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Yasha Levine

(a.k.a. Yakov Borisovich Levandovsky)

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I came back from vacation this week and found myself urgently in need of a warm winter shapka. I lost my last one after I gave it to some guy in exchange for a bottle of farewell Putinka vodka. To get a new hat, I headed down to Cherkizovsky Rynok this past weekend for some serious shapka shopping. Known simply as “cherkizon” among more seasoned rynok shoppers, this outdoor bazaar is truly a shopping wonderland. Cherkizon might just contain the single largest selection of shapkas crammed into one place on planet Earth. (more…)

Posted: January 14th, 2008

This article first appeared in The eXile in December 2007

OMON outside of Yabloko’s headquarters in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — The morning air was icy and the mood tense as people gathered for Other Russia’s pre-protest press conference outside the Yabloko office. The protest itself was a few miles away and wouldn’t start for another hour, but it was obvious that something was going to go down, and soon. (more…)

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Posted: December 11th, 2007

This article was first published on November 21, 2007 in The eXile.

It was just after 1 a.m. on Monday morning when I pulled my rental car up to my apartment building. I’d just spent the last 48 hours working as a private taxi driver, during which I clocked 30 hours and 450 miles on Moscow’s impossible streets. I felt like total shit. I had barely slept over those 48 hours, subsisting on Coke, gum, tobacco, Snickers bars, and my meds.

I had carpal tunnel cramps in my right hand from jerking the stick shift in my rental; my left calf had long since gone numb from straining on the clutch.

(more…)

Posted: November 21st, 2007

They get in your mind… They make you do things!
– General Owen referring to the Brain Bug in Starship Troopers.

This isn’t a movie, kids. The Brain Bug is real.

It doesn’t look anything like those big fat brain worms you see in sci-fi flicks.

You need a microscope to see the real Brain Bug: a tiny single-celled parasite that goes by the scientific Latinate of Toxoplasma gondii. But just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. In the realm of brain-controlling parasites, T. gondii – TG for short – takes the big tissue. No other creature exerts as much control over human minds – or controls so many of them. TG influences every nuance of your personality. It determines how you feel when you wake up in the morning, your career path, how you relate to others, the quality of you mating partner – you name it, TG controls it. And there’s no cure. Once it sinks into your brain, you’re a slave for life. (more…)

Posted: August 21st, 2007

OMON’s first ever meet-the-press event, organized to change the special force’s image from brutal and incompetent to professional and deadly. (more…)

Posted: May 10th, 2007

Which chick scares you more from a public health perspective?

Spring is here and so are migrant birds. That means another bout of bird-flu media-frenzy. H5N1 was supposed to be a pandemic, remember? The Bubonic Plague without borders. Millions would die, cooked alive in their own skin. But other than a few lousy peasants dropping dead here and there, nothing has happened. In box office terms, the flu is a flop. Millions spent on the greatest fear marketing campaign and nothing to back it up. Sure, H5N1 could still mutate into a form that allowed it to spread between humans. But I say let’s worry about it when it happens. (more…)

Posted: April 20th, 2007

I boarded my platzkart wagon heading out of Izhevsk feeling like I could die. And that was BEFORE entering platzkart–the infamous Russian third-class railway carriage. The train car, packed to the brim with foul-smelling Izhevsk hicks, was like one giant sweaty armpit. Everything stank from the moist vapors of BO, mouth rot and peregar hanging in the air.

I was about to start a17-hour Platzkart Hell journey back to Moscow, and this was the kicker: I was suffering from brutal food poisoning that I’d picked up in platzkart on the way out to Izhevsk. I was shivering, every muscle in my body ached, and my guts were cramping with unbearable pain. If the diarrhea started up again, I’d be fucked. You don’t want to have unstoppable diarrhea attacks in a platzkart toilet, trust me.

The Girls of Platzkart (more…)

Posted: December 15th, 2006

surface-to-air

STEPANAKERT, NAGORNO-KARABAKH — It took my taxi driver and me an hour to get out of Yerevan. Most of it was spent waiting in line to fill up his gas tank. Not with gasoline. No, it was the kind of fuel you’d pump into your gas powered BBQ. Ruslan, like most other Armenians living off gypsy cabbing, didn’t have a drop of petrol in his tank when I first got into his Volga. He’d modified it to run on natural gas stored in a large canister in the trunk of his car. (more…)

Posted: August 25th, 2006