Using my father’s turn of phrase, I can confirm that my brother and I really did “charm” everyone. People smiled at us, spoiled us and enjoyed talking to us, especially the seven-year old Oleg, who at that time spoke poor Russian, amusingly mangling words and pronouncing his “r’s” in the French way – everyone found it amusing and laughed. We were invited out, spoiled with sweets, taken on interesting outings to the famous town of Tarusa or the nearby village of Bekhovo, where today they still put flowers on Vasilii Polenov’s grave in the local cemetery.
I had my own friends: Alek, the son of the then famous tenor Zhadan, who was later arrested because, finding himself in German-occupied territory during the war, sang for them. I also became friends with the grandson of the artist Polenov, Fedor, who became a naval officer during the war and then worked in his grandfather’s museum, taking up writing as a spiritual exercise. I only learned of this when I happened to purchase a book of “documentary” stories (as the author called them) under the general title of At the foot of the rainbow (“U podnozh’ia radugi”), published in Moscow in 1984. There is a charming story entitled Prokofiev’s House, in which Fedor Polenov recalls the comfortable, log-clad little hut on the edge of the forest, with windows looking out in the direction of the picturesque Oka, which had been many years before the bath-house of the carpenters who built the Polenov house and who took water for it straight from the river. But when it became a Rest Home, it was re-built as a dwelling in which painters, writers and artists might relax.
Fedor Polenov describes an amusing incident when he first met Prokofiev. One morning in 1935 he and his father were walking past the little house on their way to a fishing expedition, when they happened to meet a tall man in glasses, wearing a grey overcoat and a hat. It was Sergei Prokofiev; the Polenovs greeted him and a conversation started up between the two men. Seeing that the little boy was bored, Prokofiev suddenly asked him a question: “Fedia, do you know any boxing holds?”, and then offered to demonstrate some of them. “My unexpected instructor began to show me how to take up an aggressive stance, how to deliver and parry blows... I heard words like ‘hook’, ‘uppercut’, ‘clinch’ and ‘knockout’”. Carried away by the words, the boy started to engage in the sport and became over-excited. “To my father’s great embarrassment, I landed a blow with all my strength on the stomach of my opponent, who scarcely managed to hold onto his glasses as they slipped off his nose!”
When Fedia became a student of the Naval Academy, he would often recall his very first boxing-match and his unexpected instructor, Sergei Prokofiev, who in that far-off autumn, inspired by the wonders of nature, composed the music of the ballet Romeo and Juliet in the “bath-house” on the Oka. And the house, where this music of genius was created, is today known as “Prokofiev’s House”. BACK TO SUMMARY