Archive for April, 2009

Wings of Steel

April 27, 2009

I’m out patrolling my river again.  This is the earliest yet – boat in on April 18th, and as I leave for Japan I have already logged on 50 miles, bringing her around and going up and down the river to test and tune my ‘mistress’, as Quan calls Tycha. “Your work’s your wife and your boat’s your mistress – who am I?”

For landlubbers, I mentioned last post, these are the days between the ice and the bugs; for the sailor, these are the days between the launch and the setting of the traps.  By the 4th of July, this river will be so awash in the cheery and garish pot buoys that mark the lobstermen’s traps that you can nearly walk across the river on them.  They need to earn a living, not easy these days, but sailing then becomes like driving in traffic, requiring constant attention.  Nothing quite like being on an American freeway, a meditation at 70mph where the mind can roam.  Nothing quite like setting the sails for long reach, locking off the wheel, and letting her sail herself while you put on the kettle for a nice hot cuppa.

2 hours work – cleaning and restoring her, balancing her out – for one hour sailing, that’s been my deal with myself, as I try to avoid office work and stay outside.  So much to be done in this season – the screens in, the dirt out, the sumber plumming for the cottage, the branches and pine cones to be put on the burn pile, repairs to the pier from the winter storms…  My hands are cracked and full of cuts, splinters, and bruises from the spring work; I wonder if I will feel ashamed putting them up against the citified delicate hands of the Japanese physios and Pilates teachers?  Nah.

The best day we had all week I arranged to meet the Nat – I commissioned new sails last summer from our local world-class sailmaker before the recession hit.  It was a gulp this spring to pay for them, but what could I do?  Tall and craggy, with a square set of shoulders that cry out for bodywork he would never consider having, Nat is a local institution, and I am nervous of making a sailing error as he swings aboard to cast his practiced eye over my rigging and his handiwork. I was having a few teething problems, which he solved with a 20-minute resew and some terse advice about the shocking state of my outhauls and downhauls.

Sooner than I thought, I was back out in the current with the dacron snapping sharply.  I call them my Wings of Steel – do you know the Japanese fairy tale?  A couple of geese bless the sails by flying low overhead, honking, their own wings of steel having brought them up from the Chesapeake.

It is not often you get barefoot sailing in April up here, but in a few minutes of being in the lee, I am shirtless with my feet against the deck.  Round the corner and the layers go back on above (including a scarf by the time I got out to sea and the wind was really up – you want to stay comfortable asea, keep your neck warm).  The water is 40F (5C) – I put a thermometer aboard this year – and when the wind draws across the ocean, it cannot be much warmer than that, even in the sun.

The slopes on either side have the smallest wash of red in the buds – no leaves yet.  The weather snaps like a flag – suddenly it is raining as cold succeeds warm.  There is a rainbow, a rare sight in winter, with the pot of gold right into the Seal Ledges I am pinching to avoid – all nine colours in glowing pastel, confident and assured, not tentative and waving shyly like some rainbows I know.

The mussel boys are out on Mumbles as I return, all wool caps and oilskins, hosing the mud and protovertebral tunicates and starfish off the black almonds of full-meated mussel – they hand me a bag (my privilege as wharf manager) as I ruffle up beside them to pass the time of day yelling between boats.  Rope-grown mussels are superior to every other kind (because that’s what we do here).  A little white wine and parsley is all you need, never mind the garlic.

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Halcyon Days

April 17, 2009

These halcyon days! between the ice and bugs, when we have none of either.  When the sunshine is strong enough to have some warmth when you’re in it, but the wind still has some bite when it hits you, especially coming off that still frigid water.  Yesterday I lay in the lee for ten whole minutes, back to the ground – warm grass on cold soil – watching the tree above me bud.

I think it’s Robert Frost, writing of Vermont (but this is inexact, for sure):

Stand in the sun in the noon of the day
And you’re one month down in the middle of May
Then the wind comes over the frozen arch
And you’re one month back, in the middle of March

Spring fever is no joke when the winters are as long and hard as they are here.  Seize the rake for the delirious binge piling branch detritus of winter storms on the lawn, grab the saw for a satisfying orgy of brush cutting, callous your hands and cover them with pitch picking up all the pine branches and cuttings to barrow them over to the burn pile.  Get a permit and a few cases of beer, mull some wine and have a bonfire party – it’s Beltane, and the winter spirits are being freed from the ground to fly about on the wind.  The flowers follow these escaping sprites, poking up more every day – crocuses open each morning, the tulips are trying to follow.

