02 October 2006


"Do you love her?"

"I miss the people..."

"But do you love her?"

"You realize that everyone outside of Warsaw calls it a whore, because it's been invaded multiple times?"

"A typical example of provincial envy towards all things metropolitan. So?"

"Yeah, in a way I do."

"Funny how I called it a "she". I..."

"Of course, this city IS a woman! Its symbol is a bare-breasted sword-carrying mermaid, for fuck's sakes! Haven't you seen my dad's car?"

"I am fully aware of that, but nonetheless..."

"You know its legend..."

"Yeah, I've heard it from you many times; I'm too tired to hear it again.... I can't even recall Moscow's respective legend right now....myself. Fucking embarrassing! I mean, I know it rests on seven hills, that it was founded by prince Dolgorukij, and that its first written mention dates back to 1147. Hails to Soviet-styled 5th grade history education! I even remember Tbilisi's myth better: a prince on a falcon hunt was impressed with hot springs in the area..."

"So you've told me."

"And what about the myth of Georgia's birth itself? About God...and, hahah, wine? When people..."

"Not again. Why are we talking about this?"

"I....miss...Moscow. A lot. A-fucking-lot. After my trip I didn't feel it until recently. I decided to give myself a break the other night and allowed myself two chapters of vanity reading - Mamleev's new novel, to be exact. Every time he mentioned locations I recently visited, I, all of a sudden, felt....not a lump in my throat, but more like....restless nostalgia...towards the city. Not culture, not childhood, but the city. I was even motivated enough to stay up beyond 2 am writing a postcard to a friend of mine, because Katerina is a "silly dumb-dumb" and refuses to use the internet."

"Weird. That only happens to me when I watch videos."

"Anyway, "Moskva" is a feminine pronoun in Russian, but I don't know if I'd call this city a "she". My love is not directed at a maternal figure: it's giant, wild, and, damn it - hectic as hell! All three of these I really dislike, yet I feel entirely comfortable there......Have you ever felt like you had to prove yourself to a city?"


"Almost four years, and it still seems like I need to prove myself to Toronto on a daily basis. My mother always talks of her three lives - Tbilisi, Moscow, Winnipeg. It occurred to me that I have three lives as well - Moscow, Winnipeg, and now - Toronto. This Babylon shares many standard metropolitan qualities with Moscow, yet it is only Moscow I can forgive. I don't feel like I need to prove myself to her...to it."

"Please don't get that "made in Moscow" tattoo..."

"Haha, the only one I'd ever consider if I were to desecrate my body in that way? That, or a large realistic back-piece portrait of my great-grandfather, huh?"

"Not "huh", but "ugh"!"

"You know, that popular higher-end crime novelist I always mention to you - Akunin? One of his series occurs in a contemporary setting and features...uhm, how should I put this, a descendant of his earlier personage, who happens to be my embodiment of (literary) male perfection..."


"...and who apparently moved to England around the time of the revolution. So this young Brit - Nicholas is quite in touch with his Russian roots and travels to Moscow only to find himself in various types of trouble. The first couple of novels contain lengthy descriptions of Nicholas' need to prove himself to the new city, which is not always welcoming in the least. Akunin just about personifies it, actually, but not quite. That'd be too simple."

"The Georgian dude, right?"

"Yeah, Akunin is his Japanese pseudonym. Hah, I just realized: he keeps referring to his character as "Magistr", because the guy has a Master's degree. As a felow "Magistr", I guess I view Toronto the way Nicholas does Moscow. But, in the back of his mind, Nicholas knows Moscow will accept him. It has to."

16 September 2006

SpyWear Burka [or] Stupid White Bitches Are All the Same

Midnight. One of the busiest streets in the downtown area. People are just heading out - it's a Friday night after all. My friend and I are walking towards a subway station. I'm glad the night is about to end early, and I could finally catch up on some of the sleep lost this busy week.

Suddenly we get approached by a black male seemingly in his early thirties, no taller than 5'8-5'9, clad in copper-colored loose clothing and a ball cap.

"Yo, yo, pretty girl", he heads directly towards me.

I don't even look in his direction.

"Want some drugs?", he continues bluntly.

"Please, don't say anything", I hope my friend is telepathic. "Or at least pretend you don't speak English".

"We don't do drugs, heh!", she boldly responds instead.


"Yo, pretty girl, want some drugs?", he insists, yet his demeanor immediately changes from friendly to caustic.

"Pretty white girls get drugs from me every night!!", he continues.

"Why would "pretty white girls" get drugs from you every night?", I want him to humor me.

"BECAUSE I FUCK 'EM!", he almost yells.


I shrug and keep walking, leaving him yelling in the background.

We reach the subway station, stop, chat for a few minutes. Mandatory girly hugs ensue.

My friend politely wonders, "should I walk you home, or are you going to be okay?"

"No need, I walk here every night, I'll be fine!"

She finally leaves, and I head home.

I always walk fast.

In fact, I get rather irritated when I am forced to maneuver around a certain class of people I refer to as "sleeping beauties".

I also whip out my phone. Immediately.

I call a trusted person, because the incident amused me to no end. After all, maybe he isn't aware of the fact that "pretty white girls like me get fucked for drugs. Every day."

Does he think it was a threat?

He thinks there was not much I could do.

I hang up the phone. The drug dealer dives out on my left. Immediately.

"It's you again", he sneers.

"Are you following me?"

We are several blocks away from the initial meeting point.


I walk faster.


People raise eyebrows.

"If you don't leave me alone, I will call the police".

Originality didn't seem like the correct choice of words.


We are getting further away from the heavily populated part of town.


This area, usually busy with police cars at all hours of the day and night, is deserted.

"YOU THINK YOU'RE SAFE??????!!!!!!"

I really doubt those hookers on the corner will be of much help.

He suddenly crosses the street, but walks parallel to me. He continues yelling.

"STUPID WHITE BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!", he approaches random passers-by and points in my direction.

He yells unintelligibly and disappears in the shadows of a park, avoided by every local after sunset. He seems to be quite familiar with the neighborhood.

Am I shaking?

I am home.

I feel uncomfortable.

I ask a security guard to join me as I walk my dog.

After hearing my story, this guard jokingly advises me to wear a burka for disguise.

Maybe I should.

10 July 2006

Must Cry over Broken Heels?

Last week my mother e-mailed me a link to an article in Moskovsky Komsomolets regarding the pitiful condition of current positioning of the sexes. Nope! No post-Foucauldian gender theory here. Thank God. That type of publication would have been even more suspicious than my mother’s current kick of bombarding me with various relationship commentaries to both my work and home addresses.

The article was written by a 24-year old Russian female journalist who linked the fact that she is not married - no, not single, but rather - not married, to the masculinized self-representation of modern career-oriented women. Typical? Not quite.

