Tolerance, Post-Apocalypse, and Lenin’s Head in Buryatia

leninhead091409.jpgOver on, Joshua Kucera has an interesting travelogue-type report about a visit to Ulan-Ude in Buryatia, Russia, where he finds racial tolerance much greater than expected, but some strange social trends.  He also finds one of Russia’s biggest Lenin heads.

But that contrasts with the other big impression I’ve had so far, that there is a sort of amoral, post-apocalyptic vibe to the place. There are tons of mulleted, black-clad boys and men walking the streets, drinking beer at all hours and smoking constantly. The most obvious new buildings are cheaply built shopping centers with electronic signs. And every restaurant and cafe has Russian music videos playing, 80 percent of which prominently feature women in lingerie. (And I’m not the kind of guy to harp on this, but it’s hard not to notice that the commercials that intersperse these videos are for stupid mail-order insecurity devices like the Ab Rocket or a widget that makes your breasts bigger.)

Finally, one photo of Ulan-Ude’s most famous landmark: the biggest Lenin head in the world:

My translator, told me that Lenin’s grandmother was a Kalmyk, which is another Mongol-related group that now lives near Chechnya. And he told me that the sculpture also was known locally as “the world’s biggest Jewish head.” OK, here we go, I thought. But the reason is funny: apparently the contours of the head are shaped such that when snow falls on it, it sticks in a pattern that looks just like a yarmulke.