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Archive for April, 2010

the view

Man, I don’t know why I’m so excited about this, but this is my first attempt at a digitally produced panorama, of Barton Pond on the Huron River across the street from my house, and I really like it.

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A few sentences I never thought I’d hear myself say, and yet have:

1) “I’m almost finished with War and Peace.” 2) “I just got back from Moscow.” And 3) [my favorite] “Excuse me, do you have this one in fox?”

Some explanation may be in order. I’ve been reading War and Peace since early September, a few chapters a night. It was part of a plan — part 1 — to read one especially long or difficult book I’ve always wanted to read per month during the eight months of my fellowship year here in Ann Arbor. Well my fellowship year turned out to be much busier than I expected — no complaints — and an 8-fat-books ambition stands now on the verge of a 1-fat-book achievement. I am at this moment on page 1328 of 1455 in the brick-like Signet Classic edition above, which is now nicely spine-cracked and starting to look like the horse I rode in on.

I’d hoped to finish it on a recent trip to Moscow (the fellowship again), but no such luck. Too busy. Too tired. Too otherwise occupied. And either I’ve gotten to where I don’t like reading on planes, or the 10-hour flight from New York to Moscow (and back) required more Zen than I could square with imbibing all that tiny type. I’ll be done in a few days. Or a week. Or so.

I’m loving it, by the way. Even the military stuff, which so far never seems to go on too long. Tolstoy (and presumably his translator here, Ann Dunnigan) possesses the useful trick of being being able to convey a tone of absolute moral authority, which I admire, and I’m hardly the first to notice, but the brevity and kick of his insights totally knocks my socks off.

Petya had been in a constant state of elation at being grown-up, and ecstatically eager not to miss any opportunity to do something really heroic. He was exceedingly delighted with what he saw and experienced in the army, but at the same time it always seemed to him that the most genuinely heroic exploits were being performed just where he did not happen to be. And he was in a hurry to get where he was not.”

I used to feel that way about parties.

So I was in Moscow, which has pretty incredible light (see Moscva River scene above) with a group of about 30 journalists and their spouses for eight days, during which we toured a flea market, met with wildly unpopular former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, chatted with retired chess champion and current leader of Russia’s political opposition Gary Kasparov, enjoyed an audience with billionaire oligarch, former KGB agent, and quasi-philanthropic press baron Alexander Lebedev (who announced his purchased of Britain’s Independent the day we were there), dined with Moscow-posted foreign correspondents, visited with archivists of Stalin-era terror, ate grilled meats whilst watching terribly distracting Azerbaijani dancers, ate something called Herring in a Fur Coat whilst trying not to gag, ate a Big Mac in the shadow of Red Square, and spent several hours every day riding Moscow’s gorgeous metro, two stations of which were blown up by female suicide bombers a day and a half after we boarded possibly the world’s shittiest plane home.

It was an adventure. I’m awfully glad to be back.

Oh, the fox thing. Russians are big on fur. Or at least they think tourists are. I was shopping for a fur hat. I ended up not buying one. My friend Raviv didn’t buy one either, but he did try on this fetching little bear number at right:

I took a lot of damn pictures. You can CHECK THEM OUT HERE.

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