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Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Durrell Brothers and Mother's Cherry Jam: The Benefits of Growing Up in a Culture where the Nerds Bully the Dummies

3 chapters of my true story

Chapter 1. Childhood years. My Family and Other Livestock. A Gerald-esque Burlesque.

When you are a weirdo kid:

- growing up with teacher mother, engineer father, and the coolest big brother who has a motorcycle and his own sci-fi and war book collection;

- when you live in a house where the guest bedroom is in fact the library room, on a handkerchief-sized farm in a picturesque village,




Not my street, but pretty much like it...

before Mama's friend/my first lit and drama teacher/our neighbor made a big Noel Coward-worthy reality-show dramedy

out of neighbor Katz's goats eating her roses.

Fruit didn't linger either as I resided at No. 17, Sports Street, near the stadium,

and kids going to PE class were worse than the goats when it came to edible stuff.

I also chose the prettiest picture, because when I say "picturesque", I mean "shabby but cute".

- when your family prefers reading to television,

- so you make them teach you the alphabet when you are two going on three,

- as they are all engrossed in Around the World Magazine/ a freshly bought Dumas-father novel / the new Asimov from the World of Science-Fiction subscription,

and you are bored out of your wits and angry because you are the only one left out,

- so you nag every one, pulling their hair and poking their faces with your fingers, and asking about letters,

with approximately this kind of dialogue:

- Vadeeeeeeem, what letter is this?
- Get lost!
- Maaaaama, what letter is this?
- Sorry, baby, I have to go check on the pie. No, don't follow me... OK, but please don't touch the hot oven again!
- I remember. Paaaaapaaaa! What letter is this?
- A, Button. This is "A".

- then you take Papa's discarded newspapers, and find all the A's you can possibly spot,

- thus learning to read like the adults, with your eyes, not with your voice, at the age of 3,


so the influence of classics is kinda understandable, but does not fill your entire day, because sometimes...

-  they make you put down Oliver Twist and go feed the pigs - which, as a rule, were given very racist names like Boris or Moishe, but hey, they did not teach political correctness

- when your parents were simple Soviet students, then intelligentsia who could afford to spend half their income on books,

- then farmers with electrical engineer and geography teacher day jobs, trying to keep their children's lives as normal as possible as the Evil Empire was crumbling around them when they just hit the most beautiful stage of life - their forties;

- but you, in your blessed childhood, hurried to grow up and finally understand what Hamlet and Eugene Onegin were about,

- so you never paused to reflect on news about people dying of hunger in a newly born European capital in 1991,

- you just wondered why Papa is buying so much salt and grits, and why Mama stopped smiling and singing while she cooks,

- but your main concern was the science of onomatology - why the entire village gives animals human names?

Like, in sixth grade, I had almost been gored to death by a one-horned mad cow named Martha, which gave me a cow-o-phobia, a taste for steak and a dislike for Martha Stewart's name in my adulthood;

- anyway, you are angry, because as Mama and Papa have their siesta, you have to go comb the pastures around the village and locate the yearling calf who went for a walk, instead of writing down the poem you came up with as you were listening to Bon Jovi on Papa's car stereo;

- you get snark from your big brother:

Me (enthusiastic): Oh, I am so tired - I have been reading Thomas Mayne Reid all weekend! I finished The Headless Horseman: A Strange Story of Texas in two days!
My brother (sarcastic): Oh, and I am so tired - I have been working with Father all weekend! I finished plowing the potato patch in two days!
Mama (angry): Get off your butt and do the dishes, Nastassja! And I want the kitchen floor reflecting light like the surface of the Moon!
Papa (authoritatively): Let the girl read! Wife, you do the dishes. Vadim, go feed the dogs. I am going to bed and I don't want to hear a sound, nary a fly-buzz!

- needless to say, you are Papa's girl,

- and you read, and read, and school-homework-self-taught-English-class-read-read-read....

- time passes...

- you are:

- writing your big brother letters and telling him you were waiting for him to come home so you could go mushroom-gathering together,

- and crying when the goats ate the first pages of your teach-yourself-English-textbook,

- then, finally, your big brother is back home for his summer break from the radio electronics college,

- with a report card that is full of "good" and "excellent" marks except a disgraceful 2 out of 5 for Russian literature and "does not care for classics" note from his teacher,

- then he enlists in the army,

- and Mama starts dying her reddish-brown hair with henna, because it's Transnistria war time, and she has a son in the army, so she's getting her first gray hairs,

- but your resourceful Papa pulls strings to get him into a radio comm military unit that never left the capital during the hostilities,

- and keeps his superiors in brandy and his entire platoon in goodies from the farm, because our soldiers at the time ate no better than the Confederate warriors by late 1864,

- while my brother and his army buddies ate well, had enough stamina for drills, played guitar in their off hours, anticipating the food Papa brought them every Saturday and being especially grateful for an old leathery and totally inedible he-goat named Pirate,

- who was butchered, then Papa designed and built a little smoke house, and smoked Pirate,

- because, although Papa charged money every time Pirate was dispatched to make little kids with the village goats, there were few mini-farmers with goats in the community at the time, so Pirate's goaty services were not worth the fodder he ate,

- and you bawled when Papa decided my brother and his fellow G.I.s needed protein, because it was kinda fun watching Pirate chase Mama around the goat shed and clash with Papa in that wrestling match they fought for the entertainment of the entire village after a certain Easter Sunday and one red wine glass too many,

- still, Mama and you were afraid of him like of the devil, because, well, he looked pretty much like this:


Almost perfect Pirate doppelganger


- and the villagers called your Papa bourgeois and kulak, because he was the first community member to buy a bunch of livestock for peanuts and to privatize a chunk of land after the collective farms had been disbanded,

- then eagerly followed his example as they gossiped about us harvesting the best crops and slaughtering Boris Pig the First for Christmas,

- then, years later, the community wanted to make my Papa mayor, but he refused the nomination,

- because he got his dream job - his heart's desire was to switch from electrical to civil engineering - and as I passed from village school to city lyceum, he started building beautiful houses in the capital for his brother-in-law's firm,

- still keeping the land but getting rid of the livestock i.e. transferring it to the freezers,

- anyway, back to you - you are:

- baking merengue - disaster, and invite your 6th grade classmates for your birthday, and they bring a buttload of books, because

- in every Soviet home, there were lots of books, but little money,

- then you are 11 going on a coming-of-age year,

- and you help Mama cook for your brother welcome-home-from-the-army party, and you cry with her, too, and feel like a grown woman,

- then get photographed sitting on your brother's coming-of-age birthday gift - a brand new red Java motorcycle,

- then get ignored by him as he romps around the district on his new ride with his new girlfriend,

- whom you call "Caterpillar" to his (but not her) face,

- and you are miffed because he was supposed to skip his date and drive you to the lake with a bag of freshly picked apricots, your BFF, and The Wizard of Oz;

- but nevertheless spend hours gathering tiny wild strawberries in Papa's little arbor, then washing them carefully in the bathroom sink - with soap! - so that your brother would "take a gift to Caterpillar from her future sister-in-law",

- tear leaves holding actual fat hairy caterpillars off tree branches, then shove them under your brother's nose, saying "Here's your date, just put her in your pocket and take me and Tanya to the lake!"

