Friday, November 16, 2007

All it needed was a little Vodka

Broad and yellow is the evening light,
The coolness of April is dear.
You, of course, are several years late,
Even so, I'm happy you're here.

Sit close at hand and look at me,
With those eyes, so cheerful and mild:
This blue notebook is full, you see,
Full of poems I wrote as a child.

Forgive me, forgive me, for having grieved
For ignoring the sunlight, too.
And especially for having believed
That so many others were you.
- Anna Akhmatova (translated from the Russian by Lyn Coffin)

***

It's been a very Russian-themed evening. First an hour spent reading Brodsky, then some Akhmatova, and finally a Philadelphia Orchestra concert featuring performances of the Stravinsky Violin Concerto (which turned out to be an object lesson in the folly of pitting an indifferent soloist against an exquisite wind section) and Tchaikovsky's serenade for strings.

***

I'm beginning to think, by the way, that I've been cruelly underrating Tchaikovsky. You know how it is - you listen to endless repeats of the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy and the rest of the vanilla-ness of the Nutcracker, spend years enduring the programmatic bravura of 1812, and before you know it you've forgotten that Tchaikovsky was ever anything more than a composer of exquisite scenery. But revisiting his symphonies and piano concertos recently I'm beginning to realize there's more to the man than soundtrack - he's not likely to displace Beethoven or anything, but when it comes to writing a tune the man is every bit as good as, say, Mendelssohn. And that's high praise, really.

***

The real high point of my evening, though, came earlier. There I am, sitting at a coffee shop outside the Kimmel Center, reading in peace, when this elderly guy stops by my table and asks me what I'm reading. I'm a little annoyed and tell him it's Akhmatova. He says that's great, though he's never really got into Akhmatova himself. We get into a conversation about her. I ask him what translation he's read. He can't remember. I tell him he should try the one I'm reading - which is the one by Lyn Coffin. I get him to read a couple of poems from the book. He's impressed. He says maybe he should revisit Akhmatova after all. Then he apologizes for troubling me, says goodnight, and pushes off.

Sometimes life feels worth living.

Notes

[1] Some of you are probably wondering what I'm doing in a coffee shop given my recent resolution to give up coffee. They do serve tea in these places too, you know.

4 comments:

??! said...

They do serve tea in these places
as the good folks from Goa would say... cha, man!

AakASH!!! said...

Hmmmm, my question still holds. Actually more now!

Chevalier said...

Funny, I always seem to appreciate Tchaikovsky more when I watch a show rather than just listen to his music...

Crp said...

Hmmm you don't find anything sinister about the Nutcracker ? Especially the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy ???