That band from Nashville just topped the album and singles charts in the UK for the week of September 28. Only By The Night sold 220,000 copies, second to Coldplay's release in first week sales of the year. I love the Kings of Leon, and they will never break through the market in the United States. The Followills are not Urban or Wannabe Country. Britney Spears and the divas debut dreadful dance diasters at Number One but it's a limited exhibition. Their records won't go diamond or even double platinum. Radio in the United States has no enthusiasm and the UK still has a cohesive market. If you can get airtime, congradulations you've made it. The Kings of Leon have suave energy that's perfect for the UK market, as well as discerning audiance. They make great music and they will never make it here in the United States.
The music here is mostly cut and dry, garagebanded and ghostwritten by the same usual suspects that are so far behind on the times. I love the Kings of Leon.
This ingrained culture sway poisons elsewhere as well. M.I.A's album Kala was released in August 2007 to widespread acclaim, finishing on many of the year's Best Albums list including the Number One slot in Rolling Stone and Blender magazine. But the highest place the lead single "Paper Planes" received worldwide was #18 in the Belgian singles chart. That was until the trailer for Pineapple Express debuted in July 2008 which incorporated the song. "Paper Planes" soon shot up to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and a parking space on TRL (RIP).
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I've been gone a long time but I'm still in one piece and away no longer. I spent four days in St. Petersburg and the highlight was the sunny weather. The city is northwest Moscow and five hours away by train. Train travel isn't glamorous or dangerously exciting, but smart operators humble themselves enough for a nap. Sergey and I must be proud in disguise because we ended up on the unofficial Kidz Kar, so napping was went out the window right before I debated whether or not to jump.
St. Petersburg is an interesting city. It was stubbornly built in 1703 on top of 48 islands in a swamp near the Arctic Circle and is the "cultural capital" of Russia, which actually means it's the only place in Russia with culture. Honestly. There were a few interesting particulars though. In most cities around the world, the lower class of people usual take up residence on the outskirts of the city, where the cost of living isn't nearly as expensive. St. Petersburg has quite a few older building that are very similar to each other smack dab in the middle of the city. Some bright young thing decided to renovate one, designating nine seperate apartments to each floor, but only one universal kitchen. The big spenders caught on and before long, low income residents dominated the central hub of the city. Fortunately for nightlife, it was mostly cash starved party hard college students that took up residence in these old buildings, thus giving St. Petersburg the unique cultural distinction.
Blond dreadlocks won't ever look good though.
I spend four days on my feet, walking around the likes of Peter the Great's summer gardens and the Hermitage, the old royal palace*official museum of Russia located right by the Neva River, which sounds awesome out loud when spoken with a great southern drawwwl. The best part about the four days there was definitely the sunny weather, which apparently is unheard of in St. Petersburg this time of year. Nothing else extraordinary happened though, which accounted for an overall A+ walkabout. I saw The Stooges live too.
My time here in Russia is closing soon and I'm trying my best to avoid retrospect right now. October 4th will come soon enough though and all my luggage will be under 50 lbs, cuz what I don't need gets left behind. Africa's next. Shake your dreads.
I still haven't figured out if playing basketball every day is beating a dead horse or not, but it's definitely gotten me sick. Trying to live on Tennessee time probably doesn't help either. This might be my first taste of college right here, being sick away from home. I'm not deathly ill and dying for the need for soup and crackers in bed, with my stacks of Calvin & Hobbes and the Jungle Book at my beckoned call. I'm not missing school either. Life's cheating me a little bit, but no matter. It builds character, but I still feel terrible at the moment. My head feels like fog going through the laundry machine. I eat a biscuit, and then pray I never see it again. No tissues here in Russia, just toilet paper. Tea is good, it just can't make itself. So I'm just around the house today, away from the cold. Cheers. I got to St. Petersburg tomorrow. You know how Tylenol is spelled in Russian? I have no idea.
