Archive for the ‘Caracas’ Category

Daud with Ludmila in one of the parties

Daud with Ludmila at one of the parties

( thoughts of the past, about Onda Nueva fiasco)
Preparing for the big party for New Years eve.and on…..

Somehow the toughest part of writing is writing itself! It is been said by writers much better than I. It has also been said by producers, film makers, and event publisher that the STORY is the most important part, and that is exactly what I have.

My dear readers, I just let life happen to me. I had no plans, not a clue what I was doing next, no plan B, not even plan A.

Jack was helping me organize our house for the New Year’s party. It was getting cold in the nights, so we decided to bring in all our small animals. I had been selling them to a pet shop in Beverly Hills, but now where to put them? The dining room could be closed in, so we chose that space for them. We took them out of the large garage and brought them in the house. The finches are tiny birds of all different colors that were in the garage. We decided to bring them in their cages, and the baby guinea pigs too. We put them on the formal dining room table, which happens to be too small for our New Year party dinner of 40 guests.

I could close the doors of the dining room so it would be perfect. We finished putting them in there. Everywhere in the dining room, including on the table, and on the chairs, was full of animalitos (little animals). “Now they all will be warm here,” Jack said. I just have to say, with no discrimination, that I have had enough husbands of all different religions to know the best. The Jewish man makes the best husband, because the woman is the queen of his kingdom.

Then it was time to set up a large table for 40 guests in the living room where there was plenty of space, and in front of the large rock fireplace which had seen many wild parties. And through the big sliding glass wall we could see the outdoor fireplace and the nearly professional size swimming pool. We checked that we had everything ready for our New Years bash night. As we worked, Jack and I talked, reminiscing about Onda Nueva, first World Music festival before the one in Chile. We remembered this union communist man, who stole all our cameras from the hotel rooms in the Tamanaco Hotel. And how Peter Graves spoke to them the night before the opening premier gala, and joking, doing guns with his fingers, pointing at the bad guy, while whistling the tune of “Mission Impossible”.

Ludmila in her garden

Ludmila in her garden

While negotiation was going on because we were needing more capital, I managed to get another investor to help us out. We had to hire a couple of Venezuelan union guys or else they would not let us start the festival.

Since we were all busy doing things to prepare for the festivities, the cameras and all the recording equipment were left alone and disappeared from the cameramans rooms. At that time it was my turn to go see every big important person in Caracas that I knew. I knew it would pay off that I had a life before in Venezuela, I kept my hopes high for good results. We had a  couple of days off at some point and Jack was not feeling good so I suggested we go to the Island of Margarita. Jack was happy for that, to see where I had grown up and gone to boarding school, at Inmaculada Concepción. I loved walking there, thinking of my dreams on the swing at school, that had become realities. The classrooms appeared so small now. Mother superior was still there and remembered me. It was sweet to visit with my husband holding my hands.

We drove and walked the entire island, on the beach and through a little park where I would swing high trying to reach the unreachable stars. Back then the cities of the island were old and primitive, but at that visit they were updated and new.

That evening after dinner, we went for a walk where I used to live near the houses of the fishermen in front of the caribbean sea. I remembered opening the oysters that they collected with their bare hands from the bottom of the sea. They would open them one by one looking for pearls and I was allowed to open as many as I wanted too. If I found any pearls they let me keep them. As we walked we passed homes with the doors wide open into their living room where families were watching TV. We could hear and see it from the sidewalk, then we stopped abruptly because Jack started nearly screaming at the top of his lungs shouting, “Stop look that’s you in the tube!” Then everybody turned to look at us, with their mouths opened. They recognized me from the opening scene of “Mission Impossible” with Peter Graves. The whole family was around watching the TV series of this show. What a thrilling moment that was, but we just said hello and we waved goodbye. We kept walking to our hotel, happy and excited, laughing at the small world we live in.

Back in Caracas, we went in the rooms of the cameraman since we heard that there was news to ask about. Something at the aeropuerto (airport)? Apparently a helicopter came yesterday and landed on the gardens of the Hotel to unload boxes that went to the cameraman’s rooms. When we arrived we went immediately to the rooms and found Jimmy Maddox laughing and telling us the story. Everything was back! So we hired two of the union cameraman so they could sit and learn the American way how to do a festival film, and today you can see a documentary of it.

It was no surprise that Walter did not keep any of his promises, not even a penny when one day I was in much need, and asked him for help. He ignored everything and later I heard he remarried. I also knew I did not need him now any more, and God was making my dreams come true.


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Reality truly is stranger, stronger and more exciting than any fiction, so just keep reading: this is a true story!

To describe the fantastic gaiety, joy, and happiness of everyone invited to the Onda Nueva festival is almost impossible. The air was so thick with excitement and electrifying energy, especially from hearing all the new arrangements that Aldemaro invented to fit into the composers songs. It resulted in a magic rhythm, which is still used today. Armando Manzaneros, and others heard their music like never before, “Esta Tarde Vi Llover”, “Somos Novios”– The melodies of these songs came alive with his arrangements.

