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Rhea's Slavic Adventures Posts

Snegurochka, or Snow Maiden: A Russian New Year’s Tale

Haven’t we all at some point wished snowmen could come alive? They’d play into our snowball fights, or sing like Frosty… a girl can dream. Well, today’s the day, folks! That’s exactly what happens in this Russian holiday tale. We’ll meet an elderly couple and their darling Snegurochka, or Snow Maiden: she’s a miraculous child born from snow. Tethered to wintry days, she’s forever pale, and snow cold… Snegurochka longs for warmth, for love, for affection. Just what lengths will she go to obtain it? The answer, as always, lies in the story – listen in to find out. And С Новым Годом to all!

WEBSITE ILLUSTRATION DESCRIPTION: A vintage Russian postcard with a beautiful depiction of the Snow Maiden. From the LucyMarket shop on Etsy. See it here: https://rheasslavicadventures.com/2021/01/01/snegurochka-or-snow-maiden-a-russian-new-years-tale/

SKAZKI iOS APP STORE LISTING: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/skazki-learn-russian/id1537668257

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Morozko, or Frost: A Russian Christmas Tale

Frost? Ded Moroz? Morozko? Which is it? Could it be… all of them, all at once? Yes! Dive into this classic Russian Christmas tale and meet Father Frost, the omnipresent Russian Winter figure, the famed Slavic Santa Claus. Which of the story’s stepdaughters will win Frost’s winter favor? (Or flavor, if you please!) Will they all make it out alive? And don’t even get me started on that evil stepmother. Can Frost put her in her place? You bet… listen in to find out how.

WEBSITE ILLUSTRATION DESCRIPTION: An beautiful illustration of Father Frost. Drawn by Ivan Bilibin, one of the most famous Russian illustrators of all time. See it here: https://rheasslavicadventures.com/2020/12/26/morozko-or-frost-a-russian-christmas-tale
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The Golden Cockerel: A Russian Fairy Tale

There are some things that we humans go to any lengths to protect. Family? Definitely. Reputation? Yup. A wealthy and extensive Tsardom? Of cour– wait, what?! Okay, fine. Most of us don’t carry the fate of an entire Tsardom on our shoulders. Tsar Dadon, on the other hand? Yeah, I don’t envy that guy. In this hilarious Pushkin tale, Tsar Dadon is so desperate to protect his Tsardom that he actually goes so far as to buy a magic golden cockerel from a sketchy eunuch. Highly recommend against this, folks. Yes, the cockerel might (keyword: might) be able to protect the Tsardom, but at what cost? What will Tsar Dadon lose in the process? Will it be family? Reputation? A wealthy and extensive Tsardom? All of the above and more? Bargains always have a way of coming back to you. The question is: will the mighty Tsar Dadon end up with the short end of the stick? This time, the answer might surprise you – listen in to find out!

WEBSITE ILLUSTRATION DESCRIPTIONS: A selection of Ivan Bilibin’s original set and costume sketches for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s corresponding opera (of the same name). Super cool stuff. See them here: https://rheasslavicadventures.com/2020/11/19/the-golden-cockerel-a-russian-fairy-tale

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Combining Russian Studies + Machine Learning: Price Classification on Sberbank Russian Housing Market Data with Python

Last year, in my Advanced Topics in Computer Science class, we were tasked with designing the best system for supervised classification (a machine learning approach to separating data into representative regions) of a dataset of choice. I’d been eyeing the Sberbank Russian Housing Market dataset for quite a while leading up; this final project turned out to be the perfect place to explore it. 

Some context on the dataset: Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia, sponsored a Kaggle competition to predict house prices in Russia’s turbulent economy to help them give more accurate real estate price predictions to their customers. Their given dataset consists of 6000+ housing data points from around Russia, where each point is the sale of a house. There are 278 features associated with each point, including: preschool count nearby, distance from the metro, cafe count nearby, mosque count nearby, etc.

Through scikit-learn, a Python machine learning library, I experimented with each of the four classifiers we learned about – Naive Bayes, decision tree, k-nearest neighbors (KNN), and support vector machine (SVM) – and varied parameters (tree depth, number of neighbors, etc.) along the way to identify the best classification method. Resulting confusion matrices (for both the reclassification and leave-one-out methods – the latter shows the system generalizes to unseen data, as stated by this Stackoverflow answer) are included and analyzed in the conclusions of my attached report. Note that due to the sky-high number of features (278, and for each of 6042 points), PCA plots and corresponding decision region visualizations would have taken days to render and were therefore excluded from the report.

I hope you enjoy the writeup, and I’d love to hear what you think – let me know in the comments!

Sberbank Housing Data Classification – Rhea Kapur
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My Favorite Russian Music!

