Tuesday, June 28, 2011


At some point last year, friend and fellow Mytishchi teacher Katie told me about a lesson she did featuring a "river of life." (actually, I think I just happened to see her lesson plan and gave her a look. To her credit, I am pretty sure it was from the book) She later told me that after she drew her own personal "river of life" on the board, her students immediately translated the title into Russian and looked skeptical. As if they intuitively knew it was extremely lame. A fair assumption in my book.

So when I went to see the movie The Tree of Life with some friends on Sunday afternoon, I immediately suspected it might be kind of cheesy. People who know me know that I do love cheesy movies. In fact, I am capable of enjoying basically any movie (except I refuse to watch most in the horror genre). Oh how unprepared I was...

I'll start with this, the description from IMDB: "The impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith."

... is that what it was about?!

The movie starts out slowly, with scenes of two parents receiving (separately) the news that a son had died ca 1970s. A little disjointed, lack of dialogue, but the drama is there, and it's the beginning of a movie. No concrete plot is set, but there's potential at this point. After a few scenes like this with Brad Pitt and the mom , it jumps ahead to scenes with Sean Penn (who I can only assume is one of the sons as an adult? but who knows... it's not like he says or does anything), set what looks to be about 30 years later (modern day-ish).

Then, there's about 20 minutes of what could be Discovery Channel's Planet Earth, followed by 5 minutes of what resembles a PIXAR-animated Land Before Time. Yes, there were dinosaurs (you might be thinking, "wow, this movie has it all!" and you would be wrong).

As soon as that all began, it jumped to scenes almost exclusively of the boys in their childhood and the family dynamics; it almost felt as though you were watching a normal movie (if you couldvforget about the pure weirdness that had just happened), only with a serious lack of dialogue, purpose, and continuity between the parts. That is, it lacked anything that could have made it interesting.

Most of the time I sat there in a state of total disbelief, occasionally glancing at my movie-going companions to compare reactions. On a couple of occasions I broke out laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing. By the time the movie ended (it's a solid 2 hours and 18 minutes, every single one of which pass slowly and painfully), we were applauding (with relief) and I was laughing hysterically with tears of confusion streaming down my face. As we all stood up, our attention was drawn to the fact that the seat of one of my friend's broke at some point during the movie (toward the end, as I understood it). That chair knew just how to feel.

We walked out of the theatre, Anastasia apologizing for suggesting the movie, still in a general state of shock. We disbanded and agreed never to speak of it again. Sure it's possible I just "didn't get it", but isn't it equally possible that the movie just sucked? I haven't seen anything that bad since Visioneers (a movie I had entirely forgotten about until recently). If you're familiar with the HBO series Entourage, I imagine this film is a lot like MedellĂ­n.* All in all, I wish I had spent my time and money seeing Cars 2.

p.s. I'll give it credit for a few things (which by no means make the film worth seeing): featuring Austin's Barton Springs Pool, the general imagery of central Texas that I love, and the seriously adorable boys playing the roles of Brad Pitt's children.

*except in Entourage, the movie is acknowledged as awful, whereas in real life critics are retarded and seem to think this was a good film. it makes me feel like i'm in some kind of opposite land.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And what have I been doing in Russia?

...Getting a tattoo of St. Basil's Cathedral, of course.

Polly and I had been discussing getting tattoos from early on in our stay in Moscow. We even shared a moment of connectivity when we simultaneously joked about getting a St. Basil's tramp stamp. Several months ago, as we began to become aware of the quickly approaching end, we started investigating the details more seriously. Polly came across this article and we decided to go with Serafim as the artist. His website, http://tatty.ru/, much like himself, is reminiscent of US biker culture. His tattooing style is influenced by the original American style of tattoos. Other than what he said for the article, there were a couple of policies he states that impressed me. One is that they don't do satanic tattoos because they believe in god, and they don't do nazi related tattoos because their grandfathers fought in WWII. They ask that you don't drink 12 hours before getting the tattoo and they don't want people in the studio under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

First up was Polly. She had been the one to initiate communication with Serafim, telling him what we were both interested in, and arranging the time and date of our first meeting. The studio is fairly easy to find, given the complexity of the directions (go to this address, but to the back of the building. find the door with the sign for the sports club, ring the bell, go downstairs into the gym tell them you're looking for the tattoo studio).

