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Strawberry tree. Madrid.

Strawberry tree. Madrid.

 I visited Madrid only once, and it was in passing, but this city impressed me so much that I definitely intend to go there again. I would like to celebrate New Year's Eve in Madrid with the Spanish traditional halvah and grapes, with good weather and excellent wine, in the company of friends or together with my beloved. I imagine myself in the morning, on the first of January, waking up in my bed, the sun shining outside my window, walking out on the balcony, and the warm breeze blowing and messing up my hair.

  I know, it all looks like a scene from a commercial, but it doesn’t hurt to dream, does it? Besides, all this happened to me before, but not on the first of January, and the company was so-so, however I still spent a wonderful night in Madrid, and then came the morning, the sun, the balcony and the wind. It was beautiful and it was surprising because the journey as a whole was simply awful.

  I ran away to Madrid, after having spent two unendurable weeks in the company of my friends and their acquaintances, my acquaintances and their friends. We rested in Malaga on the beach, but probably, there is a person in every group who can’t relax. There was such a person in our group. A girl with a beautiful name and a bad temper, she didn’t know how to relax, and she didn’t let the others do it either. At first, she asked too many questions, and then began to give too much advice, after that she decided, at all costs, to find a love match for everyone, including me. However, her attempts to couple me with a handsome waiter failed spectacularly, and it wounded her sensibilities. Apparently, that was when she swore to put me out of temper. Finally, I pushed her into a pool with her evening dress and a wristwatch on. That evening, I knocked on Victor’s hotel room door and suggested going to Madrid. He agreed.

 However, the tourist bus rattled us about for no less than ten hours, before we got to the capital of Spain. What was more, there was a surprise waiting for us. Before the trip, we found out that some of our friends decided to go with us. Among them was the girl with a beautiful name. Seeing her on the bus, I immediately pretended that I had fallen into a deep sleep, while Victor had to engage in conversation with her. At the end of the trip, he got so annoyed at her, that he was ready to drown her. It was not surprising that, having arrived in Madrid, Victor and I agreed to get rid of the company of friends and continue the journey together.

  No sooner said than done. After lunch, we dropped a little behind and vanished into the crowd successfully. Now would not be bothered any longer. After we finished our glasses of wine, we went sightseeing.

  Madrid turned out to be an enormously large, magnificent and beautiful city. Having popped over for a couple hours to the Prado, we went out just before closing time, when it started getting dark. The lights flashed up, there were living statues everywhere, and the center of the city turned into a kind of Wonderland after the mode of Spain. Bullfighters and flamenco dancers stood frozen next to creatures from outer space and Greek statues. Tourists threw them coins and the statues came to life for a moment. There was something slightly creepy about it. Victor and I first shuddered, before bursting out in laughter. 

  Probably, I had never seen so many human statues as there, in Madrid. That was why it seemed that real statues would revive in a moment and walk the streets. At the same time, peering into people's faces, I unconsciously noted their resemblance to the portraits of Velasquez, de Goya and even Van Gogh. There were people from their portraits walking everywhere, dressed in contemporary clothing. They smoked, talked and laughed, thus, wiping out the boundaries in time and space. The past flew into the future right in front of my eyes, and that sent shivers down my spine.

 When we strolled to Puerta del Sol, I completely lost my sense of reality. It seemed that I was in a fairy tale. The streets radiated from the square in all directions. We had to choose which way to go, but we were at a loss. We followed the crowd, and came to the Kilometer Zero. People in turns stood on semi-circular mark on the ground and made a wish. While I was waiting for my turn, my attention settled on a strange monument.

- What is it? - I asked.

- It is a symbol of Madrid, - an unknown girl from the crowd said - The Bear and the Strawberry Tree.

- What tree?! – I asked again.

 She smiled:

- The strawberry tree.

  As it turned out later, such trees really do exist. Frankly, the fact slightly disappointed me. I wanted to believe that it was an imaginary, fabulous tree, even if it had grown some time, it could only be in ancient times and only in Madrid. However, the existence of strawberry trees in nature didn’t prevent me from considering Madrid as a unique city.

  Having returned to the hotel at daybreak, I immediately fell asleep, and when I woke up, the sun was shining outside my window. I walked out on the balcony, and the warm wind messed up my hair. The city began to awaken. It looked quite different in daylight, but at that time I didn’t get to learn what it was like. However, I decided that I would definitely come back here, to Madrid. Somehow. Someday. By myself or with good company. One night was obviously not enough to unravel its mystery. So, to be continued.

Big fish. Suomi.

Big fish. Suomi.

