One sunny morning in Pau, one of the neighbors came to take some plants for his garden. The elderly gentleman in the photograph on the right is Monsieur Romanov — a descendant of the Romanov family, rulers of Russia from 1613 until the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Here’s a brief history of The Romanovs:
Romanov Dynasty, rulers of Russia from 1613 until the Russian Revolution of February 1917. Descendants of Andrey Ivanovich Kobyla (Kambila), a Muscovite boyar who lived during the reign of the grand prince of Moscow Ivan I Kalita (reigned 1328–41), the Romanovs acquired their name from Roman Yurev (d. 1543), whose daughter Anastasiya Romanovna Zakharina-Yureva was the first wife of Ivan IV the Terrible (reigned as tsar 1547–84). Her brother Nikita’s children took the surname Romanov in honour of their grandfather, father of a tsarina. After Fyodor I (the last ruler of the Rurik dynasty) died in 1598, Russia endured 15 chaotic years known as the Time of Troubles (1598–1613), which ended when a zemsky sobor (“assembly of the land”) elected Nikita’s grandson, Michael Romanov, as the new tsar. (For the Romanovs’ predecessors, see Rurik dynasty; Troubles, Time of.)
After he had collected his plants, we had a very touching — but bizarre — conversation which included another neighbor. They both spoke Russian and pidgin French, and a little Spanish and Italian — Mr P and his mother speak French and Portuguese but no Russian — and I speak English with a little French and even less Portuguese and NO Russian.
However, what we managed to convey to each other in the space of about 20 minutes by means of gesticulating , body language and guesswork was nothing short of remarkable.
Monsieur Romanov very graciously allowed me to ask questions through Mr and his mother.
Yes, he was related to, and descended from, the Romanov family. No, he could never return to Russia. His name alone would target him in an unsavory manner. He would also be expected to undertake National Service in the army, even at his age, because the fact that he served in the French army would not be recognized.
Yes, he had some small family heirlooms and artifacts . His words and had memories of living in Siberia where his part of the family were exiled before they came to France. There was a sadness and wistfulness when he spoke of his home country and of long-lost family whom he had not seen for decades and will probably never see again.
His parting words before he left were to express his delight in learning some English, his thanks for the plants and for the “remarkable” conversation “which went beyond time and language.”
I was left with a sense of wonder and gratitude for the time I spent “Living History.”