Thursday, July 27, 2006

Remember when you were young

I didn't write this - I simply translated it from Russian. But this text surely hit home. How about you?

If you were a child in the 60s, 70s or 80s, it is hard, looking back, to believe that we managed to live till today.

When we were children, we used to ride in cars without seatbelts and airbags. A trip on a horse-drawn carriage on a warm summer day was a great pleasure. Our little cribs were coloured in bright paints with high lead content. Caps on medicine bottles were not child-proof. Entrance doors and wardrobes were seldom locked. We drank water from artesian wells, not from plastic bottles. Nobody in sane mind would ride a bike in a helmet. Oh, horror!

We would work hard for hours on self-made scooters made of boards and used bearings from the dump yard, but when we rode them for the first time from a hill, we’d remember we had never attached any brakes. Only after we’d slam into prickly bushes or piles of rubbish, we would fix that problem.

We would play outside all day long, returning only when the streetlights were lit. Nobody could know exactly where we were. There were no mobile phones in existence. Can you imagine!

We’d cut and scrape our legs and elbows, break bones and knock out teeth, and nobody ever sued anybody. It was always our fault, not anyone else’s. Remember? We’d fight with each other and walk around, scratched and bruised, and get used to not paying attention to that.

We would eat cakes, ice-cream and drink lemonade, all made with sugar, but nobody got fat from that, because we were always running around and playing. Several kids would drink out of the same bottle, and nobody died from it.

We didn’t have game consoles, play stations, computers, 165 channels of satellite TV, internet, CDs or pocket phones. Instead, we’d rush in a crowd to watch a cartoon into the nearest apartment, because there were also no VCRs.

BUT – we had friends. We’d leave the house and find them. Together, we rode our bicycles, raced matches along the streams in spring, sat on benches near doorways, on fences or in schoolyards, chatted and laughed. When we needed somebody, we’d knock on the door or just come over. Without invitations or arrangements. Remember? We, kids, by ourselves, in this dangerous world! Without security! How did we manage to survive?

We would invent games with sticks and old cans, we’d steal cherries and apples in private orchards, and swallow cherry pits, and cherries never grew out of them in our stomachs. During class breaks, we’d spray each other with water from used syringes.

We had the freedom of choice, the right to risk and mistake, trial and responsibility, and we somehow learned to use them. If you are one of that generation, congratulations! You lucked out that your childhood was over before young people’s freedom was purchased for Motorola Pink Razor, American Idol, Snickers bars and Lays Potato chips.

We used to do lots of things we would never imagine doing now. In fact, if you do some of the things today that you routinely did back then, few will understand, and some may think you are insane.

Take, for instance, street soda water machines. There used to be a glass there – one for all, that you could rinse in the little jet of water before use. Today, nobody would drink out of a common glass in the street. Today, the glass would be stolen within 3 seconds of machine’s installation. But back then, everybody drank out of those glasses and was not afraid to catch some disease. Local alcoholics were borrowing those glasses for their own “affairs”… and, imagine, returned them back!

We had 3 TV channels, and most of us had black and white TVs. When first self-exploding colour TVs started appearing, entire houses would gather in apartments of those lucky neighbours that had them, and ogle in awe at the pale, low-resolution colours. Who needed TVs anyway, when we had our collections of slides and diafilms? Who remembers those now? (I do).

That’s how it all used to be. And here’s how we are now:
1. You accidentally enter your ATM machine PIN-code on the microwave
2. You have 15 phone numbers of your immediate family consisting of 3 people
3. You send an email to your colleague who is sitting in the next cubicle
4. You’ve lost touch with your old friends because you don’t know their email address
5. You return home and answer your phone in the business manner, as if you are still at work
6. You panic if you leave your mobile phone behind at home, and you come back to collect it
7. You wake up in the morning and first thing you do is go online, before you even had your coffee
8. You read this and you agree with it, and you are smiling…

Friday, July 21, 2006

My Favourite DJs

I am going to see Deep Dish at Ruby Sky tonight. I am not a big fan of that San Francisco venue, but that's where all the big name DJs perform lately. I thought of all the DJs I saw there recently - pretty much all of my favourite ones, except number 1 -


I first saw Sasha back in 1993 during his residency at Twilo in New York. He was already famous back then, which is mega-successful for a DJ. At the time, he was THE definition of trance house, although his style is more progressive house as defined now. In fact, I would call his style unique as I can recognize Sasha's music without knowing. A harmonious mixture of harsh beats with some rudimental yet not excessive melodies, he is ever innovative and creative. His style of spinning - very withdrawn, as if the audience is not even there - is a little cold, but the music makes up for that.

Armin Van Buuren

He spins pure trance and is not ashamed of it. The guy from Holland is definitely on the lighter, more vocal side of trance, which is a pleasure to dance to, especially under any kind of influence. Last set that I saw of him was surprisingly house-y though, as if he is moving towards progressive and away from strictly trance. He is also quite engaged at the decks, never shying away from dancing, jumping and waving to the audience.

