On Rediscovering Old Passions

When the white doors in your immaculate house start getting stained with charcoal and graphite, along with your knees, hands and even face – you start wondering, what’s going on?

And then you realize that something very important, but long forgotten, has suddenly popped up from the depth of your subconscious. It came from the childhood memories, and now it’s floating in the sea of your thoughts, disturbed only by sudden waves of passion…


Just about a month ago I got my hands on a little sketchbook and a box of graphite pencils. After two weeks of holiday, which somehow turned into a drawing boot camp, the sketchbook was full. I practiced 5-6 hours every day, drawing anything I could get my eyes or thoughts on. Nudes, asanas, spheres, cubes, cylinders, ribbons, skeletons, faces, body parts, eyes, lips and what not.


Upon my return to work, when asked what I did during my time off, I disappointed most of my colleagues. I didn’t travel; I barely went out and didn’t get any tan. But I knew how to draw a human body from a two-point perspective!

My supplies got topped up with a few solid sketchbooks, collection on inks, brush pens, charcoals and pencils; as well as books on drawing techniques and visual storytelling. The only thing left to do is to remember/learn how to use it all. Easy!

When I was young, I used to go to an art school and I was constantly doodling when bored. My teacher inspired me, and complemented my humble attempts to create something that’s mine. I took part in various drawing/painting competitions and even won a box of oil paints and a collection of pastels.

One day my teacher didn’t show up for a class. A few weeks later I was told that she was terminally ill and classes were cancelled.

My heart was broken and I decided to do dancing instead. That led to drama school, then international journalism and languages, then media studies…


I never really got back into art. Weather I was too impatient to do exciting things, or too lazy and inconsistent – the inner craving to observe things and express them with pencil and brush strokes just disappeared.

Whatever caused the sudden explosion of visual creativity, it doesn’t seem to go away. At least two hours of my every day, regardless of what shifts I am working, are devoted to practicing various techniques. I draw in bed, surrounded by coffee cups and pillows. I draw on the floor, in front of a mirror. I draw in the park, among pine trees, squirrels and elderly Jewish ladies.


Whatever comes out of this rediscovered passion – a couple of semi-talented sketches, a lifetime commitment or just a therapeutic hobby – every time I sit down to practice I find myself entering the state of catharsis. It’s a calm peaceful pleasure. The kind of pleasure you get from dipping your hand in a sack of grains. Or hugging a big hairy dog. Or sniffing an acacia shrub. Or falling asleep in a fortress made of pillows. The little pleasures we all knew when we were little.

Do we simply forget how to enjoy these things when we get older?..

Having now rediscovered the secret door to creative pleasure, I must not lose the key. Who knows what other doors it might open?



On Prejudice & Preconceptions


Everyone goes on a holiday with certain expectations and certain prejudices.

When met with reality, the prejudices sometimes disappear – they prove to be wrong. This can leave you pleasantly surprised at how things are much more beautiful/good/safe than you ever imagined.

Before I went hiking around the Stockholm archipelago area many years ago, I expected it to be very similar to hiking in the Russian Karelian forests. A lot of mosquitos, not much wildlife, rubbish on the sides of the road in the village areas, but plenty of opportunities to set up a tent and make a fire.

Stockholm archipelago turned out to be incredibly clean and well looked after. We saw a wild bore, horses, cows and deer. And the most beautiful Nordic sunsets and sunrises! Vast parts of the archipelago are marked as nature reserves, where you might be allowed to put up a tent, but not to make a fire. Especially on rocky mini islands, where bits of glowing coal can fall through the cracks in the rocks and set the moss on fire.

My hiking partner and I got stuck on one of those islands kayaking one night. It was getting dark and we needed a piece of land to sleep on. The area we chose, a large picturesque island whose shores were gently washed by the Baltic Sea, seemed very peaceful. But blinded by the growing darkness, we couldn’t know, that it would turn out to be a wild place to spend the night.