Aesthetics were not an issue – the author herself and her case studies appeared to be the canon of femininity – form-fitting clothing, heels, makeup, hair. Instead, it is their actions this 24-year old defined as problematic. She listed her love for soccer, healthy food by choice, not by diet, her mechanical expertise, and most of all - her ability to stay clear-headed and rational in most stressful and upsetting situations, rather than breaking down and crying, as masculine and therefore unappealing to men.

The conversational tone of her article considered, this journalist failed to determine how non-excessive projection of these qualities amounts to becoming solely “one of the boys” and therefore romantically repulsive. Additionally, I must mention that she entirely avoided the subject of masculine feminization, granted it mainly applied to North America and exceeded the scope of her article, but would have been somewhat referentially useful.

Adequately grounded or not, this journalist’s principal conclusion stated that men not only understandably prefer women who posses classic “housewife” culinary, cleaning, and caring skills, but less understandably - those who are weak and evidently irrational, as a rule. This conclusion seemed to exceed a basic psychological presumption regarding males’ need to feel more intelligent and physically stronger than their female companions. After all, the author listed females’ love for chocolate and occasional public breakdowns, even if over a broken heel, as average female characteristics.

She went on to attend a class, in which she learned more about such standard behavior and faced the test of attracting a number of random men, specifically trained for this purpose. As a result, she discovered that cars and sports should not be the subject of conversation, and that mystery is preferred over honesty and candor.

Are marriage proposals soon to follow this “feminized” personality adjustment?

I found this article silly. Of course.

I kept the social context in mind: after all, Slavic women were never faced with not one, but two waves of feminist movements, as did those in North America. As a result, they’ve become a curious mixture by retaining all the necessary traits of a domestic goddess and femme fatale and gaining a cutthroat career woman status almost a century ago. But, but. Despite the lighthearted, yet nonetheless somewhat naïve premise, this article bothered me. I started with scoffing, but ended with a raised eyebrow and a hum.

Perhaps there is some, no - quite a bit of truth to the author’s assumption. The fact that men may prefer women who are fragile, if not weak, is not far-fetched. But why, why would they feel turned off by a woman who shares their interest in sports and understands technical terminology when they discuss cars? How can a sincere common interest exhibited moderately – no baggy clothing or butchy beer-guzzling here – possibly be interpreted negatively? Do men dislike the idea of being able to watch every single soccer game during a tournament, sans constant nagging, and then discuss the result gushing spit with someone who understands their reason for idiotic joy or blinding rage?

One man I asked told me that occasional nagging is healthy. It makes him feel needed. Another man I did not ask is dating the most irrational, exceptionally dramatic, brittle in every sense of the word, and therefore nauseating creature I’ve ever encountered. He must enjoy rollercoaster rides at least a tiny bit!

Because of its inconclusiveness, I cannot get this mistakenly primitive article out of my head. Perhaps I will even poll more men in order to reach a strictly defined explanation, although I doubt that it would help. Or maybe I should sign up for a certain class too...

18 May 2006

No children. No future.

Last week our President Putin (I am allowed to refer to him as "our" - my second claret-and-gold passport is comfortably curled up on top over the stark black Canadian proof of citizenship on my book shelf.) gave an official address to the nation. "For whom are we doing all this?", it began. V.V. chose to focus the majority of his speech on the dismal state of demographics in the Russian Federation during the past number of years. After all, the net decrease in Russian population exceeded 600,000 in the past year alone. He went on to propose an elaborate plan in a pragmatic, all-too-pragmatic, attempt to rectify the situation. This plan included improved social services for new mothers, doubled funding for the second child in the family as well as a substantial amount of capital - 250,000 roubles in the form of investments into the child's future education, downpayments for real estate, among others.

Critics were quick to point out the obvious - the potential for a dramatic increase in the number of orphans upon the plan's implementation, as a result of women hunting for the attractive financial offer. According to others, V.V.'s methodology was fault-ridden, as his reform would only displace already planned births to an earlier time period and thereby cause an additional gap in future population. They also suggested that significant economic changes were mandatory, because birth rates allegedly increase when the masses are certain of their financial stability.

None, however, noted that Europe experiences similar demographic decline to a lesser extent, despite positive economic factors, and that, in contrast, it is the so-called "third world" countries and their immigrants into Europe that maintain healthy-to-heavy reproductive rates, resulting in ethnic replacement of the populus in traditionally European locales. None seemed to have instead suggested to shift the focus onto cultural reform as the key supplemental factor to transforming Russia's demographic catastrophy. This reform would include patriotic stimuli, from historic glorification to reintroduction of current national hero-making, backed by a powerful, strictly defined moral system rooted in Russia's Eastern Orthodoxy, which would primarily include the reassertion of traditional gender roles with a particular focus paid to a woman's biologically-oriented destiny.

07 May 2006

A National Idea

Komsomol'skaya Pravda.
Searching for a National Idea.
Translation: mine.

Writer Mikhail Veller: Maybe we should swap the Kuril islands for Crimea and implement a Christian dictatorship.

Having completed his new book The Last Great Chance, this renowed author visited Komsomol'skaya Pravda and told us what this chance entails.

-Mikhail Iosifovich, please tells us - are all of us rossiyane (Note: Russian citizens) or Russians?

-Russians, of course! Because the Russian nation is collective in origin. Even "Moscow", rather than being Slavic, is a Finno-Ugric word "Moskova". Here we have Mordovians, Turkic peoples, Caucasians, and guys of northern Germanic-Scandinavian descent. All of this had been melted together and became the Russian peoples. All great nations have always been collective. Even the concept of "Russians" only emerged under Ivan the Terrible.

-Then why didn't Russians melt Ukraine into their pot? Or at least tiny Estonia?

-Had the Soviet Union existed for another thousand years, then one may have anticipated the assimilation of all people. Because when a person was worth anything or wanted to have a good career in the Russian Empire or in the Soviet Union, he inevitably underwent russification. Everything passed through the Russian language, Russian culture, Russian capital. The Baltics were joined to the Russian Empire somewhat late. And the Soviet Union led rather sparing national politics there.

-What about Ukraine?

-Well, Ukraine is not simply russified, this was the original Rus' - Kievan. If it weren't for the Tartar-Mongolian invasion, this would have been a unified pot of culturally equal slavic principalities. And as a result, all of this would have been baked into a single state, like a layered cake.

-Why did the Empire collapse?

-Because it exhausted itself. Keep in mind that Russia was initially created via the force of weapons, as were all empires in history. Not otherwise. For a thousand years our national idea was the unification of principalities, then the takeover of new territories, then - their "digestion".

And then all of a sudden, the Empire informed all of its subjects that it just so happens that imperial politics are bad, and we are giving up on them. What was there left to do? Only let itself dissipate.

A thief must be jailed

-And what now?

