OMG! Times flies like an arrow - Fruit flies like a banana.
That's an oxymoron. I got it from a Professor of London University when we met quite by chance at the Maharana Awards Ceremony at the Udaipur Palace in India in 2007 where I had been invited by the King of Udaipur as a guest of honor.
But let us take the first sentence - time flies...
I started writing this story back in 1994 when I came to work for the Easter Films Studio as a translator. And it seems like yesterday...
It was such a relief after the Moscow bureau of America News Magazine, which had hired me first as an office manager (the job called "a cast iron ass" in the office that was all motion - correspondents, photographers, drivers... while the office manager was literally chained to her desk) and then realizing soon that I was a tiny bit overqualified for the position (not to mention the fact that I am the worst secretaty in the world) - as a translator.
When they found a new office manager - a down-to-earth rude simple girl from Leningrad (she looked like a regular sales woman from the market place) who had already managed to graduate from an American University after the Department of Librarians here (thanks to the then opportunities for Russian students) and get married to a hopeless guy from the Department of the Russian Language and Literature (but still an Amerian!) the whole office got into a flurry. I had only worked in that capacity for a couple of months. Everybody was afraid to get fired too, especially the driver. Everybody was afraid of the new lady Bureau Chief, the dragon-lady, who would put to shame the Snow Queen easily. They could not imagine how happy I was. "I don't even hate it", I said to the Dragon Queen before leaving the office. "Even!!!" - she echoed.
I thought I was leaving for good, but...soon they called me again to ask me if I could translate free-lance for them. Politics have never been exactly my cup of tea, but could I say "no"? It was 1992 when the whole of my country started trading in the market to keep body and soul together when perestrioka had finished and the first beastly stage of capitalism drove its teeth and claws into engineers, scientific research workers and other creative folks while my salary as an office manager was 550 dollars (and my translater's one - up to 1, 000). To make you undesrtand how good it was financially I will tell you - a big family in Moscow could live on 100 dollars a month back then and be happy with that.
So the snooty, vulgar and loud-mouthed Russian America News stuff felt very privileged and rich thinking they were really it (and I mean it - really) while the Americans felt actual millonairies getting 10,000 dollars (as compared to 2,000 at home), living in posh Stalin era apartments in Central Moscow, renting dachas in the prestigious areas outside Moscow - for e.g., in the famous Peredelkino (writers' community) or Nikolina Gora (St. Nicolas's Mountain), being driven everywhere and going any place in the world at their pleasure.
So - yes, I had to say "yes"/"dah", only because I could not say "no".
Money-wise - yes, but what about the grey matter?
The America News driver who was hardly half my height would come up to me, look at me in a close-up, take me by the poor button of my poor blouse and almost kissing me in the gums and deafening me with his hoarse death-dealing voice tried to drive the LIGHT OF THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH home to my pathetic soul... And, indeed, he knew EVERYTHING. ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING - all about Vodka Absolute, drug markets in Moscow and other such stuff that was praised and valued by the America News correspondents who only wrote stories about politics ("Power"/"Власть"), prostitutes, gays and lesbians, mafia, racketeers and the new Russians - "Better Rich than Red". The only worthy interview that I translated was with General G., a witness of the Caribean crises. The rest was such trash I would have never even mentioned it - "Even! I'm doing it so just to make you undestand why I was so happy to leave America News Magazine to start working for the creative Easter Films Studio.
At the same time - on seeing America News stories - and being a writing person I realized that I could easily write to an English-language publication. What about? Of course, the arts. No prostitutes, right? About all those who were talaned and educated and had to moonlight selling things at the market place to survive, but still remaining artists, even being done in.
Just before going to the Easter Films Studio I had penned my first story - about Russian glass artists, my friends, - to The Moscow Daily Mail. They liked it, but edited the story to such an extent that I had to make a pause before I could pluck up courage and bring another one.
Never mind! I was employed by a creative studio doing marvelous films financed by London and I was contributing stories on art to an English-language newspaper - and that is no "cast iron ass"! You hear me, Mr Absolute-vodka-driver?
Another great side of it was that I had always wanted to tranlsate stories on art from Russian into English. When I graduated from the Institute of Foreign Languages and was enrolled to the Avanced Course for Translators (with no idea where on earth I was going to work after - the Soviet Union was still in full swing!) I went to Leningrad to The Morning Star Art Publisher's that was doing books on art in English. It was a highly crony place that would never let a girl from the street come close to their manger. And yet I tried. I called the editor-in-chief and he invited me to come over to the office. I apporached a glamorous 19th c. building with a huge chain hanging in the arch, got up in a heavy solid elevator, which looked like a cage, and entered a room with mahogany desks, shining type-writers, book shelves lined up with motly hard covers of books on art, in glossy jackets, and un-Sovietly well-dressed peoples. At once my nostrils were tickled by the scent of expensive French perfume and a middle-aged man who sat across from the door looked up with a question in his face. "I called you," - I said. - "So, here I am".
He smiled giving me one appreciting glance and got into the rigmarole of explaining how difficult it was to translate from Russian into English, especially books on Russian art for the West, and how great an experience the job required - meaning not that of an undergraduate...
