The Culture Diaries
August 7, 2013 | by Sophie Pinkham
Slavicist Sophie Pinkham documented her week in NYC-based Russian culture for the Daily in April. When she returned to Russia, we asked her to diary her cultural experiences there, as well.
In Moscow, I attend the opening of Lily Idov’s new exhibit, “Relics.” Idov took a series of photos at the Russian museums that tourists rarely visit: the Museum of Culinary Arts, the Museum of Darwinism, the Museum of Moscow Railways, the Museum of Cosmonautics. The photos are surreal, and often funny. A dummy astronaut gazes heavenward, starry-eyed; a dummy chef poses in front of a lacquered swordfish, looking perplexed. Idov’s photos remind us that the attendants are often the most interesting artifacts in these empty museums. A dummy youth in a train plays a guitar, one chord for eternity, as his live guard stands nearby, sphinx-like. A young woman gazes skeptically at a wax man wreathed in bagels. One elderly attendant looks as taxidermied as the crocodile he’s been assigned to watch. In fact, with his long white beard and weary expression, he looks rather like a taxidermied Tolstoy.
With two friends from New York, I take a day trip to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s estate. The signs are in Russian, English, and Korean, and our fellow tourists wear large bundles of leaves on their heads. The effect is festive, but also warlike. And what does it have to do, exactly, with Lev Nikolaevich? Tourism is its own civilization, with customs that can be understood only through intensive ethnographic research.
“Who are you, and where do you come from?” asks a surly attendant. We return to the entrance, pay for a mandatory tour, and put plastic baggies over our shoes, as if prepping for surgery. Our guide is an older woman with tinted glasses, bright red lipstick, and what is, one senses, a certain weariness with Lev Nikolaevich. There is a marked contrast between her fast, flat delivery and Tolstoy’s tortured moral ideas.
Lev Nikolaevich had sharp eyes that saw into a person’s soul the question that tortured him throughout his life was what is the meaning of human life what is truly in the human soul surely it contains great goodness
We examine the leather sofa where Lev Nikolaevich and his children were born. There was once a leather pillow, but it was lost in the war. Read More »
June 27, 2013 | by Rutu Modan
I have no idea how this happened, but apparently I’ve agreed to give a talk to the entire pre-K and first grade at a local school. A total of seven classes.
While I do, in fact, also illustrate children books, it’s really due to my interest in books and less to my interest in children. It’s not that I don’t like children—I’m quite fond of mine—but speaking to children is a bit scary. They don’t know they’re supposed to hide it if they’re bored.
I show the kids books I’ve illustrated, share my work methods, and even throw in a professional secret: I can’t draw horses’ feet. During the Q&A, a curly-haired girl persistently raises her hand and when I call on her she says, “My mother looks much younger than you.” But all in all, I realize that between these kids and my students at the art academy there is no big difference in understanding. Read More »
April 25, 2013 | by Sophie Pinkham
May 22, 1929
I was sitting on the roof of the State Publishing House, making sure that everything was in order, because no sooner do you overlook something than something happens. You can’t leave the city unwatched. And who will keep an eye on the city, if not me?
A Watchman has the right to:
2. Shoot at whomever comes along.
3. Invent and compose, also make notes, and recite in a low voice, or learn by heart.
4. Look over the panorama.
5. Compare life below to an anthill.
6. Contemplate book publishing.
7. Take a bed along.
—Daniil Kharms, Boris Levin, and Yury Vladimirov, from I am a Phenomenon Quite Out of the Ordinary : The Notebooks, Diaries, and Letters of Daniil Kharms; translated by Peter Scotto and Anthony Anemone
I go to Serbo-Croatian class, where we learn how to say “he gave her three piglets as a gift,” and “in Dalmatia there are many stones.” I look forward to the day when I will use these sentences in a conversation.
I go home to read Turgenev, but watch the news all day instead. My friends and I are proud to be among the only Americans to know the whereabouts of both Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan, and the very real difference between Chechnya and the Czech Republic.
but there’s something happy
there’s dignity even
in the idea
that not all the world’s monsters
—Vsevolod Nekrasov, “I Live I See,” translated by Ainsley Morse and Bela Shayevich
On Saturday, I attend a panel titled “The Russian Avant-Garde Goes Underground.” On Monday, I attend a reading of the work of three Russian poets. (I reject linear time and treat these two events as one.)
