28 December 2009

Birdy: The Steel Jaw

"Y'know, when the doctor, the major, told me that one of the things they had to do was give me a steel jaw, I thought, 'Great, maybe I'll be the next LaMotta or something.' Turns out a punch can actually knock the pins into my brain, so actually it's worse than a glass jaw. That's pretty funny, huh?"
- Sergeant Alfonso Columbato
(Nicolas Cage) in Birdy

23 December 2009

Staropramen Czech Pilsener

As yesterday's post no doubt made clear, my alcohol hierarchy puts light beers- especially lagers- way at the bottom. For the longest time I thought all beer tasted like Corona and Red Dog, so the first two years of my drinking life were limited pretty exclusively to vodka and, on exceptionally rash and desperate days, gin.

That said, I can't help put pick up a Czech beer once in a while- granted my blood is Slovak and I'll rant for hours about the pathetic Europhile spinelessness of "the Czech Republic" and its Bavarian bootlicking, but standing in the Bull's Eye Beer Depot surrounded by pretentious Belgians, imperious Germans and the blood-thirsty Irish, I have to reach for what's most familiar, and Prague is often as close to home as I'll get.

So now I'm sitting in my living room watching Evan Lysacek (American born, looks vaguely South Slavic, apparently Greek Orthodox) win the 2009 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating with my youngest brother and knocking back a Staropramen "Premium Lager".

The tag line on their website says "Get a taste of Prague." Good lord, if this is what Prague tastes like no wonder it's become the Niagara Falls of Central Europe. Praha is supposed to be zlaté město- the golden city, the mystical and ancient city, the fountainhead of western European sorcery and enchantment. I've been reading tarot since I was about eight years old, but my favorite deck is The Tarot of Prague because of the way it integrates the city's breath-taking art and history into the major and minor arcana.

The Staropramen Lager is, yes, several steps up from the Coronas I've been drinking lately (it's my parents' favorite beer). The carbonation isn't overpowering, the 5% ABV is very subtle, the aroma is light- in general there's nothing at all striking about this beer. Maybe that's the point of a pilsener, I don't know. Seems to me Prague deserves better.

22 December 2009

Russian Imperial Stouts

The first beer I ever enjoyed was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Russian Imperial Stout. One night I found myself at a great burgers 'n brew joint called Prime 16 and saw "Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout" written up on the chalk board-- me being me, I had to order it, as a joke if nothing else. It was amazing, and I've been a die hard stout drinker ever since.

Apparently Peter I and I finally agree about something:
When Peter the Great opened Czarist Russia to the West in the early 18th century, dark ales called "Porter" were all the rage in England. Porters, named after the working class who devoured them, were relatively easy-drinking brews with a small percentage of highly roasted malt. The result was a dark brown, toffee-flavored libation fit for mass consumption. Arthur Guinness took the idea to Ireland, increased the dark, coffee-tinted profile and added “Extra Stout” to his label, thus creating another new beer style.

Peter the Great fell in love with stouts during his 1698 trip to England, and he requested that some be sent to the Imperial court in Russia. Much to the embarrassment of the English, the beer had spoiled somewhere along its tedious thousand-mile journey! Determined as always to save face, the Barclay brewery of London came to the rescue by rapidly increasing the amount of alcohol and hops for their second effort. The result was an inky black concoction with enough warmth and complexity to immediately become a sensation throughout Russia. The “Russian Imperial Stout” had been born and quickly became popular throughout European Russia.
That's about as good a back story as something called a Russian Imperial Stout could hope to have. On to the fun part: I went beer shopping today.


You never forget your first! This stuff makes Guinness taste like a cheap rum soaked mockolate bar. You taste and feel the 9% ABV, but it's fully integrated into the flavor profile of the beer itself- I can't imagine this beer with a different alcohol ratio. I can't stand overly chocolatey stouts- Old Rasputin is nutty, fruity, and reminiscent of chocolate in ways that remind you why some people take their chocolate as seriously as their wine.

