Na Zdorovie (Nostrovia) – You Deserve A Break Today!

Na zdorovie! In "Krasnij Fakel" theatreNa Zdorovie! Welcome to Russia–where the Men are Men (and alcoholics) and the Women are too.

All this talk of Russia in the news lately, although the coverage is precipitously waning in this ever-quickening news cycle, has me thinking about vodka. Russia and vodka couple like America and apple pie (or Chevrolet and John Wayne); it’s an iconic, intractable part of its culture. It begs the question, did the culture create the vodka as an expression of itself, or did the discovery of vodka create the culture as an expression of the harsh spirit?

Needless to say, it’s hard to argue that vodka hasn’t had a tremendous impact on Russian culture. The word vodka itself derives from the word voda, meaning water. Vodka is synonymous with water in Russia and many Russians don’t hesitate to baptize themselves with this sacred spirit daily. Any excuse, or none at all, will do. This author per this article sums it up nicely:

Russians have considered drinking part of their culture for over a millennium. In 986, Grand Prince Vladimir chose Christianity as the official religion of Kievan Rus because, unlike Islam, it accepted the consumption of alcohol – a decisive move that foreshadowed a nation of drinkers. Over time the distilling process improved, and the first refined vodka was introduced in the 1400s. Vodka became a staple of Russian culture, and with it carried many norms and customs.

A guest who refused to drink with their host was seen as offensive and refusing their hospitality – and when a bottle was opened, it was customary to finish it. Like modern day frat houses, Russian men who could drink the strongest alcohol also inspired the most respect, while a low tolerance for the hard stuff garnered ridicule and accusations of unmanliness.

As documented in Kate Transchel’s 2006 book Under the Influence: Working-Class Drinking, Temperance, and Cultural Revolution in Russia, Russians have been aware of this national propensity for drink for many years and have lamented it for almost as long.

Speaking at the 1912 All-Russian Congress on the Struggle Against Alcoholism, an unidentified speaker highlighted how enmeshed alcohol was in the culture:

“When the Russian is born, when he marries or dies, when he goes to court or is reconciled, when he makes a new acquaintance or parts from an old friend, when he negotiates a purchase or sale, realizes a profit or suffers a loss – every activity is copiously baptized with vodka. … The Russian spends his entire life from cradle to grave, bathing and swimming in this drunken sea.”

While swimming in a drunken sea may be overstating the case a bit, vodka is certainly ever-present in Russian history, occasionally even serving as a currency for peasants in rural areas. A defendant could buy off judges and village elders for more lenient sentences, and in many cases workers in the service sector would refuse cash payments for their time, demanding compensation in vodka. This feudal practice persisted in the Soviet Union with cases of repairmen, plumbers and electricians demanding Stolichnaya instead of rubles.

The path for the Soviet Union itself was built on vodka. At the beginning of the First World War, Tsar Nicholas II prohibited the production and consumption of alcohol in order to mobilize his population for total war, but the act resulted in the loss of a third of the government’s revenue and caused an economic crisis – which opened the gates for Vladimir Lenin’s revolution.

With the Bolsheviks in power, heavy drinking took on a new role – it became a way to overcome distrust in a police state where anyone could be secretly working for the government. Getting a new acquaintance drunk out of their minds was a way to disarm them and get to know the real person…..

More at link

As the article mentions, not a few in Russia lament the intractability of vodka as a cultural icon. For good reason. It shortens lives and renders already miserable lives more miserable. I said the following at Moon of Alabama blog where Russian propagandists are hard at work spinning Russia as a highly functional bastion of Democracy. My comment was in response to MOA commentators tauntingly proclaiming a Russian politician’s threat to kick McDonald’s out of the country.

Ha! Democracy Russian style. No More Soup For You!! What would be really impressive is to wean the population off of vodka…that spirit that’s kept Russia from evolving beyond its feudal mentality. Maybe they could replace vodka with meth as the intoxicant that defines their culture. It’s difficult to drown utter desolation, hopelessness, defeatism and a longing for the apocalypse that never comes.

