Russian Classics in Movie Format

Posted on 01. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, Literature

The world has seen its share of great writers. Some of them happen to be Russian. If you are at the point where you can read great literary works in Russian, pat yourself on the back – you have come a long way! However, if you are not at that point yet, reading the translated version or watching a movie based on the books we will discuss in this post might be a great way to start.  You likely have heard the titles of some of these books without realizing that they were the creations of Russian authors. While there are many books to choose from, I will include those I have actually read: “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina,” “Lolita,” and “Crime and Punishment.” My goal is not to give you an in-depth book review, but merely to let you know a few of the “classics” that were conceived within the minds of some of Russia’s most talented novelists.

“War and Peace,” by Leo Tolstoy was written in the 1860’s with great attention to detail. Mind you, Tolstoy, went to great lengths to accurately describe a story taking place during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. If you’ve ever read it, you’ll understand how much detail is included and given the time period in which it was written, you can get an idea of the amount of effort that went into writing it. Tolstoy also wrote “Anna Karenina” a few years after “War and Peace.” Human characteristics such as love, jealousy, bitterness, morals, and the like, run rampant through his works. Some writers, including Nabokov, Dostoevsky, and William Faulkner have rated “Anna Karenina” to be the best work of fiction ever put to paper. Characters are not simply one-dimensional, events are described with utmost attention to detail, giving the reader the feeling of actually being present. In my opinion, both of these books will provide you with a glimpse into what life was like during the time periods Tolstoy wrote about. Several attempts have been made to bring these works to the movie screen, some were more successful than others. My personal favorite is this Oscar winning four part series.

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This new take on Anna Karenina is pretty unique, maybe too “unique” for an average person.

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Vladimir Nabokov gave us “Lolita” in the mid 1950’s. The story, which seemed twisted and bizarre for the 1950’s, seems more at home today. Middle-aged men lusting after pre-teen girls was more taboo back then – not suggesting its normal now though. One only needs to turn on the news now to see stories of teachers and students engaging in immoral relationships, Woody Allen-like incidents are as common now as hearing a politician confuse reality and truth. The bold story combined with Nabokov’s somewhat humorous way of using language make for an interesting read. I must admit that I enjoyed this 1997 movie version nearly as much as the book itself. I was fortunate to find the full movie on YouTube, give it a try if you haven’t seen it yet :-) .

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Moral codes and “psychological chess matches” run amok in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic, “Crime and Punishment.” Written during the 1860’s, this book contains murder, philosophy, drama to the nth degree, fate, and everything you’d expect from a modern murder mystery – save for the fact that we know the murderer’s identity the entire time. The drama that unfolds within these pages make this book the kind that you’d rather finish before putting it down – at least for me. As for the movie version of this novel, here are a couple of links, one in Russian and one in English.

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Time and again, when I ponder what it took for these literary geniuses to craft these works of art, I am reminded of my own limitations as a writer. These great authors came from a vastly different time period, with fewer advantages than I possess, yet their work has and will to continue to stand the test of time. Being that these masterpieces were written many decades before the age of the internet, it makes their work all the more impressive. Nowadays we have the luxury, through the internet and various writing tools, of easily writing and researching while enjoying the comforts of home – we needn’t travel to various libraries, search out experts, or do anything more than use our fingertips. This is not to say it’s easy to write well, but the research and writing has been made easier; not to mention we can easily get our hands on copies of so many millions of titles that were not easily had in days gone by.

Всего хорошего!

DIY Russian Style

Posted on 29. Sep, 2014 by in Arts and crafts, when in Russia

Image by Steven Depolo

Image by Steven Depolo on flickr.com

If you visited Russia or talk to people from the region, you will know that they prefer to do many things from scratch that people in other areas might rather buy or have someone do for them. I will be talking about my experience with Russia, but this probably generalizes to other countries in the region. Feel free to add based on your observations.

Home Improvements

Ремонт (renovations, home improvements, remodeling) is a huge part of home ownership in Russia. As you may know, most people live in high-rise-building apartments/condominiums that they normally own or rent from the city, as opposed to renting from a private company or landlord. A lot of these apartments are pretty much an empty box when you move in, although some are “turnkey” (квартиры под ключ).

That means that people have to take care of putting the finishing touches (отделка) inside their apartment, which may include any of the following things:

  • линолеум – linoleum
  • паркет – hardwood floors
  • сантехника – plumbing, such as sinks and faucets
  • светильники – light fixtures
  • двери – doors

and many more.