The snarl of chainsaws and thunk of mallets is everywhere in this rural neighborhood, where sounds carry well in the clear air through the naked trees.  The orchard men are pruning, laying down mulch, and checking the pumps on the sprayers. The fishermen awake from their long winter naps and begin to repair their traps and ready their boats.

For me, a lightweight dilettante rich person, it is time to start plaguing the boatyard about getting Tycha in.  Most years I fight, but this year Mike, Charlotte, and John have all taken pity on me, or maybe it’s become a point of pride to have the first boat in the area in the water and sailing before most have taken off the covers and begun scraping.  Most folks aim to get their boats in up here before the 4th of July weekend, when the season really starts.  (The yard-owner Mike, a large man who has become even larger with a winter full of travel and good meals, will slim down to skin and sinews by the time he finally relaxes after 12-hr days between now and the 4th.)  But I love the spring winds, so I like to say I want the boat in before I pay my taxes (and I hate filing for an extension), but early May is the more usual reality.

This year, I hope for next week, late April.  Dress warm, put on some sailing gloves, and this is the time of year for great dances between wind and water, alone on the sea, before there are fishermen twirling around their lobster pots to avoid, or summer visitors ‘from away’ who try to claim this coast as their own for the summer months, gunning their engines or flying their spinnakers.

Can’t wait.  But that’s next month, a dream to hold in my febrile state – these weeks its clean up: getting the insulation down and the screens up, the water on and tight in the cottage and the anti-freeze out of the toilet, trundle the dock out of the field down the ways to the water and pin its runway to the edge of the deck with the iron bar that has served this purpose for uncounted years.  Wrestle the outboard onto the scow, set the moorings by pulling the chain up through the 0 degrees Kelvin water as yet unclouded by plankton, hank it over the tipping gunnel with one hand while setting the buoy shackle with the other.

It’s real work, man’s work, not the feminine dance of my daily toil in the land of healing (which I love also, but c’mon…).  These are yearly rituals that loom, ripple over you in the change of seasons, and then lie a-wait for the other end of the sun’s path when the ritual reverses and things slide back into their shell for the winter.

Brrr – that’s too far ahead for my spring-obsessed mind to want to travel.  It’ll come, and soon enough, but meantime there’s a sun with heat, warming ground, and a world of objects large and small to align with the coming solstice.

Smells and sounds

April 12, 2009

The sheer joy of being at home again.  I went through spring in Germany, and will have to do it again here, as the only sign of spring in the two weeks I have been gone is ice-out in the ponds, and most of the ground is visible again as the snow recedes.  The trees know spring is upon us; Adam has already starting boiling the maple sap down to syrup and you can catch a whiff as you drive by. But otherwise the trees are wooden and bud-free, and the ground is barren, even of crocuses.

Annie sees it coming too, and is germinating seeds in the greenhouse in trust of future warmth. Step inside and you are suddenly in Carolina, with the earth-under-glass giving off its peaty smell. Nothing much showing here yet, but with this, the compost, and the hop house to come, we are hoping to extend the growing season here by a month or two at either end.

All winter in Maine the frozen air is devoid of smells.  It is a blessing and a respite from animal urine and moldy odors, part of what gives winter its purity and other-wordliness.  Spring is marked by the return of smells: the icy pile of wood shavings and horse droppings begins to warm and emanate in the sun, the garage begs for spring-cleaning with a hint of trapped mold sighing for air, the nose takes its place again in the world of the senses.

But the food for the ears changes too: Last night I went to the barn to check the doors were closed – a windy spring night – and I heard the first of the peepers in the pond – sounded like a bullfrog or two as well, actually – that uniquely piercing yet soothing burble that is the unmistakable and error-free harbinger of spring.  And even in the dark, a couple of geese sounding their klaxons as they move from one piece of open water to another.

The waterfront waits longer for spring: the water itself stays cold all spring, making work down there harder until later.  But I put on my boots to just check out the pier for any fresh disasters that may have occurred when I was gone.  The mussel boys are loading tons of the black almond-shaped fruits de mer off their barge, and I prevail upon them – as one may in the waterfront world – to help me launch my Dad’s old scow.  With the help of the derrick, cable, and a big old hawser, we get the old thing of the ways that have broken underneath it during the winter.

