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GALLERIES

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viktoria

MEETING VIKTORIA XI

Viktoria Xi was born in Shanghai to a Scottish diplomat and his Chinese mistress. When I met her, at an art gallery in Los Angeles, she was an old woman, but still slender and elegant. She wore a linen dress, high heels, and sheer stockings. Her lips were very red, and her eyes darkened with carefully applied mascara and shadow.
    She lived, she told me, in an abandoned factory nearby. A century ago seamstresses had labored there, making women’s undergarments: full body corsets, knitted stockings, silk camisoles. She waved a red-tipped hand. All gone now, she said. Part of the building had been converted into lofts before Viktoria bought it. An artist still lived in one, making huge, fiery paintings which he hung on his walls. She had halted the loft-conversion, but allowed him to stay. She liked, she said, the air of abandonment, the detritus, the ghosts from the past, the sense of mystery that dissolution had given the old building.
   I asked if I could take pictures of her there, among the ruins. She arched an eyebrow.
   “You see me as a kind of ruin?” she said.
   “Not at all.”
   “I am a ruined woman,” she said. “I was once quite beautiful. I used my beauty as a weapon. I was very good at it.”
   “You are still beautiful.”
   “You use a computer, of course.”
   “Photography is all digital these days.”
   “And you are a writer, as well?”
   “Yes, a novelist.”
   “I have stories to tell,” she said. “Of my youth. I was an adventuress, you see. You can help me with that. But in your photos—you will have to make me look young again. There are programs for such things, are there not?”
   “I can do that. Very stylized—”
   “Yes,” she said, looking at me with amusement. She sat back and folded her hands in her lap. “Style is everything, isn’t it? But you may be in for more than you bargained for.”
   She crossed one leg over the other and gave me a look that was—and remains—indecipherable.

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