- make a fool out of yourself as you sing bawdy remakes of popular songs you just invented about your brother's ex who was "light like a little swallow weighing 80 kilograms, I hope Caterpillar is slimmer",

- then it is fall, and it's wine-making season aka Papa's favorite time of the year,

- and the courtyard is full of freshly harvested grapes, vegetables, fruit, corn, and freshly canned preserves,

- and your Mama is hectic, because she hates alcohol and alcohol-drinkers, even one-glass-of-red-per-day people like Papa,

- and it is also back-to-school time, and she teaches geography nine hours per day every day,

- so the house is a mess, and it's your job to clean up, but you don't care because you are having more fun with your new school books and with your brother who is at home - hooray!

- and you both engage in highly enjoyable war games, as you tease him and throw tomatoes at him off the porch, and he sits near the garage wall, husks corn, and throws husks at you,

- so when Mama is back home from school, the house still looks like it was devastated by Vikings, the porch and part of kitchen are full of corn husks, the garage wall is red with tomato pulp, her progeny is too busy even to say "Hello Mama", but

- she only shakes her head wisely, says: "I think both my children are changelings", while you remember you have urgent homework business,

- and your brother just keeps on husking corn and talking to Mama like nothing happened, as she proceeds to marinating the tomatoes you didn't get to use as ammo, because he is her special boy, just like you are Papa's girl,

- then finally get to meet Caterpillar

- as your brother brings her to the dreaded meet-the-parents event,

 - and if the readers get the idea re: Mama, Papa and the Princess of Nerds, they can imagine the magnitude of her dread before entering the Stratus clan's domain. It's like Caterpillar being invited to dine with a nestful of insectivore birds...

I remember her - a pretty 20-year-old, dark eyes, jet-black hair, snow-white skin, tall, slender, blushing and uncomfortable in her too-big dark-purple dress. Butterfly in the making.

I am only joking about birds, of course - we were quite hospitable.

In fact, we are quite the regular family, with the occasional huge fight, like the one I witnessed on my vacation when I flew home from Moscow in 2003, and confined myself to my old school girl bedroom and single bed early, and tried not to listen to my parents row, and it happened on Papa's birthday which is January 19 i.e. Christ's baptism and a great Christian Orthodox holiday when you are supposed to celebrate peace and togetherness... I cried like a baby although I was an adult and an adulteress by then... my parents made up, but to me that day was the point when I realized with my entire being that marriage vows are sacred. Like, seriously. Which is why I am now a spinster.

But we are very civil. And diplomatic. And nice to people. And we do have Dale Carnegie in that guest-bedroom-library-room. And we are also a bit hypocrite, I guess, so outsiders think we're a poster family. Caterpillar liked us, too.

I kissed her French-style on both cheeks and asked her if she liked the wild strawberries, and apologized for the soap flavor as I just wanted to make sure to scour all the dirt off them.

Mother was smiling benignly if a bit haughtily - the Geographess knew Sveta since her school years, and she was a very good student.

It's just my Mama, may she live a hundred years and more, can kill flying mosquitoes  with her green stare, and it's not her fault she appears a bit cold - the truth is, she is the most selfless woman I know.

Papa just said: "Ah, I know your father - very good farmer. Glass of wine?"

My Papa, may he live a hundred years and more, was never one for reputations and recommendations. If his potential daughter-in-law's parents work hard - that is all he needs to know. If his a daughter likes a boy - that means the boy is good and Papa likes him by default. But if either one steps out of line - like making his precious daughter cry or promising twelve geese for my brother's wedding feast but providing only six - there's practically no way to redemption. It would take real hard work to get back in Papa's good books, really. I'll have you know that none of my boyfriends managed that.

As for my sister-in-law, I grew to love and respect the woman who, twenty years later, is not ashamed to say "I am crazy about your brother" over Skype, is getting her third college diploma as certified nurse, fulfilling a lifelong dream of a medical career, and making me kinda jealous. I mean, I paused my formal education at 22 and Sveta is firing on all cylinders, studying anatomy and nerves and bones and crap at 41. She is also a licensed agronomy specialist and certified kindergarten educator. She traveled home from Spain to get her first degree after ten years of sabbaticals and two children. Her two other diplomas come from Cantabria colleges as they moved to Spain in 2003.

She also worked her butt off waiting tables during the crisis years in Spain when my brother lost his company and was virtually unemployed for several years, supported a family of four with a mortgage, two car loans and a cat, and never stopped being a student at that.

She also kept her natural optimism that still allows her to make puns about pilots entering your butt crack while still in their planes, based on the similarity of the Romanian words for "pilots" and "panties".

The fact that she is the mother of my wonderful nephew and my gorgeous niece, does not need metaphors to enhance its value.

Weirdly enough, I was the last to accept her as a true member of the Stratus clan. Maybe it's because I was too young to realize my brother would never pick an ordinary woman for wedded wife, even if she and her hardworking non-egghead parents appeared quite ordinary at first.

Maybe I was too busy wrinkling my nose at her love for loud gold bling jewelry to notice that she herself was pure gold... and despite being interested in genetics since 11th grade, I realized only recently that our genes alone couldn't ensure the niece and nephew I have.

Hell, I guess my nephew and niece would have been total degenerates if my brother had picked a cynical elitist like his sister... or a woman like his mother who to this day manages to look like a strikingly beautiful, elegantly tired duchess-in-exile even when she's milking the seventh goat in a row, and acts like said duchess entering a public toilet by mistake every time she doesn't like something. But no, my brother, the only person in existence who shares my blood to 100%, mated for life with the salt of the land. Kudos for that.

Well, my sister-in-law is even less of an angel than us Stratu women. When she was a young mother staying at home, longing for halls of learning and disco nights, she never bothered to control her temper... like, when angry with me leaving dirty dishes after my lunch and my brother committing some unfathomable blunder - I say "unfathomable" because my brother is perfect in every way! - she used to call us "blond moths" with all the condescending airs of a fiery brunette.

But she is loyal and loving, and that's all Mama needed to know. She's hardworking - and Papa needed no other argument. I am writing all this about her... which means I came around, too.

She drilled her children into total discipline - that apartment in Hoznayo is spotless, from rafters to my nephew's hard disk. She has a gadget she calls her "kitchen robot" that ensures three healthy meals a day with minimum work. She remains very attractive and young at 41. And she's my kinda girl when it comes to crackups.


Sveta and Skeleta. Good luck on those finals next week!




Anyway, back to blessed childhood, when

- Mama makes you pit cherries because she's making jam preserves today, and you are so hooked on My Family and Other Animals, you try to read and work simultaneously,

- and your copy is stained blood-red looking like the neighbor butcher finally fulfilled your wish and did in the trice-damned yearling calf on top of those pages;

- then Mama comes over to relieve you, and takes over the pitting,

- and you both sit in the shade of the cherry trees, and you read to her aloud about Larry, Margo, Leslie, Jerry and Mother, and you both laugh so hard you start hiccuping, and you need to run and fetch some water;

- you have to weed the starwort flowerbeds and you proudly think of yourself as the new Scarlett O'Hara as you contemplate your first-ever manicure literally Gone with the Wind and dwell on early childhood memories when your Papa used to call your hands "aristocratic";

- then you sell starworts at the flower market in the city, making money for your back-to-school supplies but spending half of it on chocolate, hot-dogs and little gifts to the skinny hobo old lady who reminds you of your Grandma;

- you reflect on whether it is time to reread King Lear again, as you make three-tulips bouquets, because

- it's the eve of March 8th, International Women's Day, and the greenhouse now contains several thousand tulips - we also used to grow carnations, roses, and chrysanthemums in the first post-Soviet years when my Papa did us all proud as a florist...

