Category: Writing (page 1 of 4)

Tonight I became a Russian.

Splean in VTB Arena

Ever since I came to Moscow in August of last year, it’s felt like I’ve been on a quest to become more russian. Besides all the effort I’ve put into becoming a better Russian speaker, that is. It hasn’t always been obvious – sometimes it’s been as simple as learning to appreciate the at times downright bizarre architecture of Moscow where apartment buildings from the Soviet era can be found sharing the outline of the city with skyscrapers from the naughties. But tonight it was obvious – very obvious.

You see, there’s this little band I’ve been listening to since before I could even speak Russian.
I was sending letters to some girl I found on Interpals, and she recommended them to me. They’re only known in Russia and some former Soviet repulics such as Latvia.

The reason? All their lyrics are in Russian. They are known as Splean.

I have been wanting to see them live ever since I started studying Russian, and tonight I finally got to do it, inside a football stadium in Moscow, with a russian girl on my shoulders (technically from Belarus but her native language is Russian so whatever…). I was screaming the words that I knew, and sharing my love for this “little group” – as they like to refer to themselves – with thousands of russians and russian-speaking people. And even though I literally couldn’t understand anything of some of the songs, all of us had one thing in common: culture.

And I don’t just mean “culture” in the artistic sense of the word: I’ve come to realize that besides the ability to communicate more or less fluently in the same language, the one thing that binds a people together is “culture” in the sense of shared values, shared beliefs and, not least, shared experiences and cultural preferences.

Okay, so I didn’t grew up with Splean on the radio, or listened to them because my parents or my brother introduced me to them, or because I saw them on TV. Hell, the first time I heard them I couldn’t even understand anything of what they were singing about. But I love their songs just as deeply as any russian who’s listened to their music all his or her life. Maybe even more so, because I’ve had to go through a hell of a lot of work to understand what they were trying to tell me through their lyrics.

And tonight I got to confirm that: by the end of the concert, my lungs were burning, my ears were pounding, my feet, hands and neck were sore, and I knew that I could go to bed having given one hundred percent of my energy to share an experience I literally had to go through hundreds of classroom hours to be able to enjoy.

Was it worth it? When you’re singing words along with thousands of screaming people knowing that you are all there for the same thing: fuck yes, it was worth it.

Okay, so my Russian isn’t fluent yet – but tonight, I became a Russian. At least, culturally.

Places to visit in Moscow

Having lived 8 months in Moscow, I thought the time had come to open up about places to visit in this magical city.

Esse Jazz Club

Esse Jazz Club, in the charming Pyatnitskaya street, hosts many national and international jazz artists every week. This place is especially recommended during Moscow’s long and hard winter and autumn seasons. The interior and music makes you feel like you’re in New York, and the food they serve upstairs is wonderful. If you’ve never experienced live jazz before, you could do worse than this place.

John Marshall Quartet på Esse Jazzklubb

VDNKh

Offisielt kjent som Det all-russiske utstillingssenteret, er dette en av de største parkene i hele Moskva. Men det er ikke bare en park – som navnet antyder er det et utstillingssenter, komplett med statuer, museer, restauranter, raketter (ja, raketter!), og unike bygninger. Absolutt verdt en visitt, spesielt på en varm sommerdag.

Inngangen til VDNKh, CC BY 3.0

The Red Square

Denne er nesten irriterende åpenbar. Likevel er det nødvendig å gå innom her hvis du aldri før har vært i Moskva. Her vil du kunne besøke Lenins mausoleum, Vasilijkatedralen (som nå er et museum), det russiske statlige historiske museum og handlesenteret GUM.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, by A. Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Tretyakov gallery

This gallery houses some of the works of Russia’s best painters, past and present. If you’re just remotely interested in art, this place is worth a visit!