Serafim met us, then identified Polly and asked her to come back with him. Roughly 45 minutes later (while I sat in the lobby, hoping Polly had not been killed and I was next), Polly emerged with puzzled laughter explaining that it was done.

it reads, roughly: i purposefully go unkempt, with my head, like a kerosene lamp, on my shoulders. a quote from a Esenin poem

Next Serafim and I discussed what exactly I wanted, which was still a little unclear to me. I, at some point, had decided I really did want St. Basil's (it's hard to explain exactly why. I can only say it's one of the most beautiful and remarkable things I've seen in my life), but on my ribs, not lower back. He discussed it a little with me, then told me he was going on vacation for two weeks and didn't want to start just yet. Excited but disappointed, we left.

About 3 weeks later, I finally returned to the shop with my friend Dan in tow for moral support. The initial excitement had somehow worn off, but extreme nervousness remained. He showed me a drawing, which I initially thought was a little small, but once he placed it on my skin realized was perfect, then kicked Dan out. He only works with himself and the recipient in the room, which was a little disappointing at the time but, to me, only adds to his professionalism. About 3 hours and a lot of swearing later, we had an outline:

skin still irritated and everything

We scheduled another meeting for a week later to do the fill. While it only lasted an hour and a half, it was definitely one of the most painful experiences of my life. We had hoped we would be able to finish it on that second meeting, but Serafim, sensing my agony, suggested we have one more session.

Small, low quality photo of a partially completed tattoo

I decided to wait a little more than a week for the next session, given how much the area still hurt after only a week, and finally returned last Tuesday to finish it off. The final session hurt the least (as there was the least to do) and only lasted about 45 minutes. This was the end result:

I am not even close to as tan as this picture makes me look

I have to say, from the very beginning I was 100% comfortable with Serafim as the artist. He is a genuine, easy going, talkative person. As a tattoo artist, he has an excellent eye for what does and does not work, and I trusted his judgement (on size, on colors, on exact location, on the small amount of background he wanted to add, etc) completely. I couldn't be more pleased with the end result, and am actually sad I won't see Serafim again anytime soon--though I will probably have my other tattoo touched up by him, along with the red in the cathedral brightened at some point in the fall when I have money again. Speaking of the cost: it wasn't cheap. Serafim has the attitude that because there are so few licensed tattoo artists in the area he has a little bit of a hold on the market and can charge what he feels is fair. And I totally agree with him. A tattoo is a lifetime investment, and there are risks involved that are minimized when you go with someone as professional as Serafim. It was worth every kopeck and moment of pain.

It should go without saying that I highly recommend Serafim Tumanov if you're considering getting a tattoo done while in Moscow (or, even if you weren't considering it).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Oh, are you still here?

If there's one thing I've learned about myself over the past 10 months in Russia, it's that I'm an unreliable blogger.

I was officially DONE teaching on Monday, June 6th. So there's that. I feel a little like I'm floating. I have my summer more or less planned out, but I'm basically doing nothing for the next two weeks. And that's weird. I have enough money saved to support myself until I start working again in September, so that makes it difficult for me to be motivated to find some private students.

I'm wondering right now: why is it so satisfying to throw things from great heights?

To be perfectly honest, this is a sad time for me. My infrastructure of friends for the past several months is collapsing in front of my eyes. Matt has gone home for the summer (but returns in the fall), Polly leaves for home (permanently) on Thursday, and Dan leaves on June 28th (the day before the much anticipated Gogol Bordello concert, to which I already have tickets and a date!).

I'm sad about all of these departures, but most of all about Polly leaving. We've seen each other about 3 times a week for the past 10 months, and life is just not going to be the same without her. It's rough, man. I can't put into words how awesome I think she is, and how fulfilling it's been having her as a friend. Ok, enough sappy emotional bullshit.

Maybe I've already mentioned it here, or maybe you have inferred already, but I decided to come back to LL for another year of teaching. Mostly for lack of anything better to do, though I hope it will be my last year teaching English FOREVER. Steps are already being taken toward my secret master plan.

In short: I am very sad about people leaving, very excited about my myriad summer plans, and very interested to see who and what the new academic year brings to Mytishchi come September.

p.s. I am madly in love with Eugene Hutz