What’s Fifth Avenue to NYC – that’s Tverskaya to Moscow, the street starts at Kremlin and runs north to the direction of Saint Petersburg; Tverskaya was there as early as the 12th century, back then it connected medieval Moscow with the historical capital – city of Tver.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, inhabited by aristocracy, it was the heart of Moscow’s social life; even the tsars (emperors) were arriving from the Northern capital – via Tverskaya – to the Kremlin and several triumphal arches were raised to commemorate the coronations.
Pushkin‘s Tatyana, in her chariot, was taken down the Tverskaya, street towards her future husband and a new life…
The columns of the city gate
Gleam white; the sleigh, more swift than steady
Bumps down Tverskaya Street already.
Past sentry-boxes now they dash,
Past shops and lamp-posts, serfs who lash
Their nags, huts, mansions, monasteries,
Parks, pharmacies, Bukharans, guards,
Fat merchants, Cossacks, boulevards,
Old women, boys with cheeks like cherries,
Lions on gates with great stone jaws,
And crosses black with flocks of daws.
(stanza from “Eugene Onegin“)
Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler as Onegin and Tatiana in 1999 remake of the movie revived what’s probably one of the saddest scenes ever:
Pushikin is the poetry master of Russian Literature -“Eugene Onegin” consists of 389 stanzas of iambic tetrameter with the rhyme scheme “AbAbCCddEffEgg”, where the uppercase letters represent feminine rhymes (with an additional unstressed syllable), while the lowercase letters represent masculine rhymes (stressed on the final syllable) – it became known as the “Onegin stanza” or the “Pushkin sonnet”; the classic of Russian literature in Lieut.-Col. Henry Spalding translation can be downloaded from gutenberg.org
…Her house he enters, ghastly white,
The vestibule finds empty quite—
He enters the saloon. ‘Tis blank!
A door he opens. But why shrank
He back as from a sudden blow?—
Alone the princess sitteth there,
Pallid and with dishevelled hair,
Gazing upon a note below.
Her tears flow plentifully and
Her cheek reclines upon her hand.
“Oneguine, all this sumptuousness,
The gilding of life’s vanities,
In the world’s vortex my success,
My splendid house and gaieties—
What are they? Gladly would I yield
This life in masquerade concealed,
This glitter, riot, emptiness,
For my wild garden and bookcase,—
Yes! for our unpretending home,
Oneguine—the beloved place
Where the first time I saw your face,—
Or for the solitary tomb
Wherein my poor old nurse doth lie
Beneath a cross and shrubbery.
“‘Twas possible then, happiness—
Nay, near—but destiny decreed—
My lot is fixed—with thoughtlessness
It may be that I did proceed—
With bitter tears my mother prayed,
And for Tattiana, mournful maid,
Indifferent was her future fate.
I married—now, I supplicate—
For ever your Tattiana leave.
Your heart possesses, I know well,
Honour and pride inflexible.
I love you—to what end deceive?—
But I am now another’s bride—
For ever faithful will abide.”
The thing is that it’s close to impossible to translate Pushkin’s verses properly; either the rhythm will be lost – or the vocabulary changed beyond recognition; even the great Nabokov was nearly ridiculed and had lost a life-long friend over his endeavor of a kind (see: The Strange Case of Pushkin and Nabokov. )
Thus, while Onegin remains one of the most popular reads in Russia – sadly, for the West it’s mostly lost; Tverskaya street too is nowadays mostly known not for the praises sung to her by Russian classical poets – but for being among the world’s top ten most expensive streets; at the Ritz-Carlton tenants like Carrera y Carrera are said to be paying as much as $650 per square foot. (Source: CNN Money)
As Cicero would put it: O tempora o mores 😉