- the flowers needing to be picked, wiped clean, packaged in little three- and five-tulip cellophane cones, put in buckets with water, loaded into Papa's car and sold at the flower market in the city... which is the adults' job,

- for which purpose all the aunties, cousins, and in-laws from all over the country come over to help, and to you it's all a big party,

- but you do your best to help and bother everyone with your book talk;

- and you bawl with indignation when Mama scoffs at the expensive roses Papa has just bought and presented her with, and says, "What, are you kidding me? Like you didn't give me enough flowers for a lifetime?"

- and you think about trying to make her accept the roses, except that she's no rookie - she smiles somewhat caustically, carefully arranges the roses in a crystal vase, then goes to bed before she gets to see Papa getting a bit too merry with International Women's Day wine,

- while you sell tulips to the villagers who get about three times merrier than Papa and remember it's their wives' day by 8 PM on March 8th, but the adults are asleep or having a drink, too, so it's your job to serve those customers,

- then retell Grandma the story about the antics of your three-month old niece, and about your sister-in-law managing to serve lunch for the entire gang by cooking a huge pot of lamb in Bechamel sauce, the memory of which I prefer to embellish and call Bechamel, but,

 - as a matter of fact, everyone got a scrap of meat and a huge bowl of soup-like hot cream-flour-onion-carrot gravy, which is actually much better than fancy-shmancy bechamels on a cold snowy March day...

and back to your blessed childhood again, when you read, and read, and read, and it's summer again, and

- you finally make some friends in the village and spend less time with The Count of Monte-Cristo and more time with them playing dodgeball,

- and may the goats fall where they may, because it's very hot and you're supposed to bring buckets of water to the pasture and give the poor devils a drink,

- but you just run away from home

- as Mama is about to wring the neck of that scary rooster who attacks you every time you try to collect eggs from the coop, and you anticipate the soup and you getting the second drumstick for a change if your brother will opt for the breast,

- but you can't stand being near the "scene of crime" anyway, although you consider yourself pretty tough after your brother had recommended that In the Enemy's Rear book about World War II, and you had managed to read a whole chapter;

- and then it's your brother's wedding, and Caterpillar looks glum, because she wants to go to university, not be married, but her swan-plumage-and-lace-trimmed gown is lovely, and Mama just gave her a pair of white stockings with little golden swans embroidered in Lurex by the ankles,

- or maybe because the cows just broke into the neighbor's green corn field, and ate too much, and in this case the stuff starts fermenting and bubbling inside the cow,

- hence the cow needs exercise in order to, pardon me, work up a sweat and poop it all out,

- as an exploding cow is a) not fantasy, but reality and b) not a pretty reality either, trust me, so

- so her bridegroom spends the morning of their big day with a stick at the stadium, chasing the cow around the perimeter, and the cow runs and poops, runs and poops, and you think, this is O. Henry, or rather, Ouch. Henry material,

- as you help him with the second cow, but you are only thirteen and don't have your brother's strength - and you still like cows because Martha the One-Horned Mad Cow and  your own bleeding derriere will happen only next year,

- so you desist, and go home to change into a daring bright-yellow pinafore dress you had made with your own bare hands out of a two-piece into which Mama could no longer fit...

- then you go with the wedding party to the village civil registry office where they officially become Vadim and Svetlana Stratu. It is July 30, 1994.

It's scorching hot, and you have to run back home with your tongue lolling out, because according to our wedding traditions,

- when children run out of their homes with buckets of water and pour it in the street as the bride and groom walk to their the wedding feast, which symbolizes fertility and prosperity, the groom is supposed to throw them money,

- and your brother has bupkes in his pockets, because he had to play personal trainer to the cows that morning, which left him kinda unprepared for his marriage ceremony,

- and you have to dash home, distract Mama from hectically putting the last touches on the wedding feast in a huge marquee built of colorful handmade rugs collected literally from all over the country,

- and ask her where you could find some change - you see, b

- then dash back, and see your brother throwing coins as he already borrowed some from his chums, but you give him your change anyway, because you have a whole lotta children in the mahala (neighborhood);

- then cue actual wedding with food, drink, your cousin Valerius and his band playing so energetically, their instruments emit sparks and they only pause once to grab a bite and toast the newlyweds,

- and you dancing the Lambada with one of your brother's army chums and your brother's new brother-in-law, who is tall and huge and ungainly and totally uninteresting because he's awfully old - 25 or so,

- but still, Mama finds it appropriate to lecture you next morning about how a young lady of your upbringing should behave in the company of men, and scolds you about your skirt flying up during my Lambada,

... and today I am grateful she never went clubbing with me in my student years, and never saw me going wild in army pants and midriff-baring top, fueled by nothing but mineral water, and dancing quite exuberantly to Prodigy hits... at around 8 PM when the dance floor is still empty and the DJ chooses Firestarter as the night-opening song...

- then you spend the next three days bonding with your new sister and washing dishes, which must be returned to their owners all over the village,

- and your newlywed brother returns to tending to the still-sick cows,

- this pastime being known as regular honeymoon after a regular Moldovan village wedding,

- not to be taken for the proverbial Russian wedding where people drink a lot of vodka and beat each other bloody in a cheap restaurant,

- No, sir, our wedding feast was home-cooked by a bunch of village matrons supervised by my Aunties Tatiana and Valentina. Our drunks got merry on red wine and fell asleep peacefully beneath the neighbor's rose bushes spared by Katz's goats.

There wasn't a single conflict except the popular "steal the bride and return her for money" wedding game, usually played by the groom's still-single chums. Except that my brother did not rush to find his bride - or pay for her, for that matter. He just sat down to grab a bite and a drink, saying, "She's bound to return to me sooner or later", then deigned them a little effort, pretending to want to take his motorcycle out and go search for the bride, after which she emerged, still grumpy, from a minivan where she was hiding all the time.

Well, we may speak perfect Russian, but that was a classical Moldovan village wedding. A hallmark of a good village wedding is how much the community gossips about the family afterwards. To tell you the truth, they are actually still doing it. Except that now the subject is me and my spinsterhood.




... and then winter is coming....



- and you read, read, read....

- then, in spring, you want to reread Thorn Birds for the thousandth time and fantasize about moving to L.A. and meeting the Saved by the Bell cast, but you can't indulge in all this,

- because it's lyceum admission exams time and you have to study advanced Romanian grammar and make a presentation on The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon in French without actually having read the series in original, although you enjoyed the Russian translation immensely...

... then, SUDDENLY, you are a straight-A student in an educational institution so hooked up on quality, they call it lyceum rather than high school, and

Chapter 2. The Kishinev Quartet. A Larry-worthy Dramedy.

You are 15, and the influence of the classics is kinda unavoidable, and very annoying, because they make you...

- move to the big city, which is super, and you now get pocket money, too! 

- except that you're a country girl and need a month to learn enough about commuting to afford sleeping a little more in the morning - you hate to wake up 30 minutes earlier, just in case you get lost in the park between bus stop and school again, or boys start flirting with you on the bus again, and the fact confuses you and makes you blush again, so you get off at the wrong station again,

- read utterly useless stuff like The Divine Comedy,

- memorize utterly useless stuff like Wordsworth, whose "host of golden daffodils" still haunts you decades later,

- write critical analysis essays on utterly useless stuff like Gargantua and Pantagruel, Luciferand the life of Arthur Rimbaud,

- listen to condescending but prophetic B.S. advice - "by the age of thirty, you will realize this stuff is immensely cool, dear",

spend Saturday mornings at your math professor's, who's tutoring you and your new BFF in integral calculus,

- and you are a Queen of Nerds in the making, so you get to love it;

- plus, it gives you reason to draw caricatures of Professor Maria yelling "WROOONG!" next to every equation you have trouble solving,

so

... you consider it all a second-level priority, because you are sixteen, it is the dawn of the Internet era, and you are busy:

- getting acquainted with the city,




- writing Harlequin-style novels in 48-sheet notebooks, decorated with stylish inscriptions like "ftp.anastasia.mda" and "nasta@www.com", and you have no idea what that means, but it's related to The Internet - hence cool by default,

- "publishing" a humorous "newspaper" (hand-written jokes and caricatures) titled "Enough To Make A Chicken Laugh",

- then selling it for actual money that buy you and your friends lots of pie feasts in the lobby buffet;

- then becoming an instant celebrity as Vicky and Christina were in Barcelona sent to the principal's office because they brayed so hard, they disrupted French class,

- all because of my creation - a dreadful caricature of Brad Pitt sitting on a hillock among goats and shaking, with the caption, Seven Years in Auld Cuntsvillage, which sounds 100 times funnier in Romanian Moldovan dialect,

- you also had caricatures of all the stars you saw on MTV in 1997:

- Madonna - Don't Cry For Me Argentina
- Notorious BIG - I'll be Missing You - I remember it was a grave, cross, and a noir joke on top of it all,
- etc. - I need to redraw them all and scan them....



- popularizing the last album you're crazy about in the lyceum corridors...

Well, back then, MTV was all we had, especially me, who could watch TV only after my brother, my sister-in-law and my little niece went to the country or my cousin went clubbing. You see, my brother and Co. chaperoned me and my cousin Ghena for three years - my lyceum and Cous's first three university years.

We all lived in a yellow submari... er, I mean, in a large three-bedroom apartment Cous received as his admission-to-university gift from his father aka my uncle aka my Papa's brother-in-law and boss.

Quite the merry family - when we moved in, my brother and his wife were 23. Cous was 17 - and that relationship of mine is a whole novel-worthy bunch of stories. My niece was 1. I was 14 going on seriously adult, or so I thought... and I was the only one with true passion for music and without a TV set in my room... so, as soon as they were clearing out, it was MTV bliss with this video and Massive Attack as my great teenage musical love:

Anyway, back to the things you're busy with if you're a teenage me:

- scouting the shops and flea markets for space-cadet gear, Diesel denim, suede jackets, acid orange tops, acid-green eye-shadow, and acid-red hair highlighter,

- because you are into rave music but not totally stupid to spend your allowance on drugs,

- and are in general a fashionista, not a junkie-in-the-making,

- writing crazy-ass vers-libre poetry paradoxically titled The Yellow Rhymes, while not bothering about trifles like rhyme at all,

- sharing news from cultural anthropology magazines with friends,

- helping with homework a cute boy... 

---- who preferred a non-nerd teenage vodka drinker to the fabulous you, but no regrets there,
----- because even if you liked him -

well, back then I thought he was the love of my life and cried in the bathroom as he was dancing and making out with his drunk girlfriend at the Valentine's Day school dance.

----- you never cared for absence of common interests and subconsciously looked down on him, which is never a good sign for any relationship, let alone true love;

----- here's a picture salvaged and posted on Facebook a couple of years ago:

----- check out the two kids on the right. Your romantic interest is the one in black and you are the one in white,

----- Professor Tamara is smiling,

but just dare to ad-lib off a blank page a non-written-at-home essay on who would you like to be in the history of France. Dare yakking about wanting to be a feminist politician in the Middle Ages at the court of King Philip the Fair and Chamberlain de Marigny. You'll get 8 out of 10 for sheer nerve and good French, but will never forget that withering glance of your favorite professeure and the general WTF? reaction of your classmates,

----- and your new best friend Lilia is holding your hand protectively, because she knows everything about it and knows what to say, because she, for her turn, was disillusioned by a bad-boy straight-D student already,

Presently, Lilia is a lawyer with the European Commission. We talked in Facebook chat a couple of weeks ago, and I teared up when I heard she divorced her Frenchman husband a year ago - we had so much fun at their wedding in 2007!

Yeah, didn't misread. Fun at a wedding - AGAIN! Well, when necessary, I can scoff, just like every self-respecting halfhearted feminist, and pretend I hate weddings... weddings are boring... yadda-yadda... in fact, they are fun. You get to eat and drink good stuff, take note of the newest evening wear styles, dance your butt off, and get to flirt with the groom's single friends.

And as you will read on about my Cupid/whoremonger "career" that covered my needs for Internet, cell phone, denim mini dresses and midriff-baring tops in my student years - 1998-2002, you will understand why I had a lot of weddings in my life. You will also learn about my bad romantic karma and my array of starry a-hole boyfriends, and see why I am more than happy to be always the bridesmaid and never the bride.


French Literature. Class of 1995. RIP Professor Tamara - now, that was one great lady worthy of her own couple of chapters in my true story!
You are also busy with:

- discovering Henry Miller;
- daydreaming about a certain Economics freshman who happens to be:

---- your Cous's friend,
---- a doppelganger of Joel West, your favorite male model,
---- looking a little like your then-favorite pop star Darren Hayes, too,

who is

---- obviously taken with you, too,
---- staying up all night with you in the kitchen after your Cous's big 19th birthday bash,

------- because your Highness is almost seventeen and deemed mature enough to be allowed to grace with your presence the entire duration of the ball,

 - it will take you six more months to be allowed to go to the M.A.L.S. club, Anastasia, so please be patient,

------- and not to be whisked away at 11 PM - hell, even Cinderella got to stay till midnight! - to spend the night on the couch at cousin Radu's place because

------- Mama and Papa are afraid merry partying students will breathe scotch fumes in the direction of their precious flower,

------- not to mention the unthinkable - that they might actually flirt with your Highness,

---- but you are seventeen, and you are officially allowed to sit in the kitchen with Drew at dawn,
---- and you enjoy to the max this after-party
---- over delicious coffee and talk about music and clubs and deejaying techniques,
---- which makes you believe love at first sight does exist...

By the end of that blessed year, as my baccalaureate finals juggernaut-ed their way into my life, I also learned the art of procrastination by finally discovering the joy of sharing pastimes with my niece.

I also showed signs of growing up as I regretfully realized that she is no longer the adorable toddler who used to sit at my door and watch me do my homework while I ignored her for the sake of freaking Corneille-Racine-Moliere trio. I also regret being irate at her and yelling my head off when coming home to find baby pictures in my literary critique essays notebook...

On the eve of my finals, I played with her all evening, then we sat down to watch Tom and Jerry. That is one treasured memory of mine, and I am glad I did not ignore her plea to play with her, and did not waste my time:

... with obscure poets like Nicolae Labish who screwed up my entire baccalaureate GPA...

... as his Death of the Deer was my subject for the Romanian lit written final and got me only 7.5 out of 10, which could seem tragic if it weren't so funny. I bawled and stomped my feet. Mama was so distraught by the event and by my reaction, she did not even give me the usual grade hell...

I mean hell of the kind Mama  gave me every time I got any other grade but between 9.0 and 10.0. On a very special May 1998 weekend, as she came over to spend time in the city with us, she spent a couple of hours lecturing me and berating me and shaming me for my 8.5 philosophy grade... I explained hysterically that I did not get along with Professor Nina because she was stupid and who was Professor Nina to argue with me if she has never even read Freud! The fact that Professor Nina also taught Economics and gave me 9.0 for that subject, seemed irrelevant to Mama. Finally, I retired to my room and spend the rest of the weekend crying at the injustice of the world and putting more Backstreet Boys posters on my walls, already so plastered with famous faces the blue forget-me-nots on my walls were literally invisible beyond Jakob Dylan, Savage Garden, Blur and Oasis...

That is also a treasured memory. My mother pushed me so hard not because she hated me - in fact, she loves me more every day because she regrets her educational techniques so much... Her adage nowadays is, If we let you be a kid instead of pushing you to learn and filling your head with all that junk, you'd probably be happy today. You see, she thinks I'm unhappy, and no matter how hard I try to explain that I am happier with every new bit of learning even now that I am about to hit 34. I am trying to explain I would learn anyway, because I loved it ever since I turned three and discovered the last letter in Papa's old newspapers, and it clicked... 

I am trying to remind her she never once had to bother about my homework, that my learning was always behind the closed door of my room, and after one or two attempts to ask Papa to help me with math, I gave up. First, he used advanced algebra to help me solve a trucks-driving-bricks-from-point-A-to-point-B problem, by which he gave me the math bug. But my classmates were puzzled when, as usual, they tried to copy my homework, and the math teacher laughed and said, well, good for your Dad, but if you are so enthusiastic, I will tutor you... She was my mother's colleague, a 60-year-old single lady whose name was Natalia Zmeu (Romanian for dragon). And my relationship with that particular Dragon Queen... well, plug in and stay tuned!

Papa never knew for sure in what grade I am... he  thought I'm in fifth when I was in seventh, and in 2002, when I told him I'm about to graduate from the Academy of Economic Studies, he said, "What, already? I thought you were in your third year!"

I am trying to tell her how grateful I am now that my Christ's age (a serious passage rite for 33-year-old people in our culture) is coming to an end,  and I am perfectly OK, even after four burnouts, four failed serious relationships, and four career lines in my portfolio.

 She wanted me to be more than a school-teacher/milkmaid. She was also a great beauty, my duchess in exile lost among cows, goats and my father's never-ending household-facility-building projects... and she gave me enough of it for me to consider myself pretty, although I am far from being the traffic-stopper she still is at 61.

 To Mama's credit, when she heard about my 7.5 Romanian lit grade, she never said a word of criticism. She only told me to stop crying because I was a big girl already. We talked and decided I should exercise my right to dispute my grade within 24 hours. So I went to see the Ministry witch and heard this: "your essay was very creative, dear, and I would give you 10 for that thing alone, but you did not entirely meet the Ministry-approved guidelines for the essay structure, so I cannot change your grade"...

I was grateful, though, to French eggheads like Emil Cioran and Boris Vian, who got me 10 out of 10 for the French written and lit oral finals, and to my math Professor Maria, who drilled me so well I scored 10 out of 10 for my math final. I don't even remember what the fifth exam was without getting off my butt and searching for my baccalaureate diploma in my documents drawer. Which shows how stupid I was by preferring homework to playing with my niece...

Wait, it was history, both of the world and of homeland. I got 8 out of 10, but that one got us irate rather than weepy. WTF? People copied like crazy at that exam, because the Ministry commission witch happened to have a kid at our lyceum, so she was lenient. I didn't because - stupid me again! - I did not bring my books. Well, I borrowed one, but I only peeked at 16th-17th century Romanian culture, because that crap is unlearnable... but I had to return the book to my classmate who could not do without it, while I could.

And they all get 10 when I get 8, go figure. But the anger was only in my head. In the litigation with the Ministry wizard, I was every bit the Anastasia Demetra Duchevski-Stratu I am known as nowadays. I used my father's negotiation tricks - Papa is such a good bargainer, I think we have a drop of Turkish blood, which is totally possible as the Romanian Principalities were under the Ottoman Empire's yoke for 300 years. And as I also inherited my mother's natural flair for diplomacy, with half an hour of cultured conversation, I had my 8 transformed into a 9.

Of my lyceum years, I remember enough yadda-yadda to show what a clever ass I am. But the truth is that now when I am older and wiser, I normally put that kind of stuff on my "After I retire" list, and my only wish is to get a little free time to continue reading Shogun and the crime novel Janet Reid has recently recommended on her blog.

That night before my Romanian lit baccalaureate exam, I did not laugh at Tom and Jerry's antics because I was thinking about Doina no longer being a baby, but a charming three-year-old young lady, and about me being a stone-hearted idiot...

And you curse poets and philosophers with all your might, because you are 17 going on the age when you're officially and unofficially adult in your culture, and expected to start planning your own baby, not merely play with your niece. But when did you ever follow "Ministry-approved guidelines"?

Years later, when you are an old she-wolf tanned by life like a good sheepskin, you remember with a mixture of joy and sadness your niece's childhood motto: When I grow up, I want to be intelligent, beautiful, and have long hair, like Auntie.


Isn't she a 2014 gem?


Today Doina is 19, an International Law sophomore and a Political Sciences freshman, a paid summer intern in a law firm, and proud albeit quarrelsome big sister of Christian, 15. She changes her hair at whim and is ten times more beautiful than Auntie.

She has a huge bunch of friends, is writing a novel, loves to travel, and spends her time on social media posting not only party pics, but also "Earth" without "ART" is just "EH" Warhol-themed posters.


Facebook cover photo: "The Kiss" by Gustav Klimt. That's my girl!


I am sad because The Atlantic and our busy lives are separating us just like that glass door and my homework had been separating us fifteen years ago.

I am angry because she seems to be following in some of my not-so-praiseworthy footsteps, like my lamentable taste in men.

I am chuckling as she rolls her eyes and says, I already know this stuff, Nyaneeka (her own baby word for Auntie), every time I try to lecture her about subjects she should explore.

I laugh out loud when she says she HATES foreign languages, but she studies them because she needs them - talk about genes!

I thank all the gods, the old and the new, for she is not only prettier, but also smarter than Auntie, and badgers me re: my smoking and my horrible sleeping patterns being a bad example to follow.

I have a lump in my throat right now because... well, because of all of the above.

And also because I reminisce again about my own sweet sixteen, which are so remote that I am back to second-person and describing you as 

- the proud owner of a space-cadet silver pleather two-piece containing a pencil skirt and biker jacket, bought after many tantrums, many variations of "You have no taste at all, Nastassja" from Mama and "Let the girl have something fashionable" from Papa,

- and you

- spend some time in the morning matching the set with platforms, bright yellow top, and a messy but definitely stylish haystack hairdo,

- once a month, go meet your Cous after class,

- and wait for him near the fountain in front of Building B.... with the hidden agenda of seeing his friends, too - well, one particular friend. Drew and the rocker-style ponytail he's growing out,

- finally, doubling your integral calculus efforts for the baccalaureate finals,

--- because you want to go to the same university and take up the same specialization as a certain Economics sophomore whose blue eyes, dark hair, sense of humor, and taste for cool music meet your potential-great-love profile to a 't'...

---  and because you would rejoice intellectual victories over your 10th grade nemesis,

------ who used to ridicule you because you were a country girl daring to ace her Physics and Chemistry AND speak decent English,

------ while he was a city boy busy with girls and kickboxing and karate, hence acting stupider than you in class, which was a shame for him - again, I come from a nerd-pride culture where even jocks did their homework,

------ who once spat on your shoes and pretended it was an accident,

------ who went quietly nuts as he did not get the desired reaction,

------ because you calmly wiped your shoe with a bit of your discarded homework and continued marching royally towards the blackboard, as you prepared to deliver your speech on World War I and ace History,

----- which kind of behavior, combined with my Duchevski great-great-grandfather's name and my Mama's haughtiness, earned me the nickname "Duchess" from yet another BFF - radio personality Paul aka the frontman of The Super Powers, whom I met later, at age 29,

----- who once said, "All your trouble with meeting men comes from your airs - you can wear jeans and walk from the supermarket with your nose in the air, like you just exited a freaking ballroom. Hell, who'll dare ask you: "Can I make your acquaintance, miss?" (standard pickup formula in the corner of the world where the two of us were born and raised).


