Читать книгу VanCleef & Arpels on the summer night - Nonna Ananieva - Страница 1



I was driving back from work in the evening at about nine, around the Ring. I kept changing lanes, but there were so many cars that this didn’t make much of a difference. It was drizzling. In the subway under Tverskaya Street two SUVs had collided – a Lexus and a Mercedes (I hate that Mercedes model; it always reminds me of a bier), blocking one of the lanes. The car crash wasn’t at all serious, but neither party would drive away. They were waiting for militiamen. Their lights twinkled beautifully, like a couple of figure-skaters at the European Championship. I thought of Beloussova and Protopopov. I had been a little girl when they were real celebrities; they had stayed in Western Europe and were nearly killed in a car accident. Sometimes the strangest associations occur to you.

I had to pop into Stockmann, but I was reluctant to use the underground parking. I looked for some space nearby, and found a vacant place near the Bulgarian restaurant. The restaurant is the only building in Smolenskaya Square which has not been restored, and in my opinion, it’s beyond repair. The building is miserable, lopsided, and oblique, with dirty windows and horrible grocery stores that haven’t changed since the Perestroika period. Once I forced myself to visit this particular restaurant, in order to properly remember a period in my past. The visit allowed me to reassure myself that I did everything right back then. And now, the place no longer holds any attraction for me.

In Stockmann, I picked up a little bit of everything, as usual – including washing powder – and queued up with my cart for the cash counter. There was a longish queue at the other cash counter, too. I recognized my old lover standing in it.

He was not really old, of course – but he belongs, in my mind, to a time many years ago, to which I have never returned. I looked at his familiar hand, now bearing a wedding ring, and at his fashionable clothes and his full cart – and I turned my head away, to indicate that I wasn’t going to acknowledge him. Nothing remained between us. The essence of our relationship was exhausted, dried up. It was like a shrivelled leaf, blowing in the wind. He happened to be in Stockman at the same time as me, for whatever reason. It was none of my business. But all the same, I couldn’t resist giving him a second, surreptitious glance. He was in front of the stand of English books, looking for something, turning over the first few pages of some of the books. He didn’t look as though he was about to leave.

I began to take out my groceries and put them on the conveyor belt.

Your permanent buyer’s card, your parking license – jabbered the cashier.

I took out my buyer’s card and my credit card as well.

No parking license, – I replied, glancing over at him again.

He was paying. After all that, he had bought a book with a red cover. And now, Sergey, you may leave the store, I whispered to him. I walked past the cash counter and began to pack everything into plastic bags, never turning my head.

Give me your passport and your driving license, please, – the cashier girl said, continuing our conversation.

I took out my driving license.

Thank you, – The girl responded correctly, just as she’d been taught.

I had three full bags. One of them was quite heavy – with water and a pineapple in it – the other two were lighter, but still big.

– Sign, please, – she gave me a check and a pen.

I signed nervously and picked up my bags, never looking back, and headed up towards the exit. Nobody was following me. At the exit I straightened my back and looked round. There was nobody behind me. He spoiled that whole shopping trip for me, I thought to myself.

In reality, he probably had no intention of greeting me at all, but I couldn’t help thinking that if he didn’t mean to say hello, then he wouldn’t have spent so much time hanging about that bookstand. Romance – that’s what he wanted. A new one. He chose it right before my eyes. He couldn’t have failed to notice me. He always took note of any female within a ten-kilometer radius. Maybe he disliked me so much he didn’t even want to say hi…? This horrible thought made me raise my eyebrows in spite of all the botox injections. But I soon calmed down – plenty of even better looking men pay me attention. Then I saw the Mercury Pavillion and remembered about the galuchat bracelets. I had to have a look. I turned round. Still no-one behind me. I didn’t want to carry my shopping bags to the jewelry shop. I turned round again. The security guards were clearly having fun watching my indecision – they can find something to ridicule even in the smallest events. I headed for my car.

I should say now that I have not seen him since this day.