-And now everyone rushed to create a new national idea. But you cannot just make one up. It has to be natural, a problem projected onto psychology of the people.

This problem is yet to be posed. We are offered the following: let us live comfortably with our bellies full, dear Russians. Thanks a lot. Consumerism cannot embody a national idea. Then it's more beneficial to steal a bunch of goods and say - okay, guys, I think I've fulfilled my idea!

Even a mouse wants a good life - to live in a warm burrow with a full granary and to comfortably produce its offspring. Therefore today's idea is simply that of a mouse.

-In that case, please suggest to us something more interesting.

-Russia's national idea can only arise with departure of liberalism, which is the cause of Europe's current demise. An accelerated demise. Because liberalism states: everyone is equal and identical.

In a normal country, however, a murderer hangs, a thief is jailed, a hard worker lives well, while a lazy worker lives poorly. And the one who does not work at all gets the hell out, without stinking up the country or mooching off the welfare system. Or goes to live in a shelter. Into reservations.

-One who does not work, does not get to eat?

-Yes, something like that. As a result, liberalism cultivates parasitism. Not unlike the Roman Empire - bread and entertainment. Where is this empire now? Modern social parasites in Europe are the classic Roman plebeians, who do not wish to work, but wish to lives in accordance with their desires. They demand this via demonstrations. And the government flirts with them, because it wants votes.

-Exactly. People vote for this type of government. Therefore, they must like it.

-Russian people are not fully spoiled by this. They have a different idea. I doubt that you'd print it...

-...well, now we'd certainly have to print it.

-We'll see. To quote a vendor [I met] by the subway - she will be completely satisfied, when oligarchs and parliamentarians are strung up on light posts along the street. That's the kind of national idea that's blooming from below.

Europe will sell us out

-Is Russia not Europe?

-No, it is not Europe, because the very posing of the question garners doubts. No one asks: is Germany - Europe?

-Do you seriously believe that this [concept] is good for Russia?

-Forty years ago it would have been very bad - that we are not Europe. Today - it is good. Today this is our chance. If we were to join Europe, we would not have a single chance left.

When we say that we want to be part of Europe, we really mean that we want to be wealthy and live freely. At the same time we don't want to change our mentality. We do not feel insecure about all things Russian in front of all things French and German.

And if we do join them, do you really think that our mentality would immediately change? No. This [union] will only result in diminished customs control at the border. This is only beneficial to those who send oil, gas, forestry products, and metal to the West.

It, however, is not beneficial to the rest, because our manufacturing sector cannot handle a competion with Europe. We will ultimately become a source of natural resources and nothing more.

-But is it not better to sell ourselves to Europe than be swallowed by China?

-China will compromise with Europe. Europe does not want to fight or even save itself from complete islamification. And when Europe is face to face with a powerful totalitarian state armed to its teeth, it’ll hand Siberia over to China, and that’ll be the end of it. Back in the day, it handed the Czech Republic over to Hitler. Europe does not give a damn about Russian interests.

-Then maybe America will save us?

-Riiiight! America is also afraid of China. But America does not need Europe as a competitor. America would prefer to have Russia against China and Europe. Therefore in reality, Russia is a strategic partner for America.

-But for now it looks like we are better friends with China against the U.S.A...

-That’s just for show. America does not have any territorial grievances with Russia. No ideologic disagreements. Russia does not participate in anything that would outright horrify America. And further more, it is America, not Europe and China, that above all respects power. Russia’s nuclear arsenal is still present. And for the U.S.A. this is a big argument in our favor.

Eastern Orthodoxy must have fists

-What specifically should our national idea involve?

-The preservation of the Christian civilization.

-What are we going to do with muslims, jews, and atheists? Send them to Siberia too?

-They don’t have to be sent anywhere. And no one should be baptized by force either. By “Christianity” I don't refer to the type of religious worship, but rather - societal values. But they are loosened. Why did Christianity conquer ancient Rome? Because Rome became liberal and allowed everything. While Christianity said – none of this crap. This you have to do, but that will send you to hell. Christians had a definite set of values – what is good, and what is evil.

Europe and Russia no longer follow them. This is why Islam is winning. It has definite values. Islam tells you what is allowed and what is not.

This is why, among others, Russia needs an Eastern Orthodox reform. Orthodoxy must become a living religion, rather than a ritual, as it is now, when bureaucrats hold candles next to their lenten mugs, while yawning priests stand nearby, having successfully purchased a candle factory for the occasion.

-What should we do in particular?

-We must walk one step ahead of destiny. It is unnecessary to wait for inevitability. Kuril islands are already lost for Russia. Today we have absolutely no useful purpose for them. We don’t have the money or a reason to maintain serious bases there. And today we can still bargain for these islands, but in 15 years they will be gone free of charge.

The same applies to East Prussia - Kaliningrad region. Its residents don't need Russia. If the EU tells them, "Hey guys, have dual citizenship, have social welfare up to our standards"; oh my God, what a celebration this would cause! Today we can still rent East Prussia to Germans for 49 years. And milk German blood and gold with tankers thanks to this [transaction]. But in 15 years it will leave on its own, and nothing will get milked.

-You are suggesting that we give them away....

-I am suggesting that we receive the maximum out of what we can hope for. These territories are suitcases without handles for us, regardless.

-But when Abkhazia cries out to us, "Hey guys, we are your brothers, we want to live in Russia", for some reason we think, "What would Georgia and Europe say?" Who gives a damn about what Georgia and Europe would say! All that they can really do is freeze our guys' bank accounts in the West. Well, then, we just need to warn our guys - let them return their money to Russia. Otherwise it will be too late.

-What else are you offering to trade?

-Eastern Russia. It is not ours. Only 145 years had passed since Vladivostok's foundation. We need to give up this stuff as concession to the Japanese and the Koreans against China. We need to create a standard brawl between one type of barbarians against the other on our borders. This is how all shrewed governments acted.

However, that, which is ours and is located nearby, becomes part of Russia, without giving a damn about political correctness.

-Crimea, for example...

-Crimea first and foremost! They need to have a referendum. People, of course, will vote for unification with Russia. Then Moscow imposes a visa regime, which must be satisfied. And then there will be a celebration that will greatly exceed that in East Prussia after its return to Germans.

All skin, but no kielbasa

-What will then happen to the organization of the state?

-For now, it has to be a dictatorship, I'm afraid.

-And democracy is absolutely impossible?

-Democarcy is an optimal speed for a car. But when you are stuck in mud, you need extreme measures in order to get back on the road.

-It seems that certain individuals already scream that we almost have a "bloody regime"

-What regime? Please. Our dictatorship is like kielbasa - we've got the skin, but not the kielbasa itself.

-Who will elect the first dicator? The government or the people?