On the whole he left a very favourable impression. He was smart, good-looking and quiet. He did not shout or humiliate me as most Soviet functionaries would. On the contrary, he was extremely polite, even benevolent. And yet, I had to say good-by and go on seeing the sights in the former Northern capital of Russia. A few days later I came back to Moscow with a squish in my lungs after the foggy Leningrad. Luckily, the dry Moscow red-and-yellow leaves autumn cured me in no time. So maybe the fact that my job at the Morning Star Publisher's did not pan out was not at all half as bad.
And now I was writing stories on art myself and in English being paid in dollars, not in roubles!!! You hear me - mahogany-experienced-middle-aged-Mr-Editor-in-chief!!??!! Realizing as well that my editors at The Moscow Daily Mail who did not know a thing about the Russian art did not feel themselves quite at home with their native language either. Small wonder! - They could never get jobs at home and here they were cowboys and cowgirls at their modern computors, "stylists" in a Moscow English-language newspaper renting good warm apartments in the Russian metropolis with as much free cold and hot water as they could not see in their wildest dreams at home, earning thousands of dollars and going anywhere in the world at their pleasure. Plus, btw, Mr Middle-aged-Morning-Star, when I lived in England eight years later I translated some articles for the book "Chekov on the British Stage", Cambridge University Press. So... did I have enough experience by 1989, huh? But, of course, writing original stories on art in English and being paid in hard currency for a girl who had graduated from the Institute of Foreign Languages during the Soviet times was out of this world.
Although the Easter Films Studio paid nothing as compared to the America News Magazine - not 1,000 dollars, but 300 roubles, I felt happy. The Moscow Daily Mail paid 10 cents per word, which was from 60-120 dollars per story - only one had to controle them, which was not always easy, plus I translated free-lance, as usual, and was in great demand. So I had enough money, two creative jobs and could call the shots for my life. My job at the Studio did not require my everyday presence there, but only when the British side came to Moscow. The art directors got no more than me - 300 roubles a month - and 5 000 dollars when the film was done. Then the British side distributed the films all over the world and the film directors had to be happy with what they had.
Needless to say, the British producers had already bought themselves houses above the sea and were going to buy some more. But for the creative Russian stuff it was also a golden opportunity back then - to make films and get 5 000 dollars a year, others, outside the studio, had to start selling stuff at the market place, I repeat.
The Russian producer of Easter Films Studio, Ekaterina Sharakhina, promised me that I would also be rewarded for my meagre monthly payment - when the films go to London to get the sound tracks I'll go there as well and then I'll be paid according to the London standards, although she never got into much detail about the exact sum. I was excited.
The first person after Ekaterina Sharakhina who met me at the studio was their editor Lena. It was absolutely obvious to me from the very beginning that her job was totally redundant, which made Lena go out of her way to create a make belief vision of how neeccessary she was. She was getting on my nerves, because she would constantly tell me all kinds of rumours about the art directors and how they come to her to take her priceless advice "as to a temple" (direct quote), but I was as silent as a stone and never said a word. Moreover, she would correct me when exactly I should start translating. But I was doing my job and I was doing it well and would not listen to her rubbish. At last she realized that I could see through her and got very angry, which was neither here nor there. She could not shake me.
The work went on and I got an insight into the creative process. Every film was done in a different technique and I really wanted to write about that.
At that time I was also translating fiction, so anticipating my trip to London I told my publisher that I was going to be quite busy and declined one book. Not that it was a very good book, neither did they pay well, but still - all my attention was on my art stories and on the studio.
When my editor at The Moscow Daily Mail agreed to look at my story about the studio and even promised to give me a photographer (you hear me, Vodka Absolute driver!?) I got so excited that I freaked out a little bit, not much, but still - I told Lena about my plans to interview Sharakhina for the newspaper. Immediately she told me it was the wrong time, because Sharakhina was extremely busy and plus was not feeling well.
However, when we entered her office the first thing I did was to ask Sharakhina if she would kindly give me an interview for an English-language newspaper and showed her my previous story with a great photo of a hunting falcon in it. She was out of herself with joy and agreed at once.
Lena got very stiff and stopped talking to me, but then said through set teeth: "Didn't I tell you!" I ignored that.
So all was ready. The interview was a success. I recorded it with my pocket tape-recorder and went home.
On my way I was thinking how I would describe her in my stunning story sitting in her office with her cigarette in her long-nailed fingers and making great puffs.
However, one interview was not enough - I had to interview all the six directors and register the creative process in detail. Some films were classical animated cartoons, some - puppet animation, but still very inventive, and one was painting on glass requring a rostrum stand and leaving nothing when the film was finished, because every movement was painted on 4 to 6 glass levels to create deapth and then wiped out for the next movement.
At last I had interviewed all the directors and the whole pack of material was with me. On my way home I got into a heavy rain and when I entered my flat I was wet through. I took off my boots and soon white waves of salt faded in on them. But that was nothing. I rushed to my desk to write.
Of course, all the directors wanted to see the story before I'd brought it to my editor.
- Well, this phrase does not agree with me at all. "When she was offered to make this film she grabbed at the proposal at once," - said N., director of a puppet film.
- So what should I write?
- You may say: "gladly accepted the proposal."
Why did you grab at the opportunity then! "Gladly accepting the proposal"...
Each director took their time to read their interviews, some even required a translation into Russian by me, one of them kept me awake all night telling me all about her life, but finally I brought the story to The Moscow Daily Mail and it was accepted. One of the best photographers of the newspaper arrived at the studio shortly before the English producers' visit for the final discussion of the trip to London for the sound tracks.