I barely managed to carry all the bags to the boot of the car. Women aren’t built for grocery shopping. I was sitting in front of the steering wheel when my mobile phone rang. It was my girlfriend calling, the one who can’t get through an evening alone. She feels bored. Me, for example, I can easily be alone. Not in a forest, obviously, or on some ranch, but in the city I’m happy to be alone. This loneliness is entirely voluntary – I have been married twice and I’m in no hurry to tie the knot for a third time. Although there is a candidate – a decent, forty-five year old guy. He has blue eyes. They’re probably the best thing about his very masculine character. All men are so similar! But that doesn’t really matter. The most important thing is for a man to have appeal for some inexplicable reason, to surprise you – in a good way, of course – and to not get boring. Apartments, money, securities… those are indispensable components of attraction, but also secondary ones – though they do speak strongly to your taste, and resonate with fundamental aspects of the evolutionary process. If you can manage to work with all this a little bit, then good things quite easily happen – at any age. Incidentally, I dislike thirty-year-old men most of all: the cheeky, self-assured, sporty males. Inheritors of the family business. Worthy sons. Unfaithful, hungry, handsome, with sharp tongues. Dreaming only about toys. You can’t get through to them. By the age of forty, or maybe just after forty, men like this sometimes find another version of themselves. Some invisible shell, like an eggshell, comes off their hearts all of a sudden and they begin to really notice the world and women. Speaking frankly, I can’t take the opposite sex seriously at all. With men, you can’t plan anything – it’s a question of chance, and nothing more. When two people separate, even if they try to postpone the separation or pretend it’s not happening – because they don’t want to lose all the benefits, because they feel bad for their children – it’s still a separation. Whether the experience is painful and acrimonious or smooth, they still do it for the sake of love – for themselves, for him, for her, for their futures. They might sacrifice their health, career, friends, or simply a lot of money for their separation, but if they have strong personalities, they will always come out on top. Here again the supernatural is at work. And there is only one governing law – the law of love. Life is granted to everyone simply to fulfill this law – to the ballet-dancer, the mathematician, the banker, the doctor, the musician, the spy, the photographer, the teacher, the fireman, the clergyman, even the president. There are so many different couples out there: pretty ones, uninteresting ones, plain ones, weird ones, absurd and dangerous ones.… I often lose myself in thoughts like these. But I hardly ever tell anybody about them.

My mind is always clearest in the morning. I am not simply a morning person – I’m five morning people all rolled into one. This, however, isn’t quite to everyone’s taste. I think we early risers are definitely in a minority. In the morning I like to delve into my thoughts about life and make decisions about the day ahead. In the daytime and evening I fulfill those plans. But the evening of that trip to Stockmann was a dark one; the day was already over. I wanted to get back to my warm apartment, to squeeze into my soft slippers and read for a while – so that was what I told the friend who called me, that I was completely knackered and not in the mood to go anywhere. I ignored the hints she was dropping in an attempt to get me to invite her to come over for a cup of tea, although I do always have a bottle of good wine or champagne close at hand. I knew that she’d have wanted to stay the night afterwards. We would have had to share a bed, albeit a comfortable and spacious one. I have no other bed to sleep in. In the hall, or in the guestroom (I’m not quite sure what to call my most spacious room, which I use as a hall, a kitchen, a dining room, where I keep my bookshelves and my dishes), there are a couple of armchairs and a round sofa, but the sofa’s not very comfortable to lie on. So anyone wanting to stay over has to sleep in my bed with me. Quite understandably, I’m not always in the mood to share. But the real reason I didn’t want to see my friend is that I didn’t want to listen to her depressive talk (so unfamiliar to my way of thinking), to stories of her martyrdom in the quest for new sources of gratuitous material aid from male acquaintances, who never succeed in satisfying her legitimate female needs and who inevitably disappear, hardly having appeared in the first place. It is always not the right thing. I never give much thought to her stories and nothing she tells me comes as a surprise. This is because she basically imagines most of the things, and her deep suffering is in proportion to the bright, interesting image she creates. Nevertheless, she does manage free of charge (that is, at somebody else’s expense) to travel all over the world, living in expensive hotels and buying fashionable clothes, sometimes even securing some nice cushy job. Fluent English, French and Italian – knowledge acquired thanks to this very martyrdom – these are marketable products in this country nowadays, especially if combined in the same person. And especially if this person is a female, and a well groomed one. I won’t go into detail about her figure. The paradox is that my friend has never really wanted to work, unlike some of the power women of my generation, who are sometimes even prepared to stay overnight at work. Though it’s probably not even a paradox, but a kind of personal philosophy that occasionally produces the desired results. To cut a long story short, we speak different languages, distorting in our own way the truth of the male figure facing us. She’s no fool; she knows exactly what’s expected of her. And ultimately, everyone gets their own slice of cake.