It's no lie Russian loves Cuba, whether Cuba likes it or not. The two countries have shared political relations since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, when the Communist Party of Cuba headed by the Fidel Castro took over and established Cuba as the first socialist state in the Americas. Russia immediatly took notice of the sudden red flags down south and maintained notoriously curious snoops in the Caribbean until 1991, right after the Soviet Union toppled. But an elephant never forgets.
Two weeks ago, Russia played host to a little flair when four of the biggest names in Cuban music brought the closest thing to sunshine Russia has seen in a spell. It's been a long time since Cuba was brought up to speed at the University of Friendship Between Unamerican Nations and forced to study some extra Marxist dogma here in Moscow. But's that's not to say that Cuban influence in Moscow is completely limited to sunny festivals. Che is hawked here on more t-shirts and buttons than in Central and South America, ironically merchandized by the capitalist consumer culture he hated. But no matter. Russian happenings have been even more present in the news ever since the squabble with Georgia, mainly reporting on how the free world is sticking it back to Russia for "bullying" little Georgia. The European Union postponed talks with Russia. A celebration in Moscow yesterday was cancelled yesterday because the world reknown Scottish bagpipers scheduled to perform were a no show. Moscow has responded by going retro and bringing up the Cold War dark years. One senior military offical was quoted saying Russian nuclear bombers will now begin refueling in Cuba before heading to Russia after world flyarounds. Officials met with Cuban president Raul Castro to discuss possible oil exploration in Cuban waters. Since when did Russia suddenly need to look for oil outside of it's own deep freeze? Nah Russia just wants to be 90 miles away from where America goes to die and Disneyland.
But what does Cuba think about all this?
Unfortunately for Mochba, Cuba is climbing out of life in the past. Cuba is all about summer and Caribbean living. Why bother with being in the middle of US*Russia dramatics? If I wasn't off camping two weeks ago, I would have absolutely been at the Vive Cuba! festival. Buena Vista Social Club is fantastic summer music and seeing them in Moscow would probably be an oxymoron, but who's really keeping score? What my favorite thing about Cuba? The world's largest great white shark was caught in waters off Cojimar, Cuba in 1945. Cojimar is also the very same town where Ernest Hemingway wrote "The Old Man and the Sea."
So it's all my fault. I need to write more and make more happenings to write about. The miserable weather outside is waging war against the little bit of resolve I have left to venture around town. It's a balmy 38 degrees outside and it rains on and off, basically whenever I sneak out to see if it's raining or not. To make matters worse, Russia has no drains. The something on every curb that everyone in America takes for granted? Yuh so thanks to awful public facilitating, water pours down every slight incline, making alleys and sideswalk freezing flash floods in an instant. It does wunders for my vans.
The guys at the house have flat out given up, so it's usually just me stealing across town for whatever reason. I went to the Golden Bee event one afternoon to run away from a nap. "Moscow's international biennale of graphic design" was pretty interesting to say the least and confirmed some thoughts of my own. Russian artists were second to last in the overal Design catagory, barely in front of Japan. I played basketball with some guys on the best Russian club team here in Moscow. I went with my british friend Mac to an African church on Sunday. I'm finishing up War & Peace just to say I've read it and I'm doing college applications for the second September in a row. Free time is what you make it and I try not to make mine the slighest bit free.
A distracted mind simply focuses on too much at once, but every insight is just a figure of imagination until it becomes instrumented and acted on. Bedlam and Chaos don't inspire honest focus in most folks unless they were originally fashioned for a crazy pace. So here I am in the rain, all bundled up, trying to find my way home, mum to asking directions, no longer avoiding the ponds that crater all sorry pavement in Moscow, wandering past the same shoeless drunk who is drinking out the wrong end of the wine bottle again, and lost not only in route but thought as well. The next world stop won't be blessed with monster free time or social options, but it's all good. Same game, been starting.
The weather is on the verge of getting terrible here again and this time it's for good. The average temperature for September is a balmy 11.8 degrees Celcius. That's just autumn too, as in Not Winter. It just keeps getting worse. So what's there to do in Russia amist 50 degrees and rain? Use your imagination. Nothing at all. Cold weather spoils poor traveler's even mo poor social schedule. I'm down to my last english language book, which is unfortunately War & Peace. I don't even care about the romantic notion of enjoying War & Peace in it's homeland, it still reads like the back of a shampoo bottle. My poor social schedule looks even more dismal thanks to the weather. There aren't any more rasta festivals or rap battles in the park on the week's horizon, since there's no sun and cheer. I'm pretty sure every one especially me is starting to sulk over the weather.