-Representatives of all parties and movements are locked up for a week. They are not allowed to come out, until they elect someone. Otherwise in France we easily find pedigree-lacking corsican Napoleon, while here we get Ryurikovich - prince Trubetskoy, who does not at all show up to Senatsky square during the Decembrists' rebellion.

-Does the dictator have to be Russian?

-Ideally, it's better for him to be Russian and Christian. But, you know, if he really needs to, he can get baptized himself.

-Wouldn't all of this result in ordinary fascism?

-There are 10-12 chances out of 100 that we will reach a dictatorship of a fascistic nature, and this will be very bad.

-What is your dictatorship like?

-Constitutional. My dictator is an unconditional ruler. Not a tyrant, but rather the highest executive person in possession of emergency powers and specific targets for the duration of a rigidly defined term. If you don't leave on the day your term ends - you are outside of the law, have no civil rights, and are an enemy of the people.

-This sounds like GKChP (Note: leaders of 1991 Russian coup)

-GKChP is the diminution of people's rights and the expansionof authorities' rights. A constitutional dictatorship, in contrast, is the rights' reduction of the very bureaucratic apparatus in question. Because in this case the will of the people directly transforms into action via the dictator's will, instead of being skewed when passing the bureaucratic ladder along the way. It is the bureaucrat, who loses his rights.

-And then we will become the greatest country in the world?

-Greater than America - doubtful. America is like a combined world team. It is difficult to compete with such. With China as well. That, however, which was once Europe, can exist in Russia in its best manifestation, once Germany and France no longer exist. It's most important for people to live like people. Throughout history our nobility and later the party elite lived like Europeans, while the rest of the people - like Russian "aboriginals". Essentially, there have always been two peoples within Russia. Euro-Russians and simply Russians. Today this must no longer be the case.

20 March 2006

A Cup of Hemlock to Call Our Own

It is 1:00 am. I am in bed. Sharikov is too, grumpy from his midnight bath. He is trying to sleep. I am not. Instead I review modal verbs - nothing too complicated at this hour - and memorize German vocabulary. I am determined.




This late-night motivation reaches its limits at a 20-minute mark.

"Forget it", I sigh, "I haven't read anything for the sheer pleasure of reading in months". The book-a-week rule of my undergrad days is certainly forsaken, but this self-educational masochism implemented at odd hours of the night is bordering on ridiculous, even by my standards.

I pick up Veller's Kassandra, recommended by I. many moons ago, purchased somewhat fewer moons ago, and started around the same time. It is

A book about the world, in which you live,
and about its end, -
and about you,
in whom this world lives,
and about your immortality

Contrary to certain snooty critics, who are not too keen on his considerable sales and therefore, gasp, popularity - evidently a major "no-no" in the elite literary circles, I enjoy his humorous fiction. I enjoy his brief asides into the Death of the West even more. I. recommended Kassandra to me precisely for its focused non-fictional, quasi-philosophic, culturally critical purpose.

We, the Concerned, the Hopeless, and therefore the Angry typically represent this Death in light of the past hundred years of history. A little Hegelianism and a lot of Delayed Suicide. Simply put, we civilized ourselves to Death. We discuss this issue to death too. We cannot function in any other way, because We are the Concerned.

Like I said.

I finally said I wanted a new perspective, as a result of these ongoing morbid exchanges. I got it - before I even got to it.

I've only read the first forty pages - one tenth of a compact book that boldly aims to analyze the cultural evolution of man and his society; a book that begins almost as a paraphrase of the tired joke about the chicken crossing the road, "interpreted" by various philosophers; only here the chicken is human.

Between the brief synopsis that commences with the Greeks but exasparatedly ends with Nietzsche and the analysis of societal units like family or state, Veller references Socrates' life-long goal to determine why people act - choose to act - wrongly, despite their knowledge otherwise. Then in a manner expected of Veller's humor, he concludes that we all know how this endeavor ended.

He proceeds to demonstrate casual examples of sluggishly suicidal behavior in men as obvious as a smoking habit or sleep-deprived, workaholic stroke at the age of 45. Even clearly dysfunctional relationships such as the girl loves wife-beating alcoholic asshole A, although she has the option of being with nice-guy-with-a-good-job B scenario qualify. Veller's examples are presented in the context of happiness, defined fairly well by every human according to his specific needs, yet rarely attained. Veller therefore probes the often out-of-sync nature of morality and action because he too wants to know why men act against their better judgement.

I do not.

At least not under such generic circumstances. His conflation of morality and maximized aptitude for survival is also problematic, however my interest lies elsewhere: the empirical validity of Veller's observations regarding the suicidal drive of an individual can easily be extended to the collective suicide of a culture. This is not a clean abstraction by any means: in each of the author's examples, the person in question is aware of the detrimental nature of his actions, while cultural self-destruction seems to largely be an incognizant occurrence, until its signs are too blatant to ignore. Furthermore, this murder-of-self is not a result of losing animal survival insticts, but rather the inability to react due to the lack of overt danger signs.

For example, a rapidly spreading epidemic can be one of such signs. Its fatal effects can be countered with increased procreation to reverse population decline and to preserve the genofund. However, this solution will only be partial until the nature of the disease and consequently the methods of preventing its spread are discovered, advertised, and implemented.

What if no such warnings exist? What if the relatively high standard of living translates into misleading assumptions about demographics? What if those communally designated to proclaim otherwise do no such thing? What if in addition to the illusion of well-being, a culture slowly loses its defining pillars, while its carriers are systematically taught collective self-abasement as the principal value?

The delayed suicide drive of a single individual united with this cancerous group mentality produces a concoction much more lethal than the Concerned anticipated, and it is consumed just as willingly as Socrates' hemlock. Is this the conclusion that Kassandra will reach?

I might not find out until the next midnight linguistic pursuit.

28 February 2006

Revolutionary Vampire Hunters of the World Choose Nokia Cellphones

Last night, as I was about to close the irritating MSN Today pop-up window after signing onto the instant messenger, I caught the mention of last year's Russian fantasy blockbuster Night Watch with the corner of my eye. I was aware of the fact that the movie is currently being released in theaters around North America, but the amount of press it is receiving is a surprise nonetheless. After all, it is one of the best Hollywood mimicry films that Russia had ever produced, rather than the "artsy foreign film" stereotype that the West is more accustomed to.

More specifically, MSN's pop-up window featured a review of Night Watch by Angela Baldassarre. I present her article below in its entirety:

Entertaining fantasy film
Night Watch (3 out of 5 stars)
Starring Konstantin Khabensky and Aleksei Chadov. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.

Comparing Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch” to Russian films of the past, you can’t help but notice a sea of change in Russian cinema. Whereas films like “Russian Ark,” “Burnt by the Sun” and “Prisoner of the Mountains” drew on Russian history and literature, “Night Watch” is inspired by comic books, video games, and fantasy films. And with audiences making “Night Watch” the #1 box-office movie of all time in Russia, it appears the nation is embracing the change.