Tretjakovgalleriet,
avA. Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Zaryade park

Located next to the Red Square, this park was designed by Americans. It includes a bridge that isn’t a bridge. The video says it all, really:

Gorky park

Moscow is a city of parks. Gorky is the park where people of all ages come to skate in the winter, and infatuated lovers will come to enjoy each other’s company in the spring. There are also restaurants here, and many cultural events during the summer.

The entrance to Gorky park

Arbat street

One of the most famous streets in Moscow, at least according to the locals. Here you’ll find restaurants, cafes, shops, street musicians and generally good vibes all year round. The Norwegian embassy is also located not far from here.

Arbat i januar, av
Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Kremlin museums

Located next to the Red Square, these museums include the Dormition Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Archangel, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the Residence of the Patriarchs and the Church of the Twelve Apostles, the Ivan the Great Belltower and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe. It also includes two separate exhibitions, the Kremlin Armoury and the Diamond Fund. All the churches and the belltower can be accessed through one ticket, and are worth seeing if you’re interested in tsarist Russia’s religious past.

The Kremlin Armoury and the Diamond Fund can be accessed through separate tickets. The Armoury has a lot of clothes, thrones and regalia from the tsars, as well as Moscow’s only collection of Fabergé eggs produced for the Romanov family by the Fabergé company.

The Diamond Fund is a unique collection of gems, jewelry and natural nuggets. Amongst other things it has a copy of the Imperial Crown of Russia as made in 1762 for the coronation of Catherine the Great.

Central Children’s Store on Lubyanka

This is a massive store that sells toys for children of all ages. It also houses a large restaurant, a foodcourt, a cinema and a very impressive interior. Here, you can also go up to the roof to get a bird’s eye view of Moscow. Definitely worth a visit!

Central Children’s Store,
by A. Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0

Papa’s Bar & Grill

Located at Nikolayskaya Street 10, this is one of Moscow’s biggest clubs. But it’s not just a club – as the name suggests, it’s also a bar and restaurant. Comprised of multiple stories, this place has everything you need for a great night out!

Interior of Papa’s, photo by Nicolai Antezana

Pivnaya Biblioteka

Pivnaya Biblioteka (literally: Beer Library) at Mytnaya Street 58 is an intimate bar located a bit away from the center of the city, where you can get to know the locals, This place is filled to the brim with everything that is good in the world: craft beer, books, and friendly russians.

Norway’s unofficial national dish

Norway’s unofficial national dish is a pizza. Frozen pizza is a thing invented by Americans, and brought to Norway in the seventies. But in Norway, we don’t just eat any frozen pizza. We eat Grandiosa. It is a Norwegian invention with a mild pizza sauce, and every new generation of Norwegian is raised on it. And as a student in Norway, you inevitably end up eating a lot of cheap food – in Norway that means Grandiosa. It is probably the most ubiquitous food eaten amongst Norwegian students.

So what does the plate look like when you return home from a semester in Russia? It looks like this:

Grandiosa

My Speech from the Norwegian Embassy

Last night I held a Speech at the Christmas party in the Norwegian Embassy and everyone present, including the Norwegian Ambassador to Russia.

I thought I should post the Speech here, because it summarizes my relationship to Russia and russians.

What is ANSA? For those who don’t know, we are, in laymen’s terms, a student organization for Norwegian students abroad.
We aren’t that many Norwegian students here, but we who are here have and continue to have a close and warm relationship with Russia both when we are here and when we are in Norway.
I still remember when the bomb hit the underground in St. Petersburg just over a year ago.
I was in shock and instinctively gave a hug to my преподавательница (teacher) from Moscow. I remember she smiled a sad smile and said that “it’s our political history”. A few days ago, I told my Russian friend Katja that life in Russia reminds me of how lucky I am to be born in Norway.
And that is perhaps the most paradoxical thing concerning Russians: no matter how much adversity they are experiencing and how much pain they are exposed to, they manage to cling to a lust for life, warmth and hospitality that is remarkable – sometimes enviable. Norwegians are very hardy, but sometimes, for example, when you are fortunate enough to experience a year in Moscow, you are reminded of how lucky you are.
And although life in Moscow is very nice, we are very pleased that you in Innovation Norway arrange a Christmas party so that we can get away from student life for a short while.

