Tag Archives: Audrey Hepburn

The Way to a Man’s Heart

(Continued from August 12th, 2012.)

Be it from a life-long deprivation of male attention or grandma Tanya’s diagnosis of Galina’s “messed-up nerves”, cuz’s hormones went berserk as soon as she dropped out of school after the sixth grade.  In all fairness, there was not much use to furthering her education, Galina’s parents presumed:  After the accident, she wasn’t bound for big things any longer.  And the Russian inbred understanding that one was born into one’s circumstances — and no amount of prayer, chance or hard work would transcend a citizen into a higher, more fortunate caste — spiraled Galina’s life into one of a peasant.  She would be following her parents’ path, and in that, no comrade could find much tragedy.

“But I’m going to marry!” she announced one Sunday morning, on the steps of a neighboring town’s church.  The other girls-in-waiting surrounded and teased her for the name of her future husband.  (Competition makes women one mean lot, especially when they are those middle-ground, okay-looking ones that hold onto their men with their teeth and fear.)  But Galina remained secretive, as if she were the best of Soviet spies.

“You don’t have no fiance yet!” the young women challenged.  I mean:  Had she fallen off the rocker?!  Who did she think she was?!  Engagements took months to set up.  Dozens of chaperone shifts were arranged by the elders.  Sunday’s best, collected by the girl’s parents throughout her life, were dug out of the familial traveling trunks, washed and ironed, and put to use.  And the honing of womanly duties — by the river bank where other housewives rinsed their laundry and in the kitchen; by the married women’s lectures on the suddenly poignant topics of personal hygiene and the horrors of their wedding nights — these things demanded serious commitment and courage on a girl’s part!

“It takes a lot of work to lure a man!” the girls-in-waiting lectured the crippled simpleton.  There was no way she presented much competition!  And they supposed they would’ve just let her dream on, had she not perturbed them with such a silly idea, in the first place.

And they did have a point:  No one had ever seen Galina starch her petticoats or outline her eyes with sharpened charcoal sold at the department store, to which one had to ride a bus for two and a half kilometers.  In the later part of summer, Galina had yet to travel to other women’s homes to help them pickle cabbage or to cure pork belly in salt baths whenever a local family decided to lessen its livestock count.  And neither was she known to possess any skill mending socks or warding off a bad eye.  She wasn’t in the know on how to start up a stove or a banya, for a man.  She couldn’t brew home-made liquor or even a jar kvas.  Such skills were expected of any bride, especially from one that could’t bewitch a man based on her looks alone.

“So what?!” Galina obnoxiously defended herself.  She was an innocent, but any challenge against her word of truth — and she could throw a fit which even the devil would overhear.  “My dad’s already traveled to three dinners two towns over!” she continued bragging.  “He says even the chairman of the collective farm over there could be interested.  (He’s got a handsome son, didn’t you know?)”

How much truth there was to Galina’s aspirations — no one knew for certain.  But Galina’s father — an alcoholic who freelanced around town to clean people’s outhouses, or to build new ones — was not to be taken lightly, at least by the townsmen; for quite a sizable physique did uncle Pavel have on him!  The man was a giant, barely fitting into doorways; and he was gossiped to have never shared a bed with his wife because there just wasn’t enough room for two.  Pavel was known to sleep in the cow stable; and that is exactly where, according to the gossip, Galina had to have been conceived.

Every night, Pavel raised hell with vodka on his breath.  Galina’s mother Masha had begun to lock him out of the house; and at dawn, she searched the village’s ditches and liquor store alleys and dragged her alcoholic giant home (where she would deposit him into the cow stable yet again).

So, even though Galina’s self-proclaimed bridal status appeared absurd to most, one had to consider the fear Pavel imposed on young grooms-in-the-making.  And there were other factors to consider, as well:

“She does collect a sizeable pension,” the townswomen speculated after the news of Galina’s betrothal began to spread.  “Not a bad deal for a dowry!”

Others approached the subject with medical facts:  “Lord knows, so deprived her womanly parts have been, for all these year!  I bet she’s not too difficult to bed.”

