Oct 31, 2015

18 Gay Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves, Aliens, and Assorted Undead Bogies

I love the paranormal. Alien abductions, mysterious disappearances, time slips, vampires, ghosts.  Those few paranormal experiences I've had in real life can usually be explained as misinterpretations and exaggerations, but still they're fun, suggesting a world beyond the fields we know.


1. The Naked Man at the Crossroads.  Ok, this happened to my great-grandmother, not me, but it was still a spooky story, especially hearing it in a house trailer in the deep woods of Indiana, late at night, with the wind howling outside.

2. The Naked Man in the Peat Bog.  My Uncle Paul always told us to never go near the peat bog, because a naked man lived there, and he would eat us.  But one day we went to the peat bog anyway, and sure enough, a naked man wearing a weird mask chased us.  Maybe it was Uncle Paul's friend, trying to scare us.  Maybe not.

3. The Naked Indian God.  At the annual Pow Wow in Rock Island, Bill and I saw an Indian youth, one of the dancers, peeing in the woods.  Or doing something else.  When he saw us, he vanished.  Are you starting to notice a pattern here?  Sublimated same-sex desire is visualized.

4. Greg the Boy Vampire gave me my first real kiss.  At least he said he was a vampire.

High School

5. Davenport House, where the first European settler to the Quad Cities lived, has a reputation for being haunted.  When we were in high school, we decided to check.


6. The Gay Ghost in the Basement. I didn't like going down to the basement, where the previous owner kept an art studio.  It hadn't been touched since he died; I kept thinking that he was just upstairs getting a drink of water, and he would be back  One day I saw him hunched over his easel, drawing pictures of naked men.

7. The Bell Tower at Augustana: if a virgin was kissed there, the bell would ring.  I tried to kiss Adam, the bookstore manager, but we were detained.

8. Getting Intimate in the Haunted House.  .


9.  West Hollywood was oddly bereft of the paranormal, unless you count my date with Richard Dreyfuss, which was actually more about discussing the paranormal.

10. But San Francisco was overbrimming with ghosts, bogies, and the unexplained, like Kevin the Vampire.

11. And I went home with the Amazing Invisible Boy, who no one could see except me, and who vanished before we can get into the bedroom.  Maybe he just left, but then why was my apartment door locked from the inside?

12, And when David and I were driving home from the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and we saw a UFO.  Or maybe it was the planet Venus.

New York

13.  New York was full of paranormal experiences, too, like the exorcism of the homophobic demon.

14. And the Man in Black who cruised me on Christopher Street.  I still think he was an alien, not a priest.

15. Sometimes you couldn't tell if a guy was a paranormal entity or just eccentric, like the time traveler from the 1920s.


16. I'm going to count the gay psychic angel, who told me about my past lives. I'm pretty sure he wasn't an angel, just a very cute guy.

The full post, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Childhood Boyfriend #8: Kissing a Boy Vampire

I'm pretty sure that I kissed the boy next door when we got married  in the first grade, but it was a purely ritualistic kiss, necessary to seal our bond.  My first unscripted kiss was in the fall of 1969, in fourth grade.  But not with my boyfriend Bill 

I used to rush home from school to catch most of Dark Shadows (1966-71), the Gothic soap opera about tortured vampire Barnabas Collins. Bill didn't like it -- he only liked science fiction -- so he would sit in the bedroom reading comic books until it was time for Cartoon Showboat, or else come over after.  So I invited Greg, a fourth grader who was taller than me, with brown hair and braces, well-built but preternaturally pale, as if he had never been in the sun.

Like my Cousin Buster's mom, who lived in a trailer in the dark woods, Greg loved the paranormal: haunted houses, Bigfoot, UFOs, fairies, demons.  He had a painting of Lucifer falling from heaven on his bedroom wall.

He first introduced me to Greek mythology by lending me one of his books.  I remember a picture of a hairy satyr with goat legs and horns, his arms wrapped around a muscular teenager who was playing a five-reeded flute. They were both naked. (I think it was this famous statue of Pan and Daphnis.)

One day Greg and I were watching Dark Shadows alone -- Bill was coming over later -- when suddenly he jumped up and ran into the bathroom. He returned with a bath towel tied around his neck like a cloak. He raised his arms like vampire claws and exclaimed “I am Barnabas Collins!"

