Happy New Year! С новым годом! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! Website Update 2023

As per annual tradition it is time to bring out the Mari Lwyd to bemuse people with a Welsh custom and to produce a New Year’s Day ramble post on numerous minor topics I didn’t mention throughout the year.

It’s a day early this time as I don’t want to break the routine of uploading a poem every Sunday. I know some follow the view you shouldn’t congratulate before an event but are people going to want to look at this post or at a poem for the week after New Year’s Day? Would people even read this on New Year’s Day? I’m sure you have better things to do on the day and would prefer another poem when you come look on here.

2022: The ‘2016: part 6’ or ‘2020: part 2’ of years

So, what can be said after the year we have just had? You might have noticed a lot of this year’s poetry on the blog had a certain theme. I’ve nearly run out of any modern Welsh poetry on that specific subject but on the Russian side I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Olga ‘the voice of the Leningrad Blockade’ Bergholz, who has some of her lines carved onto monuments, is the obvious example but the silver age poets (and the bronze age and later ones too in fairness) all wrote numerous pieces reflecting on the theme. Honestly, it feels like it’s more exceptional for a Russian poet not to have at least a few poems on the topic in one way or another.

Remember when everyone said 2016 was a really bad year because of all the celebrity deaths? Those seem like halcyon days now. This year has been nothing if not overflowing with death, loss and heartbreak.

Recommendations Welcome

I have numerous books by Welsh authors and a few collections by various Welsh poets but keep forgetting to look through them to mix it up a bit. If there are any names or collections you would like to recommend please leave a comment.

On the Russian side of things you are also welcome to offer suggestions but I have been a bit more proactive on that front usually though I should try and post a few more poems by poets I don’t see currently being published or can find little information about. That way others can at least come here for a few breadcrumbs gathered from long out of print books featuring their work translated into English. It’s always a bit awkward to see multiple collections published in Russian then when I look for the English translations there are only ‘selected works’ editions or the rare piece in an anthology. Nikolai Gogol comes to mind albeit as an author of short stories. There was a two volume set of his works published in the 90s with one being, functionally, of his ‘Ukrainian Tales‘ and the other his ‘Peterburg Tales‘. You always see the latter satirical stories in publication (e.g. The Nose) but I can’t recall seeing many of the former (Viy in particular you would expect to be Gogol‘s equivilant of Edgar Allan Poe‘s The Tell-Tale Heart or one of his other widely celebrated and reproduced works).

Sometimes when I’ve gone looking for supporting biographical information about poets who are lesser known in English it has been surprisingly difficult to find much. If I have learned anything over recent years it’s that people like to maintain websites so you can locate the graves of Russian poets if, for some reason, you want to visit them. Saying that I have been to Dylan Thomas‘ modest grave so I am hardly one to talk.

The State of the Arts in Wales

There was going to be a long ramble about the state of the Arts in Wales right now (more so literature than performance arts which are as vitalised as ever it seems, at the grass roots level, though venues hosting them definitely have been hit hard). I decided to omit it as it was turning into an essay. If anyone wants my views of the Welsh arts I can comment on them in future. The short version is ‘there is investment in new blood but not much promotion or celebration of them outside Wales unless they fit a certain mould it seems’.

There is a Внутри Лапенко Party Game!

I discovered there is a board game based on the comedy series Внутри Лапенко (i.e. Inside Lapenko) but the game is quoted in the marketing material to only last 15-30 minutes which is incredibly short. Here is the advert.

Настольная игра = Board game

Cowbridge’s Annual Reindeer Parade

Usually there is a reindeer parade through the town of Cowbridge, near Cardiff, for Christmas but they couldn’t raise the funds this year. Usually there is charity fund raising, Father Christmas in his grotto (the town hall) and the local farmers use their tractors and trailers (with people in festive costume sat in them) to take part in the parade alongside the emergency services. Usually there are some Welsh celebrities too like H from Steps dressed as elves. I suppose it’s kinder to the animals not to put them through it but at the same time it’s the only time certain animal care centres get a chance to publically raise funding.

I wonder if the local authorities will take the opportunity now, as many have through the ‘reset’ caused by the lockdowns, to not do certain things that they had always wanted to cut from their budgets.