The women giggled.  The subject of sex was not a frequent one in the idealistic minds of Soviet citizens.  Like anywhere else in the world, men wanted it; but it was entirely a responsibility of the women to a. to put out or to hold out, and b. protect themselves in the process.  But even with one’s gynecologist, it was inappropriate to comfortably, openly discuss such matters.  So, to be born pretty was a questionable blessing, for a Russian girl.  But to be born smart — to know how to negotiate her worth before the broken hymen, to smoothly transition herself from under the care of her father to that of her husband — that, in the eyes of women and their mothers, was a much more important entity.  (So, that part about sex being enjoyable — in some women’s lives, they never knew of it.  Enjoyment was left to the other types of women:  the loose ones, the ones that every town had and loved to judge; and in the cities, they were the second “wives” that some husbands kept on the side, on weeknights.)

(To Be Continued.)

A Shift. A Change.

(Continued from July 22nd, 2012.)

Gaining time, ages of it:  That’s how she had begun to feel recently.  It was no longer an anxiety driven chase of minutes, or breaking down her days into portions of obligations and thinking too far ahead; so far ahead that she would forget to observe the very happening of time — and herself in it:  unfolding, expanding, altering, learning to love.  The tension that came from her knowledge that she was lacking, losing time would settle at the medial edges of her eyebrows, making her forehead feel like a heavy awning.  For years, she had worn the weight of time on her face; and while the losses surmounted, as they do in any life, she found herself at a deficit of time for mourning.

Larisa stepped out of the church.  The city, still moving slowly after the snowstorm, was gradually waking.  Older women carried netted bags with groceries from the bazar; the men smoked.  The young raced, chased, took for granted stretches and stretches of time.  The sun had been beaming down; and although it didn’t have the strength to thaw out the iced pavements yet, the smells of eventual spring could already be detected in the air.  Everything was beginning to exhale.  Larisa smiled:

But, of course, change would come!  It always did!  In her memory, there was no specific day when this awareness had happened in her, no event that — again, with time — revealed its lesson:  that she wasn’t really living all this time, but merely waiting for her days to end, wasting them on worry, on an anticipation of her own expiration and on counting up her lacks.  Growing tired, perpetually tired, she found herself lacking patience.  How could her life force fade so early on?  And she was terrified of it:  to lose the joy of living would make a life’s uselessness more daunting.  She didn’t want to live with that.  And she was not going to lose the hope!  No, not the hope; not the sometimes demonstrative belief of hers that people were prone to goodness; and that even though she could never expect it, kindness would make its presence known, and it would lighten up at least some events with grace.  Oh, but she needed to — she had to! — believe that!

Watching the rush of morning trolleys clunk past her, Larisa decided to walk.  The cold stiffness of the air entered her lungs, brought on an alertness.  The kindness hadn’t slept a wink that night.  And so, she continued to roam through her city, with books in hand:  the city which she hadn’t made her home yet, just a place where she would watch her youth unfold; but at any moment, she could give it up, take off again, the gravity of responsibilities not affecting her yet; and she could chose any place (she could go any place, really!); and the mere awareness of such freedom made the heart swell with tearful gratitude.

In that state, while absorbing the city from the top stair of the library building, she had met him.  It was the music, at first, streaming out of the rolled down window of his car.   She stopped to listen to it:  Chopin?  Debussy?  In the gentle strokes of the piano movement, the city glistened.  She stepped down and resumed her walk.

“I was just thinking myself, ‘Am I ready to part with this Blok collection?’”  He had gotten out of the car and was now leaning against the passenger’s window at the back seat.  Larisa smiled:  Blok — Russia’s golden boy of poetry — had made her girlfriends swoon all through college.  She studied the man’s face for a glimmer of ridicule:  Had he seen her leaving the building with half a dozen of hard-bound (cloth) tomes, half of which she had renewed, unready to part with the moods, the atmosphere they proposed?  But if anything, the man was smiling at his own expense, bashfully and maybe even seeking her opinion on the matter.  She considered it, then spoke carefully:

“You should try some early Akhmatova.”

“Too tragic,” he responded, “especially for the end of this winter.”

That’s it!  Right there, she knew exactly what she meant!  But for the first time, she did’t catch herself forced into a space of controlled flirtation from which she could observe — but not always appreciate — the effects of her presence.  How can I hold all this space now, she thought; how can I stand here, not putting up the heightened facade of my sex?

