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[personal profile] imomus
• In a way, the ten-hour flight from Osaka to Helsinki on a Finnair A330 is just a bus trip. People keep the window shades down, watch the seatback TV. In another way, it's extraordinary, an elastic day that streches lunchtime from East Asia to Europe, a jet that hangs under the sun and travels for five or six hours across the world's largest continuous landmass, containing some of the most freezing, gorgeous, mysterious landscapes on the planet. If this were a bus, your trip from Scunthorpe to Sunderland would go via Saturn. I don't understand people who aren't fascinated. I can gaze down on Siberia for hours.



• Vladivostok, Yakutsk, Novosibirsk. The names pop up on the route map amongst huge areas of empty space. Not many people live in this vast, icy waste that sometimes looks like craters and lunar ice, and sometimes like green plains curling with rivers. Well, I say not many, but Wikipedia corrects me: not many for its size. This enormous part of Northern Asia constitutes 77% of Russia's territory, but contains 25% of its population (36 million people). I wonder if more will move here if global warming continues? Already the winters are less cold:

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• Europeans flying to Japan see this otherness (an otherness far more vast than anything that awaits them in Japan) below them for hours and hours. For the nervous flyer, it's hard not to associate it with death. I remember Mike Alway reporting to me, after the el Records Japan trip in 1987, "Siberia is like the surface of the moon. You're very aware that if the plane went down there'd be just nothing." It is, after all, minus 50c down there. You'd die within hours.

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• Gazing down at Siberia on an almost-annual basis since the early 90s, I've found the place occupying my imagination, linking the idea of death with the idea of beauty. I wrote Trans-Siberian Express in 1992, a poem which asks you to "abandon this world for the next, cross the great plain of forgetfulness". The lyrics are here and the song itself is here.



• As a teenager I read Solzenitzen's accounts of the Siberian gulags, and revisited them a few years later in the form of Nadezhda Mandelstam's account of the exile to Vladivostok of her husband, Osip, the poet who died in a camp for comparing Stalin's fingers to stubby worms.

• "He knelt closer to the kotatsu table. There were a couple of drawings on tracing paper, and a map of the settlements of forgotten Siberian tribes living around the Sea of Okhotsk: Nao had been studying the disappearing culture of the Evenki and Eveny peoples; the Negidals, Oroks and Koryaks." From The Book of Jokes.



* Siberia (and other cold places) have also cropped up on Click Opera quite a bit: In Båtsfjord on the Barents Sea and Call this cold? This is nothing!, for instance, which is set in the Siberian city of Yakutsk (the one the girl in the video above says is getting warmer).



• It was lunchtime when we left Japan, and it was still lunchtime when we crossed the Ural Mountains, milky, jagged and orange -- the dividing line between European Russia and Asian Siberia. I remembered how I'd played a concert here in 2004, and planned to make an album called Tatartronic.

• Turning away from the window, I started watching the screen between the seats in front of me. There was a film showing the brilliant whites of wintry wastes, the bright oranges of padded boiler suits, and the stark environment of a research station. This turned out to be the 2007 Japanese film Nankyoku Ryorinin, or Chef of the South Polar.

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• Typically Japanese, the film was a harmless, quirky and likeable comedy centred on teamwork and cuisine. Big questions of death and sex were eschewed in favour of winning little anecdotal moments: the team pelt the chef with peanuts for the setsubun festival, steal ramen, pose naked in front of a sign declaring the temperature to be minus 60c.



• The chef's tale is based on two novels by Jun Nishimura, who really was a chef with a Japense research team in the Antarctic. But a rather more interesting account (in the way that imagination often has the edge on reality) may be from a man who's never been there. Vito Acconci contributed a piece called Halley II Research Station: First Impressions & the Beginnings of a Conceptual Approach to a show last year I was also in, as it happens: A Spoken Word Exhibition at the Baltic Mill in Gateshead.



• Acconci's spoken text describes an unbuilt architectural proposal for a research station in the Antarctic. Above is the one that was built, which is called Halley VI Research Station.

* When I announced the end of Click Opera three months ago, I happened to run a picture showing an Antarctic passenger vehicle called a Delta, a big red bus with tires five feet tall. Amazingly enough, one of my readers (someone called Mananath) was reading Click Opera from the McMurdo Staion in Antarctica and responded by telling me he was about to drive a similar vehicle out to the airport. Its name? Ivan the Terrabus.



• And -- to bring us full circle -- it was Ivan the Terrible who conquered Siberia for Russia.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-19 06:48 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
A bunch of cheap stereotypes about Russia again.

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Date: 2010-01-19 07:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
Osip Mandelstam, the demographics of Siberia, the ethnic peoples living around the Sea of Okhotsk, climate change in Yakutsk, these are cheap stereotypes about Russia, are they?

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From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2010-01-19 09:11 pm (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2010-01-19 07:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] count-vronsky.livejournal.com
"I don't understand people who aren't fascinated. I can gaze down on Siberia for hours." Me either. I never get tired of looking out the airplane window. The fact that they have started installing video screens in the seat backs says something sad about us I think.

One of the best articles I read last year was Ian Frazier's Travels In Siberia (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/03/090803fa_fact_frazier). It is behind a paywall, but entering my email as username and password should get you in.



(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-19 07:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] count-vronsky.livejournal.com
condition 1 (http://www.break.com/usercontent/2008/4/Door-to-Hell-in-Antarctica-487339.html)

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Date: 2010-01-19 08:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
Entering your LiveJournal email as username and password? Doesn't seem to work...
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Date: 2010-01-19 09:45 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I do it to shut out the fact that I'm up in the air in a metal barrel from my mind. Aisle seat, staring onto laptop/book/inner eyelids, pretending I'm in a rough train going through mountain landscapes in Peru.