"You'd better be!" I said.  "If my mom catches you with that towel, you're dead!"

"I am a vampire!" Greg continued.  "See my fangs?"  He opened his mouth to reveal sharp chiseled canines.

Fake fangs! I thought. He must have gotten them from the Dark Shadows game, which came with a set of "real' Barnabas fangs. But they looked real.

“If you’re a vampire, why can you go out in the daytime?” I said, trying to play along, but also somewhat disturbed. Part of me was wondering if Greg really could be a vampire.

“Barnabas goes out in the daytime!” Greg said in an impatient tone. Vampires aren’t magic! They just suck blood.” He flounced atop me and knelt on my lap. “I’m going to suck your blood right now!”

Before I could protest, Greg’s mouth was clamped down against my neck. I felt his lips, the hard plastic of the fangs, his tongue -- and shoved him roughly aside.  "Get lost, Spazz! If you suck my blood, we can’t be friends anymore.”

Pouting, Greg returned to his seat.  “Barnabas sucks Willie’s blood. It doesn’t hurt. It feels groovy – like a kiss!”

“Boys don’t kiss! Not even boyfriends!”

“Sure they do. Like this.” Greg took out his fake fangs, leaned forward and kissed me briefly on the mouth.  It was cool and hard, but still exciting.  My heart was pounding.  My first kiss from a boy!

I pushed him aside and called him a Spazz again.

Apparently discouraged, Greg didn't try to kiss me again, though we continued to be friends until his family moved away, shortly after we visited A Little Bit O'Heaven in sixth grade.

The uncensored story is on Tales of West Hollywood

The Naked Pumpkin Runs

Naked festivals are held in many cities around the world, but in most parts of the United States, public nudity is a criminal offense.

Back during the freewheeling 1970s, it was merely a violation, or at most a misdemeanor -- lots of high school and college kids participated in the fad of streaking.  But now we've become even more puritanical, and it's often a felony.

So what do you do if you want to participate in a nude run?

You put a pumpkin on your head.

At Halloween 1999, over 100 University of Colorado students ran through the streets of Boulder wearing only shoes and pumpkins, or sometimes other masks.

They carried on the tradition for a decade, but in 2008, the police threatened to arrest participants, charge them with indecent exposure, and have them registered as sex offenders, along with the rapists and child molesters.

15 runners were arrested.

In 2009, Boulder passed a new anti-nudity ordinance, mandating fines rather than jail time, but people were scared off, and the runs have not resumed.

However, runners are taking up the tradition in cities which permit  public nudity as part of a "festival or performance, such as Portland, Oregon and Arcata, California.

 In Seattle, Washington, there's a full week of activities, including day and night runs and skinny-dipping.

Skinny dipping?  The temperature is usually in the 40s!

See also: My junior high streaking adventure.

Teen Angels

A year before they caused a counterculture-establishment standoff with their Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-70), comic duo Tommy  and Dick Smothers starred in an "I've got a secret" sitcom, The Smothers Brothers Show (1965-66).

Dick, the "straight man," plays a young, hip, self-absorbed bachelor in the Bill Bixby mold.  The paranormal event that jolts him out of his heterosexist stupor is not a crashed spaceship, but a knock on the door: his irreverent, anarchic, "queer" brother Tommy, lost at sea two years ago, has returned as "an apprentice angel," assigned to oversee Dick's life and do good deeds.

The plots involved Tommy's good deeds -- reforming gangsters and juvenile delinquents, helping the homeless, helping a musician change his tune -- and Dick's fruitless attempts to continue his skirt-chasing in instead of accepting a supernatural, well-night omnipotent same-sex bond.

I don't remember much about the series -- I was very, very young at the time -- but I remember Tommy's marvelous nonchalance about gender transgressions. To liven up a nursing home, he puts on old-lady drag and cavorts with the old men.

Fast forward thirty years, and the premise was recast in Teen Angel (1997-98), starring Corbin Allred  (left) as Steve, a young, hip, self-absorbed high schooler in the Michael Cade mold.  Again, a knock on the door: his irreverent, anarchic, "queer' best friend Marty(Mike Damus), who died last year after eating a spoiled hamburger, has returned as "an apprentice angel," assigned to oversee Steve's life and do good deeds.

