An Open Love Letter


I have an unhealthy infatuation with The New York Times. Every morning I wake up to it on my doorstep and most every night fall asleep with one of its sections lying next to me in bed. I often find myself at the end of my subway commute with ink smears on my face. Though I pride myself on trying to have an unbiased view of the world, gleaning and digesting information from a variety of news sources, I can’t seem to get away from constantly quoting and referencing my beloved New York Times.

When I develop such a close relationship with a publication (it used to be The New Yorker) its only natural that I begin to view the authors and columnists as close friends and allies in the arena of enlightened thought. It’s comforting to see the same names delivering my news every day, and unlike the television news anchors who stake their careers on the public developing such a communal fondness for them, this relationship feels personal and private. When I open the Arts Section and see a review of a recent New York City Ballet performance, chances are that Alastair Macaulay is the man behind the print. The review will be highly critical as New York Times critics are wont to do, and I’ll chuckle to myself thinking “Oh Macaulay you ole dog you. Back at it again. I’m sure that ballerina is plenty thin.”

Similarly, whenever I see an article about Russia, I immediately look for Clifford Levy’s name. For five years he was the foreign correspondent in Moscow and the man I looked to for information on all things Kremlin– one of the longest relationships I’ve had with a man. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to see that this week’s magazine preview is about sending his children to a Russian grammar school in Moscow with little previous Russian language training– Here kids, go off into the world of elementary education with just wits and tenacity and you can make it! My dad calls this the “Abraham Lincoln Style” of doing something: total immersion with no preparation.

The article is an interesting look into the history and evolution of Russian education and the story of an American family trying to adapt to the system. My favorite part surrounds the character of Bogin and his teaching method, including the following passage:

“Does 2 + 2 = 4? No! Because two cats plus two sausages is what? Two cats. Two drops of water plus two drops of water? One drop of water.”

That is the classic Russian intellect that drew me to study the country in the first place; the searching nature to look for new answers to old problems and to never settle on the easy way out.

I highly recommend that you read the article in its entirety as it is both inspirational and enlightening. I will probably be re-reading it when it arrives at my doorstep on Sunday.

P.S. The smile and nod is a classic tactic for avoiding admitting that “I have no clue what you just said to me.”


Soviet Propaganda: Exhibit Now at Art Institute of Chicago

The Soviet propaganda posters of the 30s and 40s have always fascinated me, enough so that my favorite book about Soviet Russia, one I went back to again and again in my Russian Studies papers, is Iconography of Power by Victoria Bonnell. The book describes how the newly in power Bolsheviks used symbols and icons in order to create a false sense of unity within the disparate Soviet Republics.

So in light of my love of all things related to Soviet Iconography, I am beyond excited for the new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago titled Windows on the War: Soviet TASS posters at home and abroad, 1941-1945. Featuring some of the most recognizable propaganda posters of the period like “The Motherland Calls” , “Save US” and “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” (see below), the exhibit will examine themes like USSR-USA relations and re-envisioning Russia’s historical past.

For more information on the exhibit please visit the Art Institute of Chicago’s website.

ReadingList: In Siberia

My current read is In Siberia  by Colin Thubron, a travel writer who has traveled extensively in the USSR and Russia. I’ve only just begun– he’s only made it as far into Siberia as Novosibirsk– and I’m already itching to lay out my game plan for travel across Siberia via the Trans-Siberian Railroad. He’s inspired me to always challenge myself while abroad to talk to as many people as possible and experience every opportunity presented.

Check back tomorrow for brief ruminations on the history and culture of Siberia!