This is not, strictly speaking, language-related, but it’s such a striking anecdote I can’t resist passing it on—and besides, it’s about people who want desperately to talk to each other. In language. So without further ado, a translation from the Russian of the Captain’s Daughter (via Anatoly); she is remembering the days when she and her tall, black-browed, energetic First Love were eager to get married and go to America together:
Of course nothing came of it. That’s what first love is for. But do you know what I remember most?
At that time, far from every apartment in Yerevan had a telephone. And even if there was one, not every phone could make calls to other cities, and in my neighborhood there were no intercity phones. So to talk with Moscow, I would visit a friend or relative who had one, and at the appointed time First Love would call. I couldn’t place the call myself; in the first place, the telephone wasn’t mine and they wouldn’t take money, and in the second place, it was expensive.
So one time I made the trek from my Bangladesh (for which Muscovites can read “South Butovo”) to the Sixth Nork Massif (call it “Khimki”) to be there by exactly three in the afternoon, because that was when First Love was supposed to call. But my friend had forgotten or gotten mixed up, and she wasn’t home. There was nobody there at all. And I stood in front of the door, swallowing tears and listening to the telephone ringing loudly, heartrendingly, inside the apartment… I stood there for an hour—and for an hour, with brief interruptions, the phone kept ringing.
Now tell me, how can such a thing be presented today, in the age of cell phones, Skype, and iPads? And yet it happened…
And can anyone below middle age now imagine the surprise and concern with which people used to pick up a ringing phone and learn that it was a long-distance call? The first thought was that someone must have died. People didn’t make such expensive calls just to chat.