06 October 2007

Urban development. Mikhail Veller.

Mikhail Veller.
Excerpt from The Last Great Chance.
2006.
Translation: mine ©


14. Urban Development

This feature is demonstrated fully and with amazing directness in the appearance of Russian cities.

Russian cities are astonishingly unattractive. They are nondescript. They are not even cities from the point of view of architecture and aesthetic spatial organization. They are simply an accumulation of buildings for the purpose of life and work. These buildings are set in every which way, based on the financial means and the logic of the labor process.

You know, we usually don’t notice this, don’t see it. We were born and live here, grow up and love – “This is our motherland, sonny boy…” You must visit the cities of the world – not brilliant capitals, but rather various cities and towns, in order to ruin your mood because of your destiny. It’s harmful, harmful to allow Russians abroad!...

The best, the most convenient example – Moscow-“the-beautiful”. We are not talking about outskirt, sleeper districts – they are equally faceless and outwardly talent-lacking, pitiful, and cookie-cutter all over Russia. Dwellings for crowds of cheap labor. But – look at the center! Meaningless piling of each and every trend, style, storey, purpose, a complete and utter lack of coordination of the space between the buildings, blocks, alleys, a disorganized alternation of facings, store windows, asphalt, and tiles. Everyone barged in with his structure in any way he could, not giving a damn about the neighbors, with which nothing could be done anyway.

The idea of Moscow as a city is a horde, pile, overcrowding, clutter, apathy towards those who and which are nearby; above all – the desire to rip off and assert one’s own interest, the power of money above any power, chaos as the principle of life.

Take a look at the historic cobble stone of the Red Square – look at the waves, by the means of which the first, most important, grand distance of the Empire marches on! What – is it really impossible to even it out like a table? The utter horror of the VIP box seats – Red Square’s waves. And if this – a continuous sloping pothole – isn’t visible on TV – so to hell with it, let’s leave it as is! – then what else can one expect?...Can the public really respect itself with such a pothole?

So there you have your piss-covered entrances and broken bottles. And thugs.

And until the first faces of the country – yes, just like back in the day, only for real! – come out with actual brooms and participate in subbotniks, while the punks littering all over the city get prosecuted in an orderly fashion…Eh, empty words…

Deliberately flawed reasoning. State’s armored military machinery is no longer capable of participating in Red Square parades, due to the fact that Manezhnaya Square had been thoroughly tunneled by an underground shopping center; the tanks would simply fall through into it. And this underground shopping center largely belongs to (or is it – in part? Or does it rake off plenty?) Moscow mayor Luzhkov, which means that it’s absolutely impossible to challenge this trade, since it’s too profitable.

Private business money is more valuable than the power and pride of the nation.

And this is the nation’s folk? This is whoring trash.

A city, like nothing else, embodies the system-forming instinct of the people. The city is not a pile of houses. It is a system, created out of buildings and the space between them in their congruency and interrelation. The creation of the city as a system is a skill and an independent art form.

The city – is when vertical and horizontal lines of buildings and the space between them in the aggregate are that very totality, which a simple sum, a simple place-conjunction of houses and blocks is not.

The city is intentionality, an organism, a painting and a sculpture per se, self-value.

The only city in the Empire is St. Petersburg. It was built by Italians – the best architects in the world at that time. They knew, and consequently tsars understood – a city is a single whole, its system reflects the nation’s system, its systematic spirit.

Italy, Germany, Spain, France, England, Austria are filled with cities. Russia is not.

And let’s do without arrogance. Pride must be constructive. Negation of one’s own negative traits is the most certain way toward their development and furthermore – toward our very own harm and demise.

An organized space means: we are together, a united community, of one fate, each other’s defenders and helpers, together we are better and stronger rather than alone and apart. It is therefore not surprising that only the citizens of Leningrad were known in the USSR for their goodwill, decency, honesty, pride without arrogance, and an overall embodied blueprint of virtue.