In part, my quoted MOA comment above was in response to a Russian propagandist commentator who flaunted the following link to this article. Per the link:

McDonald’s announced on Friday it had closed its restaurants in Crimea, prompting fears of a backlash as a prominent Moscow politician called for all the U.S. fast food chain’s outlets in Russia to be shut…..

The company’s decision was welcomed by the deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, known for his anti-Western rhetoric, who demanded that McDonald’s pull its business out of Russia entirely.

“It would be good if they closed here too … if they disappeared for good. Pepsi-Cola would be next,” Russian media quoted Zhirinovsky as saying.

Zhirinovsky, whose nationalist Liberal Democratic party largely backs President Vladimir Putin in parliament, said the party would organise pickets at McDonald’s restaurants across the country.

McDonald’s, which currently operates more than 400 restaurants in Russia, was the first international fast-food chain to tap the Russian market when it opened in Moscow’s Pushkin Square before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That branch had the highest sales and served the most customers of any McDonald’s outlet in 2012.

Wow! If the vodka doesn’t kill the Russians, McDonald’s will; both take a deleterious toll on the liver and many other organs as well. Maybe Morgan Spurlock can do a sequel concentrating on the success of McDonald’s in Rusĭska Zemlya. As the former Soviet Union was expeditiously downsized, the Land of the Rus said, quite emphatically by virtue of McDonald’s record growth in Russia, Super Size Me. You don’t believe me? You think I’m lying, even though this blog is about the lying that is our reality? Here’s an article describing how ready the Russkies were for McDonald’s. The most iconic corporation in the world and the progeny of Vladimir Lenin were always a match made in heaven. It was just a matter of time. Per this article from the new & improved Pravda, RT (Russia Today), McDonald’s was clamoring to serve the Russian people many years prior to the fall of the Soviet Union and once it got through the doors, there was no looking, or turning, back. As Ellis says to Ed Tom Bell in this clip from No Country for Old Men, “you can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

McDonald’s in Russia: 20 years of “loving it”

McDonald’s came to the USSR as a first sign of freedom two decades ago.

Long lines for fast food. And a taste of freedom in a locked country. When McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Moscow twenty years ago, the Soviet Union was waning but still standing. The borders were closed, the choice was dismal. So to many Soviet people, French fries tasted more like Freedom fries.

“Back then, in order to travel to a foreign country one needed to get all sorts of permissions,” says Viktor Loshak, an editor for the Ogonyok magazine. “So for many, walking through McDonald’s door was like crossing the border control. It was like another world for us…”

Natalya Kolesnikova was among those who endured hours in subzero temperatures to try her first Big Mac. And while she is no fan of junk food, she says, in 1990 the McDonald’s menu offered a host of delicacies.

“It was like going to a major premiere,” she says. “People were coming here from all around Moscow. Some had even driven from beyond the city. When guests came to visit, taking them to McDonald’s was just as important as showing them around the Kremlin.”

It took McDonald’s 14 years of intense negotiations with Communist Party bosses to open its first outlet. But once the Golden Arches appeared in Moscow, it meant far more than just business expansion.

“McDonald’s was not so much a fast-food chain but rather a symbol of freedom”, says Loshak. “A symbol of Western values coming to Russia. No wonder the Communist Party objected so fiercely, but at the end it didn’t have a choice.“

With more than 230 outlets across Russia, McDonald’s now controls about two thirds of Russia’s quick service restaurant market – all thanks to its first-come, first-serve strategy.

And while McDonald’s in Russia has long stopped being a cultural phenomenon and became what it is throughout the world – a fast food-chain – it still delivers what it promised two decades ago. Food, folks and fun.

It all started in 1976, in the heart of the Cold War, and it took 14 years to bring McDonald’s to Moscow, remembers George Cohon, one of the team that brought McDonalds in the USSR.

“We just said [to the Soviet government]: trust us, we’re here for a long time, we’re going to come in and go out right away, we’re going to build, we’re going to grow with Russians. It took a few years, but over a period of time we delivered on what we promised: great food, great surroundings and a price people can afford.”