I received a call from “La Hacienda La Vega”. We arrived by taxi to a large piece of land in the middle of Caracas with a long row of palm trees as you enter an elegant antique iron gate, the road leads about half a mile up to an incredible mansion. The garage was another building that contained several Rolls Royces and other rare cars. My husband, Jack and I, had been invited at the request of Reinaldo Herrera and Mimi, and to bring with us if it was possible, Peter Graves and his wife Joan. His lovely wife Mimi amazed me. She was in her 70s but looked fantastic and was taking classes in Russian. It seemed incredible at her age and unusually fantastic, I thought, since Russian is a very difficult language. But now that I am in her age bracket it seems natural, after all I take classes of Tango, Yoga, and other studies.

 Onda Nueva Festival problems whit Venezuelan cameraman  Union Syndicate Peter Graves and I  said let have a drink, after they left  and I had  promise them, agreeing  to there demand for the extra money payment to be done the next day.

From the World Music Festival. Peter Graves said, “Let’s have a drink” 

We entered an enormous living room surrounded by French antique furniture from the Empire Napoleonic era; they had orchids in vases, probably from the palm trees outside that were full of orchids in bloom, all waving in the breeze gently inviting us in. Standing in the entrance to greet us was an elegant tall charming blue blood Señor Reinaldo Herrera, with his gold and black cigarette holder in his hand, made by Dunhill.  He greeted us charmingly and escorted us to the entrance of a bright salon, full of memories and history of very famous people of royal blood and political office from all over the world. There were pictures on the mantles of Rodolfo Valentino, and Venezuelan presidents since the time of Simón Bolívar. We sat on a soft big sofa, had a couple cocktails and made small talk. We were escorted to a fabulous formal dining room with terracotta colors of orange and yellow, and blue plush velvet curtains. The crystals shined brilliantly and the center piece was full of fresh orchids, my favorite flower.

There we were with the Herrera family, Reinaldo Sr. and Jr., Mimi, and the other son Luis Felipe, who I had the pleasure of knowing a long time ago, from Alejandro’s Penthouse. It was an excellent dinner with many courses, including the famous typical Venezuelan bread Arepas– They are most delicious hot, just out of the oven or grill, made of corn like the mexican tortillas but they look like hamburgers round thick and puffy but soft and moist inside. My favorite way to prepare an arepa is by opening it in half, then putting butter and Venezuelan white homemade cheese with a big slice of avocado. A tasty delightful experience everyone must try!
After dinner, we went to another room where there was a grand piano. We were served champagne with dessert for the ladies, and cognac and cigars for the gentlemen.

To our surprise, as we were ready to ask for a taxi for our departure, Reinaldo asked me aside and insisted to “Please take the Rolls Royce for your entire stay in Caracas, and if you wish, take my chauffeur too. Of course, if you prefer here are the keys to the Bentley.” I decided with all that drinking I preferred a chauffeur, so we went out to a private key club after proper farewells and there I did some heavy drinking. I had too many scotch and sodas, my favorite drink at that time, and went on to drink all night, Johnny Walker Black or Chivas Regal. Peter was a good drinking partner and his wife did not spill anything either. Jack was never much of a drinker.

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Alejandro's Penthouse. He is in the center, Ludmila next to him in one of the parties.

At Alejandro’s Penthouse. He is in the center, with Ludmila next to him

We headed to New York again for the big Fashion Week, staying in a luxury penthouse by the East River across from the United Nations Building– a gorgeous little apartment for my boss, Bud, and me. Although I adored New York, I still had a beautiful home, many friends, and my mother to go back to in Hollywood. Not to mention the dwindling hope of being with Walter. What started with him as antipathy had become a burning love, full of admiration and respect, of course frustration and pain as well, but as the saying goes, there is no light without dark. Inside my heart there was still a light keeping my love for him alive.

At that time in New York everywhere I would go reminded me of the time Walter and I had together. Sometimes the work and social life kept me busy enough to forget him. Every day after work I went for a drink or two, or three. I left my modeling things with my enormous bag in our apartment. In the same building there was a great bar, overlooking Manhattan so I went there, while Bud got ready to go out. If I was very tired then I made dinner in our penthouse, but it was tempting to go out, have some cocaine, dance, and drink all night; especially in that famous discotheque that belonged to the wife of Richard Burton. After a few sniffs and dances we would inevitably start talking about how our day was, and we consistently had two drinks together with my boss Bud who would say, “Why can’t you train the other models to walk like you?” Then he would go home and I still lived up la vida loca (the crazy life) until morning. I would walk to our place with a glass full in one hand (not coffee) and on to the set of my shows. My poor feet had enough activity and so did I. Bud was such a nice person and he let me sleep until the show started and everybody was ready. I would be in a private little dressing room of my own. This treatment only happened when the designer needs your body for his or her creations, and you are a great model on the catwalk or in photos, and you sell every piece of garment you’re showing, then and only then, you will get away with a lot. I was modeling again, all day long and then maybe I would go out to dinner at some really exquisite place. Next day, it was the same routine all over again, for the entire week. Discotheques at night, and modeling all day.

