November 01, 2006

Leaving with Style

Ah, the vicissitudes of a freelance translator’s life... Who on Earth would ever think that, at the respectable age of 44, I would be sitting at a live Luzhniki Stadium concert of the aging pop diva, Madonna?

And yet, this is where my job took me on a warm night in September, to help a CEO with potential networking during concert breaks. Both of my kids envied my less-than-enviable task, prompting me to retort to my son: “Polish your English, man, and you will be in my shoes.”

On that day, however, I found myself wishing I didn’t speak the language of Shakespeare fluently enough to be a “post horse of civilization,” as Pushkin called us translators. Because Madonna’s concert in Moscow had little to do with civilization. It was more like a rendez-vous for New Russian parvenus. Even before entering the stadium, you could smell money in the air. Walking past the wall of Novodevichy Monastery, where cars were parked, I began clicking off the number of $100,000+ “tachki” and shortly gave up. The number of BMWs and Audi coupes exceeded all reasonable expectations. Lexuses and locally-produced Ford Focuses were parked on sidewalks as if they were merely Zhigulis, while hordes of high society Madonna fans hugged and kissed each other, declaiming: “So it took Madonna for us to see each other again!” I cringed. B-r-rr. What a pretentious platitude. 

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