Thursday, July 28, 2011


Let's face it: Russia is not the right country for white collars. And white jeans. And white t-shirts. And any white clothes at all. Because Russia is freaking dusty. If you don't mind washing your white clothes every day, then OK, put your white jeans on and go for a walk, but don't complain that I haven't warned you. When you come back home you'll see stripes of dirt in your favourite Levi's. I don't mean that Russians are dirty or that you don't have to wear white stuff when visiting Russia. Dust is a real problem here, and this is a by-product of the infrastructure — bad roads, lagging technology and, quite often, poor city management.

In Summer, if it is dry and hot, dust is everywhere — on roads and grass, on cars and buses, on benches and shop windows. When it rains, dust becomes mud. Why it is so dusty here? In Russia, it is partly there is a large gap between road and grass, and the soil becomes dust easily. I don't know why, but Russian cities lack good lawns. Even cultivated lawns have a lot of bare soil. The biggest surprise to me was to see thick grass or wheat fields right near roads in Europe, with no centimeter of deserted land. The next shocking experience was to see snow-white trucks with oily-black tires. In Russia, the normal color of trucks is … yes, dusty-grey.

In 2000-2008, Russia was experiencing a construction boom. Unfortunately, construction technologies in this country leave a lot to be desired, so construction sites are another major source of dust. In Toronto, Canada, I saw pouring trucks cleaning roads while workers were maintaining the pavement. One guy was demolishing the old pavement, and the special truck poured water in order to keep the area clean. I hope, one day this technology will be adapted in Russia too.

What amuses Russian tourists in Europe and North America is that people there often sit right on the ground. Even in white jeans. “It is so clean there, that people sit right on the ground, can you imagine that?” is one of the most common phrases Russian tourists say to their friends when coming back home. Please never try to sit on grass in Russia. First, people may think, you are a homeless and antisocial person. Second, you'll hopelessly dirty your pants. This is kind of an acquired instinct here to not sit on the ground. I live in a very clean town. We have large flowerbeds here, no garbage in bushes, and very rarely there are dog feces on the ground, but still my shoes get covered with dust after every walk.

Once my Russian habit of taking my shoes off when entering somebody's home surprised my European hosts. “Are you from Japan?” they asked me, smiling widely. Oh, this habit has nothing to do with etiquette or spiritual traditions. Russians put shoes off because we believe deeply in our hearts that home is clean and the outside is dirty. When I was to very clean, nearly sterile Germany, I still put my shoes off every time I entered my guest apartment, though I knew well that the outside there was as clean as the inside.

And yet, I love wearing white clothes in Summer. It is stylish, it reflects sun rays and keeps the skin cool. I just know that I need to wash it every time I wear it, which is not a big problem.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Life Stories

The golden age of the Russian literature is over, but it doesn't mean that nothing was written in Russian since Tolstoevsky. There are many new talented writers in the modern Russia, who are pondering over the past, the present and the future of the country. Literature in Russia is been used to do the job of philosophy and sociology.

A good way to get to know the modern Russian literature and familiarize yourself with writers' names is to find a book, where most of them are united under one cover. And this book already exists! This book is Life Stories: Original Works by Russian Writers

In Russian (I've bought the book in Russian), it is titled This book united writers, if it hadn't they would never have been published under one cover". There is a good reason for such a long and clumsy title. The book has a special purpose: 100% of the profits from the sale of this book will go to benefit Russian hospice, it is a not-for-profit organization that helps fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories. This was the key idea that has united very different writers like Eduard Limonov, Victor Erofeev, Boris Grebenshchikov, and Evgeniy Grishkovets. The nineteen stories has no common topics other than life. The publisher said, “They are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination. Masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today, these tales reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways.”

Among 19 writers who published their short stories here, are prominent names, almost classics, i.e. Vladimir Voinovich and Boris Akunin, Vlasimir Sorokin and Victor Pelevin, however, some of the writers were absolutely new to me. So far, my most pleasant discovery is Marina Moskvina. Her style is adourable, and I'm very likely to buy more of her books. I love Boris Grebenshchikov as a musician, but he turned out to be a great writer too, he has specific dead serious and absurd humor.

Since the book is kind of a patchwork, some stories are better than others. Some writers went to the “favorites” shelf, and others were labeled with the “never more” tag. Here is what a reader said in the review at, “ There is much sadness in this collection, but there is humor and joy too, and all presented in the rich Russian tradition. It's a great way to discover Russian writers of today. A gem, not to be missed!” I use this book as a guide to the modern literature and it is definitely worth its price.