Ludmilas birthday party in her house. Daud  proposing her in front of all her quest and mama.

Ludmila’s birthday party, 1964: Daud proposing to her in front of mama and all the guests

One day we went to work in our showroom, on the 30th floor. As usual when we finished work it was dark already, and the last buyer had left. All of a sudden the lights started going out; we stood by the big window and watched as area after area of Manhattan and greater New York were shutting down the brilliant lights and everything turned pitch black!  People, like us that had stayed late, were just coming out of the showrooms and boutiques, and other people started coming out from everywhere. It was a great commotion, and panic started. None of us knew what was going on? Maybe an atomic bomb attack from the Russians? There was no radio transmitting, no electric power, so now people started walking down the escalators but it was not easy as it is a long way down, besides we were in fear not knowing. It was a very scary moment to say the least.

Thank God Bud and I were healthy and strong, so down we went, all 30 some floors, nervous and not sure what to expect. When we finally arrived to the main floor, Bud went immediately to stand in line with another maybe 50 people or so wanting something from the lobby desk manager of the building hotel. The hotel management was trying to accommodate us with what they had, just some snacks and drinks. The showrooms for fashion week generally are in big flashy hotels. People started playing cards, drinking and talking, not in a real panic anymore, but anxious because no one knew for certain what was going on. The people of New York behaved amazingly well, actually, with no robberies or vandalism. Somehow Bud got help from the lobby manager and put us up in the basement on some cots. Among all this, we met a black man who became our supplier, even offered us some for free. I thought it was kind of him, giving us free cocaine and wishing us a good trip back, and that soon we will see him back in L.A. Later back in Hollywood he did contact us. The great New York Blackout …what an experience!

Now I had to go back to Caracas again, although this time I was going on my own business. I flew down with my portfolio, my composites and my ideas for a show of models in Venezuela. I don’t really know how or when this came about, but there I went with mamachka. We stayed in El Hotel Tamanaco, that is so familiar to me, and where thoughts of Walter suffocate me! With so much going on in my life I thought I had almost banished that memory, but now here I am confronted with all our past, reminding me that I was not cured of his spell, and the pain, anger, and sadness came back to me forcefully. The horrible awareness of what I had done trembled within my body. I killed those innocent souls, and I will have to live with it the rest of my life, paying for my sin– can I ever forgive myself?

Renee called me and asked if I could come to an interview? Everyone wanted to know how this girl from Venezuela made it in Hollywood. On his show was the men who played in the French film “Papillon” and the men from the hit film “Asphalt Jungle”. I really felt like a star in Caracas, it was fantastic! I was someone people recognized and saw on the cover of magazines, with my pictures larger than the President of Venezuela. I was invited to many fancy places, including a very private penthouse party for Mr. Rodriguez. Anybody who was anybody in the society of Venezuela was there, and some of the prettiest ladies too– Miss Venezuela Susanna Duin, Miss Universe, and Miss Mundo!

Of course the party included a very formal dinner under a bougainvillea tree that must have been there since the building was built. It covered the whole outdoor terrace like an umbrella of deep red flowers, and seemed to bloom all year round. The table was laid with exotic seafood dishes, and plenty of wine and champagne but then I went to the bar, like this was not enough!  I had to drink some more and I took a couple of pep pills that were there under the bar top behind the bottles. The bar was next to the terrace, with the living room to the side. The room was very cozy, warm with soft pillows and chairs, wide open French doors and windows, and full of light music. It was just right, with the fragrance of the flowers and the moon peeking in, on this wonderful tropical night of Caracas.

I was sitting in a big cushioned chair, with albums of pictures of famous faces of past visitors on the tables in front of me. One of them I remember is Natalie Wood. That was my favorite bar room in the world. The bar was usually attended by Alejandro himself, when he wasn’t busy in his boudoir making love to one, two or three ladies. Once I “brought a sandwich to a party” on one of my flights down to Caracas. I was picked up at the airport by Alejandro who never goes anywhere, but for me he made a real gesture of friendship and showed up in a black limousine. Once inside the limo, I told him I had cocaine with me. He almost jumped out of his skin! Here he was kindly picking me up, and how scandalous I was! He was a very prominent socialite and from a good family, with a good name to protect. I laughed and told him nothing could happen. Well that is how nonchalant I was about that at the time. Later we became even better friends as he realized what a silly worrier I actually was, with my innocent nature, totally naive and gullible in many ways. We became the best of friends. Ever since that day, I was invited every night to his Penthouse parties, and I met many people there– important politicians, film and TV stars, spies, and people from all over the world. There I met the grand Venezuela maestro composer Aldemaro Romero and Luis Felipe Herrera, my dear friends. I met his father Reynaldo, who was married to a very lovely dear lady, although he had tried to take my virginity a long time. I had an incredible love for that family, pure class in my eyes.  They are probably the most aristocratic and old money family in Caracas, besides the Lord Boulton’s family.

