Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev

V

Gemma listened to her mother, and at one minute laughed, then sighed, then patted her on the shoulder, and shook her finger at her, and then looked at Sanin; at last, she got up, embraced her mother and kissed her in the hollow of her neck, which made the latter laugh extremely and shriek a little. Pantaleone too was presented to Sanin. It appeared he had once been an opera singer, a baritone, but had long ago given up the theatre, and occupied in the Roselli family a position between that of a family friend and a servant. In spite of his prolonged residence in Germany, he had learnt very little German, and only knew how to swear in it, mercilessly distorting even the terms of abuse. ‘Ferroflucto spitchebubbio’ was his favourite epithet for almost every German. He spoke Italian with a perfect accent — for was he not by birth from Sinigali, where may be heard ‘lingua toscana in bocca romana’! Emilio, obviously, played the invalid and indulged himself in the pleasant sensations of one who has only just escaped a danger or is returning to health after illness; it was evident, too, that the family spoiled him. He thanked Sanin bashfully, but devoted himself chiefly to the biscuits and sweetmeats. Sanin was compelled to drink two large cups of excellent chocolate, and to eat a considerable number of biscuits; no sooner had he swallowed one than Gemma offered him another — and to refuse was impossible! He soon felt at home: the time flew by with incredible swiftness. He had to tell them a great deal — about Russia in general, the Russian climate, Russian society, the Russian peasant — and especially about the Cossacks; about the war of 1812, about Peter the Great, about the Kremlin, and the Russian songs and bells. Both ladies had a very faint conception of our vast and remote fatherland; Signora Roselli, or as she was more often called, Frau Lenore, positively dumfoundered Sanin with the question, whether there was still existing at Petersburg the celebrated house of ice, built last century, about which she had lately read a very curious article in one of her husband’s books, ‘Bettezze delle arti.’ And in reply to Sanin’s exclamation, ‘Do you really suppose that there is never any summer in Russia?’ Frau Lenore replied that till then she had always pictured Russia like this — eternal snow, every one going about in furs, and all military men, but the greatest hospitality, and all the peasants very submissive! Sanin tried to impart to her and her daughter some more exact information. When the conversation touched on Russian music, they begged him at once to sing some Russian air and showed him a diminutive piano with black keys instead of white and white instead of black. He obeyed without making much ado and accompanying himself with two fingers of the right hand and three of the left (the first, second, and little finger) he sang in a thin nasal tenor, first ‘The Sarafan,’ then ‘Along a Paved Street.’ The ladies praised his voice and the music, but were more struck with the softness and sonorousness of the Russian language and asked for a translation of the text. Sanin complied with their wishes — but as the words of ‘The Sarafan,’ and still more of ‘Along a Paved Street’ (sur une rue pavée une jeune fille allait à l’eau was how he rendered the sense of the original) were not calculated to inspire his listeners with an exalted idea of Russian poetry, he first recited, then translated, and then sang Pushkin’s, ‘I remember a marvellous moment,’ set to music by Glinka, whose minor bars he did not render quite faithfully. Then the ladies went into ecstasies. Frau Lenore positively discovered in Russian a wonderful likeness to the Italian. Even the names Pushkin (she pronounced it Pussekin) and Glinka sounded somewhat familiar to her. Sanin on his side begged the ladies to sing something; they too did not wait to be pressed. Frau Lenore sat down to the piano and sang with Gemma some duets and ‘stornelle.’ The mother had once had a fine contralto; the daughter’s voice was not strong, but was pleasing.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05