An extract from “Freestyle 4 Love” by Anna Bondareva

​ On the pages of the autobiographical novel “Freestyle 4 Love” Anna Bondareva offers her memories of incredible evenings, events of the Parisian underground, metaphysical experiences and surreal dreams.

Times in Venice

From Milan I arrived at the Santa Lucia train station, from where I went straight to the vaporetto water bus ticket office. For a modest fee of three and a half euros, the ship delivered almost to the hotel itself. Entering the hotel with the pleasant name Lоcanda Canal, I met its beautiful gray fluffy yellow-eyed owner. The handsome cat, having examined me from top to bottom, was convinced of his safety, purred in greeting and thereby attracted the attention of the Italian owner.

“Signorina, good afternoon, you can choose your room…”

The man laid out several room keys on the concierge desk and offered to inspect the rooms. Settling myself in room number seven, I pondered what to do with the day; The caravan, consisting of European adherents of Master G, was not supposed to arrive until midnight.

After taking a shower, I opened the book “Bushido. The Samurai Code of Honor” at random and read:

“If your strength is based only on the vital energy given to you by nature, your words and behavior will outwardly correspond to the Path, and others will set you as an example. But when you ask yourself about it, there will be nothing to say.” The last line of the verse, which is, “When thy own heart asks,” is the secret principle of all the arts. They say that when you start doing something, you should remember this.

The phrase awakened the desire to go for a walk around Venice, in order to, inspired by the magical atmosphere of the carnival city, throw off everything boring and old, and make pleasant purchases.

The caravan arrived and all night we walked through winter Venice. Suddenly it began to snow, and some people from our large group began to dance to the beat of the falling snowflakes. Instantly, the deserted St. Mark’s Square began to resemble a huge ballroom from a fairy tale. Only Konstantin stood silently aside and seemed to be offended by something. I approached him and said:

“Don’t worry, we will still have a trip to Verona… And your girlfriend is waiting for you in Moscow, she will be able to help you adjust the length of your new trousers, and you will become the most fashionable guy in town!”

The frank friendly word sounded like mockery. The writer Konstantin was offended by me because I was not with him; he was offended by the entire female cosmos because he could not get to the bottom of its essence. It is quite possible that it was precisely this goal that motivated the persistent student over many years of spiritual quests and practices, which without Gee’s encouraging words were not worth a damn.

“Anna, please tell me, what do you think: is this girl worthy of attention?”

Vladimir took out a photograph of the young lady from the inner pocket of his raincoat. I began to carefully examine the portrait and quickly realized why Master G might have liked the fair-haired girl. The Master was preparing his maneuver and thinking about what to do with Violetta, relations with whom had become tense, and it had become difficult to hide.

Vladimir knew perfectly well which emotional levers to press in order for a person to awaken and react. Apparently, in order to shake up Violetta’s ambition, he asked me this question. At a Russian university, Violetta learned German and English; accordingly, she lacked another foreign language in her arsenal to feel a total advantage over the average person. They were going to send Violetta to Paris and arrange to study at the Sorbonne. The girl did not want to lose the royal attributes of the Master’s beloved woman and was reluctant to discuss this topic.

To raise the temperature of the situation, Vladimir started a conversation with me so that Violetta could hear it:

“How many languages do you know? You dealt with the waiter at the pizzeria so quickly! Your Italian is at a good conversational level. You must speak at least three foreign languages!”

Concert at the Conservatory

Fill your bowl to the brim

and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife

and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security

and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people’s approval

and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back.

The only path to serenity.

Lao Tzu

The Sergei Rachmaninov Conservatory is located in the very center of the city, where from the window of the assembly hall there is a stunning view of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. The place, without a doubt, was ideal for holding an event-presentation of rock band discs and an exhibition of a St. Petersburg artist with whom we were friends. Count Sheremetyev often saw me in the Russian church on Rue Daru and therefore gladly received me in his office:

“Anna, don’t get me wrong, in this situation I can only trust you, since I don’t know all these people at all…”

The Count agreed to take the risk on my personal responsibility, with the condition that professional security would be provided during the event. All that remains is to distribute flyers and plan the buffet.

