Rashomon on Tverskaya

6 Jan

We hadn’t seen each other in twenty years.

The whole way there, I kept thinking about what I would say if she had gotten fat and old. Of course, I would tell her that she looked great.

I learned long ago, through hard experience, that no matter what, you always tell a woman that she looks great. When I saw her, standing there at the entrance of the Pekin hotel, I couldn’t believe how good she looked. How had she maintained her figure all these years? After two kids. Molodyets, I thought. I didn’t even have to lie.

After Berkeley, I got married and had kids, she said, “because that’s what one does.” In addition to raising a family, she had also gone to law school, practiced law, learned and taught Hebrew.

Molodyets, I thought again.

We talked about old times, about Russia, about what had become of so and so. Just like old times, we still picked up on the same things and found the same things funny. And she still had the same thought-provoking ability to articulate things that I felt but hadn’t quite been able to figure out.

“You know, all of Shakespeare’s comedies have a dark side,” she said. I suddenly remembered being depressed after seeing a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, as I thought about how often it seems that there is a demon that makes us fall for the wrong people and how many are condemned to unrequited love.

At some point, there came the question I was dreading: “So. You never got married?”

How did she know that, I wondered.

Moscow is a good place to be a single man, I said. She rolled her eyes with disdain. It was embarrassing.

She had gotten married and raised two kids, one of whom was already studying theater in Moscow. I was still at the social maturity level of a college sophomore. Even worse, I have to live in a country where the women all complain that the local men are drunk, lazy and unfaithful because I had never had much success getting women in the U.S. to go out with me.  [Sw&Sp editors recommend the Russian verb  прибедняться, as the key to understanding this last sentiment.]

But despite the eye-roll, she didn’t really seem to care.

As I walked home, I thought about how great it had been to see her. It would be a shame to let another twenty years pass. I was sure that she felt the same way.

A few weeks later, on Christmas eve, she sent me a blog entry about our meeting entitled “What Matters Most.” I expected a touching story about the importance of old friendships. To my horror, she had presented the evening as a contest in one-upsmanship with me apparently trying to top every one of her achievements.

But as I thought about it, I realized that I had misunderstood and that she was writing about herself and her own insecurities and about how meetings with old friends always force us to be introspective and to take stock.

I started thinking about the evening again, and what I had been insecure about, and decided to write about it from my perspective. This is the result. She had done it again – as I said, she still had the same ability to make me think. And for that I am grateful. 

An (actually) touching story about the importance of old friendships.  In no way earned by my blogging shenanigans.

These mortals…Lord…

33 Responses to “Rashomon on Tverskaya”

  1. Cheri January 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    Very very nice bookend to the other entry.
    I don’t understand Russian culture at all, having no experience with it, but your posts of recent have let me in a bit.

    • jenny January 7, 2011 at 6:06 am #

      Thanks, Cheri. This is a very good friend who knows how much I like this sort of game.

      Those of us, of a certain generation, who lived in Soviet Russia for a spell, have a connection.

      • Cheri January 7, 2011 at 9:02 am #

        What I’d really be interested in is what life was like for you when you lived there. What was Soviet Russia like? For young women, for the educated, for Americans.

        The details. I’ve got the big picture from James Bond.

      • jenny January 8, 2011 at 7:23 am #

        Cheri, as John Goodman says in Barton Fink: “I could tell you stories…” And I probably will, if I keep up this blogging. Thanks for being interested.

  2. Philippe January 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    …..how often it seems that there is a demon that makes us fall for the wrong people and how many are condemned to unrequited love…..

    How true (sigh).

    Woody Allen once said: “I wouldn’t want to join a club that would have me as a member”.

    • jenny January 7, 2011 at 6:07 am #

      Yep. And the food is terrible and the portions so small.


  3. Paul Costopoulos January 7, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    I like the twist in your text. At first I tought you were telling of a chance encounter while you were recently in Russia…then I realised it was fiction and a man was talking.
    But the Russian blues are all over it.

    • jenny January 8, 2011 at 7:27 am #

      The Russian Blues has a great ring to it!

  4. david osman January 7, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    lovely spin yet japan is preferable to tverskaya

    • jenny January 8, 2011 at 7:27 am #

      Now you tell me.

