Friday, March 25, 2011

One Day in the Life of Isaac Danilovich

Nothing rounds off an afternoon stroll along Odessa's coastal path than early supper at Dacha.

This restaurant is set in a country house generously bequeathed to whoever was passing at the time by its owner, the cautious Mr Peretz, who decided not to give Soviet power the benefit of the doubt and fled to France in a flurry of fur coats and floozies in 1919.

Dacha offers a zesty selection of soups, savouries, sweets and, of course, sinus-snapping spirits. I can recommend the okroshka, salo, kambala, Chernihiv unfiltered beer and horse-radish horilka.

The last of these prompts a fecund stirring of the loins and a variety of unusual admissions at Accident & Emergency unless congress is achieved within two hours of consumption - not usually a problem in Slack-Drawered Odessa.

Madame Boyo and I were relaxing at a garden table, after an arduous afternoon on the Otrada beach, when a neo-Chekhovian tableau commenced nearby.

An Odessite businessman in his mid-50s - let us call him Isaac Danilovich - trailed into the garden behind his overstuffed wife and 20-something daughter. Isaac is typical of a certain type of entrepreneur in the eastern Slavosphere:

  • Not venal, but has plenty of venal people on his speed-dial;
  • Uxurious, even though he could have traded in his wife for a waxed blonde shop-hopper long ago; and
  • Drinks with his partners and rivals, but didn't make his millions by being mashed on monkey juice half the day.

So an afternoon en famille at Dacha would have been a pleasant break from wheeling deals, but Isaac looked troubled. Jowls and the corners of various features all drooped towards his tasselled loafers. Then I saw why.

One of the many horrors that Soviet Communism spared its ranks of soldiers, peasants and grade three meat-processing-plant operatives was interior designers.

Dizainer, by contrast, was a familiar Jewish surname in Odessa. A perestroika joke goes that a new-breed interior designer hired to wreck some poor sap's flat turned up at the wrong address.

"Hello, I'm a designer," said the prominently Hebrew young professional.

"Well, I can see you're not an Ivanov!" grunted the vest-clad tenant as he slammed the door.

Back at Dacha, Madame Boyo and I beheld the bane of Danilovich. Blonde hair tugged into a brisk ponytail, yoghurt-nourished curves crammed into a grey two-piece and kitten heels, Masha the Interior Designer bore down on Issac's table, brandishing her laptop like a shield before her businesslike bosom.

After a few perky greetings she perched on a chair to the left and ordered still mineral water without ice. Daughter and Mrs Danilovich were arrayed to the right, with Mr D arraigned between them.

Masha unfurled the laptop, fanned out some brochures and began bobbing her ponytail in time with mother and daughter as they pored over her plans. Danilich, to use the familiar contraction, briefly caught my eye. "Help me!" blinked his haggard orbs.

For a moment I considered a discreet flick of forefinger to throat, the wordless Soviet invitiation to share a half-litre of red-eye behind a missile silo. He would have muttered an excuse and caught up with me among the silver birches to swig and forget in the silent brotherhood of the bottle.

Instead I raised my litre of Chernihiv Unfiltered and nodded with a wink towards Mrs Boyo, a woman whose idea of interior décor goes no further than the steel bookshelves and noticeboards of the drill hall where she was born. Uncle, you're on your own.

The next half hour saw Danilich lurch through the Four Stages of Life.

Of all the great religions, Hinduism has most acutely pondered the pointlessness of human endeavour. Buddhism usually earns that accolade, but rather embraces failure with Schopenhauerian smugness.

Hindus, on the other seven hands, regard our futile footling with Himalayan dispassion, and seek diversion in acrobatic erotica and a pantheon that could pass an East Enders audition. And, like true country types, they've worked out that cows are best left alone.

Your Hindu divides our trudge to the municipal boneyard into four allotments of increasing disappointment, and poor Isaac Danilovich slouched sulphurous through the whole tetralogy before our blinking eyes.

1. Brahmacharya: The stage when a young man learns from his elders under conditions of celibacy.

Isaac Danilovich had turned up to lunch with the intention of taking this vow, with fingers subtly crossed, having calculated that feigned interest in plaster niches and pre-aged parquet might earn him a reprieve from whatever other improving ideas his womenfolk had in mind - banning handguns from the banya, for example.