I said goodbye to her and switched off the phone. It had begun to drizzle again. I’m always losing my umbrellas and gloves. When I was a little girl I would also lose my handkerchiefs. This would make my grandmother angry. What an idiot; here I am again without an umbrella. I was angry with myself. Things were worse than usual because that afternoon I’d paid a fair amount for a new hairdo, and wasn’t eager to expose my head to the drizzling rain. I got out of the car, hurried over the piazza to Smolenskaya passage, which slightly resembles Paris’s Rue de Rivoli, and headed towards a new umbrella.

Sergey was on my mind all the while. Time had played its game with him, but he had managed to remain a handsome man. I remembered him ankle-deep in water with his jeans rolled up on the beach in the evening in Tunisia. I remembered him chasing me – I was in my early twenties at that time – along the sea edge. I thought then, that I would burst, I was so full of new impressions… summer in the middle of winter, Carthage looming in the distance, my own irresistible beauty. I am not really sure what Sergey was thinking about. He was two years older than me. It was in the early eighties; we were Soviet students doing our practical training in an Arab country.

Various thorny negotiations at Camp David between the USA, Israel and Egypt over the problem of another Middle East peace process prevented me from going to Cairo University, because the principled Soviet state decided to temporarily interrupt its diplomatic relationship with Egypt. As a result I found myself in quite a different country, with a different dialect of Arabic and French as a second language instead of English – which had been like a native tongue for me since my school years. But having come to Africa, I found that I was quite happy.

A lot of things happened for the first time: a whole year spent far from home without my parents in a capitalist country, where everything is prohibited and those things which are not prohibited should not be used – because the price is not worth it. The whole year tightly scheduled, the vigilant eyes of others on me – people with influential acquaintances in Moscow. This first trip really was a major test of my trustworthiness and survival capacity; dealing with my first harsh criticism and its consequences, quarrels, pettiness, naïve impulses of the heart nipped in the bud, and, after all, kindness, cooperation, interesting acquaintances, trips, the discovery of a new reality, a new world and Arabic in particular. And then, of course, the return.

– Did she really live abroad for a year? – such a question at that time had great import. I had had the chance to form an objective impression of our country. The conclusions I came to during that year in Tunisia drastically changed my life. I failed the trial and became disillusioned with the Soviet way of life. It was not Tunisia which overwhelmed me. I was overwhelmed by our people there. Their actions, sometimes violent, were inherently abominable. The way they treated us…. I was ashamed by the behavior of our teachers, doctors, and engineers; by the horrible conditions in which they lived; by the miserable money they were paid; by the dreams for which they suffered all that.

Now it seems quite natural – to have one’s own opinion, to say the things you think are right, to disagree with the crowd, to educate your children privately, to travel to Milan to buy some clothes. We have begun to forget a lot, to embellish things. Of course there were things which were good: it was a superpower, with a great number of scientific research centers, low prices for household essentials (for understandable reasons). But I perceive life in from the viewpoint of an individual person – my own self. I would not want to read releases of Meeting ХХХ issued by the only party, uncontrollably experimenting with social modeling. I would far rather be reading the new Russian Vogue than waiting for a bus at the bus stop, or queuing up in a shop to buy Polish lipstick.