 It is probably difficult to find a Petersburger, who has never been to Finland. After all, the border is only two hours away by car! Such closeness to the country and the city provokes some people to undue familiarity. However, Finland and Saint Petersburg are like two opposite poles. Once the border is crossed, time starts to slow down. You suddenly remember that your car has such functions as cruise control, and you slowly begin to understand what it’s used for. Smooth roads and speed limit signs force you to pump the music louder so as not to fall asleep, and having inhaled the Finnish air, clear like pure glass, you want to start smoking, and then quit again.    

   Continuous forests and lakes are spread out on your way to Helsinki, a purely European city. Finland is well known for its nature and ecology in general. I learned it there first that waste, as it turns out, can be organic or inorganic, and that a special license is required for fishing in the lakes. The Finns take care of their nature, and that is probably why the water there is the most delicious in the world. However, not only the water. In Finland I tried beer, which I liked for the first time ever. I was about seventeen at that time. I even asked my father for another one, but for some reason he decided that I already had had enough.

   There are good many music stores in Helsinki, and not only music ones. Victor and I, together and separately, regularly visit them and rarely return home without anything new for our studio. However, besides shopping there are many things to do and see in Helsinki. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, clubs, exhibition galleries, designer shops... Victor often finds there some rare discs, rare records, vintage guitars, and I, honestly, prefer to gaze at the shop windows at nights instead of making some purchases. However, until recently, there was another passion that made the two of us go back to Finland again and again. Fishing!

   We dreamt of catching a big fish. It became a kind of obsession for us. We woke up at five in the morning at weekends, and eagerly went fishing. While normal people were enjoying their summer holiday, Victor and I, with our rods at the ready, were plying the lakes. We even had to buy a boat and engine. So we persisted under the boiling sun or pouring rain.

   It all started when our friends once invited Victor to go fishing, so he took me along and a pack of beer. While the men were waving their rods, I was fairly bored for several straight hours, dipping my spinning rod into the water. However, beginners are lucky, and I had a stroke of luck. I didn’t even notice when a pike swallowed my hook. I was reeling the line close to the shore, and when it dawned on me to check out the hook, I discovered the "catch" and I got elated. And so it began…

    Our friends, whom we had long before stopped taking out, were looking at us as if we were madmen. I could spend hours talking about my new spinning rod, about my grandfather’s lucky spinner, and about the huge fish, which fell off at the very last moment ... My girlfriends sighed heavily, understanding that they were “losing” me. But Victor was glad to have me also as a fishing partner, because we understood each other with just a glance, therefore, we acted precisely and as a team, like Bonnie and Clyde. Still however hard as we tried, we couldn’t catch the big one. 

 Lady Luck smiled on us when we didn’t expect it. The summer was approaching its end, and, having succumbed to our friends’ persuasion, we decided to have a rest. The last summer weekend spent with pleasant company on a picturesque lakeshore in Finland promised to be unforgettable. And so it happened. The fire, barbecue, wine and deep talks... All this time I kept glancing longingly at the lake, and early in the morning, while everyone was sleeping, I woke Victor up.

   We both understood that it was the last endeavor that year, and we most probably would not catch anything. However, I had brought my grandfather’s lucky spinner along just in case, and Victor took his magic spinning rod with him. Having puddled in water for several hours, we were moving towards the shore, when I suddenly felt that my spinner’s hook got fouled up in something. I was sure that it was a waterweed, but having given a pull, I saw that something huge emerged fifty meters from the boat. At first, we thought that we had caught a log, but when the "log" started lugging away our boat, I was frightened. I was not ready to fish out Nessie, for that reason I even grabbed a knife to cut the fishing line, before the creature drowned us, but Victor stopped me.

- Hold on! Let's take a closer look!

- No indeed! I don’t want this lake whale to swallow us!

- Come on! It's just a fish!..

- I am not sure about that.

   I indeed had a feeling that we were being caught. But my curiosity was even stronger than my fear. I also wanted to look at that giant fish. I slowly began to roll up the fishing line, pulling the fish to the boat or, probably, the boat to the fish. But, I apparently overdid it. The fishing line clanked and weakened. The fish escaped, having swallowed my lucky spinner and a piece of metal wire on the end. The fish bit it right in the middle. Admittedly, at first I felt relieved and then disappointed. We didn’t manage to have a look at the river monster, and luckily it failed to eat us.

  Having returned to the shore, we told all our friends what happened, but they didn’t seem to believe us. They started laughing at us.

- Maybe it was just a stout diver?

- Or a submarine?

- Who knows,- I retorted, - I definitely won't swim in this lake any more. I advise you to do the same.

