Art Journal

Nature Ramblings ~ Past Times Time Travel ~ Romancing Daily Life

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Time Travel Trip, Preparation for a PopOff: Russia Bound (part 6)

 My friend Judy Gosnell, who has visited Russia six times(!),
 took the original photo for this illustration.
She has, very kindly, given me permission to use her work here
Have you missed any of the
 Previous Journal entries
for this Russia Bound Time Travel Serial Story?
Part 1: Trip Planning

I found my old spiral notebook from Russian class when I was cleaning out my closet today. Gospadee Boza Moi! Isn’t that what we used to say? It’s been over thirty years and I’ve forgotten so much of what I learned. That notebook had a Peter Max design on the cover. I’d forgotten how much I loved him when we were in college. Remember the poster of his we put up when we were freshmen, and what that gross boy down on the second floor wrote on it? I’m so sure he’s either incarcerated or else working for the prison system now.

 Note To Self:Keep a low profile. Do not cheese the Empress off
* Part 3The Winter Palace  
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.
Part 4: My Heart Beats Faster in Past Times 

I returned the stare, for a little longer than normal. What could there possibly be in a pair of eyes and a deep bass voice to make me feel a sense of immediate connection to a man I knew nothing about. The cool air of the church hammered against my lungs.
 Part 5:  A Spot of Tea in the Winter Palace
I'd never before seen a table spread with as much food as that one in the Winter Palace. While the hard-working peasants were struggling to grow enough food to content themselves with black bread, and the cabbage soup known in Russia as 'shee', the imperial court of the Romanovs, were- well now I know where the expression, 'eating royally' comes from.

*  *  *
Part6: Preparation for a Pop-Off

 “You’re looking distracted.”

I studied Alina’s classic profile. Was she also a descendant of the Romanov’s, or only a half-sister to Vasily Fyodorovich?

“It’s just so much more than I'm accustomed to, imperial politics, chatting with countesses, and pastry puffs filled with grouse.” I hope my response sounded more off-hand than I felt.

Alina frowned. “Ulyana’s circle is full of gossips. You can’t believe ninety-nine percent of their tittle tattle.”  She sighed. “I should have known their tongues would start wagging the moment I got up. There’s nothing they like better than a new ear to fill up with scandal, ” She gave me a long sideways look, “whether it’s the latest crim con or just ancient history.”

It seemed like a good time to change the subject. “Where are we going now?”

“You’re going to change and then we’re sending you on. There’s a portal in the-”

“No! I didn’t even get a chance to see the empress. Couldn’t I maybe hide under the buffet table, or put on one of the maid’s outfits and take a cup of tea and a sausage roll over to her?”

“And take a chance on the tsaritsa's cousin deciding you’re a tasty little bite of sausage himself? He’s got an eye for any new treat that comes decked in a cap and apron.”

I groaned as she chortled. Her melodic laughter reminded me of the sound of the evening bells.

“There’s a reason you paid for the special insurance on this trip, you know. It’s more than my job is worth. Hurry up, Lariska. Sergei’s assisting with the service and I want to get you changed before he comes looking for me.”

“Are you still concerned about him meeting me?”

“Oh no. I told him earlier, while Vasily was helping you, that  I had a visitor, and that you are a friend of a friend,. “But we’ve got to hurry to get you to the portal on time and, “ she winked at me. “He is such a distraction once he gets talking.”

The bells were tolling once more as we raced along the long corridor. Still my guide was hopeful. “Father Anton likes to keep him talking.”  We slipped past a slow-moving elderly couple who were taking their time leaving. I was darting glances everywhere taking in the details of the gloriously dressed pair, still glimmering candles, burnished icons and gilded walls, as Alina dragged me into the little ante chamber.

I convinced her to loosen my laces as soon as she had the bodice of the Worth-style gown unhooked. Just as she released the final cord, the door handle rattled  followed shortly by the sound of a key turning. “Господь.”(GodAlina gasped .

“назад! (get back) Cover yourself, Lariska!”

She grabbed up the blue velvet cape that was still lying on the table and whipped it’s folds over my half uncovered torso. I was too pleased with my state of now comfortable undress, to be overly concerned about our visitor. Besides that, I half-hoped that Vasil Fyodorovich might have returned. As Alina ran to the door, I gloried in the satisfaction of filling my lungs completely with oxygen.

Just as the door began to open, Alina grasped the handle firmly and called through the crack. “м-м-да (m-m-da) Mmm, da, Sergei. A moment please. I came in to make some repairs to my friend’s dress. She’s not quite decent.”

A man’s whispered response came through the opening. “ш-ш! (š-š-š)shhh!, shh! Alinochka.” It was a tenor voice, not the deep bass one I’d been hoping for. “I don’t want Father Anton to hear me down here.”
“It will be OK,” Alina whispered back to me. “I just remembered that that the engineers set the time back an hour on that portal, the last time they came through.” She opened the door and a dark-robed figure slipped through.
“What a relief. He harangued me for an hour before the service. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Would you believe he won’t let me-“ He broke off, having only then made out my blue-swathed shape in the dim light of the candle.

Alina sighed and assumed a formal tone. “Larisa Aleksovna, make you known to my fiancée, Sergei Ivanovitch.”

I smiled at the novice. “I understand you’re planning to enter the priesthood, Sergei Ivanovitch.”

The man had a smile that spoke of innocence coupled with a great understanding of the sins of the world. I thought it would serve him well in his chosen profession. “Yes, I am training to be a priest. First, of course we must be married.”

I looked questioningly towards Alina.