It was New Year’s Eve, 1984. We left the ambassadorial club, where they were spouting official political toasts over tables spread with Olivier salad and Danish canned ham, to the sound of plastic corks popping from bottles of semi-sweet Soviet champagne. When the high-ranking officials of the Embassy had duly expressed their wishes and left for their apartments to celebrate with their nearest and dearest, and the music was turned on, we escaped, climbed over the fence and hurried to the sea. It was quite a distance from there to the sea, however, and some peasant in a shabby van gave us a lift. My companion, whom I was to encounter at the cash counter in Stockmann all those years later, squeezed a couple of dinars into his hand and wished him a happy New Year.

There were plenty of umbrellas, both expensive and cheap ones. I chose up a green one like usual, so it would match the car.

Before going home, I looked through the biography of a foreign woman, who had been invited to deliver some lectures on the perception of jewelry to potential Eastern European clients. Her thesis, written in Cambridge, was devoted to jewelry in the portraits done by Florentine masters of the Renaissance. I felt a melancholy somewhat similar to the feelings of a second rate actor, seeing Hamlets, Khlestakovs, Jourdains and the like, cursing his tray with a glass of water which he must carry out at the right moment with a simple “dinner is served”. That was the way things were. World universities had been inaccessible for us. Our conception of jewelry was limited to the State Diamond Fund at most, and local production didn’t warrant such theses. We had many other experiences instead, of course, but that’s not what I’m driving at. This visiting speaker was an Italian woman who had no doubt been surrounded by Florentine masters since her early childhood. I felt melancholy because in my twenties I had not been able to recognize my inner abilities and wishes. I didn’t really discover this world until the age of forty, after much strolling to and fro, even traveling between countries….

I paid several hundred to hear her lecture Perception of Jewelry. It put me in mind of a description aimed at savages, detailing how to serve a table full of white people. How could she have known that such terms as carat, guilloche, pave were second nature to us, that we had all handled pearls, that her audience would be decked out in jewelry from the latest collections of Cartier, Bvlgari, and VanCleef & Arpels»? She was going through her usual routine for the natives, smiling condescendingly and glancing at her watch. Almost all women base their opinion on details that they arrange after an event into some final composition of their own. She must have been annoyed by our Moscow habits, drastically different from those of her well-to-do fellow Italians, and she probably assumed we were the fashionable wives of New Russians who had made a fortune playing foul games. By the end of the third hour my right-hand neighbor put her beautifully coiffed head on the table and succumbed to sleep. I wasn’t going to disturb her. And it was only at this moment that the Italian lady became animated. Maybe she was thinking about tomatoes thrown at the mediocre tenor; at any rate, she began to look tentatively into our faces. But it was far too late. Later on we had tea and they handed out diplomas to us, certifying that we had listened to her lecture. In a word, it was just rubbish. Well, perhaps there were a few interesting examples, and a story of how they had found fake pearls among the belongings of Wallace Simpson, which had been auctioned as the genuine article. In fact a lot of famous women added fakes to their jewelry collections: it is impossible always to speak only the truth and to abstain from gentle dalliance with men we oughtn’t to flirt with. “Out of the question!” Restrictions pursue us from our babyhood nappies, or as we should say now, our pampers, till the day we die. Sometimes restrictions can have a positive effect, as they force us to think smarter and jump higher to reach the forbidden fruit of our illusions.

By the sea back then everything was forbidden to us. Even solitude. We chatted a little bit about local scenery, the route, Carthage, which will outlive us all, about the Tunisians, who should have cared more about it, about the marvelously tasty sea air (for four whole months I had been without a sore throat, so I no longer wore my scarf as I usually do during the Moscow winter), about palms, about scorpions, and about his waiting for this night since the first day when we had landed…

I walked back to my car, reminiscing. Echoes of that period had not come to me for a long time. To begin with I didn’t let myself lapse into memories, and then later I got used to looking ahead. But now, I automatically switched off to the spring rain tapping on my new purchase, to the forthcoming trip to Geneva for the annual fair of exquisite watches and clocks, to the new raincoat in the car trunk and to the blue eyes of my close distant friend.

VanCleef & Arpels on the summer night

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