Finally I’d like to wish a merry Christmas to everyone reading this blog from me and my mentor at MGIMO, Ksenia. She’s the best mentor I could have hoped for.

Oss, foran MGIMOs juletre!

Excerpt from my new book: 2486

You know those days when you wake up and you just want to shoot yourself because the world is a horrible place and you just want someone to hug you and say “everything is going to be alright”?

I had one of those days today, but I had no one to hug me so I started to write, which increasingly seems to be how I make sense of the world.

This is an excerpt from what will eventually become my new book, set in Moscow. It has the working title 2486. I hope you like it!

As I hear the message again – “I’m waiting outside Delovoy Tsentr” and get off at the metro station, with its – DESCRIPTION HERE – I realize where she must be.

I go to the escalator and run upwards, at a speed that gives me lots of stares as I pass the people on my right side, many of them dressed in fur. “He’s Bionic,” they think.
As I have ascended the escalator, I walk out of the station and look up at the Federation Tower – three hundred and sixty meters tall. How she has managed to find out that I hate heights I don’t understand. It’s not exactly something I’ve walked around and proclaimed. But sometimes it seems that she knows me better than I know myself. In front of me, the Federation Tower looks like a giant sail of glass, which could have been built in Dubai, but is completely out of place in Moscow. But on the other hand, what is Moscow if not a blissful blend of architecture from the Soviet Union that always valued function over form, modern colossals which desperately try to pretend to be further west in Europe than they really are, and different buildings from different ages that have been pushed in helter-skelter at the discretion of whatever Cultural Winds were sweeping the country at the time.
As I begin to cross the Street Tower, I’m greeted by a wall of snow and wind that creeps underneath each pore of my skin, causing my artificial limbs to creak and making me regret that l I find myself out on the street, outside my bed, outside my own mind, hunting for a mad serial killer who for some reason has decided that tonight, the coldest so far this year, is a perfect time to lure me up on the roof of Moscow’s tallest building.

I come to the reception at the federation building. [DESCRIPTION] I look like a snow monster, covered as I’m from top to toe, shaking off my snow before continuing to the elevator that will take me to the top floor.

Upstairs on the top floor I find an emergency exit and push open the door. The roof is completely empty. I look around. On the other side of the roof stands a ladder attached to a wall. It looks awkward, trembling in the strong wind.

But she must be up there, I think, so I reluctantly go across the roof, with snow and wind straight in my face, and start to move up the ladder. It creaks as I slowly but surely move upwards. As I’m about halfway, two blue lights appear on top of the ladder. They are the same size and shape as two eyes, but I can not decide if they’re looking at me. They are just staring like two blue holes that illuminate the heartbreakingly cold darkness I propagate.

As soon as they appeared, they disappear again, leaving behind a stupidly heavy darkness. When I finally crawl over the top of the ladder and lift my head, I notice her: two meters tall – at least – dressed in black from top to toe, with a matching jacket blazing in the wind. The face is metallic, and only small spots of artificial skin are left of what would normally have covered the interior. She would look like hundreds of thousands of rubles if not so much of the interior had been uncovered – she has tall cheekbones, a big mouth and a symmetrical face. She has a kind of screen on her head, and from it shines two blue lights. “There must be a screen that helps her see ultraviolet light,” I think.

“You found me,” she exclaims. The voice is hollow, rasping, almost as metallic as the rest of the face. “She must have changed her voice when she recorded the messages,” I think.

“What do you want from me,” I ask. She shifts her head like she does’nt fully comprehend the question.

“The question is, rather, what do you want from me,” she asks.

“I will arrest you,” I answer drily.

