I Paint Continents

From a student evaluation: “Thanks to Professor Clarissa I found out that there are countries not only in North America but in South America and elsewhere.”

I’m guessing that the student was trying to say “there are Spanish-speaking countries.” Or maybe s/he really just discovered that there are countries on other continents, who knows.

Who’s Your Favorite Absent-Minded Professor?

If somebody told me a story of a person who owned a photographic camera for 6 years before discovering that the big and very visible picture of a film camera on top of it meant that the camera could actually shoot motion film, I’d think they were exaggerating.

If they told me that the camera’s owner would only discover its capacity to shoot motion film after accidentally pressing the button and then staring at the recording in mute amazement for 20 minutes, I’d discard the story as unrealistic.

If they added that this person had a PhD and was considered very smart by their students and colleagues, I’d think this was a conspiracy to denigrate academics.

If they added that it was a woman, I’d decide that these were anti-woman ideologues who promote the idea that women are useless with technology.

If they said that this person was a Ukrainian, I’d dismiss the story as yet another attempt to present Ukrainians as simple-minded country yokels.

In short, I would have never believed the story if it hadn’t happened to me.

A Slow Arrival of Civilization

A growing, vibrant university has a great impact on a town. My older colleagues still remember how there were no clothing or grocery stores in the area and one had to drive forever to go shopping.

Now that our university is flourishing, we get new civilizational advances grace our tiny town on a regular basis. On this photo, you can see a coffee-shop that opened right next to my house. This is a very modern place where over 20 varieties of teas are brewed. I haven’t tried their snacks yet but from the description, they sound healthy and interesting.

Who needs Montreal when I can go to a real cafe with my book right here? The absence of coffee-shops where one could just hang out reading and blogging without having to travel all the way to some mall is what always bugged me here in the Midwest, especially in tiny towns. And now we have ourselves some real civilization, too!

The cafe looks empty on the photo but actually it’s surprisingly full for a place that just opened. I had to wait for a chance to take a picture without bothering any customers.

Russian Gossip

For some reason, this true story is very popular with people. In the past few weeks, I’ve told it half a dozen times and keep getting requests for a repeat performance. So I decided to publish it on the blog and then direct everybody who wants to hear about this to the published version.

Among the many “New Russian” millionaires and billionaires, there was this one guy who owned a chain of banks. He was extremely rich in spite of his fairly young age (the guy is a couple of years younger than I am.) His wealth is not surprising, however, given that his Daddy held a high rank with the KGB during the Soviet era.

See? This is a Maybach.

So one day the banker millionaire was driving down the street in his Maybach. Of course, just like any other self-respecting New Russian oligarch, he was accompanied by a cortège of vehicles carrying his bodyguards. As the Maybach was proceeding on its way, a battered old BMW (with no cortège) overtook it.

The New Russian banker was outraged. How come some insignificant little BMW was going to overtake him, an important business leader?

The banker’s posse stopped the BMW, dragged out the driver, and gave him a beating.

What the banker didn’t know, however, is that, even though the driver of the dinky little BMW didn’t have an entourage of bodyguards, he had something better. He had a girlfriend called Katya. And Katya had a father called Vladimir Putin.

Katya told her Daddy about the mean banker who beat her boyfriend and, of course, the doting father took care of the situation.

The banker is in jail now. All of his property, including the chain of banks and the Maybach, has been requisitioned for the benefit of the state.

The moral of the story: even people in dinky little BMWs can turn out to have important connections.