Saint Basil's Cathedral – The most recognizable building of Russia.
Aceey’s preface: Want to finally know why 1 out of 10 posts I make on Facebook has to do with Russia? This was originally meant to be a complete blog post about my fascination with Russian culture and history from childhood to adulthood. Unfortunately, the original post was somehow deleted. Also the drafts of the work were mysteriously deleted from my computer and in my email. I don’t want to call it a conspiracy so I am slowly rewriting them. *Looks at my own skin color* Wait, I’m black. Why in the world has Russian culture invaded my life? Find out in this series!
My first brush with Russian culture came to me on Christmas Day at age four. My mother bought me a record player complete with “See-and-Say” style books and their respective recordings. There were also several music recordings. The one that I listened to over and over again was “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” by Tchaikovsky. The sound of the chimes and another instrument that I didn’t know the name of intrigued me—I became addicted to the song. I didn’t know at the time that the other instrument played in that song was the celesta. Was it a coincidence that my middle name is Celeste?
One year later, my kindergarten class took a field trip to see a ballet called The Nutcracker. I began to hear that familiar celesta again. My eyes grew big and my heart melted to hear my favorite song again, and the dancing to it… there’s a dance to it? I wasn’t a dancer but whenever I heard that song, I pretended that I could.
Jasmine from "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" in The Nutcracker. Photo from MTV.com.
Was it a coincidence that one of my favorite actors of all time was Yul Brynner? And it had nothing to do with “The Ten Commandments” either! When I was little, my mother and I would watch Cinema 12 together (WYES Channel 12 – New Orleans) when they would show silver screen and movies in Technicolor at 11:00 am and 11:00 pm. My favorite one to watch by age 9 (that I still watch) was Anastasia, featuring Brynner. He made me fall in love with him over and over—supreme acting, the perfect body, the showcasing of his skills on the guitar and ukulele. At the time, I had no idea he was Russian—I just thought he was good at playing Russian people.
(Left) Yul Brynner in "Anastasia" with his FINE self.
The movie about the ill-fated faux grand dutchess sparked my desire to learn about the political climate of pre-revolutionary Russia. I read books and searched pictures of what it was like to be a Romanov. I was enchanted in imperialism, but not the common people, unfortunately.
Reading Rainbow, a television show hosted by Levar Burton, had an episode on the Shavuot (Passover). A little old lady of Russian descent was teaching how to make challah bread, latkes (potato pancakes), and matzo ball soup. Who knew that I would be making delicious challah bread for loved ones years to come!
A cover of the book read on the television show, Reading Rainbow. The episode featured Passover. Wait, I just noticed that little boy is black... just like me! Yay! I don't feel like an anomaly anymore!
I couldn’t run away from Russian music for some reason. While still in elementary school, my brother had a cassette tape of classical music and I learned of Stravinsky—I couldn’t really pick a favorite between Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. They were two different styles in two different periods. Listening to their waltzes made me appreciate anything in 6/8 and 12/8 time signature, though. In general, I loved the use of several minor chords in the beginning, followed by a bridge in a major key, and going back to a minor key. By age 10, I was already reading music with two years under my belt, learning music theory, and understanding how composers could make a statement without saying a word:
"Overture of 1812" Photo Taken from the "Inside Overture 1812" Website by Adam Sebire.
For example, Tchaikovsky boasted the retreat of France at the Battle of Borodino in The Overture of 1812 (click to listen) by adding pieces of the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise, in major and minor keys. What a genius way to say “Nanny-Nannie Boo-Boo” to the enemy! I laugh every time I heard this song when I was little… I still laugh today (This actually, shouldn’t be funny, as I am from New Orleans, a French colony. Or maybe I should continue to laugh, as France was always trying to dominate somebody. Shoot, finally the underdog got to hold down the fort, hahaha! 😉 Whose side am I on anyway?).
The song would eventually haunt me after the movie, V for Vendetta, was released.
One day, Momma brought home a VHS cassette of a movie called “No Way Out.” In it, Kevin Costner plays a hero and at the end there was a shocking twist—he turned out to be a Russian Sleeper Agent! I became a Russian fortune’s fool again.
No Way Out - Featuring Kevin Costner. My first movie regarding Russian Spies.
All of this happened to me before the age of 12. The spiral down the rabbit hole became deeper as I got older…
To Be Continued…
Parts 2 and 3 coming soon!