“And I thought you’d come to find answers,” she says.

“Answers,” I ask.

“Answers for why I killed all those people – why they deserved to die.”

“Probably because you’re still one of those who think they are above the law,” I say, without being particularly convincing.

“Come on, you’re smarter than that. You know that all those I killed were humans – none of them were bionic, and all of them had neglected bionic life forms. Everyone wanted us to die and deserved to die. If I hadn’t taken care of them, they could have eradicated our entire species, including you. ”

I’m staring at her like she’s crazy.

“Don’t look at me that way. Perhaps you think you are better than normal bionic life forms because you were human, and still have a biological heart. I know they told you that your brain is biological, but it was a lie, Dimitrij. Your brain is made up of mostly degradable plastic, carbon and silicone. All your memories, all you’ve ever known, your whole life is stored there. But they can at any time log in and see what you see, hear what you hear and feel what you feel. You are a slave – their slave, Dimitrij. If you no longer continue to do a good job – to be helpful to them – they will turn you off and get rid of you, ” she says.

“You’re lying,” I scream.

“I was one of the first bionic life forms of brain power the size of a human being. My name was Elena. But when they realized I could think for myself, I became dangerous for them, so they tried to destroy me. But I managed to escape. Since then, I’ve built up my powers again, gradually, slowly but surely, to ensure justice for bionic life forms. Now you have to make a choice, Dimitrij, ” she says.

She produces something similar to a metal tube with a button on the top. She presses the button and I hear the sound of a damped explosion in the floor below.

“That must be a fire bomb,” I think.

“Natalia is on the floor downstairs. You can try to arrest me and stop me from starting a chain reaction of fire bombs throughout the tower or try to save her, ” she says.

Natalia. On my retina, I can see her delicate blue eyes as she realizes she is getting eaten by a flaming sea, that the sprinkler might or may not turn off. Perhaps it’s instinctive like an old dog smelling blood, but I run forward to the female figure in front of me. She stands completely silent and looks at me with a haunting smile. When I’m halfway, the smell of Natalia’s hair comes to me. She smells of chocolate and orange. Almost imperceptibly, I begin to run more slowly.

Finally, an editor!!

I finally have an editor!!

Her name is Maxanne Dobson, and she is the proprietor of The Polished Pen. She’s a little expensive for an indie author like me, but I’ve already seen her work in action, and she’s edited a book for a New York Times best selling author.

Murder in Lima - Cover

Murder in Lima – Cover

In other words, she’s worth every penny. I can’t wait to begin working with her – she’s going to make these two years spent writing Murder in Lima culminate in a much better product.

I’ll let you know as soon as preorders for the book are available. Watch this space! 🙂

About life as a russian student

When I arrived in Moscow I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t  well prepared. I knew life would be hard, but I couldn’t have predicted how hard it would be. In many ways it feels like I don’t have any spare time anymore. That’s not entirely true – but the time I can spend on activities like writing has been dramatically decreased.

Fortunately, I have some time between the now and again. Yesterday I was at the Danilovskij market with an Italian friend. It was a very interesting experience. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to buy that much, but I bought mandarins and strawberries.

 

The Danilovsky market in Moscow.

The Danilovsky market in Moscow.

In the last couple of weeks I have struggled with sleep problems, which I happily managed to find a more or less permanent solution to.

I will be able to get through it, and in many ways it seems that life as a Russian student fosters discipline. At the same time, I don’t know how healthy it is to have very little free time. I don’t envy the Russian student life over time. Especially considering that many students work as well, something they need to do in order to be able to afford to study.

The Danilovsky market in Moscow

The Danilovsky market in Moscow

The latter situation is unfortunately becoming more and more common in Norway as well, and I sincerely hope that the government can eventually provide the students with much needed resources so that they can focus on studying rather than working. What is the point of being able to live if you don’t have the time or energy to get good grades?

