After Two Shots

18 Nov

My daughter’s singing teacher at the Moscow Art Theatre Studio is about my age. I shouldn’t be surprised by our shared musical tastes.

I am invited to observe class on a November morning, still a little jet-lagged from yesterday’s more-than-trans-Atlantic flight.

I listen to my Anna sing a Turgenev poem called On the Road, set to music, and now more widely known as Misty Morning. A classic. One of those Russian romances about the inescapable, irretrievable past.

In the 1980s, at Leningrad State University, we sang it, too, usually around the table, with exaggerated pathos, after a couple of shots of vodka:

Misty morning, grey morning,
Sorrowful fields covered with snow;
Unwittingly, you recall times past,
faces, forgotten long ago.

You recall effusive, passionate words,
glances so eagerly, so timidly espied;
First meetings, last meetings;
the beloved strains of a quiet voice.

You remember parting with a strange smile;
You remember so much: so distant, so dear,
listening to the relentless murmur of wheels,
gazing, lost in thought, at the broad sky.

I know that Anna came to Moscow to study acting. She knows that I sent her to Moscow to learn Russian.

So, after class, we put on our coats, scarves and mittens, and head up Tverskaya (in my day called Gorkovskaya) Street, taking the words of the song apart: why the instrumental case in this phrase, the proper pronunciation of that unstressed o, and, finally, a bit about how (I think) this simple poem works.

Look here, Anna. Two things I like:

Turgenev, the poet, is remembering his past: faces, glances, words. But all of the verbs are in the second person. And (though this is lost in the translation), in Russian, the verbs are all in the future tense. Whose past are we talking about here?

This will happen to you, too.

And, notice that by the end of the poem, the past and present have intertwined: Did you smile strangely at the time of parting or do you smile strangely now recalling it?

That’s the way it feels to be back there and here at the same time.

Endless cars rush by us on Tverskaya/Gorkovskaya, as always. We talk over the din.

The foot traffic is pretty scary, too. Walking here demands your full attention.

Eyes straight ahead, no gazing at the sky.

25 Responses to “After Two Shots”

  1. carrah November 18, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    This is lovely, Jenny. How perfect that you and Anna are there together!

    • jenny November 19, 2010 at 8:00 am #

      I can think of a way to make it perfecter. 🙂

  2. Cheri November 18, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    So enjoyed this post, the melody and timelessness of it all.
    Enjoy such a special experience, mother and daughter in a flashback and a flash to the present, far away from all she knows and so close to what you know.

    And I hope you two won’t part with a strange smile…

    • jenny November 19, 2010 at 8:02 am #

      Cheri, you would find so much interesting here. Perhaps one day you’ll make the trip….

  3. Iden November 18, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    You have struck again with your bittersweet lyric sensibility. What if anything does Anna make of these references to time passing of yours? And have you been to Petersburg yet and if so did you see anyone wearing eyeglasses? I finally posted my Mardi Gras Indian video-let on my Facebook after so long. Take a gander please.

    • jenny November 19, 2010 at 8:05 am #

      Iden, I’m going to watch the Mardi Gras video now.

      Anna humors me. What else can she do? We do have a running gag: I correct her pronunciation, and she says, “Yeah, that’s what I said.” Never gets old.

      The city formerly known as Leningrad is next week. Naturally, I’ll stop by the site of shestyorka. 🙂

  4. Paul Costopoulos November 18, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    I very much enjoyed reading the poem and listening to the song. Such sadness in the voice, such romanticism. I may be biased, but it sounded so Russian.
    I mean it is everything one would expect from a Russian creation. I have a few LPs and CDs of Russian folklore and even when the music is lively it still has some melancholy accents.

    • david osman November 18, 2010 at 7:59 pm #

      nice and nice

      • jenny November 19, 2010 at 8:08 am #


        You know, David, Moscow has a kind of New York vibe these days.

    • jenny November 19, 2010 at 8:07 am #

      Yes, Paul, the melancholy, it’s irresistible, isn’t it? I can wallow for hours.

  5. Philippe November 18, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    I loved both the poem and the song, particularly the song – so sad, wistful, bitter-sweet. I can imagine the copious tears it could evoke while drinking equally copious amounts of vodka.