  5. Andreas Kluth January 7, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Just checking: You did IMAGINE him replying in this post, right? You did not invite him to write the post?

    I like this exercise in empathy.

    …meetings with old friends always force us to be introspective and to take stock…“:

    Oh yes. That’s why I rarely feel good after such meetings.

    Thrilled to hear you’ve kept your hourglass figure. But I also sympathized with the poor lad: “I learned long ago, through hard experience, that no matter what, you always tell a woman that she looks great.”

    We all learn that lesson, and yet we (men) all wonder why women prefer it that way. Once you demand a constant subtext of white lies, you can never trust anything….

    • jenny January 8, 2011 at 8:01 am #

      Andreas, I’m in an impossible position: Either I’m the dorky woman who writes such braggy things about herself or I have to convince you that some real person views me in this light.

      But, look, why do you (and my friend from the past) characterize the human preference for pleasant lies as a feminine foible?

      What about Sonnet 138? A beauty, and my husband’s favorite:

      When my love swears that she is made of truth
      I do believe her, though I know she lies,
      That she might think me some untutor’d youth,
      Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
      Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
      Although she knows my days are past the best,
      Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
      On both sides thus is simple truth suppress’d.
      But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
      And wherefore say not I that I am old?
      O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
      And age in love loves not to have years told:

      Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
      And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.

    • sledpress January 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

      I always want people to say not that I look great but that they love me despite the way I look. I know exactly what I look like.

      But then I was my father’s only son. So I don’t know if the gender straitjacket fits.

      • jenny January 10, 2011 at 6:35 am #

        Cure for the gender straitjacket:

        As your father’s only son, you can (and I hope you do) go around saying: “I am all the daughters of my father’s house. And all the brothers too.”

  6. Artswebshow January 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    That’s why i avoid old friends. lol
    It’s certainly an interesting experience meeting up after many years but i usually feel awkward

    • jenny January 8, 2011 at 8:02 am #

      You could write about it on your blog, though. Awkward is my favorite starting place.

  7. Cyberquill January 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I’d like to see the official FSB transcript of that meeting.

    • jenny January 9, 2011 at 8:20 am #

      With subtitles. Remember that famous scene in Annie Hall?

      • Cyberquill January 12, 2011 at 1:46 am #

        Da. (That’s Russian.)

      • jenny January 12, 2011 at 7:00 am #

        CQ: Another something you found rifling through your roommate’s personal items?

      • Cyberquill January 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

        In German, da means here. (Something I found rifling through my roomate’s roomate’s personal items.)

      • jenny January 13, 2011 at 7:51 am #

        I really dislike letting you have the last word, CQ, but I’m all out of clever.

      • Cyberquill January 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

        Alright. Your comment right above this one shall be the last word then.

      • jenny January 15, 2011 at 8:35 am #

        OK, CQ, thanks.

      • Cyberquill January 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm #


      • jenny January 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm #


  8. solidgoldcreativity January 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    Wonderful, Jenny. Really satisfying.

    • jenny January 9, 2011 at 8:21 am #

      Thanks, SCG. This post is called: “Enough of what I think about me, what do you think about me?” 🙂

  9. Man of Roma January 10, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    An encounter of two old friends after 20 years, as lived by the woman first and by the man later.

    Two great posts Jenny. And I liked the winter Moscow set with its blues that add to the overall charm (I have to disagree with Paul this time).

    On a parallel note, this is the type of atmosphere one may end up getting into in Moscow. The horrid climate, the nostalgic songs one hears on the radio, the people you drink in bars with, apparently very open, but whose hearts – you find out later – are locked like in a safe…

    Truthful and complex psychological work by both, which is good literature in the positive sense: pars vitae, part of real life.


    • jenny January 11, 2011 at 6:25 am #

      🙂 Thanks, MoR.

      Your parallel note reads like a teaser for an upcoming novel. Aspetto.

      • Man of Roma January 11, 2011 at 8:50 am #

        Yours maybe. I’m no novelist.

  10. dafna January 13, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    thanks jenny,

    a mi sheberakh is welcome, mom’s name is mina.

    • jenny January 14, 2011 at 7:00 am #

      Will do, dafna. 🙂

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