Weird Shit From Russia!
By now it's no secret that I spend a lot of time traversing the globe. I've been to a lot of countries, and seen the type of cool shit you expect to see in foreign lands - old buildings, exotic food, etc. But since I'm always traveling on business, finding myself in major cities with little time to thoroughly explore, my favorite way of discovering other countries has been to mine them for weird shit. The States have become such a wasteland of blandness, such a vapid expanse of corporate sameness, that any opportunity I can find to score some strange foreign crap is more than welcome. To that end, something I often find dismaying about the world outside of America (here's a handy map for those of you confused as to what that might be) is the alarming lack of weird shit. The angry beast of globalization has spread its red-white-and-blue blandness across the earth with insatiable aggression, ensuring that in exotic-sounding places like, say, Budapest, where I am right now, there's still a Burger King down the street, The Simpsons Movie at the local cinema (in English), Coke Zero in the vending machines, and "My Humps" playing loudly on the radio. Like cultural HIV, America continues to spread unfettered.
I love Japan because it's one of the few places I've been to whose uniqueness seems impervious to the American disease, managing to filter U.S. influence through its own bizarre cultural lens and present it as something entirely its own. And for the same reason, it was a pleasure to recently visit Russia for the first time, and find with much relief that there still is some weird shit in Europe after all (although the rest of Europe likes to exclude Russia from the precious title of "European," geography places Moscow and St. Petersburg firmly within the boundaries of the European continent).
To an American, Russia seems a strange and backwards place - a country struggling to get its shit together after centuries of chaos and turmoil. Things don't seem to work the way they should, no one seems to have discovered deodorant, and you are warned from the beginning that corruption is rampant: Stay inside the main cities, because more or less anything goes in the outskirts, and you're likely to be kidnapped. Keep your passport on you, because if you get stopped by the corrupt police and don't have it, they might kidnap you. Don't take taxis, because many of them aren't real taxis, and they'll kidnap you. We had to fly from Moscow to St. Petersburg instead of driving, because on the country highways, sometimes you'll find a broken down truck blocking the road. Stop and get out to help, and you'll be met by men with guns, who will kidnap you. Kidnapping is apparently all the rage in Russia. It's also, by its nature, a terrifying concept, mostly because it's so vague. The term "kidnapping" describes only the act of being taken away itself, and leaves the rest of your life after that point open to any sort of possibility. Will you get killed? Anally raped? Held for ransom? Sold into prostitution? The future is an open book! With all of that in mind, I stuck to the central parts of Moscow and St Petersburg, and found them to be refreshingly nice places, especially for a country that completely collapsed a couple decades ago. Sure, you can't drink the tap water, but come on - baby steps.
So now, sit back, and let me now take you on a wonderfully xenophobic tour of the strangest moments from my extremely brief and limited Russian experience. For your enjoyment, I've decorated this post with deliciously homoerotic stickers I found of this mulleted Russian pop star. Mullets, by the way, are still high fashion in Russia. Anyway, let's begin...
There are a handful of stereotypes about Russian people, and at least one of them is true: those fuckers like to drink. As soon as they get off work - and sometimes before they get off work - they flood outdoor gathering areas and chug beer and vodka on the streets like there's no tomorrow. On my first night in Moscow, while walking through an underground passage near Red Square, my friend and I encountered an absurdly drunk Russian dude, dancing to terrible techno music and shouting loudly. He was wearing one of those big furry Russian hats, and his shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his pasty, sweaty gut, which jiggled as he danced. This is him:
He leapt in front of me and yelled something about Russia. He seemed to desire some sort of response, but I can understand Russian about as well as I can menstruate, so I was clueless. In a situation like that, what else could I do? I handed my camera to my friend, and started an impromptu Russian dance party. Homeboy put his big furry Russian hat on me, and for approximately forty five seconds, we partied like few have partied before. Scope the unbelievably hot dance moves:
That was pretty much the high point of my entire time in Russia.
I'm still not exactly sure what exactly constitutes Russian food, but expectedly, meat plays a heavy role. So how could I pass up a restaurant with an incredibly straightforward sign like this one?
