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.

Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.