Without the ways, I cannot launch the boat; without the boat out of the way, I cannot fix the ways (a track of timbers from the water to high on the bank), so this was a great help.  I spend more time on that old boat than any other single item on this estate, and for less return, since we hardly ever use it.  But it is Edward’s, and will be launched and beached until some line is crossed, and it is abandoned, as my Dad thought of himself.

In any case, it is great to drop the computer keys and the laser pointer and do some real work for a change.  My muscles are weak, and they start to creak alive as I clean up the winter’s fallen branches, pump the boat dry of meltwater, work my fingers on a winter’s worth of knot tightening.  Come, spring! (easy to believe on this Easter Sunday)  Come, warmth! Come, time to do the work of renewal for the earthy things – and here it is, at least until the next gig looms.

Busy-ness

April 12, 2009

The newly-sprung hop fields of upper Bavaria are green carpets we swoop past on the limit-frei autobahn from the Danube over the Isar toward the Alps. Though there is still snow up the slopes when I arrive at Christoph’s house, spring has really sprung in the last five days: the crocuses open each morning, and the tulip leaves are unstrangling themselves from the newly loosened earth.  We’re on the last suburban edge of Heidi-country, which as I get out of the car smells like shit, literally, as all the German farmers are spreading their sloping Alpine fields with pig manure.

Mad partner of my wild youth (that would be my 30’s– we didn’t meet until 1984 – I guess it took me that long to get loosened up), Christoph has a bit of a steadier hand on the helm himself these days, ensconsed with his family on the edge of town, the edge of the soccer games and ferrying friends, the life we never thought we would live long enough or become tame enough to lead.

Christoph and I recognized each other from the soul on out on the day we met – jongleurs, at once compassionate and arrogant, prepared to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.  We meet this evening at the airport, as he returns from Athens – settling his dementia-ed mother after a broken hip put her in the hospital and pretty much beyond reach in her amyloid shell, except for those tearing moments when she is back, and knows him, and says something right on the money, or amusingly just beside the point.

I was about to see that he is half Greek and half German, but it would be more precise to say that he is sometimes a German with a Greek mother, and other times Greek with a German father (except that I stole that very apt line from either Tom Robbins (Skinny Legs and All, maybe?) or Louis Bernieres (in that case, it would be Corelli’s Mandolin).

His father Ted, a hyper-productive editor of Die Zeit, Newsweek, and half a dozen smaller papers, who at 79 jet-sets at a faster pace then me, came down to Athens too, so that Christoph gets a glimpse of his parents life together before he left, before they split.  The decline of one’s mother is always enough to put one into a philosophical mood, but seeing the tenderness as his father remembers the woman he waltzed with some 50 years ago, now housed in this querulous and confused brittle stem that speaks to him sometimes in English, sometimes in Greek thinking he’s her grandfather, but momentarily emerges to heartbreaking clarity, wishing him ‘auf wiedersehn’ in his native German, as he walks out of her life for the probable final time..

So Christoph returns determined to pay more attention to his family, a determination soon lost – how well I understand – in the welter of accumulated emails and things that must be done to keep the wheels turning and greased, the wheels which maintain the family, and for which we are responsible.

Riccarda, long-suffering – anyone who lives with such as we must suffer – but strong enough to hold her own, meets us at the door, her willowy body form-fitting to his, her mobile face in a broad smile.

Mia, newly Anglicized and grown-up after 6 months with her father in Australia, sits around on the deck with a few other 17-year-olds, trying to grill meat, but they have started too late with too low a fire, so they are contenting themselves with potato salad on this first spring evening.  The arrival of two more male grown-ups soon sends them upstairs where they can giggle and murmur without being observed.

Jonathan, 7, small and round-headed, is known as The Weasel on the football pitch for his weaving style of running that eludes all opponents on his way to score goal after goal, is out in the trampoline enclosure, tireless in his search for ball control, or, in this case, the back flip.

I love each member of this family, so I spend time playing goalie to Jonathan’s close-quarters kicks, leafing through Mia’s new drawings, finding one of a young girl with her face on her knees, a picture that rises above the technical to the autobiographical.