The film rests on the premise that among regular humans live people called “Others” who have supernatural powers. These “Others” side with either the forces of light or the forces of dark. Centuries ago, after a cataclysmic battle, the two sides signed a truce. Since then, the day is the realm of the light forces, akin to angels, who protect the world from the dark forces that rule the night, who are essentially vampires. Move to modern Moscow, and enter Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), an unwitting “Other” who joins the “Night Watch” — a kind of supernatural police force. While in charge of saving a young boy from vampires, Anton upsets the balance of power and sets off a chain reaction of epic proportions. If you’re confused enough by the back-story, then the plot of the film, involving shape-shifters, a cursed woman and a vortex that threatens to break the truce between light and dark, might not be worth getting into.

But “Night Watch” is a film worth getting into. It obviously owes much of its mythology to “The Lord of the Rings,” with an art direction that resembles the bloody comic-noir of “Blade,” but director Bekmambetov injects dollops of original style — with the help of one of the biggest budgets in Russian film history. From his swooping camera, to ghostly computer effects, to video game sequences, and an ingenious flipbook animation sequence, “Night Watch” is cool and creative. As is the trend with films of this ilk, it’s heavy on atmospherics and chilly on emotion. Khabensky, in particular, is nearly a zombie in shaggy hair and sunglasses. One surprise is that given all the Other-worldly atmosphere (and requisite heavy metal score), “Night Watch” is light on action, something that might disappoint North American audiences. Yet the film does end in a sort of cliffhanger that certainly leaves room for further installments, and maybe more action to come.

“Night Watch” is an entertaining fantasy film, one that benefits from its Russian perspective while still feeling familiar enough for most fans of the genre. More importantly, Bekmambetov’s cultural coup may be a sign of cooler things to come in the stodgy former Soviet Union.

The principal reason for citing a complete movie review is clear enough: it happens to be one of the most blantantly stupid articles I have ever read. I know nothing about Miss Bald-ass-arre, but her iditiotic commentary gives me no desire to change this fact. I am fairly confident, however, that she happens to be a critic of Hollywood movies, rather than an actual film scholar. The latter implies a thorough understanding of the genre.

The former does not.

This author's mention of a "heavy metal" soundtrack that Night Watch supposedly uses is a tell-tale sign of the utterly oblivious nature of the rest of her review. Apparently generic downtuned, chunky guitars are the only requirement for "heavy metal", just as technologically advanced special effects constitute an entire "cultural coup" for one of the largest and oldest countries in the world! And it just so happens that it is Miss Bald-ass-arre herself who took note of this revolutionary transformation - she deemed herself Cruiser Aurora for Russian film, no less!

In reality, she is the equivalent of a pimple-faced scrawny International Relations college student, whose uniform includes Fidel's hat, "class war" patches (nevermind that his father is a CEO of a medium-sized corporation) and New Democratic Party pins (Vladimir did not have the luxury of Crest White Strips like Jack!) and a growing collection of Che Guevara t-shirts in various colors, which he proudly wears on his daily trips to Starbucks, where he discusses Hegel or Sudanese torture methods over four-dollar coffees.

He missed the boat, while this misplaced Cruiser Aurora sank even before it fired blanks. Miss Bald-ass-arre's recipe for a cinematic paradigm shift is simple: a foreign "entertaining fantasy film" with "ghostly computer effects" that seems "familiar enough" to your average spoiled North American Attention Deficit Disorder teen - the kind of teen our Starbucks Marxist was two years ago, in fact. She almost makes Bekmambetov sound like the new Eisenstein.

I take that back.

I don't think Miss Bald-ass-arre knows who Eisenstein is.

Furthermore, I don't think Miss Bald-ass-arre knows much about her profession, vocation, calling. She calls Soviet film "stodgy".



Stodgy - in stark contrast to the kind of market research-based, substance-lacking, shit-in-a-cookie-cutter eyecandy that the Hollywood machine had been churning out for over thirty years?

Similar computerized eyecandy within Night Watch does place it closer to the filmic ideal described above, but its fantastic story line is too complicated, according to Miss Bald-ass-arre. To quote Canada's recent inept Liberal Party attack ads: "We did not make this up":

"If you’re confused enough by the back-story, then the plot of the film....might not be worth getting into", Miss Bald-ass-arre reassures the viewer. "Night Watch is light on action, something that might disappoint North American audiences", she continues. In other words, if you are too dumb or bored (I am sorry - you have A.D.D.) to follow a 114-minute movie about vampires and their hunters with too few explosions, you may still find it "cool and creative". Then you can prove to all your Starbucks comrades that you are for real - you just saw a foreign film.

A non-stodgy foreign film!

(Shouldn't stodgy films temper your steel character, comrade?)

Naturally, Miss Bald-ass-arre is in possession of vast knowledge regarding the stodgy filmic multitude produced in the Soviet Union over the seventy four years of its existence. She is obviously saving all the examples for the publication of her future revolutionary oeuvre on the "cultural coup" d'état that the Russian "nation is embracing", all thanks to the move towards Hollywood within Night Watch!

I can only guess what type of film qualifies as "stodgy" in the author's misguided view. In the 1980's, for instance, USSR released such movies as Heart of a Dog, Little Vera, Cold Summer of 1953, and Come and See. These highly acclaimed works are widely studied and are available for purchase in large video stores. Of course, Miss Bald-ass-arre must be more informed than successful corporations and university professors.

In the 1970's, we were bombarded with Irony of Fate, Afonja, Kindza-Dza, Twelve Chairs, Stalker, and Solaris. Twelve Chairs inspired Mel Brooks thirty years ago, while Solaris led to the recent Hollywood remake. Evidently, stodgy movies often function in an inspirational capacity. Curiously enough, North American press christined the new Clooney-starred Solaris a remake of a Russian novel and film, shamefully mistaking famed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky for famed Polish author Stanislaw Lem.

Close enough, they were both from the Eastern Bloc!

Was it you who penned that article too, Miss Bald-ass-arre?

Moving further in reversed chronological direction, in the 1960's the Soviet state filmed the likes of Diamond Arm, Hussar's Ballad, and Lady with a Dog, followed by 1950's Ballad of a Soldier and Carnival Night. The latter along with Diamond Arm remain timeless comedy classics.

Enough, enough! We're almost at the height of stodgy stalinist social realism! Did they even have cameras in the Soviet Union at the time?

Let's ask Starbucks' clientele.

He pulls Fidel's hat over his eyes. His comrades shrug.

Let's tell them. Let's tell her too.