People will sometimes hire a сантехник (plumber) or электрик (electrician), but that may be done on a case-by-case basis, meaning that the family will live in a semi-finished apartment until the next area is taken care of. Ремонт may last for years, and sometimes by the time one round is finished, the next round will start because the initially installed amenities will need to be replaced!

Weddings

Your typical Russian wedding (свадьба) is nowhere near as expensive or elaborate as in some other countries. There are detailed posts about Russian weddings on this blog, but I would like to concentrate on the DIY aspect.

First of all, many couples will have their reception in their own or their parents’ apartment. There are no elaborate matching outfits or choreographed ceremonies. Rehearsal dinners are virtually unheard of.

Many times, the relatives of the newlyweds will cook the meals and take care of the decorations. To be fair, more and more couples rent a restaurant for their reception and have an external caterer, but spontaneity is still very much present at these weddings.

Clothes

When I was growing up in the early post-USSR years, many women still made the clothes for their families from scratch. They would often cut out the patterns (выкройки) from specialized magazines, such as the German Otto or Burda Moden and sew (шили) the clothes.

They would also often knit (вязали) or crochet (вязали крючком). Many households had their own sewing machines (швейная машина) or overlockers (оверлок). As clothes became more available, affordable, and diverse in the late nineties, families shifted to buying rather than making their own clothing.

Food

Image by yasamaster on flickr.com

Image by yasamaster on flickr.com

Finally, Russians will often prepare from scratch foods and ingredients that are bought ready elsewhere. Examples include

  • тесто (dough) – many a Russian cook knead (месят) their own from scratch.
  • фарш (ground meat) – although you can buy it ready, most Russian households have their own meat grinder (мясорубка).
  • сок (juice) – a juicer (соковыжималка) is also a staple of a Russian kitchen.
  • овощи и фрукты (lit., vegetables and fruits; produce) – most people will grow at least some of their produce in what many call a dacha (дача) or, as I am used to calling it, a garden/orchard (сад) in the suburbs or the country.

While many of these DIY skills are no longer essential for a comfortable life, some people still hold on to them in order to preserve their independence and be confident about the quality of the end product. What is your experience with DIY projects, either in Russia, in the neighboring countries, or outside the Russian-speaking realm?

What Drink Is More Popular in Russia than Vodka?

Posted on 24. Sep, 2014 by in Culture, Russian food, when in Russia

We all know that the Chinese love to drink tea. So do the Brits. Recent data collected and published by the Euromonitor International, listed the countries that consumed the most tea per person, measured in pounds, and Russia ranked fourth! They stated that the average Russian drinks just over three pounds per year. In comparison, the Turkish drink the most at 6.961 pounds per person – who knew? As one that drinks tea most days with breakfast, always with anything sweet, and again if company comes over, I know that I consume my share :-)

Since the early 17th century tea has been increasing in popularity at the Russian table. According to Russian Life, Tsar Aleksey Mikhaylovich was presented with tea as a gift by a Chinese ambassador and thus began the Russian craving for this tasty beverage. Initially, due to the price of tea, and in relation to the laws of supply and demand, it was a luxury only the elite could afford. During the next several centuries, more and more Russians were able to afford it. Some may say that tea has lost some of its social status because so many now drink it. According to a study published in Pravda, 62 percent of the Russian population will drink tea on a daily basis. This makes tea the most popular beverage in the country! Incidentally, about 31 percent will drink coffee daily. In the U.S., more will drink coffee each day than tea.

Many drink tea for its known health benefits, many drink it for the flavor, and many do it “just because its what we do.” Personally, I drink tea for all of these reasons. Each day with breakfast, I drink it. Each day with lunch, I try to drink it. Each day with dinner, maybe not so much; however, if there is desert on the table, you bet I’ll drink it. While I will not drink Da Hong Pao, the world’s most expensive tea that costs over $25,000 for about 20 ounces, I do enjoy different types ranging from white tea to black tea to pu-erh but never iced tea. Back in Russia, my grandmother still uses a samovar, while I use an electric kettle. A samovar is a Russian appliance that the tea is brewed in; it has a very unique “Russian” look and can be a great conversation piece. 

Sipping on tea always seems to help me relax, even if it has caffeine in it. In fact, it goes well with writing a blog too! If you are not a tea drinker and are preparing to go to Russia, remember that Mother Russia enjoys her tea! On that note I think I am going to make some yerba mate tea right about now :-)

Всего хорошего!