Before we could finish our rushed dinner, we got attacked by a bunch of curious cows, trying to eat our tent. After relocating to the edge of the forest, we woke up a family of wild horses who were resting nearby. What seemed to be an angry female, galloped after us back and forth along the fence, probably protecting her baby.

Unintentionally, we brought a little trouble into the quiet lives of the nature reserve inhabitants. And we paid the full price for it the next morning, when we woke up covered in dozens of ticks that crawled into the tent at night from the tall forest grass.

In spite of our little troubles, that trip remains one of the best hiking experiences of my life. And the colour of sunset in the mossy dry pinewoods near the sea remains one of my most favourite views.

Sometimes prejudices turn out to be right. That leaves you yet surprised again, even shocked, that it actually is happening. And happening to you!

When I lived in India (which is briefly documented here: http://mariashu.livejournal.com/), I read a lot in the newspapers about violence towards women in urban India. There is even a special term for public harassment of women in India – ‘Eve-teasing’. Something you won’t hear very often outside India and Pakistan.

The term, however, might be suggesting that little innocent catcalls and sexual remarks are partially women’s own responsibility. It suggests that women are a tease, asking for attention. Unfortunately, in many cases the seriousness of the offence goes beyond remarks and public brushing. I don’t think it’s appropriate to place the responsibility for, e.g. rape, on a victim, however revealing their dress might be. I despise these semantic roots of the term, and prefer to think of it as relating every offense against a woman, as an offence against womanhood, the whole concept of femininity and the first Biblical woman herself.

Having seen quite a bit in the news about molestation of women by men, I had an idea, purely based on media coverage, that India is not a very safe place to be a woman. I tried to be reasonably careful about how to travel and who to speak to. But when I spent almost a year there, and started to get a bit cocky (‘Ha! I know places, and I can get to places without anyone’s help!) – that’s when I myself became a victim of what they call ‘Eve-teasing’.

My case was by no means a serious act of violence. I got out of it lightly, with a bruised knee, a bit of tears and a few scratches here and there. But many cases like this end not so well, leaving women traumatized for life, if alive at all. Even though during my stay in India most men treated me with a lot of respect, daily encounters with catcalls and that particular incident, when I got slapped on the face by a rickshaw-wallah and driven away from where I wanted to go – those moments left me strongly believing in my prejudice about certain male behavior in urban India.

Luckily, many of my negative preconceptions, acquired along the way, have proven to be wrong since I first left mother Russia. And one thing I’m learning from this, is that in order to destroy prejudice one needs to experience the reality face-to-face. One must see/hear/touch the subject of the prejudice with his or her own eyes/ears/hands.

It’s as if the preconception/prejudice option is ticked by default in the human mind. You have to manually go into the settings section, find the correct box and untick it. Also, you have to repeat this procedure for every new situation, because the change can only be applied to one file at a time…

I wonder if that can explain why modern day Russia is such a predominantly homophobic country. Of course, I don’t mean to say that every urban, educated, well-read and well-travelled person is a judgmental homophobe. But to be realistic, the general Russian public, considering how much of the population grew up during the Soviet Union, is rather anti-gay than pro-gay. One of the reasons these people associate gay with perversion and evil, is because they don’t really know much about it. They might have never met a gay person. They might not even know much about sex – mind you, there was no sex in Soviet Russia! Sexual education in public schools is poor, and not many people can afford to travel abroad. Well, my question is, what do you expect then? Until the majority of Russian population has access to education, media, culture and travel, I doubt the situation will change much with or without the help of the government. Hatred comes from ignorance and fear. And laziness. Most people just can’t be bothered to untick their prejudice options. Or maybe they just don’t know how?


Hotel as a Theatre


It couldn’t be avoided – after a year and a half in hotels, my life in hospitality has finally crept into my writing. I beg your pardon, I work in show business, not hospitality!

