Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Aurora BORISalis

The day I was introduced to my professors at EICAR could have easily passed as the final round of the “Cliché Country Ambassador” competition. It was down to Claudio the representative from Uruguay, who despite his heavy accent and unabashed affinity for fellow Latinos was doomed from the start seeing as Uruguay possesses no well-known clichés. Also in the line up was the eloquent, prep-school grad Andrew from Great Britain, the wide-smiling and shampoo-commercial-worthy-haired Adriano from Italy, and John the half American, half English representative who’s facial blemish is unfortunately placed directly in between his eyebrows giving him the impression of a well-mannered Oxford grad who accessorizes with a unexpected bindi. Despite all these more than worthy candidates, who have all done their respective countries well, they couldn’t hold a cliché candle to Boris. Boris Rechkovich to be precise. Hailing from two ambiguous Eastern European countries Boris was the born winner, although soon being able to be in the presence of such a man, I truly felt like the winner.

Currently having only a few hours experience with Boris my judgments are still in the first impression stage. During the course of the semester I’ll get to know Boris better and probably grow to know more about him and be able to judge him in less of a superficial way, but until that time comes I will milk my ignorance and speculate as to Boris: the man, the myth, the Eastern European.

People fortunate enough to have been witness to me recounting and re-enacting a story that involves someone, or even better multiple people, who has an accent can attest to my astonishing ability to reduce every and all accents into an insulting Asian/Indian fusion. Often times I become aware at how incredibly off my accent is half-way through the story and I’ll merely stop, apologizing and start again sans accent. Unable to contain my excitement at the creature I was introduced to I began to try to recreate Boris’ truly magical dialect for Cara. As expected halfway through I stopped, expecting Cara to ask if Boris hung around a lot of Indian or Asian people. While I’m not unaware of this blog’s technical abilities, nor do I have the courage to secretly record part of Boris’ lecture I doubt your ears will ever have the pleasure of hearing Boris pronounce the word “Shit!” A pleasure I do not take for granted, even though I’ve experienced said pleasure nearly a dozen times. I might even register his accent as a learning disability for myself, I find myself sitting in class distracted, fantasizing about hearing him participate in a spelling bee. Instead of classic spelling bee words I’d hand pick my favorite words to say like Vulva, or words that contain lots of R rolling. Fist pounding would be mandatory after every word and each word would have to be shouted for all of Russia to hear. The whole event would be recorded so I could use it as my new ring-tone.

Despite the distraction his accent, which I had only previously heard coming from exhausted Olympic figure skaters in post performance interviews, had on my first day of class I still managed to take a bunch of notes. Half of those notes were pulled quotes from his quirky vocabulary and lost in translation phrases. I felt they were of as much importance in my film education as Goddard ever will be. Perhaps I was an unfair note taker for I’d pay particular attention to words relating to war, death and other various forms of macabre. I was hoping to pick up some sort of pattern that would point to his past as a veteran of a bloody civil war or his unspoken night job within the caves of a mad scientist. Luckily he described the film set as a “warfield” and instead of calling for volunteers he would call for “heroes”. When describing a photo exercise he did during film school in which he told a tale, in merely five photographs, of a woman committing suicide after receiving a disturbing piece of mail. He drew crude representations of those photographs and asked the class to try to guess what the story was from them. While all were close he pointed out how his photographs weren’t perfectly chosen because the person didn’t receive a sign that she was to be murdered she (in what I have coined as Boris’ catchphrase) merely “made suicide”. Yes, she made suicide like you or I might make casserole. Only this time he explained, as he pointed to the last drawing, it “happened in blood puddle”. Rarely, and thankfully so I assume, does one get to use the phrase “puddle of blood” but if such an occasion might occur, its nice to know that merely dropping the “of” and switching the words can lighten the mood a bit with such an amusing word pair. While I’ll undoubtedly try to incorporate new hot phrases like “make suicide” or “happen in blood puddle” into my language when I return to the States remembering how truly authentic it sounded coming from Boris’ mouth will only make me realize how I’ll never be able to pull it off. Besides with the standard-issue Asian accent I deliver in stories, my friends will only question why an Asian sounding person would be named Boris.

