Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Caracas’

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.

Read Full Post »

Loading the truck at the ranch, me with my little niece, Vera

Somewhere back in Austria, I had heard a song that went “Oh my Augustin, everything is lost and gone.” Father started laughing when he heard me singing this song as we packed the big red truck with all our belongings at 2 in the morning, getting ready to go back to Caracas. We were leaving, or escaping, the ranch, and I was a little sad to say goodbye to my pretty river, my beehives, the mangoes, the orange trees –it was goodbye to all our dreams.

But now where where were we going? It really did not make much difference to me, since I was curious and happy to have new things to see and do in the capital. I don’t remember if I mourned the fact that I would no longer get to see my little old lady friend on her ranch, to help her pass the time and drink her coffee (a luxury we did not have in our home).

On the road, we passed many beautiful places and stopped for refreshments when the heat of the day came; I tasted my first Pepsi cola, and found it delicious: it wasn’t like the chicha drink of the Andes, but the bubbles tickled my nose. I was so excited and eager to have another soda at the next roadside stand (maybe this time it would be a different flavor!) that I jumped out of the truck, fell, and landed on the empty broken soda bottles the chauffeur had put aside for the deposit. I almost poked my eye out, and still carry the scar!

A few more miles down the road, the next stand had a sign that said “Pinas,” and when we approached the fruit stand, we saw a fruit my mama called Ananas–as it was called in Europe–bunches of bananas hanging all around the stand . How sweet and delicious were all these exotic, tropical fruit scents–eating the fresh bananas and pineapples was like eating a piece of heaven. There was so much for my eyes to see and my soul to take in, and my heart rejoiced at all the wondrous things God had made- this was probably the first time I felt real gratitude.

Our travels always brought many adventures with new stories to tell, but first we had to climb over the mountains, where it quickly became very cold.  Down inside the truck cabin were Mama, Gala, Vera , and Fedor Ivanovich, Anatoly and I were on top along with our belongings. Under the pretext of keeping me warm, father hugged me tight so I wouldn’t feel cold, and said jokingly, “Let me suffer!” My father was not a demonstrative man, but I knew that he, too, was warmed by the embrace and did care for me and all of us. This was the only time I ever remembered feeling the embrace of fatherly love, an emotion that he so rarely showed any of us. This warm feeling stays in my memory to this day.

Finally we started to come down from the mountains into the big city of Caracas. I really think that was when I fell in love with the city lights, they just fascinated me with so many different brilliant colors and shapes. I thought it was fantastically gorgeous the way the lights of the big city were spread out below us –the city that seemed even larger than I had remembered it. My eyes were wide open and tears were running down my cheeks-I don’t know if they were tears of joy or just from the wind blowing against my face, but for the first time in my life, I felt truly happy , content, and satisfied. I wished that time would just stand still for us.  But of course, it never does.

Read Full Post »

My brother Anatoly, at about the age he was when we arrived in Venezuela

The skies were just starting to show the first rays of the brilliant morning sun; bright blue skies and puffy clouds hanging above our eager hearts. We were anxious to see this land of honey and money and exotic fruits and birds, all the things that we had heard about, and now we had arrived in port. There was dead silence aboard the ship as the speakers sounded “All Aboard!” and the American flag was hoisted higher and the Venezuelan flag was added. Suddenly the silence was broken and  big black men with no shirts  screamed from the dock, “American cigarettes for Mangos!” Having never seen a black man, I thought at first that the black men on the dock were painted for a special greeting party to welcome us, but they were just hard-working braceros, and as they started throwing mangos onto the ship in trade for American cigarettes, I suddenly realized with wonder that their skin was really that color!

How strange everything was! How nice and warm I felt–I just loved (and still love) that tropical breeze, the hot air—it must have been over 100 degrees, but to me, after years of freezing in war-torn Europe, it felt just right. This was Puerto Macuto, where it was always hot, and behind this long horizontal port city spread across the water stood towering, dark green mountains and a tropical jungle (we were nearly on the equator).

We sat there in port almost the whole day, waiting for I knew not what, but I didn’t mind: I was drinking it all in, feeling the wondrous warmth and vibrant life—how marvelous that feeling was, it is totally impossible for me to describe it. By nightfall we were finally allowed to disembark, saying farewell to all our fellow passengers who were moved to different locations and other places, but happy and free: no concentration camps, no war, no massacres. Some headed off to small hotels and some to houses similar to the barracks we’d lived in in the refugee camp, but we were directed to a private residence in Caracas.

My brother Anatoly was nowhere to be found, but finally we found him kissing goodbye his ship girlfriend of one month. Poor Tolya—his girlfriend had just told him she would not marry a poor man, so his arrival in paradise was tempered by a broken heart. Father led us, looking handsome, confident and strong, like he knew everything,  mother was humble, sweet, and quiet, Galina was with Micha helping to get everything in order, and I was just happy, curious, soaking in all the new experiences and hungry for more as we boarded the mini buses to be shuttled to our destination.

It was July of 1947. There was still no proper road from the port to Caracas, and it took over 2 hours to go a few miles over falling rocks and past dirt slides, packed like sardines in the tiny bus (which I now know is typical of Latin American countries). I was shoved off in a corner without a window, and as the bus made its way up the winding mountain road, I began to be nervous, afraid of the unknown, but ready to face whatever danger might be ahead.

Finally we arrived at our new home, a big mansion with windows down to the floor, with iron grillwork protecting them.  The many private bedrooms were clustered around the big courtyard, a square, open air plaza decorated with palm trees in pots and a water fountain, the beautiful sky overhead. By now I was tall and skinny, and so happy I began to dance and skip and fly around the courtyard like the Matylok/butterfly that was my nickname. Inside, the brilliant shining tile floors reflected big mahogany built-in armoires. It was so exciting to me—so grand!  I explored the kitchen in front of the back garden, and we ate in the huge, high-ceilinged dining room, so Spanish—we had a feast of arroz con pollo, platanos, shredded pork, and a delicious flan for dessert. I was in heaven.

Naturally, we had to come back down to earth! Three months later, the government informed us that we had to move out, find work and start taking care of ourselves. I didn’t understand why we were being thrown out—did we misbehave?  Was it something I had done? I didn’t want to leave our beautiful mansion with fountains and flowers and statues! I sat in my room, rocking in my rocking chair, listening to the rain that was falling and pouring out of the mouths of the cement gargoyles on each corner of ‘our’ mansion, wondering what was going to become of us now.  I heard my parents say that Anatoly was heading off somewhere, supposedly to make a lot of money; Micha was going off to a good job in construction, and we girls were going with Mama and Papa to a place called Los Andes.

Read Full Post »