The packaging and marketing is equally brilliant. The first thing you see after Rasputin's dubious blessing are the words "NEVER SAY DIE!" written along the top of the four-pack. The Russian proverb printed beneath the portrait, "Сердечный друг не родится вдруг," means roughly "One does not become an intimate friend quickly." Style and substance- what more could anyone want?


A stout so goddamn intense they only sell it by the pint (1 pint, 6 oz, technically). 11.73% ABV. Part of Avery Brewing Co's "Dictator Series": The Czar (Imperial Stout), the Kaiser (Imperial Lager), and the Maharaja (Imperial IPA). I haven't tried this yet- I'm saving it for a really special occasion- but y'all need to know it exists, and honestly, doesn't have to taste that good to kick ass, but I bet it does.


Haven't tried this one yet either, but it looks promising. 9.7% ABV, looks just as dark as the Old Rasputin (the Czar has an interesting reddish tint to it even in the bottle)- also definitely cheaper than both the Czar and OR, so as long as it tastes better than your average Guinness it's a win in my book. I'll be reviewing all these sometime in the near future.

Other beers I bought and will be reviewing soon:
  • Peche Mortel Imperial Coffee Stout
  • Duchesse de Bourgogne Belgian Ale
  • Augustijn Belgian Ale
  • Kostritzer Schwarzbier (German Black Lager)
  • Staropramen Czech Lager
If you have any suggestions, let me know! There's a giant beer distributor around here that lets you create your own six packs.

18 August 2009

OTGDY: Smoking Sudamericano

Soon to be published in the Yale Free Press (print edition), the first instance of my smoking column, tentatively titled "Only the Good Die Young":

I had been in South America for only ten minutes, and already I was disappointed. Two hours from New Haven to JFK, eleven hours from JFK to Ministro Pistarini International, five hours of checking in, security, and idly munching on stale Hudson News muffins—I needed a cigarette, and God damn it, I was in Buenos Aires. I expected to walk off the plane into a thick cloud of smoke, men offering me a light at every other step, fedora clad and winking. Alas, EZE (Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeiza "Ministro Pistarini") was as smoke free as any Manhattan Starbucks. The city proper, however, was more welcoming.

The city's streets are dotted with streetcarts, selling newspapers, magazines, post cards, but thankfully, especially, tobacco. You could buy them by the pack or fish your desired number out of pre-opened packs perched nervously by the register. Familiar faces greeted me: the Marlboros, Camels, Lucky Strikes, even Benson & Hedges, my old standby—but the Argentinian cigarettes (dare I say, like the Argentinian people?) were far more enticing. My tour guide, Herrrrrrnan (if you don't roll the r for two full seconds you aren't doing him justice) smoked Jockeys, and so Jockeys I attempted to buy. Attempted, because I foolishly pronounced “Jockey” as one would in English, leaving the twenty-something woman trying to serve me utterly confused. Throughout most of my trip, cigarette vendors eventually resorted to pointing at each successive brand and variety until my exasperated, over-enthusiastic nod confirmed my preference, with one exception: everyone and his grandmother knows what a Marlboro Red is. But I digress.

I was born and raised in New York, and since high school have lived in New Haven. Buying tobacco in Argentina was like frolicking through Elysian fields. American brands, and upscale foreign brands, cost around eight Argentinian pesos a pack—roughly two bucks, back in May when I was there. I could've bought packs for one American dollar or less; I also could've bought large bottles of vodka (legally! Ten-year-olds probably make liquor runs for their parents in BA) for less than $4—in both cases, I refrained.