I’m not one for this time of year anyway if I’m honest. I usually had to work through it alone in the office with only Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day off while colleagues had over a fortnight off to spend with their families. So, it passed for me with no more impact than a Bank Holiday those years. It doesn’t mean I don’t try every year to get into the spirit but I just end up spending it on my own ultimately.

Cardiff Has Changed (Again)

I went to Cardiff recently. An arts supply shop that had been in the Castle Arcade filled with boutique shops, for as long as I can remember, was gone. The New York Deli owned and run by a former Cardiff Devils ice hockey player was also gone it seemed but I looked online and perhaps I am mixing up the Castle Arcade and Duke Street Arcade. A cheese seller and other shops have also gone.

That is the price of convenient purchasing online and a sign of how organisations like Amazon capitalised on everyone being housebound, during various lockdowns, to further increase their already near monopoly level of market dominance.

Thought Crimes and Shikata Ga Nai

It seems we live in an era where negating people’s views or experiences is the default. Don’t say it. Don’t even think it. There is no need for policing when you can have citizens regulate and inform on themselves and each other.

I’ve developed a vehement hatred recently of the phrases ‘it is what it is‘ and ‘it can’t be helped‘ as I heard them almost non-stop this year like it was state enforced propaganda. I have heard them used occasionally before, of course, but when you begin to notice multiple people using the exact same phrase constantly you have to wonder what induced it. I half expect to see home decor, with the phrases emblazoned on them, being sold in shops soon.

The Japanese have a term ‘shikata ga nai‘ (仕方がない) which means something along these lines. It is often used in business as a way of not outright saying a definitive no to something or to avoid taking action on a troublesome issue. You are meant to understand it is a hard no but observe the etiquette of not forcing the other person to admit it. A consequence of their cultural ‘society’s needs before the individual’s’ ethos historically which makes Japanese an incredibly contextual language despite what a translation at face value might suggest.

I won’t go into the negative consequences of this attitude in Japan as it’s a very long topic and better explained by others but you already can imagine where it is used to ignore certain behaviours rather than address and resolve them. Be it in the workplace (people dying from overwork), in how women are treated (sexual harrassment and the necessity of ‘women only’ carriages on trains) and letting certain people in society fall between the cracks for not being able to conform no matter how hard they might try (the homeless, poor, ill and disabled despite how they try to maintain the focus on their world leading treatment of the elderly as a distraction).

So, for us, ‘it is what it is‘ and ‘it can’t be helped‘ are the first step towards sharing the inherent underlying apathetic sentiment of ‘be silent and stop being a trouble maker – accept your problems are yours and yours alone‘. I noticed people with that attitude a decade ago but they were considered to be anti-socially stoic (to put it politely) and yet it’s being normalised nowadays somehow. Then again I can see the argument that society got soft over the past few decades and it’s toughening up again but that’s just this attitude in action really.

Some say these phrases to mean ‘don’t worry yourself about it’ but in reality it comes across just as much as ‘don’t bother me with it’ and if we are honest it is used with the latter intention more often than not.

I’ve forgotten the Russian phrase I came across but I think it was something to do with a prisoner in a gulag speaking to another about how he was going to escape. A prison guard overheard them and asks ‘and where would you go? You’re stuck in the Soviet Union with the rest of us’. Perhaps it was a prevailing sentiment though I’m sure there was an exact term to describe it.

Double speak, to enforce conformity, is becoming commonplace and people are either expected to fully endorse certain views or decry others in order to keep their position in society or else risk denouncement for breaking rank.

In conclusion, if somewhat out of leftfield for those not familiar with the social norms of the Soviet era, it’s hard not to identify with the concerns expressed by writers of the Soviet era and what they bore witness to when you start to see not just parallels but, in modern societal attitudes globally, direct similarities to some of the Kafkaesque practices they saw happening around them by people trying to survive.

I am reminded of a song Скованные одной цепью (‘Chained’ / ‘Shackled [together] by a single chain’) by the band Наутилус Помпилиус (Nautilus Pompilius).

