Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Lies Beneath

Portrait of an Unknown Woman
Ivan Kramskoy
1883
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.

29 comments:

Lorna said...

Yes. Every person has a story. Every person has a world. You never know what quiet person has had an amazing life story in far-off places and done remarkable things.


~Lorna

The Bug said...

I often wonder about other people's stories - it's fascinating to me. For example, lots of people have stories about supernatural happenings, or miracles, or massive coincidences - it's great to hear those stories from people who otherwise would pass under the radar...

Deedee said...

I love finding out people's histories...it gives you a completely diffent picture of them, once you know where they have been and what they've been through.

greenpanda said...

Why on earth was the painting so scandalous?
That's true. Thats part of why I love blogging - I've learned so much about things I normally wouldnt even think about.

PurestGreen said...

Oh I love love love this story! It's so simple yet so intriguing. The world is full of stories like this, and we walk past them every day. This is such a gem - I'm so glad you posted it.

A human kind of human said...

Thanks Jo, another excellent post from you. It is so true, I often wonder about the many people I come in touch with daily and it so exciting when you do find out something about their lives. Every person has a story and it often just take a willingness on our parts to listen, to unlock beautiful and wonderful stories and facts about other people. Makes me think of someone who is actually related to an ex prime minister of South Africa and how I found out about her!!!!

Leslie: said...

Another deep and profound post, Josie. I, too, wonder about others and their lives...I especially love listening to old people tell the stories of their lives - such fascinating tales of times past. Looking back through their eyes, you can see just how the world, our culture and our morals have changed so quickly in the whole scheme of things.

PhilipH said...

All so very true. Some of the people I've known over the years were like open books. Others quite the opposite.

However, I guess nobody can ever really know everything about anybody, even those closest to us.

Andrea said...

Funny, I think about this more and more lately. I will see someone on the street and wonder what there story is. Or, people I see every day and don't even know their names. I'm trying to be more open and allow others to be open lately. There are some amazing people/stories out there.

robert said...

Difficult to leave a comment about being speachless...about the way you write/think. Neither do I know if you accept any award, but allow me to 'bow' for you.
This entry probably made my night, as it's already quarter past two.

Owen said...

You must try and get to the Hermitage at least once... it is an astonishing place. I went there when St Petersburg was known as Leningrad, but whichever, it is an awesome city with many astounding places to visit...

And what a beautiful tale you tell here, hope you can succeed in getting her to relate more of her life to you.

Brenda said...

I like to look at people and picture them a different age. Mostly older people...I try and look past the ageing skin, etc. and think about what they would have looked like as a child. Then I try to imagine what their life was like.
Blogging does reveal a great deal about most of us, I think.

Maureen said...

This portrait is on the cover of my copy of Anna Karenina, I've always thought it was perfect.

Marcos Vinicius Gomes said...

Good story, and it made me remember that sometimes interesting things, with interesting people are so close to us and we ignore them!

tinkerbell the bipolar faery said...

What a great story. I think I have that same Anna Karenina book.

Marguerite said...

Love the painting and the story, Jo. I think that it's fascinating to meet people and get to know them. So much to learn from each other.

Miss_Nobody said...

I haven't known many people who might have stories,mostly because I have known them all my life,but if I do see someone new behaving in a certain way,I do wonder what might have happened to make them think/act that way

Ady said...

I am a Russian linguist, so Russian culture in general is beloved to me. That painting is truly great.

I like how this blog explored "knowing" people. It really makes me think...

the walking man said...

The stories come out when the time is right. What good is digging if all you encounter is clay and stone?

lovelyprism said...

Wow, she looks so regal, I find it hard to believe that painting was considered scandalous. Never judge a book by it's cover! I've known many people in my life who have stories you could never imagine coming from them. I just love hearing those stories and somehow I manage to always find those people. They're a blessing.

pranksygang said...

i loved that painting! i can't see a flaw in it! the woman in that painting looks so majestic and brave!

each and every person in this world has a simple yet thrilling stories about their life! its just that we are busy with our own problems or we don't have much time to listen.

but this blogging world is like a window to know about people and get along with them... I'm loving this life and this world!

