15 March 2008

Stereotypes are Bad, but Meat is Good!

This post is kind of a hodgepodge.

1. Since it's been almost a week, I'll say that requests for my extra Птица тылобурдо cd are now officially closed. I received three, and based on the three contestants I've decided to go for a drawing rather than a contest to determine who'll get it. I couldn't come up with a Leslie-related contest (possible areas: knitting, Russian, linguistics, music) in which one or another of the contestants wouldn't have an unfair advantage. So, winner, I'll be contacting you as soon as I get around to actually doing the drawing.

2. The recent bane of my existence: a video circling the internet, dubbed into Russian, of Americans being interviewed saying stupid things. ("Where's the Berlin Wall?" "Uh... How the hell should I know?" "How many sides does a triangle have?" "A triangle doesn't have any sides," etc.) I've had three or four Russians bring it up and/or show it to me, and I have the hardest time trying to convince them that Americans aren't actually as dumb as that makes them look, and that we're actually no dumber than Russians are.

A friend, checking that I'm not as dumb as those people: "Ok, then, where is the Berlin Wall?"
Me: "In Berlin. Or it was. They tore it down, so it's really not anywhere anymore."
Him: "Huh. They did? I didn't know that. Good for you."

Not that that proves his dumbness, either. Everyone has questions they're going to look dumb answering. But Russians who don't study English (and many who do) have a very negative, distorted picture of the U.S., and that picture includes the stereotypes that we're all fat and driveling idiots. Most Americans have a distorted picture of Russians, too, but at least Russians don't shoot themselves in the foot by posting videos of themselves wearing fur hats and drinking vodka with a trepak-dancing bear and a hammer-and-sickle flag in ten feet of snow while being oppressed by Evil Dictator Putin. Or videos of themselves saying, "Sitting on a cold floor will make you infertile!" "If Obama is black, that means he's probably stupid!" and other things that we would find as ridiculous/offensive as they find our collective inability to locate Europe on a map.

Anyway, enough ranting. On a lighter note:

3. Today I went to a miraculous place by the name of Чалтырь/Chaltyr'. I had heard it mentioned in passing by my students, who described it as "a village between Rostov and Taganrog" and "Russian Las Vegas." I assumed that the former was true and the latter some kind of joke, but it turns out that they weren't actually poking (too much) fun at it; it's where all the cool Taganrogers go to hang out.

It's an Armenian village that's been around since the time of Catherine the Great. I don't know whether people go there for gambling or quickie weddings, but they do go for shashlyk, which is Caucasian barbecue, marinated, grilled, and served with a sort of ketchupy sauce and fresh onions. Pork is the most traditional, but you can also get chicken, beef, lamb, or even sturgeon shashlyk. It's an adopted Russian staple, a versatile food that can be as delicious eaten off disposable plates in a beer garden as it is served as a holiday meal in a classier, more authentic restaurant. I think it's best when it's part of the ritual of "shashlyking", which consists of decamping to the country for a whole day of grilling and drinking. We did it once in February in Vladivostok; we almost froze to death, but it was amazing.

Anyway, shashlyking may be the most fun meat-grilling experience, but today's shashlyk was by far the tastiest I've ever had. Perfect marinade, perfect grilling, perfect sauce. It was the kind of meal where afterwards you want to just lie down and meditate on all the deliciousness you just ate. I also want to go back to Chaltyr' to go exploring – besides a long strip (Vegas?) of shashlyk joints, it looks like they've got at least one Armenian church, and a couple of stores with Georgian names (I think – unless Armenian uses that same writing system).

4. Finally, tomorrow I'm off to Rostov to give a talk on the 1950's in America, something I know next to nothing about. As I'm sure any grantee can tell you, giving talks on topics you know nothing about is one of the key aspects of the Fulbright experience. At least I have a film – a History Channel documentary – to help me along, and afterwards we're going out for Georgian food. Mmm, bean pies (lobiani) and cheese bread (khachapuri) – more of the Caucasus' little culinary miracles.


Mike said...

I must admit that I'm slightly disappointed that not all Russians drink vodka with trepak-dancing bears. Do they drink whiskey instead?

Leslie said...

Yes, but only if it's moonshine.

Celine said...

Oooh! Now I will be thinking of Dva Gruzya all day, and their shashlyks, and khachapuri... Torture!
By the way, if you ever feel like you need to visit a country where people LOVE Americans, come to Kuwait! There is a lot of thankfulness here towards you guys!