Vintage Soviet New Year cards

Scanned and provided to the general public by the lovely Marya Koshkina here and here. There were no official celebrations of Christmas in the USSR, of course. All of that energy was shifted to celebrating the New Year.

This has to be one of my favourites:

Because I was born in 1984, I was able to experience something of what this card portrays. And by that I mean that I got to watch other people drink Soviet Champagne.

R.I.P. Vyacheslav Tikhonov

As Stirlitz in classic Soviet WWII spy drama 🙂

“Seventeen Moments of Spring,” where Tikhonov played his arguably most famous and iconic role, always gave me the warm fuzzies with its ending. It talked about how this Soviet spy, who doesn’t yet know that the war will be ending later in the year, in May, is going to Berlin to continue with his work. It emphasizes the importance of doing your job, regardless of your delicate fee-fees.

Anyway, besides all that, Tikhonov was simply a great actor.

Something that stopped me dead while reading Zoë Heller’s “The Believers”

‘Only ideas are perfect. People never are,’ Joel would tell her. ‘When you’ve lived a bit longer, you’ll be more forgiving.’ But Rosa had scorned these attempts to modify her wrath. For a person as deeply offended by injustice and inequity as she was – as committed to changing the world – a degree of ruthlessness was imperative, she felt. Her usual response to her father had been to quote Lenin’s defence of Bolshevik tactics: ‘Is regard for humanity possible in such an unheard-of ferocious struggle? By what measure do you measure the quantity of necessary and unnecessary blows in a fight?’

Oh dear. Now, I must first explain that I have a knee-jerk reaction to Americans like Rosa’ character – for a while, I’ve even pretended as if they don’t exist at all, which is, of course, completely untrue. It’s as if some well-intentioned American decided to quote a passage from the Q’uran to Apostate at a party – there’s a sense of “hey moron, this is MY lived experience, not YOUR lived experience. Piss off, why don’t you.” (Without putting words in Apostate’s mouth, I somehow imagine her reaction to the aforementioned scenario would be similar to my reaction upon encountering  people like Rosa)

In my family, the harshest words of criticism were always reserved for Lenin, not Stalin. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the symbolism of the gruesome murder of the royal family. Then there is the belief that without a Lenin, we would never have had a Stalin in the first place, that Lenin was the foundation for everything. Finally, and this is the part that I think few people know about (I could be wrong), those Bolshevik tactics that Lenin defended? He enjoyed them. Something that Western radicals rarely quote is Lenin’s famous attempt at humour – “We’re not shooting enough of those little professors!” Haw haw. The diminutive Lenin uses for professors, meaning, of course, the academic establishment, is insulting in a uniquely Russian way, and hard to translate, but I’m sure you can imagine what it sounds like. Lenin was gleeful, absolutely gleeful, at the violence he presided over.

Having now finished the excellent Believers, I also believe in something.

Continue reading “Something that stopped me dead while reading Zoë Heller’s “The Believers””

Happy Victory Day! – С Днем Победы!

My grandmother started crying on the phone:

“I don’t want you to ever know what it’s like to hear the shelling and know that it’s coming for you.”

War is banal and blind and savage and ultimately meaningless. But there is still something to smile about today, at least for me. If only because its survivors had children, and those children had children, and one of them was me, and another one was my beautiful baby brother. And there’s a reason why we’re here, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives finding out what that reason may be.

Here’s the chorus of the song we shared with our Allies (the text is not strictly the same, but the tune is identical, and the general gist of the song has been preserved in the Russian version):

“Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer
Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer
Though there’s one motor gone, we can still carry on,
Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer

What a show! What a fight!
Yes, we really hit our target for tonight!
How we sing as we limp thru the air
Look below, there’s our field over there

With our full crew aboard and our trust in the Lord
We’re Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer”

“Мы летим, ковыляя во мгле,
Мы ползем на последнем крыле.
Бак пробит, хвост горит и машина летит
На честном слове и на одном крыле…”

Ну, дела! Ночь была!
Их объекты разбомбили мы до тла.

Мы ушли, ковыляя во мгле,
мы к родной подлетаем земле.
Вся команда цела, и машина пришла
На честном слове и на одном крыле”

And here’s a video of Chizh & Co. doing a song that features both the English and the Russian words (the accents are awesome, I’ve decided – makes me wish I still had mine):

(I would have liked to include the live version of this one more, since it’s Chizh himself who sings the English part there as well, but alas, YouTube failed me on that count…

Nevertheless, bud’mo!)