The real beauty of my South American tobacco tourism wasn't monetary, however—even at those shoddy little streetcarts staffed by leathery old men in newsy caps, the brand variety dwarfed most American drugstores. Bright blue and red signs scream “OPEN 25 HS” throughout the city; these stores, so like our 7-11s in every other way, have an almost laughable (in that nervous, hysterical, childishly excited way) tobacco selection. It was at such an establishment that I first purchased my second favorite cigarettes of all time—Harmonys. Strong and flavorful—in a way no smokes I can buy at the 24 hour Walgreens by my New England apartment could ever hope to be—affordable, and apparently Chinese (I know, I thought the entire nation smoked nothing but 555s too); to this day I regret having bought only two packs, both now long gone. Weeks later I found myself smiling as I gave a DC bum the best cigarette he'd ever smoke: normal length, normal filter, with nothing but the English word “Harmony” wrapped around its dainty circumference.

Exotic varieties of Virginia Slims (the Unos come in a discrete black or white box reminiscent of perfume packaging), kretek galore, all manner of superfluously upscale sounding brands (the Hiltons stick out in my mind as both exceptionally hilarious and bad)—Buenos Aires was FAO Schwartz Tobacco, at Walmart prices. However bad the US economy is, the ridiculous exchange rate made it clear the Argentinian economy was even worse, and yet these humble South Americans stood in the shadow of tobacco heaven, while I routinely made do with $5 Liggetts (you've probably never heard of them, with good reason, but I assure you they're among the cheapest cigs available at your local drugstore).

Oh brothers, in Buenos Aires, that land of milk and honey, you can smoke in bars. From my travel diary:

“...I was loud and vulgar and threw cigarettes in the faces of the non-smokers, pressuring them to join. The Argentinians loved me and called me The Russian. We talked about trains and bars and Peru and San Francisco. The Argentinians disappeared and an eternity later I was in a bar being offered a single cigarette by a bronze Argentinian with thick white eyebrows and no tie....”

The bushy-browed Argentine was the bartender; the joint was dark and beautiful. I'd ordered a vodka tonic and a pack of Marlboros, and he'd offered me one of his cigarettes while a waitress assembled my dinner. I felt like Hemingway, Camus, and a free lancer working for Vanity Fair. It was amazing. You can't feel like that in New Haven, not even at the Owl Shop (which I nevertheless encourage you to patronize early and often).

As for Rio de Janeiro, I offer a single vignette: I was standing outside my hotel around midnight, smoking and laughing at the Portuguese warnings of impotence illustrated (!) on my pack, when a shirtless young man approached me, gesturing “Please, miss, can I bum a smoke?” Never one to break the Smoker's Code, even in a notoriously dangerous city, I gave him one, and lit it for him. He beamed, completely shocked that I'd actually granted him this small blessing, just as a security guard from the lobby emerged to angrily shoo him away. “Stay right here, by the doors,” he brusquely said to me, “don't talk to them.” He stood with me as I smoked all the way down to the filter, bitterly, in his bleached white staff jacket.

The United States welcomed me home by banning cloves and raising taxes while I was still unpacking the cartons I'd bought tax-free at Guarulhos International in São Paolo. My stash finally ran out a week ago, and even that aforementioned Walgreens, which sells at the state-minimum, hasn't been able to console me. I'm back to smoking Marlboro 100s, Reds, of course, on my fire escape right above “Soul de Cuba”, a restaurant on High Street. Argentina certainly won't cry for me, but oh, to be a girl from Ipanema!

16 August 2009

Oscar Wilde is actually rather annoying

I first encountered Mr Wilde when I was 12 (perhaps 14?...), through his essay The Decay of Lying, which I still enjoy. It wasn't until now, however, that I've begun to read The Importance of Being Earnest.
"CECILY: I am afraid I am not learned at all. All I know is about the relations between Capital and Idleness--and that is merely from observation. So I don't suppose it is true.
MISS PRISM: Cecily, that sounds like Socialism! And I suppose you know where Socialism leads to?
CECILY: Oh, yes! That leads to Rational Dress, Miss Prism. And I suppose that when a woman is dressed rationally, she is treated rationally. She certainly deserves to be."
Which brings me back to an earlier scene from the same play:
"JACK: Is that clever?
ALGERNON: It is perfectly phrased! And quite as true as any observation in civilized life should be."
Likewise here, and here:
"CECILY: ... I hope that you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
ALGERNON (looks at her in amazement): Oh! Of course I have been rather reckless."