Junkie XL

Another Dutch DJ, unfairly less known than the his more famous countrymen Van Buuren, Tiesto and Ferry Corsten. Nevertheless, his set at Ruby Sky that I saw a couple of months ago, was one of the best of anybody that I had ever seen. In fact, the only other set of Junkie XL I saw was years ago at Bedrock in London, and I remember being equally impressed. He is very creative with his spinning methods, playing with the sound, the volume, the beat, and so on. I would define his music as progressive, something between Sasha and Tiesto, although definitely unique in his own way. Junkie is EXTREMELY engaged with the audience, constantly interacting with the crowd. I definitely hope to see more of him.

Ferry Corsten

Used to be my number one favourite. But alas, the last set I saw of Ferry was same old melodic trance stuff, that sounded kind of the same all through the night. Having said that, the handsome Dutchman knows how to deliver quality old-school trance to the masses.

Jondi and Spesh

These two local San Francisco residents are steadily developing their unique styles and rapidly becoming celebrities. I happen to personally talk to both of them on their nights at 111 Minna club. Spesh is a bit of a loose cannon, who sometimes plays the stuff he likes, which is mostly house, more into the deeper side, although he would probably utterly disagree with me on that definition. Other times, he would deliver killer sets clearly designed for the dancing audience on the floor, and that's relentless non-stop sets that are so good you don't want to leave the floor even for a bathroom break. Jondi seems a bit more consistent, and plays quality house whenever I come to Minna early enough to hear him.


I don't know why I am even bothering with Tiesto. He's too famous now for his own good. I've skipped his last few sets in San Francisco because of high price tickets and huge crowds of Asian clubbers that were flocking to see him spin. But the earlier sets that I saw of him, a few years ago, were always great. His middle of the road trance is also innovative, especially since he writes a lot of his own shit now, being a "producer" and a "musician" and all.

Ricky Ryan

I recently discovered Ricky at a local venue Anu thanks to host Scott Carrelli (who is an outstanding DJ himself, by the way). Ricky's from Argentina, and plays a house that I can't really define. He's stuff is definitely NOT trancey, but nevertheless extremely danceable. I hope he will come back to SF again soon.

Deep Dish (updated)

Deep Dish is a story of 2 Persian DJs from DC - Sharam and Ali aka Dubfire. They have bene around forever. In fact, I first learned of them back in Europe in late 1990s, when I saw them, along with Sasha, Tiesto, Sven Vath and others at a techno music festival near Amsterdam. They are always innovative, respected house music DJs and producers. During the last show, I was finally able to see the difference between the two. Sharam started, and his stuff was amazing: lengthy, upbeat, progressive tunes, very danceable and quite melodic. Ali's stuff was a bit different: darker, deeper house, with more emphasis on pure beats. I left soon into Ali's set, as I was tired and it just didn't do it for me. But still, overall a stellar performance from patriarchs of house. Funny, as I was leaving the club, Paul Oakenfold who apparentl played in San Francisco the same night, was coming in with his posse. I was surprised at how short he was. I wonder if they made him pay up $30 bucks like everybody else :)

Can't think of anybody else. I mean, Paul Oakenfold doesn't deserve to be called DJ any more, and I never really liked John Digweed even though he "discovers" many great DJs at his Bedrock label (including Junkie XL). There's Steve Lawler whose rare performances are shockingly powerful, but that's tribal house which I simply don't know that well. There's Paul Van Dyke, a favourite with girls and Asian crowd, but his radio style music is not my favourite. I like Dave Seaman, but haven't heard enough of him. George Acosta plays purely vocal, almost dreamy trance, which I used to like more than I do now. John Kreamer and Stephan K are interesting as they play the same exact beat during their entire sets. And, of course, there are local San Francisco veterans: Scott Carrelli, Taj, Frenchy le Freak, Dimitrios Mykonos, Alan Octavo, Syd Gris, and so on. I think most of them are only part-time DJs.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Busstop Encounter

Last night, I parked my car at a spot near a busstop. It was after 11 pm, and I was surprised to see a very young-looking girl with a shopping bag sitting all alone on one of the seats. She was wearing a skirt, an open spaghetti-strap top, and hangy earrings. There was something very familiar about her look. I almost passed by, but couldn't resist asking her: "Are you by any chance Russian?"

She smiled, surprised, and answered: "Yes, why?"

I didn't quite know why. I have this ability to detect Russians among the crowds, whether they lived in America for 10 years or 10 weeks. There's the attire - usually more European, yet normally a tad tacky. There's the makeup, with women - usually slightly excessive. There's this Slavic melancholy in the eyes. And there's always a certain look on their faces - a mixture of worry, self-conscience and apprehension. But that's not what drew my attention to her - it was an almost child-like expression of curiosity on her wide-eyed face, which only increased once I approached her.

The rest of the conversation carried on in Russian. She told me she just arrived to San Francisco 2 months ago, on a summer job visa, loves it here but complained it was expensive. Her name was Anya and she was from Stavropol. Despite looking about 18, she was, in fact, 22. She told me she would love to stay in the US.