So he bowed gravely before the queasy neon of the laptop, wherein his hunting lodge was shrouded in the chandeliers and drapes of a Syrian soap-opera drawing room decorated by the last remaining Situationist.

This lasted about five minutes. A getter-up and goer, Danilich couldn't fake enthusiasm for dadoes, corniches and pergolas any more than the average husband. Before long he leaned back and pretended to read important text messages on his mobile. His wife and daughter drew closer as he moved out into the lower orbit of irrelevance.

2. Griastha: The mature stage of life in which you settle down and devote yourself to family matters.

Danilich needed to wrest control of his precarious patrimony before Masha turned his smoking terrace into a magnolia "break-out area". He began to make helpful suggestions like some domestic Schindler, desperately seeking to save a few mammoth trophies and billiard tables from the encroaching cream emulsion.

Too late. The daughter, who hadn't studied Social Technology at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy for nothing, gently batted them aside while Mother patted his hand. Masha smiled indulgently, then continued her breathless exposition.

One aspect of Griastha is Kama, or sensual gratification. Isaac Danilovich now had recourse to this by idly assessing Masha's public assets. "If I make her my mistress and buy her a flat on Richelieu Street, perhaps she'll leave my house alone," he mused.

3. Vanaprastha: The gradual abdication of wordly desire, often accompanied by a retreat from town to country.

Danilich understood that an affair with Masha, while entirely possible and, in many Ukrainian situations, almost unavoidable, would only burden his soul while not necessarily sparing his estate. The daughter would find another designer, and he'd have to spend late afternooons staring at Masha's stretched ceiling with a mouthful of Spanish fly and the sound of snapping garters in his ears.

He moved his chair back to "take a call" and the hitherto emollient Mrs Danilovich slid her seat sideways into the space, all the better to peer over her fleshy Tartar cheekbones at some new albumen abomination in glass brickwork.

Slowly, steadily, Isaac Danilovich was being eased beyond the familial Van Allen Belt into the harsh solar winds of woe.

4. Sannyasa: The final withdrawal from a world full of weeping into the contemplation of the Eternal.

The Sannyasin, legally dead, must have provided for his family before being allowed to renounce them, and this Danilich had clearly done. But some Hindu sages insist that Sannyasa is permitted only to those who have sired a son, and this clearly troubled Isaac.

A son - Boris! - would have ridden to his rescue in a pimped convertible; open-shirted, Aviator-shaded and slightly bandy from polo and penicillin. The finest waitresses would have fed them cognac and caviar canapés from their cleavages while the chef coshed and grilled all passing livestock at their table.

Masha, whom Boris would have mounted at some point before dessert, would eagerly agree that a 15ft HD wall-mounted television with extendable cocktail cabinet/barbecue is what every modern bedroom needs.

This phantom progeny seemed to urge Isaac on to an uprising against the carmine-lipped camarilla. He grabbed the laptop and jabbed at various offending features, muttering urgent pleas for domestic give-and-take. The Daughter eased the monitor from his clammy grasp.

Mother replaced his chair a good yard away and poured his first tumbler of vodka. Isaac Danilovich lit a Cohiba of consolation. It was all over. He'd take the yacht down to Varna for the summer, in sure and blissful hopelessness about the state of Villa Danilich on his return. Perhaps they'd leave him his shed.

Shanty, shanty, shanty.


Unknown said...

It is a good idea to make your home as energy efficient as possible before converting to solar power. That means purchasing appliances that are energy efficient and use low kilowatts to operate.

No Good Boyo said...

Thanks hann. In Wales we simply set fire to neighbouring houses and get to cook our breakfast at the same time.

Rod Warner said...

Blimey - a vast and of course facetious comment linking shanty singers (damn their eyes), T.S. Eliot, Cecil Sharp and other idiocies did not come through. I blame the red wine dulling my synapses...

No Good Boyo said...

You willed it, Rod, and thus it shall be. I've become quite mystical since adding Jaegermeister to my midnight rota.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Frighteningly believable. The Soviets were scared of the corrupting influences of George Orwell, Boris Pastanak, etc but who'd have guessed that their manhood would finally have been brought to its knees by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

No Good Boyo said...

Like the Martians in War of the Worlds, they prepared for mighty combat but were felled by parasites.

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