SHOW ME YOUR CITY – I’LL UNDERSTAND YOUR SOUL.

18 August 2007

Semper studeo

Four years in university to obtain a balance between a practical and creative profession resulted in complete lack of motivation for any type of personal artistic pursuits [spanning beyond near-carpal tunnel from 40 hours a week on the computer], upon obtaining some semblance [roughly speaking, of course] of the said profession.

Two more academic years spent seeking to balance out the technically oriented career with the impractical, yet oh-so-enjoyable-gosh-darn-it intellectual pursuits solely led to gaining the ability to name-drop a graduate degree at a martini party. [And I don't even like martinis or attend parties.]

Up next - 5+ more years of yet another advanced graduate degree to be largely used as an ego-boost via earning the title Dr. and, more important, adding another tag to my eMail signature?

You told me so, didn't you?

03 July 2007

Beyond English pigdogs' comprehension...

...and mine too, for that matter.

03 June 2007

Flying Carpet

Yuri Mamleev.
1965.
Translation - mine.

Note to self: This was fun. I must do this again.

Ma Raisa Mikhailovna - who had light, austere, frozen eyes and the same kind of a gaze - bought herself a rug. She did not obtain it with ease. Hopping along, she hurried home, lifting the rug high up toward the sky.

At home, the rug was hung on the wall with a death grip. After looking at it, her distant relative Maria - a fat woman, whose head resembled that of a toad - lifted her arms and screamed, "Ga-ga-ga!". She always spoke this way in positive situations. Slapping her butt, Raisa Mikhailovna went into the kitchen - to fry. Something lively and brisk merrily crackled on the frying pan. Water simmered in the tap and in Maria's head. This was her day off and, sprawling on the couch, she counted her fingers, which to her seemed like shadows.

She fumbled around herself with this shadow and, finding matches, lit up.

Three-year old toddler Andryusha - Raisa Mikhailovna's son, all white and honey-like - thoughtfully frolicked on the floor. No one else was around: Andryusha's father was away on a business trip.

Hiccuping, Maria walked into the kitchen like an idol spilling dough.

-I will be back, - she said.

-Yes, yes - Raisa Mikhailovna bustled about the stove.

Half an hour later, the housewife came into the room, where her little boy frolicked about. Then she stopped, as if witnessing a dreadful miracle.

With a happy glow in his eyes, Andryushenka was consumed by cutting up the new rug with scissors. He had not gotten very far - due to the childhood lack of strength - but the thing was ruined. Ma was petrified. It seemed that even her mouth could not open. Her eyes turned wet. Finally, with an expression of irrevocable determination, she approached the little one. Her face began to resemble that of Zeus.

-What did you do?! - words disgorged out of her mouth.

-Whatcha mean? - the boy smiled cheerfully.

His blond curls fluttered over his forehead.

Ma ripped the scissors out of his hands.

-Take that, take that, take that! - mother shrieked ferociously, her face shrunk, as she heavily jumped up and down on one spot. In a rage, she was hitting the little one's hands with scissors. He was screaming, as an oven that came to life would scream, but his screams only inflamed ma. The child's hands turned red and, benumbed by horror, he did not even attempt to hide them: he only retracted them to his chest, and they hung there like dirt rags.

With every blow they turned more and more boneless and hazy, like puddles.

-The rug...the rug! - ma shouted, and her gaze became harder and harder.

She imagined that there was no more rug and was herself ready to transform into that rug, just so it could still exist.

-You must appreciate things, you must appreciate things, fool! - she yelled at the child.

Maria returned. She evaluated the scene with a heavy gaze and decided that nothing existed, except for herself. She then flopped onto the couch and began caressing her stomach.

-Where, where did the birds...fly to?! - she occasionally muttered in her sleep.

Meanwhile, Raisa Mikhailovna's initial wrath slowly cooled. "What will father say, after all, the rug is no more, no more!" - she only shook her head.

Andryusha, on the other hand, did not stop wailing, choking from pain. He fell onto the floor and was rolling on the carpet.

