20 July 2007

Al Bundy in Ekaterinaburg

One of my loyal readers has complained that my blog posts are little hodge-podges of half-completed thoughts with links. My first reaction was, “Duh, have you ever met me?” And my second thought was, “Well, they’re like that because the way I read a blog is to just skim for interesting content and links. I follow the links to garner my own impressions.”

But then, I had a third thought. I did say that this blog was going to be to keep people in touch with what I’m thinking and doing out here. So I’ll try to be a little more expansive and a little less “link-happy.” And I’ll try to write more about what I’m up to, and less about what I’m reading, though I’ve always had a problem distinguishing between the two.

It really is an occupational hazard as most of my time is spent either reading for my dissertation or doing language homework. The first activity I won’t write about on here very much unless I get a funny archive story since (a) I don’t want to “leak” my results in a messy forum like a blog and (b) it’s nice, for me, to do some daily writing that isn’t about the 1920s and 1930s. The second activity is even more boring than the first, unless you really are curious about the many prefixes for the verbs dumat’ (to think) and govorit’ (to say).

(Funny dissertation side-story: I was amazed yesterday when the landlord came over to give me a vacuum-cleaner attachment and asked about my work. I described my dissertation briefly and her first question was, “Will you write about John Reed? Do Americans remember John Reed?” I said that some do, but not many. And I mentioned the movie “Reds.” Now I’m wondering if I can find a copy of the movie for her on DVD that will play in Russia. But how silly does it feel to buy a Warren Beatty film about the Bolshevik Revolution in Moscow?)

The other thing I do, aside from trying to shop for obscure groceries, is to practice Russian comprehension by watching television.

(On the grocery front, horseradish was this week’s quest. Translate into Russian the following dialogue: “Do you sell horseradish here? / What? / Horseradish, do you sell horseradish here? / Horseradish, no. What nationality are you? / I was born in America, but my father is from India [the only answer that isn’t considered a dodge] / I see. Come again.")

(If anyone starts complaining about my long parenthetical notes, I’m just going to give up on this blogging thing, O'Kei?)

TNT—Feel the Love

By far, my favorite channel here is TNT. For the most part, prime-time television here consists of poorly-dubbed American hits such as The Shield, Criminal Minds, and CSI. But TNT, a comedy channel, offers original Russian-language programs, that aren’t so original, but are perfect for a language-learner like myself.

Счастливы вместе (Happy Together) features the Bukins of Ekaterinaburg, a middle-class Russian family consisting of a dad whose job is unclear (at least to me), a mom who asks for money all the time, a ditzy blond daughter, and a short loser son. The neighbors are a happy young couple. That’s right – they moved the Bundys to Russia. The laughs are obvious and there are no complexities to any of the relationships. In other words, it is a dream for language comprehension. I could watch this show all day long, but limit myself to watching it during dinner.

If dinner runs long, I get to catch Такси (Taxi), a game show featuring the charming and charismatic host Aleksei Kulichkov. The shtick here is that Aleksei picks up unsuspecting riders looking to get from Point A to Point B. In order to keep it realistic, Aleksei makes sure to haggle over the fare before letting the riders in. But once the fares are in the back, they notice that this is a “strange taxi” when the music and lights come on and Aleksei tells them that they’ll get a free ride and a chance to win up to 10,000 rubles ($400). But they can only get three wrong answers between Point A and Point B, else they win no money. Furthermore, the questions go from simple to complicated to super-complicated (super-slozhnyi) as the ride progresses. What’s nice about the program is that I learn little bits of Russian trivia and get to hear random non-scripted talk. The problem is that I now want to start every conversation with an imitation of Aleksei’s ringing “Let’s Ride!” (Поехали!) and say goodbye with “Laters!” (Пока-пока!).

Climbing up the scale of difficulty, on Friday nights I treat myself to Смех без правил (Laughter without Rules) with hosts Павел "Снежок" Воля (Pavel “White Boy” Volya) and самый известный российский гладиатор Владимир "Динамит" Турчинский (the most famous Russian gladiator Vladimir “Dynamite” Turchinskii). The show is a stand-up comedy competition judged by three well-known comics and hosted by two goofy guys who throw you off the stage if you get booed by the judges. Now, when it comes to the jokes, I generally only get the simple stuff, missing the cultural references most good humor is built on. But it’s good practice, I figure, and Dynamite and White Boy are engrossing hosts. Highly recommended.

TNT also airs a number of sex and “women’s issues” shows that I frankly find less interesting, though I’ve given them all at least one chance. Секс с Анфисой (Sex with Anfisa) is a sex advice program aimed at young people, I think. The one episode of Клуб бывщих жен (The Ex-Wives’ Club) I caught was a make-over show, transforming a woman wrecked by a terrible first marriage. Женская Лига (Women’s League) is a comedy carousel of bad skits demonstrating feminine foibles and men’s hang-ups. Lastly, there’s Дом-2 (The House-Season Two), which like its American counterpart The Real World, mainly showcases young people in their underwear talking nonsense. I’ve never watched more than three minutes of it so I can’t tell you anything else.

Translation Help?

The other place I try to pick up more colorful language is the trashy detective novel Я – не бандит (I’m Not a Gangster) that I’ve been working through for the past two weeks. The problem is that my dictionary is no help for what I assume are the most colorful passages. So I’ll post them here for help. If they are too ugly, feel free to email me the translations instead of posting them.

In the first translation problem, I understand the words, but not the meaning. The main character, Rodion, recalls falling in love with his girlfriend long ago, before getting sent to prison: «Девчонка, она класс, вся школа по ней сохнет.»

The second difficult passage came up, if I recall correctly, during a tense moment of pre-fight banter between gang leaders: «Чо, из-за биксы разборка?» I don’t remember the exact context, but I can find it, if needed. I’m hesitant to ask my language teachers or landlord for fear of offense.

Final Thoughts

As I started this post speaking of loyal readers, I will note that I am a little saddened that not one of you noticed the genius of the photo included with the “Clash of Civilizations Trotted Out Again” post. If you look closely—that is, beyond the Russian in a head-dress—you will notice in the background an angry skinhead papa taking in the scene. Was he unhappy to see a white guy dressed up as an American Indian, a “southern” worker sweeping the sidewalk, or a dark foreigner taking snaps? All of the above? We’ll never know, I suppose.

And three unrelated things I read this week:

1. Pakistani-American Woman Contractor Left Scarred by Iraq Service
2. Calcutta (Kolkata) Gets a Modern Art Museum
3. Instructions on Installing Phonetic Cyrillic Keyboard

p.s. The good news is that the hot water returned yesterday.


Didi said...

They really should do a Russian version of Perfect Strangers, after Happy Together. Am I genius or what.

McFly said...

I really like the re-created conversations. Include more of those! But don't leave out your thoughts on your reading! Basically, you should be making entries to this blog all the time. As for Russian tv, what about "Wait for Me?" I've never seen it but I really want to. Share thoughts, in a thinking yet feeling way. Please.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Didi, this is genius, down to the next-door neighbors who work for Aeroflot. The problem is avoiding confusion over who's Cousin Larry and who's Balky when explaining the big city ways of Moscow.

McFly, I've heard of "Zhdi menia," but never watched it. You know they have a website that's partially in English and has some video clips too: http://www.poisk.vid.ru/?l=1

My connection's too slow for video, but I hope you enjoy it.

Will try to get back to my reading so I can report on it. Soon.

tamasha said...

Just found this in the Times.