And to think, Zhirinovsky, for purposes of political grandstanding, wants to return to the days of breadlines. One thing McDonald’s has done well, aside from continuing to provide Russians crappy, unhealthy food, is to disseminate their offering without ever running short on supplies. McDonald’s schooled the Soviets on how to eliminate breadlines–and obviously hardline insufferables like Zhirinovsky have never forgiven or forgotten. Let there be breadlines…again–is his, and their, charge. Fat (and a steady diet of McDonald’s flushed down with vodka, if nothing else, will make you fat, or if you’re already fat, fatter) chance.

A commentator at Moon of Alabama blog blamed it all on Capitalism with this following comment:

A blessing in disguise for the Russian consumer. From the same piece:

McDonald’s, which currently operates more than 400 restaurants in Russia, was the first international fast-food chain to tap the Russian market when it opened in Moscow’s Pushkin Square before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That branch had the highest sales and served the most customers of any McDonald’s outlet in 2012.

A Russian backlash again McDonald’s products would have a significant impact on company profits. McDonald’s sees Russia as one of its top seven major markets outside the United States and Canada, according to its 2013 annual report.

However Russian moves to shun McDonald’s burgers could easily backfire, according to Russian newswire RBK, which detailed Russian food suppliers to McDonald’s that would suffer as a result.

Isn’t a totally globalized capitalism, a wonder to behold as it completes the total fuckup of the planet.

Posted by: William Bowles | Apr 5, 2014 10:25:15 AM | 116

Blaming Capitalism is a favorite pass time in certain, or uncertain, circles. It’s a close second to blaming the Jews. Often, especially at Moon of Alabama blog, blaming Capitalism, The Jews and America go hand in hand. I responded to William Bowles from the UK as follows:

I would say that whatever it is, it’s beyond Capitalism. McDonald’s is closer to Socialism than Capitalism; it caters to the least common denominator…hell, it inculcates the least common denominator and allows that denominator to spread and flourish. That’s always been the complaint by so-called Capitalists of Socialism, and here we see McDonald’s, the alleged global symbol (along with Coke) of pure Capitalism, is more akin to the Socialism said Capitalism so often decries.

No wonder McDonald’s has been so immediately successful in Russia; it’s had a ready-made least-common-denominator market from the get-go. Nothing’s changed, really, in all these years since the demise of the Soviet Union. The former Commies (Oligarchs champing at the bit to let loose) did all the hard work of preparing the populace to be the perfect target-market customers for McDonald’s. That least-common-denominator target-market (the majority of Russians) will be pissed if you take their Happy Meals away for trifling political gain.

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Apr 5, 2014 11:06:57 AM | 117,red,mens,ffffff.u2.jpg

The horse branded with the Golden Arches is not only out of the gate, but as we’ve witnessed in Russia, the Golden Arches are really just a reconfiguration of the hammer and sickle. McDonald’s in Russia is really just the perfection of Sovietization coming home to its birth mother after spending its formative years with its foster parents, The Americans. So, it’s a reunion of sorts. The child’s come home to the prodigal and recalcitrant parents to teach them some new tricks in an old game. Some of the parents resent the reproach, obviously. Too bad. Get used to it. Choke on your Big Macs, you thugs. They (the Big Macs and French Fries) speak louder than your empty words and promises and that’s not saying much since the patties aren’t much more than reconstituted fecal matter.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_1200/pussy-riot-attacked-sochi-olympics.jpg

