May, 2014
Dissident Kitchens – Thank You to our Collaborators

Dissident Kitchens – Thank You to our Collaborators

Thank you to all who helped with the story!


Russian Dissident Kitchens

Russian Dissident Kitchens

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When Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death in 1953, one of the first things he addressed was the housing shortage and the need for more food. Thousands of people were living in cramped communal apartments, sharing one kitchen and one bathroom with sometimes up to 20 other families.

“All the people wanted to live in their own apartment,” says Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Nikita Khrushchev.“In Stalin’s time you cannot find this. When my father came to power he proclaimed that there will be mass construction of apartment buildings and in each apartment will live only one family.” They were called Khrushchevkas, Khrushchev apartments. Five story buildings made of prefabricated concrete panels.

“They were horribly built, you could hear your neighbor,” says Edward Shendrovich, venture investor and Russian poet. The apartments had small toilets, very low ceilings, and very small kitchens.

“No matter how tiny it was it was yours,” says journalist Masha Karp from Leningrad, who worked for the Russian Service of the BBC. “This kitchen was the place where people could finally get together and talk at home without fearing the neighbors in the communal flat.”

Kitchen Table Talk

The individual kitchens in these tiny apartments became hot spots of culture. Music was played, poetry recited, underground tapes were exchanged, forbidden art and literature circulated, politics debated, and deep friendships were forged in the the kitchen.

“One of the reasons why kitchen culture developed in Russia is because there were no places to meet,” says Edward Shendrovich. “You couldn’t have political discussions in public, at your workplace. You couldn’t go to cafes – they were state owned. The kitchen became the place where Russian culture kept living untouched by the regime. It was the beginning of dissident kitchens.” ‪These “dissident kitchens” took the place of uncensored lecture halls, unofficial art exhibitions, clubs, bars, dating services.

“The Kitchen was for intimate circle of your close friends, says Alexander Genis, Russian writer and radio journalist. “When you came to the kitchen, you put on the table some vodka. And something from your balcony, not refrigerator, but balcony, like pickled mushrooms. Something pickled. Sour is the taste of Russia.”

Furious discussions took place over pickled cabbage, boiled potatoes, sardines, sprats, herring. “Kitchens became debating societies. remembers Gregory (Grisha) Freidin, Professor of Russian Literature at Stanford University. “Even to this day political wind-baggery is referred to as kitchen table talk.”

Even in the kitchen, the KGB was an ever-present threat. People were wary of bugs and hidden microphones. Phones were unplugged or covered with pillows. Water was turned on so no one could hear. “Some of us had been followed,” says Grisha Freidin, “Sometimes there would be KGB agents stationed outside the apartments and in the stair wells. During those times we expected to be arrested any night.”


As the night wore on, kitchen conversations moved from politics to literature. Much literature was forbidden and could not be published or read openly in Soviet society. Kitchens became the place where people read and exchanged “samizdat.” (more)

Gia Coppola Talks with The Kitchen Sisters about Directing Palo Alto

Gia Coppola Talks with The Kitchen Sisters about Directing Palo Alto

Gia Coppola is 26 years old. She is the granddaughter of Francis and Eleanor Coppola, and the niece of Roman and Sofia Coppola. When her mother Jacqui was 2 months pregnant with her, Gia’s father, Gian-Carlo, Francis and Ellie’s oldest son, was killed in an accident.

Gia’s first feature, Palo Alto, an adaptation of James Franco’s collection of short stories about teenagers from the suburb where he grew up opened in theaters this week.

Davia Nelson, of NPR’s Kitchen Sisters interviewed Gia at American Zoetrope in San Francisco while she was in town for the mix of her movie. 

DN: When did a camera first land in your hands?

GC:  I was always surrounded by cameras. I really liked Polaroid cameras. When I was little, as a present for my Mom’s birthday, I would take pictures of her party and make her a little book. One of her friends is a photographer, and her sons were interested in art, and we used to make little zines together. But I didn’t ever take it seriously.  Then in college at Bard, they have a great photography program directed by Stephen Shore, a photographer I really admire. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I just knew I wanted to work with him. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, I just wanted to work with a great teacher.

I was appreciative of that program because I was never very good at high school and always struggled. I always envied the stories of Roman and Sofia and my dad getting to be on set all the time and not having to go to school  and just working. I always wanted that. So I was always trying to find a way to be home schooled. But my family was very adamant that I have a consistent high school experience.