As soon as we saw that, there wasn't really any other option for lunch that day. Inside, the waiters wore strange fur hunting outfits, and every wall was decorated eerily with dead animals and primitive weapons. The whole place was a sort of morbid celebration of carnivores where animals stared at you while you ate their relatives. Near our table were creepy squirrels on the wall, and a genuinely terrifying wolf:
The selection of meat on the menu was no less bizarre than the decorations:
I was going to avoid stating the obvious, but fuck it: "Beaver with cowberry sauce" might be the best new euphemism for a menstruating vagina since "muff marinara." And of course, I tried it. When it Rome, right? Bear was actually my first choice, but they were out. Big rush on bear. So beaver it was. You're probably wondering what cowberry sauce is, and I'm afraid that after eating it I'm no closer to having an answer for you. I can, however, assure you that beaver meat is without question the most nauseatingly awful thing I have ever had the misfortunate of putting in my mouth. I've eaten some gnarly shit in my time, and I have a seemingly iron-clad stomach when it comes to weird food, but this time I nearly puked before the meat even hit my throat. It was impressively terrible. It tasted like disease. Like pure, miserable death. Pretty much what I imagine rat meat tastes like. So, lesson learned: If you ever see beaver on the menu and you're feeling adventurous (or just want an excuse to make a sophomoric sexual pun), don't do it. You will be very sorry. Try the wild boar instead.
One of my favorite things in Russia is how they've adapted the beloved tradition of the matryoshka - the Russian nesting dolls - for the 21st century. In Russian souvenir stands, the variety of hand-painted matryoshkas ranges from quaint and traditional to utterly, fantastically bizarre. Consider, for example, my new prized possession, the George W. Bush Russian Doll - complete with the "I'm a fucking tool" cowboy hat that characterizes our great President so very well:
That's just the beginning, though. Strangely, Osama Bin Laden has been immortalized in Matryoshka form, with other terrorists and dictators nesting inside him:
You can also find dolls for various Soviet dictators, British and French politicians, and even a Bill Clinton matryoshka with a doll inside for each of his many women. None of them, however, can compete with the selection of dolls from the music world:
The greatest compliment I can give the Russian artisans who created this unique masterpiece is that they have captured with alarming accuracy the spiritual essence of Freddie Mercury's overwhelming gayness. You can almost smell the butt sex. Here's another stunning masterpiece:
When I was a wee child, if a magical fairy had come down from the stars and told me that some day, my journey through life would somehow bless me with a genuine traditional matryoshka doll adorned with a hand-painted portrait of Jon Bon Jovi in all his trashy 1980's glory, and that if I cracked him open it would reveal yet another doll featuring Richie Sambora's stupid fat face, I would have said "No, magical fairy, you are a liar, for I could not imagine a life so good for myself." And yet, here I am. But alas, it gets even better. For even as I delighted in the glory of the Bon Jovi Russian doll, I knew not that my next discovery would be...
Look at it! Feast upon its greatness!! My favorite part is how only the last and tiniest doll portrays Michael when he was still black.
If my funds had been unlimited, I probably would have bought every bizarre Russian doll the country had to offer. Some of the other ones I saw included Britney Spears, Elvis, Metallica, Kobe Bryant, Madonna, AC/DC, Depeche Mode, and many more.
|Assorted Weird Shit.................|
Here are some miscellaneous photos of weird shit from Russia:
These are some super cool Russian music dudes. Most importantly, check the terrifying guy at the top. He wants to eat your soul.
It was really nice of Kevin Smith to lend a hand on the bongos, too.
Loosely translated, this Russian t-shirt says "I don't drink with gays." Tied with this for best Russian t-shirt ever.
Speaking of homophobia, it's ironic that the Russian police force, often criticized for violence and discrimination against gays, has "HOMO" written backwards on all their uniforms. LOL @ TEH HOMO PATROL!!!!1
I guess Jessica Simpson has fallen on hard times lately, as she's apparently been forced to take up work as a Russian escort.
This is my new favorite drink.
Here's a strange and incredibly unpleasant-looking trans-species stuffed animal, which I can't imagine has any effect other than to frighten children.
Look how tough this dude thinks he is with his Yoda tattoo.
This is a statue that was on the street. Children were getting their pictures taken with it.
Like Germany, there's a lot of highly questionable fashion in Russia. I saw more than a few women dressed like my Grandma's couch.
Well, that just about concludes our tour of Russia. I'm confident that it accurately represented all aspects of the entire country. If for some reason you want more, I took some arty tourist photos of Moscow and St. Petersburg and put them up here. They're actually very beautiful cities.
And before I go, please enjoy the unique musical stylings of an old Russian dude playing Celine Dion on a saw, interrupted by a strange dancing man:
EDIT: I can't believe I forgot about this - just a few hours after my tragic encounter with beaver meat, I saw this t-shirt at a souvenir stand. I have no idea what it says (my bet is on sexual innuendo), but it was so eerily appropriate I had to pick it up: