Archive for October, 2009


For years I’ve wanted to write a fairytale called “Rose-Colored Glasses”.  The hero would enter Camelot in rose-colored glasses, seeing everything his idyllic fancies had imagined- but when he removed the glasses while rescuing the damsel in distress he would find his ideals trampled in the mud.  The cure for his despair would be a pure well that would wash both illusions from the hero’s eyes.  Dreams are a lovely thing to have- and they’re not just illusions, as Kermit the Frog sang.  They have their incarnations.  But in order to be a dreamer, one must learn to distinguish what one really wants- and not to let false veneers be the cause of a thwarted dream.

 I dreamed of England.  I read every significant British author there was to read.  I learned to make scones.  I memorized the monarchies.  I wrote to Princess Diana, and kept her reply in a place of honor.  I taught myself to understand most of the multitudinous dialects of “English” English.  I even wrote a poem in a Highland accent.  Immersing myself in films, television and books I cultivated a sense of Britishness that made me feel akin to those across the pond.

England meant Oxfordian libraries with dusty leather bindings and worn armchairs, doggy, draughty estates where one clumped about in Wellingtons between tea and seven course dinners, horse races where the hats dwarfed the horses, wainscoting and beveled windows and half a dozen other architectural terms I didn’t understand but that sounded aristocratic.  The local pub and Liverpool miners would do very well for local color, but I preferred a London flat on a leafy cobbled street down which I would take my umbrella and hie me to Fortnum and Mason’s for cakes for tea.

I never quite made it to England.  But this is not the tale of a broken dream, or a dream deferred.  Answering to the call of an earlier dream, I made a flying trip to Russia- and turned my dreams upside down.  I can’t say what I might have thought on walking out of Heathrow; but walking out of Sheremetovo I fell deeply, irrevocably in love with Russia.  While it’s possible to explain why you love someone, it’s impossible to explain why you fell in love with someone- and I don’t try.  Other than to wonder negligibly where all those years of Anglophilia went wrong.

There are, of course, a slew of reasons, psychological and otherwise, as to why I fell in love with the Russian bear instead of John Bull.  But as time goes on (which it does rather slowly in the Far East) I find that my focus was wrong.  What was it really that I saw in England?  Centuries of history? Vladimir I, Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great and the last Romanovs equal any Shakespearean drama.  A mannered culture?  Spanning two continents and two cultural streams, Russia has its own litany of holidays, traditions, and proper behavior.  Literature?  Russian literature is not as dryly amusing as British, and hasn’t the British profligacy with words, but it is a mighty presence, and has its own humor- humor that is more a part of the divine comedy than mere wit.  Tea?  Well, I can’t argue that a British tea- or at least the popular Americanized version- is a spectacle not found elsewhere.  But if we overlook the ceremony and formality, one can get a very good cup of tea in Russia.  And Russia has a depth and emotion that speak to something I never recognized in myself when Browning’s “Oh to be in England” was my banner piece.

My Russian husband often takes a break to share a cup of tea and my pound cake, and I relish the feeling that drinking a cup of tea- sconeless or not!- is important in this moment .  I take our daughter Sofya for a walk each day, as any nanny should, rolling the carriage- nothing so practical and industrial as a stroller!- down leafy streets, enjoying the feeling that this is the proper thing to do, and there is no reason to be hurrying elsewhere.  Winnie-the-Pooh and Gena the Crocodile share Sofya’s bed with her, and we sing Winnie’s Hums in Russian as we walk, enjoying the easy nonsense and the innocence that is lacking in “Where the Wild Things Are”.  Each new season gives us a reason to buy hat, shoes, scarf, and bag, because people “dress” in Russia, letting us appreciate the season and mark its passing.  Holidays bring traditions beyond television programs and commercialized parades- memorizing poems for Grandfather Frost, beating eggs for Easter, and taking flowers to the teacher on the first day of school.  And I am content in my whitewashed house with blue windows, lace curtains fluttering over red geraniums on the deep sills, walls of books punctuated by my piano in the sitting room.  No dogs, Wellingtons, or pipes lying about, but a sense of life and time and traditions treasured.

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