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Parts Unknown: Russia


When I'm not traveling, I constantly read travel essays or watch adventure shows. One of my favorites is "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," which now airs on CNN. Bourdain is a famous travel journalist, going off the beaten path and fusing his passion for food and travel in unique television content. Last night, his country of choice was Russia. He first visited the country in 2002, and decided to go back to see how things have changed in the past decade. You can see a short clip of his impressions here, and the full episode should be available online in the next few days. In general, the episode was disappointing because it primarily focused on Putin and politics rather than Russian people, or even food. Summary of Bourdain's observations:

(1) Russians think about Putin in the same way New Yorkers think about Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "He's a son of a bitch, but he's OUR son of a bitch."

(2) Bourdain's impressions of Putin - He's short, very short. "Putin appears to see himself as a manly man of the old school. By old school, I mean mid-period Stallone. He is fond of appearing in public with his shirt off while riding a horse or standing in front of a tank or holding a large gun. A Freudian might be inclined to quip 'sorry about your penis,' but there's no hard information as it relates to Mr. Putin's length or girth in that department." He does whatever the f*ck he wants, and doesn't care who likes it and who doesn't. Putin is no longer threatened by America, or any other country. "He's no pussy, and isn't afraid to do what's in his best interest, no matter how extreme it seems on the geopolitical scale." The episode was filmed before the Crimean situation erupted.


(3) Russians aren't united around one political idea or future for the country. This was the most interesting part of the show to me, when a young lesbian sat in a bar and explained the dichotomy between the "intelligentsia" centered in Moscow and the "sleeping bears," less educated folk in provincial towns, who most eagerly feed on Putin's conservative and nationalistic agenda.

(4) Businesses and deals in Russia are still achieved through a system of corruption. A lot of discussion about Sochi and Putin's judo buddies getting billion dollar construction contracts for the Olympics.

(5) Free speech in Russia is dead, especially when it pertains to bashing Putin. "There's nothing on the books that prohibits free speech in Russia, but in reality there are many obstacles." There's a long segment with Alexander Lebedev, who spoke about his declining status as a Russian oligarch and billionaire after he openly criticized Putin. Maybe he was even jailed, I can't remember? Another segment discussed the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

(6) He likes Russian food when it's home cooked, but doesn't think highly of Russian restaurants or service. He ate blini with caviar, herring, several Russian soups and, of course, drank a lot of vodka, particularly on the overnight train ride from Moscow to St. Petersburg. I suddenly wished I was on Russian Railways again, journeying over night to a new Russian city. :(

vodka

The episode became delightful once he arrived in St. Petersburg. All of my favorite Russian sites - a frozen Neva, ice fishing, the Hermitage, snow everywhere and the colorful streets of Peter!

Those readers living in the U.S. should definitely watch the episode when it reruns on CNN. For the rest of you, look for it on YouTube or cnn.com in the next few days. Btw, I learned during this show that Tchaikovsky was rumored to be gay, despite his marriage. Never heard this before. In the end, Bourdain concluded "This is Putin's Russia...any notion that Russia is a functioning democracy is a joke."

Do you agree with Bourdain's impressions of modern day Russia?

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( 118 comments — Leave a comment )
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girlspell
May. 12th, 2014 03:16 pm (UTC)
It's probably accurate. There has always been a climate of corruption in Russia whether Soviet or just plain Republic. The same in the Ukraine by the way.

Don't really know about modern Russia other then what my Russian Coworkers tell me. I think Russia's pride as deeply traumatized by the demise of Communism. They were seen as losers. Putin has restored it somewhat with a kind of manly swagger of taking back land (Crimea which should have never been given away in the first place.) So I can see why (currently) he's popular.

