The consolation of Chekhov
Naar Moscou! echoes the unfulfilled longing for another life
My back is soaked.
The backpack is way too heavy.
My Bushnell Legend binoculars, the picnic blanket and three pieces of fruit?
I should have left them at home/
I long for an ice cold beer. On a terrace.
The corona crisis keeps me stuck at home. Other than for grocery shopping, a walk outdoors or a bike ride, I cannot leave my house. Just like everyone else. Strangely enough though, this small universe also frees up space: for nostalgia, for more attention to loved ones, for memories. Both good and not so good. And for memories of films, books and plays.
I am thinking of Anton Chekhov's play Three Sisters
The sisters Olga, Masja and Irina know, better than anyone, what desire is. Like them, I seem to be trapped in my longing for another life.
To Moskow! To Moskow! To Moskow!
How was it again with the Three Sisters? Olga, Masja and Irina are daughters of an army officer. He and his family left Moscow long ago for him to become commander of a garrison in a dull provincial town. Their mother and father die. And now, they are still there. In a dilapidated country house on a run-down estate.
Oh yes, the love
The sisters dream. They long and yearn. For their happy days in Moscow. For a stone house, for theater and opera. For galas in ballrooms, for luxury shops. Oh yes, and also for love.
But nothing comes of it. They keep wandering in circles round their own little world. Struggling with the yearning for love and the meaning of life.
And time ticks slowly on.
Why, right now, I think of Chekhov
Drie zusters, Oom Wanja, and De Kersentuin. Plays that have been performed thousands of times, and often in the Parktheater. Last October, Urban Myth delivered a funny, contemporary version of Drie zusters. I also remember other Chekhov plays. Such as De Meeuw from (then) Toneelgroep Amsterdam (2013) and Johan Simons' high-profile version of De Kersentuin in 2015.
The characters in Chekhov's pieces struggle with inner conflicts. With indecision and powerlessness. This is true of the three sisters as well. They talk about the days when everything was still good. When their mother was still alive. They long for the past and for the future. For better days.
One and a half meters
Yesterday, I told my cousin on the phone, "Well, hopefully I'll see you in better days soon!" Like the sisters, I feel confined, with the difference being a meter and a half away. So many days of sitting at home makes my desire to leave and to be among people grow. After the crisis, I’m going to:
- resume rehearsing with my choir, Donjo, our anniversary program
- get my revenge on a girlfriend who, in February, won a game of Scrabble again at our get-together
- take the train to the sea and eat fresh mussels at Het Badpaviljoen.
Doesn't this much longing make you unhappy?
There is nothing wrong with longing, itself. We long for freedom. It disconnects us from the day-to-day worries. Surrendering to longing is like taking four paracetamols at once. The pain subsides for a moment.
What makes it troublesome is the clinging to it. When the gap between longing and satisfaction grows ever wider. Just like the with the three sisters.
Surely, couldn’t a train have taken the Sisters to Moscow?
Yes, but they couldn't. They didn't have the strength or the possibility to change their situation. But they clung to hope. And they kept believing that, someday, everything would be different.
It sustained them.
Here and now
However, in the meantime, Olga, Masja and Irina forgot to live in the here and now. And the here and now is what I’m trying to live in now, in between my longings. In the present moment, there are no concerns about the past or the future. The present is full of beautiful things. The sweet-spicy scent of budding greenery in the Leenderbos. Sunbathing piglets in the Genneperhoeve. Two ancient-old pug dogs running through the Stadswandelpark. My neighbor boy who hugs his little sister.
Chekhov died of TB in 1904, at only 45 years old.
If he were alive, I would like to meet this calm, ironic and witty writer. Philosophizing with him about the life of then and now. In his time, he successfully battled cholera. What would he, as a doctor, have thought about the corona virus?
Like the sisters, I try to make the best of it. I long and stay firmly in the here and now. It gives me comfort to think of Olga, Masja and Irina. They had a much harder time than I do now.
The sisters were unable to leave by train for Moscow. I, after the corona crisis, will take the train. To the sea. To eat mussels. But first, an ice-cold beer on a terrace.
After so many days of sitting at home, do you also have a memory of a certain performance that you have seen?
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