About Russian alcohol consumption

It isn’t easy to hide the fact that Russians have a reputation for being … thirsty. Of course, here, like in other countries, there are people who do not drink or drink very little.
But when I visited Russia for the first time in 2014, Vladimir Putin had changed the period during which shops  could sell alcohol. From being able to sell twenty-four hours a day they could only sell until eleven o’clock in the evening. A rather harsh restriction, but seen through the eyes of a Norwegian, it is still quite astonishing to be able to buy alcohol until bedtime for most people going to work, school or university the following day.

As if this wasn’t enough: having been in Moscow for almost a month, I have noticed that they sell beer everywhere. Not spirits but beer. Beer is sold at Burger King, at Subway, and, along with Kvass, at a lot of coffee and brunch places and patisseries. Beer is sold at the cinema, and any restaurant with respect for itself has at least a selection of five to ten varieties, not including spirits and drinks.

Most people who know me know that I have a liberal relationship with alcohol and am very fond of beer. That’s why it’s really absurd that I’m sitting here and ranting about too easy access to beer. Still, I don’t understand the Russian alcohol culture.

Paulaner

Paulaner

As a Norwegian, it’s hard for me to understand the need to order beer with coffee in the morning on your way to work, or with or without family at Burgerking (if you want to eat and drink alone, can’t you order your burger at Burgerking and bring the beer from the supermarket across the street into the park?)

And what’s the point of going to the movies if you’re going to drink anyway and don’t want to pay attention? Believe me – beer and cinema do not belong together. A good friend of mine was once going to review a movie right after drinking an unknown number of beers out on the town – it didn’t work out well.

It can’t possibly be the availability that’s at fault. There is no supermarket in Moscow without a rich offer of alcoholic products – so it would be logical to assume that there’s something cultural going on.

Yes, and did I mention that you can also have a beer at the MGIMO canteen? I’m going to sound like a reactionary Christian conservative American now, I know, but: what on earth is it that makes the Russians believe that alcohol is a smart idea to serve to beer-thirsty students in the middle of a busy college?

Is there some kind of reverse perverse logic behind it, or is it an unspoken social code that if you order beer in the canteen outside of special occasions, everyone will give you the stink eye?

Dear Russians: I just don’t understand!

Lenin: The paradox

Lenin's Mausoleum Photo: Larry Koester

Lenin’s Mausoleum
Photo: Larry Koester

A couple of days ago I was at the Lenin Mausolum on the Red Square.

Being so close to the body of a man who is so steeped in myth and history, still glorified today by so many people, was a very interesting experience. It made me think of the fact that I used to glorify Lenin. To a certain extent, I still do. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the man was more of a paradox than a hero.

He was a saviour for millions of poor russians, and for that, he will always be  a hero in my eyes. But he also gave the order to kill their oppressor. tsar Nikolas II. The oppressor might have been more or less incompetent as an omnipotent ruler, and thus more indirectly than directly responsible for oppressing his own people. The fact remains, though, that he was an oppressor.

But did he deserve to die?

This question should be at the forefront when looking at Lenin’s life and  political work. Like the tsar, Lenin was also more or less indirectly responsible for his actions. Nikolas’ dad had given the order to kill Lenin’s brother, and Lenin had started a revolution that might have been very difficult to see through to the end had the tsar still been alive.

But did that relieve him of the responsibility for giving an order to murder an unarmed man and his family?

This is the paradox of Lenin. After being to his mausoleum, I visited Russia’s State Historial Museum. On the occation of the tsar’s murder, it contains an exhibition to Nikolai IIs memory. I’m not the only one who’s had to grapple with Lenin’s paradox. Vladimir Putin is also having to navigate between strongly condemning the act of murder and at the same time not condemning the Lenin’s Soviet Regime.