Nah it's just me.
The rest of Moscow is thinking, "I'm so happy now. This weather finally gives me a chance to look......even more Miserable."
It's a unromantic version of the Summertime Blues.
No worries though, cabin fever will set in soon and that will be the death of me.
The New York Times recently finished some extended travel feature called the Frugal Traveler's Grand Tour. Some frugal traveler apparently not named Cathy Wallace set out on a 13 week trek across, above, and around 16 different european countries, living off only 100 euros a day, in search of the true roots of Western civilization. Even though he's probably some turtlenecked stiff getting paid four times more than his daily financial self-imposition, he does have some words of wisdom. I might have some words about his words.
-Think like a local
I find it hard to believe that this slice of advice comes as a surprise to people. This is no late night National Geographic deep in the jungle travel secret. It's God given common sense. Are there ever benefits to being glaringly obviously foreign when traveling overseas? Looking, spending, and acting like Spring Break at Disneyland is the obvious invitation to trouble not just in friendly white Europe, but everywhere in the world. People that don't act, spend, and generally think like locals when traveling are just proof that personality checks should be required when applying for visas.
-Make yourself useful
If the discomfort of travel makes people discover this life lesson, then everyone should throw themselves into the world at one point or another. Making yourself useful applies to situations way beyond working at organtic farms during extended vacations in Europe. Getting involved in the community around you is just an important opportunity for interaction and a way of keeping the mind, y'all. M.I.A. says it best. "Money makes you numb." Get out there and do something, because it's joy to the world and you as well.
-Rely on the kindness of strangers
A definite must when traveling on your own, and a constant reminder of Karma's influence over the daytoday order of things. Even though it's hard to figure out how legit the kindness actually is when you don't speak the same language, it's better to take your chances than be rude. No matter how unknown and horrible it is, just eat it and smile. You only live once.
-Generosity Trumps Frugality
It's no contradiction. Generosity trumps frugality and the generosity of Europeans is outrageous, in the very best way possible. From free meals to rides to even night stays, I've accepted and declined everything under the sun, even from the most frugal businessmen.
I can't really say I'm out to redefine Europe. Russia is hardly European. The only thing Russia might have in common with the rest of Europe is the time zone. I've got nothing to start with so there is no redefinitions on this trip. Except for maybe me
I'm a bit overwhelmed every day by the enormity of Moscow. It's not the amount of people as much as the size. Moscow's official population at around 12 million people but official records only counts legal citizens. During the tussle with Georgia, it was revealed that more Georgians live in Moscow than the entire country of Georgia. Moscow is huge. The socio-political measure of City Proper, which balances city populations with their approximate surface area to create an estimated population density, ranks Moscow as the world's 6th most populated city.
It done shows.
Despite the city's obvious metropolitan sprawl, there really isn't a downtown to Moscow, mostly cuz it's all one big downtown. There is no true Moscow Suburbia. Nashville has about 1,000,000 people that call it home, but the 1,000,000 naturally don't live in the city, hence the moniker Greater Nashville. There is no Greater Moscow because everyone lives inside the city. There are no downtown skycrapers, just several chance clusters scattered about. The land outside the last ring of old Soviet buildings looks like the Panama City beachline.
It's urban jungle fever and history is to blame.