I’m not sure if Boris, the ever-amusing jokester, was pulling a fast one on us new students this year by slouching in a noticeable way throughout the day, but regardless, his Quasimodo stature only intrigued me more as to his personal history. His boarding school professors might have reprimanded him with cruel and unusual punishments for his sailor like use of the word “shit”. The crimp in his back might have been caused by countless hours hunched over a Steenbeck editing machine working on propaganda films for a small dictator. Despite the oppressive memories of splicing footage of mind-controlled citizens of his homeland in a poorly lit cave his love of film and desire to teach triumphs. Brave Boris, as he’s known around the faculty lounge.

While I’m unsure of the origins or circumstances of Boris’ unusual facial structure/features I will throw moral caution into the wind and disregard the very apparent fact that it could be a tragic tale because I feel like Boris has embraced it as much as I have. Above his right eye is a medium-sized bulbous patch much resembling a welt one might get from a football to the head. Whether related to this or not his right eye seems to be continually squinting, a big contrast to his round, lively left eye. These descriptions are not meant to poke fun at what could possibly be a very private and personal topic to Boris but what seems and sounds like a handicap to most only seems to be an unattainable physical feature when applied to Boris. As if he requested the alteration to God and God accepted only because it’s Boris and such a change would only enhance Boris’ overall character. Both eyes are a solid blue usually only achieved with delicate watercolor.

Like his vocabulary to his accent, Boris’ mannerisms suit his physical stature impressively well. The first day of classes he was sharing the teaching time with the Italian (whose look, attitude and teaching style are so completely opposite to Boris’ that the experiencing this interaction was like a well-timed production of the Education Odd-Couple). Although they followed a syllabus the time was rarely divided up in any sort of predicable pattern for Boris would often interrupt himself to warn Adriano that he “was really feeling it now, in the mood and cannot stop,” much to the delight of the rest of the class. Pacing back and forth he’d fly through a recap of the previous year’s teaching. His statements were grand and his tangents morally inspiring; a brief mention of respect between actors and directors by Adriano would inspire Boris to proclaim his position not only as a professor of directing but a teacher of morals and ethics describing to us his predicted feelings of failure if he did not think about instilling in us fair and respectable morals. One particularly lengthy digression was about Boris’ belief in all of us as not just great filmmakers, and students but as great people too; he ended the touching moment by making a standard Boris joke about “I hope I will not make crying!” He laughed along with the class but I secretly hoped he wasn’t kidding and would break down any second. Despite my unceasing awkwardness whenever in the presence of someone crying I figured with Boris it would be different. Witnessing Boris cry would be comparable to unexpectedly catching the Aurora Borealis, a rare sight that later becomes a tall you pass down to your grandchildren. He tears might be those of a normal human being or perhaps they’re composed of a completely new substance. Catching them in a jar could be the first step in finding a cure for cancer. Boron would be renamed so as to not be confused with the new element on the table…the Boris Element.

During his “on the roll” teaching moment that lasted nearly an hour, Boris would often bob his head in thought as if phrasing each sentence or question was a full body activity. When someone would answer the question correctly or perhaps even finish his sentence he’d pause for a moment, give a slight smile and proclaim “Yes, I’ll accept that,” and the whole activity had a near party-game like quality to it. First day and first impressions usually bring out the most flustered, anxious side of me. Walking around clutching a map and walking aimlessly around like an upperclassmen joke my self-consciousness usually renders my social observation to the status of paranoid-schizophrenic. The fact that I even remembered my professors’ names usually registers as a personal victory but for some reason I always feel sad to see the first day end. Upon my return to Boris’ class I might realize that his accent isn’t as strong, and the next class I might not even notice his unusual eyes, and with every class I might come to judge him more and more on the workload and not his mannerisms. Part of me wanted to capture these details to leave written prove as to his existence, beyond mere documentation. To give the legend of Paul Bunyan some much needed competition. But another part of me thinks Boris will not go the path of so many other professor impressions and will increase his child-scaring vocabulary, will hint at a past that may or may not have included a fight with nuclear explosives and if he ever so much as hints at crying again I’ll be there with a Bell jar, ready to capture that elusive Boris element.


lily said...

blood puddle = bluddle?

i have an eastern european girl in my art history class and i loved it when she did her presentation on polish artwork. her pronunciation of everything is remarkable.

Melissa said...

you used my favorite word.

Laura said...

if you wrote a memoir someday, i would totally read it. i'm prettyyyyyy into your blog.