Earlier, I implied Russia was a place of desolation, hopelessness and defeatism who’s inhabitants long for the apocalypse they hope never comes. The Rus’ wear their suffering like a badge. They embrace it. They exploit it. They cherish it. They flaunt it. And their vodka nourishes it. If there’s a dearth of suffering, the Russians will grow it and nurture it into bumper crops season after season. The bleaker and darker, the better. Do you think I’m prejudice and stereotyping in my painting Russophiles as somber, froward, forboding, brooding and brutal? Unlike the taciturn monk who’s quite content to flog only himself, the Russian must not only flog himself for the insult that’s his miserable existence, but everyone else too in an orgy of castigation, condemnation and flagellation. Russians are not a happy people, and no amount of Happy Meals can change that. Perhaps McDonald’s Russia should call them Sad Meals. It’s more fitting.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m a liar, remember? We all are and all of this, and that, is a lie. But some lies are better than others; more entertaining and enlightening. So, what better source to turn to for examples of Russian character and culture than the budding Russian cinema. I like deep, dark and bleak movies. Perhaps it’s because some of the blood that runs through my metaphorical veins is of the Polish variety so I have a certain kinship with the Slavic psyche. Slavic equals slaves to suffering. I enjoy a diversity of films across many genres and dark, desolate and bleak is no exception. There’s plenty of that when it comes to Russian cinema. In fact, I’d say Russian cinema does it best. In the past couple of years, I’ve viewed several Russian films that for ordinary Western people are suicide-triggering. Don’t get me wrong, I thought they were excellent movies, but they do leave you with a horrible feeling of emptiness and hopelessness. If you have the nerve to watch the following offerings, schedule a trip to Disney World afterwords to counteract the effects and bring your spirit back to center. These movies don’t shake off easily. They’ll haunt you for days and exploit your psychical vulnerabilities if you’re still emotionally and mentally alive. In the least, if you didn’t like vodka before watching them, you will when you’re finished. Finally, you’ll understand. Here’s several to add to your Netflix queue if you have the patience…and nerve:

1. The Island

This review from Netflix describes the movie adequately:

“The Island” is a deeply provocative Russian drama presented with a rare simplicity that may at first confuse the viewer into believing there is nothing happening; it does take a while and suddenly you are completely immersed in this most unique parable. Directed by Pavel Lungin this is a biographical film about a fictional 20th Century Eastern-Orthodox monk, Father Anatoli (Pyotr Mamonov) who resides in Northern Russia in a Russian Orthodox monastery. He was washed ashore at the monastery thirty years previously and has since received the gift of clairvoyance and healing and villagers trek for miles for his advice and healing. Some of his advice is humorous and some may confuse you since Father Anatoli is an extremely complicated man and his fellow monks often find his behavior disturbing and bizarre; he is a loner and a man haunted by a secret. Pyotr Mamonov ‘s performance is flawless; with his long shaggy beard, black robes, penetrating eyes and threatening demeanor he is present in almost every scene and is the reason the film succeeds. Mamonov was formerly one of the few rock musicians in the USSR and converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the 1990’s and lives now in an isolated village. Director Lungin said of him, “to a large extent he played himself.” The cinematography of the remote monastery is extremely bleak and varies in shades of gray and black with occasional glimpses of color. The filming location was the city of Kem, Karelia on the shores of the White Sea and won both the Nika Award and the Golden Eagle Award as the Best Russian film 2006. Ultimately this is a very uplifting experience and certainly worthy of your time. Very Highly Recommended.

2. How I Ended This Summer

Here’s a snippet from an excellent review of this movie by the New York Times:

“How I Ended This Summer” begins slowly, the better to steep you in an atmosphere of drabness and chill and a sense of being trapped in a limbo where time stretches out endlessly. You might even describe its austerely beautiful but intimidating Arctic Circle setting (the movie was filmed on the northernmost tip of Chukotka in extreme northeastern Siberia) as a circle of hell. It being summer, the temperature remains above freezing, and the sun, hovering low on the horizon, filters through the fog and clouds to create pastel-shaded layers of shifting indirect light.

In Pavel Kostomarov’s cinematography, which won an award for outstanding artistic achievement at the Berlin festival, the camera repeatedly pulls back to observe the characters from afar and evoke the crushing metaphysical weight of this empty landscape on the humans inching along in the distance. You can feel how the barrenness, along with the incessant low roar of wind and waves, punctuated by the plaintive mewing of the gulls, can slowly drive people mad. Sergei relates a cautionary tale of a conflict between two meteorologists that ended in a shooting death…..

Above all “How I Ended This Summer” is a merciless contemplation of the fragile human psyche under siege. Engulfed by a vast unknown, without the protective distractions of civilization, you have only your insecure, frightened inner voice to guide you. This ultimate measure of one’s mettle is a test that many of us would probably fail.

