Many people find it surprising that I live somewhere so busy, right opposite Montparnasse station. But it’s what I like. I adore Paris. I like to hear it here beside me – knocking, honking, ringing and breathing. Sometimes, at dawn, a lorry rumbles past beneath my window, so loud and so close that it seems to be coming straight through my room, and I draw up my legs in my sleep so they won’t be run over. And then what wakes me an hour or two later is Paris itself – dear, elegant, beautiful Paris. Far better than being woken by a bewhiskered old crone of a concierge with eyes like a cockroach.
Teffi was a recent discovery at the Gonchorova exhibition recently. She was born in 1872, so had already emerged into the St Petersburg social and literary scene as both a debutante and an author – called in once to meet Rasputin in the hopes that her guise as society lady would cover her job as an investigative journalist – and was definitely on the wrong side of the fence come 1919, despite working with Lenin.
It turned out that she has entered the country on a false passport made out in the name of a sixteen-year old girl with no education. The comrades had decided that by putting a bright-red blouse on a middle-aged woman with a pince nez and the weary face of an intellectual, they would turn her into an illiterate young teenager. And they had been right. The border guards had believed the story and Valeria Ivananova had safely entered St Petersburg in her red blouse.
Her writing covers travel to and round France (sometimes but not usually by choice), Orthodox Easter and childhood memories, Siberia and exile, pre-revolution Bolshevism and a good humoured approach to small quarters living, often with a good dose of sarcasm or irony.
Is it this little table that you’re looking at? Yes, I know it’s very small but there’s nothing it doesn’t do. It’s a writing table, a dining table, a dressing table and a sewing table. It’s only three and a half feet across, but on it I have an inkwell, some writing paper, my face powder, some envelopes, my sewing box, a cup of milk, some flowers, a Bible, sweets, manuscripts and some bottles of scent.