DN:  How did you and James Franco find each other? 

GC: We met at an event. We had a friend in common and we were talking about projects and getting to know each other. Then he contacted me about wanting to collaborate on something.  I showed him my photos and he liked them. He sent me his book, Palo Alto, as maybe something that I’d be interested in and I loved his book. I had already wanted to make a movie about teenagers. I had just finished college. Maybe I was nostalgic for being in high school. He showed me that book and it really resonated with me.

DN: If you hadn’t started making a movie right after college what else were you were thinking about doing?

GC: I majored in photography in college. After college I needed a job. I was talking to my grandpa about it. “Maybe I’ll work in a flower shop.” Then someone said,  “I’m going to bartending class to learn how to be a bartender.” So I said, “I’ll just tag along, that sounds fun.” I really enjoyed it, because it involves your hands, and its sort of like cooking, you come up with recipes. I got a job at the opening of Bouchon in LA and learned a lot.

Then this young filmmaker asked me to be in a little fashion video but I didn’t want to be in front of the camera. So he said, “Just make your own.” I’d never taken a film class or anything. But I got my friends who know more about making films and we just made like a little fun one together for a fashion company.  And then it kind of spiraled. This fashion company, Opening Ceremony, liked it and they hired me to make one for their company. Then Zac Posen for Target wanted me to make one, and I got practice in filmmaking through trial and error. Filmmaking feels to me like an extension of photography, with more challenges that were exciting, like writing and music.

DN: Had you done any kind of studying of writing or screenwriting when you first bit off the movie?

GC: I took a one-act playwriting class in college. That was my only real exposure. James Franco helped guide me doing it step by step. He said, “Take the stories you like and break them down into Interior, Exterior. Don’t worry about the dialogue yet.” So I did that. The book already had great dialogue so I put that in and rearranged it so it became an ensemble piece, so each character’s story could flow a bit more.

DN: How did you find this group of young actors?

GC: I’ve known Jack Kilmer since he was little. I used to babysit him. I went to dinner with him and he was just such a cool kid it seemed like he was just right for the character, Teddy. Jack was hard to get in touch with. I kept harassing him to call me back. I was like, what teenager doesn’t have their phone attached to their hip? His father, Val is in the movie too.

Jack never acted before. We just threw him in and it’s in his blood I guess. I’m very proud of him.

He plays Teddy who’s a young kid who’s sort of trying to figure out his way. He has a friend Fred who is a bad influence and steers him in the wrong direction.

DN: What about Fred, played by Nat Wolff?

GC: Fred Roos told me about him. I met Nat and just loved him. He was referencing all these movies that I really loved and had great taste. Something felt right and I went with it. I never saw him read or anything. He has a lot of skill behind him and he taught me a lot about acting.

All the kids lived at my mom’s house while we were shooting because they had to get up so early and go home so late. My mom was working on the movie behind-the-scenes so she would make them dinner at night, so they all got to be really close and I think that shows.

I was so tired I couldn’t figure out dinner at night and so I would go over there and have dinner with them too. My mom plays Emma’s Mom in the movie.

DN: What gave you that light bulb, your mom as the mom?

GC: In the stories, I filled in that area. My mom is a funny character and I think she’s a great actress. I remember in high school my mom was always on the phone so I just kind of wrote that experience and obviously no one could do it better then the person I wrote it off of so….

DN: Emma Roberts is quite moving as April.

GC: Emma was excited about the project and really loved the stories and the script. She was dedicated and so supportive to me because she’s been acting since she was 9 and I was so nervous about working with actors and she made me feel comfortable. She taught me a lot about little continuity things, like you’ve got to hold your cigarette on this line and you have a sip on this line and she was great about all that sort of stuff that I never even thought gets that complicated but sometimes it does.

DN: The scene when April’s alone in her room and you linger with her… how did you conjure that?  Talking to the mirror and all…

GC: Emma had such a funny personality and really good comedic timing. We shot her bedroom in my old bedroom at my mom’s house. We had some extra time on our hands so we did the scene of her just kind of being alone in her room and then we said let’s just do a version of it where you are jumping on the bed and letting it all out. And that’s what she did. I think it was important to show that moment in the beginning of the film so you can see that she’s a complex character.

DN: When I saw that scene I wondered if that in any way is connected to the opening scene of Apocalypse Now with Martin Sheen alone in his hotel room.