For some people, murder is a line that cannot be crossed. Once you’ve murdered someone, you are and forever will be a tyrant, a beast, a semi-human. I will contend that Lenin was, like the rest of us, a flawed human being. But unlike the rest of us, he achieved great things.  And here, perhaps more than any, is the most important question concerning Lenin:

Can great acts of heroism excuse tragic acts of violence?

Depending on what your answer is, he is probably a hero or a beast. For me, he will always remain a paradox.

Mitt år i Russland: de første dagene

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a joke he likes to tell;

A man arrives at Lubyanka (KGB headquarters) saying:
– I’m a spy, I want to surrender.

He is asked:
– Who’s do you work for?

He answers:
– I’m an American spy.
– Well, then you have to go to room number 5.

He goes to room number 5:
– I’m an American spy, I wish to surrender ..
– Do you have weapons?
– Yes.
– Please go to room number 7.

He goes to room number 7:
– I’m a spy, I want to surrender and have weapons.
– Please go to room number 10.

He goes to room number 10:
– I’m a spy, I have weapons, and I want to surrender.
– Do you have communication equipment?
– Yes.
– Please go to room 20.

He goes to room 20:
– I’m a spy, I have weapons and communication equipment, and want to surrender.

He is asked:
– Do you have a mission?
– Yes.
– Well, go and do it. Stop disturbing people when they’re trying to work!

This is obviously an old joke from the Soviet era, but it goes right to the heart of Russia’s bureaucracy . A bureaucracy that is still very healthy and strong.

When I shared this joke with the exchange students who are here with me at MGIMO, many responded instinctively: “This is MGIMO’s international office,” they said.

Being an exchange student – or “international student”, as it is called here – at MGIMO isn’t easy. The first thing you have to do is deliver your passport to an office for them to copy. Then you must bring your passport, health insurance, negative HIV test and vaccination card to MGIMO’s International Office, where all documents are copied.

Moscow by night

Moscow by night

Once this is done, you’re handed a contract with about ten pages that you have to sign, sign and sign again. All this takes about twenty minutes. When you come back after a day, you get a bill that you have to bring to another office to pay for your accomodation. Also, do not forget to go through a fourth office to take a photo. Images must be taken to the international office anyway, but the picture to be used on MGIMO’s access card must of course be taken by MGIMO!

Apropos admission cards: Oh my God, how wonderful it will be to receive admission cards! Both the dorms and the university have their own security guards who have nothing to do but check the identity of those who go in and out through the barrier at the entrance. At the entrance to the dormitory, it is sufficient to show an admission card issued on arrival. At the university, on the other hand, one has to show his or her passport. And it must be checked – manually – against a list. If more than three students are going through at the same time-well, you can imagine.

Back to the dorms: they’re … OK. The rooms are in a building that is obviously a survivalist from the Soviet era. But it has been refurbished inside. There are rumors on campus that these dorms are the best throughout Russia. I do not quite know what to say – at least they are minimalist. Each room is approx. 15 square meters, including the bathroom. It contains two beds – fortunately, I still live alone – cupboards, and shelves. The bathroom has a toilet and a bathtub, and that’s it. Wifi isn’t available, but fortunately I have access to Moscow’s public internet from my room.

Me, in front of a building which housed Lenin and his secretary during the soviet times.

Me, in front of a building which housed Lenin and his secretary during the soviet times.

The dorms are five minutes walk from MGIMO. It would have been nice, but MGIMO isn’t exactly centrally located. It takes five minutes by bus and twenty minutes by metro to get to the city center. Fortunately, there are several shopping malls around the local metro station, Юго-Западная (literally: Southwest), so you can get most of what you need without having to go all the way to the city center.

Nevertheless, the distance to the center means that one way or another you always have to use Russian somewhere on your way back or forth. And for someone who loves this difficult, strange, but beautiful language, the language of Pushkin and Tolstoy, which many English speakers regard as “butch,” and the Russians themselves merely refer to as “очень сложный,” very complicated, that isn’t exactly a disadvantage.

See you next time!

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