The plots involved Marty's good deeds -- mostly helping Steve pass tests, get on the wrestling team, get the lead in the school play, and so on.  The sibling relationship gone, Marty and Steve become a more obvious romantic couple; though they both display heterosexual interests, they are obviously devoted to each other.

Again, Marty displays a marvelous nonchalance about gender transgressions.  When Steve likes a  cheerleader named Jessica, Marty senses that she will reject him, so he morphs into Jessica to go on the date.

What can we learn about the social changes between 1965 and 1997:
1. MORE heterosexism.  More tongue-lolling, leering, moaning insistence that boys and girls together are the meaning of life.
2. MORE subtext. More touching, more tenderness, more caring.
3. Humorous gender transgressions are ok, but you still aren't allowed to be gay.

Manneken Pis, the Urinating Boy of Brussels

Fred, the ministerial student who I dated in college (and moved to Omaha with), had a wine decanter topped by an image of a naked boy. The wine would come out through his penis, as if he was urinating.  It seemed marvelously risque.

Later, when I visited Belgium, I discovered that the boy is the Manneken Pis (in Flemish) or Petit Julien (in French), the symbol of Brussels and a national treasure.

He is a fountain statue on an otherwise nondescript street corner near the Grand Place, surprisingly small (only two feet high) and surprisingly muscular, with adult-style pecs and biceps (he's not really a boy, he's a manneken, a little man).

Originally cast in 1619, he has been stolen repeatedly and replaced; the current version dates to 1965.

There are many legends about the origin of the statue, often involving the boy's heroism, urinating to stall enemy troops or to extinguish a fire.

Every week the Manneken Pis is dressed in a different costume.  He has several hundred, including local political figures, a Catholic cardinal, an aviator, Santa Claus, and Uncle Sam.

He is an economic boon for Brussels, appearing on plates, spoons, cigars, ashtrays, cups, wine decanters, beer steins, water bottles, and postcards.  Here some guys have a "duel" with the Manneken to see who can produce the most...um, water.

 There is Manneken Pis beer and a Petit Julien chocolate shop.

Georges Roland published a detective farce, Manneken Pis, ne rigole plus (Manneken Pis, Don't Laugh), in the Flemish-laced French dialect of Brussels:

Le directeur de la scientifique et le medico-legal est kalle comme un boestrink. Carmel est dans tous ses etats. Bertha, donne-moi encore une kwak de lambik, et mets un petit peket avec, sinon elle va se sentir toute seule.

Maurice Chevalier recorded a song, "Manneken Pis," about a noble boy, "generous in the morning," who regales rich and poor, sprinkling "the most beautiful waters" with all his heart.

So what's the gay connection?

1. Sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy the Elder's son, Jerome Duquesnoy the Younger, was gay (but not the model).

2. The Manneken Pis dresses in a rainbow flag for Gay Pride.

3. It's only three blocks from the Macho Sauna.

4. It's rather amazing to find so many people paying so much attention to a penis.

You should also check Lange Wapper, the Phallic Giant of Antwerp.

Oct 30, 2015

Hansel and Gretel Grow Up and Get Boyfriends

Remember Hansel and Gretel, the Grimm fairy tale about a father who tries to kill his children by abandoning them in the woods, whereupon they stumble upon a candy house, and a witch who wants to eat them, but they turn the tables and burn her alive?

A very pleasant bedtime story for toddlers.

In Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), the siblings grow up into a pair of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style wisecracking, martial-arts-using witch slayers (Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton), who travel all over 17th century Germany with their arsenal of gigantic phallic-symbol guns.

By the way, Jeremy Renner seems to be somewhat homophobic.  Addressing the rumors that he's bisexual because he's living with both his girlfriend and his bromantic partner Griffin Hadley, he cursed "they're not f*** true!"

While investigating a mass child-disappearance in Augsburg, Hansel and Gretel run afoul of a bigoted sheriff and uncover a plot to bring hundreds of witches together for a Blood Moon Ritual.  They also find the answer to the secret of their past: why did their parents abandon them in the woods?

On the way, Hansel hooks up with a good witch (Pihla Vitala), who challenges his "the only good witch is a dead witch" philosophy.  But he gets a nice gay subtext with the fanboy Ben (Thomas Mann), touching him repeatedly on the chest, riding with Ben's arms around his waist, and finally inviting him to join the witch-hunting team.

