I am a Russian and a Cossack by birth, a Venezuelan by exile, an American by choice, and a Mexican by fate. I was born in Russia in 1939, when World War 2 was brewing, AA was in its nascence, and the world was changing as it always will. My family lived in a small village in the Kuban area, the ancestral homeland of the Cossacks along the southern border of White Russia. This is the story of my life- a journey in which everything stable and safe was torn apart by war, flight and exile. I spent my first half century of existence seeking out the wildest extremes of adventure, danger and stimulation, whether from sex, alcohol, drugs or incessant wandering. If there is any simple explanation or easy excuse for my wanton ways, it is probably the fact that I started out in life as a refugee, and never could settle down in any one place. And to tell the truth, there was never a city, a man or a career that was exciting enough to hold me for very long.
Can I dream, imagine, or pretend to remember, being born on December 20, 1939?
Around midday, my mother Palina gave birth to a funny looking dark-haired girl, and the first words I heard were my father angrily asking, “Whose ugly monkey is that?” He abruptly turned and stormed out without bothering to give me a name. Outside at the window, two children stared in at the newborn; these were my sister Galina, age 10, and my brother Anatoly, age 16 years. They had come home from school when our family’s maid told them they had a new baby sister. Galina exclaimed, “What in heaven is that?” Anatoly replied, “It looks like a round football with black hair!”
When my mother Palina came home the next day with that ball in her arms, the first thing they noticed was my huge “blooming eyes,” staring intently and taking everything in. Anatoly my brother had blonde hair with green eyes; Galina my sister had blonde hair with brown eyes. Palina had brown hair and big, dark, loving eyes. But this little one had hazel eyes and dark hair! My mother said, “Well, I don’t know who she looks like, but we have to give her a name. What shall we call her?”
Galina looked at the funny furball and said, “Mum, do you remember that opera by Glinka, from the Pushkin poem, ‘Ruslan and Ludmila’?” My mother, remembering, got a big smile on her face and said, “Yes, that’s it, we will christen her Ludmila!”
I smiled and appeared to nod my little head as if in full approval. In a moment, we were all in agreement:
Ludmila I became.