"ALGERNON: ... Indeed, it is not even decent...and that sort of thing is enormously on the increase. The amount of women who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean linen in public [emphasis mine]."
He knew exactly what he was doing! Shameless.

15 August 2009

"Superheroes don't smoke."

From the 2007 documentary about costumed panhandlers outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Confessions of a Superhero:
"Superman" and "Ghost Rider" are walking down the Walk of Fame.

Superman: Ya gotta remember there's a lotta dos and don'ts, ah, as a superhero... but if you abide by 'em, you do okay.


Superman: Well, just remember, superheroes don't smoke. [pause] It's an image.

Ghost Rider: Except Ghost Rider.

Superman: No. Ghost Rider doesn't smoke.

Ghost Rider: He's made of fire.

Superman: But, still, he doesn't smoke cigarettes. [pause] You can't make exceptions for something that doesn't exist. You'll never see Ghost Rider smokin' a cigarette walkin' down the street. It's just not proper.

14 August 2009

Sakhalin tired of Russian neglect, looks for country who will appreciate its personality, cooking, mother-in-law

"Nikolayevsk was founded not too long ago, in 1850, by the celebrated Gennady Nevelskoy, and that may well be the single bright moment in the town's history. ... But today, nearly half of all the homes are abandoned and dilapidated, and their dark, frameless windows stare back like the empty eyepits of a skull. The inhabitants lead a lethargic, drunken life, existing hand to mouth, on whatever God provides. They subsist by supplying fish to Sakhalin, pilfering gold, exploiting the non-Russians, or selling deer antlers, from which the Chinese make stimulant pills."
- "Sakhalin Island", Anton Chekhov
Over a century later, Sakhalintsii are trying to get the heck out of Dodge--to Tokyo:
"A group of Sakhalin residents, after a visit to Tokyo, are not only studying Japanese but also collecting signatures for a petition asking that Moscow hand over their island to Japan so that they can live and raise their children in a rich, modern country that is not at war with anyone.

This remarkable action surfaced this week when radical Moscow commentator Valeriya Novodvorskaya reported in her Grani.ru column that one of the organizers, who she indicated had to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, had approached her to ask to whom he should forward their appeal.

Novodvorskaya said she advised him to “send the signatures to the Japanese emperor,” for whom they could serve as “compensation” for the harm that Japan has experienced at Russia’s hands given Moscow’s continuing unwillingness ever to return the four islands Soviet forces seized at the end of World War II."
It's that anarchist thought experiment come to life-- governments competing against each other for citizens.
"One indication that these are not entirely frivolous pursuits, she says, is that those considering leaving are to be found “in the holy of holies of the regime — in the military and defense sector,” where some senior officers, “not having received the apartments they were promised, sent a declaration to the U.S. saying they wanted to serve in the American army.”

Thus, “the collection of signatures on Sakhalin is not a rarity. Soon they will begin to be collected in Moscow.” And according to Novodvorskaya, just one thing remains: “to divide up the territory and people of Russia among the United States, Japan and the European Union” so that the Russian people will be able to live better."
I'm sure everyone at Reason and Cato is waiting with bated breath for the outcome.

Khrushchev's Other Temper Tantrum

h/t Sean's Russia Blog:

“Just now, I was told that I could not go to Disneyland,” [Khrushchev] announced. “I asked, ‘Why not? What is it? Do you have rocket-launching pads there?’ ”

The audience laughed.

“Just listen,” he said. “Just listen to what I was told: ‘We—which means the American authorities—cannot guarantee your security there.’ ”

He raised his hands in a vaudevillian shrug. That got another laugh.

