Thursday, March 28, 2013
During this time Natasha and I were together every evening and night. I was officially a resident at the Rossiya Hotel and had to be picked up there in the morning with the rest of the crew. So each morning I would depart from Natasha’s building by taking the elevator down. To keep other residents from seeing me wait at the elevator and start to wonder who this man was, Natasha told me to either walk up a couple of flights or down a couple of flights before getting on the elevator. Then I would walk across the street and catch a bus to the metro station. It would still be dark and footsteps in the snow made a resounding crunch. Some days it was so cold that the bus door would not close all the way. Everyone was supposed to drop a kopek or two into a box in the middle of the bus, but sometimes it was so crowded that the effort needed and the disruption caused was just now worth it.
Upon arriving at the Metro station, 10 kopeks allowed me to descend a fast moving escalator, down about 70 meters and wait for the subway that allowed me to come within 2 blocks of the Rossiya Hotel. I then had to show my room card to the semi-frozen door man to enter the hotel, take the elevator up to my floor, hand my card to the floor lady, who then gave me the key to my room. I would shower in tepid or cold water, change clothes and meet everyone for breakfast. The breakfast room was Spartan and dreary but had windows so we could see the sun hang low in the south. By the end of January, the sun was visible for almost 8 hours.
It was during this time that Natasha and I became close. We were hampered by our language barrier, me with no Russian at all except one to three word essentials and Natasha’s limited English. We bought English-Russian, Russian-English dictionaries which helped some, but when it came to expressing complex thoughts or feelings, it became very difficult. Still we learned about our families. She was divorced with a daughter who lived with her ex-husband. Natasha saw her daughter often and she seemed to be a good terms with him.
To keep my foreign status less obvious we went to the Beriozka where I bought a red fox hat that suited my fantasy and with the long winter coat I had purchased in Austria, I looked like a “handsome Russian man,” according to Natasha. We went to a variety of great restaurants she knew about and I learned how she cleverly bribed the doorman if we were denied entrance always with a smile as she looked straight at the person and shook hands as five Rubles was passed.
In Moscow, things really were not expensive. It was the lack of goods and services that made life difficult. I learned that in Russia, it was necessary to have a network of friends who could get things for you. Hard currency could get you many things unavailable otherwise and within the black market one could get 3 or 4 Rubles for a dollar which was much better than the official exchange rate of which took $1.40 to get one Ruble. This was one of the things Natasha was able to do for me. I would give her $1 00 and she would give me at least 300 Rubles sometimes more. Suddenly I became a big spender when it came to dining out. Having champagne and caviar at dinner was routine.
I never asked her what happened to the dollars as I didn’t want to know. Once when I returned to the states, she asked me to buy her a boom box which I did and brought back to her. She paid me for it and it disappeared. During this time ABBA, the Swedish rockers were popular and they were heard often here and there. But my favorite, Pink Floyd was an entirely new sound and I gave her some of my tapes of them along with a few others.
Once we were having lunch in the Rossiya Hotel and the waiter asked Natasha something and she translated. “He asked if you would like to buy ½ a kilo of caviar for $25 U.S. dollars.” I said yes of course and after paying for lunch, we met in the hall outside the restaurant and received a pound of caviar wrapped in a newspaper. I ate caviar every day until I could not eat anymore.
One thing hard currency couldn’t buy was a ticket to the Bolshoi. But Natasha got tickets through her friends. The ticket price was very modest, but getting access to one took some maneuvering.
I will never forget going to the Bolshoi with Natasha. It was awesome enough just to be able to go inside and see the crimson, gold trimmed seats and the special second story balcony layout front and center that was built for the tsars. But to watch Swan Lake performed in the Bolshoi with this beautiful Russian woman at my side, definitely will always be one of the highlights of my life. At the end of the performance every single person rose to their feet in applause yelling “bravo” and those close to the stage throwing flowers. Several curtain calls later, I was left speechless. Did I mention that I will never, ever forget this night? Chills run up my spine while I am writing this. We also attended a performance of the Nutcracker Suite and that pretty special also.
The Russians were on to the fact that I had a girlfriend. The time I returned with the boom box, the driver asked me, “how is Natasha?” I am sure the floor lady in the Rossiya Hotel reported the fact that I never slept in my room, but to know specifically who I spent my time with, I can only chalk up to being spied upon. I didn’t suspect Natasha as being involved even though I knew I could not be totally, 100% sure at that point. Anyway I knew they knew so I didn’t need to be coy about it.
She told me she had a plan before she met me on how to get out of Russia. A Japanese man wanted to marry her and her plan was to marry him, go to Japan, divorce him and go to Paris to live. She liked to talk about what she knew about Russia before the revolution and grandeur of life around the Tsar. She considered the communists a bunch of thugs. In that regard she certainly had a point.
She took the train down to Voronezh twice to visit me, which was all right, but staying with me we knew would be a problem. So I would do in and stand in front of the lady at the desk blocking her view, while Natasha crept in behind and got in the elevator. She then never went out of the building while I was at work. We got caught once though coming out of the elevator which I am sure got reported.
In Russia, being able to buy a round trip train ticket was not possible, so I went with her to the train station while she tried to buy a first class train ticket. She was told there were no more spaces, which to her meant to bribe the ticket seller. When that didn’t work, she came to me and said “fucking communists”. Apparently the bribe was turned down based on ideology.
I began to have thoughts of marriage even though it would be extremely difficult to accomplish, although not impossible. One American I knew married one of our interpreters,
In the end, I was asked to leave Russia due to Natasha. Apparently we were star crossed lovers without realizing it. She met me at Sheremetyevo Airport before my flight home and when I saw her I had to choke back tears. She was all smiles and gave me three tins of caviar. I was able to control my emotions then and smiled back. I told her I loved her and she replied back with, “I love you, Davie”.
She called me a month later when I was home in Lancaster, urging me to come to Moscow, but I had to tell her it would be impossible for me. I don’t know how she managed to accomplish this and before we were finished, we were cut off. That was the last time I heard from her. I often wonder if she married the Japanese man and somehow made it to Paris.
Natasha, I hope you are safe and happy and thank you for being in my life.