Sunday, August 06, 2017

Fishing, Putin style.

The press and social networks are awash with images of topless Vladimir Putin fishing in Siberia with his Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu, a native of Tywa, the republic where they went on a holiday trip.

But why do Putin's image-makers persist with this particular bit, the fishing? This time, including the underwater chase after a pike? One explanation could be that they have in mind the macho man James Bond fighting the baddies underwater in the 1965 'Thunderball' with Sean Connery. (wiki on the film)

To the giggling Russians, the idea of going on a fishing trip inevitably evokes the cult 1960s comedy 'The Diamond Hand' with a staged fishing episode, when one crook is scuba-diving with a net full of live fish that he puts on the hook and the second is on shore supposedly ready to knock out the 'target.' It all backfires. (wiki on the film)

The phrase, that every Russian knows, 'клёв будет такой, что он забудет обо всём на светe' — 'the fish will be biting so often that he will forget about everything' is also from  that film.

Here is the episode —

And here is the 'Thunderball' sequence —

Friday, June 30, 2017

Porque te vas vs The Last Time

The happy times when cover versions freely roamed the world!

Here is the Soviet version of the international hit Porque te vas - Because You Go. It was released in the late 1970s (1978) by the group called Jolly Fellows (Весёлые ребята). The soloist is Lyudmilla Barykina (Людмила Барыкина).

In its time it was the hottest, sexiest number all over the vast Soviet Union. And those who, like myself, remember those times will have misty eyes while listening.

I put here two versions of the song. One, for the value of the contemporary film footage of young people dancing away, and the second, for the photos of Barykina, who sports an Angela Davis afro in some.

The lyrics in Russian, by Vladimir Lugovoy (Владимир Луговой) run, roughly, as follows: 'Time will pass, and you'll forget all that was between us, that last time, that last time. No, I am no longer waiting for you, but know that I was in love then for the last time, the last time — posledniy raz.'

And here is the original hit by Jeanette (1976) — Porque te vas

Saturday, April 01, 2017


Evgeny Yevtushenko, a leading Russian poet of the 60-s generation, died on 1 April 2017, aged 84.

He was a prominent voice of his generation and a controversial, much spoken of figure of later years. Much is being said about his personality and political face. Tetradki want to let you simply listen to him reciting his own poetry.

Here he is, in the 1965 film "I am Twenty" by Marlen Khutsiev (Wikipedia about the film). It is a long semi-documentary sequence of a poetry reading in the Moscow Polytechnic Museum lecture hall, a popular venue for intelligentsia gatherings at the time. (Yevtushenko is the first reader in the episode)

Sunday, February 07, 2016

'War and Peace' coming to Broadway.

'War and Peace' dénouement tonight as the BBC broadcasts the final episode of their new television adaptation of the Tolstoy epic. (Script by Andrew Davies, directed by Tom Harper, wikipedia here)

Meanwhile, the Broadway is preparing a pop opera version to open this Autumn. The New York Times reports that a pop opera 'Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812' is to open this Autumn. 

Hats off, ladies and gentlemen! 

Tchaikovsky's no 35 D Major —

Sunday, January 31, 2016

War and Peace. The music.

As though answering my complaint about the lack of music in the new BBC TV adaptation of 'War and Peace', they've just put up a playlist of contemporary music and music inspired by 'War and Peace' all the way from Beethoven's 'Eroica' number 3 to Prokofiev's opera 'War and Peace' and his cantata 'Alexander Nevsky.'

If one goes that wide, one should certainly embrace the musical numbers from the play, the musical and the film 'The Hussars' Ballad' (1962, wikipeida article)

Here is 'The Hussars' Ballad' with all its glorious music -

And here they trumpet away the Marseillaise in Tchaikovsky's '1812', first in subdued tones at 4 min, then in triumphant let-it-all-hang-out with cannons and fireworks at 13 min with a culmination at 14:20 that includes the tsarist anthem 'God Save the Tsar (King)' -

Tolstoy and Dolokhov.

Fyodor Tolstoy the American.
Photo of C19 o/c portrait by Shakko.

Tolstoy based Dolokhov, a curious secondary character in 'War and Peace", on several real-life men. One of them was Fyodor Tolstoy the American (Толстой-Американец), Leo Tolstoy's cousin-uncle. As a young boy Tolstoy the future writer knew him personally and was very impressed by his personality and the legends that surrounded him.

