Amazing what Photoshop can do. On the left, he’s part of Russia’s roughneck OMON security service. On the right, he’s clearly guilty of “spreading information about non-traditional sexual behavior”, something that has just been outlawed by the slatheringly homophobic Russian government (and yes, this is a new picture but a very old Photoshop trick for people who don’t like OMON)
[Russia’s imperial double-headed eagle: church and state on the same predator. Tattoo by aethersb]
In closing statements largely ignored in Russia and overly praised overseas (“an instant classic,” says David Remnick, who has a history of hyperventilation about Russian dissidents), the three agitpunks of Pussy Riot each gave their own cri du tribunal.
The least windy of the statements came from Yekaterina Samutsevich, who described Pussy Riot’s “complicated punk adventure in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior” in simple terms: the Russian Orthodox Church shouldn’t be in bed with the Kremlin.
There is a certain faddishness to the fury in the west about the two-year sentences handed down on August 17 (Joshua Foust called it “worst sort of slacktivism”). But long after Alicia Silverstone stops sending Putin letters urging access to vegan food for the prisoners, the core question will still stand: why does the Orthodox Church allow itself to be an instrument of political power in Putin’s Russia?
More from Together They Fall on Roads & Kingdoms
Privyet, says the crawfish. This one is Russian—you can tell by the red of his carapace. He waves at you from the end of the kind of meal not easily forgotten, Moscow chef Ivan Shishkin’s Fat Party, held last year around the long table at Tapa de Comida not far from Trubnaya Station.
Shishkin—journalist, photographer, chef and raconteur—managed to make delicious a multiple course feast featuring dishes that were all or mostly fat. And here at the end, was this lean and lithe river creature, like a palate-cleanser, an after-dinner mint.
You may have heard about the news from Moscow this week. I have never met President Putin, but I have sat my hours in the Kremlin with his spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who is a delightfully diligent smoker (I don’t want to imagine what would happen if I tried to light up in Jay Carney’s office). Peskov is also a master of the art, to quote Luke Harding’s excellent post Why So Sad, Vlad, of ”You know I’m lying, and I know I’m lying, but—hey!—that’s the game”. So Peskov said that Putin was crying during his victory speech because of the bitter cold and wind.
What Peskov will not say is that those tears were a sign of pressure, a slight fissure in the iron. Simply put: it is no longer fun being Alpha Dog (as US Embassy cables called Putin). He may have won strongly and avoided an election run-off with one of the scabrous curs who were allowed to run against him, but he will have to be a different leader now. He no longer has political capital to blow on powergrabs and graft. So while the real opposition—the blogger Navalnys and old guard Limonovs—who got detained in the streets for protesting after the elections, may be in a dark mood, I think they have won already. Putin 3.0 will be different, because of them and the people that joined them. If he isn’t, then these people will rise and keep rising until Project Putin is over, for good.
Which brings me back to our friendly dinner mint from the river here. Shishkin’s other restaurant, a small speakeasy of a restaurant called Delikatessen located in some back Hof off the Ring, has become something of Stammtisch for me to call home in Moscow. It serves umami burgers and cherry-infused Bourbon to a mix of artists and photographers and tech entrepreneurs and retail workers and whomever else thinks it’s okay to put on a scarf instead of a mink when they go out to eat in Moscow. It is, in other words, just my kind of place. But it’s also, I think, a bit of a canary in the coal mine of Russian life. Not that that particular restaurant needs to survive—indeed, after being a complete sensation when it opened, it has now settled into a more regular crowd, not always crowded, but still always good. But that kind of place needs to survive, the kind of business that opens up because of a feeling that someone had that was unrelated to the structures of power and rivers of money or the national agenda set by Putin and his Kremlin. Maybe I’m not explaining it well, but Delikatessen is independent and that is a terribly important thing for Russian business, culture, life. There is so much of it now in Moscow, even the billions that the Kremlin is sending into high-tech haven’t overwhelmed the true entrepreneurial energy. Putin cannot control, or shakedown, or expropriate this feeling. He does not own the Fat Party. He never has. And if this crawfish had a middle finger, I know he would be raising it toward the Kremlin. —NT
Foreplay: Food Porn Just Before the Lunch Hour
Late night Khinkali on the Black Sea Coast
This was a long night, you can tell from this grainy mugshot of a photo, complete with the pack of cigarettes on the table (Kent 4’s in Russia, always Kent 4’s, because as the photographer reminds me as he smokes his heavy Kent 8s, I am a rank amateur).
