Kazan. Part 4. The Volga River, Music, Metrolingualism

A graffiti showing a man wearing a tubeteika (a national cap) in Tatarstan Avenue

Tatarstan Avenue led me to finally see the Volga River which has a special place in the hearts of Russians. It flows entirely through Russia. I knew I had to see this national river here for the first time in my life. While a student, my Mum stayed for some time in Samara (former Kyibyshev), which is another large city in the Volga bank and she has special memories of the river. I had a famous song by the legendary Russian singer Lyudmila Zykina play in my head. As I put my eyes on this iconic river, I started humming: 

Издалека долго

Течёт река Волга,

Течёт река Волга —

Конца и края нет.

Среди хлебов спелых,

Среди снегов белых

Течёт моя Волга,

А мне семнадцать лет.

From far away,

The river Volga flows –

There is no end.

Among ripe crops,

Among a white snow

My Volga flows

And I am seventeen years old.

The Volga River

This whole song is a love declaration to the Volga river which has witnessed all trials and triumphs of this woman’s life and captures an overpowering sense of belonging nowhere else but here. The river port area wasn’t conducive to much reflection as there were a few cruise ships blocking the view with loud music blaring out. But back in my apartment I watched a YouTube video of Lyudmila Zykina’s performance of this song. In their comments a lot of people said that growing up, they used to think it was just a boring song by an elderly singer and now they can’t hold back tears listening to her sing those lines… I think I share these sentiments as well. 

While I was in line to order some pastry in a museum bakery shop in the morning, I heard the shop assistant speak Tatar to a client. Then she switched to Russian for me. There was also some code-mixing and switching between the staff members. I felt like I had been able to engage in some metrolingualism which is the study of language use patterns in urban contexts. Hearing a random stranger speak Tatar rather than just seeing it on street signs or books made it feel like a living linguistic being. 

The bakery where I engaged in some metrolingualsm

I have also found some roundabouts to see a few hidden corners of the Kazan Kremlin. I feel I am getting used to this city. It is my last full day to explore more of it as I am having my only full-day excursion on this trip scheduled for tomorrow. I have been happy so far taking time to explore the city on my own while reflecting on some issues which have personal importance to me. Even though I don’t think Kazan would be a perfect place for me to live, I don’t feel like returning to my city as I think I must have grown out of it as they do out of clothes… 

Yesterday night as I was walking through Bauman Street back to my apartment, I heard a street performer sing a legendary song by Viktor Tsoi, one of the founders of the Russian rock, called «We are Waiting for Changes». It was written in times of Perestroika in the late 1980s. I was a baby back then, but the spirit of turbulence resonated with me even back then. I still remember how there would be Swan Lake by Pyotr Tchaikovsky on national TV whenever there was something sad or turbulent happening in the country. It was supposed to take people’s minds off the current upheavals and transport them into a beautiful poetic world. It had quite the opposite effect on me as I shudder whenever I happen to hear this timeless classics. I also watched a video for this song by Tsoi later that evening and it was painful to realize how it still hits close to home, especially at these times of growing uncertainty…

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