Dima, ou es tu?

I was sixteen, and still studying at school. On the day when I encountered Dima I was taking the Moscow’s underground to deliver myself for a photo session at a modelling competition. It was the time, which lasted for a year at most, when I was dreaming of becoming a model. In other words, I was completely, totally insecure in both my body and my head.

When I entered the wagon at one remote station in our beautiful underground, I immediately spotted Dima. The guy was charming, had dark hair and was laughing in a very sure way with two girls sitting next to him.

A cute guy and a student, I sighed. No way a person like him will ever notice my presence. I was wearing a terrible fur cap (to safeguard my hair for the photo session), while the only piece of style in my wardrobe was limited to the boots, which half of Moscow was wearing at that time. It was the period when limited pieces of fashion were attacking Moscow shops in masses. I might have skipped the rainbow coat (worn by the other half of the city’s population) but I had the boots. I sat next to the guy, however, as there was a vacant place. Taking out of my suitcase a book, I tried to loose myself in studying French grammar – the subject I was supposed to know perfectly, while attending a privileged linguistic college in my native town.           

“You speak French?” I heard a second later, and to my greatest amazement, this comment was coming from the cute dark-haired guy. He turned away from his fellow blonde student girlfriends and was looking intensely at me.           

“Yes, professionally,” I gave the most stupid answer, while removing my fur cap with my right hand and hiding a pimple on my check with my left.           

“Interesting,” the guy moved closer to me to look at my book. “Where?”           

“At the University,” I said in a confident way, while trying to adjust the position of my face in such a way that he wouldn’t notice my pimple.           

“Which university?”Despite the fact that I was only sixteen (and still at school), and blessed with pimples I knew which were the best universities, at that time, to learn French in Moscow.          

“The Institute for Foreign Languages,” I said proudly, forecasting my future at that moment, as it’s exactly where I landed for a year before moving to Brussels, let me think … two years later?   

 “Oh …” I could see that the guy’s interest in me was growing. Which was fine by me, as never in my life had a guy like him talked to me for such a long time, and yes, he was the cutest guy I had met so far.           

“Well …” he continued, “I also study French, at the University for Foreign Relations.”

Not only was he cute, he was also smart. At that time the institution he was attending was renowned as the ‘hottest’ place to get your degree.           

“Really?” I said. “I love French. It’s the love of my life,” I lied, since the biggest love of my life at that period was George Michael and Wham!           

“My name is Dima”, said the guy, while trying to hold my gaze for more than two seconds. It was exactly what I was trying to avoid, as my biggest problem at that time, apart from pimples, was that I was blushing on every possible and impossible occasion.

“My name is Ekaterina,” I answered, while wondering what on earth Dima saw in me, as the look on the faces of his two fellow girlfriends was suggesting that they were asking exactly the same question, and not in a very pleasant way.

“Voudriez-vous diner avec moi ce soir?” the eyes of Dima were really too close to mine this time.

I blushed. The thing was … I didn’t understand a word of what Dima had said. In perfect French. I was so blown away by his intense stare that it didn’t occur to me that I should also use my brain and my ears.           

“Fuck!!!!” was my answer in perfect Russian, when I noticed the name of the underground stop. “I missed my station!”And without giving it an additional, mature, balanced thought I literally jumped from the train.

And only on the platform seeing the departing train and Dima in the train looking (sadly?) at me did the meaning of his sentence entered my teenage brain. “Would you like to have a dinner with me tonight?” This was what he had asked me in French.

Born in Russia. A boy, a book, and The House of Artist

When I was eleven I fancied a boy. It was that innocent, first-time crush when the ultimate wish is to spend more time together, and a kiss on the lips. It never happened.

What did happen, however, was a love of a book thanks to that boy. His name was Andrei and he was a son of a famous painter. Andrei, as I, was a member of exclusive club of young painters at the also famous ‘House of Artist’ in Moscow. The House of Artist was renowned and still is for its amazing exhibitions and a nice restaurant and cafeteria, with grounds next to the House stretching to Moscow river, giving a beautiful view and a time spent in peace, culture and tranquility.

I got into the club thanks to my grand-dad. At some point, a Cossack who had been first sent to Ural because he had marched by foot from Germany after the war, and thus, couldn’t be traced among members of the Russian Army, was later sent to a political prison in Siberia, where he ended up sharing a cell with another famous painter. The painter taught my grand-dad how to paint, and on his return to Ural and then, ultimately, to his Cossack village in the South of Russia, together with my grand-mum and their sons, he became a teacher of art at a local school. One day, when, as usual, I was spending my summer with my grand-parents, during the long break from school in Moscow, he started to teach me how to draw, and these lessons landed me a place in the club in the House of Artist, a small group of ten children among hundreds who didn’t get a place.

It soon emerged that I wasn’t doing that well when my artistic expression had to be supervised at certain hours. I wasn’t that interested in learning further technique of painting or in spending an hour trying to figure out how to draw a still picture of some fruits at the back of the studio. I was eleven years old and was more interested in socializing. Another girl, Nastya, had the same ideas as me, and we would bring our tiny collections of barbie girls and spend all our breaks on playing.

There was also a boy, Andrei, who was very interesting. He wouldn’t play barbies but draw in that dismissive way of a rebel. If we had to do a still picture, he would draw a portrait of a teacher, and then it was time for a landscape, he would make a still picture of a tree.