If the Burmese enjoy their biggest meal of the day during the lunch hour, the people who live and fight and eat along the Black Sea coast, half a world away, eat big meals with fever late into the night and on until daybreak. How they do it, though, makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about drunk food. No plate of fried mess, no Denny’s Transfat Explosion. Rather, in Sochi, Russia, where this dish is handed out to night owls, each dumpling is made by hand. The dough is a thick, warm sheet folded around ground beef and lamb that luxuriate in a spiced sauce within. Even the haziest mind knows instinctively how to eat them: grab the dumpling at the top, where the dough is cinched, take a first small bite to drink the sauce from inside. Then eat the dough the meat your fingers in whichever order pleases you.
People who know the Caucasus will tell me that these are not generic dumplings: they are Khinkali, a signal Georgian dish made with pride by most all the non-Russian peoples of the Black Sea region. That is correct. But such is the willful blindness of the Russians of Sochi, a city that extends to the border of what was once Soviet Georgia. Sochi is the South Beach of the Black Sea, which is to say that it is a bit poorer but just as tastelessly neon and as relentlessly ordered around house music and hair gel. And Russian partygoers, from Omsk or Tomsk or Tula or the Taiga, can order what they call “local food” and still pretend that the food did not originate from—and still tastes better in—the land of their enemies, the Georgians.
That is the essence of Sochi, a place that just wants to look ahead to the 2014 Winter Olympics, that would rather not have any past. But it does have a past: at the same time as Americans were fighting the last of their genocidal Indian Wars, the Russian empire was taking the Circassian people who had always lived on this shore and putting them to death by war, disease and exile. The Abazas, Abkhaz, Ubykhs have survived elsewhere, just not really in Sochi. But here, drinking manfully after a long day of reporting—in part about the sad and forgotten history of the Circassians—I felt like the old tribes had left the photographer and I these gifts. Ground beef and lamb, wrapped softly in dough, paired with a half-dozen beers to help us all to eat, smoke, drink and forget. —NT
From a trip that predates Roads and Kingdoms, a fantastic slideshow of the work of the gentlest man who ever made a living recording brutality, Yuri Kozyrev. He and I traveled to Sochi for Time Magazine to document a story that is quite a bit less dangereux than the work that won him the Perpignan and Bayeux Calvados war photography awards this year. Still: the transformation of the tsars’ (and Stalin’s) (and Putin’s) favorite Black Sea resort town into the Winter Olympics host in 2014 is a good story, full of Kremlin power, oil money, and an embittered opposition. Read my take on it in Time. Then look at Yuri’s images on the website of his agency, NOOR. It’s a good story, but the pictures are even better. —NT
[Credit: Yuri Kozyrev / NOOR]
A wedding in GazProm’s resort complex, down the hill from where they’re building the stadium for the Sochi2014 endurance events. Turns out the editor of Sochi’s New Wedding magazine officiated the event. “The Olympics are a great brand for couples,” she told me. She hosts six weddings a month on that spot.
11/11/11 meant bridal mania in Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad is famous for its bridges, and there’s nothing more Russian than newlyweds putting a lock on a bridge to celebrate their union/bondage/enslavement. This bridge on the Pregel River near Oktyabrsky Prospekt was hopping with that particular metaphor.
The young men of Young Guard, the youth wing of Russia’s ruling party. Trying to understand what, besides careerism, would cause people in their 20s to get so excited about mocking the same opposition figures who are occasionally thrown in prison here, or to picket foreign embassies for perceived slights of Russia. Some of them, like our host Alyona Arshinova, are incredibly smart and talented. I just wish they picked on someone their own size.