Like many little Slavic girls, I dreamt of being a ballerina. I do have wonderfully supple feet with high arches and am fairly expressive. However, since my mother insisted on three full meals a day plus an afternoon snack for growing children, I have always had to fight the battle of the bulge. I must have looked like Winnie-the -Pooh in a tutu, prancing around on my tip-toes trying to imitate Maya Plisetskaya. In any case, I never got ballet instruction but was coerced into piano lessons, until the day my exasperated teacher threw a fit and told my mother she was wasting her money.
My first husband, Leo, who played seven instruments and well, would often say, ‘Mado, you have rhythm but no music.’ Mickey concurs and adds, ‘Sweetie, if you didn’t say, O say can you see, I wouldn’t have known what you were singing.’ On another occasion when I was exercising my lungs, he told me I sounded like a mastodon stuck in a tar pit.
But criticism has never discouraged my inner diva from fully expressing itself. When I was about four, my parents and I were on vacation on the Adriatic shore. One night after I disappeared after dinner, they initiated a manhunt for me. Coming upon an outdoor amphitheater, they heard a crowd howling with laughter. On closer inspection they found me on stage entertaining all the grown-ups who had gathered there. I never did find out what I was going on about and neither did they, since I refused to perform in their presence, and my audience insisted that they leave at once so we could proceed with the show.
I don’t know what it’s like now in the former Yugoslavia, but certainly back in the day, everyone minded each others business. Since my parents both worked and had an active social life and I refused to be trundled off to nursery school —after one day the collectivist mentality was too much for me – I used to spend a lot of time with my paternal grandparents. My grandfather loved me a lot, but when I would misbehave would threaten me with Baba Roga, the Serbian Baba Yaga, who he said lived in the cellar, where he used to ferment cabbage in huge barrels. When that failed he would threaten to put my toy dog, Klempitsa, into the stew pot. I should add that I had gotten it into my head that there was a real dog’s soul trapped in Klempitsa’s cloth body. Once when I was on the bus headed home with my dad, I realized I had left the dog behind at my grandparents’ apartment. I must have been excessively naughty that day because I started to weep and insist on going back for Kelmpitsa. My father tried to convince me that everything would be all right and my grandfather would never, ever harm Klempitsa. I was inconsolable and at that moment, public opinion prevailed and my father was forced to get off the bus in order to retrieve my pet. Years later when he told this story, he added, ‘They didn’t even know who Klempitsa was.’
In any case, when one grows up in such a mileau and doesn’t realize that other people, primarily Wasps, are more contained, one always appears as somewhat of a drama queen. I recall that as a teenager, my friend Mike was always trying to get me out of the house and away from my beloved books. For a while in the seventies he was frequenting an alcohol free disco for teens and insisted I join him every chance he got. I thought disco music was wretched, the sceneshallow and furthermore, I refused to dance in public. However to get him off my back, I agreed to go, just once. Needless to say, the minute I got there, I jumped on stage with some gorgeous guy, who was probably the local John Travolta and put on quite a show. Recalling our childhood mishaps recently, Mike told Mickey, ‘She made a spectacle of herself.’
I’ll skip some of my even more embarrassing moments and cut to Regine’s in Paris circa the early eighties. Leo was a bon-vivant, and although he made me gallop through every major art museum in Europe and the Americas, he loved fine dining and night clubs. However, being more of a waltz and tango kind of guy, he conceived of a way to spare himself on the disco dance floor. While I knocked myself out, he would open the flaps of his jacket, move them up and down a bit and puff his skinny belly out twice or thrice. One particular evening he was wearing an cream colored Italian silk suit –‘Only Marshall Tito would wear this,’ Leo said, ‘I’ve got to have it.’ Since the strobe lights irritated his eyes, he pulled out his ray-bans and put them on. I had a gorgeous outfit on, that looked like the one that Rita Hayworth wore during her Amado Mio number in Gilda. So while I swung my Kardashian into high gear, Leo did his jacket dance, causing a sensation among the rich Arabs in attendance, who all wanted to befriend him.
My final entry for today will be my last, and so far, final embarrassment, which many of you saw, since Mickey sent it out as ‘Lily Dancing at the Wedding’. Actually it wasn’t even me, but a video of a woman in red dress who was either extraordinarily high-spirited or very drunk. As she was free form dancing at a wedding, she decided to do a pole dance on the post which was holding the outdoor tent up. The moment she lept on to it, the entire tent collapsed, sending the guests scurrying for cover and bloodying the nose of the horrified bride. My friends died laughing over this. Not so my mother, who was certain I had ruined my friend Sonja’s daughter’s wedding which I had attended the previous month. ‘That drunkard has shamed the whole family,’ she told my sister, who barely convinced her that it wasn’t me.