Portrait of an Unknown Woman
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
I love Russian artists, and this is one of my favorite paintings. The painting was considered quite scandalous when Kramskoy painted it. The woman in the picture was referred to as an "immoral woman", and a "woman of the city", and art galleries refused to display it. I like the painting because the woman resembles someone I know.
For several years I have been going to the same pharmacy counter at Safeway to buy multi-vitamins, aspirin, what-have-you... The same woman serves me every time I am there, and occasionally we chat briefly. Yesterday I was wearing an amber necklace, and suddenly the woman at the pharmacy became very animated. She told me when she was a child she didn't like to eat. She said her mother wore an amber necklace, and as a little girl, the pharmacy woman loved to chew on her mother's necklace. Whenever she did this, her mother took the opportunity to pop food into her mouth, and that was how she got her to eat. She said seeing my necklace brought back memories. She then went on to tell me that she was born and raised in Russia, in a city near the Black Sea. We chatted about Russia and I told her I had a friend who had taken the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The woman in the pharmacy said St. Petersburg was the most beautiful city in the world, and especially the State Hermitage Museum.
My new pharmacy friend said she left Russia because she is Jewish and she wanted to live in Israel. She said she spent several years in Israel before coming to Canada. I have always wanted to visit both Russia and Israel, and I found it so interesting that this woman whom I have "known" for so long has this colorful history. Until now, she has simply been the woman who rings up my purchases, takes my money and gives me a receipt. I can only imagine the fascinating stories she can tell about living in both Russia and Israel.
My pharmacy friend so closely resembles the woman in this portrait, I wondered if they could somehow be related. It made me wonder, as well, how many people do we deal with on a day-to-day basis, but we really know nothing about them. Who are they? Where are they from? What are their stories? I believe we all have people that we deal with every day, and we never think about what lies beneath.