Christoph meanwhile rustles up a lamb curry – excellent Greek cook; I have learned to clean the kitchen after so that not even his German side can find fault. Former all-day workers and all-night players, 11pm is as far as we make it these days before we fall into bed.

The next day is a day of rest before I go home, but a day of rest with Christoph is anyone else’s loaded schedule.  Bank, shopping by the day as the Europeans do, getting the boys settled, chasing someone down for a spit to roast a lamb for Easter, and a ‘restful’ trip to a sauna on the Tegernsee, which involved a lot of extremes, the saunas being heated with German efficiency, and the lake itself being essentially meltwater.  An hour or two of that alternation alteration, and we are all pools of clarified butter.

The next morning I am off to the airport and Christoph off to Munich for work – a short visit to a long-time friend.  The point of this otherwise tender look at my dear compadre is that Ted taught him busy-ness, being the absent work-addicted father, and he learned it well.  Even knowing as he does how it affected him, he is now so addicted to work and projects and busy-ness himself that it is being passed on to Jonathan, who is already obsessed with football cards, and online games where you not only play football, but trade players and essentially run clubs (man and machine are on a headlong collision course that can only result in a synthesis – that’s another essay).

I feel it myself when I get home – my daughter is too sick to come up for Easter, and my own schedule will not allow another time to see her for too long ahead; hers too, with exams and such.  And so we pass the addiction to busy-ness from generation to generation.  Some of my mother’s and father’s habits I have been able to break, but others are passed on and on, waiting for someone to wake up and consciously saw one link to unhook the chain

Schloss

April 5, 2009

My morning walk-run is straight up behind the hotel to the old remnants of the fort above the town.  The village is tucked into a strip between the Danube and the limestone cliffs, so a minute after I close the heavy back door of the hotel I am climbing steep stone stairs two at a time until I am panting and have to slow it down – my lungs and my legs compete as weak points.

Halfway up – and only approachable on foot – is a church that rings out the quarter hours into my hotel window (it quickly went from annoying to comforting) and still bongs its bells at 7 this Sunday morning to wake up this village of Catholic sinners.  The tiny churchyard – the church is built on an outcrop – is a cemetery (do they import dirt? the whole thing is ledge) with superlarge headstones of handsome black granite, with gold Gothic lettering for the Niedermeiers and Brunners who lived here. Jesus, quite lifelike, surveys the dead he will temporarily join from the passion of his cross at the far end.

To enter the grounds of the broken castle I have to run up to the back side, under the trees.  In the 4 days I have been here, the ground has erupted in purple flowers – the joy of spring is everywhere, the sheer utter power of life to assert itself in spite of entropy, in the face of the emptiness of space, in spite of the impassive faces of the gods.  This is where Jesus and I meet, in spite of the distaste I expressed last post for the People of the Book: Life will out, life will shove its fingers up through cold dirt, life will occupy the smallest crevice.  Life will even hang in space, 100 miles above the earth, and one day life will leave this lonely outpost in search of its brothers.

The commonplace roots of this wonderful tenacity are evident from the high edge of the stone wall at the top.  The river, free of barges this early and placidly glinting in the newly resurrected sun, winds through flat countryside opposite these cliffs, where the brown soil has given way to green shoots of ‘korn’ (as the Germans call all grains) in the quilted geometry of farms stretching into the misty distance, with spots of lichen orange roof tiles marking the occurrence of other villages of the same character.

I take giant steps back down, my irrational exuberance drawing a purse-lipped stare from the matron opening the church to tidy up an already spotless room for early mass.  It’s hard to imagine that the sins absolved in this symbol of aspiration are terribly imaginative.  I think if I were a priest (and I am, I suppose, of a sort, all therapists are), the hardest part for me would be the banality of human sinning, the repetitive lack of true creativity. That is the wonderful attraction of Die Teufel – his imaginative ability to annoy God.  I think I would begin to long for someone to confess a grand sin, a sin that would actually catch the attention of the Almighty.

