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An Indyref Romance: Harmony and Dissonance – Chapter 16

Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Lanfranco, Saint Cecilia and an Angel, Italian, 1582 - 1647, c. 1617/1618 and c. 1621/1627, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection

After a brief exchange of e-mails in early July, at Effie’s suggestion, Jenny didn’t write again until late August. When she did she wrote in much improved Russian.

Dear Effie,

I’ll be coming back to Aberdeen soon and I’m already thinking of my studies and how good it will be to get back to thinking about things that are important. I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to spend some time here. As you suggested I’ve kept myself to myself. I’ve had individual lessons with two of the teachers. We’ve focussed on grammar and reading and ways in which I can speak more naturally. I listen to the other students talking in English at the coffee breaks, but I don’t take part. I talk to them as if I were Russian. I’m sure they know it’s not true, but I don’t mind.  I’ve hardly spoken any English since I arrived here. It’s liberating in a way I never really knew before. Beyond a few tourists I would hardly have the chance to speak English anyway. Russian only here. In the shops they don’t speak English. On the streets they don’t speak English. It’s another world and I love it.

I know you feel guilty about what happened. But you mustn’t. Of course, I was upset and it all came completely unexpectedly. Everything was going so well. We were making plans and then suddenly… Well, I hope he’s happy. Maybe it’s best for people to be with their own kind. If he has what he wants now, then it’s for the best. Only I know him better than he knows himself. I don’t think he will be happy. I think he can do better. He is better. But that’s already old news. As always your advice was sound. I cried for a little while, I accepted that it was over for ever and I moved on. As you suggested, I didn’t write. What’s the point of arguing over such a matter? Does it ever change anyone’s mind? If someone says they no longer want to be with you, that they’ve found someone else, how are you supposed to persuade them otherwise? It’s demeaning to even try. So I’m glad I didn’t.  In the end, I’m not sure if any of these kind of arguments have any point. I mean arguments about things that are fundamental to us. I can’t argue about my faith or, indeed, my morality or any of the other ways I think. The way I think about politics is just the same way I think about anything else. I start from the individual and work outwards. It’s possible, perhaps, to show this way of thinking in how I live, but that’s the only form of persuasion I know.

I’ve been hearing all sorts of stories from Petr’s sister and her husband about how you came here just before the Soviet Union fell apart. How it was a closed city then, but somehow they were able to find a way for you to come and be with Petr. They say that’s how you learned to speak so well, because you had to. But that at times you had to pretend you couldn’t speak for some reason so as not to give yourself away. Oh, Effie, it sounds so romantic that you made such a trip to be with Petr. I long to hear about it. I ask Olga and Andrei every now and again when I have the chance, but they only want to tell little bits. They say things like “that was all a very long time ago.” You must tell me what happened, every little bit when I get back.

I’ve learned a new way of living here being part of a Russian family. People think that Russians are cold and unfriendly, that they never smile, and that they’re brusque, but it’s not true. Of course, in shops they don’t smile and that takes some getting used to. And sometimes the waitresses are impossible when they ignore you. But when you get to know them, these people are much more friendly than we are. You just have to be introduced and they treat you like they’ve known you forever. Thank you so much, Effie, that you organised it so that I would stay with the Lavrovs. Nearly every afternoon and evening there’s been someone to take me somewhere or introduce me to other people.

I’ve become special friends with Svetlana and Ivan, your niece and nephew. Sveta, as you know, is very beautiful in that Russian way, blonde and slim. It’s a little funny talking to a girl of eighteen who is so much more worldly than I am. She expects me to know all sorts of things that I don’t. She asked about my boyfriends, but I told her I’d only had one and that we’d recently broken up. She said she’d help me find one here, but that I’d have to wear different clothes and change my hair and shave my legs and arms and such like. We all went swimming at the beach at Svetlagorsk. Sveta whispered to me about my funny old costume, all baggy. I told her that I didn’t care that much how I looked and that I wasn’t going to waste my time plucking my eyebrows or changing the way I was intended to look. If a man liked how I looked, that was nice, but if he didn’t, I wasn’t that bothered. She didn’t believe me and she’s right, of course. I do care how men look at me. I do want to be attractive. It was a nice feeling to be loved. But I’m not going to spend my life trying to be something that I’m not. I’m not going to look like Sveta no matter how hard I try and even if she didn’t shave her legs and her arms, men would still want to be with her. I see how they walk past on the beach and they take her in. They take all of her in. She sees it, too. She loves it. But I’m not sure there’s any happiness to be found there. We’ve become very close, and she talks of what she hopes for. She wants to meet someone successful who can give her a better life. It’s true that this is probably her most obvious route to a better lifestyle. But I try to tell her that it won’t necessarily be a better life. They are poorer, the Lavrovs, than almost everyone in Britain. They struggle and have to think about what they buy. Going to a restaurant is a rare occurrence. What they earn is much less than the average person in Scotland who receives unemployment benefit and it’s not as if things are much cheaper here.  But they’re happier, I think. They have something more real. It’s all rather like Britain in the fifties. Or what I imagine Britain was like. Men are expected to bring flowers when they take a girl out. People have attitudes that would be considered very old-fashioned in the UK. It’s like the sixties never happened. Sveta and Ivan admire Britain. They see what life is like on the television and they rather idealise it. But I try to tell them that there’s something rather special here, too.