    Who composed the song?

    Here’s wishing you a sojourn in Russia which will live in you ever after.

    • jenny November 19, 2010 at 8:10 am #

      I’m glad, Philippe. I like it very, very much too.

      I can’t seem to find anything about the composer. I’ll ask around.

      Thanks for the warm wishes.

  6. Cyberquill November 19, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    My roommate is Russian. Right now, she, too, is on vacation in Russia. A few days ago she called me from Moscow (or Siberia, not sure exactly where she is) and asked me to search through all her stuff because she couldn’t find her Green Card and thought she might have left it in her room. I couldn’t find it, but it’s always fascinating to rummage through a woman’s personal belongings. I wonder if they’ll let her back into the country without her Green Card.

    I’m sorry, what was your post about? I didn’t read past the word “Moscow” in your first line, and then I skimmed straight down in sort of an inverted upside-down L-shape. I glimpsed something about scarves and mittens along the way. Must be pretty cold in Moscow right now.

    • jenny November 20, 2010 at 1:04 am #

      CQ, this post was just a few of my personal belongings.

      • Cyberquill November 20, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

        Not a bad idea. I think my next post will be a simple inventory of my roommate’s personal belongings. Given that the online audience scan more than they read, it doesn’t really matter what’s on the page. A laundry list works just as well as anything else.

  7. solidgoldcreativity November 20, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    Bravo, Ms Turgenev! A wonderful post. I hadn’t heard of the instrumental case previously. Maybe it’s more critical in Russian than in English?

    • jenny November 21, 2010 at 8:03 am #

      SGC — You can’t get anywhere in Russian without declension, a sad truth that has bedeviled countless, clueless speakers of English. If wheatfields are covered in snow, the word “snow” will be in the instrumental case, because it is the means (or instrument) of covering the fields.

      That’s more than you wanted to know. Sorry. I like this stuff.

      • solidgoldcreativity November 22, 2010 at 3:24 am #

        I like it too. And snow as instrument is great.

  8. Man of Roma November 21, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    I like the idea of you and your daughter together in Moscow, especially now that winter is approaching. I guess the real Russian spirit can be better experienced with cold weather.

    I have personally experienced such nostalgia in the Russian people while in Saint Petersburg on a boat on the Neva with my ‘students’ (a bunch of middle-aged Russian teachers from Yaroslavl and Moscow). They being penniless (because of the ruble crisis) but excited and willing to drink something exotic we opted for Tequila.

    After a few shots they began to sing this tune whose name I forgot but whose character was terribly nostalgic.

    • jenny November 23, 2010 at 3:01 am #

      MoR — I expect to be strolling along the Neva (well, maybe walking briskly, given the weather) tomorrow.

      I’m meeting up with my bon vivant of a brother, so I expect the nostalgia will be kept within reasonable limits. 🙂

      • Man of Roma November 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

        You slightly naughty woman … so you assume our Neva nostalgia wasn’t within reasonable limits … 🙂

        It was.

  9. Geraldine November 21, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    I love this male voice. I love your pensive voice in this too. Are the Russian faces still so solemn?

    I’ve spent this year so far emptying a big, inherited home of all its contents. The hardest part: photos, letters and damm slippers.

    As I sit on oak flooring listenning to this piece I can feel the timelessness of it all and yearning. It goes by like a dream.

    I have to learn a lot more about Russia as I’ve been asked to become godmother to a little girl from an orphanage outside Saint Petersburg/Leningrad. She’s brave, awfully serious and has an ear for Motzart. A present from the gods.
    Warm wishes to you and Anna.

    • jenny November 23, 2010 at 3:03 am #

      Geraldine — There is a very fancy shoe store on Tverskaya Street that is open 24 hours a day. Russians still don’t smile much in public, but it’s hard to be too solemn as you contemplate a snazzy pair of Italian boots at 3 AM, right?

      I definitely want to hear more about your godchild.

  10. Geraldine November 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    You’ve no idea how much I love boots. Moscow, 3AM? That sounds like a lot of fun!

    • Man of Roma November 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

      With that freezing cold I don’t think that much …

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