Fyodor Tolstoy, among other things, killed eleven people at duels and was demoted to the ranks several times but got restored after feats of heroism in Russia's many wars of the time, including the main battle with Napoleon in 1812, the Battle of Borodino. He got the nickname 'Amerikanets' after taking part in a round-the-world sea expedition.

There is a portrait of Fyodor Tolstoy as a young man in Leo Tolstoy's Moscow house, now a museum.

The new TV adaptation of 'War and Peace,' currently running on BBC 1 and cable channels around the world, plays up the characters of Dolokhov and Sonia to the point of overshadowing the main characters, Pierre, Andrei and Natasha.

At first glance, it may seem a fault with the script author Andrew Davies and director Tim Harper. However, a more careful look at the character of Fyodor Dolokhov makes it clear that 'reading up' Dolokhov is a valid choice that may explain a lot in Leo Tolstoy's novel and the reappraise the comparative weight of characters in the book.

In a sense, Dolokhov is as much a Leo Tolstoy as Pierre, into whom the writer and thinker put most of himself, as conventional interpretation tells us. A writer, especially a great one, cannot help splitting his soul and putting bits of it into the characters he creates. Dolokhov is a kind of horcrux of Tolstoy himself. He reflects the character of Tolstoy the man as much as the floppy humanist Pierre. The cold fury, the anger against conventions, the scornful nationalism, the desire to be accepted rivalling only the desire to humiliate the accepting, the grand society, — those are the traits that were driving Leo Tolstoy too, in life and in writing.

The writer, before his marriage, was not alien to excessive drinking, partying with the gypsies and losing and winning, though mostly losing, in card games.

Tolstoy's appearance and peculiar mannerisms bear striking resemblance with that of Dolokhov. Here is how WS Maugham describes Tolstoy:
"He was irritable, brutally contradictory and arrogantly indifferent to other people's feelings. Turgenev has said that he never met anything more disconcerting than Tolstoy's inquisitorial look, which, accompanied by a few biting words, could goad a man to fury."

Tolstoy challenged Turgenev to a duel and friends had difficulty in preventing him from actually fighting while reconciliation took more than ten years. Tolstoy's stare, that unnerved Turgenev so much, is the same as Dolokhov's: "Dolokhov looked at Pierre with clear, mirthful, cruel eyes, and that smile of his which seemed to say, 'Ah! This is what I like!'" (from Garnett's translation.) This is from the scene at the English Club in Moscow when Pierre challenges Dolokhov to a duel.

That same straight, cruel inquisitional look follows Dolokhov in all his appearances in the novel, all the way to the last episode with him, when he orders that no French prisoners should be kept alive. Before that final scene with Dolokhov, he and Denisov, both commanders of small partisan troops that raided Napoleon's army behind the lines, have a fierce argument about the treatment of the prisoners. It appears that Dolokhov, unlike Denisov, was systematically slaughtering them. Denisov is repulsed by that.

But where does Tolstoy, the great humanist, stand in that argument? Curiously, when Pierre meets Prince Andrew on the eve of the Battle of Borodino and listens to his friend's famous monologue on the 'latent patriotism' of the Russians, Prince Andrew says exactly what later Dolokhov says to Denisov, even with greater clarity and ferocity: "One thing I would do if I had the power," he began again, "I would not take prisoners. Why take prisoners? It's chivalry! The French have destroyed my home and are on their way to destroy Moscow, they have outraged and are outraging me every moment. They are my enemies. In my opinion they are all criminals. And so thinks Timokhin and the whole army. They should be executed!" And later, in the same monologue: "Take no prisoners, but kill and be killed!" Pierre looks at Andrew, both frightened and compassionate, but agrees with everything he said.

Horcruxes are from JK Rowling's Harry Potter. They are magical objects where the dark wizard hides parts of his split soul. In Somerset Maugham's essay on Tolstoy in the book 'Great Novelists and Their Novels' (1954) there is a shrewd observation:
"There is a point in the writer's psychology that I have never seen mentioned, though it must be obvious to anyone who has studied the lives of authors. Every creative writer's work is, to some extent at least, a sublimation of instincts, desires, daydreams, call them what you like, which for one cause or another he has repressed, and by giving them literary expression he is freed of the compulsion to give them the further release of action. But it is not a complete satisfaction. He is left with a feeling of inadequacy. That is the ground of the man of letters' glorification of the man of action and the unwilling, envious admiration with which he regards him."