But maybe I underestimate what goes on behind these solid burghers’ doors…

A Walk to Valhalla

April 3, 2009

There’s a story in there about Tatiana, the pulled-tight pony-tail of a professor who chopped every sentence I had before I finished (but translated the whole thing accurately despite listening and speaking at the same time) and her interaction with the student Anastasia (that’s On-a-sta-zee’-a to you, bub), but suffice it to say that St Peterburg (I’ve seen it spelled both ways) is a city confused about itself on so many levels that this German city on the Donau (Danube), which I had been dreading as boring tin the extreme, comes across as positive relief.

Germany is the quintessence of order, Russia of messiness.  I salute those brave osteopaths trying to instill some spatial order into such an adaptively random culture.  Meantime I flew over Poland, trapped and tossed between the two.

On the way, the weather changed: it doesn’t hurt that Donaustauf is sunny, whereas Leningrad was as snowy and cold as Maine, in spite of my hopeful packing.  So now this tidy upper-Bavarian suburb, bathed in sun and aromatic air puts spring in my step, and I decide to take a walk to Valhalla.

Valhalla, of course, was the traditional home of the Norse gods – Loki, Odin, Thor, Freya, and the rest – a suitable name in Wagner’s Bavaria for a structure built by the first King Ludwig.  The joke is that this Valhalla is a full-scale recreation of the Parthenon.  Jutting out from a hill above the river, it is a bit of a walk; armed with water, I head out from my hotel.

(Side note: Carbonated water, gazzata.  At home I crave the still water from the well below our house.  All this trip I have been craving sparkling water; it feels as if it counters the effect of the petrochemical pollution, much worse in the European cities than at home [but not as bad as Asia]).

I am supposed to be using this trip to finish up some chapters for a book, but I am procrastinating and it’s the first day of spring – for crissake, give me a break! So I lope along through groomed parks and neighborhoods, feeling how the outer column of support (the calcaneus – cuboid – 4th & 5th metatarsal lateral arch springs up into the fibula and through the lateral portion of the tibial plateau and condyle of the femur, strengthened by the lateral collateral ligament and iliotibial band, capped by the greater trochanter) lifts me along the hillside.

Feel the exploration of the inner column, landing on the paw of my first three metatarsals and letting the heel eccentrically down, walking like an Indian, prehensilely through the wood.  From the talus to the tibia and up through the medial meniscus, emerging at the medial epicondyle, and splitting into the two great sweeps of fascia, one sail curling up between the vastus medialis and adductor longus – how wrong this whole individual and muscle group delusion is – these two muscle sheets are both tied into the septum, and more related to each other than to the other muscles of their group – hence vastus medialis is often too weak, and adductor longus too fixed, trying to stabilize this medial intermusclular septum from the inner knee to the hip joint, under the triangular sartorius cap.

And up and back up from between the adductors and the hamstrings, feeling this wall slide back and forth as I go uphill, digging in the outer heel to claw my way up, but reaching out with the vastus / longus septum, the inner line coming alive as I walk downhill.

These columns, much alive in my consciousness as I move these days, feeling how the two leg bones are stabilized by the peroneals (Lateral Line) controlling the two septa outside the fibula, while the Deep Front Line – the tibialis posterior, balanced moment-to-moment by the toe flexors – holds the inside line of the interosseous fascia.

On the thigh it is these two septa on either side of the adductors: longus up against the vastus medialis, and magnus up against the semitendinosus, again these are more related than thought of in the textbooks, being the two energetic tensors on either side of this membrane.

And the great fascial membrane as yet unsung in the Anatomy Trains, the division between the biceps femoris and the vastus lateralis, where the gluteus dives in between, sweeping around to stabilize the back of the leg in push off …

Such thoughts occupy me, stretching out from the cold contraction of Maine, Toronto, and St Petersburg as I pass under the stirring trees through the outskirts of the town and the climb through the gentle culled woods still rustling with last year’s leaves.

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Approached from below, the structure looks massive and very German,

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but when you get up beside it is of course very Greek, very Olympian.

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You know the Parthenon walls are curved in a special way so that they appear straight to the eye, special trick that I wonder how they managed in laying out these stone under the ancient Greek sun.

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Ours is a culture that gives lip service to its roots in Greece, but Aristotle gave way to Thomas Aquinas, and we really owe more to the Catholic church, and we have lost the airy light that was Archimedes, Diogenes, and Heraclitus.

We lost a lot when we sent them packing, the chance for the passion of the Western world to be expressed in philosophy rather than faith (I know I will take stick for this) and thus I am thinking as I look down on the Danube, with the strip of little allotments for the gardeners of Regensburg.