Meanwhile, Gretel expresses no heterosexual interest, although she does get an unexpected ally in a gigantic troll (Derek Mears), who also joins the team.  In the last scene, they're fighting a "sand witch" in the vast desert of 17th century Germany.

This is a very bloody movie; a scene involving the mass-execution of dozens of witches is particularly disturbing.  And I didn't like the anachronistic dialogue ("Awesome!") and technology: they have machine guns, phonograph records, tasers, and hyperdermic syringes.  But the people are attractive (at least, all of the good people are attractive), and there's plenty of gay subtexts.  

Oct 29, 2015

10 Forgotten Musclemen of Movie Serials

Between 1936 and 1955, you didn't just go to a movie; you went to a whole evening's entertainment, with cartoons, newsreels, two features, and a serial -- a cliffhanging, 12-15 chapter adventure, Western, or science fiction series designed to fill the seats week after week as audiences wondered "How will the hero get out of this jam?"

Three main studios, Columbia, Republic, and Universal, churned out dozens of serials every year, so they needed lots of action heroes.  Some became famous later, in feature films and on tv, and others faded away quickly, but they all offered buddy-bonding and occasional glimpses of biceps and bulges.  Here are the top 10 musclemen of the movie serials:

1. Buster Crabbe may have died in 1983, but his fame -- and exceptional physique -- live on. He was a beefcake staple for 30 years, playing Tarzan and Tarzan clones (1933), cowboys Red Barry and Billy the Kid, and futuristic space heroes Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.  Lots of scripts called for him to get his shirt ripped off.

2. Herman Brix competed in the Olympics as Bruce Bennett, then gave Buster Crabbe some competition with the serials The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935) and Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1938).  He also stripped down to play Kioga in Hawk of the Wilderness (1938).

3. Former college athlete Charles Starrett was best known for the Durango Kid series, but he also got torn out of his clothes in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), to be tortured and turned into a zombie (left).

4. Gordon Jones (left) died in 1963, so he isn't well known to the Boomer generation, but in his day he was a well known face and physique.  Catch his exposed biceps in an early version of The Green Hornet in the 1941 serial.

5. Kane Richmond played the adult mentor/boyfriend to teenage Frankie Darro in a series of 1930s "Thrill-o-Ramas," plus some Charlie Chan mysteries, Westerns, and beefcake-heavy boxing movies.   His main serial was the superheroic Spy Smasher (1942).  He retired to open a hair salon.

6. The rugged Tom Tyler had a long career in Westerns, but flexed his muscles as two comic superheroes brought to life in movie serials: The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) and The Phanton (1943)

7. Gerald Mohr played a pulp detective named The Lone Wolf (1946, 1947) and narrated the first season of The Lone Ranger series on tv (1949-50). 

8. Speaking of The Lone Ranger, before Clayton Moore became identified with the Masked Man (1949-1957), he had a long career in movies and serials, mostly Westerns, naturally.

9. Kirk Alyn never disrobed on camera, but his muscular frame was displayed in a Superman costume in the only serials about the original superhero, Superman (1948) and Atom Man v. Superman (1950).

10. Jock Mahoney played a rather long-in-the-tooth Tarzan in Tarzan Goes to India (1962), but he also starred in some serials, such as Cody of the Pony Express (1950) and Roar of the Iron Horse (1951).  

Movin' on Up: The Jeffersons

A spin-off of All in the Family, The Jeffersons set into the vacuum caused by the demise of Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers in January 1975.

It followed a nouveau-riche African-American couple, irascible George Jefferson (Sherman Hensley) and pragmatic Louise (Isabel Sanford), to a "deluxe apartment in the sky", where they were surrounded by wacky friends and neighbors: sarcastic maid Florence (Marla Gibbs), snobbish interracial couple Tom and Helen (Franklin Cover, Roxy Roker), looney Brit Mr. Bentley (Paul Benedict).

When I was in high school, it aired during a block of must-see Sunday night programs (Alice, One Day at a Time, Trapper John MD), so I watched quite often, though it had very little gay content (I preferred the strong gay content on What's Happening!!)

