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Constantin ROMAN – Love at the time of the Swine Flue (Part 2 of 2)

October 31st, 2016 · No Comments · Books, Famous People, International Media, PEOPLE, Short Stories & Cameos

Constantin ROMAN – Love at the time of the Swine Flue (Part 2 of 2)

parish-church_1  I spruced myself up, to look more like a country squire that I was and had to live to the expectations of the man who lived at the Manor House. Moreover, I was painfully aware of what was expected of a man who, by ancient tradition, had his own pew, decorated with flying angels bearing the family coat of arms, bang opposite the Vicar’s pulpit. Let us not forget that even my ancestors had their graves here. Scores of stained glass windows, with their mitered figures, filtered the light in the interior of this Norman church: its Gothic Perpendicular aisles were added much later, also by a forebear of mine, in the 15th century. Yet, by some strange quirk of events, the irony was that I was no Anglican, as my ancestors left England when a great-great grandfather went to Saint Petersburg, at the bequest of Catherine the Great. The empress wanted him to design her English gardens and so we obliged and went native in Russia, where scores of sons and grandsons climbed the greasy social ladder to command imperial favors.

Eventually, we married in the local aristocracy and became ourselves bearded Russian Orthodox: but, no sooner that we espoused our new religion, that the Bolshevik revolution engulfed Russia, family fled the country, across Siberia and the Far East, to become rudderless: they fell between two stools, two civilizations. A schizophrenic crisis of identity took hold of us:

– What were we, really: Russian? or, English? or, maybe Huguenots?

Pushkin

Pushkin

To this day I have not come with a clear-cut answer to this dilemma! We were tall people, with blue eyes, the shade of a faded sky, which could have been both Russian and English. Yet, because of a dark secret in the family, I had dark curly hair, not unlike Lord Byron, or even Pushkin, who, rumor had it, was the great grandson of a black slave, brought to Russia, as a curiosity and survived the harsh winters! Luckily, he was hardier than Napoleon! My hairstyle was definitely very striking, and a head-turner in Society.

One day, when I was old enough for safekeeping family secrets, Mother confessed to me that:

           – Her real name was not Olga Ayvasovskaya, but rather Olga Romanovna!

           – How come?

          – Because she was the result of the secret love affair between Grand Duchess Olga, the Tsar’s youngest daughter by an Ossetian Imperial Guard, posted to the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg!

Georgian Princess

Georgian Princess

Ossetians came from the Caucasus and were reputed to be loyal soldiers, like the Swiss Guards at the Vatican and, doubtless, their fiery demeanor caused Olga, the youngest Imperial Princess, to loose her head and in the process become pregnant. Revolution was brewing and times were uncertain, when, in the dead of night, Grandmother was called upon by Empress Alexandra, herself and ordered to take the baby girl away for adoption. Grandmother was too old to have children herself, but she took pity at the bundle of flesh and adopted her as her own, so that the child’s identity should not be discovered. She inquired about the Ossetian officer’s identity, with the Georgian Princess Oberliani, a Lady-in-waiting to the Czarina: only after she was bound to utter secrecy she was told that the putative inseminator was none other than Prince Koussov, son of a rich Caucasian aristocrat… This Prince of Caucasian lineage had all the qualities of quick blood, good looks, flamboyance, excellent shot, and not a little extravagance! crocodileGranny remembered very clearly the dashing Ossetian Commander of the Palace Guards. He used to keep a crocodile as a pet, which he took, on a silver chain, for a walk in the streets of St Petersburg. It caused great alarm among the beautiful ladies.… Those were the days, in the wake of the Bolshevik uprising. Soon after, Lenin’s revolution put paid to this wayward, if colorful society, which disintegrated, either by being slaughtered, or forced into exile.

O, how much I loved grandmother’s tales of old Russia, whether they were true, or fancy! They marked so many milestones in my imagination, which never left me for the rest of my life.

Russian mouzhik

Russian mouzhik

As one would expect, scores of historical characters came to posses my life: Princes and Dukes galore, bearded Patriarchs and Metropolitans, intrepid Cossacks, Tolstoyesque Russian nobility, eccentric revolutionaries and conspirators (Herzen, Kamenev, Zenoviev), ignorant – but loveable mouzhiks, followed by the new children of the Revolution: the destitute Counts dressed in rags, spies, foreign correspondents, diplomats and last but not least, the new contortionists – the communist bureaucracy, not forgetting the NKVD & GRU satraps, interrogators and informers: in fact, all the colours of a riveting Russian panorama, present in my mother’s and my grandmother’s tales, came to life, before my eyes….

Love thy neighbour!

Love thy neighbour!

Suddenly, I stopped reminiscing, as I noticed the Padre coughing, so that I should focus my attention on him: was I nodding, perhaps? No, I was not, just evoking our times in old Russia, in this very English church, in the shires. I managed to put up with the Padre’s sermon, a rubicund fellow, who, at some point, I thought, made an oblique reference to me:

– Love thy neighbour!

he urged the congregation, fixing me, with his bespectacled eyes. How right he was! For a split second my face lit up and I noticed the Padre thinking foolishly that his sermon had some effect on me, as his own face was transfigured, in turn.

Soon, the Bach Fugue saved further embarrassment. The congregation started to shuffle and cough, signalling that service ended. They wanted to make an undignified rush for the exit, but tradition expected that they should wait for the Squire to stand up and leave first. Too bad! I wanted to wait for the last bars of the organ, before I was going to budge: this was my little revenge! At the church door I could not avoid shaking hands with the Vicar and exchange some bland words, as I heard him say:

– Squire, how good to see you! We do not have this privilege very often!

 

Our Viking ancestor

Our Viking ancestor

My dear Vicar, you should not be so surprised: you know that I  am Russian Orthodox, my wife is Roman Catholic and our children are Anglicans: we are a very ecumenical family indeed, but you  are right in expecting us here, more often. This is the church  founded by our ancestors, who were here on Doomsday… well,  even before that, if I were to think of the Vikings… Story goes that our Viking ancestor, Cedric, of the House of Odin, raped all women in this village, and nailed their husbands’ skins to the church door.  One single villager escaped: he was in the woods, herding the swine… he must have been your ancestor!

The Vicar was not going to rise to the occasion: he ignored my provocation, saying instead:

– Squire, you must come to the Vicarage, for tea. We shall have scones, specially baked for you, in the oven!’

vicarage

vicarage

Dreams of the Vicar’s wife’s oven lit my face, as I warmed up to the offer, thinking at the advice given by the village quack, only the day before: “Make love more often, my dear Sir!”

How can I resist, Vicar? It would be churlish of me to say no!  Besides, I live a rather frugal life. So, for me, the offer of scones  with Jersey cream and Vicarage jam is as memorable an experience as listening to a Bach Cantata

 

I suddenly realised that I must have been dreaming: I was in the middle of the road, on this pedestrian crossing, when an impatient driver started tooting, prompting me to jump off my skin and move on:

– These days, people were so impatient with absent-minded, elderly folk:

            – People are so rude… they have no manners… no education, nothing at all!

I thought:

Maybe I am getting too old! Perhaps my children are right complaining that they heard this story before…

  zebra_crossing

                                                            * * * * *

(End of Part 2 of 2)

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