3. Elena

A comment from this linked review underscores this film’s accurate portrayal of the Russian predicament:

The Winter Palace

The Storming of the Winter Palace was a historical reenactment organised by the Bolsheviks in 1920, led by Lenin, and witnessed by 100,000 spectators. The reenactment was itself reenacted 7 years later by Eisenstein in Ten Days That Shook The World. It became THE iconic symbol of the proletarian Revolution, familiar to every Russian.

“Elena” begins with a somber sequence of very long still shots of another winter palace, inhabited by a latter-day tsar of sorts, an autocrat ruling a tiny domain of wealthy privilege. The film depicts his overthrow, by a latter-day poison of sorts (the Russian weapon of choice), in a coup of sorts, that ends with the occupation of the palace by a new proletariat of sorts.

Is Elena a latter-day Lenin? No, and the film isn’t meant to be taken as an allegory, at least not on a literal one-to-one level. But the constant allusion to the grand revolutionary past provides a sardonic commentary on what Russia has now become in the age of Putin. A squalid bourgeoisie squabbling over money, coopted by capitalism, the TV in scene after scene showing a degrading parade of images and sounds of people arguing over sports, sausage taste tests, women competing for male attention.

Once the Bolsheviks and the Menshiviks duked it out for control over all of Russia. Now, two gangs of idle, frustrated teenagers beat each other with knives and clubs in the shadow of a shutdown nuclear power plant.

“The characters are universally flawed and unlikable,” says the previous commenter. Yes, but you need to see this through dark Russian eyes to understand why.

– Bob, Meredith, NY

Is that enough, or do you need more lies as proof? Here’s a knife to slit your wrists. Or maybe some vodka to drown it all out, or in the least, to forget what you’ve just seen……momentarily.

I’ll make a confession. I drink vodka. I know I sound like a Puritan with all these judgmental statements about Russians and vodka, but I judge because I care. Yes, I like vodka and drink it–but not in lieu of water. I don’t want it in the baby bottle or on my cereal. I don’t want it for every occasion, but I do want it occasionally. I’ve tried many different vodkas over the years and have finally settled on a brand that’s excellent quality at a great price. It’s a Polish vodka, named Luksusowa, who’s ethanol that comprises this spirit is distilled from potatoes. I could write a review, but why bother when so many others have written such compelling odes to this seemingly unknown brand (at least here in the U.S.). Like this review comment from this link:

Again, since there is no open thread in which to post comments about unrated vodkas, and since I have posted about “other” vodkas in the Zyr thread previously, I am going to post my review about Luksusowa here as well.

WOW! I have read a few encouraging comments about this potato vodka, but I wasn’t expecting it to be good enough to make it toward the top of my rating list. From the initial sweet aroma to the smooth and tasty finish after the swallow, Luksusowa is supreme. The flavor is quite sweet, which is especially pleasant in a martini. The nose is also sweet without the alcoholic burn. The martini cocktail that it made was very smooth and followed with nearly no burn at all. The aftertaste was mild and sweet, too. Compared to the bottle of Sobieski that I have been nursing, it is smoother, sweeter, and has noticeably less burn on the swallow. Even the after taste is more pleasant. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it may have made the best martini that I’ve made at home. Bear in mind that the martinis that I make still often do not match the quality of those made by many bartenders since I am still honing my vodka mixology skills, but this one challenged the best that I’ve had anywhere! At only $22.99 for a 1.75 liter bottle ( $9.85 per fifth), this is a terrific vodka at a great price. I can get Zyr, the excellent vodka that is the subject of this thread for about twice that price, but I am not sure that it is actually as great as Luksusowa! If you see this vodka on the liquor store shelf, buy it!

Immersing yourself in Russian cinema, a vodka of your choice and McDonald’s, you’re sure to emulate the best of Russia in implementing a long, slogging, slow-motion suffering suicide lasting approximately fifty some odd years give or take a decade. According to this article from The Telegraph, “vodka binges by Russian men lead to an “extraordinarily” high risk of an early death, Oxford study finds”:

Russian men who down large amounts of vodka – and too many do – have an “extraordinarily” high risk of an early death, a new study says.