Hey all! Happy Saturday afternoon. Our re-imposed state of quarantine has me once again turning to music – specifically, Russian music. While listening, I noticed that one of my Russian playlists on Spotify just exceeded 300 followers (yay!), so I thought I would write a short post to commemorate the occasion and share my favorites. Here are three Russian playlists I’ve curated over the past year, all representing different types of Russian music. The first reflects the late 20th century voice, from before the Western influence took over (this is the one with 327 followers!). And the last two playlists are instrumental, dedicated to Russian classical and jazz music. Here they are:

I’ll update this post later with some thoughts on the different genres, themes I see, cool musical aspects, and more, but for now I figured I’d leave you with an unswayed ear. Happy listening, and let me know what you think!

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Worthy of Aivazovsky’s Brush

In his renowned 1897 play Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov coined the phrase “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush” – which, according to Wikipedia, then soon became a popular Russian expression for something “ineffably lovely.” A while ago, when I was first reading Uncle Vanya, this phrase stuck out to me. I had never heard of this “Aivazovsky”; the reference seemed quite out of place in the text. So naturally, as we do in the 21st century, I googled it:

Examining his paintings, it became clear. “A romantic!” I whispered to myself, smiling slightly. He’s a romantic. Of course. Seeing as one of the main currents that runs through Uncle Vanya is a deep, unfettered admiration for Nature, it made sense that Chekhov would name-drop Aivazovsky. Even a layperson like myself can sense in his paintings the deep fascination with Nature that so defines Romanticism. Not to mention, here and there, they also exhibit flashes of realism: a definite philosophical focus in Uncle Vanya.

But there were a slew of Russian Romantic painters for Chekhov to choose from. Why Aivazovsky? Why was Chekhov so enamored with this artist, then relatively unknown? Why did he choose to include that phrase – “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush,” those four words that propelled the painter into greatness – of all possible phrases? Returning to the trusty Google, I came across these words, spoken by none other than Anton Chekhov himself.

“Aivazovsky himself is a hale and hearty old man of about seventy-five, looking like an insignificant Armenian and an bishop; he is full of a sense of his own importance, has soft hands and shakes your hand like a general. He’s not very bright, but he is a complex personality, worthy of a further study. In him alone there are combined a general, a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello.” (Wikipedia)

From this quote, it became clear. Chekhov paints a complex, but honest picture of Aivazovsky. There’s a quiet admiration in his words, no doubt. No matter that he wasn’t bright. It was his personality, so nuanced, so inherently Russian – full of both aristocracy and peasantry, brilliance and patriotism – that made him stand out. Perhaps the most important idea to note from all of this, however, is just how existential Aivazovsky seems. After all, the “complex personality” seems to fit a total of 5 roles, and by Chekhov’s own admission: “a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello.” Now, maybe Aivazovsky is just Chekhov’s ultimate Renaissance man. But there’s an uncertainty to how Chekhov describes him, a wariness in his words, a hesitation in his praise, that further pushes me toward the existentialist theory.

Chekhov, too, was an existentialist, and an outspoken one at that. This side of him comes across clearly in Uncle Vanya through the character of Voinitsky (who is, in fact, Uncle Vanya!). Voinitsky is at odds with life, at his core, and most definitely an uninspired soul. He considers all fine days “fine days to hang oneself,” and finds life in excessive drink (“Because it is like living. Somehow—like living.”) While “nature will be fresh and breathing,” Voinitsky says, he will be dying; this is the bane of his existence. There are striking similarities between Voinitsky and Aivazovsky, Chekhov and Aivazovsky, Chekhov and Voinitsky – every iteration of the three reads the same under the existentialist lens. You could consider Aivazovsky a hidden character, of sorts. It’s fascinating how Chekhov manages to weave him in.

Most of the time, artists carve their names in history through one thing: their work. It’s what they are remembered for. It’s a reflection of who they are, their influences; oftentimes, the artist’s work serves as the best description of the artist themself. Aivazovsky is no exception in this regard. Our trusty Google and Wikipedia may be able to provide the background information, places of study, awards won – but to truly understand who this marine artist was at his core, past the résumé – I refer you to his work, to his paintings. Pretty much ever since I read Uncle Vanya and first researched Aivazovsky, his favorite paintings have served as my desktop backgrounds. I leave you with my selection. Enjoy getting to know the naturalist, the complex, charismatic figure behind brush strokes. The painter who charmed Chekhov and thousands of Russians after him, who brought the genre of marine landscape to his country, who could paint brilliant seascapes and translucent waves by memory. Enjoy the work itself, too. Simply put, it’s stunning. I don’t have a trained eye for artwork, but personally? These paintings take me places. I hope they do the same for you.

The Ninth Wave Painting by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky
The Ninth Wave (1850)
Storm on the Black Sea (1899)
Wave (1889)
Storm at Sea (1850)
The Black Sea (1881) by Ivan Aivazovsky: Analysis & Overview
The Black Sea (1881)
Ships in a Storm (1860)
Moscow in the Winter from the Sparrow Hills (1872)
Winter Scene in Little Russia (1868)

Credit: All digitized painting snapshots are from Google Images.

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