An English translation of the lyrics is provided hardburned onto the video. The animation is taken from the ‘Cannon Fodder’ section of Katsuhiro Otomo’s ‘Memories’ anthology film

The Actual Blog Update

What are my intentions for the blog this year? To continuing as usual. That’s it basically.

Every year I say I will add reviews or reading recommendations but that didn’t happen last year. If I do add any it’ll be on a Saturday so they get buried under a poem the following day.

What were all these sections about? Nothing really. I told you at the start these were just some rambling comments on random topics. Mostly things I’ve noticed but didn’t have time to discuss in depth or probably wouldn’t be of much interest except for a select few. I really liked that art supplies shop in Cardiff so it really was a shock it was gone.

Thanks for all the support of the blog this year! Whether you subscribed to or followed the blog, linked to or liked a post, left a comment or just read some posts.

Happy New Year! С новым годом! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

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Happy New Year! С новым годом! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! Website Update 2022 and a Внутри Лапенко recommendation!

This blog is now 7 years old. Technically the anniversary was in November but I always forget to mark it.

So, what are the plans for the next year?
More of the same really. I’ve recently been trying to post poems around the time their subject, theme or date of creation are relevant but I don’t know if anyone has really noticed it.

I mention each year that I will upload reviews and such but the laptop they were stored on broke. Anyone familiar with my past reviews knows I tend to go a bit overboard with them so I might try to do some concise ones this year rather than include the exhaustive synopses featured in past ones.

So… not so much an update as a confirmation things will continue ticking over. I just fell out of the habit of saying much between poetry uploads over the years as I don’t know if anyone is that interesting in my ramblings so took this opportunity before posting a poem tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who has supported this site over the years!

Unfortunately I can’t embed the New Year’s greeting…

As part of this New Year’s post I was going to do a list of poets, authors and media I suggest from Welsh and Russian origins for those looking for starting points or recommendation but realised I need to give it a bit more time and consideration rather than rush out a list of names, brief comments and hyperlinks. So, that will be coming some time this year hopefully.

Instead let me highly recommend Anton Lapenko‘s Внутри Лапенко (Inside Lapenko) series! The first two seasons are available on YouTube with English subtitles. There is also the (unsubtitled) third season, a number of short video sketches and his seasonal special set in December 1886, which was released recently (at the time of posting).

Внутри Лапенко (Inside Lapenko)

Concept

Anton Lapenko, alongside his brothers who stand in when there are multiple people on camera, plays a range of characters in a late era Soviet town. Although a number of loosely connected comedy sketches there are overarching storylines in each season. In the first season an unnamed engineer runs afoul of a local gang leader and events spiral from there. I defy you not to be fully invested in the plight of the Engineer character by the end of the first season! In the second season the gang leader’s ex-wife takes over the town/country with a totalitarian regime and everyone joins together to depose her.

A side by side comparison of scenes from Внутри Лапенко (Inside Lapenko) and Брат (Brother)

The series is filmed to emulate the aesthetics of the late Soviet era and 1990s reflecting the filming style, dramatic beats, technology, culture, fashion and movies of the time with many references to the era (although there are ones more easily recognisable to those familiar with American films also in the second season). It acts as both a satire and love letter to the late Soviet era (mixing elements of the 1980s, 1990s and anachronistic later modern things like Alice – the Yandex equivalent of Amazon’s Alexa or adverts for their sponsors which adds to the surreal nature of scenes) with a soundtrack of popular songs from the time which will quickly become earworms you can’t forget.

Season one consists of 5 episodes of about 22 minutes average length.

Season 2 has 8 episodes which each run a little longer about 25 minutes long each on average.

The Characters

The Engineer, as the central character functions as the classic ‘little man’ of Russian culture (Ма́ленький челове́к). A small man, of low social status and origin, not gifted with outstanding abilities nor distinguished by strength of character, who satisfies himself with the small victories and moments of contentment in life. He waxes lyrical while constantly making plans about how he will spend his life with his Особа (lit. ‘person/individual’ but I personally read it as ‘my girl’ or ‘beloved’ considering the tones in which he speaks about her – if you are more familiar with the use of the term please leave a comment). Importantly we never see her face and there is a fake out at the end of season 2 where we think we have seen her face finally but it proves to be a case of mistaken identity. In fact this is a cameo by the actress, Irina Gorbacheva, who helped promote Lapenko‘s work by sharing his Instagram short videos (some of which are not on the YouTube channel).

