Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

11 Jul 2001, 7:42 a.m.

Erin Brockovna

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

The Dostoyevsky museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and other stuff.

The title refers to the transliteration of Erin Brockovich into Russian, which looks very wrong. This goes for the translation of X-Men as People X as well.

acec, who are you? I'm thinking I know -- I took at least two polisci classes with you at Cal, and I've introduced you to Leonard, and you use a free, web-based email service, and right now you're in some rather prestigious summer program on the East Coast of the US. Am I right?

Today was the weekly excursion. We had a bus tour around "Dostoyevsky's St. Petersburg," hosted by a very nice woman whose voice reminded me of Sesame Street Muppets. I kind of got bored -- I haven't read the books she mentioned -- and so here are some of the notes from my notebook.

  • Michael Crichton is kind of like a less geeky Neal Stephenson.
  • The quandary of authenticity. "May I do this?" If I see a nastoyaschi (authentic) Russian do it, then it must be ok. But who is nastoyaschi? How to tell? People who look a certain way, or do certain things? Is there circular logic there?
  • Related: Tourism is such a problematic phenomenon. I'm trying to see what's special about a place, but often those things are intangibles. And the tourism process -- excursions, souvenirs, photographing pretty pictures -- makes everything alike, in a way, not unique. (Susanne further ties in this problem with the problem of the question, "How do the natives live?" and the possible invalidity even of the term nastoyaschi.)
  • We see the Shortest Pereulok in St.-Pete. This reminds me of the "Lowest Highest Point" bit from Moxy Fruvous's album Live Noise.
  • "I hereby disapprove of your soft drink habit."
    "I hereby disapprove of your lack of an alcohol habit."
  • There's a Machiavelli Emporium here. ??!!
  • Also a Prospekt (street) named after Rimsky-Korsakov. Evidently a statue there commemorates the title character (sort of) in Gogol's short story "The Nose."

Then I helped some French tourists find the Hermitage. I only remembered "On y va!" as "Let's go!" because that was the name of my French textbook, during the four years when I studied high school French. Jeff, a linguistics grad student who has studied Russian with me at Cal, is amused that I once assumed that Nachalo, since it was the name of our Russian textbook, might also mean "Let's go." He tells that story to lots of people.

Early-August note: I'm returning to the US on August 6, and to California via San Francisco International Airport on August 7. I would really love for people who know me to meet up with me for some type of celebration soon after that -- or, in fact, people could meet me at the gate and I could feel important! You could email me for more info.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at