  But my grandfather, who was an experienced fisherman, believed us. Having listened carefully to our story, he smiled cunningly:

- It’s difficult to catch a big fish, because while we are studying it, it is studying us.

After his words, I did not regret that we had not managed to pull that monster on the shore. Let it live! It deserved freedom. Since then, Victor and I stopped fishing. We had wished to catch a big fish - so we did it. Having left the bitten metal wire for us and a scope to our imagination, it continued plowing the depths of the lakes in the mysterious land of Suomi. That was how I began to call Finland, the country where Santa Claus lives, where the Moomins hide in the forests, and big fish really can be found in the lakes and rivers. So be careful! ..

News about news

London, Venice, Amsterdam, Paris... and Suomi is commmmming soon.

Surprise, surprise! Paris.

Surprise, surprise! Paris.

  I didn’t know what had happened to me, but I stopped noticing the colors. All of a sudden everything turned gray, as if someone had turned off the light. Probably, because of this, I felt sleepy all the time. Even the colorful autumn, which used to dazzle me with its colors, reminded me of yesterday's vegetable salad, where all ingredients eventually became stained in the same color. The autumn foliage of ambiguous color made me depressed. The dim sun seemed to slide down from the early morning. Like a blanket, the low sky sheltered the ground as well as me. Summer was over, and I was ready to fall into a deep sleep.

   Meanwhile, my next birthday was approaching, which I intended to spend in Paris. At that time, I didn’t expect any miracles, striking experiences or extraordinary meetings; I just wanted to get enough sleep. And I slept. I fell asleep on my feet. I slept on the way to the airport, then I slept through take off and landing, and even having arrived in Paris, I managed to doze off in a taxi on the way to the hotel. I woke up only at the reception desk, when a charming French woman with a radiant smile, having handed me the room key, said, mysteriously, that there were many surprises awaiting me. It seemed strange to me. She must have thought that I was visiting Paris for the first time, and she wanted to arouse my curiosity somewhat. Or she tried to cheer me up in such a manner because I had a sleepy appearance.

   Anyway, the first surprise for me was my hotel room. It was tremendously spacious! There were two windows, three beds, a round table in the middle, soft chairs, and an armoire. The room I had reserved was far more unpretentious than this one. How could I reject it! So I decided to accept everything the way it was. I made up my mind to sleep in all three beds, in one bed after another. Why not?! Having laid down on one of them, I started calling my parents. We had an understanding that as soon I reached my destination, I would call them and say that everything was all right. But, nobody answered the phone and it seemed strange to me. After all, I was sure that my parents wanted to congratulate me on my birthday. But apparently, not at this time.

   Having unpacked and arranged my things, I was about to go and have a snack, when suddenly someone knocked on the door. I opened the door and could not believe my eyes. My parents were standing in front of me with a big bouquet of flowers, along with Victor, holding a bottle of champagne.

- Surprise!!!

  I was confused for a moment. I thought I was dreaming. I must have fallen asleep in the bed with a telephone receiver in my hand, and it was all just a dream! I did not expect to see them, I even secretly pinched myself. But there they were! I was immediately showered with congratulations and kisses. I was completely awake. Then we drank champagne, ate caviar, talked and laughed. It turned out that they had arrived in Paris the day before me purposely to prepare this surprise for me. The surprise was a success! I was really glad to see them. We spent half of the night wandering around Paris, singing songs, looking at the shop windows. The next day my parents flew back home and Victor stayed.

- Well, what are we going to do in Paris? - he asked.

- I don’t know. Maybe pay a visit to the Mona Lisa?

  I had already seen it a hundred times, but whenever I happened to be visiting Paris, my feet would carry me to the Louvre, to the famous da Vinci's painting. It was a tradition, or maybe an obsession. I could not help but visit it. However, the Louvre did not attract Victor. The Eiffel Tower attracted him. In a word, he was a man!..

After having waited in a long queue to get inside, we were chilled to the bones, and after having climbed to the first level, I could no longer feel my ears. By the second level my fingers became numb, but on the last one I suddenly thawed. The view from above was just fantastic, and I had to admit that it was worthwhile.

- Don't forget to make a wish! – Victor reminded me.

  However, I had only one wish - tequila! Having descended, we went in search of the Mexican restaurant, which we had noticed in the morning in the Latin Quarter. Roaming the narrow streets, we could not find it anywhere. Meanwhile, it was getting dark. The rain started. The wind was blowing in all directions. We completely lost our way and began to argue furiously in which direction we had to go. Moreover, Victor steadfastly refused to take off the sunglasses, assuring me that he felt warmer wearing them. I was sure that they made it difficult for him to look about. But he did not give up. As a matter of fact, there was a promise of a long search. In order to shelter myself from the rain and get warm, I bought a hat with the crooked word "Paris" on it. Victor immediately began to banter me, and it made me terribly angry. He certainly knew that I hated silly hats with eye-catching inscriptions!..