Paul... probably singing "Pixie Lady", the lyrics of which I helped write back in 2010.
- Anyway, you won for the first time in 11th grade, when your nemesis jumped ship and went to regular high school,

because we were told a 12th grade would be added to our program and we'd have to take baccalaureate exams by the end of it, and they were supposed to be hellishly difficult,

and they were,

and half the kids in my year just transferred to regular schools because they were promised no-exam admission to universities in 1997 as opposed to one more year in lyceum  avec hellish bac finals in 1998...

... well, it was the time of post-Soviet educational reforms and the Ministry had no freaking idea what it was doing,

so another BFF of mine, Diana, went with the flow, then emigrated to Germany with her parents, and we pretty much need to start talking again because I'm sure her life is as interesting as my own true stories...

... and I should probably find my nemesis on Facebook and say, hey, M., remember how you saw my 7.5 Romanian lit finals grade on the announcements board and said for the whole hall to hear, "Hey, if this chick doesn't know lit, then I don't know who does",

- which phrase kinda made me forgive him for spitting on my shoes,
- and remember that if he wouldn't laugh about my modest country girl clothes in 10th grade, I would probably never have the motivation to become a trendsetter by 12th grade,
- well, actually, I am stretching the truth here, because I had better mentors re: fashion than M.,
- but anyway, I forgive him.


I should probably mention that:

- the Lyceum had a pretty strong science program, too,

- and I'm a bit of a right-and-left-brainer,


... so my lyceum years are in fact The Big Bang Theory: Nerds Victorious material, really.

Chapter 3. A Zoo in My Apartment.

Tragicomedy Sufficient to Make My Mama Long for Experiences Like Mrs. L. Durrell's Who Had  a Lovely Life Dealing with Irate Pelicans Who Were Chasing Her Around Her Son's Garage While She Tried to Feed Them Sardines from a Tin


My student years are, well, enough to make 4 seasons of a TV show that would be about:

- less classics and bookish B.S. and more adventure,

- as I smoked my first cigarette and seduced Drew the model-ly Economics major the minute I turned 18,

- then pursued a career of first-rate nerd in my first two years, so that I could win a stellar reputation and thus be able to mind my own business without having to go to class in the next two years,

- then became a bit of a Cupid-pimp while helping Drew with his client-bride,

- then becoming a hallowed institution in the community of non-English-speaking non-Internet-savvy ladies of our city,

- who hired me to place their personal ads in online dating agencies and translate their correspondence with potential American, British, Australian husbands,

- and boy, is that a plethora of stories and characters!

- well, they loved me, because when they were not inspired, I used to compose gooey lovey-dovey stuff instead of them writing actual news about their lives,

- because in that kind of long-distance relationships in the pre-Skype pre-social media era, you have to write, scan paper photos, and send e-mails every day, you see,

- and talking about what we ate and what we saw in the street was kinda... well, it never crossed our minds that people would actually build billion-dollar businesses around this kind of stuff only a decade later, - so it grew into a full-fledged business by my sophomore year,

- and got me a record of ensuring several good marriages and several good divorces,

- I also realized I hate tutoring,

- and I added a huge bunch of healthy fertile intelligent educated white females to the Western civilization's gene pool,

- a year later, I could be found on the balcony of my own university-admission-gift-apartment,

- crying a river in pure Danielle Steel style over the heartrending breakup with the Economics major - "We will remember this as a fairy tale, Andrew", while Drew himself shed more than a couple of manly tears,

- before saying goodbye and taking my cold pills with him, just in case I decide to kill myself with an overdose of aspirin,

then

- I got a a 2 out of 10 grade in Accounting on my 19th birthday,

- bawled my lungs out over festive dinner at Grandma Olga's, who kept consoling me: "If you're meant to be together, you will be together",

- learned a buttload of pride-and-prejudice lessons while trying to win him back,

- including a totally weird summer break when

----- Drew lived in my apartment,
----- used my computer and sometimes my brain to write his license paper,
----- combed the Internet searching for my favorite songs - go figure, it was 2000,
----- cooked excellent pork-and-dill stews for me and my client-brides,
----- slept on the divan in the living room, but occasionally joined milady in her bedchamber when milady chose to be seductive, which she chose to be every night, and...
----- ..... here's the brilliant twist!
----- called his new girlfriend every morning to report he was being a good boy, and funnily enough, she believed him,

- then we broke up again, of course,

------- because I said I was ready to share him and his girlfriend said she wasn't,
------- and because ice and fire coexist nicely only in Game of Thrones, but never in real life,

which is yet again proven by the fact that Violet, Drew's current wife and mother of his daughter, is one severe lady. Really stern - next to her, Professor McGonagall is like a Rio carnival dancer.



Drew and Vi on Facebook.

Our on-again off-again "fairy tale" continued till July 2008. On a warm night, after three years of no contact at all, I invited Drew over for dinner to my newly remodeled apartment in the city where it all begun. 

I impressed him with my Moscow-money-fueled lifestyle, browsed his Picasa pictures patiently as he was commenting on them.... then lightheartedly seduced him yet again, not giving a rat's tail about the fact that I could afford losing a couple of pounds and some body hair.

Afterwards, as he was showering, and I was sitting on the loo and smoking in my high-tekkie-tekkie bathroom - and in my mauve silk pajamas, too - he confessed he did not want to give in to my wiles. He wanted to get married and was saving himself for his potential wife, you see. But he could never resist me because I was a sex goddess. I only snorted and told him not to be stupid.

When the aforesaid fat & hair was lost, I called him and asked to meet me at my gym. Then I commandeered him to select and install my stereo, then we spent the evening roaming the city looking for the best stereo I could afford - mind you, that was the third thing I bought for my remodeled lair after bed and sofa. So I needed a specialist. And I wanted him to see the new fit & shaved me.

I also knew he liked what other people liked, and I spent the rest of that summer gallivanting at the gym and having my masseuse give me fat-burning sports massages. The results made quite an impression on the rest of the world. So I could not resist adding Drew to the collective man-drooling mania I was enjoying...

After we bought the Panasonic, which today looks a total joke but still plays good sound, I bought him dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. I enjoyed it, although he didn't. He was a new driver and kept salivating in vain but not risking to order the proprietary micro-brewery lager nectar I was sipping.

When we were done with all this at 2 AM, he tried to return the favor and drag milady into the bedchamber, but milady refused with a shrug and the epic "It's all been crystal clear between us for years, Drew, why go down that road again?"

Years later, I thought I maybe made a mistake by dispatching him home that night under the stupid pretext of my new flame Austin calling me via Skype on the morrow - and me not wanting him to see Drew. Although the latter offered to sleep on the rug and thus give me deniability.

Then we parted ways yet again - till October...

Drew came over to see me and my fully furnished lair in October. I made my trademark carbonara, and he told me he met someone named Violet and they were getting married.

Now I wonder - maybe it could be me? Back then, I only told him I was happy for him. Sincerely. I also wonder whether he came over to enjoy my carbonara and company, or just wanted to gloat? About him getting married and not to me, sex goddess and all?

