#40 Russian Adventures Part 5Posted: January 23, 2013
Since I was temporarily living on Long Island in a friend’s summer home in 1987, I could get to Manhattan easily to meet people about the Russian artists. The friend who owned the house was Ivan. I’ve spoken of him before and will again. We had built an investment property a few years earlier in East Hampton which we never rented out. Our business arrangement was limp. He wasn’t able to cleanly buy me out. So he owed me a great deal more than the use of his summer cottage.
I assumed I would go back to work in Manhattan. I had left that world in 1983 and I’d be lucky to be welcomed back. But I was preoccupied with art galleries and helping the Russians. No one asked me if I had enough money in the bank to do this. I didn’t ask myself. Ivan who was busy in a new job in broadcasting in New York, said next to nothing. He seemed bored if I talked about Russia or the artists, so I stopped.
I set another appointment with the German banker. He suggested lunch. So I stopped by his Wall Street office and we walked over to Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. I was still trying to find out about him and what he was doing for the artists. I didn’t know where this project would lead me. The banker and the galleries didn’t know what to think of me either. I made one call after another helping my friend and artists one day at a time. It never crossed my mind to literally represent the artists and make money. This was just a fascinating favor.
I was intrigued by the banker. He reminded me slightly of the actor Curt Jurgens in The Enemy Below. I saw no personal pictures in his downtown office. And even my dense mind could tell he was intrigued by me. We sat at lunch looking out over Manhattan. I knew nothing about his personal life and he knew little about mine. I appreciated his manners. I think I smoked less so he wouldn’t have to keep lighting cigarettes.
With the noise in the restaurant and his quiet voice and accent, I wasn’t always sure what he said. But I didn’t want to keep asking him to repeat everything. I did however decide to find out if he was married. I think I asked if he had children. That would be a start. And at the exact moment of his reply a waiter dropped a big tray of dishes and I don’t know what he said. I did not ask again.
Back at his office he gave me a computer sheet of Russian artists and galleries. We still had no business agreement, but it seemed that I was more formally attached to his enterprise of getting the artists known in this country. I’d keep contacting galleries and we’d stay in touch.
My friend, who had arranged the first gallery meeting, also arranged for us to drive to Allentown to meet another Russian artist. The artist came to this country to escape the government control and he was a friend of the artists I met in Moscow. We also learned that day that this was his weekend house. I don’t know why we drove there because I would meet with him and his wife at his Greenwich Village apartment/studio. It just happened to be directly across the street from my first apartment in New York in 1971. My friend was embarrassed by having us make that trip, but I saw this as another sign that I was meant to keep moving forward. Of course I did.
I had been living in Ivan’s cottage for months. I was also writing my first screenplay about these experiences so wanted to postpone a return to broadcasting. Of course returning would have been the wise thing to do. Instead I went back to Pennsylvania where a friend and her daughter shared their house with me. It was to be for maybe a few weeks to give me time to get the artists some attention.
For most of those weeks and then months I drove back and forth to Manhattan to see galleries, artists and the German. I went to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. galleries. I spent chunks of time in Ohio where a friend in theatre was encouraging my writing. My unplanned life was very busy and still without any income.
By now I knew that the German banker was married. I had told my neighbors in Pennsylvania. They were sweet about this stupid crush without judging me. I could be frank about the startling fact that the German made my knees wobbly. I had been alone for a long time and maybe that was it, but it was strong.
I was getting annoyed with the German because he wasn’t at all forthcoming about his arrangement with the artists or about what he expected of me. I drove to Manhattan yet again to meet with him. We met in his offices uptown. I was irritable, still getting no more information. He wanted to take me to his club for drinks, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. We went to a restaurant, and that’s where his conversation changed and threw me off balance even more. And we were nowhere with any agreement.
He was commuting then to Moscow at least a week a month, making it difficult to pin him down. Now the conversation was changing. He told me a little more of his background in Germany. I think this was his second marriage. He told me how he sees beautiful women all over the world all the time. Then he said the words I tried to ignore on the outside but remember to this day. He said, “You are quite the most stunningly beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Sure. Right. I deflected what he said. But my wobbly knees were in more trouble. So my natural reaction was to be rude, verbally jabbing him. That only seemed to make him more overt in his “admiration” of me. And whatever he was drinking made him admire me more. And more winking with his face.