As for Peter Tchaikovsky. Yes he was homosexual. His brother Modest also. Peter did get married (as many in his genteel class did) I think his marriage functioned as well as they could under the circumstances. His wife did love him. She was 28 when she got married. Rather late for a women in her class and time.
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
Putin has certainly given Obama a big kick in the balls in the past year. This should be good for national pride. :) Tchaikovsky's brother also was gay? Interesting family dynamic when one or more siblings are gay. Did you see the controversy on the news today about the gay football player who was drafted and then kissed his boyfriend on live TV?
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ssh24
May. 12th, 2014 04:17 pm (UTC)
>Do you agree with Bourdain's impressions of modern day Russia?
yes. mostly
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 06:01 pm (UTC)
"Mostly." How does your impression differ?
mr_stepik
May. 12th, 2014 04:25 pm (UTC)
Answering your question: absolutely right, it is not democracy for sure. But I dont think it is a big deal here, I even dont believe that US's democracy model is the best model possible. But it is definitely not a democracy. If you ask me, I'd say it is much more close to fascism (without Nazism aspect of it).
andrey_kaminsky
May. 12th, 2014 05:04 pm (UTC)
Удачная шутка
Capitalism without private property and Christianity without Christ are very funny also!)
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livejournal
May. 12th, 2014 04:26 pm (UTC)
Parts Unknown: Russia
User hi_again referenced to your post from Parts Unknown: Russia saying: [...] Originally posted by at Parts Unknown: Russia [...]
nonneg
May. 12th, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
1) Yep
2) He'd seen too much Colbert's nipple jokes, but the second part of this statement is close enough
3) Isn't it the same in any other country?
4) True for not-so-small businesses. Small/family businesses meet just a bureaucracy mostly: too many papers, lot of controlling organisations, quite large taxes. e.g. to pay a person 100 rub. I have to pay government another 75 rub. http://cs312627.vk.me/v312627712/4c63/CPrjT6t58IU.jpg Frankly speaking this example is for "common tax system", not everybody use it, but it's true for me.
5) True. But free speech lives in the internet still.
6) Since you are a rare guest get ready to get drunk :)
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 06:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, number (3) is true in all countries. In America, even the politicians in the same party can't agree, especially with Republicans. :) Half of them are too conservative for modern day America, and they drag the entire party down. Republicans must find a moderate candidate to battle Hillary Clinton in the next election, or they have no chance. Re (6), last time I was in Russia I had no vodka and didn't get drunk once. This is a tragedy of epic proportions!! ;))
phd_paul_lector
May. 12th, 2014 04:42 pm (UTC)
(1) Many people I talked to used to think like that - before Crimea and etc. Now, they say "oh, he's clever, AND nwo we do not believe he has those 'billions in a Swiss bank' (otherwise he'd be afreid of them sanctions) AND he cares about our people out there - wish he'd cared as mus for our people here>.

(2) Knowing not what to tell I'd rather tell an (old) joke. Well, once President George W.Bush visits Russia and President Vladimir Petin invites him to go fishing in a picturesque place on Volga river. Well, for a couple of hours they are angling; both are shirtless but Mr.Bush keeps scratchinig and slapping himself as there are lots of mosqitoes. Now, Mr.Putin sits almost motionless. At last, the guest asks: "Vladimir, tell me, why the f***g mosqitoes do not bite YOU? You see, I feel as if half-eaten alive! So how comes the brats do not suck on your blood???
"Well, but of course they are not allowed to." Putin calmly replies.

(3) I got a lot of friends who are well-educated, including some writers, journalists, doctors and etc.; well, they believe that those who the 'young lesbian' referred to are rather 'office plankton' - managers of low and medium level, mostly living in scoial nets... I refrain from strong judgements though.

(4) A joke again, from the USSR times.
An American and a Russian talk about free speech.
The American guy says, "in America, I could go near the White House and shout out loud that our President is a bastard!
The Russian man retorts, "So, I am just as free to speak as you, I also could come to the Red Square and shout out loud that your president is a bastard!"

Personnally, I do not want to try. I do not think that our President is a bastard :)

(5) Wellm I have tried some excellent Russian cuisine. The fact is that during the USSR period most of it got lost. However, do you know that Georges Auguste Escoffier - father and king of haute cuisine - was under strong influence of the Russian cuisine, and not just in the terms of the 'service à la russe'?

Edited at 2014-05-12 04:43 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
Joke in (2) made me laugh!! :)) I don't consider office plankton below anyone else. I'm sitting at a desk all day, just like those people. That's why I wrote in another comment that most people falling into the "intelligentsia" category are elitist. They often come from high society families, or wealth, and thus cannot relate to the common man or their struggles. There are always exceptions, but this has been my experience in America, and also reading some of the bloggers on LJ who I believe fall into this category.
lovigin
May. 12th, 2014 04:43 pm (UTC)
good)
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 06:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Come visit us in America and make a video about our strange habits and culture. :)) We are waiting!
evg115
May. 12th, 2014 05:03 pm (UTC)
It is 'intelligentsia' , not 'intelligista'. Quite an interesting word. I believe there is no direct translation to English. This is explained (again) by our soviet past.

In general this word means "people whose proffession is linked to brainwork" like students, teachers, doctors, artists, scientists and so on. There is a specific (russian) shade to this concept though. In contrast to western word 'intellectuals', intelligentsia implies a mixture of messianism and intellectual elitism. This class always was opposed to official government (back to times of Russian empire). It had a perception that it it small but enlighted unlike overwhelming majority of contemporaries. And this makes them obliged to oppose to russian government in different ways (education of the masses, anti-government communities, call for armed struggle). Later during soviet times there also were many people opposed to government among intelligentsia. Dissidents are the most famous of them.

This explains the fact that russian (then soviet then russian again) government is at least highly suspicious to this class and closely watches its activity. There is a famous Lenin's statement that 'Intelligentsia is not a nations's brain, it is a nation's shit'.

