Rue Pouchkine

Pascale Bastianelli

Nothing happens by chance , every encounter is meant to be

Paul ELUARD

It was not by chance that in eighth grade in 1968, I chose Russian as a second foreign language in my Allier high school. My Russian friends will tell you that I must have been Russian in a former life, that my love for their country can only be explained that way. And yet, when I discovered their country, no one was exactly brimming with joy at the idea of having us … Upon landing in Moscow, we were met by unsmiling officials whose task was to check our passports and visas but whose sullen faces gave us the impression that we had committed a serious offense and would end up in jail. And yet, the (almost) fifteen-year-old that I was in 1971 when I travelled to the USSR for the first time, never felt as a stranger, even though the presence of a wall and of a very real border was oppressively felt.
Anyhow, almost fifty years later, I do not know what my life would have been , if I had studied German or Spanish at school. One thing is certain today : Russia has been and is the leading motivation in my life. It has always been there, nothing has ever happened without it, and I cannot stand to be away from it too long.

My Story with Russia

My story with Russia really started in July 1971, on a big kolkhoz market in Moscow,
Novié Tcheriemouchki – Новые Черёмушки . There was an elderly woman sitting on a crate and selling sour cabbage and painted wood eggs. I walked up to her and asked her how much the eggs were in my beginner’s Russian. She looked up and said, « Where are you from? Откуда Ты?» At the time, we, foreigners, wore such different clothes, hairdos and make-up from Russian people that it was easy to spot us from afar. When I answered that I was French, her face immediately changed and lit up. She looked 10 years younger, and I did not understand what was happening, but I can still remember her eyes and her smile . And then, she began to speak to me in excellent French, in the French of her childhood books – The Three Musketeers, Father Goriot, Jean Valjean. She spoke quite fast, and she told me how she had been brought up by a French nanny in a well-to-do family, and how she had grown up with a love for France and for French culture and the French language, always harboring the dream of travelling to France one day. Of course, the way History unravelled gave her no such chance ! She glanced to the right, then to the left, and then said sadly , « Now, you go! » At the time, speaking to foreigners was not recommended . ShIl ne must have seen « someone » walking up to her. Before I left, she added, « Do say hello to Paris for me.» Her eyes, I can still remember, were both smiling and crying at once.
I now know how much this encounter determined my life. I wanted to understand what had happened to me. The country had not exactly won me over: it was too austere, too grey, too cold! And yet, when I got home, I told my parents that I would go back. And go back I did.

A Fifty Year Love Story

And now today, after 50 years of a love story with Russia, after numerous trips to and around the country, and after spending over three years there and deciding to start a new life twenty years ago and to promote Russian culture in France and in Europe, now I believe that I have understood the meaning of my Moscow encounter.
I have never forgotten my Russian grandma, my babushka met on the market in Moscow – I have never seen her again, but she has always been with me. Since 1985, when the iron doors opened and my first Russian friends were able to travel to France and to discover Paris and gaze at the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame or the Holy Heart, since then I have always had a thought for her who spoke so dearly of France.
I hope with all my heart that life granted her the chance to see Paris before she died. If I could wind back my life, as my daughter often suggested, I would go back to my « babushka », I would hug her and tell her,
« You know, I have always remembered you! Tell me about your childhood again, about the little girl who dreamt of France! » ‘

The Country Where my Heart Lies

I think that, all my life, I have been searching for my babushka’s childhood in my own way, that my choices, my creations, and my exhibitions have all gone in that direction. In any case, I am happy for what our July 1971 encounter gave me – much more than an encounter.

She enabled me to be in tune with myself, in her own way. I so love speaking about my Russia , showcasing it, and allowing others to discover it – I am so keen on having people love it, understand it, and become deeply familiar with it. I am happy for choosing it as the country where my heart lies. Russia has allowed me to escape , has loved me, has transported me to another world, has caught me off guard, and moved me to the core. (j’ai ajouté to the core : au plus profond de moi-même – sinon, il faut que je fasse passer moved me au début de la liste, car c’est un petit mot: après, c’est comme tu veux.)

My first encounter with Russia probably dates back to a former life, and I feel both lucky and proud to have been able to come full circle with the country so many times. Understanding why you find yourself somewhere or why you do certain things is invaluable. I remember asking myself, « Why are you buying this object, what will you do with it? » when travelling in Russia or the Soviet Union at the time. Much later, I understood why I had gone out of my way and incurred such expenses – indeed, all those objects have found a place in my gallery and my exhibitions. When displaying them, I remember telling myself, « You see, you knew what you were doing when you bought them»

All those years in Russia allowed me to find my life purpose. I did not know it, but it is love, not chance that played a decisive role. And that is invaluable.

I hope to be able to share my passion with you, and most especially to reveal to you the talents of all the artists that I was lucky to meet in my life. Their works will allow you to travel, to dream, to be filled with wonder. «Beauty will save the world,» wrote Fedor Dostoievsky. I sincerely believe he was right, and I would like to share with you the rest of his quotation , « and man will save beauty. »

It is up to us, and up to you to do the utmost so that these artists might keep creating such unique, original, and authentic marvels, while making a living from it and never having to sell their souls.

As I often tell myself when I arrive at their places and see their new creations, « As long as such artists exist, nothing can go wrong. »