Momdog and Grandma Kay meet Veronica and Igor
March 1999. The gloomy, grey sky seemed to follow my laborious trek to the stalled baggage claim carousel. Grandma Kay – always the efficient traveler who once hailed a New York cab driver with the flourish and theatrics of an opera diva – told me to wait by the carousel while she flagged a taxi. I tried not to think about the sunny skies of California, my husband who I was already missing, our three dogs, and the cozy office I’d left behind.
The clank and clatter of the carousel awakened me out of my reverie, but I still felt alone and anxious in the waiting area that felt like an abandoned basement. Where are all the passengers who were on the flight? What if our luggage is lost? What the hell am I doing here?
“I found him!” My mother cheered heading toward me in a dead run.
“Found who?” I asked hoping she hadn’t just met husband number four.
“His name is Ian and he’s going to take us to our hotel. He’s very nice with a few rough edges.”
Sure enough, when Mom and I walked toward the parking lot, there was Ian, a man about forty with an impish grin standing next to a red car. I dropped my luggage and snapped his photo. That was the easy part of meeting Ian. I didn’t mind that he had no front or back teeth, a crooked smile and more than a faint hint of alcohol. What I did mind was his cab had no seat belts and he drove with the ferocity and speed of a Mario Andretti through incredibly narrow streets.
I wasn’t afraid of dying on Aeroflot anymore. I was afraid of dying in the backseat of Ian’s taxi.
Grandma Kay transformed into a four-year-old on her first roller coaster and took special delight when Ian drove past a stature of a soldier, stuck his fist out the window and yelled, “Fascist!”
All good times have to end (as ours did with Ian) but no sooner had I said good-bye to Ian than another man appeared into my life at the hotel door. This character had a grey moustache, a big smile and a shirt with the imprint of The Honeymooners. Grandma Kay grabbed my camera and took our picture. My frozen expression indicated I didn’t know if I should smile or run.
The lawn was either dead or dying, and there was nothing in the pots and planters but pebbles and stones. The stairway that led to Igor and Veronica’s one-bedroom, six-hundred square foot apartment had no elevator, a bathroom with a sink, newspaper for toilet paper and no hot water
We trudged up four flights of stairs to meet our guests, Veronica and Igor.
Our hosts charmed us with their warm, gracious welcome. Veronica’s short, dark hair framed a face with strong features. Igor, who had the athletic appearance of a tennis pro, attended to our luggage. They invited us into a kitchen that felt like a Picasso painting – walls painted in swirling layers if green, a dish rack and posters of horses. We sat around their kitchen table which was set for an afternoon treat of white bread, few slices of lettuce and pot of tea.
During our get acquainted conversation, Mom and I learned about the day Veronica lost her job as an electronic engineer when the cold war ended, and how they now had to subsist on Igor’s salary of eighteen dollars a month. Within minutes I forgot about Ian, the gray clouds and Aeroflot. There we were, two Russians and two Americans, sitting at a kitchen table able to talk freely about our lives without fear of the KGB listening in.
Suddenly, I forgot about the Hermitage paintings. All I wanted, was to sit at Veronica’s and Igor’s table and listen to their stories about Russia. The trip had come to life.