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Patriot Games

Nearly 20 years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, a massive cavalcade of armaments is once again rolling through Red Square.

Illustration GRAHAM ROUMIEU

Moscow

“Quaint” may seem like the wrong word for an event that features intercontinental ballistic missiles, supersonic fighter jets and state-of-the-art air defense systems. But there is something a little dated about the May 9 Victory Day parade rumbling across Red Square in Moscow. A nationalistic ritual of the Cold War era, the annual parade once inspired American children to practice “duck and cover” drills in school; these days, however, it’s more like a Fourth of July barbecue, but with anti-aircraft missiles instead of Slip ’N Slides and watermelon.

This year’s Victory Day parade, only the second since the collapse of the Soviet Union, features 9,000 soldiers marching in full regalia, more than 100 battle tanks, nearly 70 planes and dozens of mobile ballistic missiles. At the height of the Cold War, it was rumored the Soviets padded their parade arsenal with cardboard missiles, but these look all too real. The most jaw-dropping moment is the flyover, when helicopters, fighters and strategic bombers roar over the center of town at an altitude of 900 feet. The parade goes off without a hitch. The weather is beautiful, though it’s been reported that the air force prepared for any eventuality: Ten planes are on standby with chemicals to disperse clouds.

The Red Square festivities are open only to a select few—President Dmitri Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, military brass, WWII veterans and, of course, journalists. The average Muscovites filling the streets can merely watch the assorted military paraphernalia crawling through town on their way back to base. Experts say that the Russian military isn’t what it used to be, but the weapons still make a civilian want to duck and cover.

“I didn’t expect to be moved,” says Yulia Ovcharova, a wide-eyed, towheaded, 24-year-old restaurant manager watching from Tverskaya Street, “but when I saw the power of these weapons, I felt a surge of patriotism all the same.”

After the parade comes the all-night party with extravagant firework displays and plenty of vodka. Even if the holiday seems a tad passé—and menacing—to foreign eyes, the cheers that ring out all evening long indicate that locals still feel its relevance.

One grizzled WWII vet, who gives his name as Ivan, stands in front of the Bolshoi. “There are fewer of us every year,” he says, “so it means a lot that the country hasn’t forgotten our sacrifice.”
—JAKE RUDNITSKY

Mumbai
INDIAN STYLE

At some point during the 35-day Mumbai shoot of Bollywood Hero, Chris Kattan, the former Saturday Night Live star best known as one of the head-bobbing “Night at the Roxbury” twits, became superstitious. So on the advice of his sultry Bollywood co-star Neha Dhupia, Kattan visited a local astrologer, who gave him a good-luck bracelet, a longstanding tradition.

“Since then, I’ve lost my cell phone and twisted my ankle,” Kattan says, standing on the sweltering set and guzzling bottled water between takes of a complex musical number. “But the astrologer says it’s like acupressure: It has to hurt a little before it gets better.”

Since leaving his full-time SNL gig in 2003, Kattan has had more than his share of career pain. While his “Roxbury” compadre Will Ferrell has rocketed into the comedy stratosphere, Kattan has wandered a wilderness of straight-to-nowhere flicks. But Bollywood Hero, an IFC miniseries, may be his return to form. In it, Kattan plays a cocky young would-be action hero who, rejected by Tinseltown, decides to try his luck in India.

For the first time in a while, Kattan says, his timing is right. Slumdog Millionaire took top honors at the Oscars just as filming commenced. As he talks, young extras in tuxedos practice hip thrusts; others dressed in pink miniskirts wait for their cue from choreographer Longinus Fernandes, who worked on Slumdog.

“Teaching Chris the Bollywood dance was difficult,” Fernandes says, “but he does funny stuff very, very well.”

Kattan, who is short and thin, with pronounced lips and sunken eyes, has warmed to the outlandish dancing style. “It’s a little overacting, and a little celebration, and it’s all very improvisational and freestyle, so as long as you know how to move you’re okay.”

“It’s a good time for Bollywood,” notes executive producer Ted Skillman.“This is an exotic and foreign place, but that’s only on the surface. Underneath, where it really matters, things are actually pretty much the same as anywhere else.”

“It’s exactly like Saturday Night Live,” Kattan agrees. “Only with much more color.”
— JERRY PINTO

Cambridge, Massachusetts
Running on Fumes

Inside Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Professor David Edwards perches on a desk holding a ChapStick-shaped inhaler he’s invented for the purpose of ingesting food in particle form. He calls it Le Whif, and a handful of students have been invited to sample the device in several zero-calorie chocolate flavors (chocolate mint, chocolate mango, chocolate raspberry, etc.).

Previously known for his inhalable tuberculosis vaccine, the shaggy-haired biomedical engineering prof has applied his knowledge of aerosol science to gastronomy, developing food particles—small enough to be inhaled but too large to enter the lungs—which are then delivered via Le Whif. “It is not a bong,” says Edwards, 48, putting his lips to the tube. “Gentle, gentle.” He mouths tiny sips of air; this is how one whiffs.