GC: Yeah. I mean in a similar fashion of how that scene works.  You watch Apocalypse Now through Martin Sheen’s eyes and he doesn’t really say much but you know that he’s a complex character because you saw in the beginning that he let all of this emotion out so I think you’re willing to ride along with him more had that scene not been in there. But I didn’t think about the Apocalypse reference until after I saw the scene and cut it.

DN: There’s a level of violence and dread, a something-bad-is-going-to-happen-here that permeates the movie. How did you think about that as you created the film?

GC: Fred is the sort of character that keeps kind of… eventually something is going to happen to him if he keeps acting the way he does. There is always one friend that parents are like, “Don’t hang out with that person.” My Aunt Tallie always stressed the importance of who your friends were at that age and it really can mold what you do with that very fragile part of your life. That tension, I don’t think I realized it until the editing room, watching it over and over. You don’t realize what it is that effects people in the audience as much as it does.

DN: How do you talk to actors about their scenes?

GC: I never took any acting classes other than what I saw my grandpa do with the actors on some of his more recent films. But he gave me some improv notes and some games to play during rehearsals with them. During the scene I just tried to talk to the actors as best I could, and try to be as honest about this as I could and try to explain what the scene meant to me, and be available to them as best I could and hoped that would be helpful. Actors have really great ideas and so I tried to be open to their ideas as well.

DN: Were you watching teenage movies as you were writing this one?

GC: I kind of feel like there aren’t really movies for teenagers but I don’t know if a lot of teenagers can see this movie, but there aren’t movies about teenagers that I really like. I was referencing American Graffiti and Rumble Fish, The Last Picture Show and those sort of movies that I love so much but I feel they aren’t really prominent right now.

DN: About the blow jobs…

GC: Part of what I liked about this book was that it forced me to go outside of an area that I was comfortable with. I’m the baby of the family, and so to make something about this sort of subject matter was embarrassing for sure. I told my family, “This movie is inappropriate for grandparents,” and they said, “it’s not appropriate for you either.” But you know, I’ve hung out with a bunch of teenagers during this process and all this stuff happens. It’s a depiction of teenagers and they all smoke a ton of cigarettes and they all try to experience these new things and so everything is very heightened.

DN: What was the process with you and James as you worked on the script?

GC: It was a lot through email and I’d send him what I had, but he let me do my thing. I think that was sort of the point. That he was giving this young person the opportunity to do what they want. He gave me a lot of creative liberty. I feel very fortunate to have him behind me, supporting me and giving me that chance.

DN: At what point did you decide that he was going to be in the film?

GC: I always secretly wanted him to be in the film but I was too afraid to ask. But then I just asked and he was super-nice about it and said “Of course.” I was so excited to have him part of this project, especially because it’s his book and he knows those characters…

DN: How much was he around the set?

GC: He was working on another movie at the time so he was only around when he was doing his scenes. I was always sending him pictures of the scenes that we did that day and I tried to keep him updated.

DN: The visual style, how did you come to what you wanted this film to look like?

GC: I had this director of photography that I had been working with on all my other small things and I wanted to keep the way things felt comfortable to me, working with these younger people I was used to working with, to not try to do anything too fancy or intimidating. Her name is Autumn Durald. I knew I was in safe hands with her, I feel like with my photography background I was most comfortable about what it would look like and at ease with giving direction with how I wanted things to look.

DN: A female DP, cool.

GC: Yeah, it was really cool working with a female cinematographer. Actually all the heads of departments were female, which was really cool. It was just by chance, not out of like trying to make a statement or anything, I was just naturally drawn to what their ideas were.

DN: Film is in your bloodstream. What are things you’ve picked up or learned from your family?

GC: Roman knows so much about gadgets and film technology. If I have a question like how did they shoot this really insane scene he can explain that technical side of things. Roman was always supportive when I was just playing around with making little short films. He would always let me borrow his equipment and use his house to shoot it.

Sofia is great because she really set the boundaries for female directors, at least from my perspective. I don’t think I would have thought I could do this had I not seen her do it. And the way she does it is so unique to herself, just being calm and not having to be this aggressive female, which I think some people think you have to be in this world. She gave me great books when I was younger like Franny and Zooey. 

Ellie, she is so amazing. She’s the best grandma ever. She is just so in-tune with talking about life, and very mellow and has her own unique things that she’s drawn to — Japanese art and her own movies.

DN: And Francis?