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“Nina Blanchard’s” favorite models, me standing above her

At the end of 1960, in Caracas, everything looked promising with Walter and I. We had wonderful times dancing, celebrating the holidays, and of course living it up with alcohol and cocaine. It all seemed so inoffensive back then. One night, before we went out to the Key Club, he told me he wanted to make a stop so I could meet this French lady. He said they had a business relationship, but of course they spoke French so I was in the dark. Her place looked like aunt Gigi’s place. I thought she was a prostitute or maybe a madame, because she looked so much older than me and so made up. They went into a room, closed the door, and when he came out I felt certain this was where he got the cocaine for that night. Taking coke back to the US was dangerous, but it was so easy just to carry it in your pocket or purse. No problems. At least, I did not yet know the consequences of such acts, and unless you were a suspect, the customs did not search you then as they do today.

On the other hand there is Oscar, and it is more difficult for me to describe my love for him. Our romance was different, more innocent and full of outdoor life, like polo, scuba diving, fishing, wine, and dinners. It was romantic and charming, a very unique rich old money world. Oscar was part of a new generation of Venezuelan men of European ancestry. He was also the good boy, and Walter was the bad one, crazy and adventurous. Each one could be a romantic novel or film by itself, and in my crazy young mind I was not being bad or immoral. Since I was not married to anyone, it seemed simple and justifiable.

From Caracas, Walter and I flew together to Miami in first class, with real napkins and crystal goblets. Even the water glass was crystal, and there was a real menu, and washcloths with perfume or cologne. After dinner again they served a clean hot perfumed bowl with floating flowers and a piece of lemon to clean your hands. In the bathroom was cologne, perfume and all kinds of pretty things. We talked about how things had changed in New York and especially in California in the last few years. I remember when I first sat on a bus, and no black people were allowed to sit up front, they all had to sit in the back. I had read a little history about slavery and that made me terribly sad, that people could treat other people like that, but I was not involved in politics, nor was I unselfish, feeling too busy to spend my time for anyone. I didn’t think I could save the world. I only was interested in me, myself, and I.

At our arrival at the Miami terminal, Walter picked up his new Mercedes Benz convertible sports car, which was already there waiting for us. I never understood why Jewish people would buy German cars– Hitler and the Nazis were German weren’t they? Walter was a French Jew and said he had been in the French Legion in World War II, spying for the French– so he said. He also told me a story that one time he was briefly taken prisoner and the Nazis were going to bury him alive, until he fooled them by screaming in perfect German that they were idiots to bury one of their own people, and that he was an important counterspy! But why Mercedes Benz?

There was something very dark and mysterious about Walter. I was naive or ignorant about things, and never went deeper than loving him and enjoying life with him. I didn’t dig any deeper, and honestly I was not interested in his past. We drove the car up to New York together and then he shipped the car west and flew to San Francisco. I went back to Hollywood where Daud was awaiting me. Mama told me that he even spent couple of nights on our sofa. I forget the reason why– maybe he did not know when I was coming back.

Now I was back in Tinseltown and seriously had to look for an agent. One lucky morning, after Gala went to work, my niece went to the school across the street, and mama went to see some Russian lady friend for a job; I went off to see an agent by the name of Nina Blanchard, in a little one room office on Sunset Strip. She was just getting started and was planning to expand her operation on Sunset Blvd since she already had one of the most famous models in the world signed with her. A few years later her supermodel died of drug and alcohol overdose, but I did not know that she was using at the time. She was so very beautiful but totally wasted her life. Little did I know then, that is where I was headed too.

I walked in the office and there was Nina. She just said, “sign here and tell the secretary to take your measurements and give all your information.” Then she sent me to some photographers to take some different test shots. She did not want to change my look or cut my hair –nada, nothing, she liked me just as I was.

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American in Paris

American in Paris

Well, father was gone. “If only!” The most powerful words in the dictionary and the smallest ones.  If only there had been AA at that time in Venezuela If only we had known how to cope with the signs of the alcoholism that was eating up my father.
If only!
But soon dear Maria Luisa called, and work made me forget the pain I was going through. There were rehearsals for the new TV show we were putting on, the very next weekend! And there in the studio was the maestro Aldemara Romero, the conductor of the Sinfonica Venezuela. What an honor to meet him, he was such a great artist and a great person!