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Date: 2010-01-19 08:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] krskrft.livejournal.com
This is how I spent a good part of today. Will finish later.

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Date: 2010-01-19 08:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
Yes! Enough cover versions of my old songs and I will soon be able to live in a mansion like the one depicted!

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Date: 2010-01-19 08:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] subalpine.livejournal.com
regrettably i've never made the flight that far west from Japan (though i've gone by train as far as Hohhot)..

there's something really appealing (to me, and apparently you) about the contrast in density between Japan's cities and the Siberian and Mongolian expanses. i guess that's how i ended up studying Central Asian anthropology, with a focus on Mongolian and Siberian shamanism, to secure my second stay in Japan....

speaking of Japanese/Siberian links, any thoughts on Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala?

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Date: 2010-01-19 08:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
I've never seen it. From this trailer it looks a bit action-buddy for my taste, but maybe I'd like the atmosphere and visuals:

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Date: 2010-01-19 09:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] viceanglais.livejournal.com
Image

There are large parts of Siberia which are NOT desolate, and which are empty, and which are just across the river from over-populated China. The Chinese have been gradually allowed to open saw mills and settle workers there but I can see it becoming a flash point, or China will simply offer to BUY it - "a Far East version of the Louisiana Purchase".

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Date: 2010-01-19 01:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kineticfactory.livejournal.com
Given that Russia has declined somewhat in recent years, both economically and militarily, the idea that China might relieve them of parts of the Far East, either voluntarily or by force, looks all the more plausible.

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Date: 2010-01-19 09:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bonsai-human.livejournal.com
I'm a terribly nervous flyer, but the one time I flew from Tokyo to Amsterdam it was great. I got some amazing photos of Siberia, and like you was utterly transfixed.

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Date: 2010-01-19 10:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] olliecrafoord.livejournal.com
What I want to know is when you're coming to Stockholm? :)

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Date: 2010-01-19 11:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
Ask your friendly local promoter to send me an honest proposition!

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Date: 2010-01-19 01:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] writewrongs.livejournal.com
Hey this is first time I'd heard that song, but I am really moved by it and my boyfriend and I are considering playing with that beat. Also, traveling over Siberia sounds like the scariest thing in the world. I guess that means you'll be back in Kreuzberg though!

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Date: 2010-01-19 02:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] slime-slime-sly.livejournal.com
I couldnt believe what i was seeing the first time i flew over siberia either. i couldnt stop watching. i just wanted to open the emergency exit, turn into a steppenwolf and finish the rest of the way on foot

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Date: 2010-01-19 02:23 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Whenever I'm flying over Siberia I'm glued to the window (try to get a seat on the left hand side of the plane so you see some wonderful sun-reflections on the surface of this fantastic landscape) being fascinating by the beatuy but at the same time I really get quite melancholic!

Thank you for your wonderful Japan report the last couple of weeks!! I really feel like going to Japan right now.

Kind regards

footie flags and jumble

Date: 2010-01-19 02:38 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
did you see the islands and north irelands winners of the oplimpick art thing?theres a thing on channel four news about it

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Date: 2010-01-19 04:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] parchesss.livejournal.com
Do you try and dress more conservatively for plane rides? Do you get 'random searched' more than coincidence could account for?

I've always been a popular target of random searches, but since I stopped shaving a year and a half ago, it is a rare occasion if I travel and don't get asked to step aside for a second.

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Date: 2010-01-19 04:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
Actually, I sail through airport security quickly and easily. I think the presumption is "Anyone who looks as conspicuous as that is definitely not a terrorist."

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Date: 2010-01-19 05:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cap-scaleman.livejournal.com
Siberia is the best!



Contramus

Date: 2010-01-19 10:38 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Is it just me, or is Momus all over the new Vampire Weekend album?

Re: Contramus

Date: 2010-01-20 04:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
They're the weekend, I'm the vampire!

Re: Contramus

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Re: Contramus

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(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-25 04:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] just-f0r-myself.livejournal.com
Just so you know:
1. Vladivostok is located in the Far East, quite close to China.
2. Mentioned above Yakutsk is located in the Far East, as well as Kamchatka or whatever.
3. You know, there is a huge region called the Far East, and it is NOT a part of Siberia, it's located to the East of Siberia, so I wonder if the European geographical education is that bad?
4. Siberia is not the synonym of the cold. First, it's huge. Second, exactly because of the size, it's rather different.

And piles of other standard stereptypes...

Oh, and yes, Osip Mandelshtam, Solzhenitzyn, the demographics of Siberia, the ethnic peoples living around the Sea of Okhotsk (you see, living in the Far East of Russia, not Siberia) - no more than cheap stereotypes, as the first guest's already said.

Sorry, your blog's really one of the best ones I've ever read. When you know what you're talking about.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-25 04:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
This is a text about flying from Japan to Scandinavia. What I said, when I mentioned Vladivostok and Yakutsk and Kamchatka, was this: The names pop up on the route map amongst huge areas of empty space. I also speak about SIberia, but I don't say that, for instance, Kamchatka is in Siberia.

As for Siberia being synonymous with cold, well, I'm sorry to tell you that in the popular imagination -- and with good reason -- it is synonymous with cold. Play word association with people inside and outside of Siberia and I'm sure "cold" will be within their first few responses. With good reason! Do you know the temperature range tomorrow in Novosibirsk? It's between minus 28 and minus 35 degrees! That's cold!

I'm sorry you think Mandelstam is stereotypical -- have you read him?

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