-Stop, stop crying this very minute; I don't want to see your tears! - Raisa Mikhailovna screamed at her son.

She no longer battered him with scissors, but instead merely pushed him with her foot lightly, like a ball, when he unusually squealed from pain or from memories.

-Kick him like a football, like a football, - Maria purred in her sleep, sorting out a dream.

Raisa Mikhailovna began tidying up the house: cleaning the floors and scrubbing the washrooms. She did so four, five times a day, even if the floor glistened like a mirror after the first time. She scrubbed each little corner of the floor and every stain on the toilet, monotonously and in order to prolong her existence. Her days were normally spent like this, until her husband, a qualified technician, returned home.

And now, having left the little one alone, she commenced her rambunctious task.

Two thoughts occupied her head: whether it was still possible to save the rug, and whether Adryusha would stop screaming. She was completely confused about the first one, and chagrined, she began to feel dizzy. Yet gradually a slight pity towards Andryusha began displacing everything else: he still overstrained himself just the same. But she continued scrubbing the toilet in the washroom - almost with her face. Occasionally, it appeared that she could see her own reflection - there in the water.

Finally, dropping everything, she walked into the room. Maria gently snored on the couch. In her sleep, Maria managed to amuse herself with children's play blocks, which lay around her body. Unconscious, she placed them all over her gut. In this manner, an entire palace overlooked her stomach. And in her thoughts she saw an angel, which - at the same time - she did not see.

-Give me your hands, - uttered Raisa Mikhailovna to Andryusha.

She glimpsed at them and became horrified.

His wrists - pudgy and little, just like those of any three year-old, turned into red, leaking goo.

-How could I! - she screamed.

Fear for her child instantly filled her from head to toe. "It's nothing serious, really, - she thought, - but we must go to the doctor's...Who knows what could happen...Oh, woe is me." She woke dreaming Maria up with a shove.

-Ga-ga-ga! - the latter shouted, drowsily waking and shaking her white-haired head.

-Ga-ga-ga! - Raisa Mikhailovna shouted her down, lowering her head close to Maria. - This is not "ga-ga-ga", but rather Andryusha is in pain; we are taking him to the doctor.

Maria dressed in discontent. "Oh, woe is me, woe is me", - Raisa Mikhailovna thrashed about anxiously. Andryusha suddenly became terribly valuable, significantly more valuable than the rug. They quickly got ready to leave. Besshumov, their neighbor, stopped by, disturbed by the child's screams, which he mistook for an air raid siren. Chewing paper and bellowing about the discrepancy, he drowsily vanished.

On the way to the doctor's, Maria began to cry.

-What's wrong? - Raisa Mikhailovna asked her.

-I feel sorry for Andryusha, - the latter answered.

She also felt sorry for her thoughts, which spiraled around her forehead like butterflies. Children's hospital was murky, and inside people in white robes were austere, almost like guns.

Raisa Mikhailovna was ordered to pick up the kid later, when they called her on the telephone. The next day she discovered that she was not permitted to visit her sick child: the hospital was now under quarantine.

Dumbstruck, Raisa Mikhailovna wandered around the apartment for hours. "At least it's good that my husband will not be returning soon", - she thought. When she called the hospital, they answered her curtly, "Everything that needs to be done, will be done". Maria alone was cheerful. She told their neighbor Besshumov that the child will still die, but that Raisa Mikhailovna should only be delighted because of it. When Besshumov asked what she meant by that, as he chewed paper, Maria mysteriously smiled and answered only that there will be more light. She found light everywhere, but at the same time she cried from the constant presence of gloom. Although, she cried in a special way, without crying inside her soul, therefore her tears rolled down as if she were made of iron.

A little blackened old lady appeared from nowhere; glancing at everything with round eyes, she said that she liked darkness...

Raisa Mikhailovna still felt sick about the destroyed rug and, not knowing what to do with it, rolled it into an arm rest for the couch. "At least it found a purpose", - she told herself.

