Remembering an Uncommon Friend

Ellen (in Gdynia, Poland): Nico was the first person I met via Internet.  It was the year my religious icon fever was at its height. A new eBay addict, I gleaned a lot of knowledge from the descriptions of professional dealers.  Further, I noticed many listings by sellers clueless about their merchandise.  Some requested aid.  Or erred in description.  I got into the practice of responding when I could. It was a means of simultaneously preening and helping. (That is, if it wasn’t something I wanted.  If I did, I was pleased to keep ignorance and low price intact.) 

Nico listed an icon with a slightly flawed description. I e-mailed him.  Later, I was embarrassed.  An internationally-known, highly respected dealer, his “error” amounted to a typo in the scheme of things.  But he responded with warmth.  We began emailing regularly. 

I enjoyed our correspondence from the start. His keen intelligence, knowledge and humor engaged me. And I admired the icons, both ancient and modern, he listed on both eBay and his seductive web site.  Two nineteenth century Russian beauties stole my heart.  He offered to reserve them for me indefinitely, with a substantial discount.   

As the year wore on, I grew certain my long-term employment would soon end.  This would result in compensation.  I elected to spend a portion of it on the two icons and a three-week trip.  I’d have done well to be wiser…but I don’t regret it.  The trip was the time of my life.  And if I hadn’t bought the icons, I’d never have met Nico in person. 

The first stop on my itinerary was his country.  He’d informed me well in advance that if I thought I was going to breeze in, buy, and breeze out, I’d damned well better rearrange my thinking. I would be his guest, for a number of days, and have a thorough tour.   

From arrival, I was in a state of awe. His villa was a treasure trove of icons and antiquities.  A vast feast was spread before us, champagne on ice.  Most impressive of all was Nico himself: handsome, charming, funny as hell, with a lifetime of fascinating experiences to relate. He was convalescing from an injury and I’d arrived exhausted, so George, his assistant, was incredulous to find us still talking and roaring with laughter after eight the next morning.  He fussily told Nico to go to bed and collected me for a day of sightseeing.   

This was the pattern throughout my visit:  touring all day, talking most of the night.  I was as spellbound by Nico’s life, past and present, as I was by the innumerable historic sites visited.  From a prominent family, he was living history in his land.   

In many ways, he personified male chauvinism.  Yet as is often the way with friends, his flaws could be endearing.  Nico flatly refused to let me so much as buy him a coffee.  George was under orders to refuse the same. 

“Bloody Israeli!  You’re not in your country.  Here, men take care of these things,” Nico bellowed after a particularly stubborn attempt of mine to pick up a check.   

I eventually arrived at my next stop, Romania, in complete but happy exhaustion.  Finding an Internet café, my first message was to Nico, thanking him for his wonderful hospitality. 

In the following months, our correspondence continued.  He bolstered me during Bill’s puzzling illness.  I tried to do the same for him as a new marriage made in haste began to collapse.  And Nico was the first person outside my family I called in the haze of early grief. 

“I’m sending you an e-ticket and you’re coming to me now, “ he announced, cutting short my babblings.  I was in no state to argue. The day after the funeral, I left behind the broken crockery of my life and arrived at that familiar airport, as pleased as I could be by anything at that time to see him waiting. 

The first days of bereavement are always an agonizing blur.  By day while Nico worked, I paced his garden, crying and muttering.  By night, we hit the clubs, sometimes with his friends.  There was a long trip to the north to visit George, who had in the meantime become a village priest.  While there was always that undercurrent of pain, there was joy and distraction as well. 

Upon leaving, Nico presented me with a beautiful icon of The Ascension.  It’s now on the table in the entry hall, incense burning and candles blazing before it.  This time, the memorial candles are for Nico himself. 

I saw him last in Israel late in 2006.  He was pale and thin, recovering from surgery.  Cancer…but with a good prognosis.  He applauded my decision to move to Poland.  In our final email exchange in October, he was contemplating a visit.  Maybe in the spring… 

In December, I sent him a greeting on his name day.  No reply. Assuming he’d been visiting family and friends abroad, I let it go.  Last week, I wrote again.  Still no response.  I was uneasy.  Remembered his illness the year before.  With trepidation, I did a search. 

Nico has gone.  Not cancer… murder.  Murder by my definition, certainly.  Respecting his family, I’ve changed his name and provide no details. Just will note that it was a brutal, senseless death.   

Knowing Nico, he exited with flair. I’m sure he didn’t go quietly into that good night, but roaring a mouthful of invective at the thugs responsible.   

Today my world is dimmer, knowing he’s gone.

copyright 2008 by Ellen Dlott

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