A Positive Post About Russia

By huge popular demand (well, actually it was more like a request from one reader, but still), I am offering to your attention this list of positive things I have to say about Russia.

1. First and foremost, I have to thank the country of Russia for producing my husband N., a.k.a. the most wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, talented, and phenomenal man in the universe. Such an amazing man justifies a country’s entire existence.

2. Food. Did you know that the traditional Russian cuisine was always considered among the healthiest in the world? Of course, it was destroyed after 1917 and many of the traditional recipes were lost. However, today there are many talented young chefs in Russia who are recovering the culinary traditions. This is really great food, folks. The Russian cuisine uses  all kinds of seafood, very little beef, a lot of poultry. The traditional baked goods are to die for. Maybe I will share a couple of recipes with you in the future.

3. Film. I always say that movies are not art. However, the people who have come the closest to making movies that are works of art are, without any doubt, the Russians. I have not seen a film director anywhere in the world who would deserve to clean the Russian directors’ boots. Almodovar is a little boy compared to them. And the kind of actors you see in Russia are not to be find anywhere else. Of course, I can’t drag myself to a Hollywood movie more than once a year after being raised on this amazing film tradition.

4. Tea-time. Of course, many cultures drink tea. However, for Russians, tea-time is a very special ritual. In the evening, a family gathers round a table, drinks tea, and talks. The entire thing lasts for hours. We don’t have anything like this in Ukraine, and I always envied the Russians their tea-time.

5. Intelligentsia. This is a very special social class that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. You don’t get membership to it through possessing a certain amount of money, a certain kind of education, a certain profession. This social class is indifferent to riches, social distinctions, or any formalities. The only way to be a member is to possess a certain kind of sensibilities, a heightened sense of tact, a special inflection to one’s voice, a certain code of behavior. As vague as this sounds, I know within 20 seconds of meeting a person whether they are part of this social class, and this is not something one can fake. It makes a lot more sense to me to distinguish among people on the basis of their sensibilities than their income bracket.

I can’t think of anything else right now, but this is a good start.

58 thoughts on “A Positive Post About Russia

  1. // The traditional baked goods are to die for. Maybe I will share a couple of recipes with you in the future.

    Please, do! Those are piroshki, not sweet cakes, right?


    1. Why are you shocked? The story about the cafe is really great.

      I have recently had a chance to look at North American books for toddlers that my niece has, and let me tell you. . . that is what’s really shocking. My sister has to redo them as she reads them out loud to change crap like “changing the world, curing diseases and going to the moon is what boys do!”


      1. The story about cafe is the story of the heroic fight against the poisonous mcDonalds, in which food evil Americans (aka “the enemy of the people”) add “powder of happiness”. Reminded me of “libido increasing gum” that Palestinian propaganda accused Israel of distributing.
        (куда враги родины подмешивают вредный химический «порошок счастья»)

        The next story has the heroes being rewarded by Putin and Medvedev, instead of old beloved “grandpa Lenin”:

        «были приглашены в Кремль на прием к очень высокому начальству. За создание городка Пузик получил золотые часы из лап лабрадора Конни». Тут же корявенько нарисованы Владимир Владимирович и еще некто. То ли охранник, то ли Дмитрий Анатольевич.

        Extreme pro-Putin, anti-West propaganda in guise of children’s stories.


        1. “The story about cafe is the story of the heroic fight against the poisonous mcDonalds, in which food evil Americans (aka “the enemy of the people”) add “powder of happiness”.”

          – But it is poisonous and the kids should know it. This vile garbage is now poisoning kids all over the world and it’s great to see that somebody is trying to get the children to see that. Obesity rates are through the roof in Russia. It’s a huge problem. Any responsible parent should keep their child as far as possible from these horrible places. It’s better to feed them off a garbage heap, seriously.

          “Extreme pro-Putin, anti-West propaganda in guise of children’s stories.”

          – I hate Putin but I see nothing specifically pro-Putin here. Even small kids know he is the leader of the country. I don’t see a problem with depicting that in a book because it’s a fact of objective reality.

          “The next story has the heroes being rewarded by Putin and Medvedev”

          – Putin and Medvedev do give out medals to people who achieve important things. This is literal truth and I see nothing bad in children knowing about it.


  2. You also forgot about classical Russian literature. And arts, in general: music, paintings, etc.

    Science? Must be more than 1st man into space.