“What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there? Have gangsters taken hold of the place? Your policemen are so tough they can lift a bull by the horns. Surely they can restore order if there are any gangsters around. I say, ‘I would very much like to see Disneyland.’ They say, ‘We cannot guarantee your security.’ Then what must I do, commit suicide?”

Khrushchev was starting to look more angry than amused. His fist punched the air above his red face.

“That’s the situation I find myself in,” he said. “For me, such a situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people.”

The audience was baffled. Were they really watching the 65-year-old dictator of the world’s largest country throw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t go to Disneyland?

Sitting in the audience, Nina Khrushchev told David Niven that she really was disappointed that she couldn’t see Disneyland. Hearing that, Sinatra, who was sitting next to Mrs. Khrushchev, leaned over and whispered in Niven’s ear.

“Screw the cops!” Sinatra said. “Tell the old broad that you and I will take ‘em down there this afternoon.”

Sinatra as quasi libertarian/anarchist hero, whisking Khrushcheva off to Disneyland? I'm gonna commit this story to memory.

05 August 2009

Russian Futurists in a Nutshell

From Featuring Talking Guinea Pigs:

Man: 1st generation of futurists
Guinea pig: everyone else

30 July 2009

Oriental Trends in the Fall '09 Fashion Season

AKA: How Russians Dress in My Wildest Fantasies.

Design: Karl Lagerfeld
Model: Hanna Rundlof
Ivan IV chic.
Design: Christian Dior
Model: Anja Rubik
Design: Christian Dior
Model: Sigrid Agren
Design: Christian Dior
Model: Heidi Mount

Design: Christian Dior
Model: Erin Heatherton
It's 1920s Moscow -WWI +economic prosperity!

Some comparisons:
Ivan IV & Vasilia Melentyevna
Ivan IV & Beloved Son
Ivan IV at his son's deathbed

21 July 2009

Review of Laurie Manchester's /Holy Fathers, Secular Sons: Clergy, Intelligentsia, and the Modern Self in Revolutionary Russia/ by Christopher Read

From the American Historical Review, Vol 114, No 3 (June 2009).

"At the heart of Manchester's book is an analysis of the small--maybe one percent of the population (p.12)--group of sons of priests (popovichi). Traditionally, scholars have dismissed them as raznochintsy (people of miscellaneous ranks). Instead, Manchester presents them as a relatively clearly defined class with its own ethos and with an influence extending well beyond the church and well beyond its numerical strength."
I've always thought of Raskolnikov as a pretty stereotypical raznochinets.
"In particular, she illustrates many places, including the early Bolshevik Party, where popovichi exerted an influence, despite their small numbers. ... Among such fascinating insights, Manchester notes the way the popovichi identified themselves against the earlier, noble-descended intelligentsia, and how the attempt by Dmitrii Tolstoi to corral popovichi within the clerical estate by refusing to recognize their qualifications as valid for university entrance in fact ensured the values of the seminary would spread to society."
Add this to the long, long list of reasons there's never been a strong libertarian movement in Russia: an influential portion of its intelligentsia were the sons of priests (Catholic liberal embrace of the welfare state, anyone?).
"There are also tantalizing glimpses of unusual attitudes among the popovichi toward sexuality. Aleksei Dmitrievskii failed to consummate his marriage because 'romantic passion' was satisfied by his work. 'Scholarship is the most charming of the women in the world...its embrace...takes care of all the afflictions and misfortunes of life,' he wrote. Note surprisingly, his wife did not agree and left him (p. 185)."
Guess who was the son of a priest? Nikolai Chernyshevsky, socialist-marxist-utilitarian extraordinaire, and author of What is to be done? (so good that Lenin stole the title!). There are some great footnotes in this edition that delve into Chernyshevsky's theories about romantic life; if you've somehow dragged yourself through the beast of a 'novel' you'll understand just as well. Manchester based her book on "a study of 207 identifiable popovichi." It's terrifying how accurate a portrait such a study painted.
"...in Manchester's words, 'popovichi did not repudiate the clerical traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church,' but 'they managed paradoxically to see themselves as leaving the clergy in order to preserve clerical traditions and impose them on secular society.' This, she argues, is 'the very opposite of traditional secularization theory and dechristianization' (p.155)."