Moscow began serious city clean up under Stalin's reign. The 1935 General Plan for the Renconstruction of Moscow, which involved widening streets and cutting roads through the mess of buildings and meandering lanes that choked major transportation, was created with the intent of urban renewal but the Stalinist ideal of modernism was hardly compatable with the older architecture models. As a result, the roads hardly experienced improvement reagrding transportation and the "curtain" buildings erected were basically pretegious looking facades that hid the wooden sprawl behind it. The fall of the Soviet Union and the financial explosion only seperated the class gap even further, creating in essence Two Moscows occupying the same space. The first is economically oblivious, whose wood shacks and kiosks are proof that architecture is hardly taken into consideration. The second is elite order of Moscow that is struggling to implement it's bottomless limit of exchange toward establishing global credibility through sugar coats of surface-leveled modern architecture. The American equivalent would be the upper middle class trend of buying everything on credit and living three time larger than your income allows you. But the personal consequences of credit are nothing compared to the consequences of Moscow ignoring it's own "big village" status in the ever growing Age of Technology.
They've got the robot thing down though.
I had the opportunity yesterday to walk around in the Department of Architecture and Urbanism and that's what got me thinking about all this. They had all these neat setups around the room for building plans and future construction projects, plus a huge to-scale map of Moscow in the very middle. Like I'm talking it was maybe 20 yards deep and wide and was covered with tiny detailed trees, houses, people, cars, etc. The presentations closest to the entrance dominated the scene, with choice lighting emphasizing extremely detailed models or future skycrapers and business offices, the main one is shown below with the train plus it's really near my house. To me, all the mirrored glass skyscrapers and postmodern architecture designs seemed like one big Russian reminder to itself that "yes! now we can be taken seriously", with a giant blind eye to the physical reality of delapidation, which are very literal reminders of what should be recognized and addressed, not ignored.
Now there's a bump on my head. It looks like a dinosaur egg.
If that dinosaur hatches, people are gonna think I'm some sort of prehistoric gentleman bird.
So I just got back from a week of camping at the Black Sea. The camping notion has never really moved me. Lord knows I make my fair share of mistakes but I'm not a fan of intentional digression, and camping to me seems like a notion for gumps that prefer the simplicity of living a few life steps backward. Camping might as well be called Staring because it's what's happening, besides sweating. After John Blonde's wedding in Krasnodar, we all piled in twelve cars and bounced three hours to some peninsula on the Black Sea. After the tents were all set up, everyone started madly collecting firewood, only to make soup in return. Soup is not the ideal camp food, but no one told Russia. The American camping spirit grills out and doesn't like to clean up, so all that's left over from a meal can just go in the fire, be it bones and napkins or Krispy Kreme boxes. That's about my speed.
The beach pretty much looked like a Charleston or Mobile beach except grasshoppers became the new crabs. The same weekday warriors swarmed the place though, complete with strollers and watermelon. There were noooooo waves. The dirty surf was filled with rocks and the water wasn't freezing, but cold enough to wake guys up at the aquatic moment of reckoning. A Russian trail of life stretched for miles down the bench and it was more subtle than just the vodka bottle litter around. The little Vlads haven't mastered the concept of sandcastles yet, so there were Herbie shaped lumps of wet sand piled for miles like African termite hills. I had no idea snakes were even in Russia until I stumpled across three on one beach stroll. Walking the beach was my vacation on vacation because I couldn't take the whole Swiss Family 300 air around camp. The Russian guys fellowshipped all day long, so I walked quite a bit.
I survived too.
The best part about the whole week was seeing the heavens at night. There actually is a few benefits to being out in the middle of nowhere on a beach. The Milky Way graced the entire sky at night and it just blew my mind.
There is nothing more frightening and beautiful than Space.
All in all, the sun, the beach volleyball, freetime, shells, and the Milky Way made up for the soup, the heat, smoke, the nude, and everything Russian of the trip and I was glad to leave. Me and the two Antons took a bus to Krasnodar, spent the night, and woke up early again to catch another train to Rostov where we then would fly to Moscow. Since Russia has essentially three months of good weather, the whole country dashes to the Black Sea for the summer and leaves the last week of August, so all the flights from anywhere near the Black Sea were $700+ so we frugally traveled inland. To mostly my dismay, Rostov was hardly frugal.
At this point, it's understood that particular attention to custom service in Russia is flat out made up and should never be hoped for. Corruption should not have to be anticiapted either, but oh well. I had to leave 4000r rubles under a police hat across the airport to avoid two days in jail because I was traveling with a "unregistered" passport.