The hotel group I work for, with its ‘irreverent spirit of fun’, has, at its roots, the same ideology as Studio 54 in New York once did. It’s all about fun. We’re sexy, trendy and original. And we frown upon being called part of hospitality industry. It’s showbiz! Don’t expect anything less from a hotel chain that has made its name by breathing new life into tired listed buildings.  The touch of flamboyant French designer Philippe Starck helped transform them into eye-catching hotel extravaganza. Someone who knows how to make a toilet brush or a lemon squeezer sexy, can certainly create a damn sexy urban spa, trendy cocktail bar and a hotel room that isn’t like any other hotel room.

Spicy little details – like paintings on the ceilings, asymmetrically arranged furniture, miniature chairs, giant chess pieces, spotlights and video installations – in spite of being very unpractical, create an atmosphere of theatre. We’re not selling rooms, we’re selling an experience.

Running a hotel operation involves a certain variety of staged actions – you follow the script and predict what’s going to happen in the next act. A lot of the time, however, you have to improvise.

Just like props on stage, things sometimes pretend to be something they aren’t.  You can call it fakery, or pretence, or a game, but I believe that it’s just theatre. It’s as fake as a shiny wax apple, but the fakery is in the name of art and entertainment.

As if in a Charlie Kaufman film, apart from just being themselves, everyone plays a certain role. Or wait a minute, is it themselves that they are playing? It can get tricky.

Every department of the hotel has a part to play in creating the magic, and there is a very clear distinction between front-of-house and the ‘backstage’.

There is, of course, a director/hotel manager/manager on duty, hiding in his/her director’s booth and making sure all is well-tuned and running smoothly.

If a crucial element of the show fails to work, such as a lift or a display screen, engineers step in to get it back up and running. Because the show, as we’ve all heard, must go on.

The kitchen creates culinary masterpieces: marshmallow mushrooms, potions of smoothies and cocktails, succulent miniature burgers. Housekeepers are often unnoticed, just like stage workers dressed in black. They move props during  the blackout, put things into their places and make the mess magically disappear. And just like costume department, they get your costume ready before you go on stage. In my case, it’s a very slim black pencil dress with a pair of black suede mary jane heels. It’s not too shabby. Playing the same part and wearing the same costume can get boring, but the performance is never quite the same.

Every shift starts with a handover and a review of the journal (aka ‘the Glitch Log’). You have to stay updated on what you’ve missed during your time off. If there was an accident, a crazy party or someone hit their partner with a bottle of champagne – you need to stay on top of the hottest news.

Most of the time, the Glitch Log makes a great morning read, like a celebrity gossip column in a trashy magazine. Other times it makes you sigh with relief that you missed all the drama.

Like all the other front-of-the-house ‘performers’, I occasionally have to work night shifts. The night show is a whole different story…

Between 11 pm and 7 am a hotel is a bizarre place on the dark side. You can call it a monster mash. Especially Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Yes, apparently, Thursday is the new Friday. People are so impatient these days in their search for ultimate pleasure, entertainment and relaxation, that they start going out on Thursday night. Because Friday is just always too far away.

The monsters, in their natural  habitat drink, smoke, sniff, swallow and mate. People spend ridiculous amounts of money dumbing themselves down with the finest poisons money can buy.  They lose their coats, wallets, credit cards and constantly make fools of themselves without realising it. They break things, they get hurt, and occasionally they die.

While work during the day is often a hectic, but predictable environment; night shifts, in spite of being incredibly entertaining, often make you lose faith in human kind.

The cynical sceptic in me would have triumphed if I had to work nights full-time. And she probably would write much better blog posts.

She would write stories about crazy people and drunk people. People that bring their partners to the same hotel they bring their lovers to. People who watch ‘Anal Debauchery – 5’ and then shyly ask to pay for the film in cash to save their company unnecessary expense.

