For today, a lazy Sunday, I have this human interest piece from ZELV. This will be interesting mainly to people who are fascinated by Vladimir Putin and his unique leadership style. But also gives a (tiny) glimpse into the lives of ordinary fisherfolk in the Russian heartland.
The headline reads:
В Новгородской области Путин с Медведевым поели супа с рыбаками.
Literal English translation: “In the Novgorod Oblast, Putin along with Medvedev consumed some soup with fishermen.”
One of the Russian commenters to the piece complained that this is poorly crafted Russian. It made it sound like the soup contained parts of fishermen. The headline should have read: “[They] along with the fishermen ate fish soup.”
The story is about Putin and his sidekick, Dmitry Medvedev. The two men being, respectively, the President and Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, they have formed a quite stable ruling tandem for several years now. From time to time, similar stories and videos come out showing that the two men are friends and even relax together — be it a ski vacation, enjoying a pint of beer together at a cafe, or, as in this case, a fishing trip to the Novgorod area. Where they meet up with a collective of fisherfolk and discuss work-related issues such as poaching.
Let us begin with the location: This fishing collective is located on the shore of the Lake Ilmen, in Novgorod. According to wiki, in medieval times this lake served as a major trade route between Varangians and Greeks. At the time this whole area was occupied by Finnic tribes, and the name of the lake derives from the Finnic Ilmajärvi, which means “lake of air”.
It was to this scenic spot that the Russian tandem strolled up one day. Ostensibly the two men were on a leisurely fishing trip and just decided to stop and chat with the local fisherfolk. They were greeted by a very nice looking blonde lady named Larisa Sergukhina, whose title is Manager of the Fishing Boats. There are a lot of words for “boats” of course, and the Russian word used here is баркас (“barkas”) which can be translated variously as “small boat” or “long boat”. Not being a maritime person myself, I am not really sure what such a boat looks like. According to wiktionary, Russia borrowed this word from the Dutch “barkas” which in turn was borrowed from the Italian “barcaccia”. Obviously, this is one and the same with the English word “barge”, but “barge” may not be the correct translation in this context. Delving further into this etymology, just as a curiosity, it is possible the word might go as far back as the Coptic “bari” – “small boat”. And as a further etymological sidebar, which has nothing to do with the Putin story, this word is the source of the French word Barcarolle, from Italian barcarola (“barca boat”) which is a type of folk song originating with Venetian gondoliers. The rhythm is meant to emulate the stroking of oars, with the tempo always being 6/8 meter moderato, and the lilting melody reminiscent of the gentle lapping of the water. The most famous barcarolle in the classical repertoire, obviously, is French-German-Jewish composer Jacques Offenbach’s beautiful song “Belle Nuit“, a soprano/mezzo-soprano duet which Offenbach originally wrote for his operetta Die Rheinnixen, but later reused to open Act III (or, in some renderings, Act II) of his masterpiece, The Tales of Hoffmann. That’s the one where the poet E.T.A. Hoffmann lurks on the banks of a Venetian Canal while his male companion and Muse Nicklausse makes love with, and sings the glorious barcarolle duet with, the enticing Italian courtesan Giulietta.
And in just a manner did our hero Putin and his Muse Medvedev wander up to a group of “barcarola” men for a chat. But not about love, this time, nor the bewitching night of love. More about day work and conditions of the fishing life. And in place of the beatiful Giulietta there was the equally beautiful but much more wholesome Larisa.
This other piece from ZELV gives more information and also contains a short video showing the encounter. But the video was edited incorrectly, and the jokes are shown out of order. Here is the correct order of events, as taking from the narrative of the first piece:
Larisa and the fishermen are serving up soup at the outdoor picnic area. Lunch is served on tree stumps, with the men sitting on a makeshift picnic table: a wooden plank stretched between two stumps. President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev stroll up and take their seats in the middle of the plank. This is where the vid is cut out of order, because it skips (and places at the end) the jokes about “He who does not work shall not eat”, with Putin/Medvedev jokingly reproaching their hosts for not offering them a bowl of soup.
Well, this is actually evidence that the event was not staged. If Larisa had known these high-ranking men were visiting, she would have had lunch already laid out for them. Such is the rule of Russian Hospitality. But never mind, soon enough two extra bowls of soup are brought. Medvedev is the real card here; note Putin wiping his eyes from laughing at his sidekick’s tomfoolery.
After a jump cut, the two leaders now have soup in front of them. Medevev, still riffing irrepressibly, can’t help himself from complaining (jokingly) that his bowl of soup is pure broth — not a chunk of meat in there. More jokes and laughter. “But it is still tasty,” he admits graciously, not wishing to offend his hosts.
Conversation then turns to work-related issues such as keeping the lake clean; type of fishing nets used; and the struggle against poachers. As the visit ends, Larisa invites her important guests to return at any time and promises them a more sumptious meal next time around.