1. Virtually no beefcake.  As a teenager, I thought that George and Louise's college-age son Lionel (Mike Evans) was cute, but following the tradition of black beefcake, he always appeared fully clothed.  After a year, he was replaced by Damon Evans, who was rather too thin and fey for my tastes.

The most you could hope for was a hunky guest star, like Jay Hammer as Tom and Helen's son.

Or Ike Eisenmann as a teenage racist in extraordinary tight jeans, who has a change of heart after George saves his father's life.

2. Lack of bonding. Friendships on the show were always cordial and businesslike, never passionate.

3. No gay characters.  Apparently the network execs felt that seeing racial minorities was traumatic enough for Middle America, and gays would give them conniption fits. So no gay people were mentioned, although there was a male-buddy-is-now-a-woman plotline.

The lack of substantial gay content is surprising, considering that Paul Benedict and Damon Evans (left), both accomplished theatrical actors, were gay.  In an interview, Damon states that he didn't get along with the other cast members, except for Roxie Roker.

Sherman Hensley, who died last July, was probably gay, too; he was never seen with a woman and lived with his "roommate," Kenny Johnston, for over thirty years. But he refused to Say the Word.

He came from a generation of men who considered gayness "deeply personal," who didn't realize that Saying the Word could reduce homophobia, give gay kids a role model, and help them "move on up."

20 Nazarene Boys

I spent the first 20 or so years of my life in the Church of the Nazarene, a hardcore fundamentalist church that was against everything, from rock music to Roman Catholics to wearing short pants. But required us to go to church three times a week, carry a Bible everywhere, pray before meals (even in the school cafeteria) and try to win the souls of our friends (who soon stopped being our friends), classmates, and perfect strangers.


I complain endlessly about the draconian rules; the utter absence of art and literature; the tedium of Sunday school class; the preacher screaming about God's hatred three times a week; .  But I also remember having a lot of fun. Finding loopholes in the rules, or ways to ignore them altogether, was a never-ending game.  Protesting worldly evil was exciting.

And the homoerotic activity was constant.  There was as much, or more, hugging and fondling going on as in any gay bar in the world.

Here are 20 Nazarene grabs, gropes, bulges, boners, and sausage sightings, plus a few guys that I just crushed on.

Elementary School

1.No Divorce.
    They told me incessantly that my destiny was to marry a girl.  But Brother Hanson married a girl and then got out of it through a "divorce."  Of course, he couldn't be Minister of Music afterwards, but that was a small price to pay for the freedom to live with a boy.

2. No Movies.  We weren't supposed to even set foot inside a movie theater.  But when a cute boy named Gary invited me to a movie, I had to make a choice.  The first of many spiritual crises in my childhood.

3. Gospel Singers.  Sometimes had guest singers, usually all-male groups that pretended to be brothers, lest anyone suspect.  When the  Sanderson Brothers became our summer camp counselors, I found an ingenious way to get a Sausage Sighting.

Junior High

4. No Premarital Kissing.  Or sex, either.  This was fine with me, but it left the question of what sex involves.  One year at Manville Camp, an older boy named Marty was happy to demonstrate.

5. No Dancing.  Not even in physical education class or "in the guise of folk dancing."  Except at Washington Junior High, we had a required dance every Friday afternoon.  In eighth grade, I convinced a black-haired 7th grader named Brett to dance with me and psych out the teachers.

6. No Evolution.    The Bible Missionaries were even more conservative than Nazarenes, and thought of us as heretical libertines.  I thought it was quite a coups when Micah the Bible Missionary Boy accepted an invitation to my house to fight a common enemy, "evil-lution."

7. Summer Camp.  A week every summer of deadly-dull Bible studies, sports, and endless screaming sermons.  But when our junior high Sunday school teacher, Brother Dino, became our counselor one year, I saw him naked in the shower.  Major Sausage Sighting.

8. The Prospect List.  People who came to Sunday school or church, even once, were put on a special list.  We were supposed to call, write, or visit them regularly to invite them back and try to win their souls. It rarely worked, but one summer I managed to befriend Frank, a boy my age who went to the Catholic school.

9. Olivet.  If we went to college at all, it had to be Olivet, the Nazarene college on the prairie, where all of the boys were training to be ministers, and all of the girls, to be their wives.  While we were visiting during a prospective student weekend, a ministerial student named Rick, kissing his girlfriend on a couch on the other side of the room...