She would write a story about a special couple, which once almost stayed at the hotel…

They were having drinks at the bar. Their friends had a room booked for the night, and they decided to book one too. It was long past midnight when the man approached reception. He left his credit card to make the booking, and returned to the bar. When it came to fill out and sig the registration card, however, he decided that he needs his wife’s help and brought her over from the bar. The wife stared at the piece of paper for a few minutes, evaluating if she was capable of writing her home address and email, and decided that she was not. Cockeyed from having fun and terrified of the symbols on the paper, she looked at the receptionist and pleaded: ‘I REALLY don’t want to stay here, I’m sorry! Can I please not stay here? I want to go home! I have so much underwear at home! Do you understand? I’m so so sorry!’ The receptionist nodded understandingly and said that there was no need to apologise, she absolutely understands. She cancelled the reservation, and thought to herself: ‘Why would anyone want to stay at a hotel, when they have so much underwear at home?’

Luckily, I don’t work night shifts very often, and I still believe in human kind.

I believe that people can create beautiful original things in every industry. That they can be fun and friendly without being fake and without a name tag. That they can learn their lines very well, but are capable of extraordinary improvisations. That they can turn an everyday object or experience into a spectacle. That they can treat their guests like human beings, not check-in and check-out material. That they can create a fascinating atmosphere of a theatre with experiences and ideas to be discovered and amused at…

With pretty much every hotel in town being slowly but steadily transformed from a place of entertainment and fun into an accommodation for a corporate traveller with a neat laptop bag and a garment carrier, some of us are starting to feel nostalgic about the times when boutique hotels were fun and vibrant. When the hotel employees felt like they were part of something great and original. But what’re you gonna do? Nothing personal, it’s just business.


New Era


It’s a new page, a new blog and a new me. I’ve been struggling with the old one for a while, not being able to produce anything worth writing or reading, and I couldn’t get my head around why. Working three jobs like an absolute donkey is a decent excuse, but I knew it wasn’t it – lack of time never stopped me from doing anything I believed in. When you gotta do it, you gotta do it – the shit cannot stay inside. The shit has to be spread and shared. The shit has to be out and talked about. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to write about – you all know my life has made a significant turn recently, and there was a lot I wanted to share, but I chose to share it privately. And it’s not that I didn’t have any ideas to develop either – trust me, there were plenty, but they never came to life. There were millions of scribbles in my diary, millions of unfinished paragraphs half-saved and then removed from my desktop. They were undercooked and they needed a different platform and a new context. The context – that was the problem, I think.

As you probably know, writing is crucial for me – or has become over the last few years. Perhaps it’s just my humble way of making sense of the world, or my way of sharing it with those that matter in my life. I never cared how many people read my blog – it’s not a business that brings money, it’s not an expression of vanity that brings fans, it’s not a need for exhibitionism that gets satisfaction from being exposed. It just is, because it has to be. Because I have to put it out there, because I need to exercise my mind and my typing skills perhaps. And because in order to understand and make sense of what’s happening in my life, in need to put it in words. Some of you might relate to it – this urge to put something on paper, or website, or canvas, or photograph… It’s almost like a sexual tension that has to come out one way or another. Sometimes it comes from a good place and has a beautiful, loving, all-embracing nature – but sometimes it comes from darkness, from pain, from grief and envy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any ambitions of making this a successful project advertising my writing skills or promoting myself as a troubled deep-thinking meditator, producing some kind of misunderstood non-commercial piece of art. That’s not what it’s about, and that’s not who I am. Hopefully, if you’re reading this you know this already. I don’t want to even begin to pretend that anything that happens to me is unique and incredibly interesting. No way. Sometimes perhaps it’s peculiar, sometimes it’s wonderful, but most importantly it’s real, and it makes me think, and it makes me ask myself and everyone else a lot of questions. Questioning reality, being curious about the world is probably one of, if not the only thing that makes us human. I wouldn’t mind being some other animal, like a snow leopard, but then my ways of making sense of reality would be different. I would mark my territory, I would observe things, I would hunt, and I don’t think I would ever ask questions… But I’m no snow leopard, I have questions and thoughts, and I can more or less type. So what the hell, let’s do this! This is about putting my thoughts out there, making them material and using them to make sense of everything. And hopefully, if I’m lucky, triggering something that you can laugh about, cry about, think about, or even better – relate to. It’s my mental and psychological exercise, a record of my life, that I’m making public. Because simply liking things and briefly commenting on pictures every now and then is not good enough for me. It’s too rapid, it’s too shallow, it doesn’t express half of what I actually want to say. I want my shit to be heard, or at least written. Because once it is, it’s really there and I can’t close my eyes on it. Once it’s there, my evasive ever-changing personality cannot just pretend it never happened and distort it. I will try to be as honest as I can, with myself and with you, and I will try to make it worth wasting your and my time on. This time, I will even try to provide the visuals, which I almost never did in my previous blog.