Jo said...

Lorna, oh yes, I love the "still waters run deep" types of people.

The Bug, I love unusual stories about people too. And some people have some amazing stories.

Deedee, oh yes! People can change right before your eyes, when you find out their "stories".

Greenpanda, the woman in the painting was considered "too sophisticated", and quite scandalous. Isn't that a hoot!

PurestGreen, yes, it has given me an incentive to find out more stories about people I see every day. People can be so fascinating.

AHumanKindOfHuman, *chuckle* And yes, every person is interesting, and every person has a history and a story.

Leslie, oh yes, I love listening to the stories of older people -- they're like a window on history, aren't they?

Philip, I agree -- we can learn something new about almost everyone, including people we have known all our lives.

Andrea, I do that too. I look at people and wonder who they are, and what their stories are. It's very intersting, isn't it?

Robert, my goodness, thank you very much! And I would bet you have a story too! :-)

Owen, yes, I do plan to chat with her more, now that I know her a bit better. And yes, I would love, love, love to go to the Hermitage Museum. My gosh!

Brenda, I do that too. I look at old people and wonder what they might have looked like as a child. Interesting, hey?

Maureen, that is very interesting! When the picture was painted, she was compared to Anna Karenina.

Marcos, we often have preconceived ideas about people, and we are often very, very wrong. Amazing.

Tinkerbell, yes, she was compared to Anna Karenina, although she was painted a few years after the book was written.

Marguerite, I love meeting new people, and we always have to remember to keep an open mind. What lies beneath... :-)

Miss_Nobody, yes, I know someone who is very sweet and in just the past couple of weeks has changed, and it makes me wonder if they are on medication or something. Human behavior is very strange.

Ady, omigosh! The Russian language is one I have always wanted to learn, and I love the Russian culture. It absolutely fascinates me. It's a whole other world.

Mark, yes, so true. And everyone has an interesting story to tell.

Lovelyprism, that's why I would love to be a writer, and write novels. Because people are so interesting, and everyone has such an interesting story.

Pranksygang, yes, isn't that the beauty of blogging? We have so much to discover about each other, and every story on every blog is different and interesting.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

What a fascinating and lovely post, and a beautiful painting.

There is something familiar to me, too, about the woman portrayed although I've never seen it before. She is quite haunting and very real, somehow.

I am descended from Russian Jews, but my family has been in the U.S. for several generations. I have never been to Israel or Eastern Europe.

I suspect that many people tell you their stories because you are so warm and open, and because you are actually interested in others, as so many people are not.

Jo said...

Hearts, yes, I find people fascinating. Everyone has a wonderful story to tell. Maybe in my next life, I will be a novelist. :-)

Paula Slade said...

Years ago, I had the good fortune to visit the Tretyakov Gallery. The treasures that are there were breathtaking. My mother was with me at the time, and we were slowly viewing painting after painting and moving from room to room. I'll never forget this - we were half-way through our tour and we rounded a corner to enter another smaller room, and when we entered the room there was a large and beautiful portrait of a woman, dressed in an elegant 18th century gown. The woman, who was gazing down at us from the portrait was my mother. They say that everyone has a "doppelganger"- from that day on we both believed it.

Jo said...

Paula, omigoodness, that is amazing! That would truly have been a moment that must have given you goosebumps, especially since your mother was with you. I can only imagine how she must have felt.

Swatantra said...

Hi,

Very Interesting and deep story you have written. Sometimes our relationship without any relation with the other person becomes important than other.

I wish you good luck for this relationship.

I have come first time on your blog and liked it. Will visit again.

Thanks
Swatantra

meggie said...

Love this story!

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