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.