    Doing the most to defeat Nazism.


    1. I actually think that Russian literature – with the Silver Age being somewhat an exception – is very secondary, parochial and based on imitating Western geniuses. Everybody in Europe and the Americas produced a better literature than the Russians.


  3. Ha! You’ve gotten me started. 🙂 As formally a member of intelligentsia in at least fourth generation, I have to say that intelligentsia is highly overrated. I actually often refuse to be counted as a member when someone tries to count me in. As an insider I know there is a lot of unjustified snobbery, and otherwise it is just a somewhat special variety of typical post-SU psychological and moral problems (widespread also in Chinese or Iranian cultures, for example). These problems can actually be more severe and more damaging (both to individual and to those around him/her) than the problems of those using word “bl***” as every third word in the sentence. 🙂 Instead of English “like”, I mean… 🙂
    If, on the other hand, you just want to define intelligentsia as the most grown up, psychologically healthiest, and highest personal integrity part of the educated class – then I fail to see anything specifically Russian in this phenomenon.


    1. I think you are using a very formal approach to defining intelligentsia. These are people who are ultra-comfortable to be around, not people who have worked in some Soviet KB and recite Solzhenitsyn. I know the kind of Soviet snobs you mean and I would never consider them intelligentsia irrespective of how many degrees they have accumulated.

      As for psychological issues, these are people who’d never expose others to their psychological problems, so I wouldn’t know.

      I have met some Russian intelligents and I never saw anything like this mix of tact, sensitivity, extremely good manners, and kindness even in the most amazing people from other cultures. They always fall a little short on tact and sensitivity.


  4. You feel about movies as I do about painting.

    I don’t feel like they are art, even though most people use them as the canonical definition of art. They just do nothing for me personally, though some of them are pretty to look at.

    Music is what I consider the highest art, really.


      1. I think that you have a narrow definition of art, or perhaps a vaguely romantic one. Also, literature, the books that you read and has been ‘filtered’ by reader’s and editor’s expectations, is a product of many people (but not of a ‘crowd,’ admitedly).

        Anyways, I also struggle with the idea of making art, animated or else, with computers, but that is only personal taste.


        1. “Also, literature, the books that you read and has been ‘filtered’ by reader’s and editor’s expectations, is a product of many people ”

          – This is not nearly the same kind of input one gets from screenplay writer(s), director, actors, director of photography – the list is endless.

          “I think that you have a narrow definition of art, or perhaps a vaguely romantic one.”

          – It works for me. I’m like the SC Justice, I can’t say what art is but I know it when I see it. 🙂


  5. Here are Russian things I like. Vodka. Russian tearooms like the one in San Francisco. Kandinsky. Russian accents (in English). I love Frank O’Hara’s love for things Russian, like Pasternak and Maiakovski.

    Things I don’t like: Brodsky. People wearing CCCP tee-shirts in the US.


        1. There was this horrible alcoholic dentist who destroyed two of my teeth. She was completely drunk and infected them! I was only 9 years old so I didn’t realize she was behaving erratically because she was drunk. I’d never even seen a drunk person before.

          Why don’t you like Brodsky?


      1. Brodsky is great in Russian, or so I am told; I am agnostic on that question; but he is awful in English translation, especially when he thought he could translate himself or write poems in English.


    1. Which is best tearoom nowadays? I must go to SF soon-ish and have the idea of theming the trip Russian.

      Also seeking SF or, I guess, Houston restaurant with actual Russian food, not just bakery and not just a few Russian-American standards. Or better luck in L.A.? A Russian food truck would also be of interest, are there any in Queens or other Russian zones of US?


      1. The thing is, what you will get served at a Russian restaurant in North America will be Soviet food, not Russian food. It is surely a curious thing to try and I definitely dig it but it is very unhealthy and has nothing in common with the original. Soviet food is what Soviet people invented to make up for lack of any fresh ingredients. Everything basically drowns in mayonnaise.

        The really Russian cuisine is only beginning to be recovered back in Russia. Here, the immigrants do their own thing out of nostalgic reasons.


        1. As for the tea, I have no idea why the Russian always makes perfect tea while I always end up making what we call “orphan Hassia’s pee.” I do exactly what he does under his close observation, yet my tea is crap and his is delicious.