Edited at 2014-05-12 05:06 pm (UTC)
andrey_kaminsky
May. 12th, 2014 05:10 pm (UTC)
Люблю такие вот цитаты из цитат
Lenin was extremely self-critical!)
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 12th, 2014 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Пьер Безухоff
May. 12th, 2014 05:04 pm (UTC)
Сколько раз было написано слово ПУТИН???
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 06:17 pm (UTC)
8 times!!
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sineglazzka2301
May. 12th, 2014 05:08 pm (UTC)
Yes, mostly true. What I can add, and it seems really dangerous to me - that Russian people haven't got any common national idea. We do not teach our children to pe patriotic ( damn, HOW it was done in the USSR!), I mean, consistently, throughout school.
And I'm really surprised that he didn't mention the roads - well, it' s spring again, and one can feel their 'beauty' with his ass when driving. However, if he visited only Moscow and SPB, then it's ok- the roads there differ much from the rest of Russia.
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 06:19 pm (UTC)
Well, he didn't experience the delight of Russian roads. :) But he rode a horse sleigh through some remote, frozen wilderness. This made me jealous, as I never got the opportunity to do so during any of my trips there.
(no subject) - siberian_cat - May. 12th, 2014 07:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
yacc11
May. 12th, 2014 05:17 pm (UTC)
I terms of politic: I do not agree - there're an opposition for the Putin in big cities. Even on TV you can see a lot of critics from big parties like KPRF of LDPR to Putin. And many internet resourses rather criticize Putin than support him. For instance - LJ :)

> when a young lesbian sat in a bar and explained the dichotomy between the "intelligista" centered in Moscow and the "sleeping bears," less educated folk in provincial towns
It's a typical opinion of a people that call themselves 'creative class'.
And I'm sure that this young person thinks that she knows evertything about all nation :)
andrey_kaminsky
May. 12th, 2014 05:36 pm (UTC)
Будем проще
No matter what this guy says, he confessed in love for vodka and now he is my friend.
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ambival
May. 12th, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC)
"a young lesbian sat in a bar and explained the dichotomy between the "intelligista" centered in Moscow and the "sleeping bears," less educated folk..."

eah, that's a real source of information... only young lesbians know the truth about world mechanics. And old KISSenger of course.
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
She was pretentious, but spoke about important issues like gay rights/acceptance in the country. Many diverse personalities were part of the show, including a group of older men still living in communal, Soviet type housing in St. Petersburg.
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ankol1
May. 12th, 2014 06:03 pm (UTC)
"He's a son of a bitch, but he's OUR son of a bitch."

What bitch is Medvedev son?

Edited at 2014-05-14 04:25 am (UTC)
qi_tronic
May. 12th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC)
1. Yes, First of all, when he came in 1999 I thought that he is a best blend of a patriot and a good economist.
At that time patriots did not understand economy at all and good economists were all liberals and traitors.
And he said exactly the same things I could say about the country!
He was one of us - just an ordinary Soviet guy.
Then was a period when I was a little bit disappointed because nothing really changed from patriot's point of view.
But now after restoration of the army, as we are moving towards a new Union, and especially after Crimea I really think that God saved Russia by giving it Putin (what He did not do for Ukraine :) )

BTW Nostradamus' prophecy for 1999 is:

In the year 1999 and seven months [July],
A great King of Terror will come from the sky.
He will bring back the great King Genghis Khan.
Before and after Mars rules happily.

In July of 1999 there was a sort of comet in the sky and warlords from Chechnya invaded neighboring Dagestan.
In August of that year Eltsin appointed Putin as a prime-minister.

In March ("Mars") of 2000 Putin was first elected as a president.
In March of 2014 Crimea was annexed.
Also, Mars means war.

2. I'm the same height as Putin - 170 cm. And my penis is average, not very short :)

3. Yes, "intelligentsia" thinks differently for almost 200 years now.
But that's all wishful thinking "why we are not Europe".
When they had a chance to rule a country the results were disastrous:

www. odnako. org/blogs/kasta-blagorodnih-donov-o-glavnoy-oshibke-sovetskogo-chelovekostroeniya/

4. I never felt corruption because I do not do business. Not competent here. For me it does not matter WHO got those contracts. Not me anyway :)

5. Free speech is not dead in Internet, definitely :)) Lebedev was not jailed, AFAIR.
Why do they all care about Litvinenko? He was a traitor, betraying KGB. A fully legitimate target to be killed.

6. I do not like eating in restaurants because I'm greedy.
But sometimes I'm very satisfied as it was in one place in St. Petersburg.

peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 07:27 pm (UTC)
"God saved Russia by giving it Putin." This is a very emphatic statement, and probably most of my readers disagree with you. But you always have interesting viewpoints. :) Even if Litvinenko is a traitor, it doesn't mean he should be poisoned to death! I don't wish death on those who betray America, but this is a personal opinion. Btw, who do you think disfigured Yushchenko? So many conspiracy theories.
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 12th, 2014 07:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Не доверяй ему - andrey_kaminsky - May. 13th, 2014 05:05 am (UTC) - Expand
rider3099
May. 12th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
>Do you agree with Bourdain's impressions of modern day Russia?

Completely and absolutely. There is no democracy in Russia.
I’d like to watch this episode!
peacetraveler22
May. 12th, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
They will replay this episode next Sunday evening, just look for it on CNN. Or, if you have Comcast as your cable TV provider, his show is "On Demand" so you can watch all the episodes. I like his personality - very sarcastic sense of humor and I find him incredibly handsome. :))
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