September 01, 2001

In the Footsteps of Andrei Rublyov

Whenever images from my childhood come flowing back, I picture myself bundled up in an artificial fur coat (leopard-skin design) sitting atop a sleigh pulled by dedushka Mikhail Stepanovich. He would drag me down Shkolnaya street, then onto Maly Andronikovsky lane, which led to Andronikov monastery. Looking back as an “experienced” parent, I realize that pulling a five-year-old boy that distance in your late sixties was a daunting task. But then, as the Russian proverb has it, “your own load doesn’t weigh heavily on you.”

Today, the tiny square near Andronikov seems so tiny. But then, in the now remote 1960s, its alleys and trees loomed large. It was particularly romantic to go sledding at night, watching the snow fall under the light of the lanterns. The woolen blanket tacked to the wooden seat of the sleigh, plus my leopard coat (and requisite shapka--fur hat) kept me warm. The contrast between this feeling of warmth and the cold snow created a unique sensation of coziness that strengthened as we returned from our regular nightly promenade to our communal apartment on Shkolnaya street. There, dedushka Misha would be offered a glass of hot tea in a podstakanchik (holder). I had to resign to a detskaya (children’s) teacup decorated with daisies. While I poured a bit of tea into the saucer to cool it, dedushka cut the chunk sugar into small square pieces and then sip on his very hot tea, occasionally putting a piece of sugar in his mouth, as he like to have his tea vpriskusku (i.e. with sugar in the mouth versus vnakladku, directly in the tea). I swore that, when I grew up, I would have a tea glass and podstakanchik of my own. As it turned out, I inherited dedushka Misha’s podstakanchik when he died. It had been given him by his sisters Olga and Katya on his 75th birthday, and bears the inscription: “Misha, may you live to 100.” Unfortunately dedushka died just five years later, and now I treasure this podstakanchik that seems as if it were addressed to me.


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