          Of course, I’m vindicated by my phenomenal borscht that no Russian person can replicate. I once ate something called “borscht” at a Russian restaurant in New York. With every spoonful, I laughed harder and harder until the whole restaurant joined me without even knowing why I was laughing.


        2. I want Опеканная уха, solyanka and shchi. The reason I have become interested in Russian food is that I looked it up on Wikipedia. Allegedly Russian food I have occasionally had in US is … well, yes. Food in Cuba amazingly bad for same reason (if you are not in tourist buffet or eating black market vegetables).


          1. I never even made shchi in my life because the real authentic recipe is very intimidating. You have to make it, then freeze it, then let it stand, then unfreeze it, reheat it, and only then eat it.

            N. also never even tried real shchi. What they ate instead was a sad version of a vegetable soup and called it shchi. Which is not the same thing.

            Ukha, though, mmmmmmm! My great-grandmother used to make it. I still remember the taste and the aroma.

            OK, I’m getting hungry.


  6. “Also, nowadays, when it’s all done on a computer and we don’t even have a clue how these “actors ” look, it’s all completely fake.”

    I agree. But this is not what I’m talking about. However, your definition is at least more clearer in my mind now.

    “A computer can’t produce art.”

    So, animation cartoons are never art?


    1. “So, animation cartoons are never art?”

      – I have never seen one that would even remotely come close. Hypothetically, I can imagine one existing, something that a talented programmer creates on a home computer. But I’ve never seen any cartoons that would be art.


  7. I’d like more info on moviemakers,

    What I know… not much.

    Tarkovsky – Solaris and Stalker are both very good (prefer the latter) and Andrei Rublev is one of my favorite movies ever – a three hour fictionalized black and white biography of a 15th century icon painter, oh and there’s no plot – what’s not to love?
    A lot I guess, I once dragged a friend (who claimed to be into ‘cinema’) to a showing and she didn’t forgive me….. ever?

    I’ve also seen some penultimate CCCP stuff – Moscow does not believe in tears, Oblomov (another, better movie by the same director). Okay but hardly earthshaking.

    What else is worth catching (and how?)

    And if movies aren’t art then what about theatrical performances? Those are also collective enterprises (at least the final product, the performance, is)


      1. No, I meant the same director as Oblomov (Unfinished piece for player piano was the English title) the latter was better than the former.

        MDNBIT was just an American tv movie of the week, competent but nothing more.

        Oblomov was kind of unfocused and a mess while the player piano was somewhat better (though the director pulled some of the same tricks in both).


        1. “Oblomov was kind of unfocused and a mess ”

          – I’m not crazy about the movie, but it is supposed to be unfocused, like the character’s life. The character is a very typically Russia phenomenon. 🙂


  8. // El, they are rewarded not by Putin, but by his dog. Connie is actually the name of Putin’s dog

    I like the dog’s name. Didn’t know Putin had a dog. Btw, is there some tradition about US President having a dog? Why? In Israel it isn’t like that RE dogs or, in general, having to present a “perfect family” of wife, kids & a dog, which I suppose is what the tradition is about.


    1. I hate dogs. And I hate people who inflict their vicious animals on innocent neighbors. It’s a good thing I don’t have a gun or a car because neighborhood dogs would not survive.


  9. Tea-time sounds like a very healthy, mentally hygienic ritual. I may have to see if I can adopt that from the Russians. My grandmother would have a sort-of Russian tea-time in her house, but she always added a thimbleful of booze to her tea…


    1. Oh, yes. Tea-time is indeed a mental health ritual. Even just preparing the tea can lower blood pressure and stress levels. 🙂


  10. I knew about the Russian intelligentsia, and I agree that that’s awesome and wonderful. I wish we had one; I’d like to be part of it.

    I don’t know anything about traditional Russian cuisine, though. I’d certainly find recipes interesting if you wanted to post them.


  11. Well, shchi is difficult then like curanto in Chile, would have to be cooked in a group. I had the idea one might be able to get pre-Soviet Russian food in SF because they have been there since 19thC, but it is unrealistic after so much time and I don’t remember there ever being more than bakeries and delicatessens.


  12. BTW Clarissa, you say that most Russian food served in restaurants in North America is really Soviet food. Does this mean that the books on Russian food one can buy in English are primarily Soviet food as well? For example, if I go to Amazon and type in “Russian food” in the books section, a lot of cook books on Russian cooking come up. Are these genuine Russian cooking or really Soviet cooking?


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