Researchers tracked about 151,000 adult men in the Russian cities of Barnaul, Byisk and Tomsk from 1999 to 2010. They interviewed them about their drinking habits and, when about 8,000 later died, followed up to monitor their causes of death.

The risk of dying before age 55 for those who said they drank three or more half-litre bottles of vodka a week was a shocking 35 per cent.

Overall, a quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7 per cent of men in the United Kingdom and less than 1 per cent in the United States. The life expectancy for men in Russia is 64 years – placing it among the lowest 50 countries in the world in that category……

Other experts said the Russian preference for hard liquor was particularly dangerous.

“If you’re drinking vodka, you get a lot more ethanol in that than if you were drinking something like lager,” said David Leon, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has also studied the impact of alcohol in Russia but was not part of the Lancet study.

He said changing drinking patterns in Russia to combat the problem was possible but that it would take a significant cultural adjustments.

“It’s not considered out-of-order to drink until you can’t function in Russia,” Leon said. “It just seems to be part of being a guy in Russia that you are expected to drink heavily.”

Part of being a guy? More like a clown. A drooling, stumbling, slurring, incoherent and obnoxious drunk is a clown, not a “Guy” or a “Man.” What a joke. You have your work cut out for you, Putin. And speaking of incoherent, obnoxious drunks, how about this bloviating blowhard tauntingly proclaiming how Russia can turn America to radioactive ash or something to that effect.

Saddam Hussein never said any such thing, nor did he have WMD, and yet the U.S. and The Coalition of The Willing felt compelled to invade Iraq and take out Saddam. Which one’s the bigger threat on paper, Russia or the former Iraq under Hussein? It’s not even a comparison. Russia’s nukes have to be neutralized now. With talk like this from one of Putin’s mouthpieces, Russia is the greatest danger to the planet, or at least that’s how it appears on the surface. Behind the scenes is another matter entirely. Frankly, I’m not worried. Incinerating the planet ends the suffering and that’s the last thing they want.

I hope this post cheered you up. Pour yourself some vodka and raise your glass for a toast to Russia. Cheers (as we say in the States as opposed to Na Zdorovie)……and Roebuck!!!!


6 thoughts on “Na Zdorovie (Nostrovia) – You Deserve A Break Today!

    • True, it’s not. It is Western Ukrainian though, hence the “Welcome to Russia.” Fitting, considering Russia’s covetous intentions towards Ukraine.

      The West Ukrainian language is very similar to Polish, but many Western Ukrainians are also bilingual Russian speakers. As with many bilingual people, the two languages often get confused in speech, resulting in some funny or ungrammatical expressions. Thus, Western Ukrainians do toast with “Na zdorovie!” in Russian, but only because they confuse the Russian “Za vashe zdorovie” with the same phrase in their own language.

  1. “As the article mentions, not a few in Russia lament the intractability of vodka as a cultural icon.”

    “2011) is surely correct that a rapidly depopulating Russia would be confronted with a number of essentially irresolvable economic, military, and political problems. However, data from Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service suggest that over the last decade, Russia’s demographic indicators have in fact been getting better. Moreover, this improvement has intensified since the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis, confounding a number of Western experts who predicted that the downturn would have a similar eªect within Russia to that of the country’s debt default in 1998, when fertility plummeted and mortality skyrocketed.

    Russia’s demographic improvements are considerable: between 2000 and 2010, Russia’s rate of external mortality (deaths from vehicular accidents, alcohol poisoning, murder, and suicide) decreased by 31 percent, its fertility rate increased by 31 percent, and its natural rate of population loss (the rate at which the population is shrinking without accounting for immigration) fell by 75 percent. In fact, if one takes immigration into account, Russia’s overall population has essentially been stagnant for the past three or four years — which would have been unfathomable ten years ago, when the country’s population was shrinking by a million people a year.”

    And the situation has continued to improve.

    Someone really needs to update their memes…

    • I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll continue to update my memes (as I have) if you do the same. Your post serves as inspiration for another post I’ll put up later today, so thanks for the serendipitous prompt.

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