Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Any Questions? No Questions! Вопросы есть? Вопросов нет!

(fine tuning your Russian)

Muireann Maguire posted this on her Facebook page

I was rather touched by this email between some of our second-year students on a Russian culture model, showing their determination to proceed with a seminar on the topic of "народ" [people] despite the strike (also showing a blissful innocence of the use of the genitive plural, but one can't have everything):

***Привет народ, [hi, people]
We'd like to ask everyone to still turn up to the seminar (BYOB) (preferably vodka) as Muireann may still be on strike at 09:30 on Tuesday for fun discussions on the readings attached about the народ and other related subjects. If you have any other interesting sources then please bring them along to discuss.
Есть вопросы?
Нет вопросы. До свидания 
X, Y, Z, and Putin***
(I've removed the students' names above, but I left their rather surprising celebrity guest, Putin; I suppose those Russian spybots get everywhere, even Exeter's VLE).

Thanks, Muireann!

There's more here than a slight confusion on the plural genitive. The famous phrase "Вопросы есть? Вопросов нет!" comes from "The White Sun of the Desert", an cult film of the 70-s. Ever since its release it has been current in modern Russian.

So, people (народ), inverse your word order. Or else!

Here is the clip (full movie available on YouTube) -

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Roman Numerals for Months Avoid Ambiguity.

In most countries of the world the day-month-year date format is used. On various official forms it is represented as DD/MM/YY for double digit representation.

The US tradition of putting the month before the day sometimes is confusing, even to professionals. One translator cited an example of a colleague mistakenly translating 9/11 as the ninth of November!

I was teaching English students about days, dates, months and years in Russian and mentioned in passing that Roman numerals are traditionally used to represent months, i.e. American 9/11 (September the eleventh) would be IX/11 with Roman numerals for months, while in Russian/European format it would be 11/IX (the eleventh of September). Some were quite impressed (the group of adult professionals included Brits, Americans, Italians and Chinese) with how easy it makes to avoid confusion between American and non-American dates.

Arabic numerals are commonly used these days for months alongside Roman. When pronounced the month can also be referred to by its number, одиннадцатого девятого. Even though 9/11 is recognised in Russia for what it represents, the awkwardness of quickly switching from one format to the other is still preventing 9/11 from being widely used. Instead the phrase "attack on the Twin Towers" — "атака на Башни-близнецы" is used.

A map of date formats used in the world (graphic by Typhoon2013). Cyan for DD/MM, magenta for MM/DD —

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Blade Runner 2049.

Milla Fedorova reviews Blade Runner 2049 for Tetradki. 

Milla Fedorova
Photo: Olga Meerson.
The new Blade Runner became a pleasant surprise for me. I am a fan of the original one and had some fears regarding the sequel made by a different director (Denis Villeneuve), but was not disappointed. Blade Runner 2049 does not posit itself as the original's clone; some ideas are pronounced much more directly where the original only hints, and the pace is different — it would have been unthinkable to have such an indulgently slow movie nowadays playing in the theatres — but their cells are interlinked, to use Nabokov’s quote from the new film.

However, it is still stylish, bleak, retro-fitted, and the famous rain sometimes turns into snow. It studies what it means to be human at different new levels, and deals with various forms of doubles and simulacra. The question you might have had after the first one — whether the replicants are made as adults and whether they are capable of having children is in the center of this one.

If the first Blade Runner movie (film, 1982, wikiwas centered around a Christ-like figure, and it was oriented towards accepting death as criterion of humanity (trampling death by death: Roy Batty transcends his replicant nature when he saves Deckard and accepts his own death), while in the center of the second one there is a Mary-like figure, and it is oriented towards birth (trampling impossibility of life by a miraculous birth).

The new definition of humanity — the replicants’ innermost desire — is "I was born, therefore I am a human." For replicants, the miracle is to be conceived and born in a natural way, it is the opposite of immaculate conception. However, this definition does not exhaust the question of who is human in the film: even the simulacra are able to demonstrate human qualities.