Several songs from the repertoire of the Tver group seemed cute to me, and I decided to help them; release two discs in Paris. The odd-eyed leader of the group finally pityed me with the fact that he was born in Minsk, like me. He moved from the USSR to France at the dawn of the nineties and, like many in exile, hung out in Paris on social benefits, sometimes performing to the accompaniment of twin Ukrainian musicians.

“I am a dog!! Wow-wow-wow,” howled the odd-eyed singer Romka in a drawn-out manner. Almost to the beat, but between notes.

The band’s performance was a revelation for me too, since I hadn’t heard a single one of the songs I had released on disc. The odd-eyed soloist did not own any instruments and, in order to compensate for the obvious gap, staged on stage something between a session of astral karate in the style of magical passes according to Carlos Castaneda and aerobics: he jumped and squatted completely out of time with the accompaniment. The Ukrainian songwriter was an excellent melodist, his songs were strikingly different from the “dancer’s” repertoire, and he sang well: piercingly, sang with drive, and gave his best to the end. His husky voice and fluffy blonde mane definitely appealed to women. In anticipation of better times, the brothers were forced to share one woman between two. With dark brown eyes, Lana, the long-haired girlfriend of one of the brothers, definitely looked like a gypsy. She volunteered to be in charge of tickets at the entrance; CDs were issued along with the entrance ticket.

I also appeared on stage, wearing my favorite floor-length black silk skirt from a Japanese couturier, and a crimson-red blouse from a traditional Chinese “Hanfu” costume.

Photographer Ellina came to Paris from Hamburg to support me and thereby provided a valuable service by helping Ella manage the Olivier salads in the buffet. One of Vladimir’s disciples Ella from Kaliningrad recently found herself in Paris and was ready to participate in any actions free of charge, seeing God’s providence in everything. It was she who prepared a giant tub of salad, which was eaten throughout Russian Paris for a week after the concert.

There was dancing. Vodka in the bar was cheap, and the people quickly cheered up. What would a rock concert be without a massacre?! After drinking a dangerous punch made by Lana, the graphic designer of CD covers and flyers, the Frenchman Olivier, started a fight and broke two antique chairs, which I had to take to a restoration studio. The Russian basketball player managed to settle the situation with the designer Olivier, thereby saving several more antique chairs.

Labyrinth. Night conversation with Master G

Try not to philosophize how to introduce certain principles into your everyday life.

And just love those with whom life has now pushed you.

E. Antarova, “Two Lives”

A break up with Romka was inevitable. When it became clear that the movie, in the promotion of which an incredible amount of effort had been invested, would never happen, there were no more common themes left. More than once I told Romka that we needed to break up, but he didn’t want to hear about it.

Then I thought that it would be nice to end this epic in a human way, on a high note, and suggested that Romka record a full-length studio album. I had to turn for help to the spiritual Master G and Romka’s godfather, Vladimir Stepanov.

Master G was the only person with whom one could discuss this painful topic. He patiently and skillfully sorted out all sorts of problems of his environment, so Romka called him on any occasion from Paris, either to St. Petersburg, or to Moscow, to complain and whine:

“Uncle Volodya! Anya is offending me again and wants to kick me out!!”

Like that. The situation was difficult in every sense. Romka didn’t know how to work, and didn’t want to, and living in Paris with a parasite, who lived on emigrant benefits and at the expense of others all his adult life, was not at all fun for me. This couldn’t go on any longer; my patience has run out. I needed to focus on my career and my life, and not console Romka and wipe away tears, listen to stories “about my beloved self” and cover his creative and personal fiasco with my cloak.

Ritually, after the New Year’s feasts in the Dutch castle, Master G came to France for several weeks in the company of his faithful followers. By that time, Violetta had settled in Paris. At G’s insistence, she entered the Sorbonne. To be in the thick of things, she rented an apartment within walking distance of Rue Lepic, on the approaches to Montmartre. This time the writer Konstantin came from Holland with a caravan. I was glad that he succeeded. During the trip to Venice and Holland, we became friends. Vladimir did not take him with him to Paris for several years in a row, since unforeseen situations always happened because of Kostya.

