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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bulat Okudzhava's "Musician" and "Lady Absence"

Oleg Pogudin's nightingale-voice again graces my blog: he represents the revival of the popularity of many Russian romances, some of which remained unsung for a while after the emergence of Communism. But in this case, Pogudin sings a more recent composition.

Okudzhava's version. In certain ways, I like it better. It is Okudzhava, after all.

Bulat Okudzhava, an ethnic Georgian dissident poet/bard (his father was "repressed," by Stalin, and his mother spent 18 years in the gulag), is not as well-known as Yevtushenko or Brodsky. But, according to this article in the New York Times, "his songs, lovingly memorized and repeated by millions, were recorded secretly and smuggled from tape player to tape player in homes across the Soviet Union." One of his most well-known lyrics can be translated as, "Let us hold each other's hands so we will not die one by one."

Musician (B.Okudzhava), Dedicated to I. Shvartz.

A musician played the violin; I glanced into his eyes.
It was not that I was curious--I was flying in the skies.
It was not out of boredom--I was hoping to understand
What enables these hands to produce such sounds:
From some sort of board, from a  rude cord,
From some sort of fantasy, which he serves?
And, what's more, fingers need to know where to press,
So as not to get lost in the darkness of proud sounds.
In fact, it's necessary to set on fire and penetrate our soul...
Why should we prevent this, why guard against it?
Happy is the home where a violin's voice sends us on our way
And grants us hope...the rest will come of itself.
Happy is the instrument, pressed to an angular shoulder,
Under whose benediction I fly about heaven,
Happy is he whose method--sure, whose bow--sharp and fingers fierce,
This musician, that has conjured a bonfire from my soul.
And the soul, this is for sure, having been burned--
Is more fair, more merciful, and more righteous.

Probably the most famous media clip of one of Okudzhava's witty songs is from the1969 film, a favorite of the cosmonauts and a must-see for any Russian-language film aficionado, The White Sun of the Desert, (also known jokingly as The Great Liberation of the Women of the East.) "Your Grace, Lady Absence.....if I'm not lucky in death, I'll be lucky in love." As they say, "The East is a subtle matter."  Ha. But that is another story.

a musing for a busy day

Berceuse Op. 72, Tchaikovsky (Lullaby)

When in the end, the day came on which I was going away, I learned the strange learning that things can happen which we ourselves cannot possibly imagine, either beforehand, or at the time when they are taking place, or afterwards when we look back on them.

Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my best. (Babette's Feast.)

--Isak Dinesen

Monday, February 24, 2014

Blue - Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell's voice, from the record, Miles of Aisles, is one of the first I ever fell in love with. And I was obsessed with her toes. This might be one of my favorite songs of hers. Did I understand the words? No...

The amazing stuff a person can find, nowadays, on YouTube.

Blue here is a shell for you
Inside you'll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby
There is your song from me

Quoth Joni, "That's one thing that's always like, uh...been a major difference between the performing arts and a painter...Like a painter does a painting and that's it.......nobody ever said to Van Gogh, 'Paint A Starry Night again, man.' You know: he painted it. That was it."

Next thing you know, she's singing "Circle Game."

Rostropovich, Dvořák, Ozawa

There might be a Rostropovich story in me, but I can't get it straight in my memory just now.

So I'll post this instead.

Nu, Zaits!

The classic Soyuzmultfilm cartoon, Nu, Pogodi, first series.

For every Wolf/Volk who has dreamed of getting that wascally Wabbit/Zaits. Who is just too perfect.

Nu Zaits, nu...pogodi!!!

Well, Rabbit, well...just you wait!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Solovyanenko, Ukraine

A video of Anatoli Solovyanenko, singing:

I gaze at the sky and am wondering:
Why am I not a falcon, why can't I fly?
Why, God, didn't you give me wings?
I would have left the ground and flown into the sky!


Longing--she of the lyric bones--
viewing you through lace, forgets
to exhale, all this aching flute--
animates you, and what she awakens--
a grasp for the pearl past arm's length;
a glimpse of the rose in incense dusk;
she breathes in the iridescence of the hallowed,
and drinks alone from that hidden spring.

the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

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