10. The Altar Call.  At the end of most services, the preacher invited those who needed to "get right with God" to come down to the altar and kneel, whereupon members of the same sex would grab, hug, and hold them to help them "pray through to victory."  I got a lot of hugging, groping, and bulge-viewing that way, but I especially wanted Phil, the President of the Youth Society, the cutest and coolest boy I ever met.  But he never went down.  I had to get him to sin, so he would go.

The full list, with uncensored photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Making Your Own Bulgeworthy Halloween Costume

In gay neighborhoods, Halloween is all about the beefcake.  Your costume should be clever and creative, but it should also display your biceps or bulge to good advantage: the stressful Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year season is coming, and you need a full social calendar.

But what can you do if you don't have the money for a fancy store-bought costume, and can't sew?

It's easy to improvise with clothing you already have around the house, or a few props from the hardware store.

1. What could be easier than boxer underwear, with a twin-sized unfitted sheet tied around your neck for a cape?  It's good for being Conan the Barbarian, an ancient Greek philosopher, or a Roman centurion (make a helmet out of a paper bag reinforced with tape).

2. Draw a big letter Z on the cape to become Zorro (sword optional).

3. For Disney's Aladdin, you need white pants, tied with a rope instead of a belt, house slippers, and a leather vest.  Toy monkey can be taped to your shoulder.

4. To be a cowboy, you'll need jeans, a belt with a large buckle, boots (snow boots are fine), and a cowboy hat.

5. Add a plaid shirt, and substitute a baseball cap, and you're a farmboy (don't try it in the Midwest).

6. You can easily stencil a Superman logo onto a plain blue t-shirt, but you might have to do something with your hair.

7. Another easy superhero is Aquaman, who wears red shorts and green boots.

8. Tarzan's loincloth can be improvised with an old pair of brown pants ragged-cut in front and back.  Be sure to wear regular underwear, too.

9. Most people doing the Rocky Horror think of Rocky, who wears only gold lame shorts.

10.  But if you don't have a Rocky physique, you can do an easy Brad with white briefs (extremely well packed) and horn-rimmed glasses.

11. A white handkerchief, a black bow tie, black dress slacks, and you're a Chippendale Dancer.  For added effect, wear a white shirt pre-cut and sewn up so it can easily be ripped off.

12. It's never too early to get into the spirit of Christmas, and you can evoke Santa Claus without wearing the whole ensemble.  Black boots, red shorts,  and a Santa Claus hat are more than enough.

Oct 28, 2015

The Ultimate 12 Public Penises of Russia

When I was a kid, they advertised "The Ultimate Adventure": the Trans-Siberian Railway. Even going to Russia was adventurous, and the 5,772 mile network of railroads connecting Moscow to Vladivostok  -- that's over twice the distance from New York to Los Angeles -- took 8 days.

Today we can fly, which allows you to jump all over the vast conglomerate of republics, territories, and oblasts in search of beefcake.

Other than Siberian swimming star Vlad Morozov, of course.

I'm skipping over Moscow and St. Petersburg, which have enough beefcake art for their own posts.

1. A 1 1/2 hour flight south of Moscow, Volgograd straddles the Volga River, the homeland of the original Rus tribe that became the Russians. This statue on Mamaev Hill features a buffed, shirtless warrior defending the Motherland during the Battle of Stalingrad.

2. Now you have to rent a car and drive about 10 hours south of Volgograd, to where the Transcaucasian Highway passes through the Alagirsky Gorge in North Ossetia, beneath this 28-ton statue of a shirtless St. George on a horse.

By the way, white people are called Caucasians because they were once thought to originate in the Caucasian Mountains.

3. Continue south another 5 hours to Maykop, the capital of the Republic of Adygea.  Only 13% of the population is Muslim, but the Mosque Park contains these two specimens.

4. Another five hours to Nalchik, capital of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkarina, another Caucasian state, and another buffed warrior.

5. Fly back to Volgograd, and then to Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan (about 8 hours, but that's better than 25 hours by car).  The Tatars are a Turkic-speaking people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Russia.

Outside of the Kazan Kremlin is this statue of a shirtless, defiant Musa Calil, a Tatar poet and resistance fighter executed by the Nazis.

More after the break