Two Elephants

While I visited Odessa, I had dinner at a restaurant called “Captain Morgan”. It had my first taste of absinthe there (at the time you could not buy absinthe in the US), they had wi-fi, and their take on Vietnamese salad was almost passable.

The address of the building where “Captain Morgan” is located now is Resihlyevskaya street 17. Named after Odessa’s first and most beloved governor, Duc de Richelieu, it was always one of the oldest and most prestigious streets, sort of Odessa’s Madison avenue. (Pushkin street is 5th ave, Deribasovskaya – Broadway.) During Soviet times Resihlyevskaya was renamed into Lenin street, now the old name is back.

There were two things for which 17 Lenin street was famous. First of all, it was Isaac Babel’s childhood home. Secondly, it housed a large bookstore unimaginatively called “Technical Book Store.” On the other hand everybody called it “Two Elephants”, which was a bit of a mystery, since there were no elephants to be found there, only a very large selection of technical books and a top-notch stationery section.

The name came from the fact that before a renovation that happened sometime in the 60s, there were two giant life size papier-mache elephants reaching to the top of the ceiling in the store. Before the revolution it was a high end toy store.

I recently learned that it used to belong to my great grandfater, Moses Zayderbit. He had enough sense to voluntarily hand the store over to the Bolsheviks, and even managed to get a job there.

While my other great-grandfather looked a bit like Seth Bullock, great-grandpa Moses looked a little bit like Roger Sterling from Mad Men:

So, last year I was drinking absinthe and checking email in what used to be my great-grandfather’s toy store without knowing it.

The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia

A New York Times Notable Book, 1997

The lavishly illustrated and often darkly hilarious retelling of Soviet history through the doctored photographs under Stalin.

The Commissar Vanishes has been hailed as a brilliant, indispensable record of an era. The Commissar Vanishes offers a unique and chilling look at how one man–Joseph Stalin–manipulated the science of photography to advance his own political career and erase the memory of his victims. Over the past thirty years David King has assembled the world’s largest archive of doctored Soviet photographs, the best of which appear here, in a book Tatyana Tolstaya, in The New York Review of Books, called “an extraordinary, incomparable volume.”

Post-Soviet Penthouses, the Biggest Penthouses in the World

Recently, while shopping in a Russian bookstore I splurged (the damn things are $7 a pop) and picked up some Russian versions of American magazines – Forbes, Maxim and the like. Russian Maxim, although edgier: nipples are allowed, is not that much different from the American version. But Forbes, that’s a completely different story.

All the stories are filled with oligarch-related news, but the really interesting part is the advertisements. They seem to fall into three categories: multi-thousand dollar luxury watches, luxury watercraft and luxury housing. And holy crap, am I impressed by the luxury housing.

There’s this company, Donstroy, that specializes in super-luxury apartment buildings. They use architectural styles with pejorative names: neo-Stalinist and McMansion, but also Post-Modernism and what looks like neo-Constructivism to me.

I, for one, like Stalinist architecture and think that Triumph Palace looks pretty hot, even though it’s just a usual riff on the Municipal Building in New York that is so common in Moscow (I will write a separate article about this phenomenon later).

Unless that spire is a mooring mast for personal Zeppelins, Triumph Palace is not the most impressive building in Moscow. What really blew me away, was the Crimson Sails complex that absolutely exudes architectural hubris. It features 10 foot plus ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, some floors with only two apartments each, yacht club with a real lighthouse, over the top gym, three saunas and three Turkish baths, Austrian low temperature baths (which I had no idea existed), regulation bowling, tennis center, a water park, an apple garden, an Alpine garden (I had to look up what that is), and an and most importantly, walkways that let you get around the complex without exiting to the street level. If I had that much money in Russia, I’d be afraid to go out in the street too. Besides, if I lived there, why would I want to?

But the 18,298.5 square foot 3 floor penthouse called “Cesar” in Crimson Sails is what really changed my preception of reality in architecture. A living room with 26 foot ceilings. Personal elevator. Ginormous terrace with two rotundas and a pool, panoramic views of Moscow to kill (or die) for. Plus – that thing on the top is a helicopter pad. Rupert, eat your heart out.

What Makes a Man Turn Neutral?

Galen R. Frysinger’s travel pages yield an amazing selection of photos. Amongst them is what I was looking for for a long time: Turkmenbashi’s fabled Arch of Neutrality. Doesn’t the arch remind you of something? Exhibit A and Exhibit B:

The mechanism turns Turkmenbashi’s golden likeness so that he always faces the sun. I’ve heard that the statue is made of solid gold, but I doubt that a little. On the other hand, it’s the Great Serdar we are talking about.
Click on the image to see other amazing pictures of Turkmenian monuments.

Now, another amazing monument was created by Zurab Tsereteli, a serial sculptor terrorizing Moscow with his horrible creations.
Exhibit A and B:

Don’t worry, the statue of Putin in judo gear is not full size. It’s just a sketch, the real thing will be much, much bigger.

Mr Tsereteli wants to give this other monument as a gift to New Jersey. It’s supposed to be a monument to 9/11, but somehow I see very different symbolism in this “statue”.

Burt Rutan Will Say Something Cool Too …

Yuriy Gagarin said “Let’s Go!” (Poyekhali!)
Alan Shepard said “Why don’t you fix your little problems and light this candle?”
Valentina Tereshkova according to rumors fainted and didn’t say anything or screamed “let me out of here” or something to that effect. We’ll probably never know the truth.
Neil Armstrong said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” (and we’ll probably never know conclusively if he said “a man” or “man”.)
The question is – what did Yang Liwei say?