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Tsaritsa 06-29-2011 05:26 AM

Memories of the Imperial Family
An elderly friend spent some of her early years in Russia because her father had his business there-a company which provided candles for the Imperial household. Life was very comfortable and highly social. Whilst in her 70s, my friend wrote about her experiences and her stories triggered in me a lasting passion for a Russia now long gone.
My friend recalls that her nanny was instructed to dress her in a new outfit and thus attired she was handed a bouquet and told that she must curtsy and hand the flowers over at the appropriate time. My friend must have been overawed by the "lady" dressed in black and sparkling brightly, because she refused to hand the flowers over. The "lady" was, of course, Alexandra, and her thoughts about the disobedient child are not recorded! My friend was, on occasions, taken to the opera with her parents who had a box close enough to that of the IF, for my friend to toddle in and out. It didn't take long for her to realise that each time she passed, the attendents bowed to her! Their dacha in Finland shared a beach with another and at times the families were there at the same time. Having only a brother, my friend enjoyed seeing the "girls" there. Their undoubtedly delightful time there came to an end when events started which bought Russia to its' knees. My friend was sad to leave behind the Russian house staff with whom she had learned to converse. She,her mother,nanny and numerous trunks, were put on a train to begin a journey that would become a nightmare. They eventually made it back to England but it was several years before her father could join them. For them, and for Russia, life would never be the same again. My friend is soon to be 103 and in good health. I am eternaly grateful that she painted such a charming word picture of a time forever gone.

Vasillisos Markos 06-29-2011 12:04 PM

My dear Tsaritsa,

How fascinating it must have been to speak with this old lady about a life which is lost forever to the ages! If you don't mind, what was the name of your family friend? Do you think she was ever interviewed about her time in Russia? I wonder why Alexandra was dressed in black? Could she have been in mourning for someone?

Daria_S 06-29-2011 01:19 PM

Tsaritsa, thank you for sharing your friend's impressions! I love reading first-hand experiences like that.

Tsaritsa 06-29-2011 01:56 PM

Hello VM, as you may imagine, I was enthralled by her stories but as I didn't get to know her until the 1980s when she was in her 70s, there is little that I can tell you of the vast gap between her childhood and her later years. I'm not even certain that she saw why I was so fascinated by the story. She told it, I suppose, in the same way we all speak of our pasts, quite matter of factly and when I suggested that she wrote about it, she really didn't believe that anybody, other than friends and family, would be interested. After her husband died, she moved away to be with a daughter-by this time she was well into her 80s-and she decided that the time had come to write the book!!! She called it, and here, dear VM, I must bow to your knowledge of Russian, Baryshnia??-I believe it to be one of numerous titles used in Russia and meaning "daughter of a master (craftsman)"-because this was how the servants referred to her. She was heartbroken at having to leave them, they were her great friends. I will try to find out if she was ever interviewed, but I feel it highly unlikely-in fact, I think it more likely that I am the first to speak of it outside of her environmental circle!!! Regarding Alexandra's clothes, whilst it is entirely possible that she was in mourning, it is equally possible that she was wearing a dark shade of ANY colour. She was being seen through the eyes of a small child who was much more interested in the sparkle which may have appeared as a halo of light. I'd like to believe she smilled graciously even though she didn't get the flowers!!!

Daria_S 06-29-2011 02:31 PM

The direct translation of 'baryshnia' is 'mistress', but your explanation works as well.

Vasillisos Markos 06-29-2011 03:38 PM

I know no Russian, outside of "nyet" my dear Tsaritsa, but it appears that Daria translated the term for you. And after all those years, it could well be that the Tsarina was wearing dark clothing which would not necessarily be black but would appear that way to a child. What a life that must have been.

Did I understand you correctly that your friend has now decided to write a book? That would be wonderful to hear another first hand account of life in Tsarist Russia.

Tsaritsa 06-30-2011 06:21 AM

Dear VM, the book has indeed been written-a tiny thing encapsulating an equally tiny, but significant time in the life of a small child. I suspect one reason for her earlier hesitation over writing, to have been the aftermath. The only clue I have comes from her own words when she describes her father's homecoming, "He returned a broken man" YEARS later. Thanks to his fluent Russian, he narrowly escaped being murdered by his workers, to whom, in the spirit of the new "comradeship" he had signed over his factory. He heard them planning to kill him and push his body through a hole in the ice which covered the Neva-and so he fled, but was captured and imprisoned, on what grounds I don't have information, but I feel it to be unrelated to the Great War and more to do with what was taking place inside Russia.
It is highly likely that his experiences were never spoken of after he arrived home. His wife, from my friend's account, was a social butterfly who would have found the grim realities of life distressing and distasteful.
She describes beautifully her Mama's exquisite ball gowns and jewellery and her own special perfume which lingered after her "Goodnight" kiss had been given.
It's almost impossible to imagine their life in England in those dreadful postwar years but I'm certain it would not have replicated the grandeur of their life in Russia.

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