The mystery of who Deckard is, a human or a replicant, is still unsolved. Alas, the authors of both films did not consider Aristotle’s characteristic of humanity: none of the characters laughs.

The world is even more post-apocalyptic, demonstrating the effects of an ecological catastrophe, so there are even less people than before: it seems that the world is mostly populated by the replicants. The Russian presence in LA has become rather prominent: we hear police conversations on the radio in Russian, and the protein farm is ironically named “Целина”.*

The erotic scene where a hologram tries to fit the body of a real woman is a masterpiece, however, frightening: it is literally a dream of sleeping with one person, while imagining another.

The idea "to love someone sometimes means to be strangers" applied to the children-parents relations seems very problematic to me.

But in general — it is quite a gripping and beautiful film with several layers, including the references to Nabokov's Pale Fire.

Milla Fedorova is a Russian academic working at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. Her Georgetown page is here.

• Целина, or Virgin Lands, refers to the vast area of undeveloped steppes between the Southern tip of the Urals and the Caspian sea that was targeted for rapid boosting of grain crops by Nikita Khruschev in the late 1950s. Nobel prize-winning Mikhail Sholokhov wrote an epic novel "Поднятая целина" ('Virgin Soil Upturned', wiki about the 1958 film) depicting the collectivisation of Russian individual farms at the end of 1920s - beginning of 1930s.  

Official trailer for the Blade Runner 2049 —

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Tapestry. John Lott.

John Lott.

The Tapestry is a new poem by John Lott, which didn't quite make it into his latest poetry volume 'Winter Beach' (2017, WebVivant Press). Perhaps, a 'Summer Beach' poetry is in the works and 'The Tapestry' will fit well in there. 

John's poems are written to be heard as well as read. In fact, he records and releases them on discs. 

From all points of the compass,
They come to the Plaza,
The hub and the heart of the city.
Here they meet, mix and mingle,
In a kaleidoscope of colour.
Pacing medieval, marble flagstones
Bearing the ghostly footprints of long-forgotten fashions. 
They are embraced by structures hallowed by history 
And architecture mellowed by time. 
Through the centuries, they have come
To see, to sell, to learn and to love
And the square has become a microcosm of the known universe.
Where the complexities of cultures, colours and creeds 
Combine as one.
In their wake, each draws a thread.
A thread coloured by their origin, their ethnicity
Their aspirations, needs and fears
And as their paths cross, so do their threads,
Creating a warp and a weft which weaves the tapestry
That we call

'The Winter Beach' by John Lott is available on major book selling sites and on the publisher's site WebVivant Press. John Lott's profile is also on WebVivant Press website.

Monday, September 11, 2017


(new Russian)

This strange abbreviation has been surfacing in Russian online discussions for some time now.

ППКС (peh-peh-kah-es or pehpex) simply means 'I sign under every word of it' — 'подписываюсь под каждым словом'. Alternatively, it may mean 'I totally agree with what is said' — 'полностью присоединяюсь к сказанному'.

As Lurkmore notes with their usual sarcasm, it is used mostly by people who haven't much to say but are itching to say something. Lurkmore, though not your usual dictionary or Wikipedia, should be recommended as a lively and usually reliable source on modern Russian idioms.

It's not clear how and when exactly the acronym appeared. It may be suggested that it was a side-effect of the popularity of the qualifying IMHO (in my humble opinion, ИМХО in Russian). Someone may have decided to invent an opposite, something short and assertive instead of the wobbly IMHO. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

Writing in Longhand.

Ye olde goode Parker.

Me, my parker and J K Rowling. 

My writing friends and I were talking the other day about writing techniques. Someone asked, incredulously, if anyone was still writing in longhand.

I do, and a few others, older people, said they did.