Sveta has tried to set me up with a few men. She asked me if I liked Ivan. I do. I like him very much, but it would hardly do to have a romance with someone who lives in the same house. He is very nice and we’ve spend a lot of time together. He’s just a little older than me and very charming. When I first came here, I didn’t understand what anyone said. But on these afternoons and evenings I found myself so wanting to discuss things that I just kept trying. I remember going to a gallery with Ivan. It can only have been a couple of weeks after I arrived and we started talking about films. I just didn’t know the words for things so I started trying to describe them to him. He guessed pretty well and did his best to help me. Sometimes I knew the Russian word for something, but not it’s opposite so I’d ask him what the opposite was. Sometimes I used my hands and did a sort of charades with him. He found it all very amusing, but he enjoyed the experience, too. It’s amazing we actually had some fairly deep discussions of literature and art even if I only spoke broken Russian then.

I think Ivan might actually rather like me. Sveta thinks so. For me it’s all too early. I haven’t really been even thinking about men this summer. I notice someone who’s handsome, and it’s been very flattering having Sveta organise some very nice meetings with people she knows. They’ve started to become very flattering about my Russian, but I think in the end when I sit down with someone new who Sveta’s brought to meet me, it’s Sveta they want to be with, not me. I see men look at her. I see the desire in their eyes. They love her beauty. They want her beauty. But do they want her? I know I’m just average looking, but I don’t regret it. Who wants to be loved for something transient that will fade? Who wants to be loved for something on the surface? I try to tell her that, but I can see that she thinks her beauty is her ticket to a better life. She thinks she can trade it for someone who will bring her what she wants. I see this everywhere in the way the women walk down the street. The way they dress is to attract. Not in the way that girls do in Scotland by displaying themselves, but rather by what they think is the stylish way to dress in the West. Of course they often make a hash of it. They just don’t get the idea of a little going a long way. It’s a bit like a girl playing with her mother’s make up. It’s often all too much. The men seem to care less about their appearance and on the whole they seem less attractive than their sisters. How can that be? But they’re also more natural. They’re not trying to sell anything. I prefer that.

So I’ve not met anyone here in that way. Perhaps, something might have happened if I had allowed it. There were a couple of moments with Ivan when I wondered if he wanted to say something. There have been a few hints. I think about him, too, occasionally. He’s bright, he’s kind, and we believe much the same sort of things. We talk about literature and he’s shown me the simplicity of Russian faith. We sometimes pass a church and just go in. He lights a candle as do I, and we stand there for a minute looking at the icons. Then we go. There’s no need to talk about it. But I feel something in these places. Perhaps, something I’ve never felt in Scotland. We’re going to write, Ivan and me, and who knows maybe I will soon return to my friends in Russia.

I haven’t been following the news from home at all. I’ve just wanted to forget about the whole thing. I can’t quite forgive those who started this process of dividing our country. They have done me harm. If it wasn’t for their stupid referendum, I would still be with the man I loved. The first man I loved. Perhaps, I was wrong to write those essays. But it wasn’t an attack on him. I understand why he resented what I did. I can also understand why he wanted to go back to his former girlfriend. They were spending a lot of time together. I knew that already. Doubtless, she offered herself, and as he said to me once it’s difficult for a man who’s in a sweet shop not to take the sweets. I think he lost something rather more precious, as did I. For that, if nothing else, I can’t forgive the SNP. That no doubt is a sin. I should always forgive. I will try if they lose. But sometimes I think of the words: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. But it seems there’s nothing much to worry about. Even if I don’t follow the news, the Russians sometimes mention something about the referendum. It seems that we’re a long way in the lead. They’re pleased even if there’s a bit of tension between Russia and Britain. They just can’t understand why anyone would want to break up a great country. Nor can I.

I’ll be back at the beginning of September and will come and visit you almost immediately. Until then:

With love,

Jenny.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2018/06/an-indyref-romance-harmony-and.html

About Effie Deans

Profile photo of Effie Deans
Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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