Then the president's limo drove up and he got out, along with some of his friends whose names I learned later (like Bruce Lindsey, Strobe Talbott, Leon Panetta and Sandy Berger -- I know none of these people, but they are in the press report) and about 20 reporters and photographers. The embassy guy told me to stand back until we figured out if Clinton had a translator, then said he didn't and I should hurry over and introduce Clinton to the director of the cemetery and the guide. Well, Clinton's translator was there, but he was a few seconds late getting out of the limo, and by that time, I was already there.
I was struck by how calm the president was, and weirdly enough, I was totally calm too. He wasn't in a hurry at all, he said he had half an hour or so, and he wanted to see the cemetery. We showed him the graves we planned, and then asked if he was interested in seeing others, and everyone we named he wanted to see. I was both translating the information given by the guide and talking to Clinton too. He had been to this cemetery 26 years ago, and wanted to come back, and it was important to him. The guide remembered that Clinton is into music, and offered him Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Scriabin and Chaliapin, all of which he wanted to see. I was impressed that Clinton knew who Mayakovsky was, and he wanted to see his grave. He also wanted to see the grave of Stalin's second wife and I guess he had read a book by Stalin's granddaughter about her mother's suicide, so he knew what he was looking at.
All of his comments were positive, about beautiful sculpture and interesting people. He said "Gee, I love this place" and I agreed with him, told him it was one of my favorite places in Moscow. It wasn't scary talking to him at all, and I don't even think my heart rate was all that high. Right before he got back into his limo, he called over the White House photographer, and had her take a picture of me, himself, and the guide, so I should be getting a copy in the mail soon. Then he left, and went to a restaurant for dinner. Then, I got excited, not believing what had just happened.
The advance team had told me to take the rental car (a Mercedes with driver) to the restaurant, so that's what I did. There were TONS of people outside the restaurant, reporters, White House people, and stuff, so I found one who was sort of in charge, and asked if I was supposed to do anything else. He said no, so I left, took the metro back home, my head spinning, and made myself some oatmeal for dinner.
Sunday morning, I got back to work at 9 a.m. and the clownish guy from the embassy asked why I left, said that I was supposed to have gone into the restaurant. BUT NOBODY TOLD ME THAT!!! So I have been sort of kicking myself, because I could have had dinner with the president. But later in the day I saw the advance team, and they also asked why I left so soon. Apparently they didn't know at the cemetery whether there would have been room for me at the restaurant or not, but there turned out to be room at the staff table, so they came looking for me, but I was already gone. Anyway, I told them to please let Mr. Clinton know if he was still interested, I could maybe fit him in for lunch that day.
Clinton was here meeting with Yeltsin, Chirac, Major and a bunch of other important people. He also met with the guys running against Yeltsin in the upcoming election, so I think the cemetery probably won't even make page B6, but that's okay. I got a copy of the press pool report, where I am mentioned and that's cool enough.
AND, now I can add to my resume that I translated for Clinton, and I don't know too much about his political activities, but I liked him a lot as a person. And I made five bucks an hour!
Megan N. Corrigan, a Baltimorean and a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, is resident director in Moscow of the American Council of Teachers of Russian. This letter, edited for publication in The Sun, was written to colleagues in Washington.
Pub Date: 5/05/96