There is something in longhand writing that opens up the creative corners in your brain. No matter how stressed, depressed or blocked you are, you start scribbling with your old stylo plume, fountain pen, the ink is flowing and glistening on the paper, and then, suddenly, the words start coming out of you and form into phrases, you start concentrating, you can hardly keep up with the train of thought, you cross out, rewrite, write again, and it all stays in front of you and stimulates more and more and more.

I have three Parker pens and several others. One Amercian-made Parker was given to me for my 20th by my father, ages ago, and I still use it. It has a 'Fine' tip that you can only find in specialist shops, in supermarkets it's mostly 'Medium' which I don't like much. The Parker always reminds me of the junior school teacher who was so appalled by my hand-writing that she made me write pages of exercises on what was called 'clean-writing' — чистописание. My handwriting improved but I got into the habit of chewing on the plastic tip of the Parker.

After having had to replace two relatively expensive pens my mother was desperate, and secretly smothered the tip in mustard! It was a shock, but then I rather liked it, so it didn't work. What did work was when my Parker was replaced with a ghastly open-tipped Sheaffer pen. Its wide plastic top wasn't chewable at all, I hated it. And ever since then I have hated open-tipped pens, even Parkers.

Oh well, at least I don't chew my pens anymore.

Just today, a Russian friend on Facebook, a well-known writer, was complaining that some cafes in Moscow are limiting the time you can spend sitting at a table without another order. She got used to using one for working on her laptop and for meetings while waiting to collect children from their activities. One commenter wrote that he couldn't understand people with laptops or ipads in cafes, thought it was just showing off.

Everybody in the thread remembered Hemingway and others, who wrote in cafes. The writer poster also quipped that JK Rowling used to write in an Edinburgh cafe. Yes, she did! I remembered. And she did write in longhand, partly because she couldn't afford a type-writer or a laptop and partly because she liked it. (See here and here.)

iPads or not, should literature survive the cafes must allow people limitlessly to sit and think, and write. Preferably with ink on paper. (Kick out the smartphone users, if you must!)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Le déjeuner des troglodytes.

Photo: A.Anichkin

Le déjeuner des troglodytes.

La nourriture des dieux! On a flânent à Paris avec un vieil ami, qui est habitué du Quartier Latin et connaisseur de ses charmes. Tout d'abord on a bu généreusement du bon Sancerre avec deux douzaines d’huîtres au café à Saint-Severin, juste en face de Notre-Dame. Puis on s’e promené et on avait étudié le nez ébréchée de Voltaire.

Après cela, bien sûr, on avait encore faim! Et voila, le moment glorieux du jour, mon ami m'a révélé le plus délicieux secret du quartier — l’os a moëlle cuit au four. Ils est servi avec de bâtonnets de pain de campagne grillée, coupé de la longueur des os. Pas de condiments, sauces, garniture ou autres excès et bigoteries culinaires. Ca marche comme ça: vous plongez le pain dans les os, récupérez de möelle et puis ramasser la graisse.

Nous nous sommes assis sur la terrasse avec ce miracle, bien nourris et heureux.

Des passants se sont arrêtés pour regarder le dîner de troglodytes, certains nous montrant même du doigts. Une Italienne arrêtée, est venait vers nous et me demandé ce quoi ça, quel est le nom de ce plat. L’os a moëlle, delicieux, dis-je. Elle cria: osso bucco! molto bene! Il me semblait qu’elle à se preparait à me “sauter au cou”, mais son mari l’a retenu.

Non, tout ce que vous dites, c'est l'aliment le plus naturel, le cholestérol primordial et propre, rien d'autre.

Maintenant, je demande toujours des os à la boucherie et je le cuis à la maison moi-même.


un ou deux os a moëlle par personne (saupoudréz la moëlle à chaque section avec un peau du sel)

bâtonnets de pain

à cuisiner au four prechauffé à 230ºC pendant 35 minutes et manger tout suite! 

L’os est bon pour votre chiens après vous.

Lire aussi la version russe ici.
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