Monthly Archives: March 2015

The War of the Werewolves and the Minotaurs


Illegal dogfights. Mafia assassinations. And a goodfella who wanted to kill me because I wore a blue shirt to a mob boss’s funeral. My essay, “The War of the Werewolves and the Minotaurs,” offers a glimpse of the mafia in Vladivostok, Russia, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I lived there. The piece appears in the latest edition of Spolia, edited by Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin. Here’s the opening. 


Kill the Clown

Every day at the Vladivostok News, an English-language newspaper I used to edit in the Russian Far East, we would pull up our chairs and discuss the headlines in the local dailies. Sometimes they merited a follow; sometimes—as when papers defended the governor against the “provocations” and “bullying” of foreign reporters such as me—they did not.

One week early in July 1997, the big news was the investigation of the assassination of a reputed mob boss named Anatoly Kovalyov outside the Royal Park Casino, which was close to our home and boasted a Swedish chef named Micke, whose bacon and scallop salad was particularly recommended. At 1:15 a.m. one Monday, a brawl broke out amid the slots and roulette wheels. Men threw roundhouses and crashed into tables as faun-legged girls in miniskirts shrieked and danced out of the way. Possibly the fight was staged; at any rate it drew the entire security cohort into the room, the media later reported. Guards in blue camouflage and bulletproof vests stormed in to break it up, even the guys who scanned you for weapons on your way in, leaving nobody up front. Kovalyov and his entourage reckoned it was time to clear out. Continue reading


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Life in These United States

I (at coffehouse bakery that’s not Starbucks): They making you guys talk about race here, too?


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Uncut pages, background music, crying babies on trains, robust circus ladies hanging by their teeth: Nabokov’s hates

From a newly surfaced Israeli interview with Nabokov. Things he hates, whom he sides with in the Middle East, and his thoughts on exile. “America, my adopted country, is the closest thing to my idea of home”: He wrote this from Switzerland.

What is boring for you? What is most amusing for you?

Let me tell you instead what I hate: Background music, canned music, piped-in music, portable music, next-room music, inflicted music of any kind.

Primitivism in art: “abstract” daubs, symbolic bleak little plays, junk sculpture, “avant-garde” verse, and other crude banalities. Clubs, unions, fraternities, etc. (In the course of these last twenty-five years I must have turned down some twenty offers of glamorous membership).

Oppression. I am ready to accept any regime – Socialistic, Royalistic, Janitorial, – provided mind and body are free.

The touch of satin.

Circuses–especially animal acts and robust ladies hanging by their teeth in the air. The four doctors: Dr. Freud. Dr. Schweitzer, Dr. Zhivago and Dr. Castro.

Causes, demonstrations, processions. “Concise” dictionaries, “abridged” manuals. Journalistic clichés: “The moment of truth,” for example, or the execrable “dialogue.”

Stupid, inimical things: the spectacles case that gets lost; the clothes-hanger that topples down in the closet; the wrong pocket. Folding an umbrella, not finding its secret button. Uncut pages, knots in shoelaces. The prickly aura of one’s face after skipping one’s morning shave. Babies in trains. The act of falling asleep.

What do you think of the situation in the Middle East?

There exist several subjects in which I have expert knowledge: certain groups of butterflies, Pushkin, the art of chess problems, translation from and into English, Russian and French, word-play, novels, insomnia, and immortality. But among those subjects, politics is not represented. I can only reply to your question about the Near East in a very amateur way: I fervently favor total friendship between America and Israel and am emotionally inclined to take Israel’s side in all political matters.

Read it all here.

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