Friday, February 28, 2014

Stirlitz thought. He liked it. He thought again.

One last naked potato splashed into the water in the yellow enameled pan. I struck a sputtering match, and lit the gas. What to serve with the potatoes--I would think of this later. A tile fell from the wall. I replaced it automatically. I ducked under the damp shirts dangling from the ceiling, grabbed the drier ones, and passed through the dark corridor into Tatyana's room, where I plugged in the heavy iron.

All of the ironing was performed on a thick, folded piece of linen on a table in her room, part of a dining room set that didn't belong, because there was no dining room in the apartment. Eating took place in shifts on a pair of orange-upholstered taburetki in the kitchen. The matching chairs usually served as clothes-horses or box-holders in the two bedrooms. The apartment was a dim, dingy, cluttered den. No one actually wanted to be there, ever--not Svyokor, who avoided returning home from the "experimental automobile factory" as long as possible, and usually arrived in a state of ripe readiness. Not Svekrov, who taught extra preparatory classes in physics at the school after her shift at the institute. Nor did their redoubtable son, who was most likely to be found in the bowels of the maze of garages at the back of the neighborhood, guarded by a tiny, withered Storozh perched on a stool in a filthy booth, peering up at you through his round spectacles, then returning his concentration to a copy of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, wrapped tidily in a newspaper in his lap.

The iron and I were not the best of friends. I saw the principle of the matter--to wrestle a pristine shape from a wrinkled rag of clothing--but my clumsy hands fumbled often; the red marks on the insides of my arms bore witness to the struggle. And Stirlitz wasn't helping--Seventeen Moments of Spring was being shown on TV.

Flicking on the grey box in Tanya's room and emptying it of silence, I found myself immersed, like so many other millions, in the world of Stirlitz, super-spy. How to describe the affect of Stirlitz on the masses (including myself) gathering like a nearly bursting dam behind the Iron Curtain?

Vyacheslav Tikhonov, in the role of Stirlitz

In the alternate universe of Stirlitz, World War II had never ended, but kept replaying over and over, a squeaky Melodiya gramophone plastinka. There, we would always need the services of the quiet, thoughtful hero,  a Soviet agent, Colonel Maksim Maksimovich Isaev, who had infiltrated the German intelligence service as Standartenfuhrer von Stirlitz, and specialized in listening to birds and pretending to obtain nuclear secrets for the Germans, while he actually supplied Moscow with intel on Berlin's war plans and, by-the-way, saved Krakow. His arch-enemy was Gestapo Chief Heinrich Müller. Much of the time were watching Stirlitz, we were wondering, where was he going, what was he actually thinking? That seemed to be the point. We listened to the deadpan, somber voice-overs intently, ears open to the slightest suggestion.

Silent Stirlitz watches cranes fly overhead.


The voice is Joseph Kobzon, singing the theme of the series, "Somewhere far away..." Here is a profile of Yulian Semyonov, the author of the Stirlitz novels. And my favorite Stirlitz page in English. A sample of a Stirlitz joke: Stirlitz approaches Berlin. The city is veiled in smoke from the fires. "Forgot to switch off the iron again," thought Stirlitz with slight irritation.

This other clip is the same song as above, playing in the background while Stirlitz has a meeting (and not meeting) with his wife. This is the original black and white version, to which I am more accustomed.

4 comments:

bluestorm said...

This entry brought so many warm memories back, Iulia. "Seventeen Minutes of Spring" was the show each Friday, when the state run TV was streaming news and shows from the Soviet Union directly, i suppose. "Fridays is Russian TV," we used to say. that was in the late 70ties i guess. the theme song is stunning, still is. thank you for this.

Iulia Flame said...

:-)

Cheryl and Janet Snell said...

Thank you for broadening our horizons!

Iulia Flame said...

Thanks for stopping by. :)

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