She couldn’t remember if it had ever been this easy before.  Aloneness would still happen, of course, even if this were indeed the evidence of her change.  It wouldn’t stop, neither would she want it to.  But now it united, linked her to the rest of humanity; and even in the isolation of the specificity of her most private experiences, she would understand so much; and in that surrender (if only she could manage to not lose herself in fear again), she was certain she would find kindness.

“How Can [Someone] So Gangsta Be So Pretty, in Pictures?”

She was a dainty lil’ thing, which is not even a preferable beauty requirement for me.  But some girls do wear it well.

First of all:  There was the pixie haircut.  It was the whole Jean Seberg in Breathless thing.  But then again, she seemed a bit less vulnerable, less breakable; less controversial.  Despite her petite physique, she seemed strong, as someone with a wise and compassionate heart.  So maybe, she was more of an Audrey Hepburn type:  Like grace, and classic beauty:  Timeless!

A pair of large dark eyes were alert and clear.  There are some girls whose smarts are obvious in the perpetual little smirk that lingers in the corners of their eyelids.  I like those girls:  The Kat Dennings types.  But truth be told, I’ve always found them a bit intimidating.  I can’t really keep up with their references; and no matter how much I pride myself in having street smarts, my self-assurance always fades in their company.  They speak of rock ‘n’ roll — they are rock ‘n’ roll! — and they are ever so cool!

Often, they seem to really dig sports, but not in that other way that pretty college girls do:  hanging out at sports bars for the sake of male attention.  And somehow, they are always up on the latest politics and gossip alike.  So smart!  So cool!

But this one — was a bird of a different color.  She was obviously quick and judging by the breathlessness of her companions that evening — she was utterly adored.  And as I watched her from the higher seats of the auditorium, I realized she made others feel important.  That — was her charm:  her timeless grace.  She listened, with nothing but sincerity lingering in the corners of her eyelids, and that tiny compassionate smile never fading from her lips.

The lips.  Alas, the lips:  She wore a layer of pink gloss on hers.  There were days once upon a time when I had tried to surrender to the call of my own feminine maintenance.  In the history of my make-up routines, I used to utilize it primarily as a shield.  I would wear layers of make-up in college, after nagging my BFF for enough tutorials.  And in my early years in Hollyweird, make-up came with the job description of a cocktail-girl-slash-hostess-slash-actress-waiting-for-her-discovery.  Those were exactly the days when I would try to apply the sticky substance to my lips.  Somehow though, it never really worked out for me:  I would be constantly spitting out my hair that would stick to my lips — then all over my face — and smear my paint job.  (Utterly annoying and very ungraceful!) And then, I would have to reapply, which always rung untrue to my nature; too high maintenance.

Somehow though, this girl’s lips appeared perfectly made-up from the beginning of the event to the end.  I haven’t even seen her fussing with it once, as pretty college girls do, for the sake of male attention.  (I personally believe that unless you’re whipping out a ChapStick, a chick’s make-up routine should be kept for the secrecy of the ladies’ room.  But then again:  My high maintenance and I aren’t too close.  So, what the fuck do I know?)

Her faded golden necklace was vintage.  So were her beige Mary Janes.  And so was the midnight blue mini-dress with tiny white polka dots.  The length of it must’ve been amended from its original rockabilly swing style.  And the wide beige belt with a buckle that matched her necklace perfectly added to all the carefully selected details.

All this to say:  I was smitten.  Well, mesmerized, for sure.  My own large dark eyes and fluffy haircuts have often earned me others’ comparisons of me to the classic beauties of old cinema.  But my style was never so well thought-out.

To the contrary, as my years in Hollyweird accumulated, I seemed to have settled for the least amount of maintenance.  I don’t fuss.  I don’t make much use of my iron.  And I am often in a habit of telling my awaiting comrades and lovers:

“I’ll be ready — in ten!”

There have been times when my routine takes less time than those of my companions.  And a few have commented on it:

“Quick to undress, eh?”

But in a presence of classic beauty — I never fail to be inspired.

“Why can’t I be more like her?” I used to wonder, in my early days in Hollyweird.  I had arrived here from New York and was already well on the way to minimizing my high maintenance habits.  But then there was the cocktail-girl-slash-hostess-slash-actress-waiting-for-her-discovery era, and I would prolong the return of the unfussy tomboy I used to be before my adolescence burdened me with its presumptions of womanhood.