Well, life takes over and I must go on.  An Italian friend Giovanni, a sports car racer, invited me to a very “different” nightclub to celebrate his birthday. Of course I would go! “what time will you pick me up?” “Seven pm for cocktails, then dinner at the private club.” After eating, we entered this crazy place with a floor show of men dressed as women. To my surprise, the customers were all couples, very elegantly dressed; even in the dim red lights you could see this was not a cheap place- it was well decorated and the show was great, especially this one very tall woman (I love tall people). She was very talented and during all her performance she didn’t take her eyes off of me.

Soon after there was a single beautiful pink rose sent to me at our table, with a note: “Can I have the pleasure of sitting at your table?” And in another minute, a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne arrived at our table, and the waiter told us the “tall woman” would meet us at our table after she took off her costume and makeup. That seemed strange- why would she take off her makeup? To my surprise a tall handsome, very refined man with great big green eyes (my favorite color, reminding me of that line, “aquellos ojos verdes de mirada serena”) approached. He introduced himself politely then took my hand very gently, kissed it, and asked me to dance. We danced for hours– the tango, the pasodoble, the mambo! We had a wonderful evening until the early hours of the morning, then he took me in his convertible to watch the sunrise and take coffee at his mother’s house in the hills just outside of Caracas. We talked and talked, and then he drove me to my mother’s house and said goodnight.

I was still a young lady, and it was late (or early), but Caracas was very safe in the fifties. But one evening, coming home very late alone, a man was following me in a dangerous way. I told Walter and he said, “well, you’re going to move in with me.” We had already been in New York together, and now it seemed okay for me to live with him so long as he didn’t show himself with me at work or with friends- he was still married.

He agreed to this, so now I had to see how I could convince mother. She was not happy to hear that I was moving in with Walter, but she already knew. Galina had been spying on me, following me to ballet class and then telling mother all about Walter. So now I had to convince Walter to meet mother and ask her, where of course he lied by suggesting that we would get married “soon… one of these days.”

And I have to admit, it was the loveliest home I had ever lived in up to that point!

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I was working as a representative for the “House of Seagram’s” and promoting their products in all of Caracas’s most elegant restaurants, bars and private clubs including Country Clubs and Polo Clubs with those handsome Venezuelan, Argentinians and Chilean men. I ended up at Walter’s high class liquor store, doing a promotion for Seagrams. I walked into this liquor store to set up my promotional display and advertising posters; after all, I was “Miss Seagram of Venezuela” at that time. Unknown to me the owner Walter had his own brand of imported Scotch, called “Dundee,” so I was there trying to lure away sales from his own brand.  But he invited me to go out to lunch with him, I was hungry and it was that time of the day, so I accepted his invitation,
I said to myself, “I don’t care if he flirts, I could never fall in love with a man like that.” Thirties, not too handsome, losing his hair and just average build. Well, how incredibly wrong I was! He wrapped me around his little finger like magic; he only had to whistle and I would come running to him. The place where I was taken to lunch was a beautiful French restaurant, exceptionally elegant, decorated so tastefully complete with soft candle light, violins and a menu boasting the most exotic and varied gastronomic delights. At that time I had never imagined there could exist such a truly romantic and seductive atmosphere- especially next to a liquor store! You can imagine my surprise to see all of this opulence, since from the age of three, with our journey from war torn Russia and through Europe and finally to Venezuela, I had been living very frugally with my family, always on the edge of poverty.
Suddenly I was falling in at the deep end, learning a new and hopefully better life.
This was the first time I had seen a menu to order from.  At that point Walter realized that I did not know that the man ordered for the lady, so he proceeded to educate me as to what the correct procedure was. I told him and he ordered for me, took his advice and let him recommend the various drinks for each course. At all the other social functions I had attended in the past, at Polo clubs and receptions, all the meals and drinks were just there for the taking, no ordering required. What an experience this was. I was adjusting my “learning curve” for future use in the “university of life”.
This experience totally dazzled me and over time a long major love affair transpired, though I was only seventeen at the time. I had to continue with my modeling job, and other work as well as social activities, though I usually saw Walter every day at some point. I was completely swept off my feet with him, for his love, care and affection, although by now he had admitted that he was married– at the time it did not seem to matter. Later he took me to New York to meet his mother, I hadn’t met her in all this years, although I met his children,  and we had been in Balnerios together.   His wife went after me with a gun one night when we arrived from the beach, Walter and I,  so now we met in New York not at the home in Caracas.
I got a bouquet of flowers for his mother, and as I gave her the flowers she said, “No, don’t ever bring me flowers, they are very dirty!”.  I later learned that in Europe when she was young, she was one of those women that smoked cigars and wore pants and rode a motorcycle! Not at all what I was expecting. But Walter never failed to teach me how his mother would do it, so I could iron Walter’s shirts properly for example. New York was pure magic; you can imagine my excitement as a young woman of seventeen. It started snowing that evening, and I had to see how it felt to walk with my lover on Riverside Drive, over to the upper East Side in the snow.  Later his mother said, “Tomorrow we take her shopping, she needs a coat and boots, not heels if she’s going to walk in the snow!”. I still have a picture in front of her apartment building with the fur coat she gave me. After my past life living in third world Venezuela, I was being whisked off on a “first class” magic carpet ride with excellent “in flight” service to the great metropolis of New York, with all its magical and dazzling lights, beautifully dressed people, the hustle and bustle, the traffic, and unbelievably tall buildings! I was completely amazed and overcome by what I saw– it was magnificent. I thought it was a dream and I wondered when I would wake up!