So here it is, the new beginning, the new page, the new revelations. The other story is finished and left to be covered with dust and moss, and perhaps an occasional tear. But it’s done, the door is shut on it, and I now open the new door. What’s behind it – I haven’t got the slightest idea. But as I discover it, I want you to discover it with me.  And the most important thing here is to remember that you’re in a new, unknown environment, and you would have never got here unless you walked through that other, old door. You bring all your luggage with you, but you leave the door and whatever it’s hiding behind. Perhaps, you’ve dropped and lost a few things along the way, but everything else it still here. Except it’s a new space. Seen through the new eyes on a brand new day.


On Parks And Grandparents


One of those rare Sundays I have off, and those rarer Sundays Sasha is working, and one of the rarest Sundays in November that’s truly sunny, I decided to put my dirt boots on and go off to wander around Golders Hill Park and Inverforth House, a beautiful Edwardian mansion with The Pergola, The Hill Garden and the reflection pool hidden behind it.

My boots are still bearing the dirt from Gower Peninsula, the surroundings of Salisbury Cathedral and the city of Bath, after our motorcycle adventure through Surrey, Wiltshire, Somerset and Southern Wales last summer. Having survived days of 100 mph on highways through blinding sun and pouring rain, the suede boots had to adopt a modest life of forest walks and after-dark weekend shopping. I feel that after carrying me through the most uncomfortable weather conditions and most beautiful sights of the United Kingdom, they deserve at least a little quality retirement time in the quiet of Golders Green.

Walking past the tennis courts and the deer enclosure in Golders Hill Park, I felt very nostalgic of the long gone summer. How many tennis games could have been played there? How many picnics could have been enjoyed under the cherry blossom? How many sunny mornings did I miss, hiding from the warm bedroom sun under a duvet, sleeping in? And how desperate for sunshine I am now, walking through muddy woods and mushy grass in mid-November, rushing to catch the last rays of sun before it sets at quarter to five…

Just like with new years resolutions (barely half of which I managed to accomplish this year), I decided to promise myself that next summer I wouldn’t waste a single sunny day on any indoor bullshit. That probably guarantees that I’ll only miss half of them.

Last time Sasha and I went to The Hill Gardens together, we met someone interesting. A stoned man in a T-shirt, tied above his belly button, swayed his hips past us, his harem trousers hanging too low. He had no coat on, and, wrapped in a hoodie and a wind-proof jacket, it made me shiver to look at him. He slowly walked around the garden, touching flowers and plants, and water in the pool as if he was an autumn forest nymph putting the earth to sleep before winter. I envied him in his oblivion. I especially envy him today, when the garden is full of yelling children, pensioners arguing about architecture and an astonishing amount of Russians. You see it’s hard to explain to other people that this is my secret garden and I would like to have it all to myself. For some reason they all decided to spend their Sunday not in front of the TV with popcorn and pizza, but in the park, running, talking, playing with their children, taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful weather. What a bizarre lot!