“You see the church here, Lara, feels it is important that the father have a wife. And, if a priest plans to marry, he needs to do so before he is ordained.”

“Oh, I see,” actually I didn’t quite see. I still associated the Russian Orthodox Church vaguely with the Catholic Church.

“Besides,” Alina tossed her head, “I must marry Sergei as soon as it is possible, to keep the women who pretend that they come only to pray from admiring my Sergei too much!”

“Do you expect to be married soon then?”

“We are looking forward very much to being married but there are a few complications.”
“Da, complications!”, Alina nodded knowingly and rubbed the fingers of her left hand together in the universal sign for money. Sergei reached out, took the  hand in his own and dropped a kiss on her fingers.

“So, you are this mysterious visitor of Alina’s - from America I think she said? I very much admire your Populist Party. Such exciting times for your country right now, I wish I could visit and see things there for myself!   Are you supporting William Jennings Bryant for president?”

I’m sure I looked as stupid as I felt. I had a vague memory of hearing some family story about my midwestern great grandmother having been heavily involved in the populist movement.

“Well, I certainly hope he’ll win. I wish even more that I were enfranchised to vote in the election. I hope you’ll get your wish to come and visit. We can always put you up on the family farm in Deerfield Illinois. Just ask anyone in town where to find the Jost Farm.” I knew for a fact that the family farm had been well stocked with Josts from before the Civil War, up until World War II. My mother’s entire family, as well as an assortment of cousins, aunts and uncles had returned to live and work there during the depression, when her father and various other relatives had lost their jobs.

He laughed. “I don’t think I will ever be able to afford to go to America. Besides, Alinochka always says I’m not a good traveler. “

My guide gave me a knowing wink.

“Why are you hiding from Father Anton, Sergei? You said he chewed you out earlier.”

I wondered in what era Alina had picked up this piece of slang, but Sergei seemed to understand her perfectly.

“Oh, it is only that he does not like me feeding Mishenka and Borya.”

“But Miska is a real help around here! This place would be overrun with mice if it weren’t for him. And Borya, well,” she paused.

“Everybody loves that dog,” Sergei concluded. “Well everybody but Father Anton. And he lays on my feet to keep them warm when I have a lot of reading or writing to do.”

“So that, could be considered as important a service to the church as catching mice,” I added.

Sergei gave me a friendly smile. It was clear the man was a charmer and I could see why Alina was taken by his obviously gentle character.

“I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you ladies.” He moved towards the table and reached underneath to draw out a large meaty bone wrapped in greased paper. “But I managed to get this from the kitchen. Borya is waiting for me by the gate. What Father Anton doesn’t know won’t- Say what is this?”

‘This’ was the pince nez that Vasil Fyodorovich had removed from his breast pocket while helping me with the hooks on my frock. I recalled now that he had dropped the spectacles, on top of the table.  They had probably been caught in the folds of the blue velvet cape, which had also been lying on the table, and then fallen to the floor when Alina had tossed the garment over me.

“Bozeh moi,” Alina retorted. “That’s Vasily’s glass. I hope that the poor boy hasn’t needed to read anything since he was in here. He can’t survive without them.”

There was a sudden plaintive sound of mewing and the door rattled again. I recognized the sound of a cat’s paw attempting to gain entrance.

“Help me, will you, Alinocka,” Sergei wrapped the bone loosely in it’s greased paper, and extracted a small glass bottle and chipped saucer from the same box beneath the table. “You catch up Mishenka and put him out the hall window with this, before anyone hears him. I’ll take this out to good old Borya, before Father Anton notices him out in the garden.”

With a hurried murmur that she would be right back to help me finish changing my clothes, Alina slipped out after her fiancée.

I hadn’t really had much time to take in the details of the room, and later on I might wish I’d taken the trouble. Though it was relatively bare, there were a few dark prints on the walls. I walked the room, peering into the dimly lit faces of long-gone saints and sacred babies, but the room’s minimal lighting didn’t really do much in the way of visibility. Besides that, the pictures needed cleaning. I looked around for something else to do.

There was an old piece of newsprint lying on a heavy box bed built into the wall, and I carried that over to the table, where the candlestick was sitting.  There’s something delightful about reading something that still looks relatively new, when, in my own times, it would be a crumbling piece of antique ephemera. By the candle’s light I could now see that the page of paper was primarily dedicated to an advertisement for some kind of household cleaning product. The words, however, were so small that I couldn’t read them in the low light. The pince nez were laying there as well, where Sergei had put them after retrieving them from the floor. I picked up the glasses and held them over the tattered piece of print, wondering idily just how blind Vasily was without it.

The words swam before my eyes. Over and over in my head, I heard the advertising slogan from the paper my dad used to take. ‘Timely news for modern times.’   The newspaper office had long since closed its doors. No, of course it hadn’t. It might not have even opened its doors yet. Let’s see what had the banner proclaimed about the origin of the business? Time travel isn’t quite like dream travel, but there’s a similar quality to it, a sense of floating up and away and also a sense that the physical is no longer important. At least, it’s not important until you come back to your body. And at that point, the physical is really important because you can feel pretty lousy.

I leaned my head back onto the rococo wall trying to get my insides to subside. I was sitting on the floor in a welter of pink lacey skirts and blue velvet cape. The bodice of my gown was hanging down around my waist and my underpinnings were about to become utterly unpinned. I shrugged my arms back into my garments as best as I could, wrapped Alina’s cloak around myself and staggered to my feet.

I’d heard that unexpected time displacement pop-offs could happen when people were traveling, but I’d never expected to go on one myself. So, where was I? That was the first thing to figure out. When was I, would also be nice to know.

* * *

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