Saturday, 28 January 2012

the summing up begins

Of course the trouble with leaving anywhere is the urgent need to sum up experiences, to finish all things still undone, and to run around attempting to see many places as yet unvisited. This is going to have (a not necessarily wonderful) impact on the remaining pages of this blog.*

Throughout my stay, I have been refusing the lazy stereotypes of Russians in general and Muscovites in particular - that is, that they are gloomy, beaten down by a history of Suffering and yet also an Enigma ('a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a ... etc., etc'): and that, given time, underneath they are completely wonderful ('when you get to know them'). Russians themselves, of course, also partake in these bland definitions of national identity, both seriously and with a considerable amount of rich, melancholic humour: just as the English resort to images of polite eccentricity, and the French to superiority and chicness.

But, because of recent history, people from outside this country seem to persist in caricaturing Russians, blurring the normal diversity of most ordinary people with either their government or with only tiny sub-cultures - the oligarchs, siloviki ('heavies') and mafia. Meanwhile, plenty of other sub-cultures, like the hipsters or gopniki, don't even get noticed elsewhere.

That doesn't mean there aren't real differences, but these, to me, are most interesting in how they play out in the everyday - in our various body languages and habits, and in attitudes and assumptions about how to survive and make sense of the world(s) we live in. That is what I have been trying - and failing - to unravel.

 But if I had to make one lazy stereotype about Russians, it would not be about glumness or stoicness, but rather what I can only call a kind of unconstrained mischievousness... encompassing melodramatic yet self-deprecating humour,  story-telling, unselfconscious silliness and  a certain contrariousness.** Unlike the rest of western Europe and America, though, which does not differentiate between public and private identities, this is mainly kept for family and friends (except perhaps by contemporary artists). Think Norwegian or Icelander, mixed with some Irish. Or am I talking nonsense?***

* I am also aiming to add more to as many of my 'mini-series' as possible, including 10-of-the-best, the art of parking and city bingo.  So, busy busy busy....
** There is also something mischievous embedded deep into politics, which there becomes both surreal and manipulative. See 'Putin Pranking himself'
*** Although the blog Mission to Moscow no longer functions, atethepaint's 50 facts about Russians is still there (as are the many comments). One 'fact' is about the Russian proverb Наглость - второе счастье; one translation is 'impudence - the second happiness' - which is something like what I am suggesting.  There is also a fab YouTube video from the We love Russia series, - you can see the complete set here  - for  some great brilliant, hilarious examples of exactly this crazy mischievousness. 

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