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"La Hora Nacional"  T.V. Canal 5 Presenta a Ludmila Pochepsoba

“La Hora Nacional” T.V. Canal 5 Presenta a Ludmila Pochepsoba


I arrived before 9:30 am at the door of the downtown office  building, in the elegant business part of Caracas, and went up the 8th floor penthouse. My senator’s office had just opened; after entering, I saw my own desk with 2 telephones, and in his office were another three phones, one of which was red. Another worker in the office explained to me that my place was up front, greeting people when they came in and letting the senator know who was there: were they a client, did they have an appointment, and so on. It looked so simple, and a few days passed with no trouble at all. Then one day the senator announced to me that he had hired another secretary, who would do my work typing and dictation–I was not to worry, my job was just to be nice and greet people, which was more important!  Then one day, I think it was my birthday, he insisted on taking me to dinner. We drove off in his big black car after work, off to this great restaurant on the beach in Maiquetia. There were white cloth covered tables lit up with candles, violins playing dance music in the background, and I was perplexed to see all this beauty. He casually asked me what I would like to drink- at 15 years old I had no idea, so he ordered champagne and then asked me to dance!

After we finished dinner, he ordered a special desert, then reached down and pulled out a beautifully wrapped little package. I opened my surprise and it was a gorgeous gold bracelet with a morocota, the 5 Bolivar gold coin, set in 18k gold links, very expensive even back then. I had no idea of its value or what money meant, but everything was so magic and new that I found it all beautiful.  After that we went to the car and drove back to Caracas, first stopping in a discotheque  or music store; he bought me the record of the music we had been dancing to at the beach, by the most famous “Magic Violins of Villa Fontana.” He handed it to me, but I said no thanks, you keep it, blushing red in the face (I did not have a record player but I didn’t want him to know that). After holding hands briefly, we said our good by, hasta manana. But he guessed my secret.

Next day after work, he asked if he could give me a lift home, since he was going that way. He was a short, chubby man with a sweet smile and elegant manners; i admired his style and wanted to learned how to be graceful and elegant too. As we went out to his car, to my surprise he said, “Would you please accept this,” opened the trunk and pulled up a big box and a package full of long playing records. “I know your mother and your family will enjoy this!” Of course he probably knew about my niece being in the hospital, about our miserable little home, but he never said a word about that. I realized he knew all about us and that, behind the scenes, his hands were working everywhere to help us.

I took the phonograph home, and the records were all my favorites– Siboney, Begin the Beguine, classical music like my sister loved, even some gypsy violin music that my mama loved. Soon
my life began to take a very different turn; we moved to a nice Italian neighborhood, and I met the Cacique woman Maria Luisa Escobar who had a troupe of dancers which I joined. After a little while I decided that I danced good enough to be a star, not a secretary, so I went to the boss of the main government television channel for an interview. I told him I was a prima ballerina at the Ballet Montecarlo that had just played the Caracas theatre, and wanted to be on television! What gall I had, when I think back on it! The nice man put me on on every Friday at 6 pm, my own half hour show of ballet, jazz and pieces like Ravel’s fire.

Suddenly my life was getting very interesting very fast, even if I did not understand why at the time. In Venezuela in the fifties, high society was ruled by the very private old money families, who did not accept the newly rich upstarts. But at the same time, the rich Venezuelan men wanted pretty white girls, not the old blood Spaniards. So here comes this 15 year old young lady with good manners and a pretty face, who looks like she might be accepted by society, at least by the men (their women were not too happy with the competition!) The local Don Juans and playboys were very excitable; once a couple of them crashed their cars while looking at me walking across the street!

Still, Caracas high society was hard to crack. One topic of conversation was how the top society Country Club had denied a membership to General Marcos Perez Jimenez, the ruler of the nation, because he was new money and his power came from the campesinos! . The old money– the Herreras, the Boultons and other patrician families of the day, were all royalty. Eventually I was to meet all of them as I moved on up in society, but  life then  seems to me  moving so slow  with time for everything.

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Fire well adios to island Margarita


Goodbye to the little girl and hello to the young Lady.