Applying this to Dolokhov, it becomes apparent that the character is part of Tolstoy, the part that the writer couldn't admit in himself or couldn't allow in himself, and so decided to give it to his literary creation.

And yes, JK Rowling took her Antonin Dolohov, a Death Eater, one of the cruellest wizards, from Tolstoy's 'War and Peace.'

Note: Wikipedia has an article on Maugham's book, referring to it as 'Ten Novels and Their Authors' of 1954. My American paper edition of the book is titled 'Great Novelists and Their Novels' with copyright dated 1948. 

In this video Dolokhov and Pierre duel, from Sergey Bondarchuk's cinema version (1965-67) -

The Borodino Battle, 1972 series, Prince Andrei's monologue with 'No quarter!' at 24 min. into the video -

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Who is Mikhail Ivanovich?

Mishka (

BBC's investigative Panorama programme on Monday (25 Jan 2016) looked into allegations of corruption against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Brave or meek, sensationally revealing or we-knew-it-all-along, it left quite a few questons unanswered.

One of them, with which non-Russian friends bombarded me, was about the nickname that is allegedly referring to Putin in coded conversations — 'Mikhail Ivanovich.'

One friend asked, all right, Mikhail Ivanovich, I get it, but what is his surname?
Without thinking, I replied: Toptygin (Топтыгин).

Mikhail Ivanovich Toptygin is one of the many affectionate, or not very affectionate folklore names for the Bear. The bear in Russian imagery is always the biggest of them all; he can be stupid, funny, clumsy, threatening; he can be a secondary character, or the main character, the Big Boss. Russian dictionaries have numerous entries on the bear and his nicknames. And the name, Mikhail-Michael, is quite common. Gorbachev is Mikhail Sergeevich. Kutuzov, the Russian army commander in history and in Tolstoy's 'War and Peace,' was Mikhail Illarionovich.

In 'War and Peace', Pierre, Anatole and Dolokhov get drunk, borrow a bear from the gypsies for fun, and, when a gendarme arrives, they tie them back-to-back and push the two in the river. The Bear appears in Pushkin's 'Eugene Onegin' chasing Tatiana in her dream (see in English here, Chapter 5, XII, Russian text here). Saltykov-Schedrin, the great 19 Century satirist, has a tale of three bears serving as governors of different regions with the rank of Major. One of them, the cleverest, even gets promoted to Colonel. Each of the three have the same name Toptygin: Toptygin I, Toptygin II and Toptygin III. And at least one of them is Mikhail Ivanovich (Ivanovich being the patronymic, or middle name, with the stress on A). Chekhov wrote a one-act comedy sketch 'The Bear' (summary in English and text in Russian) in 1888, in which a burly land-owner challenges a young widow to a duel, after which they fall in love. The play was made into a film by Isidor Annensky in 1938.

The image of Russia as a bear, both in the West and in the East, is so strong that it merited a separate Wikipedia article. President Putin himself described the Bear as the master of the forest in October 2014.

But Mikhail Ivanovich the Bear, is he as strong in the Russian mind as Mikhail Ivanovich the Boss? Yes and no.

On top of Mikhail Ivanovich there is also the cute Mishka, the 1980 Moscow Olympics mascot, and there is also a Mikhail Ivanovich the 'Chef' in the popular 1969 comedy 'The Diamond Arm' by Leonid Gaidai (summary in English on Wikipedia). Thanks to Valery Adzhiev for the reminder! 

In fact, the film is so popular that the actual name of a character in the film, Mikhail Ivanovich the police officer, a Captain later promoted to Major, shifted to the wicked smugglers' ring-leader, the Chef. It must be thanks to the scene, when one of the gangsters disguised as a cab driver, learns that the police are on their trail and rushes off to call the Chef.
'You mean, Mikhail Ivanovich?' asks the main character.
'Yes, yes, him!'

This is how 'Mikhail Ivanovich' travelled from the Bear to the Boss.

'I must call Mikhail Ivanovich' scene from 'The Diamond Arm' -

Vladimir Putin on the Master of the Taiga forest (from RT YouTube channel)  -

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