Not even five minutes into our talk, two other Russian boys came over to the bus stop from the nearby Cala Foods store. They looked even younger than her, but both held themselves solidly and politely. They introduced themselves to me - Lyosha from Chelyabinsk and Vova from Samara. Apparently, Anya was waiting for them to finish their shopping. They asked if I had a cigarette, which I didn't.

Then, another two young Russians came over, also with plastic shipping bags (I noticed a vodka bottle sticking out of one of them). Igor from Moscow and Katya from Krasnodar. Then, three more came - Vova, Petya and Alyona, I think all three from Cheboksary or some other city on the Volga.

They all looked at me, obviously about 10-12 years older than them, with respect, probably due to my older age and residence in the USA. They all wanted to stay on, working, studying, any way they could. Girls had a more direct, if more painful way of marrying someone, while guys - well, guys were talking about staying illegally past their visa, or joining some cheap college. I gave them some recommendations, although my own expertise in current immigration affairs is quite rusty.

And I looked at them with envy and nostalgia. I may have indeed managed to settle in this country, and drag myself through all the thorns of its immigration system, and dealt with graduation, jobs, contracts, car shopping, insurances, political correctness, taxes, police, doctors - all of the facets of the "American Dream". But the dream has evapourated without ever materializing.

They were standing there, bright-eyed, hopeful and eager. They were on another stratum, and perhaps many would have given a few years of their lives to be where I was. But I would rather be, at least for a day, for a week, for a month, where they were - facing the crossroads of uncertainties, life choices and the full knowledge that what's ahead would be better than what was behind. And in the more immediate future, their whole group was, perhaps for the first time without supervision, going to have their little house gathering, with vodka and snacks, with girlfriends and boyfriends - all on the same little rocky sailboat, so different from the sterile cruiseship I was on.

They politely excused themselves and moved on. I stayed on the busstop for a minute longer and went home. It was getting late.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Zidane's last word

So, France lost. And in what way. The news, even bigger than Italy's winning the Cup, is Zidane's headbutt to Marco Materazzi, the brutish Italian defender, that resulted in the ejection of the greats player of this championship as well as, quite possibly, France's loss.

What is interesting to me is how the reaction to the incident reflects cultural differences across the globe. Here in the US, Zidane's act is almost universally condemned. These, after all, are the politically correct, confrontation-avoiding Americans, who seldom have the guts to say anything to anybody who is irritating, annoying or unfair. Why risk it, seems to be the mentality here, fueled by fear of draconic punishment in the American justice system or simply someone's concealed gun in your face.

In Europe, the reaction seems mixed. While from the point of view of sportsmanship, the headbutt is generally chastised, the main question in the media seems to be: what did Materazzi say to Zidane to provoke him? Is there too much taunting in the game of football? Was Zidane's reaction adequate? The French have already forgiven Zidane, as he said in the press conference that Materazzi insulted his mother and sister. So the consensus seems to be that the deed was justified. Even the Italians seem to be on Zidane's side, accusing Materazzi of playing dirty and deliberately provoking one of the game's greatest players.

In Russia, on the other hand, Zidane is almost universally praised for standing up to himself and responding to an insult. Russians don't even care about the exact nature of the insult - they say Zidane acted like a real man punishing his offender rather than tolerating his words. Their only regret: Zidane headbutted Materazzi in the chest, while he should have done it right into his face.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

World Cup update 2

So the Cup is for Italy or France to win. I have to say, both teams deserve to be in the finals after the some of the best games of the tournament they've shown: France against Brazil and Italy against Germany. I was happy for France. Brazil were just a little too much of a favourite, and quite frankly, France was the first serious opponent to them, which they, alas, couldn't deal with. One has to wonder if that natural, outer-worldly talent that Brazil allegedly has is real. And where was Ronaldinho in that game?

France's game against Portugal wasn't as exciting, but they did what had to be done and held on. So Zidane and Co can retire in style, after the finals.

Germany caused me the greatest disappointment by knocking out Argentina in penalty kicks. I really liked this Argentina team and hoped they would advance. I definitely wanted to see more of Tevez and Messi. It's especially bad because there'd be plenty of Germany to see in the upcoming Euro-2008, but I only see Argentina on TV once in 4 years.

But Italy took revenge for Argentina (after all, half the Argentina's team seem to have Italian passports). The way they beat Germany - 2 goals in 2 final minutes of overtime - was precisely the way they had to do it. Had Italy scored too early in the game, Germany would have bounced back with the fury they are capable of. But 2 goals in the last minutes of the game gave them no chance at all and were a fantastic finish by the Italians. I can't even be upset with Italy for knocking out Ukraine, which was extremely lucky to have advanced as far as they have.

I was not too impressed with Portugal, one of my favourite teams this World Cup. They played dirty, with dives and cheats, and even Deco, their Brazilian superstar, was not too visible in the France game. But I will still support them in the 3rd place game against Germany.

England was a loser once again, and once again the brutal English media will be looking for scapegoats, the most convenient of whom is the outgoing manager Eriksson.

I wish we could see more of Spain, but they yet again fell victim to their complete inability to do anything of mark in elimination stages. Too bad, really.

As for the champions, I have an edge for France, but I won't be too upset if Italy wins it, either. Good luck to both teams!