Saturday’s discussion is focused on Oberiu, the “Association for Real Art” founded by Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky in Leningrad in 1928. Oberiu dissolved in 1930, after one of its signature poetry reading/magic shows attracted the attention of the authorities. It was the last Soviet avant-garde to live in the open. (Watch a cartoon version of Kharms’s absurdist writing here.)
Eugene Ostashevsky, who translated the first English-language collection of Vvedensky’s poetry, quotes Nietzsche: “I am afraid we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar.” Read More »
March 26, 2013 | by Happy Menocal
1 A.M. Go to bed with Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, a book about the work habits of famous artists, writers, philosophers, musicians, etc. Resolve to have a regimented, productive day tomorrow. All these people seem to subsist on coffee and alcohol and amphetamines. I feel like a toddler with my juice and crackers and noodles.
7:45 A.M. Begin work on a little ad that’s due today for Stubbs & Wootton—fancy slippers made in Spain. It’s for a promotion they’re doing during the Ides of March. Someone at the company started the e-mail chain for the ad with the subject line “Eyes of March,” and I kinda want to do the visual about that. Decide instead to just paint Caesar, wearing the slippers, looking warily over his shoulder. I google “man sitting on column” because I want Caesar to be sitting on a crumbled stump of a column, and find this devil dog.
My husband and I puzzle over where our two thousand terrible black umbrellas have gone, as now it’s raining and we have only one. He doesn’t bring it up this morning, but most times when we’re on the subject John likes to note that the pebbled plastic hook on the common street umbrella reminds him of that embalming tool they used in ancient Egypt to take your brain out through your nose. Read More »
March 7, 2013 | by Tim Small
10:00 A.M. Having just quit my job (well, not just quit, but still) to dedicate myself to “my own projects,” I have the great luxury of being able to sleep until ten every morning. It’s disgraceful. I eat bread and butter and drink a cup of tea while I watch last night’s NBA highlights.
11:00 A.M. Yesterday I gave a copy of Train Dreams to my special lady, mostly because I started reading it again and it’s just a perfect-perfect gem of a book. I read more of it on the subway as I make my way to VICE Italy, my old office, where I have to pick up two pallets of new Milan Review books. They are both comics and they will both be presented at BilBOlBul, the independent comics festival in Bologna. One is the Italian translation of Prison Pit, a hilarious and ultra-violent graphic novel by Johnny Ryan, which is like a mixture between violent mangas, wrestling, and a twelve year old’s brain. I decided to title it Il pozzo di sangue, which literally means “the well of blood.” The other is called Rap Violent in the Ghetto Street and it is a collection of dumb, satirical comic strips about rap and new-age philosophy (but filtered through a weird take on Italian popular culture) by Dr. Pira, an Italian artist who specializes in terrible drawings with an amazing sense of humor. It’s very hard to explain to Americans, but Italians seem to get it. Read More »
February 19, 2013 | by Claire Cottrell
7:00 A.M. Wake up to dog barking and strong skunk smell in house. Fear that door to garden was left open and skunk is loose in house. Get out of bed to confirm. Garden door is not open and skunk is not loose. Go back to bed for thirty minutes.
7:30 A.M. Get out of bed. Wash face. Gather belongings, including black cocoon coat purchased for an imminent trip to Paris found for sixteen dollars the day before at a second-hand store. Head home to Mount Washington.
8:00 A.M. Arrive at home. Make tea. Take daily vitamins. Make new favorite quick morning oatmeal: half cup of oats, two heaping tablespoons of maple syrup, cinnamon, chopped apple, fresh dates, walnuts, boiling water. Settle in to enjoy oatmeal and tea. Realize that laptop, aka lifeline, is in Amos’s car. Freak out. Cancel all morning obligations, citing laptop debacle. Text Amos.
8:05 A.M. Amos drops off laptop.
8:10 A.M. Finish oatmeal. Finish tea. Resume all morning obligations. Including: reviewing reactions to Sybil’s sad demise on last night’s Downton Abbey, looking at Atelier Bow-Wow’s pet architecture—otherwise known as teeny tiny buildings on teeny tiny sliver of land—for an article, researching Bruno Munari’s useless machines for a contribution to the new arts journal, synonym.
9:15 A.M. Tackle e-mail. Respond to e-mails from three weeks ago. Debate including ‘apologies for the delayed response.’ Decide against it thinking, No need to always apologize. For all they know I answer e-mail every few weeks because I live in a cabin removed from civilization and spend most of my time in nature. Read More »