I had lots of errands to run and I’m proud to say that I conducted them all in Swedish rather than lapsing into English out of nervousness or embarassment. So I have learned something this year. I feel like my spoken Swedish is crap, actually, but it seems to get the job done.

Kostia and I recorded a song recently. It’s a jazz version of a song he wrote a long time ago. He plays guitar and manipulates the computer software. I sing and whistle. When I listen to it I can only hear my wrong notes, but maybe you’ll find it amusing. You can listen to it here.

There are famous people, and then there are famous people you feel some sort of connection to for one reason or another. Strange that in the last two weeks three of the latter have died: Vonnegut, Yeltsin, and now Mstislav Rostropovich.

I’ve known the name Rostropovich since I was really small. When he and his family were in exile in the U.S., they lived in upstate New York and sometimes gave concerts in my hometown. I remember going to see him and his wife perform when I was 7 or 8 years old. I remember my mother telling me, on the way to the concert, about why they had left the Soviet Union. I think that this was one of the formative experiences that made me curious about Russia, which made me choose to study Russian in junior high school, which led to a whole long chain of events.

In 2002, when I went to Russia for the first time and spent three months in St. Petersburg, I went to the philharmonic several times a week. The music was amazing, the tickets were cheap, and I didn’t know many people so I had to occupy myself in the evenings somehow. Aunt Kelly came to St. Petersburg for a business trip/visit that summer, before we ever dreamed we’d live there together. We went to the philharmonic one evening. During the performance, an old man sitting across the aisle from us opened some noisy cellophane candy wrappers. I was horrified and annoyed, and rolled my eyes at Aunt Kelly. During the intermission, people started lining up to talk to this old man. “Isn’t that Rostropovich?” said Aunt Kelly. I looked closer. “I think so, actually.” I felt so guilty for being annoyed. If anyone has the right to open candy wrappers in the philharmonic, I suppose it’s Mstislav Rostropovich.

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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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September 2020