These days, I don’t even wonder any more.  I admire, instead, with nothing but sincerity lingering in the corners of my eyelids.  I admire other women — the choices they make in the maintenance of their womanhood; and I never miss an opportunity to grant them a compliment.

But to each — her own, I think; and I embrace the short maintenance routine that I have figured out for myself, with time.  Because beauty and grace is always timeless; and mine — is actually on time.

Grace: Unlimited

Heya, Sleepy Heads!

While you’re dreaming out your dreams and rebooting before the start of yet another day — god willing! — I’ve been greeting the sun for you.  (No worries:  It’s not up yet; but when it is, I shall relay the tales of your magnificence.)

And when you do wake, my lovelies, I hope you take the time — I pray you have the time — to tread the ground with baby steps:  rediscovering gravity and balance, not anticipating the next footstep and never missing the ones you’ve already left behind. Hold the ground, my darlings, with every step.  Hold your bloody ground! Hug it with the arches of your soles and it will return you — to your self.  But then, with the next footstep — let go! Somewhere in mid-flight, each foot may find the thrill of courage, and you just may grow a little.

Baby steps, babies!

May you have the patience and the surrender to move at the speed this day will ask of you.  May you keep your eyes on the horizon — for your dreams also arise there, slowly, like the sun, while gradually granting more light to your path.  But if today, you must trip or fall down — no biggie!  Tell your ego to hush-up with its routine embarrassments and other gratuitous tortures, dust yourself off, and keep on — with baby steps.

(Look at that!  The sky is fully lit by now, but the sun is still coyly hiding behind the mountain.  It’s taking taking its time.  Baby steps.)

There was a girl the other day — a woman stranger — who walked into a cafe like any other in LA-LA-LA; but the familiar moves of opening the door, stepping in, negotiating her space in line — she committed them with awareness and authenticity.  Oh, she was luminous!  With not a touch of make-up on her calm face, with her liberated, shoulder-length hair and a simple black jumpsuit that hugged enough of her curvatures and hid the others, she was reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s grace and Diane Lane’s sexuality.

The line-up of anonymous writers typing out their dreams at the wall-long booth of the joint stopped in mid-action:

“Who in the world is that?” — we all wondered; then proceeded rummaging through our scripts to fit her in…  Well, at least, that’s what I did.

But the girl remained.  That’s just it:  She remained.  (Baby steps!)  Patiently, with her hands in the pockets of her jumpsuit, she waited for her turn; then for her drink, then a table; then for her girlfriends, who arrived in a pack, with confusion and noise in tow.

“Oh my gosh, hon!” one of the creatures whined, refusing to adjust to the general volume at which the rest of us operated there.  “You look so… cute!”

My Diane Lane was already standing, sincerely leaning into the other women’s embraces while letting the loudmouth to henpeck at her appearance.  “Thank you,” she said.

“What’s this you’re wearing?” the whiny broad insisted on being loud.  “Is this — OH MY GOSH! — is this a jumpsuit?!”

“Yes.  Yes, it is,” the Diane Lane reminiscence said and smiled, ever so lovely.

Wow.  Mesmerized.  I was utterly mesmerized.  All of us were.  The gray-haired Morgan-Freeman-esque writer next to me scoffed, and at noticing my gaze, shook his head and hung it low:  Alas, humanity.  The other women in the group reshuffled either themselves or the chairs around the picnic table; but the loudmouth was still on a trip of her own:

“I wish I could wear that!”  She obviously had some beef with the injustice of her life, her body — her self.

With not a hint of bitchiness or self-defense in her voice, “You can,” said my Lane.

Okay.  Hold-up here!  Is this:  GRACE?  Well, yes.  Yes, it is.  The grace of self-awareness and forgiveness…  Actually, come to think of it (come to recall it), my Diane Lane moved as if she had nothing to forgive.  The pebbles of insecurity that the other woman hurled at our lovely girl bounced off, seemingly leaving not a scratch behind, then obeyed gravity and landed at her feet.  And my Lane remained unscathed, unaffected, unbruised; even lovelier after having to insist on her kindness.  That’s just it.  She remained:  light and weightless, causing no damage on Earth.  She held herself up, never bracing herself out of fear or injustice; treading carefully and kindly, as if this day — was the very first for her to discover.  Baby steps.

Aha:  The sun’s up.  Shall we?