So I hid behind the last pages of ‘The Great Gatsby’ in a sunny corner by the reflection pool and read away, trying to pretend not to understand what the two Russian guys on a bench next to me were talking about.

When the book came to a rather tragic point, I found myself among elegantly dressed elderly Jewish couples and rosy-cheeked post-Sunday-lunch families. They continued into The Pergola, leaving me behind to enjoy the warmth of the last rays of sun, absorbing into my skin and my black winter coat. I close my eyes for a moment, and in the orange imprint of the sun on my eyelids, shining through the silhouettes of pine trees, I can visualize myself walking a park with my grandparents. Perhaps, it’s the appearance of F.S. Fitzgerald’s Mr Gatz, and the illusion of his son. Perhaps, it’s just the time of year when one thinks of the past and tries to make sense of it in the present.

My father’s parents, since I can remember, have always lived in the town of Pushkin (Tsarskoe Selo), 20 min drive from St.Petersburg. Back in the early 90-s when I was growing in the city, it was a popular place for well-off people to have a country house, as well as a getaway for retired people who wanted to live close to nature yet in a cultured environment. There were shops, theatres, museums and churches. My grandparents both retired rather young, and lived in a small carpeted flat on the 9th floor of a redbrick apartment block. Today this building seems rather insignificant, but then it seemed like a skyscraper to me. I spent first 6 years of my life in the wilderness of Far East of Russia, where there are Siberian tigers in the forests, and giant crabs in the sea. When it snowed there, you often had to dig your own way out of the house.  There weren’t many skyscrapers there.

When we permanently moved back to St.Petersburg, where I was born in 1986, I was rather wild. Not in a sense that I didn’t know how to use a fork and knife or that I picked my nose. My parents took my education very seriously, and although I might have been driven to my kindergarten in a military truck with neither seatbelts nor, in fact, a roof, and was fed bear due to deficiency of beef on the market – I was a very eager little pupil and a well-behaved girl. I mean wild quite literally. When we returned back to civilization in 1992, I would get extremely fascinated with most simple things one could imagine. Like rubbish bins. My mother still remembers with a bit of embarrassment, how I used to peek inside every bin we passed by.

Underground never stopped fascinating me. I still love its smell of tar and – unlike my husband with his wild imagination about other people’s skin and hair particles blowing in your face – even the tube wind. I feel that there is something very romantic, and even cinematic about it – it almost makes one want to move in slow motion as if in a black-and-white film…

We lived in central, historical part of St.Petersburg – Vasilyevsky Island, separated from the rest of the city by the Palace Bridge, leading to the Winter Palace (The Hermitage Museum), with its highlights in the St.Petersburg State University, former building of The Twelve Collegia, Kunstkamera museum, the two sphinxes on the University Embankment, the fire of the Rastral Columns – there was a lot for an 8-year-old girl to be fascinated by. We lived on the fourth floor of a beautiful but worn out 19-th century building with huge ceilings. Even that fourth floor then seemed to me miles away from earth. I was used to being close to the earth, and earth – not pavement! I think we even had chickens and grew our own potatoes at some point of our Far-East retreat. And here were paved streets of Classical and Baroque architecture, underground stations with mosaic and chandeliers, and of course most interesting bins!

My grandparents’ 9th floor seemed like the tallest building in the whole world, and I was terrified of going out onto the balcony on my own – the floor was slightly tilted and the bars were so few – I felt like I would just slip down and fall on top of the little ant-people down there. I am still mildly scared of heights – I can climb a tall tree, but it would take hours to get me to come down.

It wasn’t, however, a very interesting building and being so young I was very picky in my architectural tastes.  My grandparents lived only 10-15 min walk from the Catherine Park and the Summer Palace, the Lyceum, where Alexandr Pushkin studied, and the Alexander Palace with its English garden. Those places truly left me breathless. Since my parents were, of course, incredibly concerned about my health in the city, they encouraged my trips to visit grandparents and spend time outdoors in the parks. And I loved those trips!

