A friend had recently related an incident of meeting a woman who just took his breath away. To put it into context, he is a happily married man, madly in love with his wife. But it was one of those experiences, when an incredibly beautiful person passed across his radar screen seemingly from somewhere other than this world, and momentarily caused him to lose all capacity to breathe, speak and think. I am sure many of us have had such experiences regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
As I pondered this story, I realized that I've been reading and translating a lot of books lately, where these kinds of encounters took place. The more I thought about it, the more I was struck by how much variety of image and emotion different authors were able to put into their descriptions of these meetings. And so I decided to pull together a little collection of excerpts from different books and stories that capture the moment that only happens once in any relationship: the first sight of each other. And, because I am a woman, I want to begin with the impressions of women through the eyes of men who see them for the first time.
I begin with my current translation project - The Star of Solomon by Alexander Kuprin. Not only is it one of my favorite stories of all times, it also has one of my favorite meeting scenes.
Ivan Stepanovich entered the car. The window in his compartment was closed. As he lowered it, Tsvet noticed directly across, in an open window of another train, merely three steps away, a charming female figure. The dark backdrop softly and clearly, as if in a picture, set off her dressy white spring bonnet with pink flowers, pale-gray silk coat, her flushed delicate enchanting face and an enormous bouquet of fresh lilac, barely open, probably picked just that morning.
“How lovely!” Tsvet thought, never taking his delighted eyes away from her, “So much tenderness, purity, intelligence, kindness and elegance. There isn't another one like her in the entire world! There are many beauties but she is the only one, unlike anyone else, incomparable. Ah, she is smiling!”
It was true. She was smiling, but just barely, with her eyes, and this delicate smile was filled with innocent flirtation, gentleness, the joy at her own wellbeing and at the spring day, and youthful mischievous merriment. She lowered her nose, lips and chin into the clusters of flowers, from time to time, as if accidentally meeting Ivan Stepanovich's admiring eyes with her own dark and lively ones.
Tsvet's train started moving slowly to the right. In a moment, it became clear that it was only an illusion, so common for railway stations: it was the beautiful woman's train that was moving, while his train was still standing. “Oh, if only I could get one flower!” Tsvet exclaimed in his mind. At that moment, the woman tossed the bouquet directly into Tsvet's open window with astonishing swiftness and incredible agility. He managed to catch it and even had time enough to peek out the window and demonstratively press it against his lips. The beauty laughed, her teeth glittering in the glow of spring afternoon, nodded as the sign of farewell and quickly vanished behind the window. Then her car flickered, darkened, merged with other cars and disappeared.