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Dispatch from Moscow:

While strolling through Smolensk Square, en route to the Arbat (for an indication of the importance of the Arbat, see here, here, here, here, etc., if you know Russian, as well as (on a different note) here), I ran across a book vendor with the following book: Harry Proglotter and the Magic Shawarmatrix. The blurb goes like this (my loose translation on the fly):

Woe, as it happens, crept up unnoticed. Harry Proglotter, a student in the magic school Hobotast, carelessly ate a Magic Shawarma, which contains the roots and offshoots of Universal Evil. And this Evil is growing inside the young wizard, threatening universal catastrophe. Harry must set out on a risky, distant expedition for the healing antidote. He is helped by his friends James Barahlow and Molly Kozazel, and also by master Yoda, who in those days wasn't yet a Jedi teacher.

If you like this, check out the official site of Tanya Grotter.

UPDATE: A commenter asks about Tanya Grotter in English -- the official site is in Russian only, but here's an English description of the character. Another commenter says the book wasn't published in the Netherlands but was available in Belgium -- maybe the commenter is talking about Harry Proglotter, but the Wikipedia site I link to in the previous sentence says that this was true of Tanya Grotter.

However, the "magic shawarma" plot (Perhaps we can have sequels with an enchanted falafel or a cursed baba ghanoush? But there's something cool about a "shawarmatrix" that couldn't be reproduced with other Middle Eastern foodstuffs.) reminds of W.S. Gilbert's infamous magic lozenge plot.

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Movie recommendations:

On previous trips to Europe, I saw (and later recommended) Bella Martha (released here as Mostly Martha) and Pani e tulipani (released here as Bread and Tulips). (Query: Go together like mint and juleps?) Sadly, Vaya con Dios — a road trip movie about monks (in modern times) and the redeeming power of a cappella — doesn't seem to have been released here, nor is it available on Netflix. Watch out for it, though. (See my previous posts about some of these movies here and here.)

New recommendations, from my recent trip to Moscow: Izobrazhaia zhertvu (Playing the Victim), which is basically Donnie Darko meets Hamlet. The title comes from the main character's occupation — he's a twenty-something slacker who makes a living playing the victim in police reenactments of crimes. The second movie I liked is Mne ne bol'no (It Doesn't Hurt), which is tough to describe. (Buddy movie with kids in St. Petersburg trying to make it as architects; romance with an eccentric girl; also a bit part by Nikita Mikhalkov.) In particular, I liked the song "Pozovi menia nebo" by Vadim Samoilov of the band Agata Kristi. At least It Doesn't Hurt has an English working title on IMDB, which may mean it might travel?

While I'm on the subject of Russian movies, here are some older Russian (Soviet-era) movies, both available on Netflix. Vokzal dlia dvoikh (Railway Station for Two) is excellent, and has a brief appearance by a young Nikita Mikhalkov. I think the star, Liudmila Gurchenko, looks a bit like Felicity Huffman. My mother was once confused with Gurchenko when she was in Moscow, so it all connects. Moskva slezam ne verit (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears) is also pretty good. I enjoyed the title song, sung by Sergei and Tatiana Nikitin to words by the well-known Russian bard Yuri Vizbor (and which, having gotten it on CD, I've been singing over and over):

Alexandra, Alexandra, this city is yours and mine;
We've become its destiny — just look into its face!
Whatever there was at the beginning, it will ease all your sorrows;
And that's how the Moscow ring road became our engagement ring.
And moving on to non-Russian films, you have all got to see Wait Until Dark, the 1967 thriller starring Audrey Hepburn and also featuring Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman who has to match wits against crooks who are trying to con her and later terrorize her in her apartment. Not only is it legitimately suspenseful — which I didn't expect of an Old Movie — but the blindness/self-reliance theme also makes this a very good Objectivist movie, similar to Million Dollar Baby. (My theory, by the way, is that Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience is also excellent for Objectivists on aesthetic theory.) On a different note, those who like Jane Austen, rather than watching the awful Keira Knightley movie, should try out the Indian movie Bride and Prejudice.

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