Needless to say, he was a subject of admiration of all girls in our group, me including. Andrei had a liking of me, since he would always try to sit next to me and engage in some intellectual conversation. Even at that age I would catch myself thinking that here was an intellect way beyond childhood, and that Andrei was simply a genius.
One day, on the way home, when we traveled together for something like five underground stations until his stop, Andrei asked me whether I had already read ‘The Master and Margarita’. I hadn’t and for a good reason. ‘The Master and Margarita’, a masterpiece written by Mikhail Bulgakov, which was published only after his death, is a story of a Devil who visits the Soviet Union under Stalin’s regime, with a parallel story of Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate. It isn’t a book that one reads at the age of eleven. But because I admired Andrei and didn’t want to appear stupid, I answered that ‘yes, of course’, which provoked a zero reaction on Andrei’s face. I reckon he would have been much more surprised if I had answered the truth. I had never read any work by Bulgakov by that point.

“What did you think of Woland?” Andrei then asked me a question, sending me into frenzy of trying to guess who the hell Woland was. If you haven’t read the book yet, I strongly advice you to do it now (urgently so), as it is the best book ever of satire on the Soviet regime (and just the best book, in general) and has amazing insights into the character of the Devil. Professor Woland is the devil who seems to be so ‘impressed’ by the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, that he can’t stop making practical jokes on Moscow and its establishment. It is both funny and mesmerizing, especially that Bulgakov gives us a human insight into what had happened to Christ.

Not knowing what to answer, I asked Andrei’s opinion on Woland.“He seems quite an interesting character, someone very unusual,” Andrei gave a prompt answer of someone who had read the book and had thought about its message and meaning. Thankfully, we reached Andrei’s stop and he would never discover that I had lied. He stopped going to the club of young artists (probably he was bored due his rebellious nature) and I haven’t seen him since.

Andrei has remained in my life that mysterious boy who helped me to discover my most favorite book ever. Because the first thing I asked my mum once I was back home was to give me ‘The Master and Margarita’ to read. Even if surprised by such request, she didn’t say anything and just gave me the book. In our family the rule was that one could read anything as long as one would read. And in any case, we only had good books in the house.

I started to read the book that night, starting to laugh on the second page thanks to its humour and couldn’t stop for two days. ‘The Master and Margarita’ became my most treasured book which I reread every two or three years, discovering every time something new, thanks to a boy who was way too smart for his age.

Magic is in the air

the magical tree

If you read my previous post called ‘Waarom’ you already know that I always preferred the fantasy world to the ordinary reality we mostly observe around. Magic always appealed to me even if when I was growing up in the Soviet Union, a state where religion was banned.

Still, I constantly looked up to the sky imagining that there was something more to what we could see with our eyes, that there was some kind of parallel world, and all the books I was reading at that time contained perhaps some elements of truth: that there were magical characters, that magic was real, that there was more to this world, besides some scientific explanations as how we were came to earth and how the earth was created. I even remember the precise book that made a switch in my consciousness. A rather dark magical story, called Krabat, written by the remarkable German writer,  Otfried Preußler.

The genre is a fantasy novel, that tells us the story of a boy who ended up as an apprentice at a sorcerer, and is lured into all kinds of black magic, where the goodness prevails at the end, as the boys at the hands of the sorcerer (who can easily be identified as the devil) unite to combat the dark forces, renouncing all kinds of magic in order to win the battle and live a life they wished for themselves, such as creating a family, falling in love, and leading a more or less ‘normal’ life. There is also a movie based on the novel, but I strongly recommend you to start with the book, especially that it was a book that had appeared first, and only later – the movie.

I was seven years old when I came across the book, a pivotal moment in my life as it was the night I fell in love with books and reading. My mum, I remember, was so relieved that I finally showed such an interest in reading, that she allowed me to stay awake until I finished the book, as I couldn’t stop reading, and eventually I finished it at five o’clock in the morning. I have a remarkable mum in this respect, she inflicted in me love for books, theatres, art and great food.

And so after I finished the book, I felt a change happening in my seven-years old mind. Just a single book, but extremely powerful, made me want to believe that magic was real, and that without it, the world would be a very boring space. I also sensed at that time, that if someone writes such stories, then he, the author, also believes in some magic, otherwise, why write a magical story in the first place?

After finishing the book I started to look for magic everywhere. It wasn’t an easy task as I was growing up in the Soviet Union, and apparently we were not supposed to believe in anything besides the communism, a beautiful dream, I have to admit now, but derived of some magical fun elements. I wanted the angels to rule the world, I wanted to meet them, and I wanted to believe that the world as we saw it, was an illusion, there was much more to this universe, some magic.

It was a week later that an angel appeared in my dream. I wasn’t familiar yet with the phenomenon of lucid dreaming (in one of which much later on I attended the Devil’s ball), but I now recognise what happened. It was indeed my first experience of lucid-dreaming when I woke consciously in my dream. I was in front of a lake, and a fairy was sitting next to it on a bench. I walked towards her and hesitated for a moment, as I wasn’t sure it was allowed, as I was clearly dealing with a magical creature. From behind I could see her lustrous blond hair, and wings resting on her back.

The angel waived to me, inviting me to sit next to her, and that’s what I did, and then she turned to me, revealing her magnificent blue eyes, and said:

“When you seek magic, you will always find it,’’ she then put her hand on my head and I immediately woke up, properly in my bed, in our apartment in Moscow situated on the 16th floor, and I told myself that it was more than real, and not just a dream.

For the next two weeks, I was searching for the signs of magic everywhere. I was truly busy looking, I started a new book by Otfried Preußler, called ‘The Little Witch’, and while it was again a book full of magic, I failed to see its manifestations in my daily life.

But at the end of two weeks, when I was sitting on a big table in the office of my grand-dad, in the apartment of my grand-parents, which was situated in the same complex of apartments as the one of my parents, I saw a black feather making her way towards our balcony, where it landed and came to rest. I went to the balcony, took the feather, and knew at once that it was my first talisman and that magic and my dream  – it was all real, and I felt happiness like never before.