But this time, Konstantin managed to jump into one of the cars with the Dutch students and arrived in Paris to help me break up with Romka.

Konstantin insisted:

“You should talk to Vladimir; he will definitely help you!”

Konstantin promptly told me what I had already guessed, because not once did I intend to break these ties. Kostya claimed that it was G who kept the rift with Romka at bay. I paid close attention to his judgments, since Konstantin knew G all his life, and was faithful to his master in everything.

“For some time, Romka guarded you like a watchdog, regularly reporting everything to G… Otherwise, we would have lost sight of you! It is possible that the entire Cosmos would have lost you… Without us, you could have been torn apart by worldly kites and all kinds of bloodsuckers.”

It was not possible to talk to Vladimir in Holland. But it was difficult to hide anything from his sharp gaze. During the seminar at the castle, G waited for the moment when Violetta went up to her bedroom, to the mezzanine. We were alone at the large table in the main room. From the speakers of a small tape recorder came piano music written by Yann Tiersen for the film “Amelie from Montmartre.” Unexpectedly, G took out a photograph from the breast pocket of his quilted vest and handed the color photograph to me:

“Look, please, Anna… what do you think about this girl?”

The portrait of a woman was taken in a professional photo studio. The face of a young woman with long blond curly hair was endowed with elegant features. I was extremely surprised by the master’s openness. He was not afraid that I might tell Violetta about this. Why did he decide to share it with me?! Perhaps this was his strategic plan. Vladimir sent Violetta to Paris to study, thereby clearing the way for a new story. But there was another meaning in this, as in everything that G was planning.

The situation was coming to its logical end. When a relationship cannot be continued, then a plan is needed. A plan in which all its characters, having left the game, will be left with minimal mental trauma, and will be able to continue their free sailing on the sea for a lifetime.

I came to Violetta’s apartment late in the evening. We spent the whole day with Kostya, walked around Montmartre, sat for a long time in the Sacré-Coeur temple. Inside, the temple is decorated with multi-colored stained-glass windows and an impressive mosaic on the theme “France’s Reverence for the Heart of God”, made by the French artist Luc-Olivier Merson. From the top of Montmartre, where a wide multi-tiered staircase leads, a stunning panorama of the city opens up, and two magnificent equestrian statues rise above the portico – Joan of Arc and Saint Louis.

After the walk, we had subtle conversations in the café, trying not to think about anything, but the situation was not easy. Confrontation could not be avoided. The clouds were gathering. The atmosphere was not easy and the sense of inevitable discord was undeniable. Night was approaching, and a conversation with G was ahead. He was already waiting for me at Violetta’s, and we went out to walk through Montmartre at night. I started to say:

“Over the next few years, I need to do a lot! Then it will be too late! I can no longer carry Romka on my back…Enough is enough!”

Vladimir stopped and looked at me carefully:

“Well, I see clearly now. Since you have already decided everything, then it will be so. I advise you to read “Two Lives” by K. E. Antarova, this book will be a great help and inspiration to you.”

The aura of seriousness of everything that was happening forced me to concentrate and turn on a special mode of increased caution – alertness. G’s words pulsed inside and gave confidence.

When the passions of these events calmed down somewhat and everyone left, I began to study the books that Vladimir recommended:

“A good heart is a crater of love, and joy serves as oil. It is free from envy, and therefore a good day is easy. Severely irritated. Because the simmering passions in his heart do not give him rest. He is always irritated, the path to all evil is always open to his heart. Such a person does not know lightness. Doesn’t know its independence from external circumstances. They crush him everywhere and in everything and gradually become his master. A great wise life knows no punishment.  It gives everyone the opportunity to mature and grow stronger in precisely those circumstances that are necessary only for him. Life without labor is the most miserable life. And when there is work, every life is more than half happy.”