...The hospital was light and empty. Andryusha cried the entire time. "This will not hurt you anymore", - a tall and clever doctor told him. And so, the little one was carefully anesthetized prior to removing both of his wrists (almost all of the bones inside were broken and crushed into pieces by the scissors' blows, and this was the only way to prevent gangrene). Therefore, after the wrists were cut off, Andryusha felt very light; only when he was bandaged up, he waved his little stumps and gaped, "But where are my hands?". And he did not even cry.

...When ma picked up her little one from the hospital, wrinkled in a smile and insentience, at first she did not understand anything. She kept attempting to untie the bandages and to check whether the hands were still there or not. A cab took them home, as if they returned from a holiday. Maria undressed the child and, quacking, dragged him to play hide-and-seek. She kept smiling into the window with her scarecrow face, which became shaggy in an alien way. During hide-and-seek she fell asleep and again saw an angel, which, at the same time, she did not see. Andryusha licked her drowsy, sepulchral nose and waved his stumps, as if to say "hello". "Where are my hands, mommy", - he languished and trailed behind his mom like a shadow, no matter where she went. Raisa Mikhailovna scrubbed the floor. Maria's snoring came from the kitchen, convinced that her stomach was bloating.

The clock was ticking.

Soon the boy must be fed - now he could not eat by himself, just like when he was a one-year old.

Raisa Mikhailovna moved a stool with her foot and went into the washroom. A washtub rattled. Raisa Mikhailovna hanged herself. "I cannot take this anymore, no more", - she only had time to say to herself, as she climbed on top of a chair.

Having just woken up, Maria looked into the washroom. Groaning, she learned everything and decided she wanted to skip with Andryushenka. Relatives and neighbors gathered slowly. Andryusha was not bored and kept asking the entire time, "Where are my hands and my mommy?" He was not allowed to go into the washroom. A certain physicist solved his problems in the kitchen, not too far from the corpse.

Maria indistinctly gossiped with Besshumov. And once again, the little blackened old lady with round eyes appeared from nowhere. She said that there was nothing terrible in the fact that Andryusha's hands vanished, or in the fact that his mother died...

-There is nothing, nothing terrible about this, - she reiterated.

But there in her eyes a certain other, supreme kind of fear was reflected, which, however, had no relation to this world, nor the events in question. Yet to all things earthly, this gloom, this fear, was, possibly, a light. And, emanating from the bottomless fear in her eyes, this light cleansed the surroundings.

-Yes, yes, there is nothing terrible about this... - the walls muttered. Only Andryusha's cries were torn away from all things existent.

-Ga-ga-ga! - Maria screamed on top of her lungs.

13 May 2007

Vox pop

In the past month, I've been reading a lot of Veller's musings regarding the rapid deterioration of the Russian language, so a more-blunt-than-usual sign [this normally includes shining examples of grammatical errors in advertisements by corporate giants such as Adobe or Global!] of the same process in the already-simplified-as-fuck English and in an advertising format earned a deserved smirk.

And a raised eyebrow.

Of course.

Of course!

As I walked past the Royal Ontario Museum last week, I noted a considerably sized poster for the current Ancient Peru Unearthed: Golden Treasures of a Lost Civilization exhibition. Its creators deemed it necessary to promote this renowned institution to the proverbial younger crowd with a single word. Bold, easily legible, light-colored font against a dark background - much larger than the rest of the advertising copy and more noticeable than the faded image of a token Peruvian gold artifact - the poster's typographic hierarchy could've earned a first-year graphic design student a solid A.

Its marketing strategy, however - not so much.

What lone verbal signifier could possibly transfer the exhibition's cultural significance and simultaneously entice those little hungry young brains?

Bling, of course!

10 March 2007

1054/1517

If eastern orthodoxy is about community, then why do I feel so uncomfortable in its presence, and why would I rather light my candles alone? Perhaps I really am a catholic, or worse yet - a protestant.

The horror.