Well, in many respects I owe that title to Drew. There is a concept in Danube-Carpathian mythology, the Awakening, featuring a fairy flier dark-haired prince who flies through young girls'  windows and initiates them into physical love, then leaves.

And when you have the chance to have that kind of a relationship in your past, why do you want to make it present? We live in Real Life, Inc., and why would you want to ruin your youth memories of your magical Awakener ? Now that he is a well-to-do director of cards department at a major bank, married with children, and grew from heartrending skinniness to a serious weight problem, and you are, well, you, isn't reality obvious? We were not meant to be together, so Grandma Olga was right, after all.

Well, that last supper took place soon after I had my third burnout, and was plump and indifferent like a vegetable because I slept and ate like there's no tomorrow, my system was brimming with hardcore drugs, and my heart - with indifference.

Austin's promises to come over and offer me some birthday sex in November were the only thing I was thinking about... lazily.

Several months later, in May 2009, Drew called me and invited me to his wedding. It was May 16th. I said, sorry, May 16th is my boyfriend's birthday, and as birthday parties come, it would be such bad form to drag him to an ex's wedding.

I told him the truth. May 16th is Austin's actual birthday. What I did not tell Drew was that my romance with Austin started in 1999 and never left the confines of Skype, ICQ, and later - Google Hangouts. Physically, the distance of 1,670 miles was the smallest we ever got between us in fifteen years.




But who cares? Why, only last night Austin told me he loved me and that he wants to come over and see me, so here's hope. In the meantime, we both enjoy offline relationships, although, for a while, I thought it was Love, Actually, and wrote a lot of pretty poetry - with rhymes this time!

In the meantime, Austin fathered a daughter with his then-wife on one of his furloughs, returned from Iraq a disillusioned hottie, divorced her to marry another, then that another got pregnant - and guess what, Austin had nothing to do with it! After that, he started talking about seeing me seriously... still does, in fact. Talk, I mean.

Meanwhile, I had a lot of roses, champagne, shit and heartache with the array of starry assholes described herein, almost got Vlad divorced, and almost married a crazy Irishman - oh, Henry! The brightest one in my own private asshole sky!

I can't wait to proceed to writing in detail about that particular bit of 2011-2012 i.e. seven months with Henry. Also known as mother lode of material for my planned Diary of an S-Hole's Wife.

And seeing as I am in the prime of my life and have a bad romantic karma, that memoir will definitely have series potential! Eat Pray Love my ass... although all these three elements were present. I am an ecumenical gourmet chef embracing men of all faiths. Henry is a compulsive eater Catholic. We both said "I love you" at a point, then continued happily indulging in our BDSM routines.

Well, my given name is Anastasia and my last name starts with an S. I think Erica Leonard James probably mind-hacked me and used me as prototype for Anastasia Steele.

That's cool. Except I can't make myself read her bestsellers, because by the fiftieth page, I start spluttering "bad! bad pr! ose!" amid my own fifty shades of... whatever color you, dear reader, associate with vomit. I'll go check out the movie, though.

Bottom line. I continue firmly believing in Prince Charmings because I already broke up with so many of them.

And so it begins - again. Last night I told Austin I loved him, too, and invited him over for Thanksgiving, which is - the irony! - in November and soon after my 34th birthday. Now that I come to think of it, this is probably the healthiest relationship in both our lives. Except the one-night-stands we both indulge in every now and then.

 I know this sounds like total bad-romance-style crap. But this is the honest-to-God truth. I am not B.S.-ing you. I just have a good memory for detail and a conviction that writers are entitled to use everyone in their lives as material, especially people who pissed them off at some point. Not forgetting to change the names to protect the guilty, of course.

So if you don't believe this actually happened, do a picture search, find out the real names of these people and ask them which part is a lie. If they won't tell you they have no idea what you are talking about, they will probably tell you everything is mostly true.

I didn't even embellish too much. Hell, I even downplayed some parts that are really out there...

But I am ready to share them, as this is in fact a Proposal for Non-Fiction Memoir.

Anyway, people in my life do most certainly not remember small details, like me having grilled bell peppers with goat cheese on the stereo-shopping night with Drew, or Austin wearing dark-green underwear on one of our Skype dates that week, as I was fending off Drew's advances offline.

Well, people have normal human brains. I am a Sheldon Cooper ninja mutant female owner of eidetic memory and vindictive nature. Whatchagonnado...

Anyway, back in 2000, after breaking up with Drew for the ten thousandth time out of a million,

- I started seeing Ivan, a Public Law freshman, just to make Drew jealous,

- then gradually fell for my new chew boy toy as he was 12 years older, and good-looking and smart, and wrote great poetry, and used to be a bit of a criminal - well, everyone who owns a business in a planned economy transitioning to wild-West-style capitalism is a bit of a Rhett Butler. Except that my guy eventually lost not only his wife, but his money, too, after the 1998 financial crisis.

- then I started spending long winter nights listening to his rhymes - he never cared for my own, of course,

- and playing poker and chess and drinking games with Ivan instead of doing, well, you-know-what,

- and was realizing with horror I might soon become a housewife - at 21!

---- as he proposed before introducing me to his parents a month after having met me and my cousin in a bar,
---- and my Papa adored him because he used to bring him brandy and help with the rebuilding of the garage,
---- and my Mama started giving me cooking and cleaning life-hacks,
---- and his mother simply worshiped me - I don't know why,

- then I accidentally cheated on him at a drunken party where Drew happened to be both an impromptu guest and a very horny accessory to my crime,

- then I heard my prom-queen cousin saying that my poet/lawyer actually fancied her and lived with me only because I had money and owned a little bit of real estate,

- then paused to think a little and realized that could actually be true for a number of reasons,

- then garnished that conclusion with facts
-------------- like Ivan's drinking problem and refusal to drink alone, but never mind as
-------------- I, unlike him, come from a gene pool resistant to alcoholism,
-------------- like poker-vodka-chess-tea nights
-------------- on the backdrop of
-------------- snide "your libido will ruin you, Anastasia" comments,
-------------- like awful habit to get a clean cup for every new drink of tea,
-------------- on the backdrop of
-------------- strong belief that cooking and dish-washing were strictly wifely duties
-------------- and generally nasty temper,
and other stuff that could not be compensated even by the best potential mother-in-law in the history of forever,

so

- I dumped him while he was in a hospital bunk getting ready for gingival abscess surgery,

- then learned more pride-and-prejudice lessons as he tried to win me back,

- then got a good giggle as I ran into his mother in the street and heard the highly amusing story of her giving him hell for getting dumped by me,

- and as she was a purebred Jewish mommy, that's saying something,

then

- spending a blissful weekend with Mama, Papa, nephew, niece, brother, and sister-in-law, who all told me I was too good for Ivan anyway, and

- going with my Papa, brother and Drew's friend/my Cous to the beautiful city of Iasi, where




My Badea (big brother) Vadim at age 37. When we were both youngsters, people used to take us for twins. Except that he's eight years older, kinder, funnier, and wiser than me. My sister-in-law is one lucky gal, isn't she?

It was a lovely winter day, and

- I roamed the streets of Iasi while they did business,

- ate pizza and drank my favorite Ursus beer,

- found out the monetary equivalent of my attractiveness

- as a man in the street propositioned me with 100 American dollars in exchange for an hour of sex,
- I have no idea why - I was wearing a fur coat, boots, woolen pantyhose, and a short sweater dress, and my hair was down... oops, that does sound whorish, especially in Romania where women did not wear skirts as a matter of principle back then,

- no, seriously, could I possibly look like a hooker at 20?


With makeup at 24?

