The new year invites comparisons with the past, and a major recent change has been the ease of watching foreign television. Corvallis residents no longer have to pay a cable or satellite server for premium foreign channels, which now can be watched for free over the internet.
The website www.beelinetv.com lists 45 languages from Arabic to Vietnamese, and for each a choice of stations streaming over the internet. It was through this website last May that I discovered a station in Moscow, Moscow-24 (http://tv.m24.ru/) with the most wonderful variety programming of any Russian channel I have visited.
Moscow-24 focuses almost entirely on Moscow life, but with some attention to news from the rest of Russia and the world at large. After watching it for six months I feel like a Moscow resident, though I only spent four days there 25 years ago. Call me a virtual resident.
All this listening has greatly improved my oral comprehension of Russian, and I have filled many notebook pages with new words. I have also learned a great deal about life in Moscow today.
During the summer there was a campaign for mayor, and I soon recognized the establishment favorite—Sergei Sobyanin---who had been appointed acting mayor and who showed up multiple times a day while the other candidates got little attention. There were televised debates in which the other five candidates participated but Mr. Sobyanin didn’t. One of the other candidates had recently been in prison, likely for political reasons, but came in second in the election---perhaps a “moral victory.”
One of my favorite programs is an interview show where an excellent interviewer talks with artists, entertainers and athletes, and almost always has one or more cats sitting beside him or crawling over him. If it is not his own cat, a note on the screen advises that if you want this cat, here is the Moscow telephone number to call. The program, Pravda-24, has its own Facebook page!
The station has news every half hour, and, floating by at the bottom of the screen, weather details, headlines, exchange rates, and traffic levels on local highways and freeways. Yes, Moscow has traffic---lots of it. The number of cars there has risen from about a million ten years ago to over four million now, and parking has become a big headache. So have spectacular accidents, which often are televised because so many people have video cameras in their cars.
Even the ads, for five minutes before the hour and the half hour, are interesting. One of my favorites was for Renault cars. Prairie dogs are shown playing in the boondocks, when a Renault approaches on the nearby road. The critters dive into their hole, but come right back out dressed in tuxedos and bow ties, line up along the road, and reverently watch the car sail by with grand opera music blaring from its loudspeakers. Other ads are for supermarkets, entertainment, new apartments, banks, and foods.
Not everyone will be interested in watching Russian TV, but a lot of people might find a station through www.beelinetv.com that could improve their facility with some other foreign language and their understanding of another culture. One hopes that language teachers and students are taking full advantage of the opportunities now available for free over the internet.
Watching Moscow TV has increased my interest in visiting that city again sometime. Now if the Russian government would just simplify the current bureaucratic tangle confronting visa applicants and reduce the cost of the visa to a reasonable amount . . . .