I guess my thoughts are on Russia today. You might not
understand this without a few words about my background. I majored in Russian
Studies at Northwestern University for a reason. One reason was that I couldn’t
really major in Russian, per se. I knew I would never be proficient in the
language in the three years I had left in college when I changed my major.
My interest in the country, which was then USSR, was
in the culture. As a classical violinist, I had fallen in love with Russian
classical music, and loved the more contemporary composers, too. Tchaikovsky,
Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and also Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev. Even
if I do still have to look up the spellings.
Also, as a reader, I was just as deeply in love with
Russian classical literature, Dostoevsky, Pushkin. Tolstoy, Chekhov—and many,
An anecdote from my college years. I was reading Crime
and Punishment in paperback on the El, on my way to a horrible telephone
soliciting job (I attended school on a partial scholarship and worked whatever
jobs I could find). Coming back to my dorm from the job, I had to take a bus,
and two trains, one underground and one elevated. When I changed trains, I had
to cross the street and go up the wooden stairs to the El platform. I did this,
got on my train, and buried myself in my book. Eventually, something made me
look up. The conductor was calling out street numbers, not street names. I was
one of two white people in the car. I asked the woman next to me if this train
goes to Evanston.
“Oh, honey,” I can still hear her alarmed voice. “You’re
on a southbound. You need to get off and change trains.”
I went to the door and got off at the next stop. I
needed to cross the street to get to the northbound elevated platform. Two
large Black men were concerned about my safety and they accompanied me to the
steps, for which I was grateful.
Back on the train, going the right direction, I buried
myself in Dostoyevsky again.
Maybe that’s why the plight of the Russian athletes at
the Olympics affected me so profoundly when the “ROC” team wins and the Piano
Concerto #1 is played. Honestly, it moves me to tears. I never equate the
politics of a country with the people. They have endured so much, those people.