Without makeup at 28?




--- anyway, I just ran away from the "bidder", high heels and all,
---- but despite my taste for money-spinners and Cupid-whoremonger-translator entrepreneurship,
---- I am against using human flesh in such direct Marxist commodity-money exchanges,
--- especially if it's my flesh we're talking about,

- so I gave him a scared look and beat it,

- then met my family at the rendezvous point,

- and accompanied them and their partners to a local-cuisine restaurant where I had grilled bear steak,

-which was a fine end to a day and to my relationship with Ivan!

then

- I got the semiotics bug and a new best friend who was 20 years my senior, Citizen of Honor, my Marketing and Economic Journalism professor, and my mentor,

- and you can read the novel-worthy story of that mentorship and yet another crazy-ass summer break titled The Graveyard Shift Literary Biopic here,

then

- I ditched her and the new huge office she gave me in her HQ,

- because I was a thin-skinned silly young girl who got offended by a minor boss jibe,

- and did not care to come back and make peace

- because a certain shy guy
--- who used to call me his Guinevere
------ and flew in with not-so-Lancelot-esque intentions
--------- took my mind off the issue completely,

then

- I fell into a two-month mild depression,
-- because the anti-Lancelot said he was disappointed in me
---- because he loved me
------- and I still thought we were just friends as I was putting him on his flight back home,

- which made me think I was not a romantic heroine after all, but a downright bitch, hence the mild depression,

------------------------- then, after all this drama,

- I spent a blissful winter and a quiet spring:

---- reading The Basics of Buddhism, History of Beliefs and Religious Ideas, and other highly entertaining stuff,

---- exploring the wonderful world of Internet romance, too, after repeated accusations from Mama about my failure to "get yourself an American  boyfriend, too",

except that the result was Vlad, a very spiritual married Muscovite, twenty years older and very beguiling with his ability to listen, his talk of arcane yoga currents, neuro-linguistic programming, and his "there is no love in this marriage" songs,

---- slacking off and writing more crazy-ass poetry

---- as the copywriter internship and the license paper on business culture crossing with international marketing were not very overtaxing,

then

---- spending an adventurous week after:

------- getting drunk on porter with Mary, yet another new BFF, then

------- meeting Phil Wormald, the famous train photographer, at the railway station

------- due to the fact that I had US ARMY and NIRVANA and whatnot hand-written in black ink on the apple-green backpack I borrowed from my BMF (best man-friend, y'all),

------- so he thought I was his fellow Westerner,

then

-------- taking the train to a foreign country with the equivalent of 3 dollars in my pocket,

------- almost getting thrown off the train at the Romanian border because I was stupid enough to say the truth about my finances,

------- and they thought I was going to Bucharest to pursue a hobo career,

------- but I lied about going to see my fiance, who was imaginary - in fact, the person I meant was just a friend of a friend,

-------- and the border patrol officer, who was just as young and handsome as I was back then, chose to believe me,

-------- then arriving to Bucharest, spending 1.5 dollars on a bus ride to the airport, missing my American client-groom's, plane, then spending my last money to go back to the city,

-------- literally crying in the rain as I tried to search my brain for the address of the suite he rented for his week with my client-bride and me as their interpreter - of course, I did not bother to write the address down,

------ finally finding the address in my head and in the city, near the Union Place, entering, then remembering Bill said "blue door", then knocking and knocking and crying some more,

----- then realizing I am stranded, penniless, and too proud to beg for some change in order to call my alleged fiance, whose number I did not know anyway,

----- with hobo career on the horizon, realizing I was too chicken to contact my parents and confess it all,

------ I indulged in more crying and banging on the blue door, then

------ seeing Bill opening the RED DOOR,

------ then hugging him and collapsing into total hysterics - which was Bill's most treasured memory about all this hoopla for reasons I will explain in the non-list normal-fiction version,

----- then letting him buy me a Big Mac and give me 20 bucks,

------ then finding out that "Americans have mayonnaise on their faces when they are eating, because they are eating", 

------ cue (almost) normal tourist life - for a week, during which I was

-------- sleeping on a leather couch in the living room after watching MTV half the night,

-------- translating my protegees' conversation and eating out with them during the day,

-------- letting my client-bride smoke my cigarettes,

-------- almost killing myself trying to translate their jokes correctly,

--------- going to the Internet cafe after my Cupid duties were done for the day and writing crazy-ass e-mails to my own Internet flame aka Vlad the married Moscow guy,

--------- trying to do my best explaining why my client-bride chooses not to shave her legs and shutting up about the f*ck buddy she had back home, because

a) that was a helluva dilemma, so either telling or not telling the client-groom about that was equally wrong,
b) she said it was just sex for health reasons, and
c) I failed to marry Bill to a previous client-bride, and this one seemed just right for him,

--------- so I kinda didn't mind him paying me peanuts that were just enough to buy a train ticket home, some books, and gifts for my family and friends,

-------- after all, that was almost a week of paid vacation, and free lessons on translating humor, too, so no grudges there,

then

- graduating from International Business with a GPA of 9.03 out of 10,

- minoring in Translations,

- taking my last client-bride aka Bill's flame to Bucharest again - I had to help her through her medical exam and embassy interview for her U.S. visa, as she didn't speak a shred of Romanian in addition to her total lack of interest for English,

- then buying a ticket to Moscow,

and embarking on a three-year-long Northern adventure... which is a story for another time, as we are at the point where I am 21 and my growing up in a culture where the nerds bully the dummies is over. I am officially an adult. And by the way, in that culture the drinking age is 18, so I am pretty much done with heavy party drinking and hangovers, too.

That culture is slowly dying, alas - for instance, the Russian Ministry of Education has recently excluded Tolstoy and Turgenev from the middle-grade syllabus, because kids just fail to understand their language.

Well, who cares - with the current Putler agenda, they're going down the drain anyway.

I never had any love lost for Mother Russia, because I was born in the SSR of Moldavia, and two of my burnouts happened during my Moscow years. They were the first and the worst out of four, too. 

I don't even owe Russia my great-great-grandfather Duchevski's DNA - it is a Polish name. In the 1870s, when GGgrandpa went due south, a part of Poland used to belong to the Russian Empire, and was so downtrodden... by late nineteenth century, the Polish schools were closed, and speaking Polish in public was outlawed.

I am not suffering of fake-patriotism-induced brain damage - I believe Russia and the Soviet Union have enriched my homeland beyond any expectations, both culturally and economically.

Russia carries her white man's burden with little grace, granted, but then, its influence was a historic preconditioning for which many of her former subjects should be grateful. Even if they now live in free countries where it's OK to shout about Russian occupants... while sitting on rooftops with megaphones instead of finding a job.

Anyway. A little Post Scriptum Story

In 11th grade, my biology and chemistry professors built a conspiracy around me to make me leave the lit&language specialization and jump ship to the exact-science specialization. They wanted to mentor me into my homeland's first genetic engineer, you see. At that point, I had just made the breathtaking acquaintance of Mendel's Genetics and was rhapsodizing about the subj to the point of delirium ...

Soon, they thought the fruit of good and evil was ripe. I had just spent an entire English double period building the genetic profile of Professor Inga's potential baby and interviewing her about her family to establish dominant and recessive genetic traits. Well, today I remember she had tears in her eyes as she and her husband were reproductively challenged...

Yet me being a sixteen-year-old tactless brat, the class splitting into avid audience and Battleship players as I was drawing X-Y chromosome recombination patterns on the blackboard, and the outcome of Professor Anna and Professor Elena's conspiracy are a true story for another time...