My grandmother and I would mostly spend time together wandering around in the Catherine Park, feeding ducks and swans with bread in summer and squirrels with sunflower seeds in winter. Wild squirrels with luxurious tails! In summer we would sometimes swim or go rent a little boat. She would tell me about her life, about the times when my father was little, about how different everything was now, and how she wished she could undo some things. As I started growing up, she would also teach me about every new health and beauty trend there was – cleansing diets and the good of sauna, eye gymnastics, honey-based food supplements, using green tea as a skin tonic, cold showers, even basic acupuncture. If I went for a walk in the park with her today, she would probably tell me about the dangers of gluten.

That could explain why by the age of 19 I was running every other day and survived mostly on fat-free yoghurt, rye bread and whole oatmeal, vegetables, smoked salmon and boiled chicken breast. I refused butter, sugar, fried or processed food, and I was nearly obsessed with exercise. That, perhaps, was a little extreme, but I still retain some of the healthy habits and beauty tricks I learned from my grandmother. For a very brief period of my life, and never too often, but only every now and then, I probably had a perfect granddaughter-grandmother relationship. We never really got close enough to be friends, I never thought of asking for her wise advice, and never felt like sharing something very personal with her, but my grandmother must have played a rather important role in my life, by teaching me to love and indulge in nature and take care of my own body. It’s just the emotional barrier, and the differences in values and beliefs that we never managed to overcome.

My grandfather, on the other hand, has always been a mystery figure to me. His attitude towards other people, his harshness and strange sense of humour, his golden teeth and thick, long, well-carved fingers, and his strange way of speaking in broken sentences – confused me as a child. I think I might have even been a little scared of him, because my grandmother was. It was quite clear that he was the boss, and she did everything possible to please him. I think it must have been very strange to me to see such a clear division of power in a family, since the relationship between my parents seemed much more equal and modern. I always felt awkward talking to him, and sometimes couldn’t quite understand what he was saying. So we didn’t talk very much.

A significant development in our grandchild-grandparents history happened when I was about 6. We were sitting on a sofa together, and my grandfather suddenly told me he was too young to be called a grandfather. That from now on I had to call him by his first name, Vova (Vladimir). It seemed strange and unfair to be calling him Vova and continue calling my grandmother Grandma. So grandmother became Galya. Galya and Vova.

One moment I remember clearly is when Vova asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I can’t remember what I replied, but most likely I wanted to be a dancer at that age. He told me that it was silly, and that I should become an interpreter and take him to America.

The walks in the park, when the whole family would gather, were always very nice. Picnics with Galya’s blini, hot tea and my mom’s warm sandwiches. I think I was even allowed a glass of ‘Sovetskoe’ champagne a couple of times. After a long walk, when we came back home, everyone would go for a nap, and I would feel incredibly bored with being by myself after just seeing the most beautiful winter forest and the arches of the Cameron Gallery.

We haven’t gone for walks in the park for many years now. Occasionally, I see my grandparents at my parents’ datcha, 100 km from St.Petersburg, when I come to visit. It feels like a burden to spend time with them, because they don’t know much about my life now, and we never talk or write to each other. There should really be a lot to talk about when we only see each other once a year, but there isn’t. We don’t really know each other as grown-ups, and we seem to speak different languages.

It feels warm to think about them now though. About them when they were younger and happier, and when Galya was very proud when people thought she was my mother, that’s how young she looked. And when she would get tipsy from one glass of sweet red wine and make a toast to love – that’s the only toast she ever makes.

Perhaps it even isn’t a coincidence that I have now become so passionate about translating work.

Perhaps, our minds at a certain stage, as they continue to explore and be amazed, start to digest and interpret all they have soaked up. Sometimes what you need it to place them in the right environment – like this one, by the pool reflecting the cool rays of setting November sun, on a bench devoted to someone’s grandmother.