The Russian gentleman who we were introduced to, and who invited us to stay at his home in North Vancouver turned out to be a Ukrainian. We didn’t know there was a difference as a result of the blackout of information available to us in grade school and High School during the “Red Scare Days.” We were intrigued and asked many questions back and forth as he drove us through the now dark city, across the bridge into Stanley Park, across another bridge, and into North Vancouver.
His house was built on the rocky cliffs above the water and was all windows and different levels. It was magnificent. The driveway was protected by a security gate with a combination and a phone. The first I had ever seen in the flesh. He spoke into the phone in Ukrainian, or Russian and the gate started to swing open. The driveway descended down to a level under the house and ended at four garage doors. One of the doors opened and he drove in as the door closed behind us; gulp. No the little fear started to come back. We were closed in.
We got out of the car and followed him to an elevator. An elevator in a house! I had never heard of such a thing. It whisked us up to the first level of the house. “Useful when one is carrying groceries into the house,” he explained as we walked into a magnificent living area facing the ocean through a floor to ceiling wall of windows about forty feet long. There were different seating areas, some near a big TV, another near an incredible stereo system, a beautiful bar glimmering with crystal, a row of leather couches and chairs facing the windows out onto the sea, and the most beautiful carpets on the floor I had ever seen. We were in heaven.
“Would you like a tour of the house before you settle in and make yourself at home?” “Thank you, yes.” And we were off to maybe ten different levels, some only a few feet above another, but all on a different axis, with maybe fifteen principal rooms of various function. In the back, and to the side of the house there was a separate house, smaller, but in the same style and both had decks and gardens abounding. Every room in both houses somehow looked out upon the sea and followed the contour of the cliff. “The house out there is for the house keeper, her husband, and their children. They came with me from the mother land ten years ago. It was difficult to leave the USSR in those days. Our families have been together for generations.”
“And this is the room I have in mind for you, my guests!” Before us was a huge double door made from Western Cedar with iron bosses, and ornate iron and heavy bronze decorations. He reached between us and swung both doors open with a flourish. A smell of cedar met our nostrils. To our left was a wall of windows facing the ocean with a beautiful overstuffed couch and chair with a table and lamp between them. In front of us was not just a bed, but a kingdom. It was magnificent in the extreme! It appeared to be old, no, ancient, with four massive posts reaching to the heights of the ceiling supporting, of all things, a sort of ceiling of its own, the underside painted in intricate scenes of life in medieval Russia. Heavy tapestries hung next to the posts. He showed us how to slide the tapestries closed all around the bed, “For warmth and privacy. In olden times many people slept together in the same room; guards, servants, friends, and relatives. closing the bed gave one a modest privacy and a good deal of warmth on cold winter nights. It can get chilly here on the water and you may want to close the tapestries for warmth, or just for fun.”
“Let me show you the bath.” To the side of the wall of windows was what we thought was a beautifully carved wooden bass relief sculpture. He pushed a small brass button beside it and it slid aside into a pocket in the wall with a sound like, “Whisk!” Inside was another window wall facing the sea, but smaller, and frosted at the bottom up to about four and a half feet and clear on the top. Everything was blond marble with darker veins running through looking as if the entire floor, and each wall were one giant piece of marble stacked together. Even the high ceiling was of the same material, but with round recesses here and there containing spot lights and heat lamps. A marble partition was built into the center of the room parallel to the window wall about eight feet from the glass, “This is your shower.” We noticed a large gold colored metal shower head suspended from the ceiling about eight feet up from the floor, and two gold metal shower heads coming out of the marble partition above six gold colored metal knobs. Below that was a kind of screened outlet near the floor in the wall with a gold colored knob above it, “These operate the shower heads, and this one operates the steam.” “Steam?” “Yes, steam is very cleansing and healthy for the body. This knob adjusts the amount of steam to enter the room. It gets very hot. Be careful not to touch it when it is operating.” We started to get dizzy.
“Over here, behind this door is the commode and the bidet, and behind that door are sinks and towels.” We looked into both. The room with the commode and bidet was marble, but black with red grains flowing through it. We were afraid to ask what a bidet was. The room with sinks was tiled, but unlike anything we had ever seen, ornate and bright, with tiles like tendrils of grass, or seaweed running all through it, flowing from the floor, into the walls, and all over the ceiling. One entire wall was filled with open cedar shelving housing piles and piles of huge, fluffy, white towels, bathrobes, wash cloths, and hand towels. The far wall was all shelves housing assorted beauty products, multi colored soaps, lotions, hair dryers and so many other things we had never seen that our eyes started to swim.
“Oh yes, before I forget, let me show you the tub.” He lead us through another door in the marble wall to the side of the shower. Inside was a huge stone tub in the middle of the floor with steps leading up to the rim and steps descending into beautiful scented, steaming water. “Our custom is to shower first, then enjoy the tub. If you wish to bathe outdoors push this button and the windows will slide to the side. Push this button and the ceiling will open up to the stars. It’s particularly enjoyable when it is raining hard, or snowing. The contrast between the hot bath water and the elements is very relaxing.”
I will leave you now to relax. I must take care of some business and it is morning in Moscow as we speak. Make yourselves at home. There is plenty of food in the kitchen. Shall I have Sophia make you dinner?” “Oh no, I don’t think we’re hungry right now.” “Very well, enjoy.”
We followed him out into the main bed chamber where we found to our delight that someone had laid out beautiful silk bedclothes for both of us. “These are my gift to you. They will fit you perfectly. I took the liberty and had the tailors purchase these for you downtown. Goodnight.” With that he let himself out of the room and gently closed the doors behind him.
We looked at each other with tears in our eyes and lay down upon the bed, holding each other and weeping quietly. How was this possible? We rose, undressed and raced each other to the shower room. “Let’s try it!” We were like people delivered from the chasm.