Did I mention that I remember seeing Queen Elizabeth II not as a very old or medium-old or middle-aged woman, the way everyone alive now remembers her, but as a youngish-looking woman in her forties? Okay, my seeing her didn’t take place in real life, but still… for a child living in the Soviet Union, it was a bit unusual. Here’s how it happened.
My father had a huge stamp collection in Moscow. In the sixties he corresponded with stamp collectors—philatelists—from all over the world, and when I say “the sixties,” it’s important to keep in mind that those were the Soviet sixties, and if you know what the Soviet sixties were like, and what Soviet censorship was like, you might imagine what it felt like to correspond with people from Australia, New Zealand, France, FRG/ФРГ (the usual Russian acronym for West Germany), Belgium, and so on, simply to exchange some stamps for a stamp collection. My father’s stamps were kept in special albums—kliassery in Russian.
I learned names of foreign countries from them: a stamp from Sweden, a stamp from Hungary, a stamp from Denmark, and always the British stamp, with a portrait of dainty Queen Elizabeth, still a youngish-looking woman in her forties, with a little crown on her head, like a silvery bird on a dark nest.
It was thanks to my father’s stamp collection that we were able to leave the Soviet Union. I won’t go into all the details of what it was like, in the early seventies, to apply to the OVIR (Office of Visas and Registration) for permission to emigrate, and I won’t compare the process to Russian roulette, although it would have been the right comparison.
One day we were lucky and got our permission. Now my parents had to buy four plane tickets to Vienna, and they didn’t have enough money. My father sold his whole stamp collection to a well-known philatelist in Moscow, and with that money, he was able to buy us four plane tickets to Vienna.
So here’s how I saw Queen Elizabeth II. If you missed the part about the queen… Psst-psst, it was in the middle.