Despite the total devastation of the Great Patriotic War, in the early 1940's and late 1930's, Sergei Eisenstein filmed Alexandre Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible, respectively. Not only do they represent a focal point of basic film studies and can be obtained in remastered DVD format at your local HMV, but they are also frequently shown and viewed on television - if you've been feeling particularly stodgy, that is!

In the 1920's too, Eistenstein struck again with Battleship Potemkin along side Dziga Vertov and his Man with a Movie Camera. Both are consistently considered to be some of the most important films of all time, and their ongoing eighty-year old analysis even crosses over into other disciplines - from the history of photography to various cultural studies.

Is this resume reasonably substantial, Miss Bald-ass-arre?

I do have to disappoint you with the absence of computer effects or video game sequences that the "nation is embracing" as a "cultural coup", although there is a scene with a self-animated film camera in Vertov's project - "cool and creative" enough for the birth of modern cinema? Scholars around the world happen to think so.

Do you?

Regardless of seemingly typical ignorance of an entertainment critic, Night Watch is a somewhat above-average fantasy film created for pure entertainment purposes. It obviously aims for Hollywood, which it achieves by drawing from Lord of the Rings' battle scenes, as Miss Bald-ass-arre correctly notes, countless generic vampire movies, and maybe even Ghostbusters, with a more modest budget, funded by overt Nokia and Nescafe ads throughout. She incorrectly (surprise!) states that Night Watch is inspired by comic books and video games, which may be the case visually, but its literal source is not a comic book, but a novel by Sergei Luk'ianenko.

In addition to technological prowess, Night Watch also features original moments in the style of classic Soviet traditional animation, thematically tied to an actual Soviet cartoon of considerable fame - House Gnome Kuzia, which one of the main characters watches on television.

Therefore despite the attempt to adapt Hollywood to Russian sensibilities, Night Watch does not venture beyond its genre and makes no claims to doing so. It certainly makes no claims to cultural revolutions. We'll leave that to Tarkovsky and Eisenstein.

("We'll leave that to Mao!", our International Relations student begs to differ.)

And we'll leave quality film reviews to someone other than Miss Bald-ass-arre.

12 February 2006

A Nameday or a Coffin on Wheels

Every year on January 27th I celebrate my nameday. While namedays are an integral part of Christian belief, it seems that in this day and age Slavs, both Orthodox and Catholic, are most familiar with this tradition. In contrast, many local Christians, regardless of their background, react with a polite clueless smile and a blank stare when asked. In Russian specifically, this celebration is customarily called an "angel's day", referring to a “guardian angel”, of course, although defined properly, it is a "saint's day" instead.

Who gets to have a nameday?

As long as one's given name possesses certain hagiographic relevance, one is bound to qualify. Of course, several Christian names are rather common and are shared by more than one saint - Catherine, for example. In turn, such nominal popularity translates into numerous calendar days dedicated to various saint Catherines. In this case, her mere mortal namesake must choose the closest date following her birthday as her official nameday.

In the olden days, when masculinity was not penalized, when women actually had concern for fulfilling their biological roles, and when honor had a higher price tag than life, namedays held greater value than the most selfish holiday of all – a birthday. Recently I unintentionally came across a material testament to this convention, when I was looking through my extremely disorganized photographic collection - a collection of proofs, rather than fewer professional prints I’ve produced, to be precise, stored in often-mislabeled envelopes. This was a usual search for certain live shots from a metal festival I had attended a couple of years ago. Instead, the first plastic container I checked included several pre-Revolutionary family photographs - the only ones my mother allowed me to grab from home, because they were duplicates.

"You'll get the rest when I die", she explained.

She has always been rather morbid.

I also came across a clear plastic sleeve used to store a single fragile sheet of paper yellowed with age. It was folded in half, because it was too large for the sleeve, and because I was too disrespectful to find the time to purchase something more suitable. I noticed the elaborate inked imperial emblem glued to the back of the sheet – Russia’s two-headed eagle with various heraldic symbols drawn inside its wings. It only took a century to abolish it and to reintroduce it, to strip it of its coats of arms and to cynically and at the same time affectionately call it “the chicken”. The “chicken’s” appearance is just as outdated as the more elaborate alphabet used inside the page. We simplified that too.

Dead letters revealed the document’s content: this was a hand-written telegram receipt - that much I remembered - dated 10:45 am of July 25th, 1907. Wide, easily legible despite the outdated alphabet, hundred-year old pencil (!) strokes revealed the occasion - my great-grandfather's wedding felicitations mailed by his brother. He also sent good wishes to an undisclosed female for the occasion of her angel's day.

I quickly searched the online Eastern Orthodox nameday database to determine which family member the wishes were meant for. There was only one suitable candidate - Olympiada, my great-great-grandmother. She was a quintessential citizen of the Great Russian Empire - a Belorussian woman who lived in Georgia. She had piercing blue eyes, big hair, and wore frilly dresses. Her nameday was on August 7th.

Growing up, her grandson - my gradfather too upheld our ancestral spirit by emphasizing the continued importance of a nameday.

"Your great-grandmother Nadia – the one who attended Sorbonne – do you know where that is, Ninochka? In Paris!"

My mother was a fairly late second child, so my grandfather seemed even older than a regular grandfather would. His countless stories about an erased culture that a normal Soviet child had little comprehension of outside the context of Marxist class struggle made it seem even more so. Of course, at this age, children consider thirty-year olds to be quite elderly.

"Were you aware of the fact that Sorbonne was one of the most prestigious educational institutions in Europe, Ninochka? Even more prestigious for a woman and a Russian citizen. Before the Revolution, naturally."

"She was beautiful and spoke flawless French, you know. Taught it too. And in her old age she walked around with a cane with the grace of a queen."

I was then told that this almost-royal great-grandmother of mine entertained her guests in a more grandiose manner than her birthday celebrations. I did not mind the continued focus on this concept: what little girl would complain about one additional reason to receive regularly scheduled gifts and loads of attention?

Nearly two decades later and an ocean away, only close relatives and friends convey their nameday wishes to me and perhaps offer a present or two. Someday I might attempt to elevate this date's status in my life, but this year I simply decided to visit the church and greet Saint Nina, the Enlightener of Georgia and my personal intercessor. When I first began attending, I was pleasantly surprised to find her taking up a prominent position on the south wall, next to a number of other female saints and in the close vicinity of our last czar - recently canonized Nicholas II.

Clad in lengthy garments of a standard female saint in fresco format, she carries the living grapevine cross with which she singlehandedly christianized the ancient land of Georgia - Sakartvelo, around the time of Rome's official acceptance of Christianity; her peaceful, even stoic face gazes far ahead and looks nothing like me. In contrast to many saints, Nina did not die a dreadful tortured death of a martyr, but instead joined the One whose teachings she earnestly propagated in her old age, after a life full of good news and good deeds.

Not like me at all.

