Sunday, February 8, 2015


Not sure exactly what set it off, in retrospect it seems nearly accidental. But somehow I randomly decided to look up ticket prices between here and Russia, and found them to be cheap. Very cheap. Remembering a longtime desire to visit Chernobyl, I started snooping around and found, again, cheap tours, cheap hotels, and an article that stated that the two cheapest tourist destinations for 2015 were the Ukraine, and Russia.
And, spookily enough, found that a momentarily lost brother of mine is apparently traveling right now in Eastern Europe and the former CCCR (USSR).

Fancy that.

Of course, the fact that Putin is doing his KGBest to raise a dead Soviet Union from the ashes by making a play for the Ukraine (and Georgia, and Chechnya, etc.) probably renders those countries a bit tricky to actually visit as of this writing. So, apart from Chernobyl, which is a must-see and far out of the reaches of Eastern Ukraine (the hotspot and border), I have decided to forego any travel there for the moment.

For the moment.

But it really sent me off into a wonderland, which is a healthy thing for me to be sent off in every couple or so years. If you are an artist you know what I am talking about. I think that every artist's esthetic should evolve, like a growing thing. It should take signals from the air around it. Its good to get a slug of something that gets you all jazz-handy and jumping around, something that informs your brain weather and gives you new pictures.

Principle among these new obsessions, and a place that has actually begun to eclipse Chernobyl for me, is Buzluzdha.

Say it with me.
Just the sound of it makes my eyes roll back into my head. 
I have never been so obsessed with a building. 

These pictures come from Damien Richter's amazing Bohemian Blog. I insist that you visit. I warn you tho, if you are at ALL into abandoned places, you will be up all night reading of his exploits. But Buzluzdha tops them all for me. 
Its an abandoned Communist Party HQ, built in 1981. Terrifying in its concrete glory, it stands isolated on a mountain in Bulgaria. I have spent countless hours of late reading about it, planning a whole vacation around it, dreaming of it, thinking of laying in its frightening, hulking maw. These pictures don't even include its fascinating inner auditorium, which features a hammer and sickle in its center.....YOU MUST see more photos. Do this. Fall down the rabbit hole as I did. 
Its almost like some Brutalist beast, or some kind of UFO. Never have I seen a building that just made me want to fall down in front of it in terror and some kind of awe. But awe gone all the way is probably alot like terror. Something biblical in that, I am sure. 

It isn't just Buzluzdha, tho. That held the key that unlocked a flood of other associations, and it left me wondering why it had taken me so long to notice that many of my favorite things or fascinations- clean lines, Brutalist architecture, abandonment, time warps and disquiet- are all to be found in the former Soviet Union, in big, fat, terrifying hordes. 

I have long had a fascination with the poles- particularly the Antarctic, just because of Captain Scott really. But something about snowy places began to seem very surreal to me. Very frightening. Unknowable. Maybe its because of "The Shining", but winter, REAL winter- and places rendered uninhabitable by the cold- hold a real claim on my imagination. Throw some abandoned satellites in there and some old hulking concrete Commie monuments and you have a recipe for Place I Must See Now. (I do understand that not all of EE or Russia lies under a constant blanket of snow. But winters get real there, lets not kid ourselves).

SO that sends you off on a million tangents. Every day for weeks now I have been googling "abandoned Eastern Europe" or "communist architecture" and peeing myself looking at the pictures. I don't even know what to see first. I read everything I can find, have combed through pages upon pages of Youtube searches, and that sends you off into another rabbit hole. Soviet Sci-fi, for instance.  Or Soviet space docus!!!! I mean, don't even get me started. 

I am learning that if you are someone like me who obsessively collects content (videos of all sorts) and has for years, you have probably plundered through mountains of crap looking for jewels and you get real good at sifting. Since I am constantly chopping up film to make videos and VJ I had gotten that smug sense that I had pretty much devoured the lion's share of what was out there, and just kept my eye out for recent uploads- no need to march into the hinterlands and beat the bushes like in years past. This is how I learned that you are doing yourself a disservice if you are not diligently searching Youtube using foreign search terms. I Babelfished "Soviet advertisement" and getting the phrase "CCCR реклама", I unleashed a torrent of creaky old adverts that I will probably spend the next few months sifting through. Adverts with music whose provenance can only be guessed at (one doubts that Soviet officials- and I use the term to cover all its Bloc officials as well- were too concerned about properly crediting the music they ripped off), whose meanings and products are hidden in a Cyrillic fog. Which makes them WAY more fun. 

And then there are things that give you a glimpse of the daily life of your ordinary citizen. 

Witness this housewife's ad for some fryer contraption. A carousel of amazing strange fryups are panned over dramatically. But the thing I find most fascinating about this advert is, glancing out the window, you see a typical Soviet apartment bloc and bleak, gray skies. 

I certainly don't want to dissolve many generations of pain and paranoia into a a mere artistic statement. But I can't help but be fascinating with the entire Soviet schlock- the bizarre architecture, the cold formality of a dead satellite, the eavesdropping spookiness of it all. 

I have been told that to travel to Russia, its best to have a friend on the ground to show you the ropes. As a new friend said, "things can go wrong there very fast". I have never liked authority, and have always quaked and jabbered in the presence of cops as if i carted dead bodies or kilos of coke round in my trunk (and I have never done either). I can't even imagine being given the "show me your papers" number by a real, bonafide Russian official. I would probably start crying and apologizing for whatever American crimes I am supposed to be guilty of by association. I just have no spine in those circumstances. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to KNOW that informers are a part of every single human enterprise- even down to the grocery store you work at. I can't imagine living under a dictatorship.

And maybe that's something to do with why I find Communist leavings so interesting. I have often thought about how all the abandoned factories all over America, all the middle-American abandoned cornfield-adjacent ghost towns, the entirety of Detroit, told a story about a passing age. "This bank/fast food/housing project/factory is gone now because (insert poignant-and-possibly-angering reason here)." It really told a story to me.

When you put this level of abandonment as it stands in Eastern Europe and Russia, the story told is FAR more poignant and spectral than ours. There are still countless stories waiting to be told, and probably many are being covered over afresh by Putin as we speak. Because Putin is very much of the old guard. He is a former KGB man who has been laying the groundwork for the resurrection for much of his life. He wants to bring all of it back-with a capitalist swagger thrown on top. He has NO PROBLEM with coming off as the ultimate James Bond villain. He is like something out of a spy novel. And he is for real, and he controls much of Europe's energy supply, due to his making-nice with Europe (and screwing Ukraine/Chechnya in the process). He doesn't care if you think he is an underhanded sonofabitch. His flat effect and strange attempts at seeming like a "regular guy" are somehow terrifying. If anyone on earth could start WW3, be sure its not some guy in a cave wearing a robe and a machine gun, ISIS notwithstanding. 

So. Luckily, it thus far appears that he will keep his hands off EE for the time being. This summer I shall go there. 

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