A Russian Woman: An Internet Romance
By John David Fenner
“Mother,” I said, “Do you realize that your five children have a total of ten marriages between them?” She looked at me and smiled, certainly she had thought of that. “And, Carol and I have seven of those?” She laughed.
“Of course I have thought about that, too.” My octogenarian mom replied.
To say that I have experience making my way down the aisle is an understatement. I had been there three times when I made that statement to my mother. I had been married a total of 37 years and was currently divorced. I was on the downside of a six year relationship with a very nice lady of Greek descent and I wanted a permanent tie . . . but she didn’t!
My mother died a short while later and a couple of years later, my Big Fat Greek Romance ended as well, though we still ‘kept company’ somewhat, dinners a few drinks and on occasion, more than that. But, I wanted a lot more.
Several years earlier in the mid-nineties, while living in Portland, OR, a friend pointed my way to internet dating sites that were just getting started. I signed on to several, posting an honest profile and recent picture. Business later took me to the Dayton, OH area, where I met the Greek Goddess and forgot all about my romance-site postings.
Now, here I was living alone in a neat little house I had bought in suburban Dayton after my romance had ended. I was checking my e-mails, something I did frequently since most of my business correspondence was done via the internet, when I noticed an e-memo from one of the romance sites saying I had a message. I logged on to the site, after a lot of fumbling around trying to remember my user name and password, I checked the message. Some lady had noticed my posting and wanted to correspond. I checked her profile and found she didn’t really fit my needs and requirements, but I was intrigued.
I decided that as long as I was on the site I would do a search of the Dayton area. Several profiles popped up that met my search criteria, but none were of great interest, so I expanded the search out to a 200 mile radius. Bam! The first picture on the screen was of a dark-haired beauty. Her profile seemed to be a good match and she was at the younger end of the age group I had specified. The profile gave her home as in the Charleston, WV area, about three hours from Dayton. Since I was traveling a lot, some of it through that area, I composed a note and sent it. I figured it would take a few days or even a week before I had a response.
Surprise! The next day I had an e-mail from the site saying I had a message. I logged on, remembering my user name and password this time, and checked the e-mail. It was a nice, cheery note telling me that “Tanya” knew there was someone out there in the world for her and she hoped I was that one. I replied, giving my regular e-mail address so we could bypass the romance site and talk directly. I explained that I was in Dayton, but traveled to Charleston periodically, maybe we could meet on my next trip.
Tanya replied and thus began a several-times-per-week exchange, each letter getting longer and longer with more information being exchanged. I learned that she was an architect, had a daughter 23 years of age who had recently married.
After a few letters I began to get a hint that Tanya wasn’t in Charleston, maybe not even in the USA! The letters were just too well written, no grammatical or spelling errors . . . and no slang. I asked where she was living and she told me in The Republic of Moldova. Our exchanges had been very nice and a connection had been made, so I saw no problem with continuing.
About the time I learned where Tanya lived I had an unusual experience. One night after retiring, I had either a ‘visitation’ from my late mother . . . or it was a dream. Mom told me that I was on the right track in my pursuit of a relationship with Tanya and she encouraged me to continue. I remember every detail of this event and I understand that you don’t do this with dreams, so I just don’t know what really happened.
A few weeks later (we were now into our fourth month of corresponding) I snail-mailed Tanya a formal invitation to visit me in the USA. She took it to the US Embassy in Chisinau, the capitol of Moldova, but was denied a visa. I contacted the Embassy and was told that visas for origin points in Eastern Europe and some parts of Asia were very hard to receive since most of them were used for immigration, not visits. So it was now up to me to make the trip.
I screwed up my courage, renewed my passport, obtained a Moldovan visa and booked the flights. I also asked Tanya to book me a room at a better hotel in Tiraspol, near her apartment (or ‘flat’ as she called it).
I’ve often heard that if things start off badly they can only get better. That was the way of my first trip to Moldova. I arrived at Dulles Airport in the Metro DC area on a commuter flight from Dayton, OH. They hadn’t yet streamlined the flight changing system and I had to go to the main terminal instead of staying in the international terminal at which the commuter flights arrive.
The security check line was very long. After nearly two hours in the line, I checked the monitor overhead and saw that my flight to Vienna, Austria, my intermediate stop, had been canceled. Shouldering and dragging all my luggage, I went to the Austrian Airlines counter where I learned that a freak winter storm had closed the airport in Vienna. There were other flights and connections, but none available until the next morning.
I e-mailed Tanya from a Marriott Courtyard near the airport, telling her of my delay. She was to meet me at the Chisinau airport with some friends who have a car and I didn’t want them to make the trip for nothing.
The next morning I was shuttled to Newark Airport, from there to Frankfurt, Germany and from there to Vienna. In Vienna, I was told that the flight to Chisinau was canceled because the same winter storm that closed Vienna had moved east. The airport in Moldova would reopen the next morning. Again, I e-mailed about the delay from a hotel near the airport.
It was a quaint little hotel where I was quartered in suburban Vienna. It was snowing when I walked down the street to the restaurant recommended by the desk clerk and it looked like a Currier and Ives painting of an alpine village. I met two other Americans at the restaurant and we shared a couple of hours of conviviality, some good beer and a great goulash with Viennese bread (like French bread but better).