Nonetheless, I decided to visit her and to let her know that she still speaks for Georgians around the world, even if not full-blooded, even if mostly Russian, like me. She and I not only share our culture and our name, but so did my grandfather’s wife – grandmother Nina – a woman I had never met. Beautiful like her mother Nadia, she too spoke and taught the language of aristocracy, but was born too late to attend distinguished European schools. And there was one other Nina in our family's recent history - Olympiada’s second daughter, who evidently died in early childhood, as my unfinished genealogical tree indicates.

My good intentions did not crystallize until two weeks later. I blamed my busy, awkward work schedule, drastically fluctuating weather patterns, and everything in between. "At least I made it at all". I chose a quiet Sunday evening, knowing the church would not be full of nosey fanatics, overheated by their massive numbers and religious zeal. I chose an ankle-length skirt and properly covered my hair, thereby reluctantly equating myself to the plethora of Muslim females in the downtown Toronto as well as to Saint Nina herself. I checked my wallet for change to buy candles. I walked in.

I stormed out ten minutes later.

Not even.

There was a coffin in the very middle of the church, and there was a dead man inside it! Not that coffins serve many other purposes, excluding the misguided vampire subculture, whose members enjoy using them as bedding (Sleep Country may discover an entirely new market opportunity here!), but I certainly did not expect to find one during a public service. And not on the night I planned to pay homage to my famed guardian.

To make matters worse, this coffin was on wheels! My astonishment quickly turned into rather inappropriately timed and uncontrollable humor, as I immediately recalled childhood jokes about coffins on wheels. I then blasphemously imagined this coffin rolling through the church like a bumper car. By itself. I also developed an unsettling feeling that the inhabitant of the coffin-on-wheels, which was apparently fashioned out of expensive red wood, will rise any second now and join the evening mass. Like Lazarus or a generic zombie. Do clerical living dead abound in horror film culture?

I should ask the vampires.

This one wore what looked like a bishop’s crown and clutched a small bible and a large cross – signs of his ministry - in each hand. His face was concealed by a cloth, which was periodically removed by the parish members, who evidently arrived to pay their tribute by kissing his forehead and his hand. Did they know him personally, or was this another sign of their fanatic devotion, which usually includes slobbering all over every icon in sight, expensive candles, high intensity workouts consisting of the sign of the cross and ground-level bows on repeat, and last but not least – actively correcting every individual in their path who allegedly fails to follow the ritual impeccably.

“We are not that different”, - I tried to convince myself. “I am here to light a candle for a two-dimensional depiction of my guardian saint, while they kiss the old dead man’s hands as if they were relics, and relics belong to saints.”

Most relics of interest are also several hundred years old. So how long has this deceased been inside the church? One day? Two? Three?!

Despite the absence of electric lighting, I stood close enough to notice how rigid and frozen the man’s hands appeared as he grasped his insignia.

I then recalled my last year’s visit to the touring Body Worlds II exhibition of the works created by German “plastinator” Gunter von Hagens. It was not the artfully dismembered corpses, including a female with a five-month old fetus inside her eviscerated womb, or the ability to see certain specimen’s real faces that disturbed me. It was their hands. Waxy complexion with shrunken skin to reveal long, yellowish, chipped fingernails. Precisely like the lifeless cleric’s hands. The hands that zealous churchgoers were currently slobbering over - transferring living saliva drops to the tiny dead gray hairs protruding from the cleric’s fingers and in turn ingesting dead man’s arid epithelials mixed with previously deposited fanatical spit.

Perhaps those jokes about coffins-on-wheels were not jokes? Perhaps they were stories meant to scare children!

Flickering candlelight’s mystical accents on the gold-plated iconostasis and the otherwordly liturgical songs I usually live for now seemed ominous and a suitable counterpart to this ritual of death. Suddenly, the entire scene turned into a vision of Bosch’s Ghent version of Christ Carrying the Cross: an endless horde of mad bulging eyes, oily gangrenous flesh, greasy hair, putrid teeth, with no room left to breathe.

I could not breathe either. I dashed toward the exist near the south wall, receiving mob’s disapproval along the way despite my clear effort to tippy toe, made an even quicker apologetically distorted sign of the cross as my eyes met Saint Nina, and hopped down the stairs out into the cold winter night.

Saint Nina did not seem to mind my escape. Her expression even appeared indifferent, but she was probably just preoccupied with overseeing the cleric’s lengthy entrance into the next world.

Next time I will visit her on an “off” day.

14 January 2006

Canadian democrazy in action

The issue that irritates me the most about the current Canadian federal election process is not:

  • the generally apolitical voters' ignorance regarding the basic platform of each party and electoral decision-making based on rumor

  • the almost omnipresent belief that the government needs to become even more of a babysitter to it subjects than it already is and the consequent sense of false entitlement that this belief brings along

  • the wide-spread hatred for self-achieved financial success and the notion that it needs to be penalized

  • the shameless and childish mudslinging and fear tactics in advertisements on the part of the party in power

  • the hypocritical assumption that there is a single
    set of Canadian values
    , conveniently defined by the ruling party, that every Canadian possesses, but that current opposition does not, which makes this opposition anti-Canadian

  • the blatant America-bashing on the part of the ruling party

  • ...but rather the fact that almost every district profiled on Toronto / Greater Toronto Area radio stations seems to contain a member from the Communist and the Marxist-Leninist parties running for election. Expectedly, each of these homo (hopefully) sapiens spews regurgitated Robinhood vomit from the Manifesto that even Jack "Lenin" Layton himself would not dream of.


    08 January 2006

    Из Торонто с Рождеством

    "Женщина! Женщина! Ну дайте же пройти!"

    "Ну не неси ж ты их так! Ща ваааще мне глаза выколишь!"

    Нет, друзья мои, мы находимся не на рынке и не в метро, а в Свято-Троицкой Русской Православной Зарубежной Церкви, расположенной на улице Генри города Торонто, в утро седьмого января. Это значит, что данное организованное столпотворение конечно же происходит в честь православного Рождества. Католичестко-протестантское Рождество мы-то уже с успехом и политкорректно отпраздновали вместе с Ханукой, Рамаданом, языческим Зимним Солнцестоянием и Коммерческим Сумасшествием в торговых центрах под знаменем общепринятых "Счасливых Праздников!".

    Очередь выливается на улицу, дышать нечем, а до гардероба не доползти; вот и стой, потей и молись как миленький. Батюшки не видно - за морем голов не видно ничего, и слышно только урывками из-за нескончаемого движения и гомона. Так что молодого человека, так сердобольно заботящегося о своем зрении, очень можно понять: а вам понравилось бы если бы ваша собственная жена чуть не выколола бы вам оба глаза с помощью дюжины пахучих восковых свечей? То-то же! Находчивая дамочка видимо решила упомянуть сразу всех - самого Христа, святых, родственников присудствующих и усопших - большой все-таки праздник. И она не одна. Все вперед и вперед. С воинственными факелами. К причастию еще не приступили, а новорожденного человекабога уже делят.

