Once again we were on the go! Every time we moved, we came to a new and different world, and I was already getting hooked on traveling– at least it was never boring! The Andes mountains were so beautiful- the air was fresh and cool, the skies bright blue, the mountain and hills brilliant green. Where we were was not a forest, nor a desert, but an alpine plateau with short vegetation and multicolored little flowers. My body felt heavier due to the altitude and the cold mountain air, but at least it wasn’t the bitter icy cold of European winter, more like a crisp clean cold.
We were driving to San Cristobal, which is even closer to the Colombian border. The people there were shorter and darker than in Caracas or even Merida—they were Indio Puro, pure Indian, unlike the mixture of Spanish, Italian, Russian and Mestizo that I’d seen in Caracas. Later I realized that the women of Venezuela are some of the most beautiful in the world, winning Miss Universe or Miss World titles almost every other year, and for a good reason: they are gorgeous!
San Cristobal had a Teatro Municipal (Municipal Theater), four stories high and the biggest building in town, and I began taking ballet lessons there. There was an older Russian woman teaching ballet, a real ballerina, and she became good friends with my mother. As my training progressed, I got into better condition and moved into first or second ballerina in the little company.
Up to this point, I had only used little ballet slippers, but now it was time to get real ballet shoes, the kind you can stand up in en point, held up by the toes and the shoe tips. It was my idea to get red shoes, not the usual beige or pink, and I got what I wanted. After my one and only performance, however, the director of the ballet came looking for me because I hadn’t paid for them yet! I hid under a big conference table, but he finally found me after a long search, up on the top floor. I clutched my precious zapatillas rojas to my chest and refused to let go, but finally they wrested them away. Oh, how I cried! My poor mama was so sad because she had tried hard to get the money to pay for the shoes, but things in our family had started to deteriorate and every financial transaction had to go first through father. She soothed me and tried to tell me that it would be all right, that somehow we would find the money to get my red shoes back, but in the end, we soon moved again and I never did. Although I was upset, I wasn’t angry with father or mother, nor did I act like a brat like some spoiled children might have done–I think my life experiences as a refugee and immigrant had conditioned me to understand that this was just the way things were. You either had money for red shoes or you didn’t, ni modo.
By this time, my Spanish was getting very good, and I heard mama say, “Ludmila reminds me of Maria Mijalovna,” who was a translator to the Czar in the old days. I hadn’t heard of her, of course, so I asked my mama, who explained that this famous woman spoke 22 languages! I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a lot!” I only spoke Russian, a little German and, most useful of all in my new life, Spanish.
I had learned the value of languages, since I now served as translator on the business trips papa made to sell Embotidos in Colombia. We would drive over the mountain roads with our red truck full of sausages and meats, through the cool mountain air. Meanwhile, Galina went to work in Caracas, since like Anatoly she could not get along with father, who was beginning to drink too often and lost his temper frequently (I did not know then that it was his alcoholic buzz causing that).
Without my siblings, I was scared and lonely, and looking forward to a new chapter in my life. Little did I know what the future held….