Justin White, a junior anthropology major, coughs after an enthusiastic hit of chocolate mango. Nervous laughter fills the classroom. Nobody wants to be the one who can’t handle his whiff. “There’s always a small learning curve,” Edwards says. “People think more is better. But pleasure can be captured in an essence.” Which is the point. It’s time to “move on” to a new form of degustation, he says. And while Le Whif won’t fill you up, it satisfies cravings in a way that just smelling food never will.

Windsor Hanger, a history of science major, takes a delicate pull of chocolate cinnamon. “You can feel the chocolate going into your mouth,” she says.

Edwards sees Le Whif as a dieting doohickey, a new form of candy and a gimmick, to be sure, but also as a instrument of culinary revolution. Today, chocolate. Tomorrow, steak frites. He’s partnered with Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx of Chateau Cordeillan-Bages in Bordeaux to roll out other whiffable foods over the course of a yearlong world tour that will include stops throughout Europe and Asia (a limited run of the $2 device is available now at lewhif.com). “They’ll especially love it in Paris, now that you can’t smoke in cafes,” Edwards predicts. “You see people puffing on their fingers. Now they can whiff.”
—ALYSSA GIACOBBE

Philadelphia
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS

In the main room of a 19th century brick building in Philadelphia, a dapper colonial cavalryman lifts an ale stein to his lips (though due to the early hour and the setting—the still-functioning Arch Street Meeting House—it doesn’t actually contain ale). Then he offers up a favorite quote from his “friend” Ben Franklin: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

The crowd of onlookers— most of them sporting more modern-day attire, such as jeans and T-shirts—laugh approvingly.

It’s a rainy Monday, and the so-called Benstitute, a school for historical reenactors run by Historic Philadelphia, Inc., is in session, the pews filled with new recruits for its intensive three-week boot camp.

The nonprofit corporation was founded in 2005 to bring a modicum of structure to what had been, up until then, a haphazard approach to historical reenactment in Philly’s tourist-choked Old City. Before, independent costumed characters— rogue Ben Franklins and Besty Rosses—roamed the cobblestone streets clad in cheap makeshift costumes, disseminating inaccurate information and occasionally getting snippy with visitors. Now, Philly’s “History Makers” are carefully vetted and schooled in the period and their chosen characters’ personal backstories. They’re also trained in parrying awkward questions and directing tourists to the best cheesesteak and closest ATM.

The widely acknowledged alpha-Franklin is Ralph Archbold, who has been playing the role since 1973. But Archbold is just one of four Bens. The stable also includes three George Washingtons, four Betsy Rosses and four Thomas Jeffersons.

“I’ve been doing this for eleven years,” says Virginia Loomis, who plays Franklin’s daughter, her first upper-class character after years as a Scottish barmaid. She smooths her heavy dress. “Working-class clothes are more comfortable,” she says.
—MELISSA MARSHALL

Santa Monica, California
Shop Talk

On a Thursday evening in early spring, Studio Beautymix in Fred Segal’s Santa Monica outpost is packed well past closing time for the launch party of a machine called the U*tique, which looks like an automat as reimagined by Judy Jetson.

The invitation-only crowd lines up for special cocktails, like the Pink Pick-Me-Up (Eboost Daily Vitamin Supplement and Lotus Vodka) and the Glow-Forth (Glowelle Raspberry Jasmine Beauty Drink and Barefoot Bubbly). Makeup artist Beau Nelson provides “Lips to Lust After” tutorials, and David Kirsch, fitness guru to Anne Hathaway, offers consultations and samples of his new “super juice” supplement.

Despite such diversions, the star of the evening is the eye-catching U*tique. A retail wonder offering 50 top-shelf products displayed in glowing porthole windows, it’s stocked tonight with such must-haves as Bliss Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Mask, ModelCo Tan in a Can, and Vosges Haut Chocolat Exotic Chocolate Minis.

If all this seems like a lot of fuss for a vending machine, that’s because the U*tique is not—repeat, not—a vending machine. As the company’s hard-charging 29-year-old CEO Mara Segal explains, “There is a clear distinction between a vending machine, where you use coins, push buttons and a product drops, and an automated retail platform which involves complex robotics for fragile items, a touch-screen interface, and a centralized network.” Fair enough!

Although the U*tique, which Segal promises will soon be popping up in hotels, gyms, spas and airports worldwide, is meant to help you “skip those lines and meddling clerks,” according to its website, it’s not exactly working according to plan tonight. “There are too many people!” gripes attendee and LA blogger Caroline Pardilla. “Good luck trying to get to it.”
—EMILY FOLEY

One Response to “Patriot Games”

  1. Cari Feiler Bender Says:
    July 6th, 2009 at 2:43 am

    The Benstitute gets a shout-out in Hemispheres!

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