    Thus, we continued walking around in circles and arguing, one of us was wearing dark glasses, the other one - a silly hat. And no one knew how long it would last, but an odd-looking girl emerged on our way. She was wearing a light summer dress with her hair adorned with a blue flower. She fluttered out of somewhere, like a butterfly, lit up her cigarette and waved at us. Victor and I exchanged glances. She looked like a mirage. The dress and the flower ... After all, it was raining outside and terribly cold! 

   Wishing to take a closer look at the girl and make sure that she was real, we made our way towards her. What a miracle it was!! It turned out that she worked as a waitress in the Mexican restaurant, which Victor and I had been looking for. The girl sat us at a table and treated us to a Mexican coffee, a wonderful drink, by the way, which warmed us completely, cheered us up and we began speaking in Spanish which made our beautiful fairy with a blue flower in her hair laugh heartily. While we were having dinner, she jumped out into the street over and over again and started smoking, dancing because of the cold. Meanwhile, she was looking at us through the window pane and smiling as only real French women could smile.

 After having left the Mexican restaurant in a very good mood, we started making plans for next day.

- What about going to the Lido? – Victor suggested.

- And what about the Mona Lisa? – I reminded.

- All right. Let’s go and see the Mona Lisa in the morning, and the showgirls - in the evening.

- Deal!.

 When I entered the room, where the famous painting was held, the first thing that surprised me was that there was no one in the room. Usually there was a crowd of tourists standing in front of the picture, but that day I was there alone. As I approached, I was surprised that there was an empty picture frame instead of the Mona Lisa. The picture must have been removed for restoration, but no one had bothered to leave any notes of explanation or apologies, as it usually happened. There was nothing but a dark square hanging on the wall! However, that explained the absence of visitors.    

  Disappointed, I was about to leave, when suddenly, on a closer view, I saw that the frame was not empty at all. There were mountains and hills visible, as well as a bright sky, and a whole familiar fantastic landscape painted in soft colors, in the midst of which there was the famous image. The background remained. It was only the image that was missing. Mona Lisa was missing.

- What the hell? - I muttered silently, coming closer to the picture.

 Suddenly, I heard cautious footsteps behind me. I looked back and froze on the spot. Mona Lisa was standing in front of me. She seemed very tall, about two meters in height. Her deep-green long and heavy dress reminded me more of a priest’s robe. I could see black shoes peeking out from beneath the hem of her gown. A transparent veil covered her dark hair. It was certainly her, the Mona Lisa! I looked at her almost with horror, and could not move.

  Having glanced over at me, she smiled that inimitable smile and beckoned me with her long beautiful finger. I did not feel the floor beneath my feet, did not hear my footsteps, I just felt drawn to her floating on air. I heard her footsteps instead, I saw that she, Mona Lisa, walked into the next room, sat in a chair and crossed her legs. She pulled out a cigarette from the folds of her dress, and lit it. Then she blew the smoke to the ceiling, looked at me, smiled and asked:

- So, what brought you here again?

- Again? - I asked quietly, surprised at the sound of her voice. It was so low, deep and loud, as if she were an opera singer and not the portrait that came alive.

- Yes, again, – Mona Lisa answered calmly, - It is not the first time you have come here to look at me ... What for?

- I'm trying to understand what your secret is.

- My secret, - she repeated, then grinned and, looking straight into my eyes, announced, - I am actually a man.

 I woke up startled. It was a dream, just a dream, but it took me a while to recover, because it was so realistic. But I spent the next day in a dreamy state. Miraculous images emerged in my mind over and over again, that made my head swirl. The girl with a blue flower in her hair, dancing to the crystal music of rain, Mona Lisa, looking out from the darkness, the big bouquet of flowers, presented by my parents, on the windowsill in my hotel room ... And suddenly, I realized that I started noticing colors again, and at that time they seemed more vivid than ever before. The yellow lemon on the plate with oysters, red scarf around the commissionaire’s neck, emerald-green sofa in the lobby… I walked the gray Paris streets, strewn with colorful Christmas lights, and I looked around as if I had suddenly regained my sight.

  But before leaving, Victor and I visited the Mona Lisa after all. While the museum guides were vying with each other to tell the tourists about the secret of Da Vinci, which still puzzled the learned scholars, I was looking at the portrait and waiting for it to wink at me. But nothing of the kind happened. Then I smiled, trying to copy Mona Lisa’s smile, and started towards the exit. I only had to wait for the night ...

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