I finally arrived in Chisinau . . . two days late! Tanya and two other ladies met me in the terminal. Tanya was a pretty as her pictures. Her companions were both nice looking blondes, one of whom spoke very good English. Tanya’s English was halting and she spent much of her time listening to Svetlana and me talking on the ride from Chisinau to Tiraspol, about fifty miles or a little over an hour. When we neared the Dnestre River, we came to a Moldovan Police checkpoint, which we were waved right through. One hundred yards further was a Russian Army checkpoint at which we had to stop to let them check my passport and visa. An unsmiling young NCO issued me a document allowing me entry into Russian controlled territory.
It seems that when the “Wall” came down and the Soviet Union collapsed, Moldova became a separate country. Most of the residents of the eastern part of the country are ethnic Russians. Russian is the common language of the country, as it is for much of Eastern Europe, though Moldovan (akin to Romanian) is now being taught in the schools. Transnestria, or the area east of the Dnestre River attempted to withdraw from Moldova and rejoin the Russian Federation. Russian troops were stationed there to help them preserve their autonomy.
It had been decided that I would stay at Tanya’s flat with her daughter and her (the daughter was recently divorced and was living with Mom). Valeria was walking their mixed terrier dog when we arrived and we met in front of their building, a featureless four storey gray block of concrete with oriel window units projecting from the surface. Valeria is a strikingly attractive young woman with a huge, genuine smile. Their apartment was tastefully decorated and very neat. I was to stay in Valeria’s room while she slept on a day-bed in the kitchen. Tanya slept on a convertible sofa in the living room.
Observations about Moldova and the people:
There a very few obese people. They walk everywhere and don’t eat fast food or buy prepared foods in the markets.
There are very few physically unattractive people. Most of them were nice looking, nicely groomed and had regular features.
There is an abundance of slender, beautiful, fashion conscious women of all ages. Moldova is a very poor country dependent mostly upon agriculture sales to Russia and the Ukraine, grapes and wines being the primary export. Most of the men have gone to other countries to find work. The latest figures show that 91.6% of the population is female.
There is a lot of public transportation in the form of smaller buses, about twenty passengers or so. Every bus that passed was crammed with people, none of whom had a smile on their faces. Their life is bleak. In their homes or restaurants, they are a friendly and warm people . . . and very hospitable.
Those who have jobs work for very low wages. On my second trip to Tiraspol, a few months later, Tanya and I met with several of her friends at a restaurant where we spent five hours in a private dining room, eating, drinking great wine and brandy and talking. Four of the six people spoke good English, One of the ladies, now married to an American and living in the Tidewater area of Virginia, was a school “assistant director” (assistant principal). I asked her how much she made and she said $50 per month. I couldn’t believe my ears. When I asked how she got by on that, she replied that she tutored kids five nights a week and on Saturdays. I asked what they ate and she said, “Bread and cheese . . . and a little sausage on Sunday.” By the way, I paid for the meal for six; appetizers, entrees, dessert, wine and brandy for less than $30. My guests were aghast when I tipped the waitress $5. “That’s a week’s wages!” they said.
No one wears shoes in the house. They are removed at the door and the host provides cloth slippers from a cabinet near the door.
When visiting friends, expect to spend some time with them. There is no such thing as a short visit. Food and drink will be served, regardless of the time of day. Brandy is the drink of choice, not vodka.
Fresh bread is bought daily at the bakery and it is wonderful, made with all natural ingredients, no preservatives, crusty and delicious. Russian black bread, brown breads, rye breads and a nearly-white bread. The bakery was about half a city block in size and filled the neighborhood with the yeasty smell of rising bread 24 hours a day. Tanya’s apartment is next door to the bakery.
There are packs of stray dogs everywhere and in all sizes. There are also a lot of stray cats. Together they must keep the rat population in check because I saw none of the rodents.
Hot water is a luxury item. The state provides steam heat and hot water from a central steam plant. They only released hot water into the plumbing system about one half day every other week. Those with a little money will put in their own water heater. This has since changed and they now have daily hot water, but during my visits, a shower was standing in the tub and pouring stove- warmed water over your head, soaping up, then rinsing with another scoop of warm water . . . kind of primitive.
I traveled to Moldova twice, for two weeks each time. Tanya and I were married in the Russian Orthodox Church in a traditional ceremony witnessed by her daughter, Valeria, and Svetlana and Nina, her friends. Unbeknown to me at the time, the beginning of the ceremony was my conversion to the Orthodox faith.
On my second visit, we spent much of the time arranging for the documentation Tanya needed for her visa. She had also started brushing up on her English skills with tutoring from a good family friend who speaks excellent American-English (there is a difference). Valery, the friend, and I have become close and we correspond frequently. (BTW, Valery is a man’s name. Valeria is the female derivative)
After six months of petitions, letters, phone calls and a Congressional inquiry, Tanya was granted a visa interview. Since the US Embassy in Moldova is very small, the interview was scheduled in Bucharest, Romania. Tanya and a friend who speaks Romanian, traveled there by train. I flew in from the USA to lend support. I rented a small apartment in the central part of the city, a short walk from the US Consulate, instead of a hotel. It had a kitchen, huge bathroom and two sleeping areas, cable TV and was much more comfortable than a hotel would have been . . . and about one-eighth of the hotel price. We made a vacation out of it by staying five days and visiting Vlad Tepes’ castle (Vlad was made famous by Bram Stoker in “Dracula”), local department stores, bazaars and a lot of very good restaurants.
Tanya whizzed through the interview, conducted in English, received her visa and went home to get her affairs in order and pack. Six weeks later, this very brave (but terrified) lady stepped off the plane in America.