Painting: Philosophers - Mikhail Nesterov

13 July 2009

Prague Tales - Jan Neruda

Picked up a copy of this at the DC Public Library for $2 a few weeks ago- more than worth it. All excerpts were published between 1867 and 1876.
"'But why didn't he write out his whole name? What's his first name, Viktor, Volfgang?'
'Well, it's Václav, but he doesn't like it. He says that every time he sees a church procession he wants to get re-baptized.'"
Typical Czech-German pandering.
"'...I don't think I've ever seen a decent, moderately long sentence from any of you. ... It's also quite obvious that you don't even know German properly, and I'll tell you why: because you jabber away in Czech all day! Therefore, with the power invested in my office as Director, I hereby forbid the speaking of Czech in the office, and as your friend and your superior I suggest that you speak only German outside the office as well.'"
Wait, they have the "notes of a neurotic 19th century bureaucrat" genre outside Russia, too?
"Conversations in Czech ceased. Only two very close friends would utter a word in Czech out in the corridor or in the archives. They almost seemed like surreptitious snuff-takers. I keep speaking Czech--and loudly at that. Everyone avoids me."
Tobacco stigma in 1860s Mala Strana? Jeez.
"It is a well-known historical fact that gods arise directly from their people. Jehovah was a gloomy, cruel, angry, vengeful, and bloodthirsty god, just like the entire Jewish nation. The Hellenic gods were elegant and witty, beautiful and joyful, just like the Greeks themselves. The Slavic gods--I'm sorry, but we Slavs lack a vivid enough imagination to create either great states or well-defined gods. Despite the best efforts of folklorists such as Erben and Kostomarov, our erstwhile gods are only an obscure, rag-tag group of divinities with no clear, well-defined characteristics."
Kinda true, actually.
"Of course the priest from St. Nicholas' and his assistants were late, as was the custom at the funeral of any important person so that no one would say Mr. Velš was being hurried on his way."
That's what we call a win-win cultural development.

10 May 2009

Summer Reading List, Revisited

A little over a year later, I haven't made much progress. Summer is blogging season; let's go.

Anton Chekhov Short Stories

Boris Chicherin Liberty, Equality, & The Market

Mikhail Bakunin The Basic Bakunin: Writings 1869-1871

Vissarion Belinsky Selected Philosophical Works

Aleksandr Blok Selected Poems

Mikhail Bulgakov The Master and the Margarita

Ivan Bunin The Dark Avenue

Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers Karamazov*
Crime and Punishment
Notes from Underground

Orlando Figes Natasha's Dance

Nikolai Gogol
The Overcoat
Dead Souls

Maxim Gorky Children of the Sun

Thomas Hardy Jude the Obscure*

Alexander Herzen My Past and Thoughts

Aleksey Khomyakov Whatever I can find!

Ivan Kireevsky Whatever I can find! (Turned out to be a fantastic collection of his essays compiled in On Spiritual Unity: A Slavophile Reader.)

Osip Mandelstam The Noise of Time: Selected Prose

Vladimir Mayakovsky The Bedbug and Selected Poetry

Vladimir Nabokov Lolita

Boris Pasternak Dr. Zhivago

Richard Pipes
Russian Conservatism and Its Critics
Karamzin's Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia: A Translation and Analysis

Andrey Platonov The Foundation Pit

Aleksandr Radishchev Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow

Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin
The History of a Town
The Golovylov Family

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Leo Tolstoy War and Peace