We were going back to the capital with the truck driver Julian, until we reached a small dusty village where his family lived. When we arrived there, his wife told him he couldn’t leave because their daughter was  giving birth, not too far from their little village. She made it clear he was not going anywhere today or even tomorrow; he needed to take the daughter back to  the city we had passed a few hours back. Julian was very apologetic and said he was sorry, that was the end of our journey with him. Thank God, it was still early in the morning and with any luck we would see another truck, or a bus, coming along. But we were hours from the main road, and opportunities to hitch a ride in the jungle were very few. So we had to walk as fast as we could back toward the road, before night would find us alone in the middle of the jungle.

This was fine with me, but we had a bundle of clothes and a suitcase made of cardboard, and they were heavy. So Gala took the suitcase, I grabbed the big bundle and put it over my shoulder, and we set off. The bundle was heavy, and after an hour of being distracted by the jungle sights, the 100 degree temperature and humid air got to be very uncomfortable. All of a sudden, a big hairy animal with a long nose and huge feet appeared, standing with his big claws out just on the side of the road. He was eating on a nest of ants, but I did not know how dangerous they were and just stood there watching him. He paid no attention to me, strangely enough, but then I realized how far away my sister was and screamed out to her to help me. I dropped the bundle on the ground and ran to her, and my scream had scared the anteater off. Gala never forgave me for making her walk all the way back to get the bundle of clothes. I was still afraid and very tired; we had to walk another two hours to get to the main road, where we got a bus to Caracas. After many stops along the way, we were finally back in the city on the third day.  From there, we took the ferry boat back to Porlamar.

My dear niece Vera had fallen, broken her arm and developed gangrene, so my sister left with mama and her to go to doctors in Caracas. I stayed behind, since I had to finish packing up and closing up the house. It was adios to my Isla de Perlas, to the peaceful island and my beloved swing by the beach.

I finally came along to my family’s impoverished new home in Caracas. It was little more than a shack made of timber and  cardboard along the hills of Buena Vista, on the poor side of Caracas. When it rained the mud slid down the hillside and the roof leaked!  Poor Vera was in and out of the hospital with her gangrenous arm, and Gala and I were at home with mama and papa working. The Orthodox Church was not too far, and there were many Russian refugees there, new friends of mama and papa. Sometimes we would go to their homes, much nicer than ours, and they would all drink and sing along to the accordion that Sasha played. Somehow, all these poor heartbroken people had made a life in the new world, all trying desperately to be happy and find work wherever they could.

The doctor’s wife had given mama a nice lady’s dress among a whole bunch of clothes, and I was soon wearing a
smart American ensemble, a turquoise colored dress with a matching coat that fit me like a glove. I was showing off my young figure for the first time, and I liked it. Somebody showed me how to read the help wanted ads in the newspaper, and I saw a job that seemed good, working at a lawyer’s office. I thought, how hard can it be answering the phone? I had already done that in Porlamar at the place where my sister worked. So I went for my first interview in my new outfit!

There were another 20 girls there too, waiting for the abogado (lawyer), who turned out to be the senator for Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. He finally arrived and told us to come into his office, one at a time, to talk to him; being the last one to arrive, I was the last to be
interviewed. I was surprised when I entered the office; it was a room of rich mahogany wood around the walls, with a big desk. Everything was shiny and new. I just smiled and told him my name.

The interview was quickly over: He immediately called another young lady in the front office and told her to sign my onto the payroll. I was to be there at 9:30 am the next day, he would arrive at 10 am and want to know who had called. The secretary in front asked me if I could take shorthand and type. Of course, I said, yes I can! (I told myself, I will have to learn to do that).

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Anatoly arriving to he "Magic dream of all man, El Dorado"

Anatoly arriving to he "Magic dream of all man, El Dorado"

By 1954 ,  Anatoly been gone for over a year and mother was very worried about him.  We hadn’t heard from him since he left,  and our the  letters were coming back from the address he left us.
So the two ladies, decided they were going to El Dorado to find their brother! One early morning, with mother’s tears and blessings and prayers, we embarked on the ferryboat to Maiqueta.  It was an all day journey, but we went to Caracas first by the colectivo taxi and spent a couple of nights at our Russian friends house (the mother of Anatoly’s girlfriend).

We had very little money, so Galina spent couple of days in Caracas doing permanents, haircuts and pedicures for friends. Galina was a beautician, self-taught in the time since she left Valery, but we were eager to get on the road to the deep jungle. After two days of dirt and dust on the bus, down a road made for donkeys and mules we finally arrived at El Dorado, almost on the border of Brazil.  Of course, we had heard Anatoly’s stories about El Dorado, where the nuggets roll down the streets when it rains, but we didn’t believe it until we got there and actually saw the glitter of the rainwater in the muddy gutters.

Still, El Dorado did not look like any kind of paradise to us.  It was a filthy, dusty little town full of drunks with all their lost dreams, staggering down the crowded streets with only their past to remind them why they had come to this end of the line.  We spent several days wandering up and down the streets ourselves, asking any miner we met if they had heard anything of Anatoly.
They all told us the same thing:  he was long since gone, moving deeper into the jungle in search of diamonds.