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I am so attracted to the light and air of Greece, to the romantic novels of Mary Renault, and to the healing tradition of Asklepios, and so untouched by the sacrifice of Jesus and all that fell out form that sad story of a little man in a little tribe of self-centered goatheards on the eastern Mediterranean who thought God’s sun rose and set with them.

I am sorry, Jews and Christians, but you have nothing that touches the pure air of Athenian philosophy and geometry, who knew the gods were multiple, and as capricious and silly as us.  Homer’s Odysseus has a more textured tale to tell then just being betrayed to the local authorities and nailed for blasphemy.  And even if the stone was rolled away, this is no excuse for turning away from the greatest light the world has even known – the light of pure reason, set on the wall by Socrates, lit by Plato, and reflected to shine all around the room of human knowledge by Aristotle, who educated Alexander before he did his great journey.

I don’t know enough about Chinese and Japanese history to compare Asian and Western civilization, and India is another trip altogether.  I am thoroughly a western soul, with a side order of Buddhism and a Taoist desert.  But in the western tradition, as much respect as I have for the monks of Ireland, in the Dark Ages and redoubts of scientific knowledge in 10th century Baghdad, and the wonderfully woeful humours of my New York Jewish friends, none of the children of Abraham really have it down, and to the extent that we walk with Jehovah or Allah, we walk away form the inheritance that was rightfully ours – that unique moment of the Greek democracy, the Athenian republic – may it light the world again.

Ballet

April 1, 2009

My last night in St Petersburg was set for the ballet.  The seminar finished at six and the ballet started at seven, so after the clean-up Dmitriy raced through the streets of St Petersburg at breakneck speed, canals flying by, squeaking between lanes, diving under the amazing classical architecture, reversing direction like a madman to escape the evening traffic, but nevertheless we were late.

Dima suddenly found that he had business to discuss – the martial arts or the business arts seem to interest him more than the fine arts – so it is the translator Tatiana and I who emerge from the cobbled alley to a sudden and brief view of the quintessential human city over the river, spires and domes golden in the setting sun as we pass between the muscular sculptures that mark the entrance to L’Ermitage Theatre.

Bad enough that I felt underdressed, having had no time to change, but we have to sneak in after the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  I needn’t have worried, the audience is full of young people more slovenly than me, and there are many French, Italian, and English voices among the Russian at intermission. In other words, it’s a touristic event, like much of the London theater or the top of the Empire State building.

The theater meets all expectations, grand in scale and as ornate as L’Ermitage itself.  The dancing itself, however, qualifies as top-tier amateur.  Tatiana, during intermission, is scathing – their arms are like sticks, the acting broad, they are landing too hard. This foreign audience is too easily pleased, and there is frequent clapping for what I would call ‘tricks’.  The lifts are two-staged instead of smooth, and while of course I could do no better, I have certainly seen better swans.  At times I close my eyes and let myself go into the music, as the orchestra, especially the first violin, is first rate.

I cannot turn off my professional eyes: Of the twenty dancers on the too small stage, I see about five of what I learned – in my London days with Sadlers Wells – to call ‘career knees’.  The rest will fall inevitably by the wayside, as sure as the night followeth the day.

Later, as we go to dinner, Julia – Dima’s friend and font of all wisdom – tells me the Russian school actually cultivates the hard landing, to show how hard work the ballet is, and to emphasize the wood (as opposed to synthetic) stage.  This feels like a point better made in the program than on the stage itself, as I will remember the thumps (like the thumps in the banya? seems to be a Russian theme) long after I have forgotten the mediocre performance.

The heavy dose of irony I experienced last time in St. Petersburg was not present this time.  Oh, there were the funny store names – ‘Antistress’ for a shoe store – and the mistranslated signs, and the heavy faux-French food – but this time Russia demanded to be taken seriously.  There is now a Russian-based English-language station on the TV (no CNN or Sky News) that certainly put forward a pro-Russian view on Obama, the START treaty, and gas pipelines through Ukraine, but was no more prejudiced than, say, Fox in the US.

I will be back in a year for an osteopathic conference, so we’ll see, but all in all I preferred the ironic disempowered Russia, not the one that is flexing its muscle and taking itself so seriously.