Category Archives: Russia

Must See: Don’t-Stop-Non-Stop Gogol Bordello


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Sergei Dovlatov, and why you should care

It’s been a little while since I felt the compulsive need to write/talk/read about Sergei Dovlatov, the unsung Soviet storyteller whose raw wit and uncomfortable humor trancends national borders, economic philosophies, and continents, even if it never trancended Russian. He is also my favorite author, and the subject of this week’s New Yorker Fiction Podcast.

Dovlatov was at once the ultimate starving artist and the ultimate sell-out hack. He was as reluctant a Soviet as he was an American, and yet he excelled at both. Though he died of liver cirrosis (which, if you’ve read any of his fiction, is painfully ironic) at 48, he was exceptionally prolific. Yet, much deserved notoriety has evaded him, in death as in life. Perhaps because he died at precisely the same historical moment as the Soviet Union, a period in which our interest in our great Cold War nemisis suddenly evaporated into thin air.  Perhaps it’s because so little of his work is translated, although that’s a rather specious arguement. In any case, Dovlatov is one of only a few writers you’re more likely to find at your local library than at your local bookstore. Go check him out. Vidoes are in Russian.

Dovlatov on being a writer:

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OMFG, Heatwave in Oymyakon!!!

As some of you may know, New York winter turned me into a quasi-religious checker of weather.  And if you check the weather as frequently as I do, and especially if you’re checking it in New York, in the winter, you’re likely to get a little down. That’s why I also got into the habit of checking weather in the Russian Federation city of Oymyakon (Оймякон), Siberia, the coldest continually inhabited place on earth.  (Thanks Dr. Kallen!) oymyakonpw9

Temperatures here regularly dip into the negative 50s through winter, but in the winter of 2008-09, temperatures hit a near-record low of -60.2 C, TWICE. (the record, indicated below, is -65.4, or nearly -86 degrees). Russian News agencies reported more about Omyakon’s cold snap then they had about the eastern Siberian town in years, but nobody yet has picked up on another, more alarming weather trend this summer.

Месяц Абсолют. минимум Средний минимум Средняя Средний максимум Абсолют. максимум
январь -65.4 (1973) -49.2 -46.0 -40.7 -16.6 (1980)
февраль -64.6 (2002) -47.0 -42.0 -35.0 -16.2 (1985)
март -60.6 (1951) -41.2 -32.5 -21.9 2.0 (1952)
апрель -46.4 (1950) -24.0 -14.0 -3.6 11.7 (1984)
май -28.9 (1946) -4.8 2.4 9.2 26.2 (1971)
июнь -9.7 (2003) 4.0 12.2 19.9 31.1 (1966)
июль -9.3 (1966) 5.8 14.4 22.2 32.6 (1989)
август -17.1 (1969) 1.6 10.2 18.2 31.4 (1973)
сентябрь -25.3 (1955) -4.7 1.8 8.9 23.7 (2000)
октябрь -47.6 (1952) -20.6 -15.4 -8.9 11.0 (1954)
ноябрь -58.5 (1960) -41.3 -36.7 -32.5 -2.1 (1968)
декабрь -62.8 (1984) -48.9 -45.5 -41.9 -6.5 (1980)
год -65.4 (1973) -22.5 -15.9 -8.8 32.6 (1989)

(Average temperature map for Oymyakon, Russia, including record highs and lows)

Now,  and for at least the past ten days, Oymyakon has been posting temperatures in the high 80s. Yesterday, it posted 33 C (91 F) the city’s highest recorded temperature ever. One of the harshest winters in a century, followed by the hottest summer ever? Doesn’t sound like a coincidence to me….if you hear something, let me know

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Daily Oddities: Monday World Edition

There’s a lot to talk about in the World today, so lets jump right into it. You know about Tehran and you know about Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech, so we’re skipping that and getting straight down into the stuff you didn’t hear.


More than a billion people go hungry, says the World  Food Program. That’s about as many people who will contract malaria this year, a statistic that’s broken down masterfully by the country in a multi-part feature for the Global Post. Check out India. As long as we’re chatting about weird statistics, who knew that traffic was hazardous to your health? Well, ok, everybody, but who had a study to scientifically prove it’s hazardous to your health? The World Health Organization, that’s WHO. (hahahaha). Finally, a UN commissioned study with empirical evidence that climate change is effecting human migration. Which, if you’ve never heard of Tuvalu, might be news.
In other global news, the Cuban Five, whose pictures were emblazoned across whitewashed walls of local groceries and in the posh lobbies of upscale hotels when I visited Cuba in 2003-04 will not have another day in court, after what is at least five years (one for each of them!) of trying. The five stand accused of spying for Havana.
On the opposite side of the earth (and also in Brooklyn) the Guardian has a retrospective of female suicide bombers, more coverage of the refugees post-Tiger surrender and The New York Times has 4 Brooklynites (none of them M.I.A.) arrested and convicted of sponsoring the Tamil Tigers to the tune of millions. From Flushing or Staten Island, we might have expected…but this!
Some interesting stuff out of Russia: Global Post notices absurdly ostentatious oligarches reining it back. John Vinocur at the Times has some advice for Obama in Moscow next month. In sum: your shit will not work with the Russians, Mr. Smiley Pants President.
Finally, China still defies explanation, US Asians hate girls and Al Gore is once again the butt of a hilarious joke. (Guest Apperance by Rahm Emanuel.  Continue reading

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Yes We Can (embrace Russian kawaii racism)

Advert by Voskhod for Duet Ice Cream, a Russian brand, begs the question: Cute or Wrong?

Advert by Voskhod for Duet Ice Cream, a Russian brand, begs the question: Cute or Wrong?

You may have seen this weird, yet weirdly cute image on Gawker and wondered, Hey Russia, WTF. If you are sitting in your cubicle wondering, are Russians racist against black people, you can stop holding your breath. The answer is yes. And yes. And yes. Whether or not this advertisement is an expression of angry racism or a misguided (but strangely cute)  nutty Russian capitalist trick (notice how the flag in the background is just the Russian flag twice over) strained through the filter of Japanese cute culture remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

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