Beneath a surface layer of unbelief or Orthodox Christianity, Russia is an animist country. Ordinary physical objects are alive in Russia far more than they are in America, and, however Russia's religious or political currents flow, this native animism remains strong. Trees, streets, utensils, groves, machines--each has its own spirit and its own personality, like the cabin belonging to the witch Baba Yaga that could get up on its chicken legs and run around. A Russian telephone isn't just a phone, it's a being; once, at my friend Alex Melamid's mother's apartment when I was having trouble dialling her phone, she showed me how, explaining, "He likes to be dialled slowly." In Russia, alarm clocks don't ring; they burst into rooster-crowing.
In Russia the windshield wiper on your car isn't called a mechanical name--it's a dvornik, a word whose more common meaning is "custodian." What we call a speed bump in America the Russians call lezhachii politseiskii, which means "lying-down policeman."
Monday, September 6, 2010
Paragraph of the Week
From Ian Frazier's "On the Prison Highway," from the August 30, 2010 edition of The New Yorker: