Please, click on the picture to fully enjoy it's Russianesque roots
Judy Дорогая моя,
I'm not quite sure where I left off writing you in my last letter. That Period Pilots trip I took to past times Russia was so different than what I expected, that it's really been hard trying to put all the pieces together.
I remember telling you about the initials I saw when I was starting to heat up that old samovar. It was just about the time I first made the letters out, that the portal started to do it's thing. You know how rough leaping a few decades or centuries can be, even in the smoothest forms of transport. And traveling by samovar, is definitely not the easiest way I've ever blasted through to the past. I'm still turning stray Keemun tea leaves out of my pockets. From the smell of it, I think it's that mix they call Russian Caravan.
I stopped writing and put down my fountain pen, leaned my head against the edge of the window frame and let my thoughts drift dreamily back to the events following my crazy journey back through time to, a certain palace in Russia in the year 1896.
The redheaded woman had been sitting beside me on the garden bench, where I found myself once the world stopped spinning. The fact that she was totally nonplussed by the sight of me in my nylon jacket, tee shirt and kahki trousers told me something about her right away. Do-it-yourself time travel is all well and good for some people, and in some situations, but there are services that are really worth paying for. Tour guides are one of the nicest features about Period Pilots. She introduced herself as 'Alina' and told me that I had arrived safely in 1896 St. Petersburg.
That news coupled with an impression of luxurious surroundings, helped me emerge from my time-lag lethargy. The last days of Imperial Russia, and the last of the Romanovs aren't a travel itinerary that's easy to achieve. I might get a chance to see Nicholas and Alexandra at the height of their reign!
"You're ready to go now?" her voice had a lilt that told me she might be a native.
I nodded, unsure as to whether or not my vocal chords were fully functional yet.
" Xорошо, good. You need to change quickly. People will be coming through here soon. Put this over your clothes in case anyone sees you."
"This" was a long cape of midnight blue velvet that covered me from head to toe. Securely wrapped in this confection, I stumbled after Alina through a small side door off the courtyard and into a maze of dimly lit halls that seemed to go on forever. I took in none of the details of the palace around me, other than the fact that the ceilings were high and the lighting was poor. And then we opened another door and found ourselves in an intricately decorated rococo marvel. A domed ceiling was lit by a dusky light that filtered in through the windows that students of architecture call 'lunettes'. Saintly images were highlighted in their half-moon glass and the light of the setting sun, that passed through them, made the gold embossed plaster walls beneath them glitter.
"You'll need to change in here." Before I had a chance to protest that I wanted to spend more time enjoying the scenery, Alina pulled me into a tiny chamber of much more plebian origin than the Grand Church of the Winter Palace.
"I studied the small barren room. Not much in comparison, is it?"
"Well, Princes Alixi primped here before she married the Tsar two years ago. How many women can say they’ve shared a dressing room with an empress?"
I agreed that there was something to be said for that, and we got down to business.
Luckily for both of us, I have the kind of long, thickly curling hair that's a natural for pompadour-type styling. I might not be able to compete with more elaborate courtly coiffures, but I'd pass muster.
"So what are the plans? Some kind of court function tonight I take it? And then what?"
Alina was expertly wielding a wet brush. She spoke through a mouthful of hairpins. "A court function, yes, evening tea here in the Winter Palace. Their imperial highnesses are at home in the Alexander Palace, so we were able to accommodate you. You will have a chance to visit with some of the locals and take in the atmosphere. But after that, you must go on. We have arranged another portal for-"
"That sounds like a cruise ship stopping in port for five hours! I want to spend more time here and really see something of the place."
She poked a hairpin into my scalp and turned me around to face a small, dark mirror. "Things are unsettled even at this time. We can't be assured of your safety."
"But the revolution's not for twenty-one years."
She shrugged again. "Now it is time to deal with your underpinnings."
The batiste lingerie with it's delicate blue ribbons and fine Brussels lace insertions was a delight to slide into. It was followed, however, by pure torture. Corsets are one of the nastier aspects of past times. I'll take fully functioning ribs and organs over a narrow waist any day. The laces were every bit as horrid as I'd imagined and I emerged gasping for air. My tour-guide laughed.
"I always forget that you twentieth century women have no skills when it comes to boning. Don't gulp and don't move too quickly. You don't want to hyper-ventilate when you're wearing stays," she advised.
And then there was the dress and it made everything that had gone before worthwhile.
"Is this Worth?"
She shrugged. "No, but it's a good copy. We've got a seamstress who can mimic anybody. She's been doing very well for herself back in the Renaissance, and she's about to start working on a contract with, oh I always forget her name-," she snapped her fingers, "-you know, she was Tutmose II's wife. I went back and drew up the terms for her myself."
"Oh, I know just who you mean. And now I can't think of her name either! What a great job you have. It must be wonderful to travel so much."
"The travel is good, but it makes it hard to have a relationship and a life in my own time. But for a few years I am doing it while I save for my dowry. The money is very good."
"I imagine it's not easy for Period Pilots to find people with the right skill set. Have you- Oh I remember the wife's name now, Hatshepsut!"
"That's it! Talk about palace intrigue. Those Egyptians have the Romanovs beat." She was clearly conversant in the English of more than one era.
"Have you spent some time in twentieth century America, Alina?"
"Mostly the sixties. I love the colors and the mini skirts. So much prettier, and more flattering than what comes afterwards."
"I know. The skirts look like feed sacks."
She nodded seriously and pulled the gown all the way out of the armoire.
The gown that emerged was a delectable rose-colored silk confection with a low square neckline and a detachable train. The bodice and sleeves were embroidered with bouquets of lilies set with tiny pearls.
I fingered the jeweled embroidery. "Are these real?"
"Yes. And to answer your next question," she smiled showing a lovely full set of teeth, "you do have to give it back at the end of the evening." Now let's get you into it.
Getting into the dress was more work than I'd imagined. There was more boning to fight with in the bodice and layers where layers shouldn't be. The slippery silk bunched up and needed to be coaxed down over the unfamiliar underpinnings. These duds were clearly a job for more than one woman.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the edges of the rose pink skirts were finally settled just above the floor. "And now we have only to hook you up behind." Alina had just bent to begin this task when the door rattled. I froze but she jumped to her feet quickly. "It's probably Sergei. This is the time when he comes to light the evening candles. He doesn't know about you though, so I will just slip-"
The door opened then and a dark form came in, shutting the door cautiously behind him. When he turned to face us, I saw an extremely tall man with dark, hair curling against a long neck. He seemed unsurprised to see two women, one in a state of deshabille. I put up one hand to the gaping bodice of my Worth-like costume, in almost a parody of feminine modesty, feeling suddenly breathless, and not only from the corset. It was as though an electric current had passed through me with the entrance of this man.
To Be Continued