I was meeting Ivan that night downtown. So the German walked me south on Park Avenue. The more he tried to dazzle me with compliments the more I shot barbs back. Then he announced that he had to stop in at the Waldorf, his client. He asked me to wait for a few minutes. Oh now I remember, he wanted to drop off his briefcase. So I sat for a few minutes. But I got a feeling that he wanted more than to drop off a briefcase. So I disappeared.
But weeks later, we were both in Philadelphia. I wasn’t as smart then. We spent a night together with both amazing and rude elements to it. I’d describe more but what’s the point? Now I’d made it more difficult to help the artists because the German had gotten what he wanted, and I knew nothing more of his business.
Not long after that Nadia was back in America. She was staying with me at a friend’s apartment. We were to meet the German at a gallery opening to talk about the artists. He greeted us at the door and took my mere mink from me. And that’s when I met his wife’s sable. There was no discussion of the artists but we all agreed to go to the village apartment of the artist I had already met in Pennsylvania. So there I was at that studio with Nadia, the artist, his wife, the German and his wife. It was idiotic. I have no memory of anything decided about business that night.
By now I was traveling back and forth to Ohio, spending time with my friends from the Russia trip and meeting with a playwright who was advising me on my first very rough play. I’d talk with the German banker occasionally and my knees still tended to go weak, not a strong negotiating position. Fortunately geography kept me from more stupid behavior.
By the summer of 1988 there was a Sotheby art auction in Moscow. The artist I was taken to see on that scary night outside Moscow became a millionaire overnight. Everything we had tried to do to get them known in the West was resolved with the one auction. One of his paintings sold for $416,000 to an anonymous bidder.
I have no way of knowing what impact any of my work had on gallery or collector interest in the artists. I read an article about the German banker. He had been buying the paintings for years for next to nothing. I’ve been told that his was the anonymous bid that day at Sothebys. The artists were now safe and wealthy. The German? I have no guess about how much money he made. After the auction I called the artist to congratulate him when he was in New York. He did not return my call.
A friend who learned a great deal about Nadia told me that some believe that she was so connected with KGB that she would get Dimitri in trouble and then appeal to people around the world to get him out of an institution. I always wondered how she was able to travel here a couple of times a year, when her husband would be arrested for his poetry.
The next time I saw Nadia, she was back in New York getting more people to help with her new peace organization. Another friend who had also traveled to Moscow after my trip came with me to meet Nadia. We walked Nadia to a meeting she had near the U.N.. Then we took her to the offices I borrowed in the then Pan Am Building. The offices belong to that friend’s husband. We sat Nadia across from us in the grand conference room. She was nervous and fiddled with some black and white photos.
She spoke in her most imploring voice and with her perfect British English. She said, “I have this friend. Her child was born with this terrible terrible problem.” She was wringing her hands. We braced ourselves as she slid one photograph at a time across the table to us. “The baby was born with only part of an ear.” Not what I was expecting. She went on with, “Doctors can not operate yet, but I’ve heard that here you can get rubber ears, in different sizes as the baby grows.”
While there is nothing funny about a baby with only part of an ear, my friend and I needed to laugh. We needed to but we didn’t. Instead she took the photographs and said that she’d try to help. Everyone always did. I drew the line at rubber ears. It was the last time I saw Nadia.
Dimitri, Nadia’s husband who was regularly incarcerated for his art and his poetry was suddenly allowed to come to America. A university sponsored his visit. When he stayed at the home of a friend in Ohio, I went out to see him. A friend sent a copy of his obituary when he died in 2007. He was much admired.
I was going to end Russian Adventures, but here’s something I forgot. It may have been during that stay in Manhattan. Ivan and I met for dinner. After my trip to the U.S.S.R. Ivan didn’t want to hear anything about my work with the artists. But on this night at dinner he had something to tell me. He said that during all that time, “I thought you were a spy.”
I was so astonished I could only laugh. I asked. “Spying for whom?” He said he didn’t know. Both sides he thought. So in all that time when he stopped asking me questions he was terrified that the phone was tapped or that I was being followed. I asked why he didn’t just ask me. He said, “Would you have told me the truth?” Apparently by then he no longer thought I was a spy, but had consulted many people. What? He had talked to others about his best friend being a spy? I didn’t think to ask who in New York he had consulted.
It wasn’t the end of the wobbly friendship but that may have been the last time I saw him.