An underground concert. Meeting at a Dutch castle

Don’t be the fish who see a worm and greedily swallow it… Be the fish who see a delicious worm, carefully examine it, notice the fishing line and the fisherman sitting on the shore, and understand that it’s better not to touch the worm.
Master G’s Instructions

In an improvisational mode, an “apartment concert” was organized in Montmartre. The idea came to invite Alexey Khvostenko. My apartment on Lepic Street had the truly unique ability of expanding; everyone who came that evening, which definitely went down in the history of Russian Paris and its underground, fit in. I had to call friends and acquaintances of musicians, also I did call those French acquaintances who were passionately interested in everything Russian. A simple and affordable tribute was a bottle of wine, preferably red, for entry. The French aesthete Gaston, my good friend and neighbor from Montmartre, as always, brought the best wine. Georgian artists created a special comfortable aura and somewhat oriental flavor. A motley crowd gathered and it became difficult to keep track of all the guests. People were everywhere: in the corridor, in the bedroom, on the balcony and at the entrance to the apartment, on the stairs in the entrance. The poet Khvostenko read fables accompanied by guitar riffs, people sang something, musicians played; suddenly I came up with the idea of accompanying acoustic guitarists on a small retro synthesizer from the mid-sixties, which I bought in a Dutch village, near a castle with the gothic name De Refter.

It was in this place that I met Vladimir Stepanov, whom his faithful disciples called Master G. G came to meet me in my room. We sat in absolute silence for several minutes, and then Vladimir said: “Well, here we are! We’ve met again!!”

So simple, as if we had known each other for thousands of years! G’s words were addressed not to that young girl who came to celebrate the New Year in a strange company of eccentrics – seekers of truth, but to a soul that had gone through many different incarnations and was now striving to remember to find her true self.

On the first of January, in the castle, which once served as a refuge for nuns, I had a dream in which Boris Grebenshchikov was. Why did I dream about him? In my dream, the musician talked about a special way of playing keyboard instruments, and a few days later I found a musical instrument store in a neighboring village, where, together with a group of Vladimir’s adepts, a real “happening” was organized with drinking tea and pleasant conversations with its Dutch owner.

In this music store I bought that very rare synthesizer, which I later used in recording my songs and at concerts; It was a pity when it was stolen and taken out of my apartment by someone who doesn’t even know how to play it!

Soirée In Montmartre

O friend, for the morrow let us not worry

This moment we have now, let us not hurry

When our time comes, we shall not tarry

With seven thousand-year-olds, our burden carry

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

The doorbell rang. On the threshold stood Oleg, the artist, and Zhanna with the “Little Buddha”; That’s what the singer nicknamed a short Asian-looking guy whom she met recently in Paris.

“Anna, do you have a remedy? I have a beam in my eye – save me!”

Not immediately recognizing what the “queen of rock and roll” meant, this is exactly how Zhanna Aguzarova introduced herself when she called on the phone to arrange a meeting, I invited her to go into the kitchen.

“Let’s cut the onion…”

Zhanna hoped to shed tears and finally get rid of the grains of sand that got into her eye somewhere outside on the streets of the capital, whilst she was climbing up to rue Lepic, where my place was on Montmartre.

The meeting was unexpected for everyone. It turned out that we met the artist Oleg back in 1996 in a store that sold vinyl records for DJs not far from Place de la Bastille. Then he invited me to the exhibition-vernissage, but since then we have not seen each other.

This was also not the first meeting with the singer; Zhanna loved to come to Paris, and we remembered that we had previously met on other occasions, in Paris, with my old friend, the distributor of electronic music Ruben, to whom the glorious Zhanna left a teddy bear, a cat or a bunny as a gift for me, now not remember…

We sat for a long time: drank wine until the morning, listened to a lot of music and burned candles. To watch the sunrise we went to the balcony, which offered an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower.