Igor Katamaranov: A childhood friend of Engineer’s who now works as a labourer in multiple jobs. He is perpetually drunk on turpentine yet, when Engineer is in danger, is always there when needed while also having his own surreal side adventures in the background of events (including at one point living inside the Alice device somehow). My favourite moment, without spoiling when it happens, has him with a boom box playing «Туман» by Сектор Газа during one of the times Engineer needs his help.

The Journalist (Yuri): Host of ‘The Riddle of the Hole’ trying to uncover conspiracies at every corner. In the first season he has a romantic relationship with Yandex’s Alice device he ‘rescues’ from a cupboard in the Iron Sleeves hideout and in the second with Tatiana causing a love triangle to develop with his boss Richard Sapogov. The song «Время, вперёд!» by Георгий Свиридов serves as his leitmotif and theme of the programme he records.

The Iron Sleeves gang: The leader, who eventually ends up wheelchair bound, and his henchmen who have the individual habits of being on the phone to their mother, carrying a keyboard around and being a saxophone player. The leader often appears by surprise and greets the Engineer casually saying здарова отец (‘hello father’ but more tonally ‘hey, old guy’ or ‘hiya, governor’ indicating the mat tone of informal non-standard speech gangsters would affect).

Zhilin: The local police captain who seems to be a one man taskforce. He laughs at his own jokes and often imprisons people but doesn’t actually bother to lock the door despite often being unwavering in his dedication in detecting wrongdoing. At one point a pigeon is involved in shooting him.

Crimson Fantomas: The rock band consisting of blonde haired Rosa Robot and the red haired Shershen (lit: Hornet) who live next to the Engineer constantly drinking and annoying him with their noise making. They have good hearts and big dreams but Rosa is clearly an air head and Hornet is too quiet to challenge his wild ideas.

The survival expert: He appears a few times to offer the audience of his show advice how to survive dangerous circumstances like a poisonous snake bite or being shot which often leaves him in a critical condition needing medical aid. He disappears eventually from the show, presumably having died off-screen, only to make a surprise reappearance!

Richard Sapogov: The arrogant, hedonistic and self serving, vain manager of the TV station the Journalist works at. He lives only for enjoying beauty and the better things in life. He and Tatiana appear in adverts in the first season but are much more prominent in the second season onwards due to the love triangle.

Tatiana: Sapogov’s assistant and girlfriend who is initially incapable of coherent speech until, during an all out battle, an arrow lodges in her head. She begins a relationship with Yuri the Journalist when he shows her far greater affection than Sapagov who neglects her. Both she and Sapogov make brief appearances in season 1. Also, she has a collection of wooden sticks she is very fond of.

Natella: The ex-wife of the Iron Sleeves’ leader. She is an active prostitute who appears briefly in season 1 but, in season 2, eventually leads her group the Iron Heels (whose members mirror those of the Iron Sleeves) to take over the town by becoming the totalitarian president of the country!

Vsevolod Starozubov: A popular singer who is an affectionate parody of talent of the era like Eduard Khil (who you might know from the meme Mr. Tro-lo-lo). He often affects odd ‘off to the side’ looks as if constantly posing to capture the right camera he should be looking towards or for ‘cheeky’ looking photos although it humorously comes across more like one of those moving black cat clocks that were once fashionable that would look back and forth with each tick of the clock. (He is also possibly lip syncing which I recall being common in the past with British shows e.g. BBC’s Top of the Pops where people were supposedly performing ‘live’ so can easily imagine it happening in other countries).

Guidon Vishnevsky : An esoteric local artist who unexpectedly provides a surreal method of escape, in desperate times, while struggling with his own issues.

The mesmerist: Another minor character. He assists Natella using his powers to manipulate people.

There are other characters but hopefully that gives you a head start on enjoying the series.

If you are wondering, the time code at the start of each video being 01.09.1986 is an Easter egg referring to Anton Lapenko’s birth date. As for the time stamps which proceed chronologically I have no answer and invite you to speculate.