We couldn’t possibly search in the jungle, so we looked for a driver with a truck going back to Ciudad Bolivar or any place north on the road back to Caracas. We had the innocence and optimism of youth, and I had no fear of coming to harm from any man. After all, there was no war here, so there was  no reason to be worried (like my dear sister). I was actually enjoying all of this incredible adventures; it was just like I was in the movie and the story  was happening  to us.

So we did find a man with a truck, a kindly smiling man who let us into his big camion. When night came, he pulled over at a roadsie motel that look clean and nice, and told us to go get something to eat while I go get my room. We sat  at a big table away in a corner, but when the waitress came we told her we were not hungry, that we had already eaten (we had no money!)
Instead we loaded up on the sugar at the table, drank all the water in the jug, and when our driver came back he asked if everything was okay?

Our driver assured us that the hotel was safe and clean, and said ‘I think they still have rooms.
I’ll see you in the morning, 6 am sharp, si?” Suddenly my sister looked him in the eye and she blurted out, “We feel better sleeping in your truck, we’ll be just fine, please Senor?” At once he realized that we had no money and were too proud to beg; he did not want to offend my beautiful sister by offering us money,  so he gave her the key, took us to the truck park and made sure we were locked in. We were hungry and not very sleepy after so much sugar, but we went to bed with only paper cups of water and tried to sleep, awakening only to go to the bathroom. But there are drunks walking around so what were we to do? I had an idea: we poured the water out of the cups and used the cups. they filled up so quickly and we had to open the window again and toss our pee out quickly.  All of a sudden we heard a man’s voice yelling, “Shit, its raining here!”

We couldn’t stop laughing!

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Visiting with my sister Galina and her baby, Vera.

We ended up in the outskirts of Caracas, in a home of a family with whom we’d been friends since Austria, by the name of Isbarenko. There were two sisters and a brother; the old man and my father had a good time together drinking and singing, and the old man played the accordion. The lady of the house was a typical Russian matuchka, a country farm woman. Theirs was a happy home, but somehow they were different from us; the girls and the boy were older and they didn’t exactly want a younger girl like me hanging around them.

They rented a piece of land not far from their home and were farming tomatoes. I loved those vegetables, the sun and open space, so I went with them to help with the crop. But Anatoly went back to the gold and diamond mines, and Galina went back to her husband on the Isle of Pearls, as it is known in Spanish (La Isla de Las Perlas, Margarita), so I felt very alone and insecure.

We were broke, so father sold the truck and dismissed the chauffeur, and we finally rented a small one-room place with a bathroom and kitchen. Father turned the countertop and refrigerator into a butcher shop in the morning, at night we slept in the floor in the same room. Poor Father could only drink down his disappointments in life, and the alcohol was beginning to take its toll on him. Somehow he found animals to buy, a place to slaughter them, and meat to sell. Mama would work hard right next to Papa, and I would walk for miles down the highway to a store that sold the spices we needed to make the homemade kielbasa sausages. When I think back on how I watched a great strong man like my father turn into a beat-up, broken old man, my heart still aches and a painful feeling comes over me.

The Isbarenko girls were not too far away from our new home, so once in a while I went with them to the movies, I suppose when they felt sorry for me and would tolerate my presence. Their reluctance to hang out with me didn’t stop me from having fun, because I was always happy with very little. Some Sundays we would all go down to the river, but it had a big rushing current and since I did not swim, I just hung on to a tree branch and dangled my legs in.

The days ran on and on; I was growing up—in fact, I looked older and more developed than I really was. One day, I heard the Isbarenko girls were going dancing the weekend after Easter. I wanted desperately to go along, so I begged Papa to let me go. Mama had nothing to say against it, so we girls went to a night club and I got my first glimpse of another world. How incredibly fantastic it was to me–twinkling lights, music playing, people laughing and dancing and drinking. Everyone was so happy and gay; I don’t remember what we ordered to drink, but it made me happy to just be there. Then the band was playing “Siboney”! Oh what a romantic sound, moving just like the waves and wind by the sea. We were sitting across from a table with five guys and, naturally, the flirting started. One of them, a tall, handsome young man, asked me to dance, and it felt so natural to me–I just melted away in his arms!

Soon they were all making plans to meet up at the beach the next day, and I just knew I had to go too! The girls had brought me home and dropped me off on time, so father had no objection–after all it was just the beach. The next morning we all left at 9 am, and on the way we were singing and talking about the night before. I was dreaming about seeing that same young man (who was really much older than me) as I walked alone down the beach and played with the waves and water, but the group of guys from the night before, including the handsome prince who had danced with me, never showed up.

That was probably my first disappointment from trusting a man, but the real lesson of love’s disillusionment only came much later in life.

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