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Our guardian angelAnna
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, 05 2007

Special for the ‘MZ’ by Lubov Burban

While returning from vacation in November last year, we stopped in Paris. Obviously, three days and Paris are ‘incompatible’, but the temptation to visit the Louvre was so great that we ‘shot’ out into the street long before the museum was open because, what if there was a line? (Old Soviet habits are hard to break.)

Our hotel was in the center of the city, on a quiet street where there were no trendy shops or expensive restaurants, just 5or 6-storied houses, adorned with wrought-iron lacework balconies so close to each other that they merged into an ensemble, as if they were all created at the same time by the same craftsman. TheParisian neighborhoods, no matter how many times we read about them in novels, or saw them in films, were our first ‘shock’.

It was early, and the street cleaners were already finishing up their jobs and the Parisians had not yet started theirs. Rarepassers-by gathered in tiny cafes for morning coffee, but we were not stopping, we were heading for the Louvre. Thestreet was just waking up, and the tiny cars, so dissimilar in size to U.S. ‘gondolas’, were still peacefully asleep, awaiting their passengers.

After walking a few blocks toward the center of the city, ahead of us we saw a woman walking toward us, holding a bouquet. Shewas in a big hurry, and she occasionally glanced at the flowers, as if assessing whether they were worthy of whomever they were intended. Justa few meters before our possible encounter, the Parisienne turned abruptly toward a building across the street.

When we drew closer, we saw her in front of a bookstore, in which the window displayed a large photograph of Anna Politkovskaya.

Out of surprise, we stopped suddenly. Thetrees and dense thickets of shrubs concealed our presence at this meeting, to which we had become unwitting witnesses. Under the window were three vases filled with water, apparently prepared beforehand by the street cleaners. TheParisienne put her bouquet into one of these, after first trying a few different ways of arranging flowers in the vase, as if trying to ensure that Anna could see them. Shedid it so confidently and quickly that it was obvious that this was not the first time the Parisienne had been here.

After finishing her floral design, the woman straightened her hair and stood up, and only then did she turn toward the photograph, as if greeting Anna.

Of course, in my sick imagination it seemed to me that Anna was smiling a little at the Parisienne, whose face at that moment was both friendly and sad at the same time. After only a few seconds, things changed: the woman was still silently conversing with Anna, but now her gaze became stern and worried, as though she were still continuing an unfinished conversation, persistently trying to somehow convince her companion behind the glass of something. Theemotional tension grew so fast that it seemed that in another second one of us three would be unable to stand it, and we would blast that fragile calm in the heart of Paris: despair, resentment, and the pain of unhealed wounds would burst forth from our constricted throats to break the silence. Atprecisely the next moment, however, tears began to stream down the face a woman who had exhausted all her reserves of restraint.

Feelings of inescapable disaster and doom seemed suddenly to have aged her. Fora few seconds, she closed her eyes. Thenshe looked once again at the flowers, as if checking to see if everything was all right, and then she looked once again at Anna’s picture. Shehad a particularly poignant expression, and then quickly, without looking around, she walked toward the Champs-Elysees.

We stood silently for a few more minutes, not daring to leave our hiding place. Itseemed that the Parisienne was still here, that she still had not left, and she would be disappointed to see strangers.

By that time the sun had already taken its place in Anna’s photograph, making her slightly younger while the sunbeams started to play, and the dewdrops on the petals of the white roses, as if prisms, reflected them.

Yes, these were fresh roses, just cut. Iremembered how the old flower woman had taught me to present flowers: “Roses for the one you love, and only white ones.” Where did the Parisienne get these, if flower shops are still not open?

That was a mystery, just as to who this woman was. Wasshe a close friend of Anna, an acquaintance, someone whom she once met, a colleague in journalism, or just a Parisienne who was familiar with Anya’s tragic fate?

What was important was that she came to see Anna. Andit was not only her who came to see Anna: two empty vases were awaiting new flowers. Westood before Anna’s photograph, and finally the lump in our throats broke and we did not attempt to restrain ourselves, we had to release the tension.

This is one of Anna’s best pictures, is it not? Annalooked at us as if to say: “People, Ilove you.” Her sad smile tells of how much fell to her journalistic burden, while at the same time there is no trace of doom in her look, but on the contrary, that somewhere far away there was hope.

The meeting without words, in which a lot was said, lasted no more than 5or 6minutes. Everything was mixed up in my head: the monstrous horror of the tragedy, the reaction to it in various corners of the world by people who knew her and did not know her, human sorrow Iremembered that cynical statement by Mr. Putin, who so often emphasizes his membership in the Russian Orthodox Church (the cross under his shirt), his statement about the “insignificance” of Anna’s writings. Obviously, he did not hear or know about existing sacred Christian traditions in this respect, and, as if to counterbalance this blasphemy, to my mind came Faina Ranevskaya’s well-known saying about Mona Lisa: “This lady has for so long fascinated humanity, that now she picks and chooses on whom she will make an impression.” Ithought: Anna has a right to choose her admirers, and it is clear that the Russian president cannot be one of them they are too different in creed. ForAnna, the main thing was rescue: the elderly from a Grozny nursing homey, the hostages at ‘Nord-Ost’, the children in Beslan, but for Mr. Putin it is: “p--- on*” everyone, no matter whether it is in the basement of an apartment building, an orchestra pit, or a school gym.

(*An oft-repeated Putinism “p--s on them in the s---house” is criminal underworld slang for kill, wipe out, destroy. Theauthor’s references to basement, orchestra pit, and school gym, are allusions to the Moscow apartment building bombings, the ‘Nord-Ost’ hostage crisis at Dubrovka, and the Beslan school tragedy, in which former President Putin has a sordid history Ed.)

There were more and more pedestrians on the Paris streets. Some, who saw Anna’s photo in the bookshop window, stayed for a few seconds to meet once again with the one who tried to help Russia, but whom we did not save.

It was time to say goodbye. Wewent back to the hotel, no longer in the mood to go to the Louvre. After all, we have already seen our Mona Lisa.

P.S.We got to know Anna Politkovskaya during some very dark days for our family, during ‘Nord-Ost’, where our son was poisoned and killed. Annawas the first to write to us and to try to help us awaken from the sorrow than had befallen us. Thisis how she got to know many of the ‘nor’easters’ whose loved ones were lost in this tragedy. Becoming a member of a large ‘Nord-Ost’ family, Anna was unwittingly touched by each of our tragedies, and in so doing ended up with a very large share of it, but she did not give up. Shefound more and more strength and became our mainstay, our guardian angel Anna, the unyielding core around which we united in the search for truth.

Unfortunately, Anna’s employment and the vast distance between Moscow and Los Angeles never allowed us ever to meet in person, but we communicated over the Internet. Wewere hoping to see her in court, where the ministers of justice, the judges in their robes, would call out the names of those responsible for this modern-day Holocaust in Moscow, for the gas chamber that killed our loved ones.

It has been five years. Ahead of us is the black ‘jubilee’ of ‘Nord-Ost’. Ayear ago we lost Anna, and we never even got to meet her.

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Comments (2)
1. Anna
Written by , on 11-10-200706:06
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2. .
Written by . ., on 11-10-200710:38

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