The graceful silhouette of the main “steel lady” of Paris confidently emerged from the morning foggy haze. After the soulful party, pleasant feelings remained for several days. The mood was magical. From the subtle states that filled the communication, the generated energy of the evening was sublimated into a song that was born to me the next day. I jotted down the words for the ballad “The Sacred Star” on paper, tried out the harmonic mode on the piano, and called my guitarist from Novosibirsk, Alexander Tombasov, so that he would come and try to perform a new composition together:

Today our happiness is forever,

Tomorrow we will be gone …

To where there is no end, and no beginning,

To where the Sacred Star is shining bright

So live your life and let it be!

Soon we recorded “The Sacred Star” song in a studio in Paris. The premiere of the song was held in Montmartre, in the studio of a friend of the artist Sergei Chepik:

“Oh, you know, I like it! I will draw your portrait for this album cover…”

Sergei was an excellent painter, and “Russian Thought” (La Pensée russe) was just preparing its 125th anniversary edition in French with my participation: an article and a magazine cover, in the magazine supplement it was planned to include a CD, a compilation named “The Best Russian Rock in Paris.” (“Meilleur Rock Russe A Paris”) The collection included compositions by many famous Russian rock musicians who once performed in Paris. The disc includes my original songs – “The Sacred Star”, “Asphalt City” an “Kaleidoscope” (L’Étoile Sacrée, Ville d’asphalte, Kaleidoscope in French).The piercing paintings of Sergei Chepik became an excellent design for the disc. The presentation of the anniversary edition took place during the Russian film festival organized by Pierre Cardin in his large Parisian theater Espace Cardin, which is located opposite the American consulate, behind the Place de la Concorde, on Avenue Gabriel.

At the ceremony as part of the film festival, the legendary Gipsy Kings performed in the first part. After the flamenco group, I performed my Russian songs. The evening was memorable for everyone. Since then, we have remained very friendly with the artist Oleg. He helped me realize the black and white video clip for “The Sacred Star”.

“Cosmos” Festival 

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince)

For many years, a theater figure from St. Petersburg organized a festival of Russian theater in Paris every fall in the small hall “Théâtre de l’Atalante” in Montmartre. The director of the theater happily hosted guests from Russia. A Frenchman with Russian roots, he really wanted to make his cultural contribution and continue the tradition of Russian cultural festivals.

However, after many years of activity, theatergoers from St. Petersburg were tired of bringing troupes to Paris, since finding a budget was always difficult, and starting in 2004, the place was free again. Having learned about this from actress Galina, I came up with the idea of launching a new festival in April with a new name “Russian Space” and timed it to coincide with the anniversary of the launch of the Vostok-1 spacecraft, the first human flight into space.

In my Rue Lepic, for a long time, an art poster framed in an aluminum frame with the image of the Soviet cosmonaut  “Space will serve people… Gagarin” hung on the wall under a glass, framed in an aluminum frame, and it was used in the printing house to make posters and flyers for the festival. So Yuri Gagarin became the icon of the event.

In 2005, the festival fell on the May holidays, since it was at that moment that the theater was free from repertoire performances. It was somewhat boring to do exclusively theater, so I managed to put a lot of music of completely different styles into the four-day program: classical genre, modern folklore and art song.

Then, at the end of 2007, I went to live in London, and the festival remained in other hands from those who appropriated everything for themselves, as always happens in such stories, along with the Gagarin emblem. However, friends who attended events after my departure sadly noted that the magical, unique atmosphere that we managed to create together with the artists in 2005 and 2006 was not found at the festivals.

But life goes on, and to each his own. The Lord is extremely merciful and can watch for a long time as a person commits meanness, deceiving himself and others. Once you have entered the path of lies, it is very difficult to return.

A lie sucks an unfortunate person in like a Maelstrom sucks him into the abyss. The Evil One often at the very beginning endows such an unfortunate person with some kind of inner strength, and he, who has fallen into the halo of Lucifer himself, sometimes thinks that he has managed to achieve incredible spiritual heights and enlightenment. Such a human product is the ideal raw material for the angel of evil. Now, for petty laurels, he is ready to lie and betray more and more, just to get new positions and more names on his business card. But it’s not for me to pass judgment, there are great archangels for that, to such,  I can only wish for a speedy recovery. Everything flows and everything changes.