    "Попробуй продвинуться вперед! Не забудь узнать про причастие детей!"

    Сразу же чувствуются маленькие ручонки, с усилиями протискивающиеся в направлении иконостаса, отчаянно отталкивающиеся от выдающихся животов рядом стоящих разодетых толстых дядек и тетек, и маленькие ножки, наступающие на мои пропитанные солью сапоги по колено. Боли меньше, чем от каблуков тех же толстых дядек и тетек. Детей пытаюсь не раздавить. Поля чьей-то очень широкой, очень экстравагантной шляпы, с выбивающимися явно ненатуральными кудрями явно ненатуралной блондинки чуть ли не заезжают мне в глаз. Будущего окулиста понимаю все лучше. И еще. И еще.

    "Во имя Отца и Сына и Святаго Духа..."

    Какие там крестные знамения! Врастаю к стену у входа. По всем иконографическим признакам на этой стене должен быть изображен Страшный Суд. Ведь взгляд грешника, покидающего церковь, как раз направлен в сторону западной стены, и напоминание о нашем конечном предназначении оставляет четкий отпечаток в его мыслях. Хитро рассчитали мудрые церковные отцы. Несмотря на пятидесятилетний с лишним возраст Свято-Троицкого храма, здешняя западная стена пока нерасписана, но я все равно чувствую себя как в пекле.

    Старушки-кликушки в беретках поверх растрепавшихся седых прядей, в толстых рейтузах, в старомодных ботах, которые уже никто не носит, в бесформенных юбках и жилетках темно-синих тонов поверх белых блузок ловко маневрируют между потными прихожанами. Во время обычных служб они моляться на коленях, пытаются слюняво облобызать все иконы представленные в храме и главное - строго отчитывают тех, кто по их понятиям ведет себя как-то не так. А сегодня такой ответственный день - нужно не только быть особенно бдительными, но и зажечь столько же свечек, сколько и неосторожная дамочка со жмурящимся мужем.

    Сорок лет назад эти старушки наверно точно также порхали на партсобраниях. В тех-же жилетках, с тем же фанатизмом. А их родители могли бы даже быть причастны к тем, кто виновен (или просто ответственен?) в репрессиях моего прадеда протопресвитера Иоанна и его семьи в тридцать восьмом. А теперь прадед причислен к лику новомученников российских - во всяком случае он того более чем заслуживает.

    Но зачем же все так отрицательно? Может быть я злорадствую от атмосферно напоминающего о себе Апокалипсиса за моей спиной, или от того, что
    провожу наш православный семейный праздник вдали от родственников? Ведь родители старушек в жилетках так же могли эмигрировать во время войны, и тогдашние девочки были рождены уже здесь, говорят с легким акцентом, но чтут культуру лучше нас с вами. Такие тоже встречаются и нередко. Может, несмотря на потную, тесную неловкость и случайную грубость церковного сборища все присудствующие также пришли поклониться нашему святому событию, а значит нашей культуре? И в эту минуту мы все мимолетно, но все же едины, и может это единство перед Богом и есть Рождество?

    01 January 2006


    I like things that shoot. I wear Russian soldiers' patches. I joke that my favorite car is a tank. I'm no military buff, but I enjoy healthy amounts of historic controversy. I love men in uniform, as every real female should. Most important, I am one of those few romantics who still believe that it is dolce et decorum pro patria mori - if the cause is worthy, of course. After all, bellum and bellus do share the stem.

    My family history is not particularly militaristic. My Georgian grandfather used his engineering and architectural training to construct bomb shelters during the Second World War. My Russian grandfather spent this war fighting in the navy, though his fondest memories include partying with Americans in northern city Murmansk at the beginning of the war. The latter's son, my uncle, was the only family member to have a successful military career out of his own volition. He was even stationed in one of the most dangerous places on earth - Afghanistan. USSR's participation in this war is justifiably comparable to America's Vietnam, cause- and consequence-wise.

    The 9th Company is a film directed and starred by Fedor Bondarchuk about the first Afghan war - its unresolved completion, to be exact. It was released in September 2005 and became an instant highly acclaimed blockbuster. At the same time, this blockbuster status damaged its artistic reputation. For this reason I was quite hesitant about viewing 9th Company. Every review I had read sang accolades to its theme, because this is one of the first films to focus on this war, despite the fact that the last Soviet troops evacuated at the end of the 1980's - a testament to the issue's controversy. That is where the praise ended and criticism began - reviews in mk.ru and gazeta.ru in particular both claimed that the film cut corners, left the characters compactly two-dimensional, and tied the ends into a neat little package, like any true Hollywood aspiration should. Word of mouth, however, had something different to report - in fact, a couple of invidiuals even claimed that the film was so difficult to stomach, that they were unable to sleep afterwards. The weight and the diversity of opinions combined began to overpower the value of 9th Company and made me question whether it was to live up to any of the expectations - good or bad.

    The film is loosely historic and covers the end of the first ten year-long Afghan war during the 1987-1989 period. It follows a group of young men from the time they enlist in the army, throughout their brutal training in Uzbekistan, and to their central participation in the Soviet military operations in the region in order to "rid the friendly Afghan nation of imperialism". In Afghanistan itself, the boys are ordered to defend a conquered mountainous territory at the height of 3,234 meters, unaware that the poorly orchestrated war is over, and the troops are being withdrawan, all but their own unit. It has its predictable moments - a physically scarred and psychologically damaged trainee commander, a local whore, or a soldier's first accidental kill. Perhaps such aspects are necessary to demonstrate the non-exceptional, every-man nature of the war's participants.

    In the beginning of the movie, a young soldier interrupts a teacher's explanation of Afghanistan's geography, history, religious and multi-ethnic makeup, "Does it really matter whom we fucking waste?"

    "Never in the history of the country had Afghanistan been conquered", the teacher replies.

    This sense of impending doom in his voice sets the mood for the entire film, even prior to the massacre. Some of the scenes are at least comparable or exceed the brutality of those in the landing in Normandy introduction in another blockbuster like Saving Private Ryan. The neverending rows of the fiercely approaching mujahideen, as the remaining young Soviet soldiers unsuccessfully attempt to fight them off, resemble the army of ghost warriors sprung from seeds in the myth of the Golden Fleece, only these warriors' current relevance is too close for comfort. The knowledge that this war was not only lost by the Soviets, but also entirely meaningless is responsible for the additional psychological enhancement of gore. There is nothing sweet about USSR's 15,000+ deaths, nor did they have much to do with the Fatherland. While there are no sleepless nights to report on my part, the film succeeds in leaving one feeling quite perturbed.