GC: He is always talking about life and how to make movies.  I had a wonderful experience when I finished college to work behind-the-scenes and learn how he made Twixt. So I had a good, fun education through him kind of giving me his philosophies of life and filmmaking.

I never really grew up with him when he was making movies. And no one in the family wanted to watch his movies with me when I was younger because they had all seen them so many times. None of my friends wanted to take the responsibility of watching those films with me so I never saw his films til very recently when I was getting interested in watching a lot of movies. To watch him now and love movies so much and see how great his movies are … I have such a great resource at my hands.

DN: And what about your father, Gio? How do you feel he seeped into your life and work?

GC: I’m always interested in hearing what he was interested in. Like he loved the number 22 and so that’s my favorite number now. And I know he always wanted to make movies and I feel very honored that I get to make a movie. I had his picture on my camera when I was shooting so I feel like, yeah, guardian angel. It’s such an important part of my life to kind of understand who he was.

DN: What’s going to happen next? What are you thinking about doing now?

GC: I’ve been writing. It helps ease my mind from letting go of this project, writing and reading and figuring out things that I want to put into another idea. I’ve been writing my own original idea but, you know, maybe there’s a book out there…

Oh, I also have a wine coming out. It’s called Gia, so look out for it. I found some recipes, so I’m going to try to invent a little wine cocktail and work on new movies.

Fugitive Waves – The Long Shadow of Shirley Temple

Fugitive Waves – The Long Shadow of Shirley Temple

“I left Vietnam in 1972. I listen the radio when I was in high school. I still in Vietnam at that time. I left with US troops during the Vietnam War. I really love the song, you know, played by Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman.” And all the song from the Bee Gee, from Beatle, Rolling Stone, I love.

When I was young I heard, you know, “California Dream.” I thought, `Wow, San Francisco, everybody wearing their flower in their hair?’ I make my wish: when I grow up, I like to come to United States. I like to live in San Francisco, see if I can get flower in my hair. That’s a “California Dreaming,” the song.

But when I come here in 1979–oh, it is hard. I have no relative. Just, like, a couple of friend. They help me. And I’m not able to be speaking very, very well. So every day when I am driving, I put a tape in my radio so I’m listening.
When you come to the country here, the easy way to be get in–get a job is to go to into the nail salon. That’s why the population from Vietnam, they all do nail business.”

The Saga of the Turnspit Cooking Dog

The Saga of the Turnspit Cooking Dog

Hidden Kitchens Story #2: Turnspit Dogs—The Rise & Fall of the Vernepator Cur

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In an old hunting lodge on the grounds of an ancient Norman castle in Wales, a small extinct dog peers out of a handmade wooden display case.

“Whiskey is the last surviving specimen of a turnspit dog, albeit stuff,” says Sally Davis, long-time custodian at the Abergavenny Museum.

The turnspit was a breed of dog that was once an essential part of every large kitchen in Britain. The small cooking canine was bred to run in a wheel that turned a roasting spit in cavernous kitchen fireplaces.

“They were referred to as the Kitchen Dog, the Cooking Dog, or the Vernepator Cur,” says Caira Farrell, Library and Collections Manager at the Kennel Club in London as she pages through one of the oldest books on her shelves. “The very first mention of them in is 1576 in the first book on dogs ever written.”

“Turnspit dogs were viewed as kitchen utensils, as pieces of machinery rather than as dogs,” says Jan Bondeson, author of Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities. “The roar of the fire. The clanking of the spit. The patter from the little dog’s feet. The wheels were put up quite high on the wall, far from the fire in order for the dogs not to overheat and faint.” Bondeson is just warming up. “One way of training the dog was to throw a glowing coal into the wheel to make the dog speed up a bit.” MORE


Hidden Kitchens Story #2: “Turnspit Dogs” this Tuesday on NPR’s Morning Edition

Hidden Kitchens Story #2: “Turnspit Dogs” this Tuesday on NPR’s Morning Edition


Story #1:  Hidden Kitchens Sicily:  The Pizza Connection – Airs today on NPR’s Morning Edition

Story #1: Hidden Kitchens Sicily: The Pizza Connection – Airs today on NPR’s Morning Edition

In recent years, the effort to bring the Mafia under control in Sicily has spilled over into the world of food. Today a movement of small organic agricultural cooperatives has sprung up across the island to farm